Table of Contents


Tarot Reflections

 November 15, 2003

Book Review: Understanding Aleister
Crowley's Thoth Tarot
Valerie Sim, CTGM

Valerie Sim serves as the VP of Communications for the ATA. She received her first deck of tarot cards 32 years ago and began studying astrology in 1973. Both have continued to be passions for her over the years and have led to the authorship of her own tarot and astrological teaching materials, with which she has been an online teacher for the past year and a half. 

In her position as VP of Communications, Valerie is the Editor of ATA's bi-monthly e-zine, Tarot Reflections, and the members-only tarot magazine, the ATA Quarterly.

 Valerie is the Listowner of a popular tarot email list, Comparative Tarot, a list which is populated by tarot students, readers, teachers, authors and artists. She is currently finishing up her book about the Comparative Tarot method and ways to keep tarot fun and exciting, called Tarot: Out of the Box; has written the pamphlet, or "little white book," for the recently published Lo Scarabeo Comparative Tarot Deck; and is a frequent reviewer for Tarot Passages. On the shamanic path and active in animal rescue, Valerie has many favorite decks including Animal Wise, Vision Quest and Shining Tribe.


Review by Valerie Sim
Book By Lon Milo DuQuette
Red Wheel/Weiser  ISBN: 1-57863-276-5 

Lady Frieda Harris in a letter to Crowley, referring to his writing style:

“In reference to your books – I suppose you know that most of them would be easier for a beginner written in Sanskrit and that anyone reading them would go off their heads. Therefore the wise (like myself) take them in snappy bits and only when they are feeling strong.”

Good. Now I don’t feel so ignorant…

This is a book that I, like many other tarotists, have eagerly anticipated. I have read the Book of Thoth (BOT) four times from cover to cover and many times after that in bits and pieces… always with some degree of pain. The first time I read the BOT, in the early 90s, it took me about nine months. My excuse as someone who has been reading cards since the late 60s for not reading the BOT earlier are very similar to those implied by Mr. DuQuette in his book. I thought I might be struck by a bolt of lightning if I ever came near any product even loosely connected to Aleister Crowley! (I blame my Southern Baptist upbringing for this, and hope you will read on. Not exactly sure why Mr. DuQuette felt likewise, but it was clear that he could relate from his mention of a vaguely similar fear.)

My original notes and references remain to taunt me in the margins of my dog-eared book. Some are pretty embarrassing in retrospect. I haunted the library during that period as I was not yet on the Internet. I admit it was frustrating… but I persisted; wasn’t sure if I was even on the right track, but I plodded along. I brought to my study decades of Tarot, astrological, numerological and mythological knowledge, - including a special interest in Egyptology. It wasn’t enough…. I was privy to a lot of metaphysical knowledge, but was decidedly Qabalah-deficient. And that deficiency mattered.

The second time I got through it, three years later, I did so in about nine weeks, as opposed to nine months. I had forced myself into the rudimentary basics of Qabalah by then; really tried to get those basics down… and I had done a lot of other Golden Dawn related reading. I felt this time like I was closer to understanding… but still felt stymied, conflicted, and short of the mark.

My successive reads, after years of further study, were easier… But HOW I WISH I HAD ACCESS TO THIS BOOK WHEN I STARTED! [Oops, “all-caps shouting” on the Internet is bad form. Forgive me. But this is something about which I get emotional…]

Some people, (mostly those insecure and clinging to their tenuous authority as self-professed Tarot sages), feel you should struggle through certain subjects to make them matter. They think you should suffer, pant, grasp, fall-short, sweat blood… in short: climb the mount with agonizing and ecstatic slowness. I have only one question:  WHY??? Why should someone have to suffer to get every answer just because many of us did so previously? Why should roadblocks be not only acknowledged, but fortified, on one’s road to learning? Is this some arcane and mandatory rite of passage? I think not… The true sage has many other trials to test his/her mettle. Count on it! It is not necessary to throw semantic curveballs into the bargain.

This is a book that was very simply meant to be; a book for which the time has come. It is a way to understand Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, for those who sincerely want to do so, without spending year upon year of study on the numerous related and pertinent subjects. You may not ever fully understand Crowley, but then, few do so, in spite of what the most vociferous claim… I applaud Lon Milo Duquette for daring to do something for which some misguided Crowley purists will damn him. (Psst: no problem: Mr. DuQuette has long since ceased to believe he is damnable!)

For the record I will affirm that the definitive book for understanding the Book of Thoth is the Book of Thoth itself. But the second best tome is an easy call now: Grab Mr. Duquette’s Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot. Though not meant to be a secret key openly interpretive to its predecessor, the best things about this book can be summed up as follows:

1)       DuQuette “adds” nothing to the BOT… he merely seeks to make it more understandable and accessible by those who wish to study it.

2)       DuQuette seldom attempts to tell you what Crowley said, he just helps to elucidate the background for what was said in order to help you to fill in the blanks for yourself.

3)       DuQuette still insists that you think, he just makes the process easier.

Lon Milo Duquette says that he wishes a book like this had been available to him in his early studies. I ditto that wish, and think that this book will help many who are sincere in their desire to learn and have a limited amount of time to do so.

The first part of the book is a virtual goldmine of the “Little Things You Should Know Before beginning to Study Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot”. I heartily recommend it. Leaving Chapter Titles out for the sake of brevity and using the references of the publisher, Red Wheel/Weiser, here is what you have to look forward to before you even get to the good stuff about each card:

Chapter One - The Qabalah, astrology and magick, and how each plays a role in understanding the Thoth Tarot.

Chapter Two – Background about Crowley and his involvement in the Golden Dawn.

Chapter Three – Background about Lady Frieda Harris, who painted the Thoth tarot.

Chapter Four - Background about the required dimensions and geometry of the cards.

Chapter Five - Background about the channeling of psychic events

Chapter Six - Background about the naming of the Thoth Tarot cards.

Chapter Seven - Background about Crowley himself… helpful in deciphering the meaning of the Thoth Tarot cards.

Chapter Eight - Background about the ornamentation and meaning behind the detail work of a symbol relative to the Golden Dawn badge of distinction.

Chapter Nine - Background about the Qabalistic figure outlining the universal mechanics of energy and consciousness.

Chapter Ten - Background about the reasons for the color spectrums selected and utilized in the Thoth Tarot deck.

Chapter Eleven - Background about the projected image of the personal self, which is the voice of our conscience.

Keeping in mind Mr. Duquette’s intentions not to add, but rather to elucidate, here are some of my favorite oh-so-DuQuette quotes:

Speaking of the Cubic Stone and its enfoldment into the Rosy Cross…“In order for this sealed cube to initiate creation, it must sacrifice itself upon a cross by bursting open like a kernel of cosmic popcorn.” p 42

In commentary about the invisible Tree of Life supposedly visible only to those pure of heart:

“Well I guess I’m busted! Emperor Lon has no clothes! As if I really need the Master Therion to tell me I’m not wholly pure of heart.” p. 158

In describing the formula conveyed by the 7 (Netzach) of Cups (Briah + Venus in Scorpio = Debauch:

“The Seven of Cups is a stumbling dash to the lavatory just moments after you thought you were being irresistible to the attractive stranger.” p. 234

Get my drift? Mr. DuQuette pokes fun at himself even while seriously aiding in the study of the master trickster himself. With a sense of fun he leads you deeply into the mysterious…

Along the way, he even amplifies some Crowleyisms that have been for the most part over-looked: “Defense, to be effective, must be mobile.” (In speaking of the 9 of Wands)… But how powerful when it comes to life as well as to the cards!

I could go on and on, probably would, were I not restricted by my own word count for this issue.

In summation, I can only say: Buy this book! Whether you approach it (hopefully) to learn and grow, or whether (regretfully) you think you know it all… there is much to be gained here.

For another review of this book and another interview with Lon Milo DuQuette, please see Tarot Passages.


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