If you’ve had a look at the Thoth Tarot, you know that Crowley replaced four of the cards we expect from the Rider Waite Smith with new ones. There’s a very good reason for this. Crowley was updating the deck, yes – the RWS was published thirty-five years previously – but it’s the reason behind the update that makes all the difference. He rectified the Tarot to suit the current Aeon that humanity is in right now.
First, a bit of astrology vs humanology, I guess we can call it. We are currently in the Age of Aquarius, and that is determined by the stars. We can look at how we are moving through space and time and plot the moment when we shift into the Age of Aquarius from the Age of Pisces (yes, this goes the opposite direction from what we usually see in Astrology). This shift is important to the Thoth Tarot because the Age of Pisces that we are just leaving is seen as being characterised in the mystical sense by sacrifice and the individual. It is expressed mystically, of course, in the Christian sense of suffering and sacrifice, and institutional control.
The Good News, really, is that’s over with now. The Age of Aquarius flips our focus to all of humanity, for starters. That’s how we let our spirit sing. The focus on the individual is fading, and we see that very clearly in the movements and demands all around the world for justice and equality. It didn’t come from nowhere.
The other thing that the Age of Aquarius brings us is a new way to experience spirituality. You’ve probably noticed that things are changing there, too. Churches and their structure of relying on a hierarchy to get in touch with spiritual joy are fading, while each of us are exploring our own path, and relying on our own experiences to grow and contact Divinity. We even see Divinity differently, and that’s OK. Aquarius is a mansion with many rooms.
That’s all amazing, but it’s not the whole story, as far as Crowley was concerned. There’s a separate system of Ages that he used which is based on the development of humanity, not the stars. In this system, there are three Aeons: the Aeon of Isis, the Aeon of Osiris, and the Aeon of Horus. Crowley saw us as just emerging from the Aeon of Osiris into the Aeon of Horus at the turn of the 20th century. Essentially, this involves the same kind of cosmic change that we see in the move from Pisces to Aquarius: we have matured away the concept of sacrifice and toward an understanding that love is the way forward. I mean, you could argue that this is what all the great spiritual leaders have actually been telling us all along, but that’s for another post. If we are now in the Aeon of Horus, we need to change the way we look at the world around us, and that means we need to update our Tarot in a couple of places. Here’s how Crowley did it.
Crowley adjusted all the cards in the Tarot to better suit the Aeon of Horus, but he introduced four new cards to replace the RWS interpretations. First, note that he also switches Justice and Strength, and ‘Atu’ = ‘key’, i.e. a trump card. So we have:
Atu VIII: Justice replaced with Adjustment
Atu XI: Strength replaced with Lust
Atu XIV: Temperance replaced with Art
Atu XX: Judgement replaced with Aeon
What do these changes mean? Essentially:
The Adjustment card expands the concept of Justice to the explicitly moral and mystical realm. The card shows the goddess Maat, who evaluates everyone’s heart after they die and determines where the soul, or ‘ba’ goes to spend eternity. She weighs your heart on a scale against a feather, and if your heart is heavier … I think you know where this is going. Of course the Justice card does include an element of ‘things work out as they should’, which brings a hint of Karma, but the image is predominantly one of earthly legal proceedings. Crowley also brings in the Alpha and the Omega (on the scales), i.e. the Beginning and the End, the always existing Divinity within which we and our whole universe do our thing.
The Lust card incorporates the concept of Strength but it becomes more of a ‘lust for life’ kind of concept. That is what you have strength for – to go out there, discover your life path (your Divine Will, in Crowley’s terms), and get busy. One aspect of this card that I love is the love for life and the connection to the Universe that loves you right back. That’s what gives you strength.
The Art card explicitly emphasises the alchemical nature of Temperance. It is about blending and balance through exploration of our inner selves. The motto along the top suggests that if we visit the interior parts of the ‘earth’, we can rectify/convert that matter and find the secret ‘stone’. Basically, you are already Divine, you just need to really believe it.
The Aeon card brings the biggest change. Judgement of course is a concept we associate with the Christian bible. In that context we could see it as the spiritual other half of Justice. Of course, the RWS Judgement is more often interpreted as an awakening and a levelling-up, but there is still the concept of Judgement … that Crowley vigorously rejects. The Aeon card relates to the Aeon of Horus. You can see this clearly in the card, which shows the sky goddess Nuit arching over Horus himself, and the foreshadowing of the Divine Child, Horus being the child of Isis and Osiris. So here the energy of being judged is completely removed, but the sense of triumph and joy remains.
I would argue that there is a fifth card that Crowley changed so substantially that it should be included in this grouping, even though the name of the card and the basic theme remain recognisably RWS. That card is the Hanged Man, and I’ll discuss that in another post.
The change from the traditional, Christian-leaning RWS to the Aeon of Horus-based Thoth helps contextualise Crowley’s entire deck. It explains why love is so important: ‘Love is the Law; Love under will’, he says. By that he means not that you do whatever you want and love bows to your ego. Your ‘will’ is your Divine Will, your life purpose, and you carry it out through love. That’s the law. A law I love.