Eye of Horus is now stocked up on the new printing of the Crowley-Harris Thoth Decks. Between printings for months, and only available on eBay at premium prices, you can get your deck in either the Large or Smaller size. Click Here to view both Thoth Decks online. You can order online or call the store at 612-872-1292. Hopefully, they won’t disappear again.
Okay, so it seems the Thoth was never officially Permanently Out of Print, but it was definitely between printings for quite some time, and it’s been about a year since we’ve been able to get them in the store. For a while, you could only find the decks in the US on eBay, where people were trying to sell them for hundreds of dollars. The only information we got from the distributors was that they didn’t have a date for the next printing. So we were thrilled when we got an eMail which not only said they were in print, but they were on their way to US shores, both in the large version in the green box, and the small, standard tarot size in the purple box.
So, what’s the big deal about the Thoth, anyway?
The Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot is the deck of 78 tarot card images invoked by Aleister Crowley and illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris. It grew out of Crowley’s work to create a thorough text of the Tarot which incorporated the latest scientific discoveries, philosophy, mathematics and anthropology, and united these systems with the form of the Qabalah (Hermetic Kabbalah). Originally, he had planned to form a deck based on the Medieval versions of the Tarot, but Lady Frieda Harris convinced him to create an original work which would be the visual representation of the Book of Thoth.
The entire Thoth deck is designed to be a pictorial representation of the Qabalah and especially the Tree of Life, a system of ten spheres and 22 interconnecting paths that is used to organize mystical concepts. Each card in the Thoth deck is intricately detailed with astrological, zodiacal, elemental and Qabalistic symbols incorporated in each card.
Even colors are used symbolically, especially the cards related to the five elements of Spirit, Fire, Water, Air and Earth. Unlike the popular Waite-Smith Tarot, the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot retains the traditional historical order of the trumps, but changes the names for both the trumps and the court cards.
Creating such a symbolically rich tarot deck was no easy task, as some of the cards were re-imaged several times until they met with Crowley’s approval. The smaller-sized version of the Thoth has 3 versions of the Magus card, for a total of 80 cards in the deck.
The planned 3 months of work extended into 5 years, and was completed in 1943. Though it was destined to become one of the most popular Tarot decks of all time, the deck was not published for another 26 years, after both Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris had exited this plane. It was finally published in 1969 by the O.T.O. through the efforts of Grady McMurtry X°.
Thus, both book and deck were born. They are like the Yin and Yang versions of the Book of Thoth, and both deck and book have been referred to by the same title. Either one, or both, can be the springboard for a lifetime of study. A little booklet does come with the deck.
But if you want to really understand the deck, you need the book–and possibly another two or three–since Crowley was known for a unique writing style which expressed extreme devotion to both his subject and his own intellect; and no regard for anything like a common reader.
The Deck Alone is a Work of Genius
The Crowley-Harris Thoth Deck is absolutely unparalleled in imagery and a stunning artistic acheivement. The genius of Lady Frieda Harris is proven again and again when you look through the cards. Even a novice, without knowing the symbolism incorporated into the deck, finds numerous images which evoke half-remembered dreams and truths which can’t be put into words. Deliciously right-brained, the images are not shy; they hook the subconscious, pulling back the veil of ordinary mind to something deeper, which is why this is a favorite deck for meditation.
If you want to dive into the meanings of the cards beyond the surface images, then Crowley’s masterwork, The Book of Thoth, describes and expands on the symbology of the cards and details pathways incorporated within the deck. You can buy just the book, since the Lady Frieda Harris cards are there as illustrations, but most are in black and white, except for the images on the inside covers. If you get the book, you really should get the deck so you can refer to all the symbols as they were intended to be viewed–in full color. If you do get the book, and find it hard to get into, we recommend the following as companion books:
- Understanding Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette – It’s hard to get a more authoritative interpretation than the one written by the U.S. Deputy Grand Master of the O.T.O. DuQuette uses accessible language to expand the reader’s understanding. It is, nonetheless, an introduction. Nothing is more complete than Crowley’s own book.
- Tarot: Mirror of the Soul by Gerd Zeigler – This one is really designed as a reference for interpreting each card, which would be ideal as a starter book, but it puts a strictly positive spin on all the cards. Generally, regarded as a very useful book when learning the Thoth, the one caveat being that Zeigler seems to have forgotten the shadow. So you’ll need to remember to add some of your own interpretation to get the balance and depth needed to address real life situations.
Mary K. Greer has a wonderful take on the symbolism of the Thoth, and symbolism in general in her article, Killing the Thoth Deck, she explores the power of the images and the difficulty some people have in learning the Thoth through Crowley’s own Book of Thoth. Then she looks at The Tarot Handbook by Angeles Arrien, which explores the Thoth symbolism from an Anthrolopological and Jungian perspective, rather than the Esoteric and Qabalistic meanings which the Thoth was designed to explore.
Read more history, and find links to reviews at the Tarotpaedia article Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot, such as this link to correspondence between Aleister Crowley and Lady Freida Harris during the creation of the deck.
Finally, let me say that if you’ve read this far in the article and don’t have the Thoth Deck or the Book of Thoth, how can you wonder if such a rich study of symbol and meaning is right for you? Browse for Thoth Tarot Decks and Tarot Books Online.