The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleister Crowley

Back in 2014 we fea­tured a short primer and doc­u­men­tary on the life and work of Aleis­ter Crow­ley, also known — at least to the British press of the time — as “the wickedest man in the world.” The name rings a bell to just about every­one, and for many of us sum­mons up vague notions of a life ded­i­cat­ed to the pro­mo­tion of alter­na­tive moral­i­ty or pagan­ism or trick­ery or some kind of rel­ished evil, but how many of us can name one of Crow­ley’s works? The best-known occultist-artist-moun­taineer of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry left behind a rich and col­or­ful lega­cy, and here we have one of its most tan­gi­ble prod­ucts: the Thoth tarot deck.

Crow­ley worked on the deck, says (itself draw­ing from Stu­art Kaplan’s Ency­clo­pe­dia of Tarot), from 1938 to 1943, accord­ing to prin­ci­ples laid out in his Book of Thoth. The artist, Lady Frie­da Har­ris, “worked with Crow­ley’s rough sketch­es to pro­duce images that would be faith­ful to his inter­pre­ta­tions and her own vision.” You can pur­chase copies of the Thoth Tarot Deck here.

Raven’s Tarot Site offers a piece of cor­re­spon­dence from Har­ris to Crow­ley dat­ing from 1940, around the mid­dle of the project. “I do not pre­tend to appre­hend it, only it is like music, and the only kind of writ­ing I want to read,” she writes of his famous­ly dif­fi­cult-to-com­pre­hend but (under the right cir­cum­stances) enter­tain­ing writ­ing on the occult, “only it makes me feel as if I lived in a desert and I am mighty thirsty.”

Crow­ley had — and near­ly 70 years after his death, still has — that effect on some peo­ple. He inspired Har­ris, who would become one of the stand­out dis­ci­ples, to pro­duce a work of div­ina­to­ry art whose aes­thet­ics reflect as much his own as those of the Aus­tri­an eso­teri­cist Rudolf Stein­er. Now best known for his role in devel­op­ing the Wal­dorf sys­tem of child­hood edu­ca­tion, Stein­er also came up with a philo­soph­i­cal sys­tem called anthro­pos­o­phy that posits the human abil­i­ty to con­tact the spir­i­tu­al realm. It may lack the same dan­ger­ous and flam­boy­ant black-mag­ic (or rather, black-mag­ick) appeal of Crow­ley’s visions, but both men, in their own way, spent a life­time striv­ing for ways to tap into a world hid­den beneath the sur­face of exis­tence. For those with an inter­est in that sort of thing, turn­ing over a few tarot cards remains one of the eas­i­est ways to knock on its door.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aleis­ter Crow­ley: The Wickedest Man in the World Doc­u­ments the Life of the Bizarre Occultist, Poet & Moun­taineer

Aleis­ter Crow­ley & William But­ler Yeats Get into an Occult Bat­tle, Pit­ting White Mag­ic Against Black Mag­ic (1900)      

Carl Jung: Tarot Cards Pro­vide Door­ways to the Uncon­scious, and Maybe a Way to Pre­dict the Future

Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky Explains How Tarot Cards Can Give You Cre­ative Inspi­ra­tion

H.R. Giger’s Tarot Cards: The Swiss Artist, Famous for His Design Work on Alien, Takes a Jour­ney into the Occult

The Tarot Card Deck Designed by Sal­vador Dalí

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.