The Thoth Tarot by H.B. 1 THE THOTH TAROT by Caliph Hymenaeus Beta Fr

---
Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

The Thoth Tarot by H.B. 1 THE THOTH TAROT by Caliph Hymenaeus Beta Frater Superior, O.T.O. (c) 1988 Ordo Templi Orientis. All rights reserved.Introduction to the TarotThe Tarot first appeared in Europe in 15th Century Italy, but is generally believed to have an earlier origin, probably Oriental. Many students, including Aleister Crowley, attribute the ultimate origin of the Tarot to the Egyptians, terming it the Book of Thoth.The Egyptian God Thoth, sometimes called Tahuti, is traditionally the inventor of writing and the god of Magick. Thoth is the Egyptian counterpart to the Greek god Mercury, or Hermes. He is therefore linked to Hermes Trismegistus, the semimythical classical author whose works -- whether spurious or genuine -fueled the Italian Renaissance through the Hermetic revival. Indeed, Egypt was held to be the ultimate origin, via Greece, of much of the neoplatonic wisdom literature being published by the Italian printing press of Aldus. Thus it would appear that printing became sacred to Thoth, as an extension of writing. Given the Hermetic character of the times, it is not surprising that the first European Tarot Trumps appeared at the court of a Medici prince.Many older Tarot cards bear strong marks of their passage through Medieval and Renaissance Europe to the present day. A degree of Christianization of the symbolism is evident, and some cards strongly suggest feudal aristocracy. In many instances the symbolism seems to be an expression of the collective unconscious of the period. For example, in Trump XIII, ``Death’‘, we find the skeletal Reaper with his scythe, a familiar figure to plague-ridden Europe. The Tarot has always interacted with its cultural context, and this occurred with the Thoth Tarot as well, as we shall see.Cocteau once remarked that while artists appear to use complicated methods to communicate simple things, from the artists’ viewpoint the opposite is true. They are employing simple methods to communicate complex things. So it is with the Tarot. In the Tarot, a wealth of wisdom and traditional lore is codified in a suite of miniature paintings of deceptive simplicity.The Tarot includes 22 Trump cards, also called ``Major Arcana’‘ or ``Atu’‘, numbered in the Roman fashion from 0 to XXI. These Trumps are attributed to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet in a special manner. Through their Hebrew letter-attributions, each Trump is further linked to a particular classical planet, astrological sign, or element (ģMDULĮe.g.ģMDNMĮ fire, water, air or earth). In addition, each Trump has a host of traditional meanings, partly derived from their symbolic iconography.Leaving aside the 22 Trumps or ``Major Arcana’‘, there is a close similarity between the 56 ``Minor Arcana’‘ of the Tarot to today’s familiar deck of 52 playing cards. In fact, playing cards are are believed to be historically derived from the Tarot.The 56 Minor Arcana are divided into four elemental suits. The four classical elements are attributed to magical weapons, in a close parallel to the suits of modern playing cards, as follows: Fire Wands Clubs Water Cups Hearts Air Swords Spades Earth Disks DiamondsIn each elemental Suit there are four Court Cards (Knight, Queen, Prince and Princess) and ten numbered ``Small Cards’‘. As with modern playing cards, the ``ones’‘ are called Aces. Tarot and the QabalahWhile no more than a passing reference can be made here, a real understanding of Tarot is impossible without reference to the Qabalah. It provides the basis for Tarot in three important ways.First, the 16 Court Cards are produced by the interaction of the four elemental suits with the Qabalistic formula of Tetragrammaton (JHVH, ``Jehovah,’‘ the unutterable fourfold name). The four letters of this name correspond to Father (Knight), Mother (Queen), Son (Prince) and Daughter (Princess).Second, the 40 Small Cards are produced by the interaction of the four elemental suits with the 10 ``spheres’‘ of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. According to the Qabalah, the universe was created from nothingness in a flash by the ``Flaming Sword’‘ of God. This Flaming Sword formed 10 discrete spheres of divine emanation (``sephiroth’‘) as it descended to create the manifest universe.Third, and finally, the 22 Trumps are intimately related to the Qabalah through their attributions to the Hebrew alphabet, as discussed above. But the connection goes far deeper than merely this. For the 22 Trumps, when laid out in a certain sequence, connect the ``sephiroth’‘ of the Tree of Life from the lowest (sphere 10) to the highest (sphere 1). They may be considered as ``paths’‘ back up the Tree of Life, to the source of creation. Taken together in their proper sequence, these paths are known as the Serpent of Wisdom.The Qabalistic attributions of the Tarot Cards were among the most closely guarded magical secrets of the turn of the century. While several 19th and early 20th-century Continental texts taught Tarot attributions, and their connection with Qabalah, they usually introduced ``blinds’‘ to mislead the novice.But the great ``secret’‘ of the Tarot is not a matter of attribution alone. It is simply this: to its Initiates, the Tarot Trumps represent the way of redemption and individual reunification with Godhead. The ``paths’‘ of the Tree of Life are the actual steps on this Path. Much more than mere divination tools to foretell events, the cards represent discrete levels of the Astral, Mental, Causal and Supernal planes of existence. The real secret is that they may be experienced directly.It was Aleister Crowley who made it his life’s work to make the keys to the Path generally accessible to all, ending an Aeon of secrecy. He reasoned that since the real secret is known through direct experience, and direct experience is achieved through individual merit and effort, the ``secret’‘ can take care of itself. In other words, an Arcanum that can be profaned is not an Arcanum. The Beast 666Aleister Crowley was born Edward Alexander Crowley in Leamington Spa, England in 1875 to a wealthy and religiously conservative brewing family. He was educated privately and at Cambridge. In his early life he styled himself as an Edwardian gentleman-adventurer. He wrote and published poetry and essays, set mountaineering records, won chess championships and travelled widely. Partly in rebellion against his restrictive religious upbringing, he developed an early fascination with fin de siecle diabolism, as espoused by Baudelaire and his school. This reaction to fundamentalist Christianity deepened into a more balanced and productive spiritual discipline following his introduction to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898.The Golden Dawn was an important initiatory magical fraternity founded by W. Wynn Westcott, S.L. MacGregor Mathers and W.R. Woodman in 1888. Principally through the efforts of Mathers, its great teacher, it developed a syncretist school of occultism that blended classical, medieval, neoplatonic and renaissance occult teachings with more modern doctrines.One of the subjects taught in the Golden Dawn was Tarot, which is the art of making, using and interpreting the 78 cards of the Tarot. Soon after joining the Golden Dawn Crowley was given the secret Lecture on the Tarot, sometimes entitled Book T, which gave the initiated interpretation of the cards.In 1904 the most important single event in Crowley’s life occurred. He received a direct-voice communication from an emissary of the Gods or Forces ruling the earth in the New Age. This emissary had Crowley write, from dictation, a short three-part work entitled Liber AL, or Liber Legis: The Book of the Law. This book signalled the beginning of a New Age, or Aeon -- one ruled by Horus, the Egyptian hawk-headed solar deity. This new Aeon will last approximately 2,000 years beginning in 1904, gradually supplanting the past Aeon of Osiris. In addition to establishing new magical formulae, The Book of the Law declared a new law to mankind -- the Law of Thelema (the Greek word for Will). This Law is best summarized by the now-familiar quotation ``Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’‘ and its corollary ``Love is the law, love under will.’‘ By 1909 schism had thoroughly fragmented the Order of the Golden Dawn. Crowley therefore felt obligated to publish the previously secret Golden Dawn Tarot attributions in his reference book Liber 777. In 1912, he published his version of the Secret Lecture on the Tarot in The Equinox, his magical journal.Crowley used the Tarot as the basis of many of his writings, including Ambrosii Magi Hortus Rosarum (1902), The Wake World (1907), The Vision and the Voice (1909), Magick in Theory and Practice (1929), The Heart of the Master(1938) and The Book of Thoth (1944).A hand-painted Oswald Wirth Tarot deck is among Crowley’s early Golden Dawn papers. This was probably the first deck Crowley used. Crowley expressed dissatisfaction with all available Tarot cards. He had always wanted to design a Tarot deck based on the information he published in The Equinox and Liber 777.What is curious is that Crowley never attempted to paint the deck himself. He took up serious painting during his extended stay in the United States (1914-18), and his artistic style is unmistakable, anticipating developments in European painting by many years, especially the Viennese school. Only one original Tarot trump painted by Crowley is known to survive -- ``The Moon’‘. The Origin of the Thoth TarotWhen living in London in 1937, Crowley was introduced to Lady Frieda Harris by their mutual friend Clifford Bax. She impressed Crowley as an accomplished artist. Born in 1877 (nee Bloxam), Harris was the wife of Sir Percy Harris of the British Parliament.During another meeting that year the subject of the Tarot arose. Crowley suggested to Harris that they collaborate on producing a new pack. Harris protested that her knowledge of the Tarot hardly extended beyond the name, but she agreed to try.The following year Harris became Crowley’s private student, and was admitted to the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), the magical fraternity which he had led since 1922. She took the magical name Soror Tzaba.Crowley enjoyed collaborating with gifted women. Although often characterized as a misogynist, Crowley was in fact an early feminist, and produced some of his best work through such liasons. For example, his masterwork Magick in Theory and Practice (1929) was created with the celebrated British novelist Mary Butts (Soror Rhodon).Crowley originally thought the descriptions of the cards published in The Equinox would be the best designs for Harris to paint. Since The Equinox did not describe the Trump cards in any detail, it was to be supplemented with Trump designs derived from the traditional packs.He estimated that it would take Harris a day to paint each of the 40 Small cards, two days for each of the 16 Court cards, and half a week for each of the 22 trumps. He thus allowed an outside estimate of six months, ``allowing for holidays and interruptions.’‘But it soon became obvious that the Equinox designs wouldn’t work -- they were ``artistically impracticable.’‘ Harris then suggested that Crowley design a completely new Tarot, and write a book to accompany it. What was to be the work of months became the work of years.Harris generously provided Crowley with a small but regular stipend. This income, supplemented with with donations from the O.T.O. in America, kept him at work on the project during the difficult early years of World War II. They became partners in the business side of the project, agreeing that Crowley was to have a two-thirds share of any income, and Harris one-third.From 1938 to 1942 the Thoth Tarot gradually came into being. Due to war conditions in London and the difficulty of travel, Crowley wrote in London, and Harris painted in the countryside. They met rarely and communicated by mail. Fortunately, much of their lively correspondence survives.Harris prepared her watercolors of the cards from Crowley’s rough sketches and descriptions. With some cards Crowley had her redraw and repaint as many as five or six times. He left Harris a free hand with details, but the designs and general coloration schemes are definitely Crowley’s.While it is true that Harris never mastered the Tarot as a discipline, something she would freely acknowledge, her artistic vision gave the paintings their intense vitality. ``Why haven’t I got living fire,’‘ she wrote Crowley, ``which could weave musically these beauties. I can’t do it with pigment. I want poetry and music and light, not coloured chalks…’‘On their completion in 1942, the focus of their work shifted from producing the cards to publishing them. This presented many problems. World War II was at its height, and paper was severely rationed. Crowley was living from hand to mouth. The end of his stipend from Harris after the project’s completion caused him some difficulties, and strained their relationship.Adding to this pressure was Harris’ decision to exhibit the paintings as her own work, with Crowley’s contribution acknowledged either anonymously or not at all. For decades, Crowley’s popular reputation as ``The Wickedest Man in the World’‘ had altogether obscured his reputation as a writer and philosopher, and this alarmed Harris. As she wrote Crowley, she was concerned with arousing the public’s ``suspicion that you, Aleister Crowley, are either attempting to pull their leg or poisoning them with some dangerous new creed.’‘ Crowley protested in vain, and was sorely hurt by her decision, which led to their falling out for a time.Harris succeeded in arranging for gallery exhibitions at the Society of Watercolorists in London, the Berkeley Gallery in Cambridge, and the Nicholson and Venn Gallery in Oxford. With assistance from Robert Cecil, she produced two gallery catalogues for the Cambridge and Oxford shows. The Cambridge catalog was based on Crowley’s notes, which were italicized, and met with his approval. He rejected the Oxford catalog, however, since it was not based on his work.The descriptions of the twelve cards published in this year’s calendar are excerpted from the Cambridge exhibition catalog.Harris made every effort to promote the cards and raise funds for their publication, including radio talks and lectures. However, only a few sample cards were printed. She insisted that only the finest printers in England could do the cards justice. The Tarot of the New AeonCrowley’s design specifications were expanded into The Book of Thoth, now generally acknowledged as the modern classic on the Tarot. In redesigning the Tarot, Crowley closely followed the traditional cards in most essentials. However many cards, especially the Trumps, were recast in the light of modern scholarship. He drew on his encyclopedic knowledge of comparative religion, mathematical physics, philosophy and Magick. In most Trumps he incorporated new symbolism illustrating the doctrines of Payne Knight, Hargrave Jennings, Arthur Eddington, J.G. Frazer, Bertrand Russell, J.W.N. Sullivan, Eliphaz Levi and others. Many ideas were introduced that were derived from his own religious experiences, especially those documented in The Vision and the Voice (1909) and The Paris Working (1914).Crowley renamed some cards to make certain that his doctrine of the New Aeon was made explicit as the spiritual basis of the work. Notably Trump XI was renamed ``Lust,’‘ Trump VIII was renamed ``Adjustment,’‘ and Trump XIV was renamed ``Art’‘ (originally ``Strength,’‘ ``Justice’‘ and ``Temperance,’‘ respectively).He also incorporated an important correction to the traditional occult attributions of Hebrew letters to the Tarot Trumps -- involving Trumps IV and XVII (``The Emperor’‘ and ``The Star’‘). This correction was prompted by an instruction in The Book of the Law, discussed above, which Crowley considered the spiritual basis of the entire work.In order to emphasize this, he used a stylization of the ``Stele of Revealing’‘ to replace the Biblical symbolism of Trump XX, ``The Last Judgment.’‘ The Stele of Revealing is an Egyptian magical artifact that prefigured the theogony of The Book of the Law by several thousand years, and graphically illustrates the basic principles of the New Aeon. The old version of Trump XX depicted the dead rising at the trumpet of the Archangel Gabriel, an event that signalled the end of the Christian era in that religion’s eschatology. Crowley affirmed that this formula, valid in its time, had been fulfilled, and therefore instituted a new Trump XX, ``The Aeon.’‘ By doing so he signalled the supersession of the Aeon of Osiris, the Dying God, by that of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child. Publishing HistoryCrowley and Harris succeeded in releasing The Book of Thoth, which was privately published by the O.T.O. in 1944 in a limited edition of 200 numbered copies. It was published under Crowley’s magical name, The Master Therion. This was probably at Harris’ insistence, since her name appeared in connection with it. Getting the book to press was a fragile business enterprise at best. At a crucial juncture, key financial support came from Grady L. McMurtry, a young American Army lieutenant stationed in Europe during the war. McMurtry was a junior member of the O.T.O. in California.The Book of Thoth reproduced only eight cards in color, the rest being black and white. The full Thoth Deck in color remained unpublished for many years.Crowley died in 1947 in Hastings, England. Lady Frieda Harris was present, and telegraphed the news to the O.T.O. in America. Before he died Crowley had designated young Lt. McMurtry a member of a ``triumvirate’‘ to lead the O.T.O. after his death. He gave him the motto Hymenaeus Alpha 777, and charged him with the responsibility of acting as his Caliph. Crowley was of course the Prophet, having received The Book of the Law. McMurtry assumed sole leadership of the O.T.O. on the deaths of his colleagues, in which capacity he served until his death in 1985.Lady Frieda Harris continued to work with the O.T.O. in America after Crowley’s death. She helped the O.T.O. educate and care for Crowley’s son, Aleister Ataturk, in England and America. Plans for a U.S. lecture tour and fundraising exhibition of the cards failed, as did the continued attempts to arrange for their publication. On her death in 1962, the original watercolors passed into the collection of the British scholar Gerald J. Yorke (Frater Nia). He arranged for their deposit in a London research institute.In 1969 the O.T.O., in cooperation with Gerald J. Yorke, issued the first fullcolor edition of the Thoth Tarot Deck with Carl Weschke (Llewellyn Publications). The O.T.O. and Yorke issued a higher-quality version in 1977, with Donald Weiser (of Samuel Weiser Inc.) and Stuart Kaplan (of U.S. Games Inc.). A completely new edition -- now the definitive quality standard for the deck -- was issued in 1987 by Werner Ganzer (Urania Verlag), in association with A.G. Muller. With this new deck two variant versions of The Magician (or Magus) card -- Trump I -- are included. ConclusionCrowley intended that the Thoth Tarot should serve as a Magical Atlas of and Guide to the Universe for this New Aeon of Horus. He wrote: ``To me this Work on the Tarot is an Encyclopoedia of al

---

E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank