Historical Sketch
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in 1888 by Dr. William Westcott, Dr. William Woodman, and S. MacGregor Mathers... three senior members of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia [SRIA], a Rosicrucian Society based in the UK restricted to Freemasons.
The rituals and structure of the Golden Dawn were derived form a specific document known as the Cipher Manuscript. In 1887, Westcott claimed that he had been given the Cipher Manuscript by an elderly Mason named Woodford. When translated, he discovered that the text outlined a system of rituals and correspondences that would form the backbone of a hierarchical Western esoteric order. With this template in hand, Westcott invited the other two founders to join him in the Order's creation. By late 1888, three temples had been established, and the London Isis-Urania group had 32 members.
In 1891, Woodman died, and Mathers stepped in as the Order's leader, although when he and wife Moina moved to Paris in 1892, Westcott was made the Chief of the English Order. However between 1895 and 1900, Mathers attempts to control the group from across the Channel and his increasing disconnection from the Order's concerns created friction with other members. In 1897, the London papers revealed Westcott's membership in the Order, he resigned and Florence Farr stepped in as Chief with little or no input from Mathers.
Hostility between Farr and Mathers reached a head at the turn of the century when an precocious initiate named Aleister Crowley presented himself for advancement to the the grade of Adeptus Minor and was rejected. Crowley traveled to Paris where Mathers initiated him, infuriating the English members, who refused to recognize Crowley's initiation as valid. In Spring of 1900, Crowley traveled to London under Mathers' orders to seize control, but the attempt was rebuffed by members who promptly stripped Mathers and Crowley of their titles. Following this, poet/memvber W.B. Yeats took control of the London temple, but factions had begun to develop within the membership which led to the formation of esoteric splinter groups.
A further scandal in 1901 proved the death knell of the Golden Dawn. A shady couple by the name of Horos conned Mathers into revealing Order rituals to them before they fled to London to set up their own society which would shortly implode amidst allegations of fraud, sexual abuse and extortion. Farr resigned, a group of initiates left to found a new esoteric society with Mathers, and in 1903, Christian occultist Arthur Edward Waite took control of the remnants of the London Golden Dawn, eschewing its magical roots for more "mystical" pursuits.
 The Golden Dawn's attributions
The Golden Dawn's system of understanding Tarot's Trumps (Atouts or Major Arcana) arises from a specific positioning of these upon the Tree of Life (specifically the Kircher version of the Tree), each card placed on a connecting 'path' between two Sefirot (or emanations). This, together with the quality, elemental, planetary, or astrological associations they assign to each Sephirah being linked by the path, and to the Trumps. Thus, for example, the Chariot, which they position on the path from Binah to Geburah, will, by associative necessity, be understood as Saturn (attributed to Binah) acting through Cancer (by letter correspondence, attributed to the Chariot) upon Mars (Geburah).
At first sight, much of the attributions appear complex. Yet, there is a very simple systematic attribution at play. With each of the Sefirot, the planetary attribution is of the seven traditional planets, in their relative order of apparent movement (the Ptolemaic order): Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and Moon, each in turn relatively faster in movement than its precedent, and correspondingly ¹closer' to the Earth realm.
Below the Moon are the four elements, or effectively the matrix out of which the Earth manifests. Above and prior to Saturn are the two highest Sefirot, the Primum Mobile (or First Mover), and the eighth sphere of the zodiac.
The individual cards are each attributed a letter from the Hebrew alphabet, though it is worth noting that they place the traditionally unnumbered Fool as heading the series, and interchange the position of Justice and Strength, and this latter for simple astrologically significant image correlation. In that order, the Hebrew letters are assigned, each of which having a long established elemental and zodiacal attribution, which is then simply applied to the Atout in question (the only exception is that the planetary correlations are varied in more ancient Kabalistic texts, leaving the Golden Dawn to attribute their own preference without feeling they are in conflict with tradition).
To more fully appreciate the correlated system of the Golden Dawn, meditation needs to take place on each of the cards. Each card, or rather, the symbolic representation of each card, needs to be held in the mind's eye, together with the three energies flowing and intermingling. For example, when seeking to understand their system, it would be pointless to think of the effects of Saturn acting through Cancer upon Mars without simultaneously having the Chariot in mind.
Strictly speaking, it is not the card that is directly associated with Cancer. Rather, as mentioned above, it is the correlated letter. The card links and intermingles the energies provided by the letter and the two Sephiroth connected by the 'path' upon which it is placed, and thus partakes of, in the case of the Chariot (VII), of the energies of Saturn, Cancer, and Mars. The Chariot (VII) is therefore to be understood as Saturn acting through Cancer on Mars. In other words, constriction acting through the tribal family onto will. More simply still, the Chariot (VII) needs to have a focus, or a focussed will, by means of the group having constricted or narrowed its direction.
Without going into great detail, let us see what this method brings to the understanding of each card. Remember that Kether is regarded as the Primum Mobile, or that which gives the urge or impetus to action, and Hockmah the sphere of the zodiac, or, the powers of cosmogony, creation on a cosmic scale. The zodiac here also provides limitations in a similar way that a blueprint provides limitations for the creation of a structure.
 Trumps (also called Major Arcana or Atouts) attributions
 The Fool
The Primum Mobile acting through Air upon the sphere of the Zodiac. (Alef) is the unspoken letter in the Mind of God.
The initial impulse becoming conscious in order for the map of creation to occur. In order for the sphere of the zodiac to become manifest, thought has to take place (Air), and that which allows thought to occur is the first impulse. On a human level, the Fool allows his movements to be guided by his primal spiritual instincts, the primal spiritual energy within him and each of us. Allowing himself such movement, through reflection he becomes conscious of the same, and thereby acts in accordance with Divine Will (as exemplified, or shown to us, by the Zodiac).
 The Magician
The Primum Mobile acting through Mercury upon the sphere of Saturn. (Bet) is the letter with which the creative act can take place (Genesis begins with 'Bereshith'). The place for creation, the symbolic house (one of the meanings attributed to Beth) needs to be established prior to the residence of the creation.
The initial impulse here becomes purposefully conscious (Mercury) in order that constriction and hence (lower) creation may later occur. In order that the creative act be possible, constriction and focus will need to occur. The Magician (I) is shown in the pre-creative poise, allowing the Divine Will (emanating from the Primum Mobile) to reach the Magician's thoughts and narrow his focus. On a human level, the same needs to occur prior to any creative act. Namely, the Magician needs to have an initial urge, intellectualised (and maybe even communicated), and extraneous matters put aside (Saturn), in order for the focus to be there.
 The High Priestess
The Primum Mobile acting through the Moon on the Sun. (Gimel) is the camel, the ship of the desert, which can cross vast distances with no (spiritual) waters externally available nor required.
The initial impulse here acts on the responsive emotive/intuitional level on the sphere of identity: The initial impulse of the Word of God (Primum Mobile) becoming manifest through his Love (Moon) for his creation. On a human level, one needs to allow the Primum Mobile, the Divine Spark, the still-small-voice within, to inspire us to find our true Selves.
 The Empress
The sphere of the zodiac acting through Venus on Saturn. (Daleth) is the door through which the divine plan can engrave itself on the vast emptiness of space.
The Divine plan acts through beauty upon the constricted or focussed space. The Divine Will, in order for the birth of its own plan to take place, flows through organised beauty on a space carved out for its purpose upon Binah. On a human level, new ideas or items can only occur once their plan is allowed to be organised (Mercury) and permitted to manifest in a constricted way - even human birth must allow the foetus (first manifestation of the plan of the adult) to be structured and organised in beauty (Venus), and then pass through the constricted canal of birth, and die to the old (Saturn), in order to be later manifested into the physical as a fully grown human being.
 The Emperor
The sphere of the zodiac acting through Aries on the Sun. (Heh) is the window through which the inner (microcosmic Adam) may perceive the plan of the greater (macrocosmic Divine).
The divine plan acts (Aries) directly on the inner aspects (Sun) of the creation. In other words, the Self is directly urged to act in accordance with the Divine plan, in order for the latter to be fulfilled. On a human level, in order for the person to become master of him- or herself, s/he must allow the Divine plan to guide his impulses to action, and through this discover both himself and his role or purpose.
 The Hierophant
The sphere of the zodiac acting through Taurus on Jupiter. (Vav) is the hook or pin on or through which one's faith expands - in other words, we do not function in a vacuum, but pin our thoughts and beliefs on the structural framework brought to us by our social milieu.
The divine plan is unfolded with persistence and practical benefits to the Self of each created being. The home (Taurus) of each Being (Sun), or his country, religion, &c., is the means through which one may become acquainted (educated: Hierophant) in some aspect of the divine plan. On a human level, it points that each self must operate within a tradition in order to achieve the heights of spirituality which will permit him to reach direct knowledge (gnosis) of the divine plan.
 The Lovers
Saturn acting through Gemini upon the Sun. (Zain) is the sword of discrimination and the sword wielded by the hand of the faithful and zealous.
The sphere of containment (Binah) - containing the plan now ready to manifest - is adapting itself (Gemini) to the requirements or needs of the created self (Sun). The Divine, being omnipotent, limits and constricts himself in order that he adapt to the requirements of each of the Inner Selves of his creation. On a human level, we must ourselves make choices (Lovers), and thereby limit our actions, in order that we adapt ourselves to the requirements of our own higher or true selves.
 The Chariot
Saturn acting through Cancer on Mars. (Heth) is the enclosure which allows us to focus our will to the Divine realm.
The constricted (Saturn) or narrowed (ie, more defined) plan acts through the tribe (Cancer) in order that they have a focus and direction (Mars). The tribe may become victorious despite overwhelming odds if it acts in accordance with the divine will narrowed to its intentions for the tribe. On a human level, one needs to narrow or define the will of the tribe in order that there be direction and movement - leadership can only occur if the focus of the individual is in accordance with the focus of the tribe or family.
 Strength (traditionally numbered XI )
Jupiter acting through Leo upon Mars. (Teth) is the snake which tempts our lower passions to guide our will and actions.
The expansive force of love acts in order that each of us manifests itself within its confines. On a human level, we need to expand our generosity and sense of self in order that we act with directed compassion and love. The danger lies in that the expanded expression focuses on the lower passions, rather than acknowledging these without allowing them to dominate.
 The Hermit
Jupiter acting through Virgo upon the Sun. (Yod) contains within its hand the potential to create.
Through the wisdom of expanded thought, acting through service and organised industriousness, the inner self may become illuminated. God aims to reveal himself through the expanded wise actions of the industrious individual » ¹God helps those who help themselves', and ¹By their fruits ye shall know them' to be children of Abel or children of Cain. On a human level, the person who seeks to reach his or her true inner self needs to expand his/her awareness through highly structured study and higher aspirations.
 The Wheel of Fortune
Jupiter acting through Jupiter upon Venus. (Kaf) is the fist which, when its inner potential strength is expanded by directed and broadened motion, can change the direction of events for good or ill.
When the expansive aspirations of the self (microcosm) are acting in conjunction with the expansive energies of the macrocosm, beauty, harmony, and hence also happiness, results. When, however, the two are not in accord, the results may be disruptive. The Divine will strive to expand the macrocosmic forces in order that the Divine will become manifest (Jupiter of Hesed). It is up to the individual to expand (microcosmic Jupiter) his or her own focus and acts so that harmony between them results.
 Justice (traditionally numbered VIII)
Mars acting through Libra upon the Sun. (Lamed) is the goad which pulls our acts in towards the needs of the inner self.
The focussed will of the Divine acts with justice towards the inner self of each of us. On a human level, we need to allow our higher selves to act in accordance with the ordinances of the will of what is Just.
 The Hanged Man
Mars acting through Water upon Mercury. (Mem) is the Water of baptism that enables the intellect to focus upon the needs of the spiritual dimensions.
Divine Will (Mars) purifies with baptismal Waters in order that the former may communicate more readily and easily. On a human level, initiation can only take place once the purification rite has been undergone. Only then can we think and communicate with the Higher Will.
The Sun acting through Scorpio upon Venus. (Nun) is the fish, symbol of Christ dying and resurrecting ï in Death (XIII) is the Victorious (Netzah) Self (Sun).
The Self, through its many emotionally intense deaths and resurrections, becomes victorious in beauty, and beautiful in the victories it overcomes. On a Divine level, the expressions of the Divine incarnation need to die to that realm in order that death be vanquished.
The Sun acting through Sagittarius upon the Moon. (Samech) is the prop through which the Self (Sun) can enthusiastically (Sagittarius) reflect (Moon) itself.
The Self (Sun) can, through its enthusiasm and deeper understanding (Sagittarius) reflect (Moon) itself on the Foundation (Yesod) from which the world will be built. When the Self correctly mixes (XIV) the elements, it reflects the higher will onto the lower spheres. On a human level, any action of significance (Sagittarius) must be allowed to be guided by the inner Self (Sun) in order that a correct balance be achieved, and reflected in one's own psychological make-up - The depths of the unconscious (Moon) need to be in agreement with the proposed movement (Sagittarius) in order that they truly move.
 The Devil
The Sun acting through Capricorn upon Mercury. (Ayin) is the eye which allows one to see beneath the surface structure. It is also the eye which imprisons us to focus on the surface structure.
The Self (Sun), acting through established social structures (Capricorn), gives rise to communication (Mercury) about the same. These communications tend to focus the attention of the self evermore on the structures, rather than on their essence, giving rise to binding within them. What needs to occur is for the Self to burst through in order that communication of the Truth enables us to penetrate to the essence of the structures, and their binding effects removed, or utilised in order to reach the intended heights.
 The Tower
Venus acting through Mars upon Mercury. (Peh) is the mouth, organ of speech, which can, with word alone, have the power of destroying any human creation.
When Beauty (Venus) acts through the force of power and war or destruction (Mars), in order that higher beauty be achieved, redundant structures are demolished, and new forms can be established (Mercury) with beauty's (Venus) guidance and the Will (Mars). The danger lies in the Will being used to destroy what it considers of insufficient harmony (Venus), communicating only that which needs modification, rather than focussing also on that which has intrinsic worth. As long as the transformation leads from Victory to Glory, the changes are justifiable - When, on the other hand, glory is perceived merely in victory, than that victory is short-lived, and the higher forces and the direction of action will ensure that it shall be destroyed.
 The Star
Venus acting through Aquarius upon the Moon. (Tzaddi) is the fish-hook that plunges itself into the depths of the unconscious (Moon) in order that beauty and order (Venus) be recovered for the greater whole - the world, or humanity (Aquarius).
When order and beauty act through humanitarian principles, the very depths of the affective-emotive side is touched. Conversely, in order that the world be truly modified, each individual's unconscious must be touched by the beauty of the proposed change. The Divine, likewise, reveals itself broadly (ie, to many people: Aquarius) with beauty, victorious majesty, and elegance, to the still small voice within the depths of one's own unconscious.
 The Moon
Venus acting through Pisces upon the four elements. (Qoph) is the ear that immerses itself to the harmony of the spheres, thereby causing the cerebellum to respond in tune and empathically.
Beauty (Venus), through empathetic attunement and immersion with the elements, creates order and manifestation. In order for the manifestation of any particular to occur, one must allow the creative ordering to reshape the elements at hand.
 The Sun
Mercury acting through the Sun upon the Moon. (Resh) is the head of the individual allowed to first (e) understand and analyse the deeper aspect of his or her own Self through reflection.
When the urge to communicate and integrate (Mercury) the Self (Sun) are permitted and encouraged to be guided by the Self, the deeper aspects of one's own unconscious and the direction of one's deeper urges - the urge to integration between various aspects of ourselves (XVIIII) - are reflected (Moon). The unity (Mercury) of the Divine separates itself in order that its reflection (Moon) permits attunement (Moon) to its Self-expression (Sun-Mercury).
Mercury acting through Fire upon the four elements. (Shin) is the (wisdom) tooth which allows (mental) chewing of the spiritual dimensions of the (physical) aspects (four elements) of the manifestation.
In order that the elements return to their source, the Divine communicates (Mercury) its spiritual (Fire) purpose to each aspect of the four-fold elements, that they each rise above their level of mundane manifestation. On a human level, it points out that one must rise above the mundane level (XX) by seeking spiritual (Fire) communication (Mercury) within the body (four elements), that any transgressions of the Divine Will (Fire) be transcended and integrated (Mercury).
 The World
The Moon acting through Saturn upon the four elements. (Tau) is the cross upon which each of the four elements are pinned in order that, through their death and resurrection, their higher purposes and meaning be reflected.
In order that manifestation be understood, one must work empathetically with each element by first constricting and narrowing (Saturn) its manifestation (four elements). Once this deeper level of understanding is achieved, however, the four elements are re-integrated at a higher level, reflecting the new depth achieved. This permits a crystallisation (Saturn) and structural understanding of the four elements, integrated with intuitional (Moon) understanding and emotional responsiveness and responsibility.