The Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley

July 26, 2009

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law

It would be impossible to discuss the Thoth Tarot and not discuss Aleister Crowley himself. Aleister Crowley was born October 12, 1875 in England as Edward Alexander Crowley. His family was wealthy and religious and Crowley despised and rebelled against his family at every opportunity, even renaming himself ‘Aleister’ to avoid sharing the same first name as his father, who passed away when Crowley was 11 at which time he went with his mother, to live with relatives.

He attended Trinity College at Cambridge University, quitting just before completing his degree. Shortly thereafter he was introduced to George Cecil Jones, who was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It had many notable members including A. E. Waite, Dion Fortune, and W. B. Yeats. Crowley was initiated into the Golden Dawn in 1898. He advanced up rapidly through the grades. But in 1900 the order was shattered by schism, and Crowley left England to travel extensively throughout the East.

In 1903, Crowley married Rose Kelly, and they went to Egypt on their honeymoon.

In 1906 Crowley rejoined George Cecil Jones in England, and they set created a magical order to continue where the Golden Dawn had left off. They called this order the A.’. A.’. (Astrum Argentium or Silver Star).

In 1910 Crowley was contacted by Theodore Reuss, the head of an organization called the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). This group of high-ranking Freemasons claimed to have discovered the supreme secret of practical Magick, which is taught in its highest degrees. Crowley joined; becoming a member of O.T.O. Crowley rewrote the rites of the O.T.O.

In 1929 Crowley married his second wife, Maria Ferrari de Miramar

By the mid-1930s, reality caught up with Aleister and financial worries caused him to follow other pursuits.

In 1938 Crowley set out to design the Thoth Tarot deck. He originally intended the Thoth deck to be a six-month project aimed at updating the traditional pictorial symbolism, however it was to span five years, between 1938 and 1943. Painted by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley. Crowley and Harris were meticulous in their work; Harris painted some cards as many as eight times. The current printing of the deck actually includes two alternate illustrations of The Magus, each making use of markedly different style and symbols. Unfortunately, neither Harris nor Crowley lived to see the deck published; a follower of Crowley undertook the work of publication in 1969. This initial printing was of markedly inferior quality, and in 1977 Harris’ paintings were rephotographed for a second edition; the current edition is based on a further update that took place in 1986.

The illustrations of the Thoth deck are rich in symbolism, based upon Crowley’s stated desire to incorporate symbols from many disparate disciplines, including science and philosophy, as well as to draw on his extensive knowledge of various occult systems.

Rider-Waite card Thoth equivalent

I: The Magician                                                             I: The Magus

II: The High Priestess                                                   II: The Priestess

VIII: Strength                                                               XI: Lust

XI: Justice                                                                     VIII: Adjustment

X: Wheel of Fortune                                                      X: Fortune

XIV: Temperance                                                           XIV: Art

XX: Judgment                                                                XX: The Æon

XXI: The World                                                              XXI: The Universe

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