The Book of Thoth was written by British occultist Aleister Crowley and contains illustrations by Lady Frieda Harris. The book was first published in 1944 and is considered to be one of the most important works on the tarot. Particularly if you choose to work with Crowley’s own rendering of the tarot, his highly acclaimed masterpiece, the incredible Thoth Tarot, a deeply esoteric, enlightening, and magical deck.
The book and its accompanying deck have had an undeniable impact on the occult community, inspiring many different factions of occultism, even in modern times. This is especially true for those interested in the Western esoteric traditions, a complex and diverse body of knowledge that encompasses a variety of traditions, such as Hermeticism, Astrology, Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, and Freemasonry, etc. These traditions have their roots in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Middle East philosophies, and they continue to fascinate and inspire people today.
If you read the Rider–Waite–Smith tarot deck, then this shouldn’t deter you from exploring this important book. For Arthur Edward Waite, the creator of the RWS deck, and Aleister Crowley, while bitter rivals, belonged to the same secret society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, so had more in common than you may have first imagined. Despite the well-publicized disagreements written about these two important figures, and their approach to the occult, in many ways, they align in more ways than they are often portrayed, or allowed to.
A modern comparison of such simplistic interpretations could be made between Android and Apple users. While essentially, they do the same type of things, admittedly in very different and distinct ways. Critics like nothing more than to polarise opinions, exaggerate the differences and categorise personalities in overly simplistic and unhelpful ways. Typically, Crowley is often portrayed as the villain, even the crazy Satanist, the drug addict and other verbiage attributed to him, so the archetypal rebel, the bad boy you could say. While Waite is generally depicted as the saintly figure, or the somewhat conservative, academic, conventional boring nerd. Which I’m pretty confident neither are totally accurate, so true.
From my perspective, both offer a body of works that I’m truly thankful to explore. While Crowley and Waite had different ideas and approaches about occultism. Setting this aside, if you study the RWS, and if you’re serious about the deeper aspects of tarot, then I’m pretty sure, you will find this treasure chest of a book, an invaluable addition and resource to your collection. But be warned, if you have an impression that you will pick up this book and read it on a rainy weekend, then you’re in for a bit of a disappointment! As with many manuscripts by Crowley, they aren’t the easiest books to read, for he likes to play with his readers’ minds, he loves words, using obscure and cryptic language that has been carefully crafted to test his reader’s resolve and knowledge. He engages in the ancient practice of veiling, at times deeply. For he likes to play around with mythology, psychology, and metaphor, and he’s not afraid to challenge his readers too, even shock, and at times offend. Frankly, he expects much from his readers, and despite the book’s reputation as being challenging to read, difficult to decode and understand. If you’re prepared to sit with the book and willing to move past some of Crowley’s pretentiousness, pomposity, and at times arrogance and egotistical façade. Look past some of his contradictions, able to ignore some of his unpleasantries. Then you will find all your standard esoteric teachings, and wisdom, and one or two more. While presented in a way that only Crowley could get away with, well partially. For even in our more liberal, more inclusive society, Crowley is still a polarising and divisive figure. For I know lots of occultists, extremely knowledgeable and accomplished practitioners, who have no patience or tolerance for the man, so bypass his deeply significant and important works. While his critics make some really valid and important points, we should all be free to choose our own journey. Bluntly, closing down our relationship with someone who can irritate and trigger us, perhaps says more about those readers, their levels of tolerance and character than Crowley. Don’t misunderstand me, I have my thoughts about this colourful man, both from a magical perspective and character, and I’m happy to share my feelings in later posts, but for anyone new to Crowley, if you can avoid becoming too embroiled within the endless conspiracies, and negative claptrap, all designed to persuade or even worse, deter you from exploring this and other works he has written. Then with an open mind, a little stamina and charity. You can forge a meaningful relationship that can bring you some incredible rewards, and perhaps help you to open some locked doors and close a few too.
Unapologetically, I find the man utterly intriguing, one of a kind, intimidatingly smart and intelligent. Flawed? Undeniably, but I’d rather read a book about someone who knows his stuff, isn’t afraid to confront some of the institutions that sadly damaged his own life, that still manipulate and control people to this very day. Casting a dark shadow over the spiritual landscape, that is imprisoning parts of society using many of the dark tools he fought so hard to expose. For this and many other factors, Crowley is one of the good guys, dare I say it, even likeable.
You may be curious as to why I’ve dedicated so much time talking about the author, for surely, it’s the book’s contents that is more important, than the author and it should be, but we’re talking about Crowley. For over the years, I have become increasingly frustrated by individuals who at all other times are quite liberal and rational, but where Crowley is concerned. They align with such erroneous ideas, prejudiced and misguided thoughts that inevitably cauterize a relationship that I know under different circumstances would bring so much enlightenment, joy, and fruits.
If you haven’t picked up my not-too-subtle vibes yet, then I’ll make it even clearer. I’m absolutely fascinated and passionate about this man and his many important and quite wonderful books, and if I had to choose a few sentences to inspire you to grab your copy today. I believe “The Book of Thoth” is without exception, the best book regarding tarot ever written. Challenging? without question, difficult to understand and unlock, like a bank’s vault, but setting this and other niggles to one side.
This is an extraordinarily active, living, and magical book that should frequent every serious occultist bookshelf! While we often read words like, a masterpiece, one of a kind, unsurpassed. In this instance, these words are all true.