The Illuminati Tarot: Keys of the Secret Societies is a 78-card set exploring five historically clandestine fraternities and the universal thread that weaves itself through all of them: the Tarot. The major arcana feature the Priory of Sion, while the suits are linked with Rosicrucians (Cups), Martinists (Pentacles), The Golden Dawn (Wands) and Freemasons (Swords).
In recent decades 2 books have put secret societies and conspiracy theories front and centre, namely The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (1982), and Dan Brown’s 2004 best seller The Da Vinci Code. Anyone even remotely familiar with these books (or The Da Vinci Code movie) will have some inkling about the events which background The Illuminati Tarot. Subtitled 'Keys of Secret Societies’ this well researched deck indulges a conspiracy trickle-down theory which connects the dots between a plethora of secret societies including the Gnostics, Cathars, Knights Templars, the Priory of Sion, the Illuminati, the Rosicrucians, the Golden Dawn, and the Masons which all funnel into the origins and later expansion of the tarot.
The deck’s conceptual originator, Casey Duhamel uncovers a complex web of interconnected secret societies, and the information supplied in the guidebook is more than enough to tantalise any burgeoning history buff come conspiracy theorist. The Major Arcana features some of the most prominent personages from this long line of interwoven mystical societies. There are some unusual choices of people who embody the characters of the Major Arcana including John Cocteau as The Star, Pierre Plantard as The Fool, and Françoise Sauniere as Death. The Suits of the Minor Arcana embody the philosophies of secret societies and mystery schools, to whit, Cups Represent The Rosicrucians, Coins – the Martinists, Wands – the Golden Dawn, and Swords – the Freemasons.
This is a 78 card deck, with a 22 card Major Arcana and 56 card Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana follows the titles and ordering established by A E Waite. The Minor Arcana is divided into 4 suits of 14 cards each, 10 pip cards and 4 Court cards; the Courts have been renamed - a Novice replaces a Page, an Initiate takes the place of a Knight, an Adept replaces a Queen, and Kings have been renamed Mages. These Courts are embodied by a combination of historical figures, people of legend, mystical beings, spiritual guides, and gods and goddesses. While the Major Arcana and Court cards are fully illustrated, the number cards of the Minor Arcana are essentially pip cards with enough differing detail to distinguish each card from its predecessor.
The cards measure 75 x 120 mm, which makes them a fairly standard sized tarot deck. The card stock is very good, quite solid without being too heavy, and reasonably flexible without being rigid. The cards have a high gloss and smooth finish which facilitates easy handling and shuffling, and prevents the cards from clumping or sticking together when they are used. The print quality is excellent, with clean, crisp lines, and the subtleties of colour well reproduced without any blurriness or misprints.
The artist, Bob Greyvenstein, uses computer graphics and digitally enhanced images to establish an atmosphere of the old Masters replete with period settings, rich in esoteric symbolism, and darkened through the ages with candle smoke. His pallette is largely natural but the images are highlighted by rich, jewel colours – ruby reds, emerald greens, sapphire blues, golden topaz.
Titles and numbers are given on a scroll at the base of the image, and Major Arcana cards feature astrological symbols and Hebrew letters printed directly onto the illustration itself. Each image is defined by a narrow black frame surrounded by a grey and tan border which looks like an old and stained parchment. The image on the back of the cards – conjoined fleur-de-lis on a symmetrical, richly patterned background – is reversible.
The cards and guidebook come packaged in a classical Schiffer box set. The box itself has a lift open lid, which is held shut with hidden magnetic clasps. A brown ribbon loop aids in opening, and ribbon hinges prevent the lid from flopping wide open. The cards sit in 2 wells with the guidebook atop them. The box is finished with a faux patina of age and features spot laminated images from the deck, as well as information about The Illuminati Tarot. The box is quite slim, and certainly solid enough to protect the cards. One could drop it into a tote bag or backpack and take it on the road, without being weighed down.
The 176-page guidebook is written by The Illuminati Tarot's conceptual originator Casey Duhamel. It eschews an introduction which explains the deck’s genesis, and instead jumps straight into the world of secret societies and the tarot. ‘Tripping the Royal Road’ gives a relatively detailed history of the origins of tarot itself, examining alleged sources from ancient Egypt, through the Moors in Spain and the arrival of gypsies in Europe. 'Within These Hallowed Halls' examines the links between tarot and various secret societies. 'The Cards’ details the correspondences associated with the Minor Arcana, then goes on to examine the origins of the Major Arcana. 'The Priory of Sion’ subtitled ‘The Mother of Secret Societies’ looks into the background of this (in) famous and historically significant mystical order, detailing its many connections to historically significant people and events. Here the author also asks some pertinent questions and looks at how the Priory operates today.
The bulk of the book is devoted to examining the details of the Major Arcana. Each card is given a 3-page chapter which features a full colour reproduction of the card. The image is explained in detail, including who is portrayed, their historical significance, and their relevance to both secret societies, and the tarot. This is followed by an equally detailed explanation of the tarot card – it’s history, its various correspondences, keywords, and its upright divinatory meaning.
Each suit of the Minor Arcana has its own lesser chapter which begins by explaining the background of the secret society the suit is aligned with. Each Court card is also given the full treatment – who or what is depicted, their mystical legacy, the card’s alignments, keywords, and upright divinatory meaning. The pip cards are placed 2 to a page, with only an upright divinatory meaning given. No layouts are included in the guidebook.
If you are a history buff or have a taste for secret societies and mystical orders then this deck will be a joy for you to use. It has appropriately atmospheric illustrations and a great deal of esoteric and historical information for the reader's delectation. If you are interested in the origins of tarot then The Illuminati Tarot may satisfy, or merely tantalise you and draw you further into the world of tarot. This is an outstanding deck which will capture the imagination of the intellectual Seeker. While it is not recommended for beginners due to its non-traditional imagery, adepts will find much here to take their knowledge of tarot to another level. A rare gem.
The “Illuminati Tarot – Keys of Secret Societies” is a traditional 78 card deck, accompanied by a 176 page companion book. The box that the deck and companion book come in features a lift top, with the traditional Schiffer magnetic closure. The bios of the author and artist are featured on the inside of the lid. That in itself is very awesome!
The backbone of this deck is that it is an exploration of what are called “secret societies” – groups of people reflecting a unified philosophy that operate in the shadows of society (my definition). DuHamel’s background as a former member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an initiate of the AMORC (Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis – also known as the Rosicrucian Order) and as an ordained minister help to give her the perspective needed to see how these organizations may have influenced the origins of the Tarot, and to see the historical implications. This is backed up well by the illustrations done by Greyvenstein, an illustrator and graphic designer born in South Africa.
Five historically relevant secret societies are represented in this book: The Priory of Scion (through the Major Arcana), the Rosicrucians (through the suit of Cups), the Freemasons (through the suit of Swords), the Martinists (through the suit of Coins), and the Golden Dawn (through the suit of Wands). The attempt has been made here to examine the history and imagery relating to each card, to give in-depth card meanings, and to offer specific keywords that will help the student along their own path.
The 176 page companion book refers to the 78 cards of the Tarot as the “Royal Road”. While the companion book itself is an excellent resource, DuHamel has shared other resources, including individuals that study and write on the background of Tarot, throughout the pages. Arabic origins are presented, as well as some thoughts on the origins of Tarot that are generally considered to be myths (such as Egyptian mystery schools, and the nomadic gypsy culture). Heresy – the posit is made that perhaps the Visconti-Sforza Tarot is not the oldest Tarot, that the oldest Tarot may be a French deck entitled Charles VI (also known as the Gringonneur or Estensi Tarot). (Just joking about this being heretic!)
The backbone of this deck is that the Tarot shares links with secret societies both past and present. DuHamel references Tarot being used as a hermetic vehicle through such connections as Freemason Antoine Court de Gebelin (1719-1784), Rosicrucian and former Freemason Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875), and esoteric scholar Arthur Edward Waite (1857-1942).
The introduction to the pips (numbered cards) includes associations for Continental Tarot, Victorian Tarot, Modern Poker, the Elements, Elemental Direction, Attribute, Etherial Attribute, Humor, Quality, and Season. Associations include: Cups/Feminine/Winter, Disks/Feminine/Autumn, Wands/Male/Summer, and Swords/Male/Spring. The Court Cards carry traditional associations: Kings/Magi/Fire/Yod, Queens/Adepts/Water/Heh, Knights/Initiates/Air/Vav, Pages/Novices/Earth/Heh.
The presentation for the Major Arcana include a small (approximately quarter page) full color scan, the card name and number (in Roman numerals), a short quote, esoteric background, meaning (associations for Archangel, Cabala, Element, and Hebrew letter), a discussion of the card, and Keywords.
The presentation for the pips includes the card number and suit, in text, a small (approximately quarter page) full color scan, and Keywords.
The presentation for the Court Cards includes, title and suit, a small (approximately quarter page) full color scan, a quote, esoteric background, associations (Nature, Element, Tetragrammaton, Card Personage), and Keywords.
At the end of the book is an inclusive bibliography that allows the reader to do further research on their own.
The traditional structure for naming the Major Arcana has been kept intact, with Justice at VIII and Strength at XI. The suits are Cups, Coins, Wands, and Swords. The Court Cards have been renamed: Novice/Page, Initiate/Knight, Adept/Queen, and Mage/King.
The cards are 3” by 4 ¾”, on glossy card stock. The backs are reversible, and feature a brown and gold outer border, followed by a thin black inner border. The centered image is that of a fleur de lis, with the outer two petals done in gold, and the center petal in silver. The card faces show the same brown/gold border, with a thin gold inner border. The Major Arcana show the card title in black, at the bottom of the card, against a gold banner. The pips (numbered cards) show the card number in Roman numerals in black, at the bottom of the card, against a gold banner. The Court Cards show the card title and suit in black letters, at the bottom of the card, against a gold banner.
The gold/brown coloring gives an “antique” feel to the deck. Each card has the Hebrew letter associated with it somewhere on the card. I loved the artwork – it is the type of deck where one continues to look for symbolism beyond the obvious, beyond the “first layer”.
The Fool shows a modern day man, dressed in a business suit, with his dog at his knee. Meanings include Lumiel (Archangel), Path 32, Malkuth-Yesod (Cabala), Fire (Element), and Shin (Hebrew letter).
The Chariot shows a male figure (representing Sir Isaac Newton), dressed in court cloths: a red jacket, red shoes, white stockings, and white cuffs. In his right hand he holds a blue apple (referencing the light coming through the church window at the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, RLC, giving the appearance of blue apples dancing). In his left hand he holds a red apple. Meanings include Raphael (Archangel), Gemini (Astrology), Path 17, Binah-Tiphareth (Cabala), Air (Element), and Zayin (Hebrew Letter).
The Wheel of Fortune shows a scribe (representing Nostradamus), seated in the outdoors, with an astrological chart in the sky behind him. Meanings include Raphael (Archangel), Virgo (Astrology), Path 20, Chesed-Tipharet (Cabala), Earth (Element), and Yod (Hebrew Letter).
The Novice of Cups shows a male figure (representing Christian Rosenkreuz), dressed in a flowing blue robe, over a white shirt with long sleeves. Under his left arm he is carrying an esoteric journal, while his right hand grasps a staff. The background is murky, with what appears to be a castle on a hill in the distance. Associations include Dreaming the Dream (Nature), Earth of Water (Element), Heh (Tetragramaton), and young child (Card Personage).
The Two of Cups shows two cups (one silver, one gold), standing in the middle of a wreath of roses. Keywords include attraction, romance, cooperation and harmony.
The Mage of Coins shows a series of white stars against a dark background, representing spiritual consciousness. Associations include Benevolent Power (Nature), Fire of Earth (Element), Yod (Tetragrammaton), and older man (Card Personage).
The Adept of Wands shows a female figure (representing Isis), standing. She is wearing a white dress, with an Egyptian headdress. In her right hand she holds a white lotus, in her left hand a gold ankh. At her feet rests a ram. Associations include Inner Grace, Outer Beauty (Nature), Water of Fire (Element), Heh (Tetragrammaton), and mature woman (Card Personage).
The VII of Wands shows a hand coming up from the bottom of the card, with two hands in the middle of the card, one hand coming in from each side of the card. Three Wands cross in each direction, with the seventh Wand upright between them. Keywords include valor, courage, and overcoming obstacles.
I am very pleased with this deck and the companion book. I may not agree with everything that is presented, but I feel that it is good to have an open mind. I also hold the opinion that esoteric societies have had a great deal to do with the development of the Tarot. This deck, and its companion book, are best approached by someone who has at the least a basic knowledge of Tarot and Tarot history.
Note: There has been some confusion between the Illuminati Tarot: Keys of Secret Societies and Erik C. Dunne’s Tarot Illuminati. These are totally different decks that are both awesome in their own right.