Conceived by Aleister Crowley, and painted by Lady Frieda Harris during WWII, this deck has become a pillar of modern Tarot, second in worldwide use and acclaim only to the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. These two most-beloved decks do share some similarities, and this shouldn’t be surprising: Crowley and A.E. Waite studied many of the same sources, and both passed through the ranks of the mystic society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
But the two decks are also quite different in many ways. They’re very dissimilar in terms of their respective visuals: the RWS has seemingly simple illustrations that mostly showcase characters that look like they just strolled in from some sort of Middle Ages cosplay event, while the Thoth imagery is more fluid and otherworldly. The two decks use different names for many of the cards, and most striking of all, the RWS’ Minor cards offer fully-realized scenes, while the Thoth opts instead for non-scenic Minors, concerned mainly with free-floating Suit icons.
There’s another difference that separates the two decks: the Thoth deck actually seems to make a lot of people uneasy in ways that the RWS does not. Most of this is probably due to Crowley’s reputation. The self-styled “Wickedest Man in the World” does seem to have gone out of his way to infuse more sexual and darker occult overtones into his deck, which puts some people off.
But I get the sense that Crowley and his deck are actually not things to necessarily be feared. As I said to someone yesterday, I suspect that if the ghost of Aleister Crowley were to actually materialize in your study, it would be more likely to jabber at you and try to hump your leg than to cast some sort of demonic sorcery in your direction. I personally believe that the Thoth deck can be separated from the public persona of its creator, and then used as a pretty magnificent tool for self-knowledge, divination, and meditation. But that’s just me.
How about you? Do you like this deck? Do you shun it? Do you fear it, and Crowley? Or does the Crowley mythology have no effect at all on your decision to use or not use the Thoth deck?