Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

 November 15, 2003

Interview with Lon Milo Duquette
Valerie Sim, CTGM

Lon Milo DuQuette


Lon Milo Duquette’s publisher, Red Wheel/Weiser has this to say about him:

Lon Milo DuQuette has been involved with occult studies since the late ‘60s, and has become an acknowledged and widely recognized authority within the Tarot world of modern occultism. Since 1975 he has been a National and International governing officer of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO – Order of Oriental Templars) – one of the most influential magical societies of the 20th Century. As such, he is uniquely qualified to write this guide to the immensely popular Thoth Tarot.

Author of twelve critically acclaimed books on Magick and the Occult. Lon Milo DuQuette is one of the most respected and entertaining writers in the field of Western Hermeticism. As a governing officer of the OTO, he has access to the historical and literary treasures of the Order’s archives including original unpublicized materials by its most celebrated member, Aleister Crowley. He is an internationally recognized author on Tarot and Western Ceremonial magick. Though he takes these subjects very seriously, he tries not to take himself too seriously. This rare combination of scholarship and humor has earned him in the last 20 years a unique and respected position in American spiritual and esoteric literature. 

His writing style, which has been compared to Mark Twain and Robert Benchley, is reflected hilariously in his presentations and seminars before live audiences. He is a prolific writer and his published works have been hailed by experts and novices alike for bringing delight and clarity to the most misunderstood subjects. Mr. DuQuette lives with his wife Constance in Costa Mesa, California.

Though many have known him longer, my first meeting with Mr. DuQuette was a bit unconventional, therefore, a meeting even he remembers… Journey back with me to Pantheacon 2002:

“Hello, Mr. DuQuette, I would like to buy your book.”

Mr. DuQuette always dresses impeccably in well-fitted dark suits. His silver-white hair sets this image off to perfection. The perfected image raises its eyebrows and says sonorously, with a smile any dentist would be proud of: “I believe it is available in the bookstore.”

I smile back. “It was, Mr. DuQuette. It is now sold out. I would like to buy your book.”

He pauses, diplomatically, always the quintessential gentleman…. “But if it is sold out…??"

“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 this day.

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 or magick?

Thoth Tarot
Ace of Wands

LMD: Absolutely. 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 Aeon cosmology.

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 (

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 pips, etc.

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 come.

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.

Thoth Tarot
 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?

Thoth Tarot
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 you/he proud?

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.

VSB:  Leaving 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.

VSB: Something 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 course!

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 unacceptable <g>

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?)

VSB: Absolutely! 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.

Thoth Tarot
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!


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