The Book of Thoth

The Book of Thoth

Aleister Crowley named his tarot deck the Book of Thoth after many ancient texts of the same title, attributed to the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge.

The deck itself was illustrated over five years by Lady Frieda Harris, who became a close friend to Crowley. I know a few people who don’t touch this deck, because of Crowley’s dark reputation. I’m not going to argue he was a nice, or even “good,” guy, but my feeling is that no deck is dark or evil on its own. It’s a medium. Like any medium, it channels the energy you pour through it (or the energy that pours from the other side.) The deck is blunt, certainly, owing to the words that caption the grimmer minor arcana, such as the 7 of disks (“failure”) or 10 of swords (“ruin.”) But the artwork is breathtaking, and like any deck, it has a sense of humour.

When I got back into tarot as an adult, the Thoth deck appealed to me because of its astrological correlations. (If you look closely, astrological symbols are painted on many of the minor arcana cards… the 7 of Cups (“Debauch”) is represented by Venus in Scorpio, for instance.)

I already possessed basic knowledge of astrological language, so I thought this deck might be more intuitive to work through. Though we didn’t know each other at the time, Jasmine was drawn to the same one.

As we travelled together for three weeks in Greece and Egypt, we continued to consult our cards. What we found is they sent us the same messages. Loudly at times. One evening, we had the idea to draw cards from each other’s decks to receive guidance on whether to proceed, or not, with an idea. We drew exactly the same card: the 8 of swords. (“Interference.”) Jasmine went on to flip this card at least four more times over the next forty-eight hours. And this is what we found: if there was a message we needed to receive, it came through. If we didn’t listen the first time, the deck would repeat herself.

Over the last few months, as we’ve come together under the banner of Kosmic Tonic, we’ve repeatedly drawn the same card. (“Art” has made a regular appearance: Thoth’s Temperance. As has Aeon: Judgment.) I’ve been getting to know this deck over my Fall in Switzerland, but I still find some of the astrological correlations a mystery. For instance: the 9 of disks, “Gain,” is represented by Venus in Virgo, where’s she’s technically in her fall. And Thoth links the 5 of cups, “disappointment,” to Mars in Scorpio, where he’s domicile. Crowley designed this deck according to his own understanding of the decans, which originated in Egyptian astrology, I’ve recently learned. (Shout out to Chris Brennan’s book on Hellenistic Astrology!) Crowley was more influenced by the Kabbalah and other occult histories than a direct interpretation of the essential dignities, I suppose. But it still niggles at me. I want to knit the gap between some of his astro correlations and the cards as I’ve studied them.

This is all a rather long-winded precis to announce that we’re going to use our blog as an online Thoth laboratory of sorts. We don’t claim to be experts, but we hope to lean into the cards, brainstorm their astrological links, and start a wider conversation with anyone else willing or curious.