Thoth

Thoth Tarot-Lady Frieda Harris with instruction by Aleister Crowley 1938-1943 published 1969

One of the most notorious of Tarot decks due to its association with the infamous Aleister Crowley, the Thoth Tarot was designed and painted by Lady Frieda Harris under instruction from the Great Beast. In addition to referencing Crowley’s new religion of Thelema,  (Do what you wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will), Lady Harris includes elements of Goethe’s theory of colour and Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy in the execution of the project.

In 1937 Crowley had asked his friend the playwright Clifford Bax to find an artist to realise his longstanding ambition of re-designing the Tarot deck along Thelemic lines After two artists failed to show Bax invited Lady Frieda, then aged 60, to met Crowley. Third time around indeed proved to be a charm and they worked together on the deck for 5 years. Crowley initiated Lady Frieda into his mystical order the A∴A∴ and Lady Frieda Harris persuaded Crowley to break somewhat with Tarot tradition in the Thoth deck. Surprisingly Crowley seemed to develop a genuine affection for Harris and she in turn was devoted to him up to and during his last difficult days in a Hastings boarding house.

Crowley re-named several of the Major Arcana from the Rider-Waite-Smith, for instance Trump XI Strength becomes Lust and Trump XX Judgement becomes The Æon. Naturally the Hebrew letter and astrological correspondences are changed because no two occultists have ever agreed on such matters. The astrological significance of the Minor Arcana is very comprehensively outlined in the accompanying Book of Thoth written by Crowley.

 

27 thoughts on “Thoth

  1. A fascinating and informative post, I am beginning to imagine myself a Tarot reader… amateur of course, wink. The cards are stunning, is it true they were not finish in Crowley’s lifetime? I would not mind reading The Book of The Law. Thank you, enjoyed Mr. C.

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    1. The Book of Thoth with the paintings was printed in 1944 (Crowley died in 1947 at the age of 72, quite old considering his lifestyle, he was a very heavy drug addict) but the set wasn’t produced until 1969 by the OTO. The infamous Book of the Law which was channeled in Egypt. Crowley was and is a fascinating but dangerous character. The cards are great though.

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    1. Bonkers yes but I am very indulgent and tolerant of all the rogues, charlatans and people possessing genuine magic who populate Cakeland. As Faust said, ‘‘tis the magic, magic that has ravished me”. Of course you could argue that the Tarot deals with time, space and identity because the variables in 78 cards can be interpreted as being about anything and everything.

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      1. That’s sort of what I was getting at.
        Our whole perception of everything is bonkers. Perhaps we need tarot to make sense of it. Or to steep ourselves in the true bonkerness at the heart of reality.

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      2. Our perception is limited really to the necessary. A dog doesn’t have good colour vision because it doesn’t need it. Cleansing the doors of perception carries a risk. Tarot is a beautiful way to understand it and is quite meta or post modern. Excuse me when I am in Mystic Cake mood, I can talk some shite. I will send you a previous post on the effect of Tarot in modern art.

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  2. It certainly is an incredible deck of tarot cards with so much thought and care gone onto each image.
    It would have been incredibly ground breaking and shocking for its time. It divided readers when I started studying tarot. Aeon is 1 of my favourite images.

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      1. I started with Marseille tarot too but I never use it. It was an exercise in determination and perserverance as the minor arcana had no helpful images that you could get a grip on so you had to learn it the hard way through rememberance of meanings.
        I’ve got the black and white drawn deck the Hermetic tarot by Godfrey Dowson which I used to use and liked as it has astrological references for each card.
        I also like the colour and sumptiousness of The Voyager tarot by James Wanless and you can always make up good stories from the images.

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      2. Agreed and I will occasionally write up on interesting packs. This is my fourth post on the Tarot (I am including the Surrealist pack in there, not technically Tarot but with divinatory purposes). So keep the suggestions coming!

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