When I received the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot I was very excited to start working with it, because the occult system behind the deck is unique and interesting. The LWB doesn’t divulge much, but I was sure the internet would be the reliable source for information on this system that it usually is. Surprise, surprise then when I came up largely empty-handed! What to do? It took a few weeks before the dead obvious idea of daily draws came to me. DUH. I’ve spent a week reading with the Brotherhood of Light now and I am finally ready to offer an opinion.
And not a moment too soon – the deck is hurrying me along! The cards I drew yesterday morning made absolutely no sense when I looked at them last night. I spent ages trying to figure out what they could mean and eventually gave up, figuring I was just too worn out from the day to get all deep and meaningful with the Universe. While gathering materials for this post, I pulled the above images from the U.S. Games site. They are the cards I got for my daily draw yesterday !
First things first, a bit of background on this deck. It was originally released in 1936 by the Brotherhood of Light (now Church of Light), designed by its founder, C.C. Zain (Elbert Benjamine) and illustrated by Gloria Beresford. The heavily Egyptian-influenced illustrations contained many astrological, numerological and Kabbalistic references and were executed in black and white. This deck was not designed for pure divinitation; it was assumed that users of the deck were serious enough students of the occult and Hermeticism that they would be using it in conjunction with the author’s text, “Sacred Tarot, The Art of Card Reading and the Underlying Spiritual Science” (out of print until recently).
Fast forward to 2003, when Vicki Brewer redrew the original illustrations. In 2009, she further re-designed the deck by turning it into a full colour Egyptian deck to be released by U.S. Games in 2010. Considering I am such a sucker for all things Egyptian, it is strange that this is my first Egyptian-themed deck, but the updated artwork has a lot to do with this. It is almost as if the modern rendering of Egyptian themes is somehow more authentic. I’ve come to the conclusion that Vector art is the perfect medium for reinterpreting the flat, 2-dimensional style of Ancient Egyptian art. The artist has managed to make this more than just a derivative copy by adding subtle gradients and using an overall light colour palette. There is high attention to detail, but not to excess; nothing is included that shouldn’t be there. If I had to classify the art, I think I would call it Deco-Minimalist.
Great thought has been given to the colouring of the original black and white illustrations. The LWB explains the importance of the colour choices with regards to focusing the unconscious mind and the correlation between these colours, astrological correspondences and the tarot itself. Colour ties the Majors and their associated Minors together as well, through the cartouche borders that enclose each scene. The pastel scheme and visual simplicity make this a very peaceful deck to work with.
One of the most notable design elements of the re-issue is the card backs, executed in a pattern inspired by the “carpet page” in illuminated manuscripts. This pattern is composed of two mirrored images of a central diamond, surrounded by four triangles containing the fixed-sign animals of the zodiac. The centre of the diamonds contain the emblem of the Brotherhood of Light. A full explanation of the card backs is included in the LWB, a lovely consideration to something that is usually not deemed worthy of further examination in other tarots.
The modern edition of this deck comes with a LWB to give the reader a bit of a hand with understanding its individual background. The Majors are explained with a keyword and a brief description for what each of them express in the spiritual, intellectual and physical worlds. There is also a “guidance passage” that begins “Remember, then, son of earth…”, addressing the card in relation to the personal horoscope. Without further exposure to the source material, I admit I don’t fully understand it all.
The Courts are said to represent types of individuals, also aligned to astrological signs. Beginning with the King of Scepters (Wands) as Aries, they progress in order through the Queens and Youths. Upright, they denote a man of that sign and reversed, a woman. They bear the traditional sign declarations eg. I AM for Aries. The Horsemen are treated a little differently: they “do not represent people, but denote thoughts or unseen intelligences… The one who thinks the thoughts is indicated by the Court Card nearest to the Horseman in the spread.”
The Minor cards each fall under the influence of a planet, the same as the Major they are associated with. The card for each suit is further given a brief description of its divinatory significance and a keyword for its inner significance. The book includes a section on interpreting the cards, explaining exactly how to conduct a reading “properly”. Reversed cards show planets that are badly aspected, rather than a reversed divinatory meaning. Two sample spreads are included – a “Yes or No” spread and “The Magic Seven” spread, based on Solomon’s Seal.
How did I enjoy reading with the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot? It’s a delight to shuffle, for starters, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it read. I thought I was going to be completely lost and frustrated without being completely versed in the mystery tradition behind the deck – which is why I delayed working with it for so long – but it played nice! I was amazed at how easy it was to get back into reading non-scenic Pips. The shapes made by the suit arrangements definitely trigger associations with very little effort. Just another wonder of the tarot :)
As a system, this is not a beginner’s deck, but it performs perfectly well as a regular tarot with non-scenic Pips. I was worried that I would have to rely on the LWB for my readings, but in my readings the cards aligned with the meanings that I am most familiar with, slowly easing me into their environment as the week progressed. I absolutely want to get the book that this deck was developed as a companion to! I want to know more about the completely different astrological alignments of the Majors, the constellations depicted in the card backgrounds and the overall symbol choices. For collectors and readers of astrological decks especially, I think this one’s a winner.
Head over to Tarot Dame’s blog to read an excellent review and see more images of the Brotherhood of Light. Bonnie Cehovet has also provided a comprehensive breakdown of the BoLET, highlighting the visual and naming peculiarities specific to this deck.