Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette
Review by K. Frank Jensen

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

When my interest in esoteric tarot began back in the mid-70’s, there were only few tarot decks and even fewer relevant books available. Among the early books was Russian Mouni Sadhu’s Tarot, A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism which had been published in the 1960’s. Another book was Aleister Crowley’s The Book of Thoth, which had been published as early as 1944, but was not followed by Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris, until the late 1960’s. None of these books are easy reading and absolutely not for a novice in the art, as I was. I was about to give up the tarot again; if that was what tarot was about, it was not for me. Luckily, at about the same time, the books by Eden Grey showed up, simple and easy to understand. The Waite-Smith deck became my favorite. Had Lon Milo duQuette’s: Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Tarot" been available at that time, it might have been different. What Eden Grey did for the Waite-Smith deck is what duQuette does now for the Crowley Thoth Tarot--takes the reader through the imagery and explains its details in an understandable way.

Don’t misunderstand me. No book about Crowley’s tarot will be easy reading, if it takes Crowley seriously, but Lon Milo DuQuette’s style is entertaining, despite the difficult theme. He is that rare tarotist, who can speak and write about his subject and make you laugh again and again, yet be serious and knowledgable and with the ability to pass his profound knowledge of his subject on to his readers.

Lon himself says, that when he began exploring the Book of Thoth, he would have needed that little book that "might have been titled: Little Bits of Things You Should Know before Beginning Your Study of Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot". It is in that light the book at hand should be seen.

Many an American tarotist has called Crowley’s Book of Thoth sinister, scary, evil, dark and whatever other negative adjectives they could adhere to it, in contrast to their preferences: the bright, nice, colorful, positive, happy tarot decks. How can a piece of cardboard be scary to a normal person? Things you do not understand can appear scary and that might be the reason for this attitude: the obscure reputation Crowley gained after having lived his life like many a youngster does nowadays, with promiscuity, drugs and whatever, has created a myth about Crowley that reflects back on many people's attitude towards the Thoth tarot. After reading Lon Milo DuQuette’s book, you need not be scared any more, at least not of Frieda Harris’s extraordinary tarot images. Before DuQuette explains each of the 78 cards and points to the detailed cabbalistic, numerical and astrological symbolism inherent in each of them, he takes you on a tour through the basic ideas behind Crowley’s deck, particularly the Kabbalistic symbolic system known as the Tree of Life and the symbolism inherent in the Rose Cross, which adorns the back of the cards.

Regardless whether you so far have been "scared" by Lady Frieda Harris’ illustrations or you have enjoyed them, but have given up because of their symbolic contents, Lon Milo DuQuette’s book is here to change that attitude. Before you start reading the book, you need, however, to get hold of a Crowley Thoth deck. The small black and white illustrations in the book do not do justice to the deck. If you really do not have the deck already (who doesn’t?), you should go for what is now called the "large size" (the bigger, the better, as they say in the spam mails). The large deck used to be normal size, until the publishers decided to make a smaller edition. You do not need to get a deck with three different Magus (Magician) cards. Crowley made his choice, of course, from several drafts, and adding two extra Magus cards is just another manufacturer’s gimmick to sell a couple of more copies of the deck.

Sit down with the deck and the book. Don’t imagine you can read it all in one evening. You can’t. Take it step by step and when you have gotten through it, you will know what Crowley’s Thoth Tarot is about. Do, however, not imagine you are an expert. It takes a lot more than that.

If you would like to purchase this book, click here.

If you would like to read an interview with the author, Lon Milo DuQuette, click here.

K. Frank Jensen is the founder and editor of Manteia, a now-defunct tarot magazine. For his significant contributions to the tarot community, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Tarot Society at this year's World Tarot Congress. He has one of the greatest tarot collections in the world.

Review © 2004 K. Frank Jensen
Page © 2004 Diane Wilkes