Having spent the past twenty-odd years reading and using only two traditional Rider-Waite-Smith style tarot card decks, I was ignorantly unaware that any other tarot system existed. However, having spent the past six months or more delving deeper into the art of divination, I have since learnt otherwise. The three most popular and commonly used tarot systems are The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, The Marseille Tarot, and The Thoth Tarot.
The Thoth Tarot
Originally devised by Aleister Crowley and Lady Freida Harris, the Thoth Tarot deck (like the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot) is comprised of seventy-eight cards including the major arcana, the minor arcana and the court cards. However, the cards are slightly different from The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot in that some of the naming, imagery and meaning has been somewhat altered.
Having had no experience of working with the Thoth tarot up until now, I was particularly interested and intrigued by working with an ‘alternative’ tarot system and so contacted GMC Distribution requesting a review upon Sterling Ethos‘ latest Thoth Tarot Book & Cards Set created by Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig.
I myself hadn’t ever come across nor used a Thoth based tarot deck until earlier this year when I received Robin Scott’s ‘Urban Tarot’, which I later learnt was based upon Aleister Crowley’s ‘Thoth Tarot’ system – I, therefore, wished to have a copy of the original ‘Thoth Tarot’ before delving deeper into this particular divinatory system.
Aleister Crowley & Lady Freida Harris
Aleister Crowley was born in 1875 in Leamington Spa, England. He grew up under the influence of a fundamentalist sect, the Plymouth Brethren. His mother, an incredibly strict woman, gave Alesteir the unfortunate nickname of “The Beast” from an early age. This obviously affected Alesteir, as later in life he turned his back upon Christianity and staged himself as “The Black Magician”. This was apparently a theatrical performance (according to eyewitness accounts) that attracted only a small circle of followers as back then, this, along with a range of bizarre actions and behaviour demonstrated by Aleister, was feared and viewed as rather extreme.
The Thoth Tarot reinterprets The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot to include and adhere to Aleister’s knowledge and understanding of science, alchemy, astrology and the Kabbalah. Though Crowley’s lifestyle was certainly questionable, the cards (The Thoth Tarot) that he and Lady Freida Harris (an artist and associate of Alesteir) painstakingly developed over five years are still amongst the most used within the world of Tarot
Evelin Burger & Johannes Fiebig
Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig have re-released Aleister Crowley’s ‘Thoth Tarot’ and alongside their book and cards set, they have written more than thirty books upon tarot most of which have been translated into more than ten languages and have sold more than 1.7 million copies worldwide.
The Thoth Tarot Book & Cards Set
Included within The Thoth Tarot Book & Cards Set is a guidebook and a standard playing-card sized Thoth Tarot deck both of which are packaged in a large, sturdy cardboard box.
Like many of the larger-boxed tarot kits, the cards within this set are held within a flimsy cardboard template which I found wasn’t really suitable when displaying upon a shelf and have since transferred this deck into a small pouch for safer storage.
Whilst the Thoth Tarot is available in a variety of sizes (including standard tarot card size card stock) this deck is actually rather good for people with smaller hands such as myself. Though the cards are quite thin and the cardstock feels more like playing cards than tarot cards, I quite like this ‘dinky deck’ as it’s far easier for me to shuffle and to work with than many of my chunkier, heavier and larger tarot decks.
The Thoth Tarot Book & Cards kit includes a ninety-six-page, comprehensive guidebook written by Johannes Fiebig and Evelin Burger. This colour-printed guidebook features a very welcoming introduction, eight example spreads and a comprehensive guide which reinterprets each and every card within The Thoth Tarot, offering a clearer and more concise understanding of this popular and powerful deck.
The Major Arcana
Over centuries standardised names for tarot cards within the major arcana have been established such as The Magician, The High Priestess, The Devil and so on. However, within the Thoth Tarot system, many of the major arcana cards have been altered completely: The Magician is now known as ‘The Magus’, The High Priestess has been shortened to ‘The Priestess’ Strength has been renamed as ‘Adjustment’, The Wheel of Fortune has been abbreviated to ‘Fortune’ and within the book is labelled as ‘Happiness’, Justice has been replaced by ‘Lust’, Temperance has been relabelled as ‘Art’, Judgement is renamed ‘The Aeon’ and The World has been modified as ‘The Universe’.
Whilst the imagery within the major arcana still features characters such as The Fool, The Devil and so on, the artwork is quite abstract and perhaps not quite as easy to read as the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot system.
I personally found getting to grips with the Thoth Tarot quite tricky at times due to fact I’ve been so used to using The Rider Waite Tarot for so long. However, once I’d carried out a number of readings using the Thoth Tarot I felt that somehow the major arcana particularly seemed to offer more clarity than in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot system. I’m not sure how or why but readings with the Thoth Tarot just seemed clearer…
The Minor Arcana
Consisting of four suits (Wands, Cups, Swords and Disks) the minor arcana within the Thoth Tarot is much like the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot system only the cards are labelled a little differently…
Whilst each of the Aces within each suit is labelled as ‘The Ace of…’, the numbers two-ten feature a printed number at the top of each card and a keyword at the base of the card. The keywords featured include words such as strife, virtue, swiftness, luxury, happiness, peace, science, ruin, change, success and so on.
Evelin and Johannes explain that the subtitles included on each of the minor arcana cards are ‘a more darkening rather than enlightening ingredient’, though I quite like having a keyword to quickly refer to whilst carrying out tarot readings, although some of the words used within the Thoth Tarot I wouldn’t have necessarily associated with these cards prior to using this deck.
As you can see from the images included within this review (see below), the minor arcana features colourful, symmetrical artwork which is far more ‘pip’ than ‘pictorial’. This certainly makes the keywords rather useful, especially so for beginner/ amateur tarot readers.
Here’s a short video walkthrough guide that I have put together to help further explain the Thoth Tarot.
The Court Cards
The court cards again are slightly different as whilst there are still four court figures, these now consist of princesses, knights, princes and queens. The ordering of these court cards didn’t feel quite right to me at first but there’s no wonder considering that I’ve been so accustomed to using The RWS tarot system for such a long time.
The Thoth Tarot is certainly different especially so within the court cards. Although I’m forever trying to work out whose who in comparison to the RWS court cards (which features pages, knights, queen and kings) I quite like taking the court cards within The Thoth Tarot for precisely what they are – though I still can’t help but feel that the King seems to be missing somehow…
Reading With The Thoth Tarot
Although I found working with The Thoth Tarot quite tricky at first, this deck has certainly grown on me over the past week or two.
Though I have a preconceived understanding of the tarot cards and their individual meanings through using The RWS tarot system, the keywords printed at the base of each of the minor arcana cards seem to offer me alternative definitions and further scope within tarot readings.
I still find the court cards quite confusing to depict and define at times, I’m sure that it won’t be too long before I’m happy with handling these alternative figureheads.
I will admit that I’m still very much a ‘Rider-Waite-Smith-chick’, though I certainly don’t mind dabbling with different decks, systems and sets. Having carried out a number of readings using The Thoth Tarot I’ve now grown more used to using these cards and I quite like them, I certainly appreciate the smaller-sized deck as it makes shuffling far simpler!
Whilst working with alternative tarot decks and systems can be a little complex at first, I think it’s important to branch out and to experiment in order to find what works best for you, whether that’s The Rider-Waite-Smith, The Thoth or The Marseille tarot system, it’s entirely down to personal preference.
Pricing & Purchasing Information
First published in 2016 by Sterling, Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig’s ‘The Thoth Tarot Book & Cards Set’ has a recommended retail price of £20.99 and is available to purchase via Amazon (as of July 2020) for only £16.79.
To summarise, the Thoth Tarot is a tarot system of its own which isn’t entirely different from The well-known Rider-Waite-Smith tarot but does require some getting used to if you are accustomed to working with the RWS tarot.
I personally have quite enjoyed working with The Thoth Tarot and would certainly recommend Evelin Burger and Johannes Fiebig’s ‘The Thoth Tarot Book and Cards Set’.
For further information upon ‘The Thoth Tarot Book and Cards Set’ or other Sterling Publications visit www.sterlingpublishing.com
However, If you should be interested in stocking products such as ‘The Thoth Tarot Book and Cards Set’ or alternative Sterling products visit GMC-Distribution.
Disclosure: I was sent the above product for the purpose of this post however all opinions are my own.