Great Minds in Tarot: Aleister Crowley

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Welcome to a series about the Great Minds in Tarot.  Each month this post will look at the key thinkers and practitioners in the field of tarot. Numerous men and women have made significant contributions to the field of tarot.  These Great Minds provide a large bibliography of writings worth reading and putting into your own tarot library.

This article will distill a thinker’s essential and many contributions and provide a book list of their key works or a discussion of the deck they created (if they published one).  As with any thinkers who write extensively, some books stand out more than others, and these will be identified.  Some works have practical application and others are theoretical, depending on whether or not you wish to practice tarot or just study it.

This article will talk about Aleister Crowley.

Aleister Crowley (October, 12 1875 – December 1, 1947)

Aleister Crowley was a prolific writer and a comprehensive list of his writings can be found on his Wikipedia page.  For purposes of this article, I will focus on the tarot deck he created with artist Lady Freida Harris.  The deck was published after their deaths (Crowley in 1947 and Harris in 1962) in 1969 by Ordo Templi Orientis.  Crowley referred to the deck as the Book of Thoth, and it is commonly known as the Thoth Tarot or Crowley Tarot.

The deck is still in print and can be purchased on Amazon.  There is also a companion book, written by Crowley, entitled: The Book of Thoth, Egyptian Tarot, which is also available on Amazon

Golden Dawn

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Latin: Ordo Hermeticus Aurorae Aureae; or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn (Aurora Aurea)) was a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”. 

Aleister Crowley was a member of this society, as was Arthur E Waite, who created the Rider Tarot with Pamela Coleman Smith.  They were contemporaries. Crowley and Waite proved to be bitter rivals and they are both considered the foremost leaders in what would become the source material for contemporary tarot decks.  While most modern decks follow the Rider scheme, many employ Crowley’s scheme, which switches the numbers of the Strength and Justice cards, as well as the names of the Court cards for the Minor Arcana and numerous cards in the Major Arcana

Here is the difference between certain cards:

Rider-Waite card            Thoth equivalent
I: The MagicianI: The Magus
II: The High PriestessII: The Priestess
VIII: StrengthXI: Lust
X: Wheel of FortuneX: Fortune
XI: JusticeVIII: Adjustment
XIV: TemperanceXIV: Art
XX: JudgementXX: The Æon
XXI: The WorldXXI: The Universe

The Thoth Tarot

Thoth Tarot The Fool card

Crowley wore many different hats and studied a breadth and depth of knowledge, which he incorporated in the tarot deck he created with Lady Harris.  His presentation of the suits included comprehensive astrology knowledge using decans to demarcate the number 2 through 10 cards:

Titles and attributions of the Wands Suit

NumberSignDecanRuler of DecanName
1The Root of the Powers of Fire
2Aries1stMarsDominion
3Aries2ndSunVirtue
4Aries3rdVenusCompletion
5Leo1stSaturnStrife
6Leo2ndJupiterVictory
7Leo3rdMarsValour
8Sagittarius1stMercurySwiftness
9Sagittarius2ndMoonStrength
10Sagittarius3rdSaturnOppression

 Titles and attributions of the Cups Suit

NumberSignDecanRuler of DecanName
1The Root of the Powers of Water
2Cancer1stVenusLove
3Cancer2ndMercuryAbundance
4Cancer3rdMoonLuxury
5Scorpio1stMarsDisappointment
6Scorpio2ndSunPleasure
7Scorpio3rdVenusDebauch
8Pisces1stSaturnIndolence
9Pisces2ndJupiterHappiness
10Pisces3rdMarsSatiety

Titles and attributions of the Swords Suit

NumberSignDecanRuler of DecanName
1The Root of the Powers of Air
2Libra1stMoonPeace
3Libra2ndSaturnSorrow
4Libra3rdJupiterTruce
5Aquarius1stVenusDefeat
6Aquarius2ndMercuryScience
7Aquarius3rdMoonFutility
8Gemini1stJupiterInterference
9Gemini2ndMarsCruelty
10Gemini3rdSunRuin

 Titles and attributions of the Disks Suit

NumberSignDecanRuler of DecanName
1The Root of the Powers of Earth
2Capricorn1stJupiterChange
3Capricorn2ndMarsWorks
4Capricorn3rdSunPower
5Taurus1stMercuryWorry
6Taurus2ndMoonSuccess
7Taurus3rdSaturnFailure
8Virgo1stSunPrudence
9Virgo2ndVenusGain
10Virgo3rdMercuryWealth

The Thoth Tarot represents a rather small part of Crowley’s overall life.  He was a central figure in the occult world at the turn of the 20th century and spent a good part of his life writing novels, poetry, and essays.  He was a dynamic figure who produced his tarot deck later in life as an esoteric tool for occult studies and initiation. 

The artwork by Lady Harris is both sophisticated and intricate, capturing expertly the complexities of Crowley’s mind regarding tarot concepts and archetypes. Any serious tarot student or scholar needs to be familiar with Crowley’s deck.  You can find a comprehensive list of Thoth-inspired tarot decks on Aeclectic.net.

Of those decks you can read askAstrology reviews for the Rohrig Tarot and the Haindl Tarot.  Both decks are worth owning if you are tarot enthusiast or practitioner.

Not only did Crowley write extensively, but many books have been written about Crowley.  If you want to explore more about the creator of the Thoth Tarot, you can check out:

  • Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World by Gary Lachman
  • Aleister Crowley in India: The Secret Influence of Eastern Mysticism on Magic and the Occult by Tobias Churton

Realize that he lived a dramatic life and caused strong reactions in people.  And his tarot deck is certainly not for everyone, but it does have significant historical importance in the story of tarot, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Philip Young, PhD

I am a spiritual adviser located in Cary, North Carolina. I earned my PhD in English from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 1996 and had a career in academics until 2007, when I retired to become a stay-at-home father. In 2013 I “hung out my shingle” starting my business Black Unykorn Enterprises, LLC. I provide spiritual guidance using different tools: astrology, tarot/oracle cards, numerology, and past life regression (using muscle testing). With a home office, Zoom, WeChat, and WhatsApp, I work with local clients in person and distance clients from around the world. You can read about my practice and contact me through my website: https://www.blackunykorn.com. Philip Young, PhD Website