A recurring sentiment you’ll hear, even among tarot readers, is that Crowley’s Thoth deck should be avoided, because Crowley. After e-mailing me paragraphs of rehashed Internet research on the salacious nuggets of the man’s biography to lay the foundation of their point, the inevitable question will come: “Should I avoid working with the Thoth because it’s got bad juju?”
I’m always amused when this question is presented for me to answer, as if I have any reasonable idea whether you in particular should work with or avoid working with the Thoth. It’s a matter of personal preference, and so it’s a question I can’t answer without knowing you through and through.
Once when I was reading tarot at a book festival to promote Holistic Tarot, someone came up to me, got a reading from me, and then bought my book. As we were chatting, she mentioned that she was glad I didn’t work with the Thoth because there was no way she could learn tarot from an author or teacher who condoned Aleister Crowley.
At the time I think I just kept my smile and nodded stupidly. I mean what do you say to that in a casual acquaintance-only public square setting? It’s not the time or place to get into an in-depth discussion about the Thoth.
Broadly speaking, I encourage tarot practitioners to become fluent in reading with the Tarot de Marseille, the Rider-Waite-Smith, and the Thoth, and to establish your own interpretive distinctions among the three. How do you connect and work with the TdM versus the RWS versus the Thoth? How does the Thoth speak to you compared to the RWS? What is your reading process with the TdM compared to the RWS? Do you just have this ubiquitous unchanging system that you transplant into any deck you work with no matter what? Or do you stop and listen to the deck and work with it in a customized fashion, on that particular deck’s character and merits?
My personal experience is the systems do not read the same. Not at all.
Assuming you have a visceral negative reaction to Crowley’s lifestyle and some of his life choices, should you avoid using his deck on those grounds? The answer to that question depends on your ethical standards and philosophy of life. I think if you’re wondering that question, the issue goes beyond Crowley and strikes at the fundamentals of what kind of person you want to be.
If the moral character of a leader runs against your own moral code, does that mean such a person is no longer fit to lead? Are you afraid you can’t be trusted to abide by your own moral code if the leader above you doesn’t abide by that moral code? Do you need to be surrounded by those exactly like you, so that you won’t forget who you are?
Those are the questions to be asking and answering if you have moral reservations about using the Thoth deck because Crowley.
Then I’ve heard the threats that using the Crowley deck will open the gates of hell and you’ll become possessed by demons. Like, 78 pieces of cardstock will become saturated with evil as soon as the 78 works of the Thoth tarot are printed on them. That’s some powerful magic, which I suppose I wouldn’t put past Crowley, but still.
It’s insanity to me how easily people get brainwashed by branding. You can get so primed at the subconscious level that you don’t even realize that everything you are feeling and experiencing is in fact conjured up by someone else manipulating your imagination. I know you don’t want to believe that, but what we think of things we know very little of is completely and utterly informed by its branding.
No one– no one– who has truly given the Thoth deck– and Crowley– a chance thinks it’s an evil tarot deck, or that it has evil juju.
It dismays me when public figures in the New Age, metaphysical, or tarot communities read an unverified blog post on the Internet about Crowley and then decide he’s Satan and go around telling everyone he’s Satan and that his deck is evil incarnate. Oh, but you say you read it in a published book? Take it from someone who’s published several books and is familiar with the publishing industry. A lot of misinformation gets published in books.
When you read an allegation, you want to be discerning. What is the author’s source of information? What might the accuser’s motivations be? Are you able to tell the difference between words and action?
If I’m being rational, the Thoth deck is pieces of cardstock with printed art, which you’ll either like or dislike on a wholly subjective basis, which were based on designs and attributions thought up by Mr. Aleister Crowley and Lady Marguerite Frieda Harris. When you read the primary sources on Crowley, you can’t help but to acknowledge his unmatched brilliance. The bad press he’s known for comes entirely from hearsay.
If I’m being sensitive, Crowley probably could’ve been a bit of a schmuck, wrapped up in a great deal of conceit that would have made him rather unbearable to most. He probably wasn’t always kind, and what he’s penned himself does suggest that he talks down at and likes to be condescending toward nearly everyone. Well. People do not like being talked down at and will vilify those who demean them. So a mountain-load of maligned secondary accounts of his character doesn’t really surprise me.
Well-known public figures of acclaim in Crowley’s time who were probably used to everyone kissing the ground they walked on must have been taken aback when Crowley didn’t do the same. I’m sure that’s going to lead them to leave behind negative reviews of the man.
You can avoid the Thoth because you don’t like the artwork, but to avoid a deck of cards because you think its creator was reincarnated Satan is a little bit– just a little bit– absurd.
And, you know, I would give the real Satan a lot more credit. Reincarnated Satan or the Anti-Christ isn’t going to look and act like Aleister Crowley. Satan is going to look and act like a Love and Light Prophet.