Christopher Hyatt and the Opening of the Key

During my recent exploration of the Opening of the Key (OotK) method as described by Aleister Crowley in both the Book of Thoth and in his 1912 release of the Golden Dawn tarot material in The Equinox, Volume 1, Number 8 (which he also identified as “revised and improved” from the version “given to students of the grade  Adept Adeptus Minor in the R.R. et A. C.”), I realized that the version of the technique that was published in Israel Regardie’s 1983 Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic was apparently massaged by Christopher Hyatt, who was a modern occultist and not a contemporary of the 19th-Century founders of the Order. Thus it appears that Crowley’s accounting is the closest one available to the original. Paul Foster Case, in his 1947 book The Tarot essentially follows Crowley’s 1912 publication, with a few clarifications of his own. Note that I have been using an abbreviated version of the First Operation of the OotK somewhat uncritically since 1972 but never really put much effort into the counting-and-pairing steps, only using the four elemental packs to get an advance feel for the subject of my main reading (typically a Celtic Cross).

The interesting thing for me is that Crowley makes no mention of a multiple count in either his 1912 or his 1948 description. He says to count the number of cards specified from the Significator (for example, count seven for a Princess), and “make a story of these cards.” Period. He doesn’t say to start a second count using the number of the card you landed on, a third count using the number of the card following that, and so forth. The implication is that you count only once and use all of the cards between the Significator and the “end card” to create the story. Crowley’s stated in his 1912  introduction that “certain safeguards have been introduced in order to make its abuse impossible,” which may have been the elimination of the elaborate multi-counting in favor of reading the cards in an unbroken series. Conversely, Hyatt implies that you only read the set of cards that the count pinpoints, and nothing in-between.

Case does indicate vaguely that you keep counting, but as far as I can see doesn’t say when to stop. Hyatt says to keep on counting until you land on a card you have already read. There is a real mish-mash of ideas here that doesn’t seem to be all that well thought out. Although Case was a Golden Dawn member and should have had reason to know, I’m puzzled why he wasn’t more explicit about the counting; all he says about the first card you land on is “begin your second count . . . with that card, and so on.” For his part, Hyatt’s method resembles the technique used for card counting in the Lenormand Grand Tableau, where you skip over intermediary cards and read only the “target” cards until the count returns you to where you started. Since he mentions a “return to the official document of D.D.C.F” (MaGregor Mathers), I decided to dig a little deeper.

In a 1933 pamphlet titled Oracle of the Tarot that was posted on-line by The Tarot Works (, I discovered that Case went to much greater pains to lay out the entire process with clarity and precision. This appears to be identical to Hyatt’s approach, but Case’s explanations of the direction of the count, the scope of the reading and the importance of the “last card” are far superior. I also dug out MagGregor Mather’s brief tarot book from 1888 titled The Tarot, but found that the method of laying out the cards shown in it was nothing like the OotK, so it was of no help.

My decision at the moment – since I plan to pay more attention to card counting and pairing going forward – is whether to stick with what I’ve always thought of as “Crowley’s method,” or whether to adopt Case’s 1933 approach (since I found Hyatt’s way rather garbled). Because Case was a “second generation” Golden Dawn member, I’m inclined to switch to that way of counting, but will probably continue to use Crowley’s “inside-out” method of pairing the cards. Either approach to counting and reading will certainly work, and Crowley’s seems much more straightforward, but I’m not entirely sure I’m reading his intent correctly because of his unhelpful generalizing. In the meantime, I believe I need to read Paul Hughes-Barlow’s book, The Tarot and the Magus.

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