More Thoth Musings

Since there is some interest in my view of the Thoth as an alkahest, or “universal solvent” in the world of tarot divination, I thought I would strike while the iron is hot.

The best place to chase down this notion is with Frieda Harris’s wonderfully evocative Minor Arcana (aka “pip”) cards, and one of the best examples I can think of is the 8 of Cups. When using the RWS deck, I sometimes interpret Smith’s card as the “poisoned well;” the man in the image has looked in the cups and come away dejected, having found nothing to his liking in them. But I never would have made that connection if I hadn’t encountered the Thoth version, which is a veritable quagmire of slimy unpleasantness. It builds on Crowley’s idea that the Sevens and Eights are doubly disadvantaged by being “off the middle pillar and very low down on the Tree.” To this I’ve added the observation that the Eights are an expression of the mental volatility of Mercury (the planetary correspondence of Hod), and their unbalanced state gives rise to the presence of anxiety or tension. In the suit of Cups, I get the impression of conflicted emotions warring with one another, like the old Clash song, Should I Stay or Should I Go? (“If I go there will be trouble/And if I stay it will be double”). Where the RWS example guides the mind down a narrow narrative path (the morose man, the forbidding rocky ascent, the peculiar Moon), the viscerally dour Thoth card is much more broadly applicable, suggesting “standing in quicksand” in whatever context the question evokes. I find this sense of anxiety to a greater or lesser extent in all of the Thoth Eights, even the benign 8 of Disks in which I see an overweening fastidiousness that borders on anally compulsive.

With the court cards, Crowley’s elaboration of the “moral characteristics” of each personality type stands as an unparalleled example of the psychological depth he and Harris managed to imbue in the standard conceptual model. Their inspiration dovetails neatly with my three-fold approach to interpreting the court cards: as other people involved in or with an interest in the queren’t circumstances; as attitudes or behaviors the querent should either adopt or avoid in facing the situation; or as the personification of external forces at work in the matter. These thumbnails go so far beyond the more pedestrian vision of Waite as to seem like visitors from an alternate universe. They are so valuable for this purpose that I went to the trouble of combing through the Book of Thoth and extracting every word and phrase of meaning I could find to populate a pair of tables:

With the Major Arcana (aka “trump”) cards, the meat of the matter lies in assiduous reading and profound contemplation of Crowley’s card-specific text. (For the purpose of divination, I can’t recommend the material in the Appendix quite as wholeheartedly.) Once their unique Thelemic trappings are accounted for, the images themselves are not all that resistant to traditional interpretation. The Hanged Man is a good example; although the common meaning of “sacrifice” is still present, Crowley makes it clear that he’s talking about a process of initiation, which has more positive, universal implications than simply being “hung out to dry” by events. In fact, when reading the card I seldom see it as “sacrifice,” but more as an opportunity to explore uncharted psychic territory.

I don’t know if I’ve convinced anyone with these random examples, but to me the Thoth deck is the “gold standard” that overshadows and subsumes all others within its breathtaking sweep. Assuming we can successfully work our way through Crowley’s intimidating persona and sometimes baffling erudition, it’s the closest thing we have to a metaphysical “particle beam” for atomizing an unwieldy problem into its constituent elements in order to better analyze and understand their interplay.  On top of that, it’s a bare-knuckles slugger rather than the charming apology for esoteric profundity that is the RWS. The best single-word descriptor for it is the one I used above: “visceral.”

3 thoughts on “More Thoth Musings

  1. Spot on. And you are so right about the 7s and 8s, especially the Cups. I hope you keep musing on this; it feels like a part of something bigger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I knew somebody would! I didn’t bother with it from 1972 to 2011, and when I finally got one so I could sound semi-intelligent on Aeclectic Tarot, I found it fun to read with but decidedly lightweight. It works well for that purpose but its not much of a study deck. I’ve read the PKT a couple of times and find Waite’s contribution OK (but it’s no BoT); where the deck fails for me is in Smith’s prosaic minor-card images, many of which seem out-of-sync with Waite’s text.


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