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The Holy Guardian Angel
I was in Berkeley, California in 1980 when I bought my first Tarot Deck at an esoteric bookstore on Telegraph Avenue. I had been looking for a Rider-Waite deck that looked like the one that my Teacher used in High School for my first- ever reading. On a class camping trip, I watched her deconstruct the lives of nearly all my classmates who lined up at a picnic table to have their cards read. I was astonished, intrigued, fascinated by how deeply she had insight into real emotions and perceptions of teenagers, myself included, who I continuously found opaque and inscrutable in their motivations and behavior. I watched as their personality masks of indifference, sarcasm and animosity were shattered and melted by this woman with a mean pack of cards.
The mystique and allure of The Tarot had gone deep inside my guts and my Soul, but it was not until I was twenty, while studying William Blake as a college literature student, that I decided that the ability to interpret symbolic images would help me understand Blake’s visionary realms of experience.
When I got to the bookstore, I perused the six or seven Tarot decks they had on display. They were all sealed in boxes and I was unable to examine the cards directly. On the back of one of the sealed boxes, I noticed Arthur Waite’s name and thought I had found the deck I was looking for. When I breathlessly rushed home and opened the seal, I found the deck was quite different from my teacher’s deck in High School. The images were decidedly different; some bore a recognizable relationship to the Waite deck, but others were quite altered. The images were less ornate, but more deeply colored in a way that made the images appear luminous.
I learned that my first deck was called “The Golden Dawn Tarot”. From the booklet included with the deck, I learned that The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn had been a society of practitioners of ritual magic, originated in late nineteenth century England. Their rituals and doctrine were largely based on The Tarot, as well as the Qabalah, a system of Jewish mystical Knowledge. Arthur Waite had been one of their original members and had received his knowledge of the Tarot from The Golden Dawn. A number of prominent members of the British literary world had been ardent members, including W.B. Yeats, the iconic Irish poet.
As I clumsily, but assiduously, began my study of the cards, learning by giving repeated readings to my tolerant dormitory roommates, I also began an inquiry into the mysterious and colorful history of The Hermetic Order of The Golden. Its founder, MacGregor Mathers, while penniless and near starved to death, spent endless hours in the library of The British Museum. Battling constant hunger and exhaustion, he labored heroically, culling works of Ancient ritual and magic, as well as the rich heritage of European magical lore, often preserved by prelates of the Catholic Church in medieval and renaissance time. John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s court astrologer and, at the time, well-respected scholar of the magical and mystic arts was an important subject of this literary treasure hunt.
A quirky tale of discovered documents, strange coincidences, correspondences with mysterious figures from the Continent, tales of a long lost lineage of secret societies that kept receding further and further into the past when tracing their origins, all led to the creation of a society that specialized in training its members in mystical arts such as The Tarot, clairvoyance, Yoga, meditation, the crafting of magical instruments such as wand, cup, sword and pentacle and, ultimately the forging of a relationship with one’s Divine Self.
The Golden Dawn referred to this aspect of the deep self as:
The Holy Guardian Angel
It was the foremost goal of The Golden Dawn’s training of its member to facilitate union and conversation with this Divine presence, deep within each individual human being. The Holy Guardian Angel reminded me immediately of Blake’s concept of The Poetic Genius, which he considered to be the source of Divine creativity, accessible to all human beings.
There, in Berkeley, a great war began inside myself between the desire to assimilate the traditional cannon of Western Literature, with great artists such as Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, T.S. Elliot, Virginia Woolf, or to embark on a wild goose chase into the wilds of The Golden Dawn, Eastern esoteric traditions, Yoga, The Tarot and so many other avenues of the mystical, magical and esoteric.
As it turns out, while in Berkeley, I decided to chase geese.
Fortunately, they turned out to be magickal geese . . .
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