Aleister Crowley was a somewhat notorious, hard-nosed, occultist, poet, mountaineer and artist who was born in the small town of Leomington Spa, United Kingdom in 1875. Crowley died at the onset of the UFO – a fact not missed by many of his followers, in the coastal town of Hastings in 1947. He left behind him a huge library of published works and a magickal legacy that grows with every year of his passing.
Aside from his poetry, fiction and magickal texts, Aleister Crowley bequeathed to those that follow him a number of important occult ideas which are central to his Thelemic philosophy.
These include the belief that humanity is entering a new phase – one that he called the ‘Aeon of Horus’, a magickal Bible which he titled ‘The Book of the Law’ and, probably most widely appreciated of all his works, the ever-popular Thoth Tarot Deck.
Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Deck
Whilst originally conceived and published by Crowley way back in 1944 the Thoth Deck was illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris and in a remarkably modern style for its day.
Despite not selling well at the time, time has caught up with the ideas of its creators and so remains, today, one of the most imaginative and visually stimulating occult-influenced decks of all time.
Only the Rider-Waite deck by A E Waite has anywhere near as close a heritage!
As with all of Crowley’s works his Thoth Deck is riddled with hidden symbolism, occult riddles and allegorical statements. Whilst many users of the deck are happy just to use the cards as a standard form of divination tool it does carry inherent magickal qualities that make it some more than a simple fortune-telling device.
For those occultists who might be keen to unravel the deeper esoteric secrets that are contained within Crowley’s cards, Tarot writers Johannes Fiebig and Evelin Burger have produced a publication called ‘The Ultimate Guide to the Thoth Tarot’.
An Essentially Pictorial Code
The writer’s approach to their book is somewhat different than most for it is illustrated throughout with images of each card with their symbols and meanings unravelled on a page-by-page basis.
This means that every one of the 78 cards of the deck is taken on an individual basis, stripped down to its constituent parts with individual meanings being offered by the authors with regards to their understanding of the esoteric significance of the rich variety of symbolism that appears on each one.
Also featured in the book are a number of Tarot reading techniques. These include different Tarot spreads – from simple one card through to a modified version of the Celtic Cross, interpretation tips, the significance of the use of color, as well as general tarot-reading guidelines.
The book closes with a brief look at the astrological associations contained within the cards which are drawn from the Golden Dawn set of magickal correspondences.
According to the title of this book it professes to be an ultimate examination of Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. This is a bold claim to make and so we will put the book to the test based on this assertion.
First of all, given the nature of this book, you would naturally expect to find some reference within its pages to either Crowley or Harris – or even both – but non appears. It offers no historical or metaphysical context with regards to its creators.
This is a serious error for without some rudimentary understanding of Crowley and what he hoped to achieve with his Tarot any subsequent examination of it is going to be flawed.
Leaving this glaring omission aside for one moment, it is important to state that there is actually a second, more major problem with this publication – one which is so fundamentally challenges the basis upon which a reader can rely upon the interpretational meanings given by its authors.
The issue is that the book’s translation, from its original German into English, is at best strange and at worst excruciatingly painful.
Throughout its pages whole sections of text read as if the original version had been put through Google Translate prior to its English publication.
Whilst the result might be accurate on a German word to English word basis it fails to accommodate common English usage.
The result of is that as a reader, you end up having to unravel the meaning behind such odd commentaries regrading card meanings as:
Wounds heal when you have care of them.
The reality insists not only on one-way streets or one-way solutions.
From this can emerge alienation from the worldly and aloofness.
Adjust what your feelings obfuscate.
Your strengths and purposes are now to step yourself up to center.
… and I could go on!
OK, so lets cut our European cousins some slack here (but not the translators) and look past these issues.
What else does the book feature that may make this an attractive purchase for potential buyers?
Well, the answer, sadly, is very little. Even the very first page titled ’10 Rules for this Book’ contains some real, and not un-comical howlers with most of the points contained on this page referring back to the authors themselves and not to the book’s content.
OK, so I am in a really good mood. Let’s ignore even this effrontery to reader intelligence and examine the main esoteric content within its pages.
Here some of the explanations for the symbols on the cards are quite well explained and with proper reference to modern psychospiritual concepts. The way that the authors have tried to ground the decks usage into practical daily divination is quite good.
However, whilst on the surface these qualities do lift the book out of the quagmire anyone with even a cursory understanding of Crowley’s Tarot and system of magick will notice some glaring omissions – not least of all the fact that the second Arcana 1 Card THE MAGICIAN that is included with all Thoth decks and which contains totally different symbolism, is missing from this book.
This lack of attention to detail is most evident in the major arcana where some of the card’s primary symbols have either been omitted altogether or are mis-interpreted. These happen to be the very ‘keys’ that unlock a deeper understanding of the magickal system that Crowley wove into his deck.
In addition many of the symbols are mis-numbered and mis-labelled leading one to question just how much care was put into the formulation of this publication at any stage.
Any good points to be mentioned about this book?
The Ultimate Guide to the Thoth Deck has been thoughtfully illustrated and has been printed on high quality, glossy paper – something that does justice to the beauty and richness of color in the cards. However, it should be noted that the cards themselves have been trimmed down in the book and so do not replicate the originals totally or authentically.
The Ultimate Guide to the Thoth Tarot should be avoided by any student of Crowley’s deck for it contains too many errors and inaccuracies for it to be anything other than a product with only very light entertainment value.