Friday, October 31, 2014

Cypher lunch (What the Cipher Manuscript says and does not say about the Tarot)

Previous/ MasterList/ Next

The theme of this Samhain Tarot Blog Hop is feasting with our honored ancestors. Out of all the ancestors that I could raise a glass of mead with, the one that I would like to have a discussion with the most is a spiritual and magical ancestor, and not a blood relative.

One of the spiritual and magical ancestors of all students of the Golden Dawn tradition is the creator of the Cipher Manuscript. The Cipher Manuscript is the foundational document of the entire Golden Dawn system---without the Cipher Manuscript, the Order of the Golden Dawn would have never existed. The Cipher Manuscript is an outline of the Outer Order Grade rituals and subjects of study, enciphered with a substitution alphabet. 

The most likely creator of the Cipher Manuscript was a Kenneth Mackenzie, Masonic scholar and occultist. Exactly who Mackenzie meant the rituals outlined in the Cipher Manuscript for we will probably never know for sure---but we do know that the rituals were not meant for Westcott and Mathers. Probably written sometime between 1860 and 1875, the Cipher Manuscript came into the possession of William Wynn Westcott after the death of Mackenzie in 1886. Westcott, with the help of his friend, Samuel Liddell Mathers, deciphered the Cipher Manuscript and fleshed out the rituals, creating a working Order in 1888.

A page from the Cipher Manuscript---part of the 2=9 (Theoricus) initiation ritual.
 One of the features of the Golden Dawn system outlined in the Cipher Manuscript is a Tarot scheme that has became a part of the way many people read Tarot, even if they have never heard of Golden Dawn.

Cipher Manuscript--Universe card description.
The first mention of the Tarot in the Cipher Manuscript occurs in the Knowledge Lecture outline of the Zelator Grade---it is a list of the four suits of the Tarot.

The second mention of the Tarot occurs in the Theoricus Grade initiation, a ritual where the initiate is shown a key of the Tarot. In this case, it is the Universe card, which is described as 72 circles around Queen Isis, who is also Sandalphon, who bears wands and has crossed legs; there is also a seven pointed star, and four Kerubim in the corners of the card.

Cipher Manuscript--drawing of the Judgment card.
The next initiation ritual (Practicus) introduces the initiate to two more of the Tarot cards. The first card is Judgment. Of this card, the Cipher Manuscript mentions that it "is much more than the last judgment."

Cipher Manuscript--drawing of the Sun card.
The second card introduced in the Practicus ritual is the Sun. Both Judgment and the Sun are roughly illustrated in the pages of the Cipher Manuscript.

Among the knowledge to be learned in the Practicus Grade is a system of "synonyms in tarot divination," a system of astrological correspondences that has made its way outside of Golden Dawn and is used by many Tarot readers, often without knowing that the system that they are using was a creation of the mysterious creator of the first draft of the rituals of Golden Dawn.

If you have ever used "Emperor is Aries; Hierophant (High Priest) is Taurus...," then you have used the system of correspondences that were first outlined in the Golden Dawn Cipher Manuscript.

Also included in this section of the Cipher Manuscript was a Tarot Lecture, talking about the four suits of the Tarot corresponding to the four worlds of the Kabbalah. The Lecture expounds for the initiate to "behold the true attribution of the Tarot--ponder it in thy heart--[reveal] not to the profane." The Lecture also mentions that the Keys of Strength and Justice need to be switched to correspond to the true attributions of the esoteric system of the Tarot, the true Book of Thoth.

Cipher Manuscript--drawing of the Moon card.
The next Grade initiation ritual (Philosophus) has three Tarot cards, all illustrated in the Cipher Manuscript. The first card is the Moon card, complete with crayfish.

Cipher Manuscript--drawing of the Star card.
The next card is the Star, which is Sirius, with Isis kneeling with water at her feet. There is a Tree of Life and the seven classical planets also on the card.

Cipher Manuscript--drawing of the Tower card.
The final card illustrated is the Tower, which the Cipher Manuscript associates with the tower of Babel. A downward symbol of Mars, a regular Tree of Life, and a Tree associated with the Qlippoth (evil inclined astral shells) surround the broken tower and falling figure.

At the end of the Philosophus ritual, the Cipher manuscript comes to an end. And while the Cipher Manuscript gives the "true" astrological correspondences to the Tarot trumps, there is a lot that the creator of the Cipher Manuscript does not tell us.

For instance, we are only shown the "true" depiction of six of the trump cards. One of the things that I would love to conjure the ghost of the creator of the Cipher Manuscript, and ask of it is "What do the rest of the Tarot trumps look like?" While later leaders of the Golden Dawn tradition have fleshed out the reminder of the Tarot deck, we have no idea what the original creator of Golden Dawn had in mind for the rest of the Tarot deck.

Likewise, we have no idea of what the rest of the rituals of the tradition were originally meant to be like---the additional rituals that we have were created by other people. Nor do we know what other sections of Tarot study that the creator of the Cipher Manuscript meant to include in the system.

Quite frankly, the creator of the Cipher Manuscript left more unfinished than finished when you actually look at the whole of the system. Nevertheless, without this slim outline, the tradition of Golden Dawn and its way of reading the Tarot would have never happened.

And I am not the only student of the Golden Dawn tradition that would like to ask the creator of the Cipher Manuscript a few dozen questions. I am merely one of the pushy ones at the front of the line.

Happy Samhain!

Previous/ Master List/ Next


pureblessedtarot said...

Leaving more unfinished than finished... what a great tactic to secure you a place in the annals of history...

Joy Vernon said...

Thank you for sharing this great info, Morgan! I had not seen that before. What do you think of Marcus Katz's work on "The Secret Dawn Tarot"? He says he's found an original text from the Golden Dawn archives that has not previously been published, and which provides text only descriptions of the cards. He's got an artist working on creating images based on the text descriptions.

If you can't get through to the link, let me know and I'll add you to the group so you can take a look at what he's working on.

Inner Whispers said...

What a fascinating insight, I'd never heard of the Cipher manuscript before. A bit of me wonders whether he just hadn't gotten around to the rest, after all, there's a lot to get through. And so a tradition is created by accretion, not just by a single person... :)

Tarot By Arwen said...

New to me as well. I wish you luck in your conversations. :D

Olivia Destrades said...

Well, I just learned a whole lot that I didn't know before! Cool! I had not heard of the Cipher Manuscript prior to reading your post (not that it's a huge surprise as I'm hardly a Golden Dawn expert!). Thanks for the interesting post :)

Ania said...


Anthony fuller said...

An excellent post Morgan. I do believe, however, that much more historical work on the Cipher MSS will occur in forthcoming years that may yet shift current perceptions. In my view the evidence for Mackenzie being the source remains extremely flimsy and circumstantial. First floated by A E Waite (amongst other possibilities) it was taken up with enthusiasm by Bob Gilbert - Bob paints a plausible scenario but there are others equally plausible it seems to me. There is another extremely interesting scenario suggested by Langford Garston (AO Chief who had access to many original papers - some no longer extant) that the Cipher MSS were compiled AFTER, not before, the rituals were written - there is evidence for this claim also. To Joy - I know the texts Marcus is referring to - it is a series of 7 papers by Neville Meakin entitled "Numbers" - they are from the SM era, not the Golden Dawn which he wrote about 1910 from material he had received in Germany. It will be interesting to see how Marcus has interpreted these.
Tony Fuller

Joanne Sprott said...

Great historical synopsis of the Cipher manuscript with excellent insight into perspectives on Tarot we now take for granted, I think. A deep dive, indeed, and also wish we had more...

neognostica said...

Great information. Thanks.