A Week with the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot

Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot. Re-designed and coloured by Vicki Brewer; US Games 2010.

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.

BoL – Card Back Design

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.

12 thoughts on “A Week with the Brotherhood of Light Egyptian Tarot

  1. Digital Dame says:

    Did you get the scans I sent you of the original black & white cards? I e-mailed them to your gmail account, but they may have gone to the spam folder.

    The coloring on these really is very nice. I’m not an Egypt freak, and have no Egyptian-themed decks in my collection other than the BoL deck, but I might get this one, to see the contrast between the original and the updated, redrawn version. If you’re going to get the book, I’d recommend getting directly from the Church of Light. You might even be interested in their correspondence courses. They have a lot of material available (as I’m sure you know).


    • submerina says:

      Theeeere it is. Silly GMail. Thanks! I really like the ink drawings on the original; lots of texture and weight to them. There is a big difference between the original and the updated version, but I get the feeling that each are right for their time. Browsing through the subjects on the Church of Light website is dangerous! So much learning… must learn everything… ;)


    • submerina says:

      I’ve always liked the look of that one, even with it’s strange colouring. The clean, clear details are very appealing and the God/dess choices make a bit more sense than most (to me).


  2. Helen says:

    I have enjoyed reading your daily draws (well those I could get to see – have been on limited access to the internet this week). This is an interesting deck and not one I would have considered, but seeing it as a working deck makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing this with us. :)


    • submerina says:

      That’s the danger of blogging – so many decks that fly under the radar until you see someone working with them and the next thing you know, there’s one less space on the bookshelf! Hope your connection sorts itself out; I personally cant’ wait for the day when I can just plug the internet into a jack in the back of my skull. Matrix, here I come!


  3. erishilton says:

    Of course there would be an Egyptian-themed deck that I actually like once I was past my All Things Kemetic… & More!™ phase.

    Yep. That settles it. I’m adding this to my ever-growing list. :)


  4. Casey Hamilton says:

    Like I said, I’ve been going through the archives, and this is how I’d made it by last night, when Sweetie Boy Ed took me out to dinner. We wandered up Broadway to The Vajra for incenses, and such, and lo and behold, there was this deck, saying, “Come, take me home with you, and let’s get to know each other better.”

    My intro reading ended with Arcanum 5 — sound familiar??? Whilst shuffling them before tucking them away back in their box, the deck ended up with Arcanum 6 down in the foundational position. I think I may be being flirted with ;)


    • submerina says:

      Oh MY, you weren’t kidding about trawling the archives! :D

      How are you liking your flirt of a deck? I never quite bonded with mine, which is why I sent it on to a home where it would be better loved.


      • Casey Hamilton says:

        I wouldn’t say we’ve bonded, but I keep getting all the best, most loving cards from it, and lots of feelings of “we looooove you.” I guess it helps that I have various ‘gyptian gods and goddesses scattered around the place. Just like with people, it can take me a really, really long time to feel comfortable with all those various flavors of beings and energies. Silly shy introvert :)


  5. Casey Hamilton says:

    Akshually, damned cards just told me to send them on their way. We were never going to see eye to eye, what with the weird elemental assignments. No, technically, I think it was the Anubis over my shoulder that told me to ditch ’em. My 3D representations did NOT like those 2D people, insisting on everyone playing by their rules, and only their rules.


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