A New Tarot For The New Aeon

A New Tarot For The New Aeon Cover At age 63, Crowley began his major statement on Tarot, the Thoth Tarot and the related The Book of Thoth. The deck, named after the Egyptian god of wisdom and magic, was the product of intense collaboration over five years (1938-1943) between the magus and British artist Lady Frieda Harris (1877-1962) (see illustration, left). Although Crowley apparently had final say concerning the deck, it would have never taken form without Harris’ evocative paintings, which reflected a wide variety of important artistic movements of the late nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-centuries, including Art Nouveau, Cubism, and Futurism.

Illustration (above): Pictured (c. 1941) are Crowley (center) and Harris (right) with a friend of Harris identified only as Catherine. From Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and “The Golden Dawn” by Ithell Colquhoun (copyright © 1975 Colquhoun).

Aeon from the Thoth TarotCrowley felt that the early history of Tarot, including its purported beginnings in ancient Egypt, was ultimately unimportant. “The origin of Tarot is quite irrelevant, even if it were certain. It must stand or fall as a system on its own merits,” he explained in The Book of Thoth, which he wrote as a companion to the deck. However, he noted that the Tarot “is an admirable symbolic picture of the Universe, based on the data of the Holy Qabalah [a kind of Jewish mysticism].”

Furthermore, the Thoth Tarot was a symbolic picture of the universe according to Thelema and, of course, its greatest prophet, Crowley. “This new Tarot may therefore be regarded as a series of illustrations to the Book of the Law; the doctrine of that Book is everywhere implicit,” Crowley noted. For example, the Trump traditionally titled Judgment was replaced by The Aeon (see illustration, above), in celebration of the New Aeon and the coming of Thelema .

Illustration (above) The Aeon from the Thoth Tarot designed by aleister crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris (copyright © 1944 Ordo Templi Orientis). Click the image for a larger one. For a brief explanation of this card, click here.

In keeping with Thelema, Crowley often advocated the free integration of spirituality and sexuality. In his commentary on The Book of the Law he wrote:

“We [Thelemites] refuse to regard love as shameful and degrading, as a peril to body and soul. We refuse to accept it as the surrender of the divine to the animal; to us it is the means by which the animal may be made the Winged Sphinx which shall bear man aloft to the House of the Gods.”

Therefore he made certain that the Thoth deck integrated Tarot and sexuality. For example, he replaced the Trump traditionally called Strength with Lust, which included an unabashedly erotic image of a nude woman astride an extraordinary beast.

The Book of Thoth and the related Thoth Tarot was Crowley’s final major achievement. Three years after publication of the book in 1944, which included illustrations of all seventy-eight cards, he was dead at age 72. Neither he nor Harris lived to see the publication of the Thoth Tarot as a working deck; it was first published in this format in 1969. In a sense, The Book of Thoth and the Thoth Tarot were Crowley’s spiritual last will and testament.

Books in PDF format to read:

Aleister Crowley - The Heart Of The Master
Aleister Crowley - Mortadello Or The Angel Of Venice
Anonymous - Thelema A New Spiritual Tradition For A New Age

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