Thoth Tarot: What You Should Know

The Thoth Tarot Deck: What You Should Know

Are you ready to graduate from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot tradition? Do you have a thing for controversial magicians of the 18th century with far too large trust funds for their own good? Are you looking to totally trip out on some synthetic projective, geometry, whatever the hell that is? If you’ve answered yes to any of those questions, you may be ready for the thoth tarot deck . . .

Here’s what you should know before jumping into this amazing multi-dimensionally esoteric tarot deck. These points are not to deter you. In fact, they are to inspire you and give you more information. However, some of them are soft warnings to let you know what you’re getting into. Before I start, there are two things I want to address:


First of all, this deck has no bad juju. The deck is just super powerful images painted by Lady Frieda Harris on card stock. Anything else is yours.


The second thing I have to address is the elephant in the room, which is Aleister Crowley. You don’t have to like the musician to like the music. Whatever judgments you have of him and his life and his choices, you cannot deny the gigantic impact that he had on tarot historically and on the occult world in general. He contributed quite a lot to today’s magical ritual structures. I’m not saying what views you should have, but respect that his work was influential. You have to read Crowley’s work if you want to really understand the thoth tarot deck. Now, let’s get started.

Image of the Ace of Swords in the Thoth tarot deck.

You Need to Study

First thing you should know about the Thoth tarot deck is that if you’re going to actually learn how to use it, you are going to have to study.


Tarot is an intuitive practice. But it is not ONLY an intuitive practice. It is a spiritual tool, rich with history and theory. The thoth deck exemplifies this. If you’re only reading cards intuitively, you are limiting yourself. When you study the esoteric underpinnings of something like thoth tarot deck, with its rich symbolic system, it creates a more sophisticated interface for personal development and psychic awareness. It will create more ways to engage with the universe, the YOUniverse, and your own consciousness. 


It will give you more of a symbolic vocabulary and larger range of psychic motion. I use the words “range of motion” because I used to be a personal trainer (unrelated).


Study= more range of psychic motion= more detail, more depth, and more information for you or your client. 


With the Thoth deck, you will have to study a lot because of what it’s made up of. 

Study What?

You have to study what this deck is made of:


-Kabbalah, which is Jewish mysticism, but through the lens of the western mystery tradition (we can call it “Hermetic Qabalah”)
-Thelema (which is Crowley’s religion) -Elements of Alchemy
-Some elements of Magick


The main things that you’re going to be working with are the Qabalah and astrology. Wald Amberstone has described Kabbalah to me, in the context of tarot, as a kind of university training, or the college level training of tarot. Do you need it to succeed and have a good life? Absolutely not. Will it help? Probably. And what’s more, you don’t need to go into student debt to study it! I’m a pretty big kabbalah fan because of how it has changed my life, but that’s another blog entry . . . Kabbalah/Qabalah/Cabalah (different spellings) is not necessary to study tarot, but it is to understand the thoth tarot.  


There’s actually a quick way to find out if you would enjoy studying qabalah and the thoth deck. And it is through this question: how much do you enjoy the fact that tarot is divided into four suits to represent four elements with four distinct meanings?


If you find yourself very drawn to that paradigm, that is the exact same part of the brain that you will be using to divide the deck further. When you’re working with the thoth deck, engaging with life takes the same approach but to a higher level of sophistication: different correspondences, different planes of consciousness, different real estates of meaning in the mundane world, just like the elements.

Book Recommendations:

So, what books should you use to study? I’m going to recommend first the source material, which is the Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley. A lot of people don’t like this book. A lot of people love this book. People don’t always like this book is because they get turned off when they start reading it. They view it as impenetrable. That is because Crowley has a very ranty and rambly writing style. He references a lot of his other works, other literature, and many esoteric ideas. His vocabulary is extremely colorful to say the least. But it’s brilliant. It’s a very, very dense book. And of course it is because this is a very, very dense tarot deck.


Luckily, there’s a supplement book I will get to in a moment. I would always recommend someone that’s working with the Thoth deck to read this more than once. I had to read it at least twice before I started to understand it. It was my third read through that really inspired me. I saw everything in the tarot and the universe connecting. Everything making sense, or rather, divine nonsense. 


The supplemental book I recommend is Understanding The Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo Duquette. He is so wise, and delightfully goofy. He takes all of the complex cosmic information from this book and explains it in a simple and fun way. It’s a page-turner. It’s really deep and fun. 


Actually, read this book first, because then you’ll get the structure of the deck, what everything’s about. Then  read Book of Thoth. I think that would be the best order of business.

The Thoth Tarot Accelerates Karma

This deck accelerates karma. At one of my earlier jobs as a young ambitious tarot reader, my boss told me that the thoth deck accelerates your karma (he also used that deck). As I studied the deck and began using it for more people, I began to understand why. The thoth deck doesn’t just give you a divination. It actually shows you the underlying energy in the backstage of reality, what’s happening behind the scenes energetically that causes what you CAN see to show up. . . The thoth deck reveals what is under the many layers of life that causes those layers of life to take the shape that they take. The Thoth deck reveals the pea that is under the many mattresses that keeps the princess awake. I find that other tarot decks are better suited for the surface layer.


I’m not saying other divination systems are superficial. I’m just saying that this one specifically digs deep to that initial form that’s causing the outside forms. So when you do that, you start to change that form and it changes your karma. It changes your patterns. It also is a deck that just really tells it like it is.


The thoth deck is predisposed to shadow work because it’s predisposed to showing reality . . . but a deeper reality.

The Thoth Tarot Deck is Not Linear

It is kind of 3-D. What do I mean by that? Remember when you first started learning tarot, you probably started with an intro book and that intro book probably taught you the cards linearly, starting with the fool, going to the magician and the high priestess and ending maybe with the 10 of Pentacles or maybe the page of Pentacles, whatever the author considered to be the last card.

The thoth tarot deck is like swiss cheese, because there are holes in every card that leads to other cards. Various pathways connect all the cards.

That’s what this deck is all about. 

The Rider-Waite Smith tradition can do this as well, but this deck does it more explicitly and with more nuance. The deck is meant to be experienced as a whole. 78 ideas are ever present and constantly flowing into each other.

The Thoth Tarot is Abstract: Intuition Required

Image of the Two of Cups in the Thoth tarot deck.

One of the things that drew me to this deck was its abstraction. It’s much more abstract than the Rider Waite Smith tarot. The two of cups shows two people. They’re looking at each other. They’re infatuated. Simple. There’s an alchemical lion to drive home the passion between them.


In the thoth deck, there’s an elaborate design of two ups and two fish. And that’s one of the more literal cards. 


The abstraction allows the deck to work on the more cosmic, or subconsious scale. It allows the deck to express specific energies instead of literal scenes.  Like I said earlier, it expresses the abstract pattern that lies behind the perceivable result. So when you’re working with two of cups, it’s not just a romantic relationship. It’s all love, expressed through the energy of the number two, the world of “beriah”, the planet venus, and the sign of cancer. As the number 2, it represents will. As cups, it represents the heart. Thus, the 2 of cups signifies the will of the heart, which is love


So in divination, what do you do with that? That’s where your intuition comes in . . . and your technique and method. You’re forced to integrate your intuition because each card has such a large area of meaning

And so the Thoth deck ends up accelerating your intuitive abilities as well as to enlarge your organization of symbols. The Thoth tarot deck shows the abstract principles that the Rider Waite Smith deck illustrates.

Again, I’m not trying to belittle the Smith deck. I love the RWS system, but because it’s more specific it can limit the scope of interpretation. 


Sometimes, the thoth deck’s abstraction can be a con. For example, if I’m reading for a client and I pull out the eight of cups and the eight of cups is titled “indolence”, well, how do you work with that? Obviously this card covers a lot more than indolence itself, but from a surface layer reading, it seems like it gives less information than the classic RWS image of someone walking away from a project before completion. 


However, with study, meditation, contemplation, you’ll actually see how this eight of cups in thoth expands the meaning of that rws scene. 

That’s where we get into the qabalah. the numerology, the elements. . .

If the tarot is a gateway drug into the occult, the thoth deck is a jet pack drug into the multi-verse . . .

This is more of my opinion than anything, but when you’re studying the thoth deck, you are really digging into kabbalah, astrology, Thelema and other things and creating relationships between them. It’s a wild ride. If you’re a philosophical paradigm masochist like me, where you just love to shatter your view of reality every now and then for something new, this is a great deck to work with. 


Point number six, the thoth deck has an agenda . . .  and this is not to scare you, but to excite you! The deck is embedded with Aleister Crowley’s philosophy. Though you don’t have to be a fan of Crowley or his philosophy to successfully use the deck, it does come out in certain ways, but in a good way.  His tag line “Do what that will shall be the whole of the law. 


Love is the law love under will”, encapsulates his philosophy. This DOES NOT mean do what you want. It means do your higher will. And the whole purpose of his magical practice is attaining what’s called knowledge and conversation with your holy guardian angel, which is a cool way to say knowing your higher self, knowing your true potential and knowing your true purpose. It is not always fun and is not always what you expect. It can be really difficult and really groundbreaking. Doing your true will is when you are connected to that higher self, fulfilling your purpose. This deck doesn’t hesitate to push you in that direction . . . which also tends to accelerate your karma. This deck doesn’t sugar coat anything in the process. It will help you connect with your true will, whether you want it or not.

That concludes my ideas on what to know before studying the thoth deck. These are just my experiences and the experiences of other thoth readers that I’ve talked with and worked with. I have nothing against other systems. I use the Rider-Waite Smith and Lenormand all the time. But the thoth deck has a certain level of strength in a certain areas, and also a certain level of weaknesses.


You’ll want to check out my Thoth Tarot Mastery Course if you’re serious about learning this deck. It’s a very advanced course with tons of information. Also, download the following guide to start learning:

Download the Thoth Tarot Instant Reading Guide:

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