The Major Arcana of the Thoth deck incorporates the symbolism of various traditions, yet its thematic foundation rests on the Biblical creation story.
With the birth of the Thoth tarot deck, Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris unveiled a realm of symbolism, mysticism, and potential insights into the human psyche. However, enthusiasts of the deck and readers of the Book of Thoth have found themselves grappling with some outstanding questions...
In the year 1900, while residing in Mexico City, Aleister Crowley stumbled upon the Lost Word. This "Word" was the elusive Name of God, reportedly uttered by the High Priest just once a year in the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Solomon. It comprises every Hebrew alphabet letter, excluding Beth, carefully arranged to evoke a spell of evocation. This specific arrangement, concealed by Crowley and Harris, lies at the heart of the Thoth Tarot's design.
Genesis attributes the creation of the world to God's word, but it might be more aptly described as the Name of God, referred to by Jews as "HaShem," meaning "the name."
The pursuit of this Lost Word constitutes the central quest of Freemasonry, although they view it in allegorical rather than literal terms—a word not to be spoken but to be symbolically understood. Their members undergo degrees designed to enhance the spiritual and moral character of initiates. While the actual Lost Word remains undisclosed, members progress through the system and discover a substitute word.
Two years after joining the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898, Crowley became a member of Scottish Freemasonry and embarked on a determined quest to unravel the mystery of the Lost Word in Mexico. In his autobiography, he candidly confessed his deep disappointment with what was supposed to be the zenith of their mystery school.
"I supposed myself to have reached the summit of success when I restored the Secret Word of the Royal Arch. In this case, tradition had preserved the Word almost intact. It required only a trifling change to reveal it in all its radiant royalty. And yet my success only left me with a sense of deeper annoyance at my complete failure to deal with the abject anti-climax of the III° with its lamentable excuses for having made a fool of the candidate, its pretentious promises, and its pitiful performance."
Following his disillusionment with Scottish Freemasonry, Crowley quickly uncovered the Lost Word. In 'Magick in Theory and Practice,' he described it thus:
"This Word should be so potent that hearing it could spell man's doom. Indeed, such a word was the lost Tetragrammaton. It is said that at the utterance of this name, the Universe would dissolve into chaos. Let the Magician earnestly seek this Lost Word."
While the name YHWH has never been lost and appears repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible, it is an abbreviation of the true Name of God. That is what was truly lost. To uncover this genuine Lost Word, certain prerequisites had to be fulfilled by the seeker.
Uncovering the Lost Word
Crowley's initial step toward discovering the Lost Word was to unveil the Merkabah (also known as the Seven Palaces). This schematic diagram served as the precursor to the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. As a member of the Golden Dawn, Crowley found this task relatively straightforward. A version of it existed in GD rituals, albeit without the connecting paths. It was understood that the three supernal sephiroth were derived from the Seventh Palace, while Yesod and Malkuth originated from the first Palace.
Transferring the letters from the Tree back to the Merkabah left the letters ABRHD (aleph, beth, resh, heh, and daleth) to be assigned to the remaining Palaces. These letters formed the word of the Aeon - Abrahadabra, a term Crowley referred to as "the cipher of the Great Work."
A careful study of the notes in the Mathers translation of the Rosenroth translation of the Sefer Dtzeniouthia (a part of the Zohar) offered further instructions for combining the paths of gimel, heh, and zayin. A meticulous examination of the diagram's layout and mathematics encouraged the precise placement of shin, tav, tsade, and qoph on the remaining paths.
Crowley's second significant step in his quest for the Lost Word was to uncover the Hebrew ciphers for the Bible and the alphanumeric order of the verses in Genesis 1-2. He used the term "the key of it all" to describe these elements since they were not solely used in Hebrew but also in the design of the Merkabah. They were subsequently transposed into Greek for use in the Christian Canon and later transliterated into English by Crowley, employed in the gematria of his Holy Books, and ultimately attributed to his interpretation of the Thoth Tarot. Thus, his use of "all" in relation to the key was literal.
Today, our Shematria calculator has been encoded with these biblical ciphers (see here), presenting the alphanumeric order of Genesis 1-2, along with its gematria (here). In 2014, I realized that no naturally evolving number set would progress from 1 to 22 (and consequently 1 to 400). My reasoning, subsequently proven correct, was that the last two letters must have values that duplicate those of two earlier letters. Shin became 3 rather than 300, and Tav became 4 rather than 400. This led to the hypothesis that their positions in the alphabet order must also precede those of others, and they occur after Gimel and Daleth.
This is precisely how we find them in Genesis 1-2. I assume that Crowley made the same deductions based on his writings. I delve deeper into these topics in "The Hermeneutics of Aleister Crowley" (see here).
For years, I've been aware that Crowley possessed knowledge of the alphanumerical attributions for Genesis 1-2. He was a brilliant individual and, while he didn't embark on deciphering the formal system of Hebrew mathematics of the Bible (as outlined in my book "Behold"), he often outpaced me in most areas. This was particularly evident when he wasn't hindered by technological limitations or the early state of archaeology and epigraphy. What I hadn't anticipated was his familiarity with the linear arrangement of Genesis 1-2 and the evidence he left behind in the design of the Thoth Tarot.
As I elaborate on in Chariot: An Essay on Bereshit and the Merkabah," the first two chapters of Genesis detail the seven days of creation. After each day, it states, "and there was an evening and there was a morning." Genesis 1-2:3 chronicles everything created during the evenings, while Genesis 2:4-25 covers everything created during the mornings. Armed with the alphanumerical keys to the verses, it becomes possible to rearrange Genesis 1-2 into a linear night/day/night/day/night/day sequence, consolidating the two chapters into seven days. This coherent reading replaces the fragmented narrative and offers a comprehensive perspective. By adopting this approach, the entire story becomes a cohesive whole.
Crowley took each Major Arcana card that corresponded to pairs of Hebrew letters matching the linear arrangement of Genesis 1-2 and intertwined the symbolism of each with the other. The initial pair, Beth and Kaph, correlates with The Magus and the Wheel of Fortune, as well as the verses of Genesis:
"In the Beginning created Elohim the Heavens and the Earth. And the Earth was formless and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the spirit Elohim hovered upon the face of the waters. This is the account of the heavens and the earth in the day of their creation, in the day that YHVH Elohim earth and heavens. Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for YHVH Elohim had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground."
From 1938 to 1943, Crowley and Harris collaborated diligently on creating a new tarot deck for the new aeon. Guided by Crowley's expertise and detailed instructions, Harris produced the intricate and evocative artwork that would ultimately define the iconic Thoth Tarot deck. Their partnership was characterized by a profound commitment to translating Crowley's esoteric insights into visual symbols that conveyed both depth of meaning and spiritual significance for each card.
Over time, many magicians observed that certain cards appeared to be designed as pairs. Crowley himself noted that the design of the Fool and Adjustment cards had been carefully crafted to complement each other.
In the Book of Thoth (pg. 87), Crowley explains that "...the letters Aleph Lamed constitute the secret key of the Book of the Law, and this is the basis of a complete qabalistic system of greater depth and sublimity than any other. The details of this system have not yet been revealed. Nevertheless, it has been deemed appropriate to hint at its existence by equating the designs of these two cards."
Although pairings had been identified, and their symbolism had been extensively analyzed, it is only now that their connection to the linear arrangement of Genesis 1-2 and, by extension, to the Lost Word of the holy Name has come to light.
During his lifetime, Aleister Crowley never publicly disclosed the "key of it all." He carried it, along with numerous other secrets, to his grave. Nevertheless, we now possess a rather robust understanding of the "complete qabalistic system of greater depth and sublimity than any other." Within the Trumps of the Major Arcana resides the narrative of Genesis 1-2, the story of the creation of the Macrocosm, intertwined with the Microcosm, the Tree of Life.
This system permeates the Abrahamic religions, delving into their most profound realms of symbolism and significance. Crowley, where necessary, updated meanings to align with the needs of the present Aeon. For example, Teth (Lust) no longer signifies mere "food" but encompasses every conceivable form of sustenance necessary for life. For each night letter, there is a corresponding day letter, collectively representing the entirety of existence.