The Twin Decks
The Pontifex Tarot aims to bridge two traditions. To accomplish this task, it is conceived in two different approaches. The first, the Meditation Edition, directly gives an entry in uniting the differing traditions of the British and French school. This first edition consists of 33 large sized symbol laden cards for 22 Major Arcana and 10+1 Sephirot. Completed is the set with a poster of the Tree of Life diagram of both schools and some additional cards regarding the Cube of Space, the Rose Cross and else.
The second, the 78 card Divinatory Edition, follows the British tradition in the order of the trumps and the use of color according to the system laid out bei the Order of the Golden Dawn. Nevertheless, it is in the images of the Pontifex Tarot themselves where you can discover the bridging of French and British symbolism. While most of its Major Arcana follow the iconography defined by the famous Waite-Smith Tarot, there are important references to the legacy of the Tarot de Marseilles. Examples for the influence of this French school are the images of the Lovers, the Emperor, Strength, the Hermit, the Star.
As a further appreciation for the french tradition a second Fool card is included into the deck. It shows the traditional picture of the mad man being bitten by a dog.This Tarot deck is special: on the one hand it addresses the advanced Tarot student, for example because of the extensive use of special symbols like Hebrew letters and astrological signs while omitting the usual titles. Experienced Tarotists will also register the careful assemblage of arcane symbolism refering to some of the most iconic Tarot decks from History: namely the Papus Tarot, the Wirth Tarot, the Waite-Smith and the BOTA Tarot. Every detail of the Major Arcana is scrutinized; every stroke, every hue, every symbol is carefully chosen.
They are true and faithful to the long inner tradition of the Tarot. This is what makes the Pontifex Tarot the Quintessence of the Esoteric Tarot. But the Pontifex Tarot is a most useful and great tool for the beginner as well: the deliberate use of expressive high saturated colors enables an instant emotional identification with the Arcana for the beginner. The colors are what directly reaches the user deeply so they find the meanings of the cards almost intuitively with immediate insight. Nevertheless the Pip cards are left without pictures deliberately, so that the images do not restrain the imagination to one message only, but leave the Divinatory meaning open in many directions instead. Paul Foster Case followed this way as well with his BOTA Tarot.
To make the meaning more accessable for the beginner, keywords according to the Golden Dawn are added to the Pips. The most original part of the deck is the execution of the Court cards. Each figure is combined with a symbol refering to their respecive element: Fire for the Knights in different disguises, water for the Queens in form of fountains, air for the Kings in form of birds and earth for the Pages in form of Platonic solids. The missing solid, the Dodecahedron, symbolizing the Quintessence, is intended to be built of the 12 Courts of Knights, Queens and Kings together.
Bridging Two Traditions
David Allen Hulse
There are two secret traditions for the Qabalistic symbolism of ascribing the Hebrew alphabet to the 22 cards forming the Major Arcana of the Tarot. One is from France and one is from England. Almost all Tarot decks today derive their symbolism from one of these two esoteric traditions.If your Tarot deck has the card titled Strength (sometimes referred to as Force) bearing the number 11, your deck came out of the French tradition. If your Strength card is numbered 8, then your deck evolved out of the British tradition.
The exception to this rule is Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth which renamed Strength as Lust and numbered as 11 but followed the Hebrew alphabet allocation according to the British tradition.
The Waite-Smith Tarot deck was designed by Arthur Edward Waite and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith and first printed in 1910. This is the first openly published Tarot deck that numbered Strength as 8 rather than 11. It is the most popular Tarot deck on the planet and has influenced the subsequent designs of hundreds of Tarot decks appearing after 1910.
Waite did not offer an explanation for this swap stating, as the variation carries nothing with it which will signify to the reader, there is no cause for explanation. (A. E. Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, p. 100). However, his deck is the first Tarot deck based on the esoteric British tradition of the Golden Dawn.
There is one other indicator of what tradition a specific Tarot deck is based upon. This is the placement of the Fool card in the order of the Major Arcana. If the Fool falls between Judgement and the World cards it is from the French tradition and is assigned to the Hebrew letter Shin. If the Fool leads the deck, then it is from the British tradition and is assigned to the Hebrew letter Aleph.
The French tradition started with the writings of Court de Gebelin, Comte de Melllet and Ettellia in the 1780’s and culminated in the writings of Eliphas Levi, Papus and Oswald Wirth in the 19th century. The British tradition came out of the esoteric teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1888 and was further developed in the Tarot decks of Arthur Waite, Aleister Crowley and Paul Foster Case. The teachings themselves were contained in a secret document titled Book T. In this tradition a complex four-fold color system was devised for all 78 Tarot cards.
It is this esoteric color symbolism that has been extensively utilized in designing the Pontifex Tarot, both in the meditation and divinatory decks.
Both the French and British traditions utilized the astrological symbolism found in the Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Formation), a Qabalistic text from the third century ce that elucidates the hidden symbolism in the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Both these traditions assign a Hebrew alphabet letter to each of the 22 Trump cards composing the Major Arcana. But the French tradition assigned the lead Hebrew letter Aleph to the Magician while the British tradition assigned Aleph to the Fool.
It should be noted here that the French school of thought predated the British Tarot tradition by 100 years.
The Pontifex meditation deck clearly shows on the right and left columns of each Major Arcana card these two unique alignments of the Hebrew alphabet to the Tarot. That is why the Pontifex Tarot bridges both systems.
Both the French and British traditions for the Tarot are equally valid. One does not replace the other. Rather, both give a viable set of symbols to further illuminate the mysterious and evocative images found in the Tarot.