Anyone who studies Wicca, Paganism or the Tarot will eventually run up against the Qabalah and Ceremonial Magic. The Qabalah (which means 'tradition') is a key part of ancient Jewish mysticism, but much of the literature written about these subjects revolves around the works of Aleister Crowley, who produced some of the most involved and intriguing manuscripts and books on the subject, as part of his ongoing studies with the Golden Dawn. Over a five year period at the beginning of World War II, he designed a set of Tarot Cards, which were beautifully brought to life by the masterful artistry of his friend Lady Harris. Within these 78 cards were captured the concept, meaning and purpose of the Qabalah, the Tree of Life, and the nature of Deity.
As beautiful as these images were (they remain one of the best-selling Tarot decks on the market today), understanding more than their surface meaning has been for most a frustrating and confusing journey, due in no small part to Crowley himself, via his arcane and mysterious writings in such works as The Book of Thoth,The Book of the Law and several others.
Fortunately for those of us that have the attention span of hummingbird, Lon Milo DuQuette has produced a book that tears away a lot of the mystique and takes us through the Thoth Tarot, The Tree of Life, The Qabalah and the Rosy Cross, in very concise and easy to understand language. As a member of Crowley's legacy order, OTO, he is uniquely qualified to write this sorely needed guidebook.
[PNN] Do you need to be familiar with the Thoth Tarot to make use of this book?
[LMDQ] Certainly not. In fact I wrote "Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot" in order introduce the deck to people who are completely unfamiliar with it's fascinating beauty and magick. Initially, however, I'm sure it will be of greatest interest to the thousands of people worldwide who already own and use the Thoth Tarot deck and have for years been frustrated in their efforts to learn more about it.
Crowley's own text, The Book of Thoth, is the ultimate authoritative text, but it is way over the head of even very knowledgeable students. It reads like a post-graduate treatise. Over the years it seems I've developed the curious ability to 'translate' Crowley and make his truly important works more understandable and assessable. I guess that's why I was approached to write this book.
Lon Milo DuQuette (Photo courtesy of Carl Abrammson)
[PNN] When tracing the path of people who come to study paganism in all its various forms, the most common route seems to be via the so called 'New-Age' route with its uplifting world view, crystals and incense. As people then become more interested in Paganism and Wicca, at some point they eventually run into Aleister Crowley, and many run scampering into the trees at that point for fear of falling into the Abyss. Is Crowley simply misunderstood, or do you think the symbolism he called upon was designed exactly for that purpose - to ward off the faint of heart?
[LMDQ] I think you've hit the nail squarely on the head. Remember the old TV series Kung Fu? In one of the flashbacks young Cane knocks on the door to the temple and asks to be admitted to the holy order. The monk at the door says "No. Go away!" But Cane doesn't go away. He stands outside the temple door. He stands there while it rains and snows. Finally, after months, the door opens and young Cane is admitted. Crowley's horrifying reputation and the terrifying symbolism by which he taught (concepts that are truly un-terrifying, beautiful and holy) serve not only as the 'monk at the door,' who screens out the lazy and unworthy, but are also the rain and the snow that toughens the tenacious aspirant...making him or her stronger the better to endure the ordeals of initiation.
[PNN] In several areas in "Understanding Alistair Crowley's Thoth Tarot" you mention your own initial (and long time) trepidation at studying Crowley. How did you overcome this?
[LMDQ] You're right. Crowley scared me to death at first, and doubts lingered for a long time. As a matter of fact, even after I had studied quite a bit and applied for initiation into Ordo Templi Orientis (the magical order he led) I still had fears that I was going to be raped and eaten by members some kind of Lovecraftian Cult.
How did I overcome this? Luck! I was lucky to meet and study with people who knew Crowley -- were students of Crowley - McMurtry, Regardie, Seckler - people who really knew first-hand the true history of the events of his life and the circumstances that gave rise to the horrifying and ridiculous rumors and accusations that dogged this remarkable man his whole life and continued after his death. Yes, I was very lucky indeed, and it appears that it's part of my great work to pass some of that luck around.
[PNN] Many people who overcome their fears of being cast into the fiery pit of Christian mythology, begin to study Crowley only to find that much of his work reads like instructions for programming your VCR. What motivated you to keep going when so much of his work can be quite simply incomprehensible to the novice?
[LMDQ] Good question. It's a good question because I am the laziest person in the world. And don't think I'm being graciously modest...I truly am the laziest person in the world. Ask my wife Constance. Again, I have to credit my luck in knowing individuals who were very knowledgeable in these matters who were willing to answer my questions. Oddly enough, however, there were many questions they could not answer and these mysteries became for me a holy quest.
[PNN] You mention that even as a Crowley expert, your theories and opinions are continually re-examined and revised. Crowley dogma espouses the idea of there being "no dogma" - indeed, the Book of the Law states in the comments that study of it is forbidden. Can you discuss this entire phenomenon of open interpretation?
[LMDQ] It's great isn't it? The Book of the Law is a very strange book indeed. Immediately after reading it for the first time I (in an act of fear and stupidity) glued the pages together and burned it in a flaming bowl of rubbing alcohol.
Is it really a holy book? Is it a divine revelation? It is to me - and it would be even if it were written by Crowley as an elaborate hoax. It's holy because it frees you to make it holy. Rabbi Ben Clifford says, "Look hard enough at anything, and you will eventually see everything." The Buddhists say the Buddha can be found in "five pounds of flax" or in excrement.
The Book of the Law is unique among all holy books - a holy book that commands that you allow no one to interpret its meaning for another. (you're not even obliged to interpret the command as a command!) No priest, no bishop, no pope, no imam, no cult can define and crystallize any so-called revealed "Truth" and make it a chain to bind thought and behavior.
What if it wasn't any kind of divine revelation? What if it was a hoax or practical joke? It doesn't matter! It would still be a magical and holy book if only for the fact that if you ... "Look hard enough at anything, you will eventually see everything." [PNN] Do you have any other projects lined up? Perhaps a similar book for assistance with 'The Vision and the Voice' , or 'The Equinox'?
[LMDQ] I'm just finishing up a new book for Weiser that is scheduled for 2005 release. It's about divination and how bizarre and unlikely things can serve as oracles. The working title is, "Funny You Should Ask." In it will be my Tarot of the Painful Truth, The Mark Twain Oracle, and the I Ching of Mi-Lo.
My autobiograpy, My Life with the Spirits, has been optioned for a feature film (of course 'optioned' doesn't mean it will ever be filmed) and I'm off to London in December for some magical workshops and shameless self-promoting.
[PNN] What would you say has been your greatest achievement to date?
[LMDQ] Staying married for thirty-six years to the most saintly human being in all four qabalistic worlds and being the father of our wonderful son.
[PNN] If you could go back in your life and change one thing, what would it be?
[LMDQ] I would have gone to the dentist more often.
[PNN] How would you want to be remembered?
[PNN] Do you have a favorite author? who?
[LMDQ]Yes. Mark Twain
[PNN] Do you have a favorite artist? who?
[PNN] Do you have a favorite group/musician?
[LMDQ] Yes. I'm an old hippie. I love the Beatles. I also love opera, Puccini, Verdi and Donizetti (for when I want to wallow in hell of my Nephesh or soar to heaven in my Neschemah), Wagner (when I try to disolve directly into godhead.)
[PNN] Do you have a favorite bumper sticker?
[LMDQ] "God's too big for one religion."
[PNN] If you drew a picture to represent your mind, body and spirit, what would you draw?
[LMDQ] Myself sitting on a playground swing, with the ropes attached to nothing. The caption would read..."Hey buddy...give me a push!"
Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot is available at better bookstores everywhere, or from the link above, or by contacting Red Wheel, Weiser and Conari Press at: (800) 423-7087 or