And that means we do the same thing with both decks when we are situating the individual cards on the Tree of Life. You place both the RWS and the Thoth Minor Arcana in all the numbered Sephiroth, and place all the Major Arcana on their paths. You can see the post previous to this one, Which Tree is for me? for some introductory details on this, but I will be posting a three-part series next that gives lots of fun details.
The Thoth deck is my favourite Tarot deck, and I love working with it and the Tree of Life. It’s not the only deck you can use with the Tree of Life of course. You can use any Tarot deck that is based on the Rider Waite Smith (RWS), i.e. a 78-card deck with 22 Major Arcana, 16 Court Cards, and 40 Minor Arcana. A deck with that structure will fit into the Tree of Life. The Thoth and the RWS differ from each other in interpretation, but they both trace their origins to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The Major and Minor Arcana fit nicely on the Tree of Life … but we have to reconsider the court cards. The Thoth deck gives you Knights, Queens, Princes, and Princesses while the RWS has Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages. Personally, I think the Thoth deck is more tailored to the Tree of Life in this respect. But the RWS is a powerful tool and if we adjust the way we see the Kings slightly, it can make a huge difference and empower the whole deck in a new way. This applies to any deck that is based on the RWS, whether its theme is witchcraft, unicorns, science fiction, or relationships in contemporary society.Friends and Family
The theme of the RWS deck reflects the hierarchy of a medieval court. The marriage of a King and Queen was first and foremost a political alliance; knights and page serve them from a different – lower – social class altogether. And within their warrior class the Page serves the Knight.
The Thoth deck creates more of an explicit family structure by integrating the concept of the ‘reflections’ of energy from one sphere to the next as we move down the Tree. Leaving aside Sephira 2 for a moment, we have the Queen then her son the Prince and then her daughter the Princess. And each of them reflect all the ones that came before, so the Prince expresses himself and also ‘reflects’ the Queen, and Princess reflects the Queen and the Prince. They are literally related to each other.
So far, so good. But there’s still Sephiroth 2. What to do with Sephiroth 2 …
I have always worked with the Thoth deck on the Tree of Life and if I replace the Knights with Kings, it doesn’t feel like a perfect fit. First of all because Knights and Kings are not the same thing. The Thoth Knights are just like the Knights in the RWS – ambitious, aspirational, rash, speculative, and still learning. They are less accomplished, and without the confident wisdom and equanimity of a King. They are certainly not a match for the Queen (although I wouldn’t put it past Crowley to be suggesting a bit of romantic intrigue). So why does Crowley do this? And what happens when he does?Why a Knight
The Knight in Sephira 2 illustrates the incomplete nature of that sphere. When we start at the top of the Tree of Life, the energy in Kether (#1) is formless. Kether is pure energy, pure spirit, pure inspiration. When that energy moves into Chockmah (#2), things have only changed a little bit: there is more solidity but still a vast amount of free-wheeling potential to be organised. And organisation happens next, in Binah (#3), the feminine, which is ruled by Saturn who gives form. So placing a Knight in Sephira 2 is logical because the Knights themselves are not very accomplished yet. They’re trying, but there is still a vagueness about them because they are still learning from experience. When the energy moves to the Queens, the ‘highest’ card in courtly terms, that’s where formation starts. From there we move logically into the Princes and Princesses.
What happens now?
>When we place a Knight in Sephira 2, the most powerful card becomes the Queen – a hugely significant change in a Qabalistic tradition that still placed ultimate authority with the masculine. Crowley was very open about his respect for women and his belief that women and men were equal in their spiritual potential and power: “Every man and woman is a star”. This is perhaps most obvious in the radical re-interpretation of the Strength card as Lust in the Thoth deck.
And there is historical precedent for a shift to a higher feminine on the Tree of Life – earlier philosophers suggested that the ‘lightning’ that starts in Kether splits evenly into both Chockmah and Binah (see the arrows in the image above: the yellow arrows are the usual path of energy and the purple ones show the path when Kether divides evenly). Then the energy in Chockmah moves to Binah where it joins with the energy already there before proceeding along the path we expect. This is the opposite of the version of the Tree of Life that we usually use, which shows the lightning only moving to the right into Chockmah, the masculine, and from there into Binah, the Feminine. It shifts the initiatory energy to the Queens and suggests that the moment of real ‘beginning’ takes place in Binah, not Chockmah.
This gives us room to re-interpret the Kings in Sephiroth 2. What do they have in common with the Knights that means they can both exist meaningfully in Chockmah?
As potential for greatness. We can look at our King as having the potential for everything wonderful in a ruler, including wisdom and generosity, protection and support. We see those qualities elaborated in the Sephiroth further down the Tree. A King has a vast understanding of their world, but in a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none kind of way. When he passes on that wisdom to the Queen, that’s when things happen. She understands, and knows how to mould all that wisdom into something workable and specific. In this way the Kings and Queens at the top of the Tree of Life make the best kind of team, formulating the divine energy from Spirit into a form that we can work with in Tarot, and in the world.
 I also like this arrangement because it disrupts the assignation of mother and father archetypes to Sephiroth 2 and 3. I’ll explore this in a later post, but for today I will just say that this kind of specificity feels out of place so close to the incomprehensible, divine Kether, and so far away from Malkuth. Energy at that stage of the Tree isn’t specific enough for there to be a pair yet; there is a huge conceptual difference between the potential of Chockmah vs the form of Binah. They are not the same and they aren’t opposites either, so for me, they don’t work as a pair in the same way as Sephiroth lower on the Tree do.