Thelema and Tarot

June 11, 2009

The Book of Thoth : A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians is the title of The Equinox, volume III, number 5, by Aleister Crowley.

This book describes the philosophy and the use of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, a deck of  Tarot cards designed by Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris.

Both Aleister Crowley and scholastic mystic occultist Arthur Edward Waite were members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

He was an influential member of several occult organizations, including the Golden Dawn, the A∴A∴, and Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), and is best known today for his occult writings, especially The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema.

Hermetic Tarot

Hermetic Tarot utilizes the Tarot archetypes to function as a textbook and mnemonic device for teaching and revealing the gnosis of alchemical symbolical language and its profound and philosophical meanings. An example of this practice is found in the rituals of the 19th Century Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the 20th Century Hermetic use of the Tarot archetypes as a handbook and revealer of perennial wisdom was further developed in the work of Carl Gustav Jung and his exploration into the psyche and active imagination. A 21st Century example of a Hermetic rooted Tarot deck is that of Tarot ReVisioned, a black and white deck and book for the Major Arcana by Leigh J. McCloskey.

Tarot Revisioned

Cover of the Thoth Tarot deck, designed by Aleister Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris. The cover is similar to the illustration of the Two of Disks.

Thoth Deck

Thoth Deck

While creator Godfrey Dowson claims that the Hermetic Tarot is “based upon the eosteric workings of the Secret Order of the Golden Dawn,” his highly detailed black-and-white illustrations are not an attempt to reproduce the official Golden Dawn tarot deck per se. Instead, Dowson draws from the works of the more noteworthy names to have come from the Golden Dawn tradition: Mathers, Crowley, Levi, and others. If you’re looking for symbolic overload in a tarot — this is your deck.

Hermetic Cards

Hermetic Cards

The illustrations of the Thoth deck are rich in symbolism, this is the deck by Jean-Baptiste Alliette (Etteilla)


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