Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thoth, Reversals, and Divinatory Sustenance

The Crowley Thoth deck is amazing. What took me so long to work with it? Throwing all nay-sayers to the wind, I purchased this pack of cards on a whim a little over a month ago, and I’m so very happy that I did.

I’m blown away by the art. Each card is a masterpiece of symbolism, color, shape and symmetry. I’ve never seen a more exquisite Ace of Disks, with so much texture and flow. No, the minors don’t feature scenes (no people, houses, activities) but the cards speak quite clearly all the same, as the artwork is extremely expressive – it may simply be a different dialect than one would experience with other decks (especially of the RWS tradition).

Thoth Ace of Disks (Crowley/Harris)

I’d read so much about not using reversals with the Thoth deck – if anything, elemental dignities should be employed. I’ve experimented with EDs for the past year or so, and while I do find them useful and interesting, I don’t find them more useful than reversals – though I often observe the influences of both within a single reading. Perhaps someday the EDs will make so much sense that I’ll toss out reversals altogether (or perhaps not!), but for now I enjoy the rich depth that reversals give to readings – so why stop now?

So yes, I’m saying it here and now, with no shame whatsoever: I use reversals with the Thoth deck, and it works splendidly!

And why shouldn’t it? The concept of reversals is vast and inclusive in its use: we’re not talking about strictly applying the opposite meaning to a reversed card – it’s far more elegant than that. It may suggest that the card’s energy is obstructed, covert, slow, new, suppressed, fading, muted, or overpowering. Caitlin Matthews wrote a couple of blog posts regarding the use of reversals (click here to access her first post) in reference to the Wildwood Tarot, and this kind of system is applicable to really any Tarot deck you use (per your personal preference, naturally).

Once I allowed myself to release the external pressure of “no reversals with Thoth!!” I could actually open up to the deck and dive right in. And I’m loving it!

When I started working with the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot (another cherished deck) I started to really consider the beauty of the 10 Sephirot and how they interact with each other. The Voodoo Tarot is very much its own deck (meaning it doesn’t closely follow any particular tradition, per se) but the creator, Sallie Ann Glassman, did draw quite a bit from Crowley’s Book of Thoth and Jewish mysticism, and my work with that deck has drawn me into the wonderful, nourishing sustenance of Kabbalah’s relationship to divination. My work with the Thoth is increasing, enriching and expanding my awareness and application of this relationship.  Good stuff!

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot/US Games

If you’re considering this deck but are put off by a few seemingly different card meanings – don’t be.  Crowley’s Thoth simply presents another perspective on similar energy. For example, in the RWS tradition we tend to see the 7 of Pentacles as a positive card. It’s about patience, review, recalibration, and continued efforts to achieve a goal. The Thoth 7 of Disks carries the keyword “failure” and shows a depressing gray landscape that brings to mind rot and putrefaction.  Yikes? They seem like such different meanings, but in reality the core essence is quite similar. The 7 of Disks is about putting a lot of effort into something but not seeing immediate results. Patience is still highlighted here. It’s about working hard, and finding that perhaps the effort you expend outweighs the fruits of your labor. What can you do differently? What can be tweaked or adjusted, or should you choose a different route altogether? These are some questions you might ask yourself if you pull the 7 of Disks – and when you think about the 7 of Pentacles, there really isn’t a significant difference in essence – only in presentation.

7 of Disks, Thoth Tarot (Crowley/Harris)

This is only an example, and I’m not prepared to do a complete analysis of the differences and similarities between RWS and Thoth in this post. But I do want to encourage anyone who may be avoiding the Thoth deck due to some of these elements to give it a chance!  Don’t take it at face value (especially not the keywords) – be prepared to go far beneath the surface, and you’ll find a wealth of knowledge, information and depth that will nurture your divinatory practice.

As I originally mentioned (and clearly feel the need to mention again!), the artwork alone took my breath away. I opened the deck and spent an hour flipping from card to card admiring the beauty and perfection of the images. I laughed to myself at one point because I was so utterly moved that I suddenly felt compelled to sing its praises from the hilltops…..as if no one had ever heard of, or come to appreciate, this deck! Ha ha ha. I do believe that this deck is undervalued in some circles, but in general it’s overwhelmingly well respected, and sits as a critical Tarot system for a reason.

I’m profoundly enjoying my study and work with the Thoth deck, and am looking forward to the unfolding journey of delving even deeper into its many layers.

I’d love to hear about your personal experience with this deck – please share with me in the comments below!


  1. I envy you!!!
    My Thoth deck not talking to me at all :(. It makes me feel like a tarot newbie wants to learn 78 meanings by heart :)
    I am experimenting with reversals though. The book of Joan Bunning is very helpful.
    Kabbalah... I am intrigued, and one day I will dive into it. But for now I will stick with the RW family. It feels familiar and safe and that's what I need for now
    I am so happy for you that you've trusted your gut feeling with this deck!

    1. Hey Ellen! Joan Bunning is wonderful, and Mary Greer has a great book of reversals as well. Kabbalah never really interested me much until I started working with these Crowley-geared decks, and it's very fascinating! Thanks, too, about trusting my gut - hard to do some times, but glad I did!!!

  2. Three words... GET THIS DECK!

    If you want to read something that will help understand the meanings of the Thoth, get Lon Milo Duquette's book. http://www.scribd.com/doc/84403584/Duquette-Lon-Milo-Understanding-Aleister-Crowley-s-Thoth-Tarot or on Amazon.

    My working deck. I'm so glad you're enjoying it. Piece of advice from a long time proponent of the Thoth (with reversals), FEEL your way through the cards.



  3. Thanks for mentioning Duquette's book! It's wonderful, and so invaluable. It's been by bedside companion for a while now! Your advice about feeling out reversals is excellent, too. They're far more complex than some presume :-) Thanks for stopping by and spreading the Thoth love!