Book of Thoth: The Fool.

Buckle up; this one’s a whopper.

Part I of The Book of Thoth introduced us to the Tarot according to Crowley. The focus was on the Qabalah and the Tetragrammation, among other things, and how the cards fit onto these structures. Part II, titled The Atu (Keys or Trumps) is all about the Major Arcana. It begins with chapter 0: The Fool.

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First of all, Mr. Crowley attributes the Fool to the letter Aleph, a matter which, you may recall, he vehemently justifies in his introductory chaptersAleph signifies an ox, or more specifically for Crowley’s purposes, the phallic ploughshare. On the Tree of Life, Aleph occupies the path which connects the Sephora Kether, the Crown (1) to Chokmah, Wisdom (2).

Somewhat paradoxically, the Fool also represents the Veil of the Negative from which the Tree of Life emanates. This is denoted by his number 0. Thus are we introduced to one of the profound mysteries of Crowley’s Qabalistic Tarot: 0=2.* Of the three mother elements, the Fool represents Air, equated in this instance with empty space or a vacuum.

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Of all the Atu, the Fool’s chapter is the longest by far. Much of this length comes from what DuQuette calls a “whirlwind tour of the greatest hits of Greek, Roman, Hindu, pagan, and Christian mythology.”** Crowley begins this tour with a (somewhat far-fetched, IMHO) association of the card’s original title of Il Matto or Le Mat with the Egyptian vulture goddess Maut, whose spiral-shaped neck supposedly represents the shape of the Universe. More significant is that the vulture was once thought to be impregnated by the wind in a sort of immaculate conception. The Fool, as a representation of both Air (and the ploughshare) and of Maut, is therefore both father and mother (“in the most abstract form of these ideas,” says Crowley on page 53). Paradoxes abound.

This business about the Fool being both Father and Mother leads Crowley to revisit his discussion of Tetragrammation, or the four-fold nature of the Tree of Life. In summary,*** to formulate 0, one must postulate the equation Zero equals plus one minus one, or the union of the active principle and the passive. This union can obviously regress back to Zero, or it can “go forth into matter” and produce a “son” and “daughter.” The court cards of the Tarot are the most concrete example of Tetragrammation, and these four abstract principles of Father, Mother, Son and Daughter are represented by the Knights, Queens, Princes and Princesses, respectively, of the court. The Knight conquers the old king and weds the Queen; she produces the Prince and Princess, who in turn become the Knight and Queen, and so on, ad infinitum. This ever-regenerating cycle is what makes the world go ’round, so to speak.

What (I think) Crowley is saying by bringing all this up in this chapter is that the Fool is representative of both the Knight and Queen (and by extension, the Prince and Princess). In the old fairy tales, it is easy to identify the Fool as the masculine Knight, and Crowley expounds upon this quite a bit. However, “all such symbolism defeats itself; the soft becomes the hard, the rough the smooth. The deeper one goes into the formula, the closer becomes the identification of the opposites. The Dove is the bird of Venus, but the dove is also a symbol of the Holy Ghost; that is, of the Phallus in its most sublimated form. There is therefore no reason for surprise in observing the identification of the father with the mother,” explains Crowley on page 56 (sorry for another block quote in this series, but frankly, I couldn’t parse apart that Gordian Knot with my own words if my name was Alexander). The Fool is thus a composite symbol for the entire Tetragrammation.

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With that, Crowley resumes his mythical greatest hits tour. At his most primal, the Fool is represented by the Green Man, the April Fool and the Holy Ghost, all of which are connected to the festivals of frivolity and fecundity that accompanies Spring’s rebirth. Fairly straightforward.

Next is Dalua, the “Great Fool” of the Celts. Or, so the section is titled. Crowley mentions neither Dalua nor the Celts here, but instead goes into detail about how humanity requires a “savior,” whatever that may mean to a given culture. Unfortunately, salvation is hindered by reason – it is only through “madness” that salvation can be attained. Such divine madness is incomprehensible to mankind, so in order to fit the bill, the savior must be extra-ordinary, even to the point of requiring a virgin mother and a god for his father. Even better if god materializes in the form of some sacred animal, as ol’ Zeus is wont to do. This savior must be incomprehensible by nature, but in order to denote him in his ineffability, he is often depicted as a wandering lunatic or fool, because who better than those simpletons who in simpler times were thought to be “touched by God?” Knowing nothing about this “Dalua,” I’m left to assume he is akin to the messiah of the ancient Celts.

Following Dalua is Percivale or Parsifal, the foolish and pure knight of Arthurian legend who won the Holy Grail and cured the Fisher King and his realm of its blight. This is an advancement of the theme of the foolish savior above, and it connects back to the primitive fecundity of the Green Man through “maximum innocence (i.e. madness) developing into maximum fertility (page 59),” which is symbolized in the legends as Parsifal obtaining the lance (puberty) and plunging it into the grail ( … we all know what that means, right?) to redeem all that is awry.

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Up until now, all of Crowley’s examples have their origins in the British Isles, with a healthy dose of Christianity thrown in because, after all, what we know about the ancient Celts and Brits comes from Christian sources. It is at this juncture that he returns to Egyptian myth to illustrate what is essentially the same point with a different cultural language (it is during the following sections that Crowley also alludes to Hindu myth, but I’m not going to bring that up in this post because I’m already going cross-eyed over it all, and I have no doubt that only the most tenacious of my readers are going to get even this far).

Sebek, the crocodile god who is the son of Set, is used by Crowley to epitomize all ancient fish gods. This fish (a symbol to which Crowley often alludes) is, like the Fool, a symbol of both the male and female. The crocodile is similar to Maut the vulture, in that it was supposed to reproduce by some mystical asexual means, and is therefore a supreme symbol of generative power. Crowley digresses here a bit into the mystical properties of the letter “N,” but because that ultimately falls under the domain of Atu XIII, we’ll leave it alone for now. Suffice it to say that it has a lot to do with water, and the fish or crocodile represents the “god through whose virtue man passes through the waters of death (page 60).” There is, again, a female counterpart/component to this doctrine, and while I am willing to accept this paradox, I can’t explain it to any degree of satisfaction.

Next on the docket is Hoor-Pa-Kraat or Harpocrates, who is the newborn “dawn” aspect of Horus, the Egyptian savior-sun god. Harpocrates (his Hellenistic transliteration) is the god of Silence, which sparks such a digression from Crowley that he appends it to the end of Part II instead of just footnoting it or rambling for an extra paragraph here (more on these appendices at another time – there are several for the Fool, as well as some for others of the Atu). Hoor-Pa-Kraat is integral to Crowley’s magic(k)al doctrines, so it comes as no surprise to see such space devoted to him here. In essence (so far as I can figure it), this silence is the silence of Zero = Two, just before it manifests itself as Three. It must be silent, because the third Sephiroth Binah, called “Understanding,” does not yet exist.

Crowley spends some time describing Harpocrates in his typical depictions. This is significant, because no other figure in this chapter gets such a thorough treatment.**** What is important for our purposes, though, is that Harpocrates represents that divine innocence which is the theme of this card. He is a child, either yet-unborn or newborn, who is closely associated Sebek and the Nile – he is essentially one with the waters of oblivion, simultaneously master of them and at the mercy of them, a sublime paradox that really resonates with me.

To be honest, this stuff about Harpocrates seems to make fair enough sense as I read it, but I am really struggling to put it into an intelligible summary here. It is very heavy on the paradox stuff, which is of course a theme of the entire chapter and is naturally confusing. Suffice it to say that there is quite a bit packed into the ~3 pages about Harpocrates, and if I had to distill it to its essence, I would say that, as the god of Silence, Innocence, and the Dawn (metaphor for rebirth), he epitomizes the Fool for Crowley. I don’t mean to cheat Harpocrates of his full depth of meaning, but all of these mythical characters are essentially just analogies for the Fool, and the minutae isn’t necessarily always important for our purposes here. At any rate, I think the Fool may take many years of re-reading and meditation before I can fully unpack him. And, if I can fully unpack him, I will have missed the point of the card.

But, like Crowley, I digress.

~~~

And with that, we move right along to Greece. Zeus Arrhenothelus is the hermaphroditic aspect of Zeus. Apparently, this version of Zeus is more prevalent in Alchemy than in mythology (at least insofar as I am familiar with it, but it is true that Crowley’s encyclopedic knowledge of mythology far surpasses mine), and it symbolizes “that the original god is both male and female (page 64).” As soon as the male aspect is conceived, the female is immediately generated. This is a primary Crowley rule: each symbol contains within itself its own opposite, and it’s another reiteration of the paradoxical theme of the chapter. Zeus is also, interestingly, an Air deity. Crowley talks a bit here about the association of Air with Spirit (and it’s not the first time he’s done so), and why Air should be Zero when it is generally thought that Fire is the original element, but again, much of this discussion went over my head.

Next is Dionysus Zagreus and Bacchus Diphues. The essence here is that Bacchus was driven insane and represents madness and intoxication. He is also the offspring of Zeus, which is interesting in that it suggests the Fool, as Zeus and Bacchus, is both father and son (see the part about Tetragrammation above). Crowley has much more to say, but it’s all more or less in the vein of madness and it’s associated bacchanalian symbolism; overall, this part is pretty straightforward.

The last stop on the tour is Baphomet, about whom Crowley assumes a general knowledge on the part of the reader. This I unfortunately lack, outside of Baphomet being the goat-headed figure that graces Satanic pentagrams. He does show up again in Atu XV, so I’ll save my speculations about why he’s really important to the Thoth Tarot for then. Why Baphomet has anything to do with the Fool is honestly beyond me at this point.

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Crowley finally wraps up this chapter with a discussion about the contradictory and generally reason-defying nature of the Fool. The goal of studying the Fool, or any of the trumps for that matter, is supposedly to train the mind in thinking “clearly and coherently in this exalted matter (page 67).” The last thing that happens in this chapter is a description of the card itself, but because I’ve posted a photo of it, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to repeat any of it here.

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Despite my occasional lapses in comprehension, I am quite pleased with myself for the depths of understanding I’ve managed to plumb from this chapter. This post took me well over the time I expected to write it, but if I get as much from the subsequent chapters as I did from this one, I’ll be able to consider myself a serious Thoth initiate in no time. Of course, Mr. Crowley doesn’t even have half as much to say about any other card as he does about the Fool, and that is telling. There is no other card as important to the mystery of Tarot and the Qabalah as this one. It sets the stage for everything that follows. It is the thesis of Tarot.

To sum up, I would say the most important takeaway is the paradox inherent in this card. DuQuette says about the Fool, “[he] propounds the ultimate riddle. Creation and the meaning of life are an incomprehensible joke. The Fool is more than God. The Fool is the ‘nothing’ we refer to when we say, ‘Nothing created God. Nothing is beyond God. Nothing is greater than God.'”***** Everything beyond that, while interesting, is just details.

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Sorry about this slow burn of a read. I doubt anything else in this series is going to be this languorous. It was all for my own good, though, and if you’re reading this, I hope it was helpful for you, too.

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*Here is a perfect example of why it’s a good idea for me to write this series. I puzzled for a week and a half over how the Fool could represent both a path on the Tree and the Void surrounding it. Of course, Crowley’s bit about comparing the apparent contradictions in Qabalah to the mathematical impossibility of hitting a golf ball echoed in my ear, but that’s ultimately just clever rhetoric. It was only as I wrote this out that it hit me: Crowley’s whole thing is 0=2, so it is actually very fitting for the card numbered 0 to occupy the space between Sephiroth 1 and 2. As I discussed before, it takes 3 to finally differentiate between all previous points. Mind-bending.

**DuQuette, Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, page 97.

***I surmised somewhat already in a previous installment, but for the sake of keeping my understanding of Crowley’s Thoth thorough, I’ll reiterate here.

****Dalua be like, wtf am I, chopped liver?!

*****DuQuette, UACTT, page 97. You know, I find DuQuette’s writing to be the perfect companion to Crowley’s. It’s light and playful where Crowley’s is heavy and serious. But while I have found DuQuette’s book to be an indispensable guide to the Thoth, this series has proven to me that there is no substitute for the original. As DuQuette says himself on page 5, “I strongly recommend that, if you are serious about your study of the tarot, you not only read The Book of Thoth but reread it regularly.” I get it now.

 

Radiant Rider-Waite.

Having last reviewed the Tarot del Fuego, which is my most recent acquisition, I thought I’d follow it up with the Radiant Rider-Waite, which has a special place in my heart as the very first Tarot deck I’ve ever owned. That was in October 2015.* Though I’d been practicing magic for a few years at the time, I knew virtually nothing about the Tarot, and I was still very secretive about my strange hobbies. So, with a paranoid glance over my shoulder, I snuck into the local metaphysical shop and bought the one they had that I recognized as the best standard beginners’ deck according to my preliminary research on aeclectic.net.** That one was the trusty Radiant.

I admit, I am tempted to go into personal reminisces about my early days with the Radiant. Perhaps someday I will, but for now, on to the task at hand.

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The Radiant Rider-Waite was published by U.S. Games in 2003. Credit is given to Virginijus Poshkus for recoloring the classic Rider pack. Whether or not it was this Viginijus who did the entirety of the art or just the color is not stated, but no other name is given in that regard.

The Radiant is what we in the Tarot community refer to as a Rider clone. This means it is not the Tarot created by A.E. Waite and P.C. Smith and published by the Rider company in 1909, but a close replica. Some clones are closer replicas to the original, it’s true, and sticklers will nit-pick the Radiant to pieces, but to a younger and more innocent me, all that mattered very little.

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Taking pictures with my computer while at my Covid job. 

The entire deck has been re-drawn, and despite the nit-pickers, it is a faithful enough reproduction for most occasions.*** What is most notable about the Radiant, though, is the color scheme. This is very bright and, well, radiant. Each figure in this Tarot has a subtle glow about them.

The deck came packaged in a regular tuckbox, comparable to most other standard decks from U.S. Games. It features the Fool on the front and the Magician on the back. Nothing special, and it’s clear enough what to expect inside. I say “enough” because on the side is printed “A vibrantly recolored version of the original Rider-Waite Tarot. Explore the most cherished, popular tarot deck in the world with a new radiance to guide you.” The new color is brought to my attention, while the new line drawings are glossed over. If it weren’t for the “Based on Drawings by Pamela Colman Smith” on the other side, I’d say this box would be flirtin’ with false advertising. It’s subtle, and it is nit-picky, but buyer beware, after all. Even in 2015, I was able to critically analyze these words and understand what I was buying. As it was my only option at the store, I didn’t really have a choice, but again, it served my purposes.

The cardstock is sturdy but flexible and is coated with a glossy finish. The finish is perhaps not as attractive as the matte finishes on other U.S. Games decks, but it does a great job of protecting the cards. The cardbacks are a deep blue scattered with yellow stars – pretty cool. They are reversible. There is a white border on the backs and faces of each card. The border includes the card name printed (not Smith’s distinctive hand lettering) on the face.

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The card backs. That starry sky design blew my mind when I first got it, but alas! it’s not even the best starry sky on the back of a Rider clone in my collection anymore. 

The Major Arcana are the standard RWS. Same for the Minor Arcana. Again, there are subtle differences in art and color, but there is nothing out of the ordinary. To the un-trained eye, these images are those of the classic Rider pack. The colors are not only brighter, but a bit more nuanced, with definite shading and highlights that are absent from Smith’s work. Some of the faces do tend to look a bit plastic, but it’s not a huge detraction from the overall deck.

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Justice serves as a good example of both the great colors as well as the mannequin-faced figures that sometimes grace these cards. Unfortunately, conditions for capturing such things in photograph are less than ideal, and I’m terrible with a camera on a good day. 

The Little White Book is, so far as I can tell, the same as every LWB issued for a Rider clone by U.S. Games. There is a historical introduction by Stuart Kaplan, which is informative if a bit noncommittal in its assertions. The card meanings are excerpted from Waite’s The Key to the Tarot, as is the instructions for the Celtic Cross spread. I’ve certainly seen better ways to approach the spread, and using Waite’s own words can be something of a turn-off for the beginner. On the other hand, having the creator’s words to rely on can be pretty cool. Depends on your view.

I’m reaching back pretty far into the memory banks for my initial impressions, but I remember with clarity how enthralled I was by these cards when I first flipped through them. Remember, I’d never laid eyes on Smith’s art, at least not up close, and to hold it (or a close reproduction of it) in my hands was thrilling. I loved, and still love, the idealized pseudo-renaissance imagery. It has a firm hold on my imagination.

Having now the benefit of several years of (amateur) study, I can say that there are better versions of Smith’s artwork out there. But these cards are still good, and they feel good in my hands. They read like any other Rider pack, which is (for me, at least) very well. In fact, I might go so far as to assert that (again, for me) these cards read better than their competitors in the Rider-clone market.**** But as that’s entirely subjective, I can’t really back it up.

My criticisms were already touched upon above. Mostly it’s just commentary on the new line-work being ever-so-slightly sub par. I also tend to prefer less glossy finishes on my cards, but hey, the gloss has protected these cards during many travels and drunken sessions with rowdy friends. So all in all, I can’t really complain.

All points in favor of this deck are, to be honest, actually for Smith and Waite. Their deck is a classic, and for good reason. The Radiant is a testament to that fact, in that no other deck ever created has been copied and re-issued as the RWS. What points in favor I can give to the Radiant specific would probably have to do with the color. It really is eye-catching and beautiful. I also have to give props to the good cardstock.

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And now for my recommendation and final remarks. I would certainly recommend this deck for a beginner looking to get into the Rider tradition. It may not be the best out there, but it’s certainly not the worst, either. It serves well as a sturdy workhorse deck, and for any folks out there who fill the potential niche of being a Rider clone collector, well, you shouldn’t pass this one up.

I would not recommend this deck to anyone who is a Rider purist. While it’s perfectly fine for the likes of me, it is not the original, and if the original is what you’re looking for, you need to look elsewhere. It should go without saying, but anyone who is thoroughly entrenched in the Thoth or Continental schools of Tarot probably don’t need to get this deck, either.

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Some cards from the Minor Arcana.

As the younger, more innocent man in the quaint year of 2015, I would give the Radiant a biased rating of 5 out of 5 stars. As I said at the top, it will forever hold a special place in my heart as my introduction to the Tarot.

However, as a critical blogger attempting to make an honest review, I would probably rate the Radiant 3 out of 5 stars. The bottom line is this: why use the Radiant when you could just as easily use a better Rider clone, or even the original?

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*Those were simpler times. Alas.

**Good times, 2015. Not least of the things that made life easier back then for the likes of me was this site. I do miss those forums, and while Aeclectic still holds a premium spot on my bookmarks bar, it’s more for sentimental reasons than anything else these days.

***I was honored to receive a comment on a post I did a couple years back from Rachel Pollack, author of one of my favorite Tarot books 78 Degrees of Wisdom. She pointed out how intensely and subtly symbolic Smith’s artwork really is, citing a minuscule detail on one of the legs of his table that is rarely, if ever, present in a clone that was re-drawn by someone else, such as the Radiant.

****If you believe such things, the Radiant might just read so well for me because I’ve poured so much of my energy and intent into it over the years. Of course, it might also be because they were the cards with which I learned how to read at all.

Tarot del Fuego.

I got a new Tarot. Couldn’t say why this one appealed to me in the store. The box displays virtually no written information and only the slightest visual hints towards the art inside. But every time I’ve gone to this store since it reopened several weeks back, I saw this box, picked it up, looked it over, and put it down. Then I’d come back, and it was still there, and I’d repeat the process.

Until, of course, I actually bought it the last time I was there.

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The Tarot del Fuego by Ricardo Cavolo was published by Fournier in 2018. It features unique artwork composed of stark colors in a sort of Spanish/Latin folk style. Cavolo has gained some international notoriety for his murals and other works. As the name implies, this deck is somewhat unbalanced in its elemental energies in favor of Fire, which contributes to a loud and fast overall feel.

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The box

The cards come packaged in the typical tuckbox. The box features motifs that are found throughout the deck, especially hearts, eyes, stars, comets and meteors, and flames, all against a sort of cloudy dark-blue background. There are no pictures of specific cards, nor is there any description of the deck. This initially counted against it, as I said, because I didn’t feel like I knew enough to buy the deck. Ultimately, however, the packaging is quite intriguing, which I think works in its favor.

The cardstock is nothing special, but it’s not bad by any means. They’re quite slippery, and care is needed while shuffling lest stray cards fly away. They’re pliable but sturdy enough. I would compare it to the usual cardstock by Lo Scarabeo. The card backs are non-reversable, featuring artwork that is the same as that on the box, with the addition of a red border that serves to make the central flaming eye-heart motif really pop. The cards all have a thin white border, front and back, that is scarcely a couple millimeters wide. Each card measures approximately (or perhaps exactly – I don’t have a ruler handy) twice as long as it is wide; again, comparable to Lo Scarabeo cards.

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The Major Arcana are downright stunning. It’s clear from cards like the Priestess and the Hierophant that these cards were inspired by the Marseille pattern Tarots, but the Tarot del Fuego is certainly original. There is almost an overload of symbolism, and they can feel a bit crowed upon first glance. Much of the symbolism is traditional; a lot of it is wholly new. There are several motifs that span many cards, which makes for a fascinatingly self-referential deck. Despite the beautiful, bizarre, and at times startling imagery, there is nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to the trumps. They are more or less traditional at their core.

Certain cards stand out to me. Of course I’m always drawn to the Hermit in every deck. This Hermit, though, is frickin cool. He faces the opposite direction of most Hermits, he carries a lighthouse for his lantern (did I mention frickin cool?) and a snake for his staff, which may be a reference to Oswald Wirth. He’s also blindfolded, which does perplex me a little.

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The Hermit & the Priestess. Apologies for the poor photo quality.

Justice is number eight, but interestingly features a lion along with the usual symbols. Is this a nod to the Golden Dawn’s switch? I don’t really know. There are no scales on Strength (or a lion, for that matter – the young girl in the card is prying open the jaws of a Midgard-esque serpent), but there are swords. That astrology may play a part in the symbolism of this deck is attested by the ram-headed Emperor. On the other hand, that could be symbolic all on its own without astrological attributions, and there isn’t much else in the deck that jumps out at me as being particularly astrological. In any event, there are many clever symbolic nods throughout. Overall, I get the sense that these figures are larger than life (some of them literally are straddling the globe), beings of mythic proportions.

The Minor Arcana are more of a departure. They are all fully illustrated, but not at all after the fashion of the RWS. Some of them are strange, some are a bit morbid, but all are beautiful and colorful. The suits are Wands, Cups, Swords and Pentacles, although the Pentacles in question look like coins with an eye shedding a single tear imprinted on them. The small cards are really interesting, although you’ll need to rely either on the imagery to stir your imagination for interpretations, or else you’ll have to bring an outside system to bear on your readings.

Across both the Major and Minor Arcana are recurring symbols (especially eyes and flames). Almost all of the human and animal figures are blessed with multiple pairs of eyes, which gives them an eerie mystical vibe. The colors are vibrant, and there is a certain violence to the art. Lots of blood and fire. It almost makes me think of a brutal Spanish interpretation of the Book of Revelation. That being said, there is not much graphic violence (although there is some), and the entire thing has a playful cartoonish sort of feel (which is not, in my opinion, a bad thing). As I said, the images can feel crowded, but I find it incredibly compelling, with each look revealing something new. I think of them as “action-packed.” Appropriate for the Tarot of Fire.

The cards come with a Little White Book that is written in five languages: Spanish, English, French, German and Portugese. There is one page of introductory material, which propounds upon the fantastical notion that the cards originated in Egypt and were disseminated by Gypsies. The card meanings are all standard and do not elaborate on the art that is so distinctive of this Tarot. All in all, I was very underwhelmed by the LWB.

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My initial impression of the Tarot del Fuego was very positive. I was enthralled by each card. This has not lessened with time.

However, I do find it somewhat difficult to read with. I have no doubt, however, that with more time and experience, it will yield thoughtful, if a bit harsh, readings. Any fault in this regard is probably on me rather than the cards.

I can’t honestly say I have much in the way of criticism for this deck. I would probably make the cardstock a little less slippery, but this doesn’t bother me as much as it once did, and as long as I’m deliberate, they shuffle very nicely. There are no cards that struck me as awful, which is itself a feat. The Minor Arcana is maybe a bit more disturbing than I’d like to read with regularly, but as with with decks like the Deviant Moon, I’ll probably get over it and eventually come to really love it.

My laudations for this deck include the Major Arcana especially, of which I just can’t get enough. I like the traditional foundation upon which it’s built, and I like the originality of the artist’s interpretation. I love the bold colors and otherworldly feel. That it’s Spanish adds a nice spice to my collection, and I like it for that, as well.

I would certainly recommend this deck for collectors and for folks who are looking for something a little “out of the box” without sacrificing the age-old tradition of the Marseilles. Anyone who likes Spanish/Latin culture or tattoo-inspired art will also like this deck.

I would almost certainly not recommend this deck for beginners, unless they are determined to internalize its distinct symbolism. That could potentially be a handicap should he or she decide to try other decks in the future. The lame LWB and lack of available supplementary material contributes to the somewhat less than user-friendliness of these cards. Anyone who is firmly entrenched in the RWS or Thoth schools will probably not get much from these cards, either (stunning art notwithstanding). It’s also worth noting that, while I don’t think it’s too bad, it is possible that this deck may not be for those who are faint of heart or weak of stomach.

All in all, I give the Tarot del Fuego 4.5 out of 5 stars (totally arbitrary, but I dunno. Maybe I’ll start a star rating system in my reviews, see how I think they all stack up against each other).

~~~

Speaking of “my reviews,” I’ve decided that I’m going to review all of my decks after the fashion of this one (that is to say, I created a review template in order to keep myself on track and provide information that’s actually useful). This is a departure from my reviews of the past in that I used to just ramble about my impressions and opinions, and while that may be fun for me (and possibly even for you), it’s not really a good way for me to catalogue my collection on this blog.

I figure I’ll break it down like this: for each new (as yet un-reviewed) Tarot I write about, I’ll also write a review of one of the old ones following the template (and thereby updating my opinions and erroneous information). I know a lot of people like deck reviews, and I know I like reading honest reviews when I’m thinking about a new deck, or when I’m trying to get the hang of one I’ve purchased. As with most else on this blog, I’m writing to a hypothetical past self, who would have been very pleased to have such information at his fingertips. Hopefully others can share in that.

Book of Thoth: Part One, Chapter III.

When I last left the Book of Thoth, I’d read all about how the Tarot cards fit onto the Qabalistic schema called the Tree of Life

The third chapter is somewhat less confusing, and in my opinion, is also quite entertaining.* However, I don’t really think the bulk of the details are all that relevant to learning the cards, so I’ll summarize much more concisely than I did in the previous installment of this series.

The first section is a general explanation of astrology from the perspective of the “ancients.” This includes the planets and zodiac signs as well as a refresher on the four elements. Mr. Crowley doesn’t really talk about what it all means as much as he talks about how it all fits together and works. At this point, I’m left to my own devices to learn why Scorpio is different from Virgo, or how Mercury behaves in either of them, etc.

All this is followed by another lecture on the Tree of Life. Almost all of it is a reiteration of the previous chapter, although to be honest I found the review helpful. Crowley even says he reiterates on purpose, and probably for that very reason. Throughout he digresses over and over again into explanation by way of analogy (which is helpful) and into his own opinions (which is very amusing), but ultimately he returns to the point when he talks about the numbering of the trumps.

He lambasts the Continental school of occultism on their tendency to place the Fool between Judgement and the World,** and then talks about the switching of the order of Justice and Strength (which he has renamed Adjustment and Lust) on astrological grounds. In short, it was all very necessary to make the switch, but why such a necessity would occur was perplexing. Crowley eventually figured out that, in addition to Lust and Adjustment, the Emperor and the Star must also switch (on Qabalistic grounds). The resulting “douple loop” of the zodiac is now symmetrical and very pleasing to the eye.***

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Next on Crowley’s agenda is Tarot and Magick (I really cringe to spell it with the “k,” but I’m sticking to Aleister’s morphology for this series). Blah, blah, truly fascinating stuff here, but not really necessary for me to read out loud for you… the Shemhamphorasch and the Tarot: more of the same… the Tarot and Ceremonial Magick: more of the same… And now we get to Tarot and Animism, which is ultimately what I think Crowley was leading up to with all the other esoterica he spewed just prior.

Crowley’s explanation of animism is as enlightening as everything else in this chapter, but I’ll boil it down like this: everything – said the “ancients” – has a soul. The Tarot cards, therefore, are each, “in a sense, a living being,” (page 47).

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Overall, I think there are three takeaways from this chapter that are especially important: one, folks in ancient times perceived their world in such a way that cannot be quantified by modern science, but is not inherently wrong for that reason, and it would be prudent to take the two (that is, ancient wisdom and modern science****) in tandem; two, one example of “ancient wisdom” is astrology, and astrology is important to grasp in order to understand the Tarot; three, another example of “ancient wisdom” is animism, which dictates that the cards are entities that respond to each other as if they were living beings, and they should be respected as such.

I would pencil in the Tree of Life as a fourth takeaway, but since that’s the sole takeaway of the previous chapter, I’ll let it be.

As I’ve already said, I found this chapter immensely entertaining, and even though the history student in me balks at the assertions made on behalf of the “ancients,” I can’t actually dispute them. Crowley may be making gross generalizations, but I don’t think he’s necessarily wrong. Of course, I may just be falling prey to his rhetoric, because I really do want to believe what he says is true (it’s worth noting that Crowley briefly tackles the concept of “truth” on page 26, and he tackles the value of generalizations on page 42. Like I said, digressions galore. Which, of course, is a major part of why I so enjoyed this chapter, and Crowley’s writing in general. Note my own unnecessarily long parenthetical about digressions. You ever read Herodotus? Talk about wisdom of the ancients. But I digress).

Next time, we start Part Two: The Atu. Stay tuned.

~~~

* “Ultimately Copernicus was goaded […] to suggest that it would really be very much more convenient (if only the idea were not so wicked) to imagine the Sun, and not the Earth, was the centre of the system.” Page 26. Just one example of a snarky Crowley that made me chuckle just a little bit.

** “To make it quite clear to initiates that they did not understand the meaning of the card called The Fool, they put him down between the cards XX and XXI, for what reason it baffles the human imagination to conceive. They then attributed the card number I, the Juggler, to the letter Aleph. In this simple yet ingenious manner they got the attribution of every card, except the Universe XXI, wrong.” Page 39. Of course, earlier in the book (pg 6), Crowley excuses Eliphas Levi of this transgression, because surely he must have known better, but was “bound by his oath of secrecy.”

***I could go into much more detail about all this, but I promised to keep my summary relatively short. Suffice it to say that, according to the Golden Dawn, Strength is Leo and Justice is Libra, so they must be switched to match the zodiac (hence the confusing difference between the Rider Waite Smith and the older Tarot de Marseilles). Crowley’s addendum dictates that the Emperor is Tzaddi and the Star is Heh, which means they must switch to match the Hebrew alphabet – and when this switch is made, the belt of the zodiac gets its second loop. Of course, at the end of the day this is all theoretical, because in the actual pack of the Thoth Tarot, all four of them are in their traditional order – that is, Emperor IV, Justice (Adjustment) VIII, Strength (Lust) XI, and the Star XVII.

****Crowley actually spends a great deal of time talking about “modern science” versus the ideas of “the ancients.” Apparently, he has a great respect for both, but also is keenly aware of their shortcomings. He believes that we should live in both worlds, and in that, I agree with him wholeheartedly.

I also just realized that I’ve been referring to Crowley in the present tense this entire time, even though he’s long dead. That’s probably not gonna change at this point.

Book of Thoth: Part 1, Chapter II.

My last post in this series should probably have been titled Part One, Chapter I. It is, after all, the way Mr. Crowley presents the information in the Book of Thoth. To clear up the matter, the Book is divided into four parts, each of which contains several sections or chapters.* Part One is dubbed The Theory of the Tarot, and is divided into three sections, the first of which was the subject of the aforementioned post. Chapter II (pages 12-25) is the subject of this post, and it begins with the heading The Tarot and the Holy Qabalah.

Crowley starts by saying this “is a very simple subject, and presents no difficulties to the ordinary intelligent mind (pg 12).” It almost feels like the rascal is throwing barbs at me from across the veil. After reading and re-reading these pages a few times, though, I found that even I with my less-than-ordinary intelligence could make sense of most of what he says. He does break it down quite well, at least at first. Ultimately, I find the Qabalah to be simultaneously simple and incredibly complex,** and I haven’t yet read an author that was really able to parse apart this paradox. Crowley strikes the nail on the head in the third chapter of Part One (which I will discuss in greater detail next time) when he says “It is quite impossible to give a complete explanation of [the Qabalah] because (for one thing) it is quite universal. Therefore it cannot mean the same to any one person as to any other (pg 30).” Nonetheless, Crowley does try to explain it, and he does so well enough, but he gets in his own way more often than not with his dizzying intellect that leaves normies like me gasping for breath after a long plunge.

In short, the Tree of Life – that is, the schematic which serves as a visual representation of the Universe according to the Qabalah – is composed of ten numbers, called Sephiroth (singular Sephira). He proceeds to explain the “decade from Nothing,” or how the 10 Sephorath came to exist from nothing.***

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Diagram of the Tree of Life, including the Triple Veil of the Negative, found on page 266 of The Book of Thoth.

The part about the Triple Veil of the Negative is somewhat confusing, but I suppose such is the nature of this beast. There are three types of Nothing which must exist before the numbers: Ain, which is so nothing that you literally cannot conceive of the idea of “nothing.” There is Ain Soph, which means “Without Limit” and is a conceivable nothing, as in the absence of everything, or space. Then there is Ain Soph Aur, which is “Limitless Light,” what Crowley suggests may be the space-time continuum, and others have called Spirit or Ether.

At this point, Nothing is indistinguishable from One, and so we get 1 by just being in the Nothing, which is the position. Two establishes distance and the line, and Three establishes the surface, as well as the perspective necessary to begin to understand space. Crowley states that without 3, there is no distinguishing between 1 and 2, and therefore he makes his mystical claim that “Zero equals Two (pg 4).”

Then we cross the Abyss, from the ideal into the actual. Four establishes the solid, and Five establishes movement through time. Thus we land on Six, which is the first entity that has met the criteria for self-awareness. Until now, Crowley has been strictly mathematical in his explanations, and while there is plenty of potential for mind-bending, overall it follows simple logic and common sense.

Things get confusing for me, though, when he continues with 7, 8 and 9. He dispenses with mathematics and uses analogy from Hindu philosophy of being. According to the Hindu sages, there are three qualities of being: “Sat, the Essence of Being itself; Chit, Thought or Intellection; and Ananda (usually translated Bliss), the pleasure experienced by Being in the course of events (pg 15).” These three qualities correspond to Sephiroth 9, 8 and 7, respectively. They are apparently what a point must experience in order to live self-consciously, or to move from the ability to do so at Six to having done so at 9. Ten, then, is reality as “built up from these points.”

As I said, much of this part remains confusing to me.

~~~

The 40 small cards represent the 10 Sephiroth x4. Why there should be four times 10 is explained by the next part of the section, The Tarot and the Formula of Tetragrammation, which also tackles the matter of the court cards.

Basically, existence is the product of two ideas, the active and the passive. These are the “Father” and “Mother.” The product of their union produces a third idea (the “Son”) which partakes of the qualities of both, but is its own entity. A fourth idea is also produced (the “Daughter”), but this idea is of a spiritual nature. These four ideas represent the four alchemical elements of Fire, Water, Air and Earth, respectively. Earth is of a different class than the other elements, and even Crowley calls it “ambiguous.”

~~~

The Tarot and the Elements. This part of the section continues the discussion of the elements. It’s all quite fascinating, but I think the main takeaway is that there exists upon the Tree of Life a four-part system of existence, which itself is one of four parts. In other words, the Father and Mother (which are the Knight and Queen of the Thoth Tarot court) occupy Sephiroth 2 and 3 above the Abyss, the Son (the Prince) occupies Sephira 6, but his domain, so to speak, is all the Sephiroth below the Abyss from 4 to 9. The Daughter (Princess) lands on 10. Just as each member of the court family is assigned an element, however, so is each suit assigned an element. The Wands are Fire, Cups Water, Swords Air, and Disks Earth. Therefore the Knight of Wands is Fire in the world of Fire (called Atziluth, the Archetypal World), the Knight of Cups is Fire in the world of Water (called Briah, the Creative World), the Knight of Swords is Fire in the world of Air (Yetzirah, the Formative World), and the Knight of Disks is Fire in the world of Earth (Assiah, the Material World). Each of the 16 court cards has thus a dual-elemental attribution. The diagram of the Tree of Life depicts all of this information on a single glyph, but it is worth noting that there are actually four Trees existing at all times, and thus we get 40 small cards.****

The other important part of this section is about how the four court cards in each suit are forever renewing themselves in an endless cycle. The Knight weds the Queen, who produces the Prince and Princess. The Prince grows to become the Knight, who weds the Princess-become-Queen, and it all starts over again.

“It is by going through all these confusing (and seemingly contradictory) attributions, with unwearying patience and persistent energy, that one comes at the end to a lucid understanding, to an understanding that is infinitely clearer than any intellectual interpretation could possibly be. This is a fundamental exercise in the way to initiation. If one were a shallow rationalist, it would be quite easy to pick holes in all these attributions and semi-philosophical hypotheses, or near-hypotheses; but it is also quite simple to prove by mathematics that it is impossible to hit a golf ball.” Page 20 of The Book of Thoth.

How about it.

~~~

This post is a long one, I know. Unfortunately, there are going to be some longer ones in the future as I continue this project. Feel free to take a break and get some fresh air if you need it.

The last part of this section of The Book of Thoth is called The Twenty-Two Keys, Atu, or Trumps of the Tarot. It serves the purpose of explaining the relationship between the trumps and the court and small cards on the Tree of Life.

In short, they are the 22 lines or paths that connect the Sephiroth. They also represent the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Three of the trumps are attributed to the three “mother letters,” and the three “active” elements of Fire, Water and Air. Next are the seven “double letters” and the sacred planets of ancient astrology. Finally are the twelve remaining letters and the signs of the zodiac.

Crowley then talks a bit about how the 22 letters are different from the 10 numbers in that they are not scientific facts – they are rather artistic representations of alchemical and astrological mysteries put in the hands a select few by the Secret Chiefs of the Great Order.***** Fascinating, and not just a little bit weird.

The remainder of this chapter is devoted to recapping the structure of the Tree of Life and how the Tarot cards fit this structure. There is also an apologia of sorts in which Crowley attempts to justify the changes he made to the art, names and correspondences of the Tarot. I find this quite amusing, especially as Crowley takes a rather un-apologetic approach to this paragraph and refers elusively to himself as the Scribe responsible for ushering the Tarot into the New Age. For all the messianic mambo-jumbo, though, I think he may be right. But that remains to be seen.

~~~

*There are also a biographical note, appendices, “Invocation and Mnemonics,” and a brief excerpt from Crowley’s Book of Lies which serves as a sort of preface to the book. I’ve decided to skip the excerpt and bio note for this series, interesting though they are, and will decide about the other sections listed here as I come to them.

**I have in the works my own interpretation of the Qabalah (which I tend to spell “Kabbalah” on this page), which I shall link to this page once I’ve finished (no idea when that’ll be).

***DuQuette, Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, pages 40-63. I am forever indebted to this book for helping me to do what its title promises.

****Everything above 10 on the Tree of Life representing the world of Assiah is purely philosophical, by the way. That particular 10 represents the true Material world where we all physically inhabit.

*****I just can’t get into this here, but I didn’t want to just mention the Secret Chiefs and move along (like Crowley did). See the footnote about Donald Tyson’s text in the previous installment of this series. Someday I will get around to reviewing that book and talking about some of the crazy shit the Golden Dawn was into.

Dungeons & Music Theory.

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It’s really not as scary as it sounds, I promise.

Last year I bought myself a set of Dungeons & Dragons dice. While I always had a passing interest in the game (as a fantasy nerd), I was actually more interested in holding tangible Platonic solids in my hands (as an occult philosophy nerd). I had hoped at the time to come up with some method of casting them for divination, although that hasn’t yet panned out in any practical manner.

Fast forward a year later, and I now own four sets of dice (two from me, two from my friends, all in some shade of green) and am a member of two campaigns (one is 1st edition AD&D, and the other is 5th edition – I tend towards the latter myself). It’s great fun, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, dnd dice come in sets of seven, five of which are the aforementioned solids. You can research the Platonic solids yourself if you want – I don’t really feel like getting into it here, and am hardly qualified to discuss mathematical properties anyhow. In short, there is a four-sided die, a six-sided die (the classic cube), an eight-sided die, a 12-sided die, and a 20-sided die (named hereafter the d4, d6, d8, d12, and d20, respectively). The remaining two dice have 10 sides (the d10’s), and they do not match the qualifications to be a Platonic solid.

~~~

It occurred to me one day that I could roll certain of these dice to jumpstart the songwriting process. I dubbed this new game “Dungeons & Music Theory.” Basically, it works like this: First, roll a d12. This die establishes your key center. Personally, I like to think of each number as representing itself on the clock face, which in turn corresponds to the circle of fifths. For example, a 12 would be C major.

Next, roll a d8. These numbers represent degrees of the scale, with 8 being the octave and doubling your chances of rolling the tonic. I like to think of the d8 as establishing the mode. So if you rolled a 4 in the key of C, you’d be writing a song in the Lydian mode, starting on F major.

Lastly, roll a d6 to establish meter. If it’s even, it’s duple, and if it’s a multiple of three, it’s triple. The odd man out is 5, and in the case of rolling 5 I’d probably go Brubeck on it and write a song in 5/4. In my current example, I have rolled a 2, which means I’ve now got an F Lydian progression in cut time. I decided to take the artistic liberty to go standard 4/4 with the meter, which is different, but not really that much. At any rate, it’s still a duple meter.*

~~~

My partner and I have since played D&MT many times as a creative exercise. A week ago I decided to take it a step further and add Tarot cards into the mix (you knew it was coming – it’s a Tarot blog, after all).

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The dice establish the bones of the music, so to speak, while the cards dictate the tone. If I pull the High Priestess, the tone is going to be dark and mysterious, for example. All lyrical content is also inspired by the cards.

I tried this exercise once by drawing three cards at random, and while it did give me some food for thought, I decided that I’d rather split the deck into majors and minors to guarantee a major card in the mix.**

Once I made this tweak to the process, I pulled one major and three minors: the High Priestess, the Nine of Swords, the Two of Wands and the Six of Pentacles. I used a Rider pack for its evocative imagery. There’s no reason not to use another deck, but to start I figured I’d keep it standard.

~~~

My raw song-smithing materials thus far:

d12-12: Key of C major

d8-4: F Lydian mode

d6-2: Duple meter

High Priestess: Dark and mysterious tone

9 Swords, 2 Wands, 6 Pents: A narrative about nightmares, potential and charity that plays off the Priestess’ mood.

I then sat down with my guitar and a notebook and proceeded to write a song.

~~~

Oh, but I am proud of my new song. It’s called “The Midnight Land.” It has yet to be recorded, but I think I may post a link to it here when that happens.***

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So, I realize this isn’t the typical Tarot-centric post that normally graces my blog. However, I thought it might be a breath of fresh air, and anyway this could make for interesting reading for those who might be curious about ideas for using the Tarot for artistic inspiration. Divination is far from the only thing the cards are good for, after all, and while I’ve always drawn inspiration from the cards, I almost never talk about that here. I furthermore wanted to share a little bit about myself as a musician and how I incorporate the cards into all that. It’s been my belief for a long time that Tarot and music are tied, although I have always had trouble with putting words to why that is.

~~~

*I really would like to come up with a use for all seven dice, although at present I can’t think of a way to include them. I suppose the d4 could be used to dictate chord inversions, but as a guitar player I find myself rather limited in that capacity (relative to a piano, at least) and prefer to do inversions at my own discretion based on the context of the music.

**An alternative I’ve not yet tried is to draw cards until a major arcana surfaces, and then you have to write the song using as many or as few cards as came up.

***If you’re interested in following a different aspect of my life, you can find the group I play with on facebook. We have instagram too. We’ve admittedly fallen off the social media wagon a bit in the wake of the pandemic, but we’re climbing back on as best we can.

The Hobbit Tarot: Revisted.

It was a few years ago now that I bought the Hobbit Tarot. I don’t really use it, if I’m being honest, although I do like it quite a lot and enjoy it as a part of my collection.

Anyways. I recently reread The Hobbit. I haven’t read it in many years, so when I got the Tarot, the story wasn’t fresh in my mind. Ever since I flipped through those cards, I wanted to read the book again so I could look at them with a deeper appreciation (and a more critical eye). Alas, it took me until now to pick up The Hobbit for a new round.

As it turns out, the cards are more accurate to the book than I’d remembered. I recall being a little miffed at the Temperance card, for example, which shows a goblin general rousing his troops to battle after the incident with their king under the mountain. Part of the reason I didn’t care for it was that I didn’t remember that being something that happened in the story. Turns out, I was wrong. The goblin’s name is Bolg (I think..? I have neither the book or the cards with me as I write this, so I’m going on memory here, which as you may be able to tell from the very premise of this post, isn’t always up to par).

Of course, the other reason I take issue with this card is because I don’t associate Temperance with an Orc’s war-mongering, but that’s a different thing altogether.* There are a few cards throughout the deck that don’t suit me for similar reasons, but the creators were working with a relatively limited palate, and they had to make do with what Tolkien provided them. A Hobbit Tarot will necessarily be imperfect from the perspective of persnickety Tarot purists, but then again, that’s not why we create or purchase themed decks. They’re fun for an entirely different reason.

For all my complaints, my original opinion of the deck still stands: it is beautiful, it’s accurate, and it’s The Hobbit. I mean, what’s not to like?

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*It’s futile to complain without offering an alternative. Could I come up with a better idea for Temperance? That’s tough for me without delving too greedily and too deep into the Mines of Esoterica, which would be to miss the point of a Tarot like this. If I ever do come up with something, I’ll be sure to make a note of it here.

The Book of Thoth: Chapter One.

I’ve begun each section with an italicized heading that corresponds with Crowley’s own headings used in the book.

The Contents of the Tarot

Mr. Crowley began his book, like so many authors since, with a brief introduction to the structure of the Tarot. By brief, I mean two paragraphs; seven sentences. Straightforward, as if to create a stark contrast between it and everything else in the book.

The Origin of the Tarot

The next step is to discuss the history of the Tarot. This, to me at least, is where things start to get amusing. As you may know, I am quite interested in Tarot history. Crowley does not really get into it, except to say that it’s shrouded in mystery, and that the history is irrelevant anyway. I have to have respect for a man who decides to skip the history lesson altogether instead of just feeding me BS on some fantastical tradition that dates back to antiquity and beyond.

The Theory of the Correspondences of the Tarot

What is relevant according to Crowley is that the Tarot is a pictorial representation of the Kabbalah (he spells it Qabalah), and to get bogged down in conjecture about “why” and “how” that happened is to miss the point. He spends most of this section discussing “Gematria,” admitting that such a practice defies logic, and yet it works all the same. In a nutshell, Gematria is the science of assigning a numeric value to each Hebrew letter, and then adding the letters of a word together to learn its esoteric meaning. A number, says Crowley, is more than just “one more than the previous number and one less than the subsequent number” (pg 4), it is an entity in its own right.

The Evidence for the Initiated Tradition of the Tarot

He does talk a bit about Eliphas Levi and the so-called “cipher manuscripts,”* suggesting that these two sources validate the Kabbalistic correspondences which form the basis of Crowley’s work. Levi was wrong in his attributions, but Crowley refuses to think that Levi really believed what he wrote; rather, he was maintaining an oath of secrecy. It’s all conjecture, if you ask me, but hey – I’m not the Master.

The manuscripts, on the other hand, confirm the “correct” attributions, which were subsequently passed on to the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn plays a fairly large part in the history of occult Tarot, and Crowley discusses how they were almost correct in their attributions. He talks about himself in the third person (using his Golden Dawn alias Perdurabo), mentioning how he is responsible for restoring the Tarot to its correct Kabbalistic significance (to be discussed in further detail in the next paragraph). Like I said, amusing.

Lastly in this section, Crowley talks about the number 0 and how its position should obviously be at the front of the pack (which is in contrast to Levi and the French occult schools of the Tarot, who placed 0 between cards XX and XXI). He touches upon the Golden Dawn’s switching of cards VIII and XI to better match their astrological blueprint.** He agrees with the change (although as we know from the cards, he maintained the original numbers anyway) and suggests that he (that is, Perdurabo) also discovered that cards IV and XVII must also be switched (although this is for Kabbalistic reasons rather than astrological).

Summary of Questions Hitherto Discussed

I mean, this section’s title pretty much speaks for itself. Crowley sums up what he’d discussed so far, and backs it up with some analogies.

Of course, the book is far more technical than what I’ve presented here; but seeing as we’ll have to delve into all that in greater detail later, I’ve decided to just leave my first entry in the Book of Thoth study guide series as a summary.

~~~

What I took away from the first chapter of the Book of Thoth: the Tarot, as a metaphysical system, stands on its own inherent merits, not necessarily because any history or secret society made it so. Mr. Crowley likens the Tarot to the game of chess, in that its original inventors could hardly have appreciated the true complexity and genius of their invention. I liked that analogy, and overall, I found the first chapter of The Book of Thoth to be a perfectly coherent introduction to the Thoth Tarot. Whether or not I’m convinced that Crowley’s Kabbalistic attributions are really right remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.

~~~

*This section of the book would have been incredibly confusing for me if I hadn’t already gained some familiarity of the occult history of the Golden Dawn and the Cipher Manuscripts through Donald Tyson’s book Portable Magic. In many ways, Tyson’s book worked as the perfect primer for my foray into occult Tarot. A review of his book is forthcoming.

**Which clears up so much confusion about Waite’s Tarot, incidentally.

The Book of Thoth.

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I’ve owned a deck of Thoth cards for over four years now.* These cards have been along with me on my Tarot journey almost since the beginning. However, while I greatly appreciated the artwork, I was able to understand little of the significance of the deck as intended by its creators. This didn’t stop me from reading with it and enjoying it, for sure, but I got no more out of this deck than I could from any other.

And that bothered me, because it is clear that the Thoth is the result of a Great Work. Soon after I obtained the deck, I got Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, which opened my eyes to the true wonder lying beneath the beautiful surface of these cards. I now had a resource at my disposal with which I could work with this Tarot as Mr. Crowley meant it to be used.

But I still wasn’t able to really use the cards as such in a practical sense. They assume a working knowledge of Kabbalah, astrology, and alchemy (among other things) on the part of the reader, and while I could gather what I needed of that information from UACTT, I’ve never automatically interpreted the Tarot through any of those lenses.

Shortly thereafter, I bought Mr. Crowley’s own book, The Book of Thoth. I read it immediately from cover to cover. Almost none of it stuck.

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This book is dense. Dense and confusing. Since then, I’d occasionally refer to specific sections of the text as I needed them to interpret cards, but more often than not, I’d just flip through the far more accessible UACTT. And yet, something was still lacking.

I’ve wanted the Thoth to be a mainstay in my personal Tarot study and practice for a long time now, if not the mainstay. To my eyes, it stands as a wonderful culmination of a centuries-long tradition of Tarot and the occult which has never been surpassed. I want to know these cards.

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~~~

About a year ago, I picked up The Book of Thoth again and started re-reading it in earnest. I read the all of the introductory material, and I even understood most of it. I re-read the intro, and then I re-read it again. Each time, I internalized more and more of what Crowley apparently thought to be essential information to preface his Tarot. It felt great.

I then moved on to the section about the “Atu,” a.k.a the Major Arcana. I read a page or two of the Fool, and was left scratching my head. Mr. Crowley had left me in the intellectual dust once again.

No matter, I thought to myself as I reached for my trusty study guide, the ever-informative UACTT. I read the chapter on the Fool, returned to The Book of Thoth, and it made sense. I re-read the chapter, as I had with the introduction chapters, and slowly digested Crowley’s mind-boggling brand of esotericism. I repeated the whole process with the chapter on the Magus.

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And then, I just stopped. Couldn’t say why. Life got in the way, as it tends to do.

Say what you will about Aleister Crowley, but his Tarot is a work of genius.** I’ve decided that the time has come for me to strap on my big-boy helmet and dig in to his book (what better time than quarantime? I’ve also started re-reading The Lord of the Rings to keep me busy). I’m going to post a summary and my commentary of each chapter on here as I finish them. In theory, this will not only motivate me to progress and keep me honest, but also solidify what I read by writing about it, which is key, I think, to retaining anything.

Certainly some readers may find these entries on my blog to be boring or perplexing. Others may find them elementary – occultism 101. But I’m considering this venture to be like my personal Thoth study guide, and I hope some folks out there will find this a worthwhile read as well.

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*My first Tarot was the Radiant Rider Waite. After playing with those for a few months, I simultaneously bought a Marseille deck and the Thoth. Thus was my collection born.

**There are people out there who balk, and not entirely without reason, whenever they hear the name Aleister Crowley. There’s a pretty good chance I’ll someday write a post detailing my opinions on all that, but it’s unnecessary to get into here. The Tarot that he created (with the help of Lady Harris, of course) stands on its own merits, so the man’s abominable character is irrelevant.