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The Crystal Gate - Tarot

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Interview With Lon Milo DuQuette

I was a bit behind the times when I read my first work by noted author/lecturer Lon Milo DuQuette - which was The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford. I had read so much about it, and had heard such wonderful stories about Mr. DuQuette as a presenter at Tarot seminars, that I finally decided that I needed to know a bit more than I did (which was close to nothing!) about the Qabalah. I was not disappointed. A large dose of humor was exactly what I needed to wash the Qabalah down! When Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot came out, I was sure of two things: (a) that I wanted to read it, and (b) that I hoped that the humor did not detract from Crowley's work. Again - I was not disappointed. I consider this to be an excellent reference for working with the Thoth Tarot, and for at least attempting to follow Crowley's writing. The following is a little trip into time with Lon Milo DuQuette, his thoughts on his work, and on the present and future of Tarot.

BC: What is the history behind your involvement with Tarot, and with ceremonial magick?

LMD: I guess you could say that I came to both Tarot and ceremonial magick by way of the Thoth Tarot.

Actually, in the early 70’s (wow, I’m dating myself there) I joined the Rosicrucian Order AMORC and became very interested in the western mysteries and Qabalah. A few of my Rosicrucian colleagues suggested I take the Builders of the Adytum (BOTA) Tarot correspondence course. Although BOTA doesn’t encourage the use of Tarot for divinatory purposes, their correspondence is one of the (if not the) finest introduction to the mysteries of the Tarot available. I eventually ran across an early edition of the Thoth Tarot at a Pickwick Bookstore (again I’m dating myself). I thought it was the most beautiful deck in the world. The name Aleister Crowley range a bell so I consulted a cheap occult dictionary to discover “an infamous Scottish Satanist.” After freaking out a couple times I finally decided this guy was worth looking into (no matter bizarre and frightening the stories were). The address of the O.T.O. was on one of the promotional cards that came the Thoth deck, and so I eventually wrote to find out more. I’ve been in the O.T.O. and studying ceremonial magick now for nearly 30 years.

BC: What words of wisdom do you have for someone just starting out on either (or both!) of these paths today?

LMD: Words of wisdom…hmmm (I mutter as I stroke my sliver beard). Don’t be afraid and don’t make magick your life…make your life magick. Always keep in mind that your studies and practices (Tarot, magick, yoga, whatever) are only tools for your own development. Don’t become so focused on the tools that you forget what you’re using them for. And for heaven’s sake, don’t lose your sense of humor. If you don’t have one …. go out and get one.

BC: How does your work in the Thelemic world color your path in the Tarot world?

LMD: Less than you might think. I’m comfortable with Crowley’s title and attribute changes with the Trumps, but frankly, that stuff doesn’t make much sense unless you’re are familiar with the traditional titles and attributes. I teach pretty much the traditional elements and only after that is well ingrained in the student’s mind do I bring up how things may or may not be tweaked because of the changes brought about by the dynamics of the New Aeon.

BC: How did you manage to move from the beloved Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford to the oft mis-understood Aleister Crowley? Did you ever feel that your work with the OTO would be compromised in any way by writing this book? What would you like us to know about Crowley?

LMD: We compromise the air in the room with every breath we take. Even so, I don’t think my work with the O.T.O. is in any way compromised by writing this book. In fact, I consider my writings an extension of my O.T.O. work.

The Rabbi is my favorite alter ego. He can say things I can’t get away with. For Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot I had to take off my yarmulke and "put the sandals from off my feet" because I realized the ground I was walking upon was "holy ground". I tried the best I could to keep the DuQuette-isms to a minimum and be an accurate Crowley delivery system (all the while making him understandable).

Of course, there are legions of Crowley purists who just hate it that I dare try to rob readers of the "initiatory ordeal" of floundering in the dark for decades (like they and I had to do) seeking out rare Crowley manuscripts and out of print books (like they and I had to do), combing footnotes and crossed referenced volumes (like they and I had to do), misreading Crowley’s blinds, typos, and fool-traps (like they and I did). To them I respectfully say … ”Thanks for buying my books anyway.”

BC: Where does the reprinting of The Magick Of Thelema (reprinted as The Magick of Aleister Crowley) fall into all of this?

LMD: The release ten years ago of The Magick of Thelema, was a real gamble both for me and my publisher. The challenges were formidable. Crowley’s reputation as a black magician and the “wickedest man in the world” didn’t help. My goal was to write a book that would make Crowley’s introductory text, Magick in Theory & Practice, understandable to a broader audience, and to do it without dumbing the material down.

Not everybody agrees I succeeded, but enough people keep buying it and writing nice things about it, that it was suggested I try to do the same thing with another hard-to-understand Crowley masterpiece, The Book of Thoth, so I took three years and wroteUnderstanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot.

In a way M.O.T. and Understanding are Volumes I & II of "Lon Does Crowley” So my editor suggested that for its 10th Anniversary we reformat M.O.T. (with added chapters and other new material) and re-launch it as The Magick of Aleister Crowley along with the release of Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot.

BC: Aside from your own book (or rather, including your own book!), what references do you recommend to those wishing to truly understand and work with the Thoth Tarot?

LMD: Let me start by saying one can appreciate and work with the Thoth Tarot the moment he or she takes the cards out of the box. They are 78 pieces of high magical art, and for those not inclined to clutter their intuitive minds or subjective consciousness with magical doctrines or qabalistic correspondences they should not feel obliged in any way to study these things.

Others, however, should first be generally well educated in Tarot fundamentals. I don’t hesitate to recommend Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Paul Case’s Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, the Cicero’s Golden Dawn Magical Tarot, and of course my ownTarot of Ceremonial Magick.

There are also plenty of books that reprint the images of the Thoth Tarot. They are all excellent Tarot books and worthy of study. But in all frankness, (and with all due respect to the authors) few of them address any of the specific magical and Thelemic issues that make the Thoth Tarot the Thoth Tarot.

Crowley’s The Book of Thoth is of course the ultimate authoritative text, and because it seems to change with each reading, I recommend that the serious student read it and re-read regularly. To really get to understand the deck one should also be acquainted with the magical work of Aleister Crowley, especially The Book of the Law, and The Vision and the Voice where much of the imagery of the Thoth Tarot is drawn.

BC: How does understanding the history of the Thoth Tarot, or of any Tarot deck, for that matter, help in working with the deck?

LMD: It depends on what you mean by "working with the deck." From a fortunetelling point of view I don’t think it is at all necessary to understand the history of the deck. On the other hand, if one is meditating upon magical or alchemical matters it might be very important. But let’s remember that Crowley and Harris were just the vehicles for the creation of the Thoth Tarot. The deck is their ‘child,’ and it is now an independent living entity. While it’s important to know a bit about the parents it’s even more important to form an individual and intimate relationship with the child.

BC: Now that we are speaking of history - how does the deck that you created, The Tarot Of Ceremonial Magick, fit into all of this?

LMD: As we both know, the structure of the Tarot (whether by design or miraculous coincidence) is based upon some very basic and profound principals of the Qabalah. The twenty-two trumps correspond to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet and are assigned elemental, planetary, and zodiacal meanings as outlined in Qablalistic texts. The ten small cards of each suit position themselves comfortably on the schematic known as the Tree of Life. The four suits represent the four letters in the Great Name Yod, He, Vav, He four parts of the human soul four Qabalistic Worlds, etc. broken down and subdivided with anal retentive neatness to reveal a hierarchy of natural forces that are personified as aspects of the Divine, Archangels, Angels, Spirits and Intelligences. All this is projected into the cosmos and organized by seasons, right down to the individual degrees of the zodiacal year.

Simply because the Tarot is organized and divided the way it is, all this information and these concepts and spirits are hiding just under the paint and ink of the individual cards of every Tarot deck. What I did with the Tarot of Ceremonial Magick was to actually print much of this information and the traditional names and symbols of these spiritual entities on the cards themselves. It is a reference deck, and index, an encyclopedia of qabalistic and magical correspondences for any deck that you may fancy. Please go out and buy a six-pack of them.

BC: How do you see the worlds of Magick and Tarot intersecting? For me, ritual and ceremony have a purpose, and Tarot fits right in there nicely. I also like the intent behind a deck that is heavily into the esoteric and magickal - it opens up what the work that is being done can be.

LMD: I agree.

BC: What projects, Tarot related or otherwise, do you have up your sleeve for the near future? I know that I personally look forward to new work from you, for many reasons, amongst which are the humor that they contain, and the healthy dose of irreverent commentary "hidden" within - all of which leads to a new perspective on life!

LMD: That is so kind of you to say. Of course I’ll be speaking at PantheaCon in San Jose on February 14th, and on May 16th Thalassa and the Daughters of Divination are hosting what they call a San Francisco THOTH-A-PALOOZA! where I’ll really get into the cards. I’ve also got things scheduled for Chicago, New York City, Fayetteville Ark., Portland, and the DC area. I think I’ll be back in London this summer. Please check my website regularly.

My newest book project is an off-beat (maybe over-the-top) book on divination. The working title is Funny You Should Ask … How to be a Fortuneteller with Stuff You Have Laying Around the House. It will include among many other things the text of my Tarot of the Painful Truth and the Yi Ching of Mi-Lo. We should see that in 2005 from Weiser. My autobiography, My Life with the Spirits, has been optioned for a feature film, and I just finished a screenplay for a feature film about Aleister Crowley. As film is a new world to me I am keeping my expectations low.

BC: How do you see the Tarot world today, and where do you see it headed?

LMD: How is it today? Obviously there is great interest in Tarot all around the world. It is in many circles starting to take its deserved place among the other spiritual arts of the west. It is also becoming a tool of modern psychology. Have your read Dr. Art Rosengarten's Tarot and Psychology? Good stuff!

Where do I see it headed? I’m going ask that question and draw a card from the Thoth Tarot.

And the answer is ... Atu XX, THE AEON. (thank Goddess it wasn’t a court card!)

The Aeon is Crowley’s version of the old Last Judgment card which depicted the ending of the last Aeon, the Aeon of Osiris, when humanity feared death in the same way our ancestors fear the death of the Sun every night and every winter. In the new Aeon, represented by the child Horus, we know the Sun does not die, that death is also an illusion and that life is process of continual growth. I see the Tarot as a living entity that will also grow and blossom in this new age.

BC: Is there anything that you would like to say that I have not asked about? (Door left wide open!)

LMD: First of all, thank you so much for this opportunity to share my thoughts with your readers. Sometimes I don’t know what I really think about things until someone asks me. I have to say your questions were very good and I learned a lot about myself answering them.

I guess if I’m to leave any parting words it would be to encourage everyone who is passionate about the Tarot, or Magick, or any spiritual practice or discipline to also cultivate a rich life in the so-called ‘normal’ world. Have non-occult friends, hobbies and interests. Don’t forget you are part of a community, a country, a world. It does no good try to change the world with your magick. You can only change yourself. Change yourself with your magick and then YOU change the world.

BC: I want to thank Lon Milo DuQuette for taking the time to do this interview during the very busy holiday season (and while he is still recuperating from his trip to London!). For more information about Lon, and his work, please visit his site:

© January 2004
Bonnie Cehovet

The Tarot Connection - The Tarot Podcast dedicated to the traditional, historic and modern Tarot.