My Tarot library includes three books about Mr. Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (CHT). One of these is Crowley’s own Book of Thoth. The second, Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, the subject of this recent review, is a phenomenal study of the cards and their occult workings, and makes a wonderful companion to the intimidating Book of Thoth. It aids significantly in the understanding of both the cards and the book as their creator intended them to be understood. The third is called Tarot: Mirror of the Soul, by Gerd Ziegler, and it is a different sort of book than both the BoT and the considerably more approachable UACTT.
I suspect Mr. Crowley would be very displeased with this book; I, however, really like it, and I’ve found it to be a welcome alternative to the theory-laden books above.
The way I see it, there are probably two sorts of folks who would benefit from this book. The first are the people who would like to work with the CHT, but who are neither interested in the complex occult mambo-jumbo underlying it or the devious man who created it. This book shows that the CHT can work as well as any other Tarot for divination, meditation, or otherwise. Tarot is Tarot is Tarot, and its tough to deny the power of the artwork of this particular one. I can totally understand wanting to use this deck without getting bogged down in the esoteric jargon. At the end of the day, none of that stuff really matters.
The second is the category into which I fall: the occult is fascinating, Crowley’s brand of it is intriguing, and the cards really do mean so much more when you get that stuff, regardless of what I say above. But this is dense subject matter, and sometimes, I just want a break. Sometimes, I’m in the mood to use the CHT, but not in the mood to decipher the Secrets Of The Universe According To Aleister.
This book is perfect for those days.
The main focus of this book is the use of Tarot for introspective guidance (hence the subtitle, Mirror of the Soul). As a general approach to the cards and why they work, this is one of my favorites. It is vaguely mystical in its explanations, but it didn’t strike me as bullshit (a fine line, for sure). There is no history, and no attempt to explain anything about Mr. Crowley or his theories. Just the cards and your self.
The bulk of the book is, not surprisingly, an examination of each card and its symbolism. After a description of the card, there are questions, suggestions, and affirmations, all of which (I think) are helpful when using the cards. The author may or may not know about Crowley’s intentions for these cards – in any case, there are details in some of the cards which he interprets differently than Crowley meant them to be interpreted. Nothing extreme or blasphemous, and the core meanings of each card remain as they should be. It is something I noticed, though, and I figured it warrants mentioning. This book is certainly not intended for a Thoth purist. Another thing I noticed was that every card is given a positive spin, which is not always the case in Crowley’s and DuQuette’s writings. Some cards are nothing but gloom and doom to Crowley, which is incredibly unhelpful for a person in times of spiritual or emotional crisis. The bleak cards are still bleak to Ziegler, but at least he made the effort to line those clouds with silver.
This book also contains a section of Tarot spreads, some of which I use fairly often. There are several layouts in this section, of various designs and degrees of complexity (although there are no crazy-complex spreads here). I don’t know if they are of the author’s invention or if he got them from elsewhere, but I really like most of them either way. Good stuff.