Aleister Crowley & Frieda Harris: The Book of Thoth. A Short Essay on the Tarot of the EgyptiansAbbildungenDeskriptionAnmerkung0. The FoolFrieda HarrisJean-Pierre Laurant: TarotVerweise

A book in every way as (un)important as Magick or The Book of the Law

Aleister Crowley, Pseudonym: The Master Therion:


London: Chiswick Press for O.T.O., 1944 / York, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 2007.

Large octavo. ca. 252 × 189 mm. [2 blank], frontispiece, xii, 287, [2], [3 blank] pp. With eight tipped-in colour plates, and twenty collotype b/w plates depicting the Trumps, Court Cards, and Small Cards.

Original brown half morocco, five raised bands, spine gilt with title, Crowley’s Egyptian seal and OTO lamen; fore-edge and lower edge uncut. Covers decorated with a facsimile of the Egyptian design of the coloured paper of the 1944 edition.

Crowley’s last and best book. This second issue of the first edition is limited to eleven copies, printed by the Chiswick Press upon “Unbleached Arnold”, each of which is accompanied by an original autograph letter, signed, from Aleister Crowley to the ‘artist executant’ of the book, Lady Harris.
 The first edition of “The Book of Thoth” was published in 1944 in an edition of 200 signed and numbered copies. In 2007 a crate containing eleven sets of unbound, unsigned and unnumbered copies of this original edition was found in the estate of a friend of Crowley’s: Edward Noel FitzGerald. These sheets formed the basis for the present ‘issue’. Each of the eleven copies has been bound by an American master bookbinder in a facsimile of the original half-leather binding with papered boards with Egyptian motif. Great effort has been taken to match the original materials and style as closely as possible, leather was sourced from a supplier in England, the Egyptian-patterned paper and color plates were specially commissioned from a craftsman printer, and even the original dies were unearthed and used to stamp the gold OTO lamen and Crowley’s seal of Ankh-f-n-khonsu on the spine.
 Included is an original handwritten letter by Crowley, signed ‘Aleister’, to Frieda Harris, dated March 4 (1941), written on both sides of a sheet of greyish blue notepaper, 202 × 126 mm, at begin and end with the Thelemic greetings written in full.
 With a bookplate mounted on the front pastedown, stating the limitation and provenance of the second issue, and a four-page booklet, printed on the same paper as the book itself, outlining the history of the volume.
 “... a book in every way as important as Magick or The Book of the Law” (d’Arch Smith, p. 34).

Small erased stamp on blank leaf, else fine.

Brauner Original-Halblederband mit Rücken und breiten Ecken aus Maroquin. Rücken mit fünf erhabenen Bünden, vergoldet mit Titel, Crowleys Kartusche und OTO-Siegel. Vorn und unten unbeschnitten. Fast neuwertig.

First edition, second issue. Cf. Yorke 63,C.5 – Fuller p. 19 – Parfitt/Drylie 147 – d’Arch Smith p. 34 – Personalbibliographien.


Die schönsten, in sich stimmigsten Tarotkarten. Hätte Crowley den Sand verschiedener Wüstenreligionen früher abgeschüttelt, wäre ihm mehr desgleichen gelungen. Die dritte Abbildung zeigt die Karte auf dem Frontispiz ohne den Rand, sie ist bearbeitet, um Mängel des damaligen Scans auszugleichen.

“She [Marguerite Frieda Harris] devoted her genius to the Work. With incredible rapidity she picked up the rhythm, and with inexhaustible patience submitted to the correction of the fanatical slave-driver that she had invoked, often painting the same card as many as eight times until it measured up to his Vanadium Steel yardstick!” (Introduction)


0. The Fool. Summary

It has seemed convenient to deal separately with these main forms of the idea of the Fool, but no attempt has been made, or should be made, to prevent the legends overlapping and coalescing. The variations of expression, even when contradictory in appearance, should lead to an intuitive apprehension of the symbol by a sublimation and transcendance of the intellectual. All these symbols of the Trumps ultimately exist in a region beyond reason and above it. The study of these cards has for its most important aim the training of the mind to think clearly and coherently in this exalted manner.

This has always been characteristic of the methods of Initiation as understood by the hierophants.

In the confused, dogmatic period of Victorian materialisation, it was necessary for science to discredit all attempts to transcend the rationalist mode of approach to reality; yet it was the progress of science itself that has reintegrated these differentials. From the very beginning of the present century, the practical science of the mechanician and the engineer has been forced further and further towards finding its theoretical justification in mathematical physics.

Mathematics has always been the most severe, abstract, and logical of the sciences. Yet even in comparatively early schoolboy mathematics, cognisance must be taken of the unreal and the irrational. Surds and infinite series are the very root forms of advanced mathematical thought. The apotheosis of mathematical physics is now the admission of failure to find reality in any single intelligible idea. The modern reply to the question “What is anything?” is that it is in relation to a chain of ten ideas, any one of which can only be interpreted in terms of the rest. The Gnostics would undoubtedly have called this a “chain of ten aeons”. These ten ideas must by no means be considered as aspects of some reality in the background. As the supposed straight line which was the framework of calculation has turned out to be a curve, so has the point which had always been taken as the type of existence, become the ring.

It is impossible to doubt that there is here a continually closer approximation of the profane science of the outer world to the sacred wisdom of the Initiate.

* * *

The design of the present card resumes the principal ideas of the above essays. The Fool is of the gold of air. He has the horns of Dionysus Zagreus, and between them is the phallic cone of white light representing the influence from the Crown [Kether: see the position of the Path of Aleph on the Tree of Life.] upon him. He is shown against the background of air, dawning from space; and his attitude is that of one bursting unexpectedly upon the world.

He is clad in green, according to the tradition of Spring; but his shoes are of the phallic gold of the sun.

In his right hand he bears the wand, tipped with a pyramid of white, of the All-Father. In his left hand he bears the flaming pine-cone, of similar significance, but more definitely indicating vegetable growth; and from his left shoulder hangs a bunch of purple grapes. Grapes represent fertility, sweetness, and the basis of ecstasy. This ecstasy is shown by the stem of the grapes developing into rainbow-hued spirals. The Form of the Universe. This suggests the Threefold Veil of the Negative manifesting, by his intervention, in divided light. Upon this spiral whorl are other attributions of godhead; the vulture of Maut, the dove of Venus (Isis or Mary), and the ivy sacred to his devotees. There is also the butterfly of many-coloured air and the winged globe with its twin serpents, a symbol which is echoed and fortified by the twin infants embracing on the middle spiral. Above them hangs the benediction of three flowers in one. Fawning upon him is the tiger; and beneath his feet in the Nile with its lotus stems crouches the crocodile. Resuming all his many forms and many-coloured images in the centre of the figure, the focus of the microcosm is the radiant sun. The whole picture is a glyph of the creative light.


Marguerite Frieda Harris

Marguerite Frieda Bloxam, geboren am 13. August 1877 in London als Tochter des Chirurgen John Astley Bloxam (1843-1926), heiratete im April 1901 den liberalen Politiker Percy Alfred Harris (6. März 1876 – 28. Juni 1952), der 1932 zum Baronet geadelt wurde, nach dessen Tod zog sie nach Indien, wo sie in einem Hausboot lebte und sich dem Hinduismus widmete. Sie starb am 11. Mai 1962 zu Srinagar.

“My wife is an artist and a good one. She takes her art seriously, in fact works at her painting seven days a week and generally twelve hours out of the twenty-four. She has had an immense output of pictures.” (Percy Harris: Forty Years in and Out Parliament. London: Melrose, 1946. p. 192) Sie illustrierte ihre Bücher wie „Winchelsea: A Legend“, 1926, und einige ihrer Werke wurden 1942 auf einer Ausstellung zur phantastischen Kunst in den Leicester Galleries gezeigt. Anfangs stellte sie bisweilen unter dem Pseudonym „Jesus Chutney“ aus, um nicht nach ihrem Adel, sondern nach ihrem künstlerischen Können beurteilt zu werden. Harris war ein Co-Freimaurer und schuf eine Reihe von Arbeitstafeln für die ersten drei Grade, welche heute in einer Privatsammlung aufbewahrt werden. Sie erscheint als eine spirituelle Sucherin, die eine Reihe von Glaubensüberzeugungen in ihrem Leben angenommen hat. Ihr Sohn Jack erinnert sich aus Kindertagen an die Lehren von Mary Baker Eddy (1821–1910). Um 1937 oder 1938 studierte sie Anthroposophie und synthetische projektive Geometrie im Rudolf-Steiner-Haus bei George Adams von Kaufmann (1894–1963) und Olive Whicher (1910–2006).

Aleister Crowley lernte sie am 8. Juni 1937 im Royal Automobile Club durch ihren gemeinsamen Freund, den Schriftsteller Clifford Bax (1886–1962), kennen, zwei Jahre später begann bereits die Tätigkeit am Tarot; sie hatte einige seiner Bücher gelesen sowie sich mit dem I Ging beschäftigt. Ein knappes Jahr später wurde sie seine Schülerin und zahlte am 11. Mai 1938 £ 10.10.0 für die Zugehörigkeit zum Orden O.T.O. Dies weist darauf hin, daß Crowley ihre Co-Freimaurer-Grade als gleichwertig mit denen des O.T.O. anerkannte und ihr den entsprechenden O.T.O.-Grad verlieh, ohne daß sie sich zuvor den dazugehörigen Zeremonien unterziehen mußte. Als ihr Motto im A∴ A∴ wählte sie צָבָא (ṣāva, 93), ‚Heer, Kriegsmacht‘; ein Begriff, dessen Pluralform צְבָאוֹתּ‎‎ (ṣevāʾot) Zebaoth ist.

Zuerst schuf sie Bilder für mehrere von Crowleys Büchern, darunter den „Baum des Lebens“ auf dem Schutzumschlag von „Little Essays toward Truth“, 1938; das Siegel für das Cover von „Thumbs Up!“, 1941; Crowleys Porträt auf dem Umschlag von „Olla: An Anthology of Sixty Years of Song“, 1946; Umschlag und Frontispiz für Crowleys Bestattungsprogramm, „The Last Ritual“, 1948; und den Einband für „Liber Aleph. The Book of Wisdom or Folly“, 1962, das sich zum Zeitpunkt von Crowleys Tod 1947 im Druck befand, aber erst fünfzehn Jahre später veröffentlicht wurde.

Anfang Mai 1938 lieh Crowley ihr ein Exemplar von „The Equinox“ I, 8, das „A Description of the Cards of the Tarot“ enthält. Harris schlug vor, daß sie zusammen ein Deck nach diesen Kriterien erstellen sollten. Ursprünglich veranschlagten sie sechs Monate für den Abschluß dieses Projektes, stellten jedoch bald fest, daß die Beschreibungen der Karten unzureichend waren, und Harris ermutigte ihn, ein eigenes Kartenspiel basierend auf seinen Kenntnissen in vergleichender Religionswissenschaft, Physik, Philosophie und Magie zu entwerfen. Durch ihren Einfluß wurden die Tarotkarten nicht traditionell, wie eigentlich von Crowley beabsichtigt, sondern Ausdruck ihrer beider okkulten, magischen, spirituellen wie wissenschaftlichen Ansichten. Sie trafen sich zu Besprechungen, arbeiteten jedoch getrennt, Crowley sandte Beschreibungen und Skizzen der Karten, Harris ihre Gemälde. Bisweilen genügten eine oder zwei Überarbeitungen, aber beim Magus waren z. B. mehr vonnöten, acht. Nach fünf Jahren Arbeit über Details von Bildern, Aussageweisen und entsprechenden Farbskalen wurde das Thoth-Tarot fertiggestellt.

Trotz einiger Pläne, ein mehrfarbiges Kartendeck zu produzieren, wurde keines zu ihrer beider Lebenszeit hergestellt. Nach Crowleys Tod verteidigte Harris das gemeinsame Erbe vor minderwertigen Reproduktionen und warnte z. B. Llewellyn Publications davor, ein Deck zu erstellen, das von den Schwarzweißtafeln in „The Book of Thoth“ eingefärbt wurde.


Jean-Pierre Laurant: Tarot

Card games in general and tarot cards in particular, like children’s and adult’ games, make a particularly strong appeal to the symbolic imagination. Whereas the standard pack of cards has been able to serve as a tool for divination mainly by combining the interpretation of signs with chance procedures, tarot cards have added to this function the desire to tap the secrets of the gods, by including a system of references and symbolic connections of an esoteric type, correlated with the planets and the cosmic hierarchies. The introduction of card games in Western culture can be traced back no further than to 1375 Florence, where Nicola della Tuccia (Chronicle of Viterbo, 1379) ascribed to them an Oriental origin under their initial name, naibe. However, all the images of these initial cards have been lost, and the same is true of the rules of the game. The cards that circulated in Germany and Italy around the beginning of the 15th century bore figures reflecting the culture and social problems of the time, and they multiplied rapidly thanks to the progress in the art of engraving; the “tarocchì” ascribed to Mantegna (1460) fall into this category. Given this context, the hypothesis according to which the tarot has an ancient Egyptian origin can be relegated to the realm of fiction. Moreover, the first elements of a divinatory and esoteric interpretation of the tarot do not seem to have appeared before the 18th century, particularly in France, after the number of cards and the figures on them had become sufficiently standardized.

The so-called “Tarot of Marseille” (actually of Italian origin), around which Antoine Court de Gébelin formed his “Egyptian” interpretations in Le monde primitif (1781), has 22 cards, like all the other games. They are known as the “major arcana” or as “trumps” (derived from “triumphs”), and go from “Juggler” to “Fool”, with the “Emperor” and “Empress”, the “Hermit”, the “Pope”, the “Popess”, the “Hanged Man”, etc., in between. Each card carries an inscription, a sequential number, and more or less fixed colors in which blue and red predominate, though there are important variations from one game to the other. The Pope and the Popess are often replaced by Jupiter and Juno, the Juggler by the Magus, etc. The pack is completed by 56 common cards or minor arcana (53 in French games), divided into four suits: Swords, Cups, Wands (or Scepters), and Coins (or Pentacles), each numbered from 1 to 10 plus the court cards Page, Knight, Queen, and King. In English and French the game is called tarot; in German and Dutch Tarock or Tarok, derived from the Italian tarocchi; Spanish has retained a name close to the original, naipes.

Court de Gébelin, in the spirit of the Egyptomany of his time, attributed the paternity of the tarot to the god Thoth/Hermes, interpreting the game as a hidden text, a mutus liber (silent book) similar in nature to the Corpus Hermeticum. This hypothesis was circulated in the masonic community to which Court de Gébelin belonged, thanks to Alliette (Etteilla), a Parisian cartomancer and Grand Magus of the lodge of “The Perfect Initiates of Egypt”, who two years later published a Maniere de se récréer avec le jeu de cartes nommées tarots (Manner of Recreating Oneself with the Card Game Known as Tarot; see Bibliography). Alliette here revealed the true meaning of the game as a veritable synthesis of primordial knowledge, thanks to some modifications that he made of the figures. A secret society of the “Interpreters of the Book of Thoth” was founded in 1790.

It fell to the occultist Eliphas Lévi to construct the most complete system of tarot in his Dogme et rituel de la haute magie (1856), by making of divination the secret of secrets. His argument included a historical dimension, according to which the Ars Magna of Ramon Llull had actually been a cryptic commentary on the tarot. The decisive argument, for Lévi, was provided by Guillaume Postel, whose Clef des choses cachées depuis la constitution du monde (Key to Things Hidden since the Constitution of the World, 1546) contained an illustration of a key ornamented with geometric designs and accompanied by an inscription that could be read as ROTA in one direction and TARO in the other. These were two quite arbitrary interpretations, especially since the passage of Postel concerns an interpolation in the Franckenberg edition (Amsterdam 1646). Lévi adopted Alliette’s assertions wholesale, but relativized them by claiming that while Alliette had presented the truth, he, Lévi, had finally unveiled it by re-establishing the symbolic correspondences in their precise meaning. ‘The tarot, this miraculous book, inspiration of all the sacred books of the ancient peoples, is, because of the analogical precision of its figures and numbers, the most perfect instrument of divination, which can be used with complete confidence’ (Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, vol. 1, ch. 10). In a later work, La clef des grands mystères, Lévi analyzed the symbolism of numbers with reference to the cards, but for unknown reasons stopped at 19, although stating that the sacred language (Hebrew) had 22 letters. The occultists followed in Lévi’s footsteps. Stanislas de Guaïta planned his series of works forming Le serpent de la Genèse (1891-1897) in three volumes – I. Le temple de Satan, II. La clef de la magie noire, III. Le problème du mal – with seven chapters in each volume in the order of the cards (the 22nd, the World, serving as a conclusion). Guaïta was preceded by Paul Christian (ps. of Christian Pitois) in L’Homme rouge des Tuileries (The Red Man of the Tuileries; 1863). Papus (Gérard Encausse), brilliant popularizer of the great themes of fin de siècle occultism, followed with many references scattered throughout his oeuvre and two entire works dedicated to an interpretive synthesis: Le tarot des Bohémiens (The Tarot of the Bohemians/Gypsies, 1889, reissued in 1911) and Le tarot divinatoire (The Divinatory Tarot, 1909). He reworked and classified the labors of his predecessors, stressing the cryptic aspect of this primordial revelation: a veritable Bible for the “Bohemians” and preserved in popular traditions, albeit confusing good and evil, the fall and “reintegration” of man. The concordance with the Archéomètre (1910) of Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, who had supposedly reconstituted the primordial language, showed that the universal key to symbolism could indeed be found in the secrets of the tarot. Some Freemasons were also concerned with the interpretation of the game; one example is Oswald Wirth (1860-1943), former secretary to Guaïta and renovator of the symbolism of French Freemasonry, who published Le tarot des imagiers du Moyen Age (The Tarot of the Medieval Artists) in 1926. These speculations crossed the English Channel at the end of the 19th century with Arthur Waite, a disciple of Lévi who published The Pictorial Key to the Tarot in 1910, while in 1913 P. D. Ouspensky published another study of its symbolism as a “model of the universe”, in the light of oriental religions and of Carl Gustav Jung’s depth psychology. The occultist and paramasonic society of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn played a large role here; the notes of one of its founders, MacGregor Mathers, were collected by Israel Regardie in a Golden Dawn Tarot. But it was above all Aleister Crowley, one of its most conspicuous members, who systematically integrated the tarot in his magical and masonic speculations, with the help of astrology and the kabbalah. In Magick in Theory and Practice (1930) and The Book of Thoth (1944), Crowley changed the names of the major arcana and interpreted the trumps as hieroglyphs charged with universal energy. His tarot and that of Waite published by Rider are the most widespread in the English-speaking world, and are constantly reprinted.
— Jean-Pierre Laurant in: Wouter J. Hanegraaff: Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism. Leiden: Brill, 2006. pp. 1110-1111.