When I lived in San Francisco I was privileged to meet several members of what was then known as the Holy Order of MANS (in which MANS stands for Mysterion, Agape, Nous, Sophia,” Greek for mystery, love, mind, and wisdom). I became interested in their organization, both because of the tremendous sincerity and integrity of the members I met and because of their study of tarot as a Christian mystery. They adopted the Waite-Smith Tarot as modified by Paul Foster Case and Jessie Burns Parke,  added their own layer of modifications to the deck, and then wrote a set of explanatory books that are thoughtful revisionings of Case’s text.

The Holy Order of MANS was founded in 1968 by visionary Earl Wilbur Blighton (formerly an electrical engineer) as a monastic order of esoteric, Rosicrucian Christianity dedicated to charity (Raphael Shelters) and their missionary work in 49 states. The order grew rapidly during San Francisco’s hippie era, when members served selflessly to help those in need. My sense is that they followed as closely as they could the model of the earliest Christian churches. Additionally, women could be ordained as priests. As Blighton expressed it in their statement of purpose:

I care not what doctrine you have or have decided on. But while the world argues over the theological discussions of doctrine, sin, apostolic succession and others, we will remove from the people their problems and give unto them the ray of hope and reality which our Lord Jesus commissioned us to carry forth as Christians and disciples of the Word and the works and the Light and the love of God.”

With Blighton’s death in 1974 there was a prolonged power struggle among Blighton’s wife and others for leadership over the 3,000 members. The new director focused on a more conservative, repressive and less metaphysical path, eventually joining with a defrocked priest from the Russian Orthodox Church. Since 1988 it has splintered into many groups including the Science of Man in Oregon, which was led by Blighton’s wife, Ruth, until her death in 2005.

But their own deck and books were not the extent of the tarot connection. In 1975, at a judo tournament, science fiction author, Piers Anthony, met and became friends with a brother from the original Order. Anthony was intrigued by their unique mix of Gnostic Christianity, co-ed communalism, and Tarot. Out of this came a character who would appear in several novels: Brother Paul of the Holy Order of Vision. Anthony also created an imaginary deck called the Animation Tarot, having a hundred cards in five suits. By September of 1977 he had a 250,000 word manuscript that no one wanted to publish. Members of the real order were told not to read the manuscript or speak with him, which he regretted, since the novel stemmed in significant part from his admiration of their operation. Anthony reluctantly agreed to splitting the book into a trilogy: God of Tarot, Vision of Tarot and Faith of Tarot. Jove then stopped publishing science fiction and the next two volumes were published by Berkeley (1980). It wasn’t until 1987 that the novel appeared in one volume (NY: Ace). It’s an interesting novel, although I remember it seeming rather incoherent in places—perhaps because I read it as each volume of the trilogy came out.

Although the Holy Order of MANS deck and books owe much to Case’s BOTA materials, there are plenty of additional insights to make them well worth obtaining, especially for those who are interested in a metaphysical Christian approach to the tarot symbols. The revised books, Keystone of the Tarot and the more detailed, Jewels of the Wise, and their color-it-yourself Major Arcana deck are still available here.

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