The Book of Thoth is a unique partnership in wartime conditions with all the restrictions on travel, materials and other disruptions by Frieda Harris. She was an artist who was the wife of the Leader of the Liberal Party, and a member of Churchill’s War Cabinet. She risked her reputation to see the project through. Before and during the creation of the tarot deck she received magical training from Aleister. Frieda’s letters show her affection of him grows despite the problems and difficulties of dealing with a man who was never easy to get on with. She nursed him through his last days, and she was present at his cremation in Brighton. Despite his reputation with women, they seemed to have had an entirely proper relationship – possibly the best relationship with a woman Crowley ever had that did not involve sex since his mother.
Frieda Harris strongly suggested he omit any ritual from the text as it would put off the readership (Crowley saw the book as a real money-spinner, something that never happened until many years later after the death of both of them).
As well as having to incorporate Crowley’s knowledge of a vast range of subjects not necessarily tarot related, Frieda also had to learn projective synthetic geometry and weave the designs into the major arcana.
Apart from being a fascinating story, the huge input of Frieda Harris to Thoth is frequently overlooked (except for feminists who would have you believe she did all the work and Crowley cast a cursory glance over the artworks when completed). Since there is not one scintilla of evidence that Frieda Harris was never involved in anything nefarious, why is the deck evil? The ambiguous attitude Crowley’s occult organizations have towards the deck creates difficulties.
There is a misogynistic attitude that minimises Frieda’s contribution over the salacious background of Crowley (Lon DuQuette’s anodyne book is a case in point), while the pagan community have issues with Crowley that blind them to the Pagan Frieda Harris who dyed her hair red. That other great Pagan Woman of WWII, Dion Fortune has also been airbrushed out – Dion had a huge interest and went to his final home at Netherwood in Hastings to view the artworks with Crowley and Harris.
Creation of Thoth Tarot deck was used in the magical war against Hitler (look at the feeble swastikas on the Five of Swords).
One of the stipulations Crowley intended for the deck was that it should not be sold without the book, as he did not intend the deck solely for divination purposes. So, what is difficult about the Book of Thoth? For many of my clients, the Book of Thoth is the first tarot deck they have seen and comment how beautiful the cards are.
You may have a problem with Crowley, but I doubtful you will have a problem with Frieda Harris. She had the nerves of steel and courage to work through a project that took many more years than she expected. Without her, we would not have the deck.
Crowley’s basic divinatory meanings are little different from almost any other tarot deck. Unlike almost every other tarot deck, the reader is not spoon-fed. Crowley was extraordinarily well-read in the classics, ancient mythology, religion, science, and mathematics, and he assumes the reader was equally au fait. One example is the mathematical joke on the Universe, which depicts a 3D Möbius strip, which of course has no beginning or end. Add the mystical and magical knowledge of a lifetime, and you have a heady mix.
The best way to read the Book of Thoth is to dip in and out, not worrying if you ‘understand’ what you are reading. Get familiar with the text. Sometimes sections of the book are explained better elsewhere in later chapters.
The key to understanding the Book of Thoth is the Opening of the Key Spread, the only spread in the Book of Thoth, from the Golden Dawn system of magic which was secret at the time. The various Golden Dawn organisations are clueless when it comes to the OOTK because they do not like Crowley and the Book of Thoth, which is why there are various GD tarot decks around. Despite transposing the Emperor and Star, the BoT is immeasurably closer to the Spirit of the Golden Dawn than the GD decks!
More than a divination tool, the Thoth Tarot has a powerful system of magic hidden within its structure. There are many secrets and mysteries still to be discovered. Thelema plays only a small part in the Thoth Tarot. The deck was created at the end of Aleister Crowley’s extraordinary life, so it reflects a balanced and integrated picture of his entire Magical Mind. In the Introduction Crowley plays as much emphasis on mathematics and science as magic, an aspect that has been mostly ignored.