Book of Thoth: Tarot as Living Beings

by Feb 7, 20140 comments

Seeing the tarot as living beings is the thread that runs through the Book of Thoth.  For all the obsession with “divinatory meanings” in the tarot community, it is remarkable to note that this phrase is entirely missing from Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth. Instead, Crowley uses “behaviours” or “characteristics”.

Divinatory meanings promote passivity in the reader and the client, hence the irrational fears of the 5 of Wands, Strife, the 9 and 10 of Swords, etc. Using behaviour or characteristic, we see that Strife suggests that “to contend” is the correct course of action. Crowley uses this example in the Book of Thoth, and it would seem that the I Ching is the source of his inspiration.

Tarot readers make the meanings of the card as solid and concrete as possible, then wonder why this approach fails during readings. The answer is that we need to go in the opposite direction, towards abstraction, in the way that the equation a+b=c is better than listing all the possible sums. Like algebra in mathematics, the power of science is in abstraction. Crowley then seeks to draw parallels between Magick defined as the use of the Will to induce change, and the use of science to create change in our environment.


The notion of a spirit in inanimate object is ancient, yet Crowley, discusses the subtle energies in the tarot, which result in a hierarchy. Always better to seek the organ grinder rather than the monkey. Crowley then notes that the Minor Arcana have two spirits associated with each one (which is why there are two version of the meanings in that section of the book), which allows him to introduce the shehamforash or the 72 lettered name.

Like magick, science can be seen as mumbo-jumbo, which can result in tabu in the credulous, Here, Crowley mentions McGregor Mathers’ translation of Abramelin.

When using the Opening of the Key spread (OOTK), the notion of tarot as living beings really comes alive, as it becomes increasingly easy to follow the energy, and discover which spiritual beings can help in the situation described by the reading.

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