Aleister Crowley moves a few of the Trumps around on the Tree of Life. He switches the Atu numbers of Lust (Strength) and Adjustment (Justice) so that Lust is XI and Adjustment is VIII. The Thoth deck is not the only one to do this – you can find this arrangement where Justice is 8 and Strength is 11 in lots of other decks. The order matters partly because it changes the dynamic of the Major Arcana as it progresses from one card to the next, and partly because it means we have to move the cards to new paths on the Tree of Life.

Three pictures of the Chesed-Geburah-Tiphareth triangle showing Paths 19 and 22

Let’s start with the RWS (see pic 1 above). In this deck Strength is card number 8, and that makes its path on the Tree of Life Path 19 (remember that to find the Path Number you add 11 to the card number). Path 19 crosses the Tree of Life and connects Geburah with Chesed – ruled by Mars and Jupiter, respectively. Strength makes sense here because the balance between Mars and Jupiter requires real Strength. Jupiter expands; Mars contracts. Jupiter says “Here, have more!” and Mars says “Not that much.” The balance between the two of them is reflected in the Strength card, where the woman uses kindness and compassion to work with the raw power of the lion.

Sticking with the RWS for a minute: if we change the numbers of the cards so that Strength is now 11 and Justice is 8, it puts Justice on the path that connects Jupiter and Mars (see pic 2). The best way to achieve Justice in the sense of legal rightness and/or Karma is to bring in both compassion and wisdom. Let’s leave Justice here between Geburah and Chesed and move Strength to its new path, where Justice was.

Tree of Life showing the zig-zag ‘lightning’ pattern the energy makes as it moves downward

That is Path 22 which connects Tiphareth and Geburah – the Sun and Mars. Strength fits here because it’s ruled by Leo and touching the Sun. It’s also happy because Geburah and Chesed are situated on the Tree of Life as opposites and they balance out in Tiphareth. The lightning bolt that starts at the top in Kether and moves in a zig-zag movement down the Tree moves from Chesed across Justice to Geburah and then via Strength to Tiphareth. That motion from Jupiter, to and through Mars to Tiphareth, is characterised by – and it manifests as – Strength.

Aleister Crowley uses this arrangement: Adjustment (Justice) as Atu VIII[1] between Chesed and Geburah, and Lust (Strength) as Atu XI between Geburah and Tiphareth (see pic 3). But his cards, the ones he created to reflect the new Aeon of Horus and the new way we live, shift the meanings of those paths in a deeply spiritual and powerful way.

Adjustment is Justice+. It is Karma but it also emphasises that there is the option to make changes before it’s too late, and it brings in the spiritual and moral right and wrong that we don’t really see in Justice.[2] The Egyptian goddess Maat is responsible for evaluating the souls of those who have died. She weighs their heart on a scale against a feather. Ideally, we want our heart to weigh the same as the feather. If it’s looking a little heavy at the moment, we need to get in there and do something to lighten it up a little bit.

The Thoth Adjustment and Lust Major Arcana cards

As the  8th Trump, Adjustment comes in between the Chariot and the Hermit. Letting things run away from you a little bit? Here’s your chance to step out of the fray and re-evaluate where exactly you’re headed. It makes perfect sense connecting Chesed and Geburah – a necessary adjustment when you maybe need to rein things in.

Not like this

Lust is really quite different from Strength. It’s central to Crowley’s philosophy/religion, Thelema, and the visceral, visible joy that comes from knowing you are not only able to connect with the Divine – you are Divine. You are Spirit. What you need to achieve is your Divine Will, your life calling. It’s the magic that only you can make here on earth to express Divinity’s love for all of us. And there is real fire here. This Divinity doesn’t ask you to be meek and mild. It asks you to get up on your lion with seven heads and a serpent’s tail and ride it into town like Lady Godiva but with her hair pulled back because she is not ashamed or socially modest – she is a goddess. This is about your Grail – figuring out what it is and then polishing it up so you can let everyone come and drink from it. You’re a badass. It fits perfectly that Lust connects the Sun and Mars – all fire, all the time.

Crowley moves Lust and Adjustment in terms of the path where they reside, but he does not change the Hebrew letters assigned to them.[3] The letters are important because they give us some spiritual insight into the role the card needs to play on the Tree of Life, and for us in a Tarot reading. Lust is assigned to Teth, the serpent, and Adjustment is Lamed, an ox-goad.

In the image of the Lust card, the woman Babalon is riding a beast with seven heads and a serpent as a tail. It’s a unique serpent, too, tipped with a lion’s head encircled by a sun – a nice juxtaposition with the seven heads at the other end which are supported by a lush mane of fur. It’s the energy of the lion in the Strength card, deconstructed and then re-interpreted as something that we are in the centre of and working with, rather than outside of and wrestling with. Babalon looks directly at the lion’s head at the end of the serpent’s tail, recognising the spiritual work of the serpent which is the Kundalini serpent. Enlightenment. The ‘lower’ energy of the serpent is the sexuality-creativity that is freed when we recognise our Divine Will. It’s a sexy card, no two ways about it. But it’s sexiness in the driver’s seat. This is not the kind of image of a naked woman we’re used to – the subject of another person’s gaze, just lying there. Babalon here is the image and also the gaze. We can look, but she is not here for us in that way. She’s here to show us the way.

An ox-goad is a stick with a pointed end that you use to prod animals to get them moving. Adjustment acts as a moral and ethical prod to remind you that everything you do has an effect. In Buddhism, every positive thing we do or say, no matter how small, is vastly important. It’s the ‘pay it forward’ concept – if you hold the door open for someone holding a lot of packages, it’s easier for them to get inside, and then they go through their day in an entirely different frame of mind. They treat others differently than they might have if the door slammed in their face, and that is passed on, and on, and on, to so many other people. Think about how you feel when someone does something small but so very nice, like let you on the bus first, or let you out into traffic. Once when I let someone out into traffic, about five minutes later, they let someone else out in front of them. Admittedly I first though “Great, we’ll never get anywhere if everyone lets someone in” but then I realised how amazing it was! And that what it really meant was that we would all get somewhere.

‘The wheels of justice grind slow but exceedingly fine’. You might not immediately see the result of your action – you might not see it at all – but it happens and the goddess Maat takes note. Adjustment reminds you to fix what’s out of balance before she fixes you.


[1] Crowley always uses Roman numerals for the Major Arcana.

[2] Karma is action and result. There is no moralising involved – it’s simply what happens as a result of your actions (or non-actions). If you drop a book on your foot, the karma of that situation is that you hurt your foot. Sometimes Karma takes longer to work through and that’s where people assume a kind of divine note-taker is just biding their time until the moment when the result of actions can be the most satisfying, and the most fair. But Karma is just Karma. The effects of your actions become visible when it’s time for them to. There is no judginess in the moral sense.

[3] He does this for the Star and the Emperor, which I discuss in Part II.