15-card Thoth Tarot Spread

The Fifteen-card or ‘Thoth’ Tarot spread seems to have been devised by the publisher of some early editions of the Crowley-Harris Thoth deck. The advantage of the spread is that cards are read in sets of three, so the elemental dignities of the Tarot can be applied.

The Priestess II Thoth TarotThe method of laying out the cards forms a widdershins spiral, outward from the centre.

The number 15 is the Grand Number of the Pentagram as 5 multiplied by the trinity, and the Mystic Number of the Pentagram as the sum of all the numbers between one and five:

Σ (1–5) = 15

The three centre cards (see diagram below) represent the question and the questioner. The upper left cards are a future development of the upper right cards, if the two sets agree. If the upper left and upper right cards do not agree, then the upper right position represents the course of action the querent would naturally take, and the upper left cards an alternative course of action that changes the natural outcome. The lower left cards represent the attitude of the querent or psychological basis of the question. The lower right cards represent destiny, spiritual forces or karma beyond the control of the querent; as such, these three cards are to be regarded as advice.

Thoth 15-card Divination Tarot Spread

The Fifteen-card spread has six cards (centre and lower left) that represent the questioner. This can produce surprising insights. It is often not realised quite how much the question and its likely outcome is determined by the spiritual, mental and emotional state of the questioner.

Thoth Tarot Spread Example

Here is an example of the cards on the top right and the top left in agreement.

Thoth 15-card Tarot Example

The cards Adjustment VIII and The Priestess II mirror each other; they are both feminine figures, represented by Libra and the Moon respectively. The Five of Disks mirrors the Prince of Disks; the Ten of Wands mirrors the Nine of Wands. Since the two sets of cards are clearly in agreement, there is a flow or natural development of the future, reading from right to left.

Tarot Dignities

Traditionally, the cards on either side are used to evaluate the meaning of the centre card. The elemental qualities of classical hermeticism are used.

Fire and Water contrary ∴ Wands and Cups inimical
Fire and Air complementary ∴ Wands and Swords mutual
Fire and Earth complementary ∴ Wands and Disks mutual
Water and Air complementary ∴ Cups and Swords mutual
Water and Earth complementary ∴ Cups and Disks mutual
Air and Earth contrary ∴ Swords and Disks inimical

If (for example) a card of Wands has a Wand on either side, it is greatly strengthened for good or ill, according to the nature of the cards on either side. If a card of Wands has a Cup on either side, it is greatly weakened for good or ill, according to the nature of the cards on either side. If a card of Wands has a Sword or Disk card on either side, it is moderately strengthened by those cards, according to their nature.

If a card of Wands has a Cup (inimical) on one side, and a Sword (mutual) on the other side, it is said that the ‘Sword takes the Cup to the Wand’ and the Wand is moderately strengthened according to the nature of the two cards on either side. But if the Wand has on one side a Sword and on the other side a Disk, it is said that the two cards on the outside cancel or neutralise each other, since Swords and Disks are opposite in nature. In that case the two cards on either side have little or no effect on the Wand in the centre.

Trump cards, as a rule, greatly outweigh the small cards; their operation is on a different plane and in a reading they tend to represent spiritual forces or destiny. One must be careful, therefore, when there is a mixture of trumps and small cards. The trump cards correspond to zodiacal, planetary and elemental forces. Fortune X (for example) corresponds to Jupiter, and so if this card appeared with The Hermit IX, which corresponds to Virgo, the effect would be similar to that of Jupiter in Virgo in an astrological chart. The Tower XVI corresponds to Mars and so if this card appeared with The Empress IV, the trump for Venus, the action would be similar to Mars aspecting Venus in an astrological chart.

Thoth Tarot and Outer Planets

The three elemental trumps can be problematical. The Fool 0 (for example) is the primary element of Air. What if this card appears with The Devil XV, corresponding to Capricorn, a cardinal Earth sign? Air and Earth are inimical, yet the trumps are more than elemental; they are composite glyphs that mirror the paths of the Tree of Life. Two trump cards will not simply ‘cancel out’.

Thoth Tarot Table of Primary Trumps

Fortunately the outer planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto, can be assigned to the elemental trumps. The effect of The Devil XV and The Fool 0 together can be taken as similar to that of Uranus in Capricorn.

In any reading one should look first to see if there is a predominance of any element or type. Many Wands in a reading, for example, would indicate much energy and activity. A majority of court cards would indicate that many persons were involved in the question, or there is much social activity. A large number of trumps in a reading indicate forces of destiny or karma involved with the question.


© Oliver St. John 2012, 2019

Each of the 12 Thoth Tarot zodiacal trumps are fully explained here, with key Qabalistic references.

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Mystery of Sokar

Sokar (or Seker) means ‘pure’. Depending on how the name is spelled, there is also a link with the principle of power itself (sekhem), for Sokar is Lord of Death and Resurrection. He is sometimes depicted as a mummified hawk and at other times as a white mound or shroud surmounted by a black hawk’s head.

Egyptian God SokarAccording to EA Wallis Budge, Sokar was “originally a power of darkness, or of the night”.[1] As such, his attributes are identical with those of Set. Sokar is called the ‘great god, who came into being in the beginning, he who resteth upon the darkness’. As such he was ancient even when the Pyramids were built, as are his rites. Among other of his titles are ‘He who raises up in the desert’ and ‘Dweller in the secret place, king of eternity, power of the everlasting’. The region of the underworld particularly associated with Sokar is Imhet (or Amhet), meaning ‘Abode of the Desert’. He is also ‘Lord of the gates of the tomb’ as the opener of the sealed entrances to the labyrinthine Necropolis. As lord of transformations in the underworld he is depicted as winged and standing on the back of a serpent. He is sometimes depicted as crowned with a disc and the twin plumes of Ma’at.

Sokar’s chief cult centre was at Memphis, which was also the principle cult centre of Ptah. Sokar was frequently merged with the attributes of Ptah, the self-created craftsman of the gods. Silver bowls and artefacts made from metal were frequently consecrated in his name. He was associated with agriculture as well as irrigation. His cult followers did rites of purification and embalming in his name.

The fiction writer Algernon Blackwood was able to convey some profound insights into the soul of Egypt, and of the vast expanse of the desert wilderness. In ‘Sand’, his writing was inspired by his experiences of the desert near Cairo.

Through this sand which was the wreck of countless geological ages, rushed life that was terrific and uplifting, too huge to include melancholy, too deep to betray itself in movement. Here was the stillness of eternity. Behind the spread grey masque of apparent death lay stores of accumulated life, ready to break forth at any point. In the Desert he felt himself absolutely royal.

And this contrast of Life, veiling itself in Death, was a contradiction that somehow intoxicated. The Desert exhilaration never left him. He was never alone. A companionship of millions went with him, and he felt the Desert close, as stars are close to one another, or grains of sand.

Hennu Boat of Sokar

Of all the rites of Sokar the procession of the hennu boat is perhaps the most striking and unique to him. The Sokar boat or hennu represents the sun’s journey by night through the underworld. The image of the hawk-headed Sokar was placed in a boat shaped like a sledge with runners. The boat was never intended to sail on water, it was built to be carried, and was said by some to be steered by the dead. If so, then the navigation took place among the stars, for the hennu was an astral vessel.

Depictions of Sokar in the hennu boat sometimes show his hawk’s head only, while his body is covered in a white, luminous shroud. According to Antoine Gigal, the shroud was made of special luminous cells.[2] The luminosity is the covering of ‘all that is created and all that can ever be created’. On the day of the festival of Sokar, the high priest raised up an ark or small wooden shrine at the moment of sunrise and placed it on the hennu boat. The shrine and hennu boat was then pulled along across the sands in a circular procession about the temple of the god, mirroring the revolution of the sun, planets or other celestial bodies.

The higher end of the sledge was fashioned in the shape of the head of an oryx, a species of desert antelope and the original type of the unicorn. The hennu boat was in the charge of the High Priest of Memphis, called Ur-kherp-hem, ‘Great One of the Hammer’, a reference to Ptah as cosmic creator god.

We associate Sokar with Scorpio and the month of October, which according to the alchemists is the only time when iron can be turned into gold.[3] The desert oryx, a gentle creature unless attacked, seems an unlikely association. However, Scorpio’s twin sign in the Zodiac is Taurus, denoting a horned beast, and October embraces the Sun’s entry into Sagittarius, the Centaur.

‘Oryx’ is an anglicisation of the Greek ορυξ, derived from the Libyan orus, ‘digger’. The white Arabic oryx is known to dig out a bed in the sand to keep cool. The desert beast can survive for long periods without water, like the camel. It can detect rainfall at a great distance and can travel thousands of miles in pursuit of the water.

Sokar Boat: Oryx maau-hetch hieroglyphsThe hieroglyphic determinative for ‘oryx’ is frequently mistaken for that of a goat. The Egyptian name is ma’au hetch, denoting the bright white colour of the Arabian species of oryx and the straightness (ma’at) of its horn. The ma’au is cognate with ‘truth’, ‘regularly and always’, ‘purity’ and ‘a gift’. According to Budge it is also the name of ‘a star’ and ‘a god’.[4] Taking all into consideration the star may be Regulus, heart of the Lion constellation. Ma’au is the name of Apep in the form of a lion-serpent, the most ancient astroglyph for Leo. The lion-serpent image combines Leo (lion) with Scorpio (snake). The eagle is a further symbol of Scorpio frequently paired with the lion in alchemy. Hetech means ‘white’, ‘shining’, and the name can be spelled with a stylised staff and shen loop for ‘eternity’. The name is etymologically linked with ‘elders’ and ‘nobility’. The Egyptian name of the oryx is usually spelled in hieroglyphics with the sickle ma’a, ‘Lion of Truth’. The same hieroglyph, in combination with the hetch mace, denotes any sharp instrument as well as the action of digging or piercing.

Sokar and the Unicorn

The oryx is mentioned six times in the King James Bible. The Aramaic re’em is mistranslated there as ‘unicorn’. The same word was translated into Greek as monokeros (μονoκερως) in the Septuagint. In Psalm 22: 21, the word karen, meaning ‘horn’, is written in the singular form. According to Jewish folklore, when King David was a shepherd he was carried up into the sky by an oryx after he mistook its horn for a mountain. He is then saved by the intervention of a passing lion, which causes the oryx to bow its head in respect. Another legend has it that Noah strapped the long, sharp horns of the oryx to the Ark so the animals inside could breathe.[5] The transposition of the tale of Noah’s Ark from that of the exceedingly ancient hennu boat is fairly obvious. There were long held associations between the oryx, the lion—with its connotations of nobility—and mountains, as ‘high’, ‘strong’.

The Aramaic re’em (RAM) has the value of 241 and is a metathesis of aramea (ARM), ‘mountain or mountainous place’. It is also equal to ‘speak forth, command or give a word’ (AMR) and is the root of Genesis I: 3, “And the Elohim said, Let there be light: and there was light”. The number 241 is that of Albarah, ‘wings of God’, which is a term used in alchemy for Mercury or Quicksilver. As with other species of antelope, the oryx is able to run at great speed.

The word ‘oryx’ is used as a name for a stonemason’s pickaxe, owing to the strength and sharpness of the creature’s horn, and possibly owing to the fact that the oryx sometimes uses it to excavate the desert sand. In Greek it has the value 630, equal to ‘Holy Spirit’ (RVChA QDIShA) and Seraphim (ShRPIM), ‘fiery serpents’.

The oryx carries the secret of the Lord of the Necropolis in its heart and its name, which is a reliquary for a vast tract of forgotten knowledge. The Golden Dawn named the initiate of Hod, the 8th sephira, Monokeros de Astris, ‘unicorn of the stars’. Hod is the Temple of Water on the Hermetic Tree of Life, and at the same time corresponds to Mercury. The unicorn is thus an apt cipher for the way of returning through the double gates of the underworld to the abode of the Gods.

Lord of the Necropolis

Sokar is and has always been Lord of the Saqqara Necropolis near Memphis and Giza. In predynastic times, a labyrinth was dug out of the desert sands beneath the Saqqara complex. Finely fashioned, highly polished granite arks weighing upwards of 50 tons were placed in cavities there. The arks or vessels are cathodic, for they are polished like glass on the inside. There are no historical records of the builders of these impossible artefacts but they are thought by some to be the ‘old ones’ or ‘elders’ referred to in sacred texts, or their descendants.

The Great Old Ones is a term used in scriptures referring to an elder race that pre-existed that of the human, indistinguishable from gods. Either they, or their descendants, are referred to in the book of Genesis as Nephilim or ‘giants’, ‘men of renown’. Between Memphis and the Saqqara Necropolis was once a sacred acacia tree. One of the Egyptian names for Memphis is Ankh-Tawy, ‘Life of the Two Lands’. Thus the Tree of Eternity spreads its roots and branches between the worlds of the living and the dead.


1. Budge, Gods of the Egyptians Vol. I, pp. 504–505.
2. The Mystery of the Sokar Hennu Boat, Antoine Gigal, 2013. From Gigal Research—Archaeological and historical researches.
3. The month of Scorpio (October–November) is the ‘death’ of the year in the northern hemisphere of the globe. Thus the Tarot card Death XIII, corresponding to Scorpio, is called Child of the Great Transformers: Lord of the Gate of Death.
4. Budge, An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Volume I, pp. 270 A.
5. Robert Graves, Hebrew Myths: The Book of Genesis, Chapter 7, ‘The Reem and the Ziz’.

The portrait of Sokar at the head of the article is from Egyptian Tarot of Thelema Sokar XIII. The Tarot card and its full description can be viewed here at Ordo Astri.

© Oliver St. John 2019

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Aleister Crowley and Thelema—Equinox of the Gods

Aleister Crowley preferred to cast himself in the mould of the Eliatic Greek school, going so far as to adopt the argumentative methods and intellectual idealism of Socrates.

Crowley Equinox: Bulaq Stele of RevealingThe (Egyptian) Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, rails against such reasoning and argument. The rationalist science of today has its roots firmly immersed in the clay of classical Greek dogma. Thus scientism is not only against nature but has also tricked mankind with its stream of inventions. Through technological means it has propagated lies and confusion. Its sole requirement is that we believe and obey.

Natural law (or Thelema) is in fact esoteric. Esotericism is at the core of the Book of the Law, but it is precisely the logic-defying nature of this doctrine that leads Thelemites to embrace what is an essentially isolationist interpretation of the path.[1]

The aim of magick is, or should be, no different from the goal of yoga, ‘union with God’. Religion however, as with scientism, is about belief. The value of belief is in the telling of a good story but that is ultimately a bar to Gnosis. The ancient Egyptians had no word in their language for ‘religion’; the concept did not exist for them. The Book of the Law is a transmission from an ancient Egyptian source. As such, it is a knowledge stream that vastly predates both science and religion. According to the Book of the Law, III: 2,

There is division hither homeward; there is a word not known. Spelling is defunct; all is not aught. Beware! Hold! Raise the spell of Ra-Hoor-Khuit!

‘All is not aught’ is a succinct though subtle refutation of certain streams of the Eastern philosophy as subverted by Western academic atheism. The circle of ‘all’ is the infinite expression of all possibility (Nuit), as defined by the point (Hadit), the esoteric factor. The absence of sense objects is not the same as ‘nothing at all’. In Qabalah, the source of all, AIN, is called ‘negativity’, as it is beyond description. Yet even AIN has a dual meaning, for it is the eye (A’ain) of the beholder. Postmodern or faux Non-Dualism declares that ‘everything is true and equally untrue’.

The statement declares a ‘truth’ (untruth) that is descriptive only of human reason, denying even the possibility of reality. As symbol, it admits only to relativism, and falls back ultimately on self-determinism and self-love as the solution to the dilemma it produces.[2]

Causal determinism originated with Socrates, who demanded there should be a naturalistic explanation for all sacred myths.[3] The prevailing dogma of scientism owes to this ancient Greek argument. In the 19th century, Schopenhauer put forward his doctrine of self-willed intellectual determinism in The World as Will and Representation (1818). This is the basis of Crowley’s rationalist interpretation of the Law of Thelema. It is the basis of today’s academic psychologisation of the mysteries. The postmodern school of the ‘Left Hand path’ also requires causal determinism as its philosophical basis.

The dogmatic assumption is that there is a natural order of the cosmos that is rationally comprehensible (and so limiting). Such a natural order is not even differentiated from, say, social order or convention. It then follows, if one accepts this, that one must isolate or separate one’s intelligence from this situation to resolve the paradox with free will and achieve meaningful individual expression.[4]

Taken to the logical extreme, the postmodern Left Hand path school of thought produces the self-confining, self-limiting doctrine of Isolate Intelligence.[5]

Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita, the Hindu sage and devotee of Kali, held a view that reconciled the inevitable nihilism and isolationism of rational Non-Dualism with the apparent emotionalism of devotional mysticism.

God has form and He is formless too. Further, He is beyond both form and formlessness. No one can limit Him.[6]

Crowley and the Equinox of the Gods

It is probable that Crowley received the writing of the Book of the Law on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd April 1904, not the 8th, 9th and 10th as he subsequently claimed. This was first noted by Kenneth Grant, who studied the diaries and holograph MSS of Crowley at first hand.[7] The time and date of Crowley’s birth is a documented fact. By his own admission his recorded time of birth indicated that Cancer, ruled by the Moon, was rising on the hour.[8] Crowley much preferred the fiery solar-masculine sign of Leo the Lion over the watery, feminine-lunar Cancer the Crab. He therefore simply changed the time of his birth to suit.

Does it matter? If it matters at all, then it matters only for the purposes of understanding how practical magick works. When a magical operation is performed on the Equinox of Aries (20th March, the initiation of the Cairo working), the fulmination of that work arrives with the full Moon. In 1904, the full Moon in Libra very nearly coincided with Easter (Friday 1st April), and there was a lunar eclipse so that any corresponding events would be marked ever more deeply.

None of this need be of any concern to historians or scholars of the life and times of Aleister Crowley. Let it be then, that Crowley wrote down the book on the 8th, 9th and 10th April 1904. Then we can all sleep safe in our beds.

Crowley and Ouarda the Seer

Equinox of the Gods: Ouarda the Seer, Rose Edith KellyShould it bother us that Crowley suppressed the truth concerning the role of his wife, Rose or Ouarda the Seer, in the reception of the Book of the Law? As she was the mediumistic agent throughout the Cairo Working, Rose may very well have received and telepathically (or otherwise) transmitted the book to the scribe Crowley. This would account for the instructions on practice given him in the middle of the second chapter that he clearly refused to obey. It would account for the fact of Rose’s handwritten notes added to the manuscript, not to mention that even by his own account the ‘Beast’ had to consult with her concerning his anxiety over the neologism, ‘unfragmentary’ (Liber XXX, I: 26). After that, the tone of the book becomes increasingly cryptic and menacing—hence the second verse of the third chapter that we have quoted.

Wise Words and Foolish

Some have interpreted, “there is a word not known” (AL, III: 2), as meaning that Crowley somehow failed to utter a word to inaugurate the New Aeon. The Aeon that subsequently ensued was abortive, so it is said. This has deluded some (including perhaps Crowley) into thinking an actual word—a word that can be spelled or spoken—is a necessary part of the equipment of a Magus that is somehow in charge or governance of an entire epoch in the history of human civilisation. Some have posited that an Aeon of Ma’at swiftly superseded Crowley’s Aeon of Horus.[9] This was later qualified by Kenneth Grant as a dual Aeon of Horus-Maat. Grant also made much mention in his books and letters of a ‘Wordless Aeon’. Others would have it that all aeons in time are presided over by Horus and Ma’at in both ancient Egyptian and astrological terms. The balance of the year is Aries and Libra. There is nothing in the Book of the Law about any ‘New Aeon’. All of this has introduced some bewilderment in the minds of those who wish to find truth in written words and historical facts, so called. According to Liber AL, III: 75,

The ending of the words is the Word Abrahadabra.

ABRAHADABRA adds Qabalistically to 418. It appears in the Key of Solomon as a spell for invisibility; one of the original forms of the spell was ABRAKALA.[9] Crowley’s favoured interpretation was typically solar-phallic, ‘Father-Sun-Satan’. However, the seven-lettered ABRAKALA expresses the power of the divine creatrix, summed up in 256 or 16 x 16, the shade of the full Moon. There are three colours for the face of the White Goddess, white, black and red. She is either visible, invisible or in eclipse. During eclipse, a shade appears ahead of time, so to speak, thanks to the intervention of the body of the earth. Thus the powers of a lunar eclipse include prophecy, divination and oracular utterance.

One thing we can be certain of is that Rose Edith Kelly (Rose Crowley) was the Pythoness and oracular seer that brought us the Book of the Law.


1. From ‘Lapis Philosophorum’, Babalon Unveiled! Thelemic Monographs [Ordo Astri].
2. ‘Lapis Philosophorum’ [ibid].
3. See R.A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Sacred Science (pp. 18, Inner Traditions International) and Plato’s Phaedrus for the naturalistic explanation that Socrates gives for all sacred myths. The interested reader is encouraged to read the Foreword by Robert Graves to his second edition of The White Goddess, as it is relevant in the present context [Faber and Faber].
4. ‘Lapis Philosophorum’ [ibid].
5. Isolate Intelligence is the core doctrine of some postmodern Left-hand path occult organisations. The Temple of Set, founded by Michael Aquino, is a notable example as Aquino coined the term. Zos Kia Cultus, ‘Self-Love’ and ‘As-If’ cults also posit the Isolate Intelligence or ‘single Self as supreme reality’.
6. Recorded by Sri Mandiram, March 11, 1883: Conversations with Sri Ramakrishna [Vedanta Press].
7. Kenneth Grant, Beyond the Mauve Zone p. 34 [Starfire Publishing].
8. Confessions of Aleister Crowley, by Aleister Crowley.
9. A disaffected disciple of Crowley, Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad) posited an Aeon of Ma’at as commencing from 1948 e.v. Cf. The Incoming of the Aeon of Maat [Starfire Publishing].
10. See also ABRQRBA, another less corrupt form of ‘Abrahadabra’.

© Oliver St. John, 2018, 2022 (Revised)

Related articles
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Magick of the Aries Equinox
Crisis of the Modern Age
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