Tarot, Tea and Armageddon

In this article, we step in for tea with Florence Farr and W. B. Yeats in 1895, to find ourselves at the dawn of Armageddon.

It started as ever, with a chance coincidence. Who would have thought that a book purchased a generation ago, left on a house shelf, for me to find, would have contained a rare quote about the very man I was researching? There are way too many synchronicities occurring with our Waite-Trinick project. Whilst I was researching Wilfred Pippet for the project I discovered on my bookshelves at home a book about Thomas Wright of Olney, for whom Pippet had a connection and illustrated his work. In fact, Wright wrote in that very book that Pippet was very reliable – and hence perhaps why he was chosen to pick up one of the Tarot illustrations for Waite via H. M. Duncan.

[box type=”info”] We also have a wonderful picture by Pippet of St. David in Every Childs Picture Book of Saints which bears an uncanny resemblance to his depictions of Da’ath and the Emperor in the Waite-Trinick Tarot images. We do wonder what he was told of his work, being a Catholic craftsman.[/box]

Anyhow, within this book I saw in passing an entirely unconnected mention of the letters of Bernard Shaw to Florence Farr. I knew that Farr was a member of the Golden Dawn and an astonishing woman and teacher but I thought little else of the mention.

That same evening I was trawling through Oxfam online, which often sells little gems of books. I was surprised to see a copy of a book of Shaw’s letters to Farr, edited by Clifford Bax, and saw that it contained letters from W. B. Yeats, another Golden Dawn initiate, also – for sale at our local town Oxfam! As ever one thing leads to another! The following day I went down and purchased the book, which is the 1946 first edition.

Letters to Florence Farr

Letters to Florence Farr

There are many interesting letters here. In one of the letters from W.B Yeats to Florence Farr, he writes:

My dear SSDD [Farr’s magical motto in the Golden Dawn] has the magical Armageddon begun at last? I notice that the “Freeman’s Journal” the only Irish paper I have seen has an article from its London correspondent announcing inevitable war and backing it up with excellent argument from the character of Cleveland. The war would fulfil the prophets and especially a prophetic vision I had long ago with the Mather’s [i.e. Moina and Macgregor, one of the three co-founders of the Golden Dawn], and so far be for the glory of God but what a dusk of the nations it would be? For surely it would drag in half the world. What have your divinations said or have they said anything? When will you be in town next? Come and see me on Monday and have tea and perhaps divine for the Armageddon?

This letter was written in about December 1895, possibly in regard to the “Venezeula Crisis” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venezuela_Crisis_of_1895) and just nineteen years before the outbreak of the first world war. It is a chilling thought that Yeats and Farr would have been having tea, performing Tarot readings and discussing Armageddon on the dawn of what would become such an apocalypse.

I was talking to Marcus about this at our daily project meeting, and he mentioned a series of novels by Clive Barker called Abarat. This features a culture that uses a form of Tarot for divination, called Abaratian Tarot – which has 88 cards.

In the latest book, the Abaratian populace live in a world that is facing impending doom. However, their powers of divination are not serving them:

As is true of all prophets, the prediction merchants of the Abarat were egotistical and combative, contemptuous of any other seers besides themselves. The fact that each of them worked in radically different ways to achieve their results only intensified the antagonism. One might see signs of futurity in the eighty-eight cards of the Abaratian tarot; another found his own vision of tomorrow in the dung of the yutter goats that grazed the golden fields of Gnomon; while a third, having witnessed the way the music of Noncian reed pipe had induced the lunatics in a madhouse on Huffaker to dance, had then discovered evidence of how the future would unfold in the footprints the patients had left in the sand.

Thus, separated by their own methodologies and by a dangerous sense of their own importance, none of the soothsayers ever compared their predictions with those of others. Had they done so they would have discovered that each of them – however unlike their methods – was receiving the same news. Bad news. A darkness was coming.

(Abarat, Clive Barker, p. 155)

It struck me, reading both Yeats letter and this extract from Barker, that when we read Tarot we rarely compare our readings. There is no such thing as an “Oracular Watch” on the world, with a crack team of diviners acting as a radar on the future – and warning us if we are coming close to disaster, or even Armageddon.

And even if there was – what would we do about it?

One of the fascinating avenues that is not included in the finished Waite-Trinick book is something I read in the work of Charles Williams, a member of Waite’s F.R.C. and accomplished author. Whilst we cover his use of Tarot in his novel, The Greater Trumps, and its relation to the Greater Symbols of the Paths (or not), his work on co-inherence proved equally interesting.

This is the doctrine that in the same way that Christ took on the sins of the World each of us cannot redeem ourselves but is in a position to redeem others. Williams asserted that we do this by taking on the pains and the trials of our close friends – this is a part of co-inherence called substituted love. A general sharing of tasks on behalf of others is simply called exchange.

In fact it is known that Williams established a small group for this practice over a long period of time called the ‘Companions of the Co-inherence’.


Is this co-inherence something that we do as Tarot readers or is that somewhat of a Messianic statement? Are we actually being self–serving when we just read for others, rather than reading for the world? Is it that between these two poles every Tarot reading and divination exists?

Now Marcus once asked what it would mean if one day everybody woke up and no Tarot reading worked, no I-ching reading applied to the situation or question, no oracle could be found to have any application to real life. What a great way to start a novel! I guess for some people it is like that already.

Turning that on its head, supposing that tomorrow we all woke up and every Tarot reading started to mean the same thing – a broadcast signal across all channels blocking out our local communication. This is the situation that Barker describes in Abarat. Would we, unlike the Abaratian “prediction merchants” put aside our “vanities and self-importance” and avoid tragedy by sharing our divinations, by co-inhering with others?

Or will Armageddon come upon us – whilst we sip tea and read Tarot?




One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Lynda Farr
    Feb 04, 2015 @ 00:47:59

    I Also found à copy of this book and also FRs book on Egyptian magic, Great read. she was a possible ancestor of mine

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