The Thoth Tarot designed by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris was published in 1944.
There are so many fascinating layers to explore with the Thoth Tarot. But you really don’t have to get into Gematria or Thelema or even the Tree of Life to connect in a deeply meaningful way with this beautiful deck.
Technically, even though it looks so different and has so many additional correspondences, the Thoth deck is a RWS-based deck. Aleister Crowley was a member of the Golden Dawn just like AE Waite and Pamela Colman Smith were and his deck – illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris’ stunning artwork – reflects that organisation’s basic interpretation of the Tarot.
You might like to find a resource that gives you Crowley’s meanings for the cards. But don’t get overwhelmed. A lot of websites and books really want to do the deck justice and they give every possible layer and every possible interpretation for every single card … which is a lot. Use it all if you want to! But if you don’t, or don’t right now, then filter out and use what is helpful. If you’re familiar with the Rider Waite Smith Tarot, and know a little about astrology, you’ve got two of the most important keys to the deck already.
You don’t even have to use those. You can use the Thoth deck going on your intuition alone. Why not? It’s a beautiful deck full of good intentions and magic, and Crowley believed “every man and woman is a star”, which means you.
The Major and Minor Arcana in the Thoth deck are associated with an astrological correspondence and these are illustrated within the artwork. There is usually a planetary ruler at the top of the card and the sign it’s in at the bottom. They are always there, even though sometimes they blend in really well with the colour scheme. The 10 of Cups is Mars in Pisces, and it takes me forever to find the Pisces! An exception to the placement of the signs is the 2 of Cups, which is Venus in Cancer and is such a beautiful card I guess Crowley couldn’t resist elevating every aspect of it: the Venus and Cancer symbols are both at the top.
The Thoth Minor Arcana each have what I call a motto: a one-word theme for the card that you can see in the bottom border. You sometimes see Thoth decks with the border removed and this does bring out the beautiful artwork, but it also cuts away the mottoes … and a lot of work went into those! They’re important.
The mottoes on the Minor Arcana can differ quite a bit from the usual RWS interpretation, and this is actually very useful. Bringing the two meanings together and considering their middle ground often opens up new interpretations. You can ‘average them out’, so to speak.
Grab your deck!
Here is an approach you can try with your Thoth deck to get going right now:
- Look at the card’s image (always important, of course!)
- Check the card’s title (in the case of the Major Arcana) or motto (Minor Arcana)
- Check the card’s astrology
- Compare the card to its RWS equivalent
I thought I would go through a card using this process to show you what I mean. See what you think. Free up your intuition. If you can let yourself be wildly inspired by any Tarot deck out there, it’s the Thoth deck!
Say I draw the 7 of Disks:
- Image: It’s a dark image with 7 disks attached to a patch of very dense foliage. They are connected to the branches by smaller stems that look really grabby and sharp. You can always check whether the geometric arrangement of items in a Thoth card is significant – in this case, we have an upturned triangle on top of a sturdy-looking square. To me this feels like energy being directed downward into a block.
- Motto: Its motto is ‘Failure’. Enough said there.
- Astrology: The astrology is Saturn (at the very top, centre) in Taurus (at the very bottom, centre).
- vs RWS: The image is similar to that of the RWS 7P in that there is a bush with pentacle ‘flowers’ on it. But it’s dark and heavy compared to the cheerful anticipation of the RWS 7P.
It’s such a vivid image, you can get pretty far with the picture alone. It already gives you the sense of being held back, pinned down, and being in the dark, not getting the sunshine.
We have the image and motto as clues to where we can go with the image. Using them as a background, what does Saturn in Taurus bring to the situation? How is our situation failing? Saturn rules restrictions and boundaries. It tells you when to stop and it really puts the brakes on. Taurus is an earth sign that is about building and making things around you beautiful. We see a shadow of something possibly beautiful in the offing, but Saturn is weighing down that hopeful growth. Could it be that in our reading, there is a little bit too much pressure somehow? Too much focus on making things perfect? Or maybe it’s actually wilful neglect? Maybe the astrology tells you something completely different …
It’s such a contrast to the man in the RWS 7P who is patiently waiting, in an environment that is colourful and joyful because he’s satisfied with the work he’s done, and is optimistic. Maybe in the Thoth 7D, it’s a heads up that someone is rushing something that can’t be rushed and that may bring the failure? Or could it be plain old pessimism – “it’ll never work” – that smothers the seedlings?
Now say someone asked you for a reading:
“I’m really bored in my job and I think I found another one to apply for. What do the cards say about this? What would happen if I do?”
You draw the Thoth 8 of Swords. What advice would you give?
Here are two more cards from the Thoth deck to practice with, in case you don’t have your own deck yet.
 I like the EsotericMeanings website for lots of really helpful analysis of the images on the card and their esoteric meaning, as well as the card meanings: see the ‘Thoth Tarot’ link in the top menu bar for the drop-down menu on Major Arcana, etc. You might also like Lon Milo DuQuette’s classic Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2003, in the UK).
 You can find astrological correspondences for the Court Cards on the EsotericMeanings website, in the note above.