I have never been a fan of Aleister Crowley, one of the big personalities in early 20th century tarot. However, I am grateful for his contributions. His was one of the clashing egos that led to the breakup of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult group that was active in England until the late 1800’s. The split of that group precipitated the unveiling of its Secrets — including tarot. Crowley wrote, taught, and eventually created the Thoth Tarot deck, which adds layers of astrology and Jewish mysticism to the standard tarot platform. Without Crowley and the undoing of the Golden Dawn, tarot might still be in the shadows today.
As I prepare for a trip to Sicily, I just learned that Crowley spent a happy decade in the North Sicilian town of Cefalu, before being driven out by Mussolini in 1923. He created a school of the occult and housed it in what he called the Abbey of Thelema, overlooking the sea. As it stands today, it looks more like a dilapidated crack house than anything else, and the stories I have found support that general impression. Still, I may seek out the abandoned building while I’m there. Wouldn’t you?
Pictured here are two of my favorite cards from the Thoth deck, which was painted by Lady Freida Harris over the course of many years. It was not published until 1969, after both she and Crowley had died.
I am excited for this trip! I’m flying through London where I will attend the London Tarot Festival of 2017. (Angling for a speaker’s position in 2018, doncha think?) Then to Palermo, where I will meet up with card-playing friends who have been practicing “Scopa!” and other games played with the Sicilian deck — an obvious derivation of 15th century tarot. While I explore catacombs and ruins, and keep and eye on the rumblings of Mt. Etna, I will be on the lookout for visceral connections to my own Italian ancestors, the Caiazzo family. More to come.
While I am abroad, I am putting my readings on hold. But you can schedule ahead to mid-June and later by visiting my online scheduling software.