“I would like to buy YOUR
book, sir. The one you used during the presentation.”
His eyes twinkle. I know
he is on to me… though he continues to tease… “But that book is used.”
“Yes, sir… by you.”
… And I know I have won in a way he wants me to win. He chuckles. Then he
agrees to sell me “his” book… and of course I insist that it be
appropriately autographed…. I treasure both the book and the memory to
Lon Milo DuQuette and I
have met at several conferences since then. Valerie may not have been
known to him at Pantheacon, but he will admit immediately that he
remembers this brazen woman who so desired his personal copy of the
Chicken Qabalah that she stood in line to claim it…. no matter what.
Even without this strange
preamble to an interview, I have always admired both Mr. DuQuette’s
knowledge and his sense of humor. An expensive suit at a Tarot conference?
A Thelemite with both an OTO office and a sense of humor? What sort of
enigma have we here? Let’s see…
VSB: Is it
possible for someone to use and enjoy the Thoth Tarot deck without
knowledge or even an interest in Aleister Crowley, the Qabalah, astrology
Ace of Wands
In fact, I suspect that the vast majority of owners and users of the Thoth
Tarot are attracted to the cards simply because of their haunting beauty
and efficacy as divinatory tool. Still, I think everyone who comes in
contact with the cards would like to know a little be more about them and
the brilliant (and very strange and colorful people) who created them.
That being said, for
people with serious interest in (and abiding love for Tarot) the Thoth
Tarot offers the opportunity to receive a first-class classical education
in the rich wonders of the western Mystery Tradition. Whether or not the
Tarot started out to be so it has evolved to become the flash cards of the
key spiritual arts within that tradition (including astrology, alchemy,
Qabalah and magick) and the common denominator between them.
VSB: I can affirm
that it was the art of the cards that first spoke to me. Many acknowledge
the prophetic power and wisdom of Crowley’s words (even if they despised
the man himself), but fewer acknowledge the power within Lady Frieda
Harris’ art itself. She had a talent far ahead of her time, a talent not
just with the paintbrush, but for a perception of the metaphysical truths
and sacred geometry behind those truths. Re-reading Crowley always lends
new insights. Likewise, every use of the cards teaches me via the wisdom
underlying the art.
LMD: You’ve got
that right. Harris’ genius was certainly complimentary to Crowley’s. As I
point out in the book, her use of the abstract concepts of Steiner’s
Projective Synthetic Geometry (one of the elements that makes her style so
distinctive) paid profoundest homage to the “deities” of Crowley’s new
VSB: How necessary is it for someone to read your book, join a
Tarot society or even the society of Aleister Crowley in order to work
with and appreciate the Thoth Tarot?
LMD: Just briefly
I’d say it is not necessary at all for anyone to join any organization to
get a great Tarot and Thoth Tarot education. Hands-on work with the deck
itself is often all that is needed. On the other hand, the more you learn…
well, the more you learn.
VSB: OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis)? What benefits does membership in
the OTO include? What is this organization dedicated to promote?
LMD: To quote a
U.S. Grand Lodge statement, “The letters O.T.O. stand for Ordo Templi
Orientis, the Order of Oriental Templars, or Order of the Temple of the
East. O.T.O. is an Outer Thelemic Order which is dedicated to the high
purpose of securing the Liberty of the Individual and his or her
advancement in Light, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, and Power through
Beauty, Courage, and Wit, on the Foundation of Universal Brotherhood.”
The O.T.O. is an initiatory society offering degree initiations (dramatic
rituals where the candidate is the main character) designed to aid the
member’s individual spiritual evolution. The words “Thelemic Order” in the
above statement refers to the fact that each member subscribes to his or
her own interpretation of the religious concepts put forth in the primary
holy book of the Order, The Book of the Law. Those wishing to know more
about that I encourage to go to the US Grand Lodge web site (oto-usa.org/).
The O.T.O. holds the worldwide copyrights to the Thoth Tarot.
VSB: How does Crowley's Thoth Tarot differ from other decks and
the one many consider, (rightfully or wrongfully), to be the granddaddy of
them all --- the Rider-Waite-Smith deck?
|LMD: Wow! That’s
a big question and it took me three years and 331 pages to try to answer
it in Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. But let’s start
by looking at what the Thoth Tarot and Waite-Smith have in common.
First of all they are both to a greater or lesser degree based upon the
‘Great-Grand-Mother’ deck, the secret esoteric Gold Dawn Tarot,
which every member of a certain level had to copy. Both Crowley and Waite
were members of the Golden Dawn and obligated to secrecy regarding the
secret attributes of the individual cards, the attribution of Hebrew
letters to the trumps, astrological information for the court cards and
Both Waite and Crowley departed from the Golden Dawn model by adding
images to the pips.
Waite and Smith created their deck to introduce the mysteries to the
general public, not as a vehicle to reveal the mysteries. They certainly
succeeded. It would be very hard to develop a complex or overly esoteric
dogma around their deck. Waite did a great job of not violating his Golden
Dawn vows. What I am not sure he foresaw was the fact that over the years
his deck would become so wildly popular that it would become an extremely
powerful and accurate self-referential divinatory tool of its own. In
other words, the Waite/Smith deck might not be a qabalistically perfect
Tarot, but it sure the hell is a perfect some kind of Tarot, and will
likely remain the most popular Tarot deck in the world for many years to
Crowley and Harris began work on the Thoth Deck nearly forty years later,
long after the Golden Dawn’s demise. Crowley was racing death to pour the
totality of his knowledge into the images of the cards and his textbook,
The Book of Thoth. Far from trying to conceal the mysteries,
Crowley was letting it all hang out as never before.
Ace of Disks
VSB: Given that the majority of Thoth fans seem to think that the
Book of Thoth and other writings a la Crowley are the penultimate
and only necessary lessons for understanding the deck, what does your book
add that was missing from Crowley's writings?
LMD: I hope I
haven’t “added” anything to Crowley’s writings. My intention was to make
Crowley’s rather difficult writing on the subject more immediately
understandable to those who find his work hard to understand. I certainly
could have used a little help understanding Crowley-ese when I first
became interested in the deck.
I have to disagree with you when you suggest that the majority of Thoth
fans are Crowley snobs. The number of individuals on this planet who have
studied Crowley enough to even pretend to be Crowley snobs is miniscule
compared to the number of people who in the last 30 years have purchased
and enjoy the Thoth Tarot. My observations would lead me to believe that
among professional Tarot readers the Thoth deck is second only to
Rider-Waite as the most popular.
VSB: I stand
happily corrected. I even applaud the correction and find comfort in your
words… Why, in your opinion, is the Thoth Tarot deck the second most
popular deck by Tarot users? What has lead to its popularity and continued
study, even prior to your book?
LMD: In my opinion
it is simply because it is beautiful – and in beauty is eternal truth
revealed. It’s a magnificent attempt to capture in images and colors the
perfect balance of the universe.
VSB: Who was
Thoth anyway? While you're at it, to clarify a discussion recently
occurring on a prominent Tarot elist: Who/what is Tahuti? How important is
an understanding of Tahuti to the overall ideas within this book? (I know
this, can even point to the appropriate footnote on the appropriate page
in the BOT, but I want your answer for the record.)
LMD: Thoth and
Tahuiti are two names for the same Egyptian god whose duties and
attributes evolved and were transferred to the Greeks in the person of
Hermes and the Roman Mercury. There is an entire body of mystical
literature attributed to Hermes, the foremost being the Emerald Tablet of
Hermes, which prior to the dark ages occupied the attention of many of the
great thinkers of western civilization. The western mystery tradition is
often referred to as Hermeticsm and the arts which grew out of it
including astrology, alchemy and eventually qabalah-based Tarot.
VSB: You are considered to be a foremost authority on the life,
works and magickal rituals of Aleister Crowley. As you prepared this book,
you refer to how each subsequent read of a guidance text, Crowley's the
Book of Thoth, revealed new insights that were helpful in preparing
your own book. In your book, you describe how Crowley's Book of the Law
was written to prevent the formation of dogma, doctrine to prevent
religious or social intolerance. You say that even as a Crowley expert,
your theories and opinions are continually re-examined and revised. As
Crowley dogma espouses the idea of there being no dogma, can you discuss
this entire phenomenon of open interpretation?
Ace of Swords
LMD: Yes, but I’ll
probably change my opinions before this goes to press.
My alter ego, Rabbi Lamed
Ben Clifford, says in one of his Ten Command-Rants, “Look hard enough at
anything and you will eventually see everything.” Buddhists say that the
pure Buddha nature can be found in anything and everything, five pounds of
flax, or even excrement.
The Book of the Law (a work Crowley claimed to have received not
written) is a “holy book” that only you can interpret for yourself. Even
Crowley’s comments on various verses of the book are meant to be only
suggestive and not definitive. This puts the study of the book on the same
par as the Buddhist contemplating the five pounds of flax. If you can’t
find the Truth in the five pounds of flax or The Book of the Law,
you can’t find the Truth anywhere.
VSB: I have to
admit that I immensely enjoy your alter-ego, the afore-mentioned Rabbi.
Though I have decades of experience under my ever-widening belt on Tarot,
numerology, astrology and mythology, Qabalah had always eluded me. I
attempted a study of Qabalah a la Regardie, Fortune and many others, but
just couldn’t hack it until I read the words of the good Rabbi Lamed Ben
Clifford. It was he that made Qabalah initially accessible to me. Aren’t
LMD: I’m sure he
would be most gratified to hear that, and I will be most happy to pass
that along to him next time I see him.
VSB: As a corollary to, or continuation of the previous question:
Why do you think it is that so many people who profess to be Crowley
experts and/or revere Crowley above all others, refuse to see that one of
the first things he stressed was "The art of progress is to keep intact
the Eternal; yet to adopt an advance-guard, perhaps in some cases almost
revolutionary, position in respect of such accidents as are subject to the
empire of Time." BOT p 25... I may be wrong, but when I read that, as I
have many times over the years, I understand that Crowley did not want
people ever to remain complacent and smug, to take knowledge "as is" and
unchangeable, but rather to always push the envelope and evolve with the
times as new knowledge is revealed. I believe he was absolutely dedicated
to revealing those pieces of the puzzle he deciphered and held, but was
open to future discoveries. Am I wrong? I perceive Mr. Crowley as still
laughing at those who misunderstand him, even in his name.
LMD: Amen! So Mote
It Be! All Give Hailing Sign! Right on Sister! In my opinion you are 666%
correct. I only wish I everyone who pretended to be a Thelemite or a
Crowleyite had your grasp on that big picture. I suggest your readers
re-read what you just said. Crowley would be rolling over in his grave (if
he had one) to learn of the attitude and behavior of so many people who
outwardly embrace his liberating concepts but then crystallize and petrify
his living doctrine into bricks of dead dogma. Add to these those who
would use his name and his philosophy to excuse their own shortcomings,
addictions and character deficiencies. I know many people will be offended
by this comparison, but didn’t this kind of thing happen among the
so-called followers of another prophet about 2,000 years ago?
VSB: I feel, and this is just my opinion, that many self-professed
experts in this day and age will abhor your book. They will not like you
making accessible that which was previously difficult for the " Tarot
masses." They cherished being those "experts on the mount" that could rail
against the ignorant from a position of their supposed exalted
understanding. And rail they did/do!! By making the insights of Crowley
accessible to many for whom they were previously indecipherable you will
anger those who previously claimed to be the chosen few alone who could
interpret his words. And in response to my own observation, I say "Bravo,
Mr. DuQuette!" This reminds me, (how ironically!) of the attempts of the
medieval Church to stifle the questing minds of the freethinking people in
that era. Comments?
LMD: I fully
expect a few noses will be bent out of shape. The same thing happened when
my Magick of Thelema came out ten years ago. I received letters
damning me in so many words for robbing potentially serious magicians from
the “initiatory ordeal” of struggling to ferret out secrets buried in tons
of Crowley material, or the magick quest for out of print books they
didn’t possess. Sorry guys. You’ll still have plenty of initiatory ordeals
and magical quests even if I do save you nine or ten years of heartache by
explaining a few things up front in clear English!
VSB: Let those
noses pop a joint. (Ouch, that came out wrong!)… Synopsis: What do you
consider to be the three most valuable new ideas/thoughts to be obtained
from your book? What three treasures will the reader take away that were
not available previously?
a) That the Thoth Tarot puts forth a wonderful doctrine concerning the
evolution humanity and the nature of the human soul.
b) That the Tarot is a living, growing and evolving spiritual entity.
c) That as flawed and as unpleasant as Aleister Crowley was (and Lon Milo
DuQuette is) both of us are sincere in our aspirations to discover Truth.
controversy behind, how did you get into the Tarot? What was the
initial draw? (Sorry, bad pun) And what came first in your journey, Tarot
or magick (by any spelling)? Elaborate for us, please.
LMD: Tarot came first. But only after a few years of trying to be
an eastern mystic and yogi and a few years of Rosicrucianism. Then came
BOTA and I was hooked.
tells me there are great stories here… Would that we had the time. Did you
complete the BOTA course? That is one comprehensive but loooooonnngg
LMD: I stopped
after 3 ½ years. I forget which course number it was. All I know is I owe
a great debt to that marvelous program and will always have a deep respect
for Paul Case and that organization.
VSB: Where do you go now? I realize that with this question I have
given free rein to the infamous DuQuette humor, but seriously: What is
your next planned step with Tarot? Or do you plan? LOL. One-word answers
LMD: First I go
to Kent State University in Ohio to talk on Qabalah, then two weeks in
London to give workshops and book launchings. My autobiography, My Life
with the Spirits has been option for a feature film and there are
other media type projects that may or may not ever manifest on the screen
(‘option’ and ‘done-deal’ are two very different things.)
My new book for Weiser is nearly finished. It’s an over-the-top look at
oracles and divination. Working title; Funny You Should Ask. It
will include my “Tarot of the Painful Truth”, Mark Twain Oracle, and the I
Ching of Mi-Lo. We should see this in 2005. (Want to interview me?)
Consider that a Tarot date!… Anything else? My questions have been just
the tip of the iceberg. Is there anything I have missed that you would
like to address?
LMD: I think you
did great. Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity, and I hope my
answers are okay.
Ace of Cups
VSB: My pleasure.
Not to risk an overgeneralization again, but there are those Thelemites
and or students of Crowley who get a lot of his teachings, but utterly
miss his profane and often subtle sense of humor. Might I say that you
represent both gifts of Crowley well and with panache?
LMD: I have really
enjoyed this interview. Thank you!