Guide to the Book of Thoth

Book of Thoth Tarot Cards

The Book of Thoth iconic tarot deck by Aleister Crowley and artist Frieda Harris published in 1943 in war-torn London

Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris started this iconic Tarot deck in the late 1930s and during the early part of the 2nd World War in London during the Blitz.

Secret Societies and Book of Thoth

The primary purpose of many Tarot decks is to promote the Secret Society run by the author/designer. The Book of Thoth apperas to be in the same category, particularly as this deck is “owned” by one of the Ordo Templis Orientalis (O.T.O.) organisation. However, while Crowley was recruited into the O.T.O., careful reading of the accompanying book to the Book of Thoth makes it clear that if is dedicated to his own Argenteum Astrum (A.A.) organisation.

The distinction is crucial. Authors such as A.E. Waite were promoting their own secret organization by hinting at secrets of the Tarot to be revealed when the student progressed (and paid dues) within the secret society. In contrast the Argenteum Astrum emphasizes individual study, which requires the study material to be available. Crowley had already published most of the Golden Dawn secrets in his Equinox volumes (although few people ever read them at the time). In the Book of Thoth Crowley reveals many secrets of the O.T.O. en passant.

In many respects the Book of Thoth is a more accurate rendition of the Golden Dawn tarot than the modern GD decks.

Structure of the Book of Thoth

The 78 cards of the Tarot are represented in the three main groups:

The Aces are a separate group within the Tarot, but I have put them in with the Court Cards.

Divinatory Meanings in the Book of Thoth

Aleister Crowley (and A.E. Waite) did not place great importance in divinatory meanings. Unlike modern books on the Tarot he put the meanings of the Major Arcana at the back of the book with only the numbers – no titles, so you have to be familiar with the order of the cards.

A myth has grown up that the Book of Thoth does not use reversed cards, but you can use them. In fact there are several visual clues for the orientation of the cards.

1The Magician - Rider-Waite Major Arcana

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