The Opening of the Key

“The Opening of the Key” was the very elaborate process used by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for Tarot divination. In The Book of Thoth and The Equinox, Aleister Crowley explained the system with some “tweaks”. Modern practitioners who pick, choose, and adapt components from various magical systems into their own may find it useful as a source of ideas.


The Opening of the Key, when performed in full, consists of whatever preparations the diviner makes, plus five separate “spreads” of cards, referred to as the Operations. It is not always necessary to perform all five Operations; indeed, it seems that for most purposes, members of the Golden Dawn themselves rarely went beyond the first Operation.

Each operation follows the same basic outline:

  1. From the full deck, get a pack of cards which includes the Significator.
  2. Make a “story” from the cards from the counting procedure.
  3. Further elaborate the “story” using the pairing procedure.
  4. At every stage, you should modify your readings of the cards based on elemental dignities.

The Significator

As may be familiar from other Tarot reading systems, the Significator is a card chosen to represent the Querent (the person for whom the reading is being performed, who might not be the Diviner themselves), based primarily upon their character/personality. Since this is a fairly well-known concept, I won’t go into it further.

The Procedure

First, perform any preparation and invocations. Then proceed with the Operations.