A Brief History of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot

Most, who hear the word tarot, generally think of mystic gypsies or even pagan heretics. For the many that do follow the divinatory path however, The Book of Thoth rings sweetly in their ears. While there are many common decks, tarot enthusiasts consider Thoth Tarot to be unparalleled. An element of becoming an adept of the Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn; Aleister Crowley, and the other members were inspired to create their own tarot decks. As tarot divination was, an integral part of Golden Dawns practice among Qabalah, Astrology, Geomancy, Scrying, Astral travel, and Alchemy. Decks such as the “Rider-Waite Tarot” (by A. E. Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith), the “Builders of Adytum” (BOTA) deck created by Paul Foster Case, and the “Thoth Tarot,” by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris were in turn created.

The Thoth Tarot deck was painted in watercolor by Lady Frieda Harris according to directives from Aleister Crowley. Crowley referred to this deck as The Book of Thoth, and wrote a book of that title for use with the deck. Crowley originally anticipated the Thoth deck to be a six-month project, aimed at updating the traditional pictorial symbolism of the tarot to the more primordial or archaic representation. The project ended up lasting five years, between 1938 and 1943.

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Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris were scrupulous in their work, and Harris painted some of the cards as many as eight times. Although the Golden Dawns members’ decks were very similar, the vigilance in interpreting the deck led to some differences. It seems as if it was a crucial undertaking to have these cards be the closest to their ancient roots as possible. Thoth Tarot was meant to fuse Cabbalistic tradition, Tarot, philosophy, science and magick to form a supreme yet multifaceted tradition. Aleister Crowley was compelled to create a tool that could be used to explore the magickal and mystical elements of both microcosm and macrocosm.

It seems as if Crowley; although never seeing the deck published, knew he was doing something pivotal. He was a pioneer not only mystically, but philosophically, scientifically, religiously and magickally. Being the truest form of Tarot, Thoth Tarot is the pinnacle of the divine. Crowleys intention for the deck was clear “I will not allow the cards to be issued so that they can be used only for gambling or fortune-telling.” -A.C. Aleister Crowley knew the difference between light and dark magick, practicing both in separate rooms of his lodging. He knew that many would want to abuse and mistreat the deck for personal gain not guidance. So reader, heed the advice of Crowley. Do not use the deck if you are not with pure intention or no good will come of it. “There is a single main definition of the object of all magical Ritual. It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or, in the language of Mysticism, Union with God.

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by Erikha Toneneli Montes De Oca