The Ace of Disks represents the root of the powers of Earth, which Crowley did not view as passive or inert, but active, in motion. To highlight this animated quality of earth, the Thoth deck invokes a whirring disk, rather than a coin or a pentacle. Crowley writes: Thus, in particular, the old conception of the Earth as a passive, immobile, even dead, even “evil” element, had to go. … Nor are the Disks any more to be considered as Coins; the Disk is a whirling emblem. Naturally so; since it is now known that every Star, every true Planet, is a whirling sphere. The Atom, again, is no more the hard, intractable, dead Particle of Dalton, but a system of whirling forces, comparable to the Solar hierarchy itself.
The background of this card is lush green stippled with gold: the colour of sun leaking through fir branches, or a beam of light rinsing the face of an emerald. We see four sets of wings, of angels or peacocks. (The Book of Thoth does reference Isis with this card, and a peacock is one symbol for the Egyptian goddess.)
In the centre of the card, the whirling disk itself is printed with Crowley’s seal: ΤΟ ΜΕΓΑ ΘΗΡΙΟΝ. It means “the Great Beast,” a reference to the Beast prophesied in Revelation. The letters add up to 666 using isopsephy, and 666 is inscribed in the centre of the disk inside the tiny triad of circles. Here we land on a striking archetypal point: the earth element as corrupt or corruptible. Our bodies and the material realm as somehow embarrassing or wicked. The Devil in this deck is linked to the sign of Capricorn, for instance. (The goat.) I can’t help but wonder if the subtle maligning of the material realm in western culture has contributed, even tangentially, to how little we respect our planet.
This card represents the purest form of the Earth element: raw material; money; exchange; prosperity; abundance; pragmatism; security; stability; the ability to make shit real, or manifest. Angeles Arrien suggests this card signifies inner and outer success. The four sets of wings indicate the four levels conscious development (mental, emotional, spiritual, physical), while the coins and crystals signify prosperity. To me, this card represents a seed. A new venture that involves the material realm, possibly money, but also any form of physical reality: seizing an idea or ideal (represented by air and fire) and crystallizing it into being. A sort of psychic 3-D printing. This card represents the triplicity of Earth in astrology: Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn. Earth as the stretching of tree roots, the weaving of words, the building of castles. Earth not as a static lump, but a whirling disk, the planet we’re living on.
Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley
The Tarot Handbook by Angeles Arrien
On first glance, the black steed rears from a lake of fire. And then you realize fire is climbing the Knight’s cape—indeed he is cloaked in flames— , and flares shoot from his helmet in a sort of eyebrow-singeing visor. To say nothing of the enflamed torch emerging from his groin area: the ace of wands. As the cards go, this one’s pretty masculine.
In the Thoth deck, the Knight is the highest court card: equal to Kings in other decks. And so, the Knight of Wands represents fire in its most advanced form. According to Crowley, this Lord of Flame and Lightning rules 21° Scorpio to 20° Sagittarius. His wand represents his vision: the truth he wishes to share with the masses. Fire signs don’t keep their truths to themselves: they yearn to burn outwards, to gather others around their heat. In this way, the card does call to mind Sagittarius. The Knight is on a mission. He’s energetic: we’re talking teenaged-levels of virility. He’s combustible. Before the dank mould of self-doubt creeps in, he will burn all spores of uncertainty in his path.
And maybe he’s not a he. The King of Wands might represent that part of you that has mastered vision and vitality (according to Angeles Arrien), or other fire themes, such as creativity. This archetype is relentlessly optimistic. Buoyant. Surging.
It’s appropriate Crowley linked this Knight to Scorpio too, for the imagery on this card is uncompromisingly Martian. The reds and yellows. The phallic torch. The fire. The focus and thrusting forward.
But there’s a danger to unyielding self-belief. It results in dogma. Cultural genocide. Tyranny. The Knight of Wands could be lifted from a Crusades painting: man on horse, wielding his creed. This Knight is unmitigated by the other elements: such as the empathy of water, the detachment of air, the discernment of earth. We’ve seen the results of unmitigated fire before: it doesn’t stop eating.
So with this card, take the green light, but bring your own caution. Pace yourself. Unlike the Knight of Wands, your birth chart has the in-built support system of more than one element.
Repeat after Borges: Time is the substance from which I am made. Time is a river which carries me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that devours me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.
And Maxine Hong Kingston:In a time of destruction, create something.
When I first glance at the Queen of Cups, my eyes land on the shell in her palm. Her face is hard to locate: I work back from the reflection, where her eyes gaze plaintively from the water. In her shell, a crayfish stands on end, forming the shape of Neptune’s trident. The Queen holds a lotus with her free hand, which she also drapes over the head of a stork. Two more lotuses glimmer from the pond: possibly representing the twin nature of Gemini.
The Queen of Cups rules the 21st degree of Gemini to the 20th degree of Cancer, according to Crowley’s Book of Thoth. If this looks like the least Gemini card in the deck, Crowley has a riposte: Instead of assigning the three decans of each sign to one card, the influence begins with the last decan of one Sign and continues to the second decan of the next…The reason for this is that in the realm of the Elements all things are mixed and confused; or, as the apologist might say, counter checked and counter-balanced.
For Crowley, the lotus represented Isis, a divine mother in Egyptian mythology, who helped resuscitate her dead husband, Osiris. Imagine a lotus blossom on the surface of the Nile. The flower represents both the physical world and the entrance to the spirit realm below. To quote the Beautiful Isis blog: the water’s reflection of the petals “suggests the ghostly reflections of either realm when viewed from an alternative or parallel reality.”
I think of people with prominent water or Neptune placements. How they have such ready access to other people and other realms. They are the empaths, the seers, the dreamers. But it’s not always easy to identify what belongs to you and what you’re absorbing from others.
I think of the symbols: how the glyph for Cancer appears like a reflection off water (so too for Gemini, of course.) How the moon doesn’t produce light of her own, but offers the perfect curve in the sky to scoop the sun back to us.
Angeles Arrien describes the Queen of Cups as mastery of emotional integrity. This Queen represents Mother, how we nurture, and the practice of “owning one’s feelings and expressing them without blame or judgment.”
Now that’s not something we’re encouraged to do everyday. Arrien stresses this point. The Queen of Cups does not repress her feelings, nor use them to attack. But she doesn’t apologize for her feelings either.
A Cancer Queen at her finest.