Building My Collection.

It’s been probably about half a year since I’ve obtained a new Tarot deck. That’s insane, considering how many decks I’d racked up in the two years prior (it averaged out at about two decks per month, which is insane in itself considering how much trepidation I experienced when I first started massing a proper collection).

There are a couple reasons for this. First and foremost is the simple fact that my expendable income has become much less expendable, and I’ve had to exercise prudence when making fiscal decisions. I love Tarot cards, but there are more pressing matters, and, well, what can you do. Such is life.

But, to be honest, my collection has filled out nicely, and it really doesn’t need any more. With the most recent addition of the Sola-Busca, I felt like I had reached a new level, if you will, and my desire for expansion sort of plateaued. I have not since had the thought that I needed a deck to fill a spot in my collection. Every now and then I come across a deck that I think would round things out nicely, and I do have a casual wishlist in the back of my mind* – and some days, I think about buying a new deck just because I kind of miss the excitement of cracking open a fresh pack of cards – but overall I feel satisfied with my Tarot library.

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As it turns out, collecting is as much an aspect of my Tarot hobby as reading and writing about the cards.** I do not collect randomly. I had a general scheme from the moment my first Tarot deck became three (because my second and third were purchased simultaneously) – Rider (1), Marseilles (2), and Thoth (3). These three are considered the “classics” in the greater Tarot community, and they formed the pillars that hold up the structure of my collection. With the addition of my next deck, the Wildwood, I completed the four-sided foundation upon which my entire collection would be constructed.

My four pillars remain the same, but I’ve taken to considering them in broader terms than the specific decks which started them. There is plenty of overlap, and many of my Tarot decks span multiple categories. I like this, and the result is that my collection takes on the shape of a spiderweb in my mind, spun across the four pillars. There are many sub-categories (like fantasy-themed or art decks, for example) that tie the original pillars together in interesting ways.

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I wrote a post a while back on the (very) broad categorizations I’d come up with for methods of divination with Tarot cards. These methods actually mirror the pillars of my collection.

  1. What started with the Rider has pretty much remained the Rider. Because this deck is so prevalent today, it is basically its own category. Rider clones and Rider-inspired decks all go here. Most prominent are the Radiant and Universal Waite decks, and of course the Mini Rider. Least is the Hobbit Tarot, which is only a Rider in structure (With Strength as 8 and Justice as 11) and in divinatory definitions. The spectrum in between includes the Mystical Tarot, the Aquarian, and the Shadowscapes. I generally will also include any packs with illustrated small cards in this category, as well, and decks that are best divined with “intuitively,” as I defined it in the above-linked post (I generally link “intuitive” reading with illustrated small cards). In this case, decks like the Sun and Moon, the Deviant Moon, the Medieval Scapini, Dame Fortune’s Wheel, the Mary-El, the Wildwood, and the Sola Busca all fit the bill, although for many of these, this isn’t the primary category.
  2. The broadened version of the Marseille category includes Pip cards and historical decks, used mainly for what I like to call “cartomantic” divinatory approaches.*** The Universal Burdel and the Conver Ben-Dov, as well as the miniature pack of Conver Majors, are the standards for this category. Other decks which fit easily here are the Book of Thoth Etteilla and the Visconti-Sforza. Though the pips are illustrated and it was created in modern times, Dame Fortune’s Wheel fits best in this section, as does the Medieval Scapini. Structure-wise, the Deviant Moon fits here more than in the previous category, too, although its imagery defies categorization (I struggle with placing the Deviant Moon more than any other Tarot). Oswald Wirth‘s deck did not include a Minor Arcana, but it is so clearly based on the Marseille that I would also place both versions of his cards here in a pinch. Finally, as a historical deck, the Sola-Busca can go here, too.
  3. The Thoth category has expanded to include all occult decks, most especially those based in the tradition of the Golden Dawn. The Thoth (and the pocket version thereof) is of course the basis of this category. The Hermetic Tarot and the Sun and Moon fit nicely here, as well. Technically, I would consider placing the strictest renditions of the Rider-Waite (that is, the Universal and the Mini) decks here, because Waite and Smith were one-time members of the Golden Dawn, and their Tarot incorporates some of the GD’s teachings, but because those have their own category, I hesitate to do so. Oswald Wirth and Etteilla decks are occult, too, so they also can be considered in this section (I’m more inclined to place Wirth here and leave Etteilla in the previous section, personally). And lastly, because of the myriad occult details so deftly executed by the artist (including, but not limited to, symbols from the GD, Wirth, and Etteilla), the Medieval Scapini fits here, as well.
  4. What began with the Wildwood has become “Un-categorizable” or “Non-traditional.” I’m pretty sure everything in this section has been mentioned in the previous sections, but if it shows up here, this is where I truly consider it to belong (excepting Etteilla, who I believe might go better in category #2). This category includes the Mary-El, the Sola Busca, the Deviant Moon, the Etteilla, and the Hobbit Tarot. I would almost place the Medieval Scapini here, but don’t because rather than defy categorization, it actually spans all three of the others more or less equally (the artist behind the Mary-El, on the other hand, claims to have been influenced by the Thoth, Marseilles, and Rider, but her cards are so incredibly original that they absolutely belong here). The decks here do not fit a mainstream tradition, and many of them are modern enough to have not yet stood the test of time like the Thoth or the Rider have. But I like having all of them in my collection, and I like having a “catch-all” category to round things out. Though I am a traditionalist at heart, if my collection focused only on the Big Three many beautiful and important cards would be left out.

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I acknowledge that all this is quite a lot of reading without much in the way of substantial Tarot content, and for that I apologize. I’m trying my damnedest to keep this blog active, though, and while it largely consists of the fluff of a collector showing off, this post does serve the purpose of illustrating just how I actually think about the collecting aspect of my hobby. I don’t know if anyone cares, but I figured I’d share, anyway.

In case you do care to know what exactly is in my collection, and the above list is as confusing to you as it looks to me (like I said, it’s a spiderweb), as of this writing I have 24 Tarot decks (technically, I have 21 complete packs, and three Majors-only packs). You can find a more straightforward list of them here, and each is linked to my initial thoughts upon obtaining (many of those thoughts are a bit outdated for me now, but I haven’t yet mustered the motivation to revise my reviews).

To wrap this post up, I want to say this: I collect the Tarot with intent. I do indeed focus on the Big Three as the foundation, but it would perhaps be more accurate to sum my aims in collecting thus: I want my collection to be useful from a scholarly perspective, and so have collected primarily renditions of Tarots that are historically significant or influential (as an amateur with limited funds, these are all reproductions from mainstream brand names, of course). At the same time, however, my collection is personalized to suit my tastes, and the cards I select appeal to my aesthetics and my philosophies. Therefore, I think it is safe to say that my collection is a well-rounded blend of established Tarot tradition,**** with a bit of my own peculiar interests as a student of this tradition. It is a collection designed around both the theory and practice of Tarot, spanning past and present, with an eye for the future.

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*Right now, I’ve got the Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal on my mind, as well as an Egyptian Tarot and a Marseilles that isn’t based on Conver or Burdel’s cards (Probably a Jean Noblet). I don’t doubt that eventually some of these cards will end up being reviewed on this blog.

**I’m hesitant to call divination and other spiritual work a “hobby”, but I certainly do that stuff, too. A hobby to me is confined to a more mundane realm of consciousness than divination, and so collecting, reading books, and writing this blog are all aspects of that. Of course, casual parlor-trick “fortune-telling” treads the divination line, but remains more or less in the realm of hobby to me, because it’s more of an entertainment than spiritual exercise. But now I’m just getting nit-picky.

***Though they are not Tarots, I consider my decks of regular playing cards (of which I have four or five) as a part of this category, as well. I might talk a bit about them if I ever get bored enough. Consider yourself warned.

****A healthy dose of Tarot tradition should be a part any serious collection (IMHO).

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Another Thoth Book.

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.

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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.

~~~

My Favorite Tarot Art.

The Tarot is pretty cool. Not only is it a great tool for metaphysical tinkerings and all that, but every deck is a work of art. I have always loved art, and I think that, even if the Tarot was good for nothing else, it is worth appreciating for art’s sake.

This post is almost not fair, because in fact I like the artwork in all of my decks, and in so many more that I don’t even have – and, whether I like a particular deck or not, I have nothing but respect and awe for the artist who can accomplish such a feat. I can’t help but look with fondness upon any Tarot I stumble across, no matter how lowly its place on my subjective personal hierarchy.

But while every deck is an incredible work of art, there are certain decks that, to me, are simply exceptional. I’ve selected six of my favorites for this post.

So, without further ado (and in no particular order):

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While these cards were not randomly selected for photos, it should be borne in mind that I have many, many more than three favorites in each of these decks.

The Wildwood Tarot (art by Will Worthington). The detail in these images is amazing. They depict creatures and characters in a great, sprawling, mythical forest set in prehistoric Europe. The forest itself feels alive and sentient, and the primitive humans living on its fringes seem to live in harmony with nature, with a healthy respect/fear of it. The art is not photo-realistic by any stretch, and yet it is totally convincing. This Tarot is different from any others – it is completely original.* I don’t really mind when a Tarot breaks from tradition, but if it’s going to, and I’m going to get it, it needs to be very good, and a big part of that for me is the artwork. These cards fit the bill (and then some), and when I use them, I walk through the forest in my imagination, and that’s thanks in no small part to the artist.

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My photos do not do anything in this post justice.

The Shadowscapes Tarot (art by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law). If the Wildwood glimpses into an ancient Fanghorn-type forest, the Shadowscapes crosses the divide and depicts the Otherworld, the Realm of Faerie itself. These cards are straight up fantasy, and the artwork is unbelievable. I only wish the cards were larger so I could better lose myself in them for a while. When I first wrote about these cards, I had little to say except that the artwork is stunning, and in the time since, I still can’t seem to come up with words to match it.

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The Mary-El Tarot (art by Marie White). I could take just about any one of the cards from this deck and blow it up, frame it, and hang it on the wall, and it would seem perfectly natural as an art piece, and the normies out there would be none the wiser about its esoteric source. Furthermore, I could put up several, and I doubt anyone would realize at first look that they not only came from a pack of cards, but that all came from the same artist (assuming her signature on each piece was overlooked). The artist, quite simply, displays a mastery of her craft – that is, painting (oils? I’m not sure what exactly she used, or even if she used the same paints for every card, but it’s all hand-painted nonetheless) – showing proficiency in a very broad range of styles. The art is mythic and highly symbolic, with subtle references to Tarot tradition beautifully rendered in stunning colors.

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The Mystical Tarot (art by Giuliano Costa). I haven’t yet posted anything else about this deck (although I did sneak in a photograph of the Six of Swords in my post about the suit of Swords). A review is forthcoming, so I’ll save the bulk of my gushing for that, but suffice it to say that the artwork is, well – it’s a lot of things. Beautiful, for sure, but also surreal, even trippy (yet subtly so), and sometimes just plain weird. The crazy thing is, when something weird catches my eye, I can’t help but focus on it, and at first, I’m a little put off (such weirdness includes the creepy seahorse-creature-things that pervade the suit of Cups – I’m not sure how I feel about them). Yet, the longer I gaze at the card, the less weird it becomes. I can’t really explain it. I get the sense that, while strange to me, such things are perfectly natural in the world depicted, and I find myself sucked right in. I can’t help but like it, although it certainly wouldn’t have the same entrancing effect on me if the art was poorly executed.

Now, I never get a Tarot unless the art agrees with my sense of aesthetics. However, the Mystical Tarot is one of only two decks that I bought solely because I just loved the artwork, the second deck being…

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The Sun and Moon Tarot (art by Vanessa Decort). Compared to everything else in this post, the Sun and Moon Tarot might appear very simplistic – I’ve even heard it called childish in some reviews and forums. If you think this, I have two things to say: 1) look again, because there is way more to these cards than meets the eye, and 2) since when is simple so wrong? Sometimes less is more, and even though this Tarot lacks the immaculate detailing of all the others on this list, it is easily one of my favorites in the art category. These images are like dreams. All of the things I’ve read complaints about – the small figures against large landscapes, the faceless characters – are things that I am inexplicably drawn to. Of course, we each have our own tastes, which is great, but I certainly wouldn’t write this one off as a childish or low-brow deck. It is playful, for sure, but that’s deceptive, because underneath is a Tarot with serious implications. But that’s all beside the point of this post, isn’t it, so I’ll just leave it at this: the artwork in these cards is sublime.

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The Thoth Tarot (art by Lady Frieda Harris). And so we come to the Thoth. I can’t not include it. I always enjoyed the art of the RWS, and was fascinated by that of the TdM, but the Thoth was the first Tarot with artwork that truly blew me away. You’ll notice that neither the Rider or the Marseilles is on this list. I’ve found a few RWS and TdM derivatives with artwork that transcends the originals. No re-imagining beats the Thoth in this regard. It was unprecedented when it was first published, and it set the bar pretty high for everything that followed. The crazy thing is that these “crowded” pictures are not composed of filler – every line, shape, and color is intentional, with very specific purpose, following a very intricate structure – and the fact that these cards are genuine works of art and not just a muddled hodgepodge of esoteric symbolism is nothing short of amazing.

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So those are my favorite examples of Tarot art. The runners up were the Medieval Scapini Tarot and the Aquarian Tarot. The MST was very close, but I had to cut this post off somewhere, or I’d end up just doing all of my cards. The AT, on the other hand, actually contains some of my favorite artwork. Unfortunately, some of my least favorite is in there, too, and I wanted to emphasize both the art of the individual cards and of the deck as a whole, and in my opinion, the AT does not fit the latter criteria; at least, not well enough to make the top tier.

What are your favorites? Feel free to share.

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*It’s actually a reboot of the Greenwood Tarot, now out of print and highly sought after by serious collectors. I personally think the Wildwood artwork is the more compelling of the two by a long shot (no disrespect to the Greenwood’s artist).

Birthday Reading.

Here’s a little anecdote about synchronicity, if you’re interested.

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Above is a photo of the Sentinel reading I performed on my birthday last week. Notice the Death candle between my rune-bowl and the tree-lantern. I’ve taken to calling it “Candle XIII.”

Candle XIII was a gift from a close friend of mine, received towards the end of the summer. I did not light it; Death is associated with Scorpio, my sign, and I resolved to burn it for the first time on Halloween, my birthday, as I laid down a personal year-end spread. I liked it as a symbol of clearing the old to make way for the new, and as a memento mori on my celebration day – a reminder of the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Not to mention, it has a certain aesthetic as a Halloween decoration.

When the time came, and the sun had set, and I had a proper birthday-buzz going, I prepared my reading table, selected my significator (the Prince of Cups, again based on zodiacal attribution), and shuffled my cards. I lit the tree-lantern,* Candle XIII, and a third stumpy little candle stub, and turned off all other lights, opting to read only by the eerie glow. I counted out twenty cards and set the rest of the pack to the side. I turned over and placed the cards according to the design of the spread, down to the last one, which was to be the conclusion.

As I was about to turn that card, I was seized by an inexplicable hesitation – something told me this card wasn’t right. I gazed into the flame of Candle XIII, scrying for a pointer.

I don’t normally scry, although I have done it a few times before (usually to natural phenomena rather than a crystal ball or something like that). Scrying is a different class of divination than cartomancy or sortilege, and I tend towards the latter. The same instinct that told me not to turn the card led my eyes to the Death candle’s flame, and I couldn’t have planned or explained it. The air was very still in my darkened room, and the flame was tall and motionless. As I watched, the tip of the flame appeared to fork, like a snake’s tongue, without inducing so much as the slightest flutter. In a motion, I cut the deck and removed a new card for my conclusion.

It was card XIII, Death.

I guess that’s just the Universe’s way of saying,
“Happy Halloween.”

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These were some Quintessence cards for the reading, calculated from the total numerical value of various sections of the spread. The first 8 cards (the watchtower) added up to the Hierophant; the next 12 (the horizons) to the Hermit; and the Quintessence of the final card was, of course, Death (which does reduce further to the Emperor). The entire spread subsequently reduces to the Hermit. Cards from the CHT.

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*The tree-lantern is my usual card-reading lamp, which I always burn during my ritual weekly readings to help set the mood. I consider it a symbol of my patron, the Hermit, and the tree represents the World Tree at the heart of the cosmos.

 

A Thoth Study Guide.

Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo Duquette sets out to help the reader do exactly as the title says, and it does it well. Certainly, I continue to learn more about the Thoth every time I take it out to use, but prior to reading this book, I knew almost nothing, and can’t imagine how else I might have progressed. I could see from the outset that this was an especially complex pack of cards, but beyond that my eyes were closed. This book opened them to a whole new world.

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That’s the Princess of Disks on the cover.

My first introduction to the Golden Dawn brand of the occult was in a book called Portable Magic, which I’ll write about in more depth at some other time. It was an excellent introduction, looking back, providing me with a base familiarization of Kabbalah and astrology. These are vital subjects to know if you plan on delving seriously into the world of the Thoth or any Golden Dawn-based Tarot. Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (henceforth abbreviated UACTT) examines these things and more, in far greater detail, while still remaining perfectly accessible to a novice. While Portable Magic made a fine primer, it wasn’t until I read UACTT that I could honestly say I began to comprehend the occult Tarot.

Of course, Mr. Crowley’s Tarot isn’t precisely the same as the Golden Dawn’s, but as a one-time member, he certainly derived much of his Tarot from their template. To understand his version of the occult, you must first understand theirs. DuQuette’s book addresses this, and is split into two parts: an introduction aptly titled “Little Bits of Things You Should Know Before Beginning to Study Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot”, which takes up about a third of the book, followed by “The Cards”, which is, obviously enough, about the actual deck.

In the first part, we learn about Mr. Crowley the person, the Golden Dawn, Lady Frieda Harris and the nature of her work on the cards, Crowley’s notions about the “Aeon”, the Rose Cross on the card backs and all its secrets, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, color symbolism, and the “Holy Guardian Angel” that each of us has according to the teachings of Mathers and the Golden Dawn. All of this is essential background information, required if one hopes to really understand the Thoth Tarot as its creator intended it (don’t try to take it all in at once and hope to internalize it, though. Multiple readings are recommended). I was exposed to so much occult stuff at once while reading these pages for the first time that I thought my face might melt off. It is well written, conversational, entertaining, and incredibly informative. Interspersed throughout are quotes from Mr. Crowley and Lady Harris, some of which are quite entertaining themselves. The author, who is clearly very knowledgeable, makes light of a rather heavy and confusing subject, and he attempts to dispel common misgivings about Crowley, the occult, and the Thoth Tarot as he goes, although whether or not he did a good job there I couldn’t say, as I really had no misgivings myself when I approached the deck.

Before dealing with the cards proper, DuQuette starts the second part with a discussion of general Tarot structure, followed by the astrological and Kabbalistic attributions of the Major Arcana, highlighting the differences between the Thoth and the Golden Dawn model. Each Major Arcana card is then examined in fair detail (about two or three pages per card).

Then we are introduced to the Minor Arcana, and the four Aces are explained, followed by the Court Cards, and then the small cards, complete with convenient charts for astrological correspondences. Every single card, Major and Minor, is prefaced with its Golden Dawn title, any relevant astrology, a brief description of the original Golden Dawn card, any relevant Kabbalah, colors used, and a quote, all laid out for quick reference.

After the chapters about the cards, we get a run-through of Mr. Crowley’s method of divination, and a list of all the cards in the pack alongside their intended divinatory meanings. The final chapter is a glossary of Thelemic and Tarot terms.

Not only did I learn (a lot) from UACTT, it was fun to read. DuQuette writes with a sense of humor, and that’s very refreshing, particularly when reading about a subject as dense as this. Another thing about this book that I appreciate is, despite its thickness, it has very convenient lists and charts of anything you might need in a pinch. UACTT combines the joy of reading a good long book with the ease of use of a simple guide (well, you’ll still have to flip through many pages to find the “convenient” stuff, as they are not all in one place, but I think it’s worth the trade-off).

Now, if one really wants the authentic Thoth Tarot experience, he or she needs to acquire a copy of the Book of Thoth, which is the official companion to the cards, penned by Mr. Crowley himself. This book, however, is anything but accessible to the average reader. UACTT works as a middle man, if you will, between the student of the Thoth Tarot and its infamous creator. I would very strongly recommend this book as a prerequisite to Crowley’s own, unless you’ve got very big intellectual britches.

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The Magician, Part V: The Magus.

The sun shines and the moon reflects. The Magician is a sun god, just as the Priestess is a lunar goddess. Waite says as much himself when he likens the Magician to Apollo (pg. 36, PKT).

The sun and sky gods of antiquity often became associated with the Creator over time. In the last post, I discussed the Magician as demiurge, creator of the physical world, often erroneously thought to be the supreme power in the universe; in the following posts, I’m going to examine an aspect of the Magician that is related in many ways to the idea of creator, but is not, strictly speaking, the same thing. This is essentially summed-up by the Apollo connection: the Magician can be the god of the sun and sky, and though he can also be the creator, he doesn’t have to be, just as Phoebus was the sun god of the ancient Greeks, but not their creator.*

Am I trying to say that, aside from the trickster and demiurge, the Magician is also a solar deity? Well, yes and no. He is, but that’s beside the point. The aspect of the Magician which is the subject of this post is probably the most elusive yet, so please bear with me. As the title suggests, I think this aspect is epitomized in Mr. Crowley’s version of the card, which he opted to call the “Magus”.

A.E. Waite did consider his Magician to be an embodiment of Apollo, and insofar as the High Priestess is Artemis, I’d concur. I couldn’t say whether or not Crowley also agreed with this attribution (his Priestess remains Artemis, so I think on some level he would’ve agreed, but he was also a generally disagreeable person, especially towards Waite, so who knows), but either way, he chose a different classical god to represent the Magus for his Thoth Tarot.

Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, called Hermes by the Greeks, is the face of the first numbered card of Crowley’s deck. Commerce, medicine, science, travelling (both in an astral and mundane sense), and trickery – all of these things and more fall under the domain of Mercury. Is he a creator? Not in the sense that the demiurge is, although he is certainly creative. Is he a sun god, like his half-brother Apollo? No, nor is he overtly associated with the sky, as Zeus is, despite his winged sandals. He is a male like the Magician, but he’s not necessarily the “manliest” of the Greek gods, some of which are very manly indeed. And yes, he is sometimes portrayed as a trickster like the Juggler, although that is far from his primary purpose. Is his gender and his guile enough reason to justify his place at the head of the Tarot pack alongside the likes of Odin, Apollo, Anansi and Jehovah?

At first glance, the connection seems tenuous. Of course, I’ve already written a post about Mercury’s deeper connection to gods like Odin and Anansi, so I don’t really need to get into that here, at least, not yet.** First, I think I should spend some time examining the Magus card itself.

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Crowley’s Magus is as different from the Magician as the Magician is different from the Juggler, if not more so. Not only is there no characteristic table in front of him, the Magus is totally naked, except for his winged sandals. The Coin, Wand, Cup, and Sword instead float in the air around him, but they are joined by some additional implements. Behind him rises the caduceus, the winged staff of Mercury, with its intertwining serpents forming the lemniscate above his head (this symbol of infinity being one of the few constants throughout all of this card’s incarnations so far). Finally, a baboon lurks behind the Magus, a companion who has quite an intriguing role to play.

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What does all this stuff mean?

Well, the sandals and caduceus illustrate beyond a doubt that this is indeed Mercury. That’s important, and I shall return to examine this point further in the future. As far as the nakedness, I genuinely don’t know. It could just as easily be an artistic liberty taken by Freida Harris as it could be symbolic of something else. Perhaps it’s another nod to his divinity: not only is the Magus naked, but his exposed skin glows with a golden luster that is totally un-human. No matter what we theorize about the Magician’s or the Juggler’s inherent divinity, they are nonetheless portrayed as mortal men. Not so with the Magus.

This immortal quality is implied even further when we consider that the Magus is not only levitating, but seems to exist in some alternate or in-between dimension. He is not in a garden like the Magician. This is right in keeping with Mercury’s ability to jump from one plane of existence to another, a characteristic he shares with folks like Odin and Thoth.

Which brings me to the primate hovering behind the Magus. This is Thoth in animal form, who was sometimes represented in ancient Egypt as a baboon instead of the usual ibis or ibis-headed man.*** Thoth is, obviously enough, of integral importance to the Thoth Tarot on many levels, but in this instance he almost seems to be antagonistic to the Magus’ purpose, making a mockery of Mercury and all he’s trying to accomplish.

Alongside the typical suit symbols, the Magus has in his arsenal a winged egg (called the “orphic egg”, which I briefly discussed in my post about Crowley’s Hermit), what appears to be a bundle of dried leaves or herbs, and a scroll and quill. The scroll and quill again call Thoth to mind, as he is the scribe of the Egyptian gods, and was credited with the invention of writing. Language is one of the Magus’ greatest assets as both trickster and demiurge, and it is his gift to mankind. The baboon, however, is a constant reminder that, no matter how elevated we think we are, humans are still animals at the end of the day, and while language does give us great power, it also limits us, confining our instinctual understanding of our place in the cosmos to restrictive definitions and superficial descriptions. In a way, the moment we developed complex language, freeing ourselves from the bonds of animal slavishness, we also alienated ourselves from a true comprehension of our place in the universe, a comprehension that defies all attempts to be put into words, though we sometimes desperately try. The monkey therefore points and laughs at us, nature’s own little trickster. We cannot escape his taunts, and he is forever in the Magus’ shadow.

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Next time, I will address some of the points and questions raised throughout this post: the mythic relationship between this enigmatic figure and the sun and sky gods; how these are connected to language and the gods of wisdom; the significance of Mercury as opposed to some other character; and, eventually, a return to the Juggler to tie it all together.

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*The sun god and the sun are two different things, by the way. Helios is the name of the Greek figure (titan or god, it’s not really clear which) who is the sun. Apollo, on the other hand, represents the attributes of the sun, such as warmth and light. Nevertheless, he is very often referred to as the “sun god.” To clear the matter up a bit (mythology can be frustratingly confusing sometimes, I know), Hyperion (a titan) is “eternal light,” Helios (a titan or god, and Hyperion’s son) is the sun, and Apollo (a god, and Zeus’ son) is the light and warmth of the sun. None of these three, incidentally, are creator-gods. The closest thing to demiurge that’s named in this footnote would be Zeus, Apollo’s father; and while he is not a god of the sun in any way, he is the god of the sky.

**I can’t be positive, but I’m pretty sure I’ve created more links on this blog to the “Wise Man and the Trickster” than I have to any other of my posts. If you can’t tell, it details a central theme around which my approach to the cards – and indeed, to myth, magic and divination in general – revolves. Sorry to those who have already read the post, but I can’t even promise that this will be the last time I link it.

***Alternatively, it can represent Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god and friend to the hero Rama. Hanuman is incredibly powerful and especially tricky, although to be honest, I don’t know much else about him at present.

A Perpetual Calendar.

The Book of Days is a hard-bound calendar that I picked up recently. It’s very nice, with thick pages that withstand lots of ink, and it’s decorated with full-color and captioned images from the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. This book is different than your average one-and-done calendar in another way, too: the days of each month are numbered, but are not assigned a weekday. This means that this particular calendar is not meant for a single year, but rather to keep track of yearly events regardless of what year it actually is. It’s marketed as a perpetual calendar to keep track of all the birthdays, anniversaries, and various other momentous occasions that take place from year to year, but I don’t care about any of that. I got it because I had in mind a better use for it: the Tarot.

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I was looking for something like this to replace the crummy old datebook in which I’d previously recorded the suggested dates for each Wildwood Tarot card (if you’re unfamiliar with the Wheel of the Year and how the Wildwood relates, you can check out my post about it here). Using green ink, I went through each page of the calendar and wrote down each card from the WWT on its respective date.

It occurred to me partway through this endeavor that I have at least one other deck with cards that can correspond with dates on a calendar: the Thoth Tarot. Using the astrological attributions for the court and small cards given in DuQuette’s book Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (which is far more user-friendly than Crowley’s own book and includes handy charts with exactly the information I needed for this project), I sat down and wrote the cards into their respective dates alongside the Wildwood (using black ink this time to more easily differentiate between the two in my calendar). I’ve yet to tackle the issue of the Major Arcana, although I plan on working through them shortly.

The result is now I have a perpetual Tarot calendar, simultaneously keeping track of the Earthly Wheel of the Year and the Heavenly Wheel of the Zodiac, and there’s still plenty of room left over should I find another Tarot that can similarly relate to a calendar.

Now it’s a simple matter for me to look up the date and find the cards of the day. It’s a fantastic way to get to know my cards on a more intimate level, or to focus my thoughts for each day. With the Wildwood, I’ve experienced great spiritual insight already by using it like a calendar, albeit sporadically, and this will only better facilitate that. I’m interested to begin to use the Thoth in this fashion, as well. And I haven’t tried this yet, but I think it would be interesting to draw a card from a third deck at random (a daily draw) and see how it relates to the WWT and the CHT cards of its day.

Anyway, I just thought I’d share this on here in case anyone else found the idea of a Tarot calendar interesting. Fair warning, though: it’s meticulous work, and it can be somewhat tedious flipping through pages and writing down each card on its date. You have to pay attention to what you’re doing, because it’s very easy to screw up. Trust me, I know from experience.

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I found masking tape to be an adequate solution for my blunders. There’s enough showing through to remind the jackass writing to PAY ATTENTION to what he’s doing in the future.