This is a cool deck. Whether you like Mr. Crowley or not, it’s tough to deny the power of his Thoth Tarot (CHT – for Crowley-Harris-Thoth). The art (courtesy of Lady Frieda Harris) is, simply put, amazing. More than any other deck I own, this Tarot brings to light the subconscious machinations of the psyche, with a style that is striking in its use of color and abstraction.
Of course, when I say “bring to light”, it should be understood that this version of the Tarot isn’t exactly forthcoming with its secrets. The systems underlying this artwork are a testament to the dizzying mental capacity of its creator. There are levels upon levels (upon levels upon levels) of depth to these cards. I couldn’t even begin to delve into the myriad of symbols and correspondences without getting absolutely lost down the rabbit hole. I’ll keep this post on the short side (I won’t lie – there is a substantial amount of this Tarot deck that I still do not understand). All that being said, however, this is still a Tarot deck at its core, and it can be used like any other, though there are some who would balk at such a suggestion (Crowley included).
There is one significant change in the fundamental system from that of more traditional decks that I think it worth the time to point out. This is illustrated in Major Arcana key number 20, which in most Tarot decks is called Judgement. The rest of the CHT is familiar, although the artwork has of course been reworked in Harris’s distinct style to accommodate Crowley’s ideas, and there is an occasional title change. But the card which is normally Judgement has been totally redesigned, and the title changed to “the Aeon”. This is because Crowley believed that humanity progressed by ages of approximately 2,000 years in duration. According to him, each age is characterized by a certain theme, which is reflected in the religious myths from each era. First came the age of the Mother, during which people did not fully understand the miracle of birth, and believed it was the result of only the mother. This was when mankind worshiped the great Mother Earth above all else, from whose womb all life sprang. Crowley, who was particularly fond of Egyptian mythology, called this the Aeon of Isis.
Next came the age of the Father, also called the age of the Dying God. By this time, humanity realized that the father also played a role in creating offspring. Now the focus of worship shifted from the Mother Earth to the Father Sun, whose rays of light and heat were needed in order for the Earth to produce life. But the Sun was not constant like the Earth. It went away every night, and it’s power diminished every winter. This was a source of great anxiety to ancient people, who considered it a miracle that the Sun would return at the end of its daily and yearly cycles. Their myths told stories of the god who would die and descend into the Underworld, eventually to be miraculously resurrected. Crowley called this the Aeon of Osiris, and this was the aeon during which he (and of course, countless other people over about 2,000 years) lived. Like the Aeon of Isis before it, the religious traditions of the Aeon of Osiris lasted much longer than the amount of time it took people to understand the science behind what they observed.
But Crowley believed that the Aeon of Osiris was coming to a close, and that humanity was/is on the verge of a new age. He called this the age of the Child, when mankind will collectively experience a shift in consciousness towards enlightenment (meaning, rather than feeling that we are at the mercy of the whims of Earth or Sun (or deities that represent them), we will realize that our souls are eternal despite superficial change, and our potential is infinite). This is the Aeon of Horus, and it is the birth* of this new age that is pictured on Crowley’s Aeon card. The typical Judgement card depicts the end of days for the Aeon of the Dying God, using Christian imagery. It was Crowley’s belief that a new vision was required for his deck to ring in the new age. The entire CHT is subtly affected by this new perspective on the Tarot.
Personally, I question some of the specifics of Crowley’s theories,** but on the whole, I do believe he was correct in suggesting it is time for the dawn of a new era of consciousness for humanity. His treatment of mythic cycles is interesting to say the least, and perhaps there is something to it (I will be exploring the myth of the Dying God in a future post).
Knowing about the new aeon is just scratching the surface, and the best way to learn more about this deck is by reading either Crowley’s own book on it, or the far more accessible book by DuQuette. I don’t wish to get any further into the depths of these cards here, at least for now. The artwork is very crowded, and each detail is significant (every time I look at them, I discover something new – and that’s not an exaggeration). Each card is connected to the others, and the deck itself is a web of intricacy, weaving together alchemy, astrology, the Kabbalah, and various esoteric and mythological systems that span the globe. To begin to further explore that here would be futile. I strongly recommend this deck, but not for the faint of heart.
*Unfortunately for us, he also predicted that about 500 years of dark ages would first have to be endured before we enter the full swing of the enlightened Aeon of Horus. Given the nature of current events, I fear he may have been correct.
**Sometimes I read Crowley’s work, or about Crowley’s work, and am tempted to be totally convinced by everything he says. But I would be a slave to the convictions of others if I didn’t have the capacity for critical thinking. Nobody is ever 100% right about anything, no matter how great their rhetorical skill (in fact, history suggests that the greatest rhetoricians are the ones to be most wary of).