Crowley/Harris: The Thoth Tarot

Right now we can celebrate the 50 year anniversary for the publication of "The Thoth Tarot", the masterpiece which came into being by the joint efforts of Aleister Alexander Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris. The Thoth Tarot is, along with Arthur E. Waite's and Pamela Colman Smith's tarot deck the first true esoteric tarot deck. What tarot decks came later, are all due to these pioneers, whose popularity and widespread appeal has never been surpassed.

Sangreal 1 Color Tarot, '68 - Dallas, Texas Urania Verlag, of Switzerland, as the only tarot publisher celebrating this particular event is issuing a special limited and numbered edition (1994 sets) which contains not only the deck, but also the German translation of Crowley's book, a poster depicting the "Eight of Wands" and, most remarkably, a CD with rituals, calls and poems performed by Crowley himself. Most of this sound material, if not all, had been available earlier on tapes in more or less pirated editions; here it is collected on one CD in a better, even if still primitive quality, due to the original wax cylinder recordings. I am only disappointed with one aspect of this edition. The accompanying deck is exactly the same as the generally available smaller size edition. It would have improved this edition if, for example, the cards were given gold edges or any other detail, to distinguish it from the standard edition. Yet we shall be highly grateful that Urania marked the event with this set.

Crowley Thoth Tarot 50th Anniversary Among Crowley's Golden Dawn papers was a hand colored pack of Oswald Wirth's tarot, which probably was the deck he used for his own early work with tarot. Despite Crowley's own aspiration to be an artist - several paintings are recognized from his hand - he never took it upon himself to create the tarot deck which, perhaps, was one of the obligations for the Golden Dawn members to descent the order degrees. Instead in this regard he realized his limitations and entered an alliance with the wife of Sir Percy Harris, a member of the English parliament, Frieda Harris, who was an accomplished artist and one of Crowley's many financial supporters. The cooperation began in 1938, and Crowley calculated in detail, that the entire process would take half a year. It would, however, take four years before the deck was finished in 1942. Due partly to the war conditions, the contact between the two went by letter, Frieda Harris living in the countryside and Crowley in London. A great part of Frieda Harris' correspondence to Crowley is preserved, so we are able to get a view of the progression and the many disagreements that arose along the way. Many cards were redrawn as many as five or six times, before Crowley finally found them satisfying and up to his intentions. Meanwhile Crowley had worked on the book connected with the deck, "The Book of Tarot" in which he expanded on the ideas that lay behind the design of the cards.

Crowley w/ wife & daughter, 1904 After finishing the work in 1942 another trial arose: the problem of having it published despite wartime with a shortage of paper supply and other necessities. Also a problem arose when Frieda Harris made arrangements for having her work exhibited, partly with the purpose of financing the printing. She felt that her connection with Crowley and the bad reputation he had, would not exactly be recommended for the event, so she asked him to stay away from the exhibitions. Of course, he did not and the relationship between the two was strained further.

The first printed edition finally came into being in 1944 by the publication of a limited edition of only 200 copies of `Master Therion's, alias Aleister Crowley's "The Book of Thoth". The cards were reproduced in the book, but only eight of them in color. This first publication was financed by Crowley's order, O.T.O - Ordo Templi Orientis. As a curiosity, it can be mentioned, that the Ace of Cups as it is described in Crowley's text, does not correspond with the card actually illustrated, but refers to an earlier draft.

(An article by Anpu in "Magical Blend" mentions, that Jerry Kay had access to the slides used for this edition and used them as a basis for the line drawings for his "Book of Thoth" deck, published by Xeno Publications in 1968. This deck was intended to be colored by the students, but, actually, Jerry Kay also published a colored version himself).

Like Pamela Colman Smith, neither Frieda Harris nor Aleister Crowley would see the results of their common efforts published in final form; Aleister Crowley died in 1947 and Frieda Harris in 1962; the first full color edition of the deck was published by Llewellyn in cooperation with O.T.O. in 1969-70. The original artworks passed at Frieda Harris's death into the collection of the English scholar Gerald J. Yorke, and they are now deposited in the Warburg Collection at the University of London. The first printed edition left much to be desired regarding quality, but a far better edition was made in 1977 in cooperation by Samuel Weiser Inc. and US Games Systems Ltd. Since 1987 the edition has been printed by AGMüller/Urania Verlag.

List of Thoth Tarot Deck editions:

Crowley/Master Therion: Book of Thoth, 1944 (21st of March), first edition
(= Equinox, vol. III, no. 5),
The book illustrates the entire set of 78 cards but only 8 are rendered in color. It was reprinted by Samuel Weiser in 1969. In 1994 the 1944 edition was offered for sale for US$ 5000.

Sangreal One Color Tarot
Around 1968 (early 1960's according to the Encyclopedia of Tarot) the Simpson Printing Company of Dallas, Texas reprinted the illustrations from the first edition of "The Book of Thoth" as a monochrome deck. -the images are printed with blue ink, and the backs are in red. About 250 decks were made. An article in "Magical Blend" refers to another deck tinted in green and published by Shambhala, likewise in 1968.

Edition by Llewellyn in cooperation with O.T.O. 1970
Plain borders (no pattern). Majors are numbered with Roman numeral at top of cards, minors with Arabic numerals. No white edge around the Rosicrusian Cross back-pattern. The 8 of Cups is missing the Arabic number at the top edge. There is no booklet with these decks, but instead a text card. The first edition can be identified by a printing mistake: the Ace of Disks having been turned upside down, which is obvious from the number 999 rendered in the small centre circles instead of showing as 666. However, both packs, variation A & B had this misprint:

A: Slip case text in black ink with O.T.O logo in red. Inner case: matte gold/metallic, shiny surface on the cards. Printed in USA.
B: Text on slip case in metallic gold, O.T.O logo in red. Inner slipcase: bright brassy gold, matte surface on cards. Printed in Hong Kong
Another edition appeared sometime between 1970 and 1978. A white slipcase with text in black and the O.T.O. logo is the same as the Llewellyn/variation A, as are also the cards, except that the 8 of Cups now has the Arabic number added and the 999 on 8 of Disks is now rightly 666. On the box is printed: Distributed by Samuel Weiser, 734 Broadway N.Y. 10003. Printed in USA. No booklet but same text card.

Samuel Weiser Inc. in co-operation with US Games Systems Inc. 1977/1978:
For this edition the original artwork was re-photographed and Hebrew letters and astrological symbols were added to the left and right of the titles. The border of the cards had a pattern added and the typography of the card names and numbers was changed. For the first time, the printing quality appeared to be up to the artistic standards of the artwork.
The earlier heavy slipcase-boxes was substituted by a plain card board box. Weiser's name did not appear on the box, which only states "published and distributed by US Games". The box is white with printing in black and red, and the O.T.O. logo is still there. There is still no white border around the back pattern, as later will be the case. A booklet accompanies the deck stating copyright 1978 by Stuart R. Kaplan and Donald Weiser. The cards are printed in Belgium by Carta Mundi.

In 1983 an ISBN-number was added to the side panel of the box and the accompanying booklet has a 1978 and a 1983 copyright on the inside cover for US Games System Inc., and Weiser.

From 1986 the deck was printed by AGMüller, Switzerland. The back pattern was now surrounded by a white border, on which the copyright notice is printed. Two extra "Magician" cards (Magus) were added to the deck, reproduced from Frieda Harris' drafts. The names and numbers are now printed in black, instead of the earlier grey. The deck is now available in two different sizes, the regular large size and a smaller edition. There are at least three different boxes for the small size, one in a mauve box, one in a white box and one in a blue, all of them in English versions.

• On the mauve box, which depicts card XI, Lust, it is printed that it is distributed by Urania GMBH, Germany (then the publishing arm of AGMüller). The box also states: "New Edition". "Copyright by AGMüller 1986" is printed on all cards as well as the box. No booklet is included.
• The white box is similar to the white US Games/Weiser edition box, still wearing the O.T.O logo in red. On the back of the box "The Universe" is depicted. On the box is printed: "Published and distributed by US Games Systems Inc and AGMüller & Cie, Switzerland. On the cards are printed: "Copyright 1986 AGMüller". Booklet has: Copyright 1978, 1983 1987 by Stuart R. Kaplan & Donald Weiser. Confusing?
• The blue pack has one of the new Magus-cards rendered on the front. On the box and cards are printed "Copyright 1986 by AGMüller, Switzerland". The booklet is different from the US Games' versions, being an extract from Crowley's text. There is no mention of US Games, Kaplan nor Weiser.

Besides the English editions, several foreign language editions were made: German, French, Spanish, Danish plus a multiple language edition (German/Spanish/French/English).

Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot Jubiläums-Set
Switzerland 1994, Urania Verlag. Limited edition of 1994 sets.
ISBN 3-908646-43-x

Aleister Crowley: The Book of Thoth (various editions)
Caliph Hymenæus Beta: A Brief History of the Thoth Tarot (in The Magical Link no. 2-3/1988)
Eboni Anpu; Lotte Lieb & Bill Heindrick: Talking Tarot (in Magical Blend)
Stuart R: Kaplan: Encyclopedia of Tarot, vol. III
Review first printed in Manteia # 12, September 1994
© K. Frank Jensen 1994