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Mixed feelings about the Thoth

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nemia View Post
A point in case is the colours. We are used to expressive use of colours and indeed Harris uses very expressive colours. But at the time, she follows (mostly) the colour scales of the Golden Dawn which are based on light symbolism, not on the expressive value of colours. So there is always an intellectual challenge, you don't get anything "for free", and wherever you dig, you find a whole treasure (or load) of complex ideas.
And yet there are Minor Arcana cards for which the colors are extremely expressive of the ideas behind them. Those cards wouldn't be nearly as evocative without those expressive colors. For me, perfect examples are the 8 of Cups, the 5 of Cups, the 8 of Swords (for me it shrieks "anxiety"), the 7 of Disks (the epitome of "leaden" and of Saturn), the 10 of Disks, the 4 of Swords, the 9 of Swords (nice blend of Mars being made "nervous" by Gemini). Interesting that most of them are the more negative cards. The "correct" use of the colors is probably what renders some of the Major Arcana a bit monochromatic and "blah" looking (the Emperor is what my wife's French-Canadian aunts would call "red red"). But one of my favorite cards is the Ace of Cups, a perfect blend of color and imagery. It simply overflows with the idea of emotional "fullness" caught at the instant of release. It also looks like someone dropped a water balloon on the pavement

Yes, it is also the best deck I've every seen, for many reasons.
Top   #11
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Thanks everyone who has replied so far!

First, just to clear any (possible) misunderstanding: I'm not seeking to read the Thoth from the pictures/intuitively alone. I love intellectual structures, and that's part of the reason I'm attracted to this deck. My problem is that I'm not so keen on the art of the Majors and Courts, and especially on Lady Frieda's rendition of human figures, but this is not to say that it's going to stall my understanding of the cards because my understanding of them has less to do with how artistically pleasing they look to me. However, some of the cards are so much 'meh' in my current taste that it's really upsetting, and I'd like to know how others see them and, maybe, get to appreciate them more through the eyes of more experienced users. Hope I'm clear on this one.

In this respect, I'm especially grateful to those of you who went to the trouble of listing some of your more favorite and less favorite cards and explaining exactly what it is that you like or dislike about them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Barleywine View Post
I've been using the Thoth for 40+ years, and I see what you're saying. The art in the Minor Arcana I find extremely evocative of the ideas they represent. The Courts and Majors are a mixed bag, and an acquired taste. I really like some of them: the Chariot, the "dancing" Death, the Wheel of Fortune, the Aeon (for its subtlety), the Moon (for its sense of madness), the Tower (for its ferocity), the Hermit (for its "ricocheting" light). Others - although stuffed full of symbolism - are decidedly "meh" artistically: the Sun, the Emperor, the Hanged Man, the Priestess. The rest are OK, but you need to spend some time with them to get to that appraisal. The Courts are similar: I think the Disks are really strong, the Cups are OK, the rest are kind of "hit-or-miss." I have an art school education - graphic design - so I can appreciate them for their design elements even if the style doesn't move me all that much.
Thanks for your inspiring response! Your comment on the Hermit is especially enlightening to me at this point: at last I've got some alternative to my 'disco lights' perception of it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by LRichard View Post
I can't use a deck unless I understand (or at least have the delusion that I understand) the imagery. The symbolism of the images in the Thoth, especially the Majors and Courts, can be elusive since they incorporate esoteric, mythological, and philosophical concepts which are often unique to the deck's author. Apparently, it is possible to 'read' the Thoth simply by looking at the images and imagining (intuiting?) meanings, but I am constitutionally unable to do this. If you want to use the Thoth, you will need to find a way to 'understand' it which you find personally satisfying.
Thanks for your comments, LRichard! You're absolutely right about the understanding of the symbolism, and I'm going to work on it. Like I said above, it's not so much the 'understanding' of it that I'm struggling with, it's more about 'liking' it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Miss Woo View Post
I'm thinking of taking up Thoth Tarot again but I'm not really into the artwork either. It's so harsh and masculine and dark and foreboding looking.
A very atmospheric deck, I agree. Perhaps, this thread will inspire you to keep trying.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrystella View Post
For years, I disliked the Thoth. I would look at it and go, "Ugh, whatevah," and move along, usually back to my beloved RWS. It didn't help that I wasn't a fan of Crowley. One day, I looked at it again and suddenly I loved it. By then, I had learned a lot more about tarot and its development and I guess I was just ready for Thoth. I do think the art is beautiful, but my appreciation of it is enhanced by my increasing knowledge of it as well as a greater regard (not necessarily a like) for Crowley. Like LRichard, the Thoth is not an especially intuitive deck for me. It's a deck I actively study and the more I get to know it, the more satisfying I find it.
Thanks for sharing, Chrystella! I totally expect to spend lots and lots of satisfying hours of study with it. I do hope it'll keep growing on me like it did on you.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nemia View Post
The art is neither cute nor pretty - which makes it better in my book. Innovative artists usually make neither cute nor pretty art but push the visual boundaries.

There is no eye contact with the figures in the deck, no invitation. The cards really tell you to go and learn what all these symbols mean - intuition can only get you so far with the Thoth.

A point in case is the colours. We are used to expressive use of colours and indeed Harris uses very expressive colours. But at the time, she follows (mostly) the colour scales of the Golden Dawn which are based on light symbolism, not on the expressive value of colours. So there is always an intellectual challenge, you don't get anything "for free", and wherever you dig, you find a whole treasure (or load) of complex ideas.

This makes the Thoth for me the best deck I ever saw. Like a very complex person who is not always nice or friendly but an eternal source of wisdom, inspiration and uncompromising honesty.

The court cards, especially Swords, are difficult. Knowledge about the elements helps. They always remind me of an exercise my mother had to do as an art student: paint frozen fire. She struggled with it for a long time - how do you paint frozen fire? And how to you paint the fire of the air? What does that mean, how does it translate to a card that may mean your friend or colleague or your own reaction to a situation or character trait? Encourage your own free associations of the elementary combinations. How do you see them combine? What happens when fire and earth meet?

It's not easy. Lay out the court cards according to elements and try to see how Harris expresses each of them - compare air of fire with fire of air. Think also about astrological signs - a Capricorn woman or Gemini man, where do you find them?

Reading a lot with the cards really helps.

I find that some of the Thoth cards are so beautiful they leave me speechless - Ace/ Disks, 4/Wands, I love them.

But if you study and practice and still don't feel the pull, well, maybe they're not for you.

Oh another thing: I can recommend Polyphonic's Youtube channel. Wonderful explanations with lots of enthusiasm (even if he sometimes mixes up the planetary associations or uses a tradition I don't know and which confuses me).
Thanks for your thorough reply! Your comments about pushing the visual boundaries really resonated. And I absolutely love how colors and shapes are used in this deck, they are part of the reason why I find this deck so strong, especially the Minors. I can see how this deck can be uninviting and seemingly stern until you get to know it, and I really like this aspect too, partly because it reflects my personality as well. And I'll have a look at the YouTube channel, thanks for mentioning it!
Top   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barleywine View Post
And yet there are Minor Arcana cards for which the colors are extremely expressive of the ideas behind them. Those cards wouldn't be nearly as evocative without those expressive colors. For me, perfect examples are the 8 of Cups, the 5 of Cups, the 8 of Swords (for me it shrieks "anxiety"), the 7 of Disks (the epitome of "leaden" and of Saturn), the 10 of Disks, the 4 of Swords, the 9 of Swords (nice blend of Mars being made "nervous" by Gemini). Interesting that most of them are the more negative cards. The "correct" use of the colors is probably what renders some of the Major Arcana a bit monochromatic and "blah" looking (the Emperor is what my wife's French-Canadian aunts would call "red red"). But one of my favorite cards is the Ace of Cups, a perfect blend of color and imagery. It simply overflows with the idea of emotional "fullness" caught at the instant of release. It also looks like someone dropped a water balloon on the pavement

Yes, it is also the best deck I've every seen, for many reasons.
I'm even more thoroughly enabled on the Minors after this one. Funnily enough, I find the 'red red' Emperor very nice, it's the pinkish-lettuce-ish Empress that isn't very inspiring.
Top   #13
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First time when I saw the Thoth Tarot deck, I felt strange which was mixed bag of emotions - strange, beautiful and revolt feeling. I couldn't quite tell exactly what they were.

As more I see and use them, I still cannot tell what I feel about the art of Thoth deck i.e. the feeling from the art of Thoth changes all the time.

I think Thoth Tarot art is that it is not about some mundane real objects we see in real life daily, but they were abstract depiction of the mind and consciousness of Crowley and Lady Harris wrapped in deep philosophical system underneath, which makes it more abstract and daunting.

For individual cards of the Thoth deck, I feel that it is quite natural that, depending on what state of mind it is depicting, it could be beautiful, calm, and some cards are downright revolting.

I hope that more I study, use and understand the underlying philosophy, the better I can understand the art of Thoth deck too, which makes this deck infinitely attractive.
Top   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dancing_moon View Post
I'm even more thoroughly enabled on the Minors after this one. Funnily enough, I find the 'red red' Emperor very nice, it's the pinkish-lettuce-ish Empress that isn't very inspiring.
You know, I was thinking, I have three versions of the Thoth, two from the very early '70s and one from 1983, and they're all slightly different in their color tones. In the earliest deck, the colors are a bit "dusky" but the Empress is very rich-looking and not washed out like in the 1983. US Games made a big deal about the colors of the 1983 deck being "correct" to the original paintings, but I didn't find that an entirely good thing. I haven't seen any of the more recent editions, but I may be buying a new standard-size one soon since my 1983 - which I use the most - is starting to feel a bit soft to the touch.
Top   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by foolMoon View Post
First time when I saw the Thoth Tarot deck, I felt strange which was mixed bag of emotions - strange, beautiful and revolt feeling. I couldn't quite tell exactly what they were.

As more I see and use them, I still cannot tell what I feel about the art of Thoth deck i.e. the feeling from the art of Thoth changes all the time.

I think Thoth Tarot art is that it is not about some mundane real objects we see in real life daily, but they were abstract depiction of the mind and consciousness of Crowley and Lady Harris wrapped in deep philosophical system underneath, which makes it more abstract and daunting.

For individual cards of the Thoth deck, I feel that it is quite natural that, depending on what state of mind it is depicting, it could be beautiful, calm, and some cards are downright revolting.

I hope that more I study, use and understand the underlying philosophy, the better I can understand the art of Thoth deck too, which makes this deck infinitely attractive.
I don't think your initial reaction is unique. The Thoth is a very "fraught" deck - emotionally, philosophically, esoterically, not a "warm puppy" sort of thing at all. Crowley was dead-serious when they put it together, and it shows. "Daunting" is a good way to put it, since the price of admission to the "inner sanctum" is quite high. I hadn't really thought about "revolting" since I learned very early on to look beyond the surface imagery for something deeper in every card. When coupled with Crowley's graphic descriptions, the Devil would most likely qualify, and maybe the Moon - the drops of impure blood thing - but the rest are tamer. The nudity isn't unique, except perhaps the male genitalia. Western culture has been inured to full frontal female nudity in film for a long time now, but it's only recently that the same frankness has been extended to male "bits." It - and Crowley's "thumb-in-your-eye" attitude - is probably what endeared the Thoth to the "hippie generation." (Full disclosure: that would be me, although the "daring" nudity wasn't my drawing card.)
Top   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barleywine View Post
I don't think your initial reaction is unique. The Thoth is a very "fraught" deck - emotionally, philosophically, esoterically, not a "warm puppy" sort of thing at all. Crowley was dead-serious when they put it together, and it shows. "Daunting" is a good way to put it, since the price of admission to the "inner sanctum" is quite high. I hadn't really thought about "revolting" since I learned very early on to look beyond the surface imagery for something deeper in every card. When coupled with Crowley's graphic descriptions, the Devil would most likely qualify, and maybe the Moon - the drops of impure blood thing - but the rest are tamer. The nudity isn't unique, except perhaps the male genitalia. Western culture has been inured to full frontal female nudity in film for a long time now, but it's only recently that the same frankness has been extended to male "bits." It - and Crowley's "thumb-in-your-eye" attitude - is probably what endeared the Thoth to the "hippie generation." (Full disclosure: that would be me, although the "daring" nudity wasn't my drawing card.)
Yup, come to think of it, I admit that "revolting" was too strong word. Maybe "unpleasant" or "dark", or as you pointed out "fraught" or "daunting" sound more right.

I am fully open minded about "nudity" in decks, be it female or male, as long as they are done in proper contexts. But the images of Queen of Swords (the queen holding severed head), Death and Devil cards in Thoth deck still scare me.

Liber T deck also has severed head images in some of the cards, but it is done cartoonish way, whereas in Thoth deck's QOS depicts it in more realistic way, hence emanating chilling atmosphere.
Top   #17
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Originally Posted by foolMoon View Post
But the images of Queen of Swords (the queen holding severed head), Death and Devil cards in Thoth deck still scare me.

Liber T deck also has severed head images in some of the cards, but it is done cartoonish way, whereas in Thoth deck's QOS depicts it in more realistic way, hence emanating chilling atmosphere.
Uh oh! The Queen of Swords is my wife's long-time significator card <looks over shoulder in alarm>

Crowley's commentary on the Queen of Swords is interesting: he equates the severed head with "the liberation of the mind," with the QoS as the "midwife." (Not chilling once you get past the visual.) If it wasn't an abstract conceptual device, Crowley would probably have had gouts of blood coming out of it!
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Originally Posted by Barleywine View Post
Uh oh! The Queen of Swords is my wife's long-time significator card <looks over shoulder in alarm>

Crowley's commentary on the Queen of Swords is interesting: he equates the severed head with "the liberation of the mind," with the QoS as the "midwife." (Not chilling once you get past the visual.) If it wasn't an abstract conceptual device, Crowley would probably have had gouts of blood coming out of it!
I designate either Queen of Cups or Wands as my wife's significator

First time when faced with the QoS image, one might not be able to resist feel of chill going down his spine. However, after reading what Crowley meant by that image as you explained, one will calm down, understand and accept the visual with more ease. Hence studying and understanding the philosophy behind is prerequisite to understanding the Art of Thoth Tarot? Yes, I would think so.
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I'm delurking after a very, very long time away from the cards and from AT. I've been lurkerising in the Thoth forum for a couple of weeks now, and reading all your conversations and remembering old faces and getting to "know" new ones. (Aeon, could it be?? Are you...softening? LOL)

Quote:
Originally Posted by foolMoon View Post
First time when I saw the Thoth Tarot deck, I felt strange which was mixed bag of emotions - strange, beautiful and revolt feeling. I couldn't quite tell exactly what they were.

As more I see and use them, I still cannot tell what I feel about the art of Thoth deck i.e. the feeling from the art of Thoth changes all the time.
I wanted to respond to these comments as they describe how I felt about the deck and how I continue to feel even now. I've got rather an extensive collection of Tarot and oracle decks and the Thoth is unique among them in that when I saddle up to it, I'm deadly serious. There's no overall "feeling" from the deck; it's all business. Even individual cards don't elicit feelings so much as the intellectual or perhaps psycho-spiritual echo or telling of the appropriate feeling.

A suitable analogy might be that other decks are like television shows - this one a child's cartoon, this a cooking and homemaking show, that a soap opera, the other a period drama. But the Thoth is life itself, with no aesthetic theme or pretence, and most especially no simplification. It is what it is and perhaps, artistically and visually it's a bit whiplash-inducing but at the end of the day, it is exactly what it needed to be. That uncompromising truth is a testament to the faith the creators had in their vision and in each other, I think.

A few thoughts on individual cards: I agree with the poster who said that the Disks courts are particularly strong - they're astonishing. That Knight is so overwhelmingly evocative, and the Princess...doesn't she just steal the whole show? But I think the Swords Courts are getting short shrift here - the Princess is leaping upwards, straining away from gravity (she is, after all, Air of Earth), reckless and unthinking and instinctive. The Prince is savage and destructive, and the greatest casualty of his death wish is himself...and perhaps his ego. He teaches us a lesson in courage. The Queen - I don't see a severed head! I see a severed mask, as she combines the intuitive power of Water with the truth-seeking excision of Air. And the Knight, speeding arrow of directed passionate thought, knowing exactly where he is going...who could be but thrilled to go along for that ride?

The Hermit is possibly my favourite card in the deck and I suspect its strength derives from the creators' strong identification with its symbolism, themes and message. Art is deeply fascinating and, distinct from other decks, visceral, approachable and very sensual. And Death...what a fabulous piece of artwork. So much mythology, collective unconscious, and science all bound up in what is ultimately a fantastic painting in its own right.

The 3 and 4 of Disks, the 6 of Swords, the Ace, 7 and 8 of Cups and the Ace of Wands are also particularly strong. All evoke their names and messages clearly but also meet the viewer halfway, not making you do all the work like some of the other Minors do.

Yes, it is definitely the best deck I've used. I barely ever use any other now, no matter how I love them for their art or tactility or sentimental value. It's all about the Thoth.
Top   #20




 


 


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