The Thoth and the Liber T: A Deck Comparison

I’ve used the Thoth deck with the Liber T: Tarot of Stars Eternal in two-deck readings for some time, but it never occurred to me to size them up using my “Friend or Foe” deck comparison spread. The Liber T is an almost worshipful rendering of the Crowley/Harris Thoth – at least in the Major Arcana and court cards – such that reading with it closely mirrors the Thoth experience but with brighter colors; its symbolic innovation emerges in the Minor Arcana. I used the Navigators of the Mystic SEA deck, another Thoth clone, for the intermediary “handshake” positions that connect the cards pulled in each row.

The four cards drawn for the Thoth column were the Hanged Man, the Queen of Cups, the 7 of Wands and the Ace of Cups; those for the Liber T column were the Emperor, the Moon, the Wheel of Fortune and the Hanged Man. The cards of the Navigators deck all have unique titles on them that differ from and in some cases exceed those on the Thoth cards, which only extend to the Minor Arcana. This offers an unusual perspective on the meaning of the cards in combination.

All images © U.S. Games Systems, Inc, Stamford, CT and Los Scarabeo, Torino, Italy

The first thing of note here is that all of the cards pulled for the Liber T positions were majors, almost like it’s trying too hard to become rather than just mimic its inspiration. This reminds me of the old Avis slogan: “We’re No. 2, we try harder.” Its brio also suggests another cultural reference: the bumper sticker on the back end of the starship Spaceballs I in the Mel Brooks Star Wars spoof – “We Brake for No-one.” Perhaps it’s trying to bulldoze the furrow already plowed by the Thoth many years earlier. Yet, although it comes across as a slavish copy with big ambitions, it still manages to be endearing.

Secondly, the Thoth column presents three Water cards among the four drawn, implying that it insinuates itself into the reader’s consciousness at the emotional level, something that Harris’s artwork perfectly conveys. The Liber T column mixes Fire with Water, and the deck does in fact come across as a bit more “steamy” and less contemplative overall.

In fact, this comparative reading consists almost entirely of Water and Fire, with seven instances of the first element and eight of the second one present; there is only one Air card and no Earth at all. This is telling me that these decks will cooperate most effectively in the exploration of seat-of the pants decision-making and problem-solving scenarios where “winging it” is near the top of the list of available options, and less so in those situations involving complex ideas and their orderly execution.

In the Wands row (reflecting the decks’ vitality and spirit), the Thoth Hanged Man sublimates the Fire into spiritual probing, while the Liber T’s Emperor just wallows in it. Paired, each one supplies what the other is missing: the Hanged Man lacks drive and the Emperor is short on imagination.

The “handshake” cards for this row are the Chariot and the Tower, both potent forces for change, one constructive and the other at least initially destructive.  The Tower is the numerological counterpart for the Chariot (16 = 1+6 = 7), so it weighs in when the Chariot runs headlong into a dead-end. These decks appear to have both angles covered – call it the “make-or-break” combo. The keywords on the Navigators cards are “conclusion + attention,” suggesting that the end-game in any situation examined using these decks demands  quick wits and peerless reflexes to avoid catastrophe.

In the Cups row (expressing the decks’ fluidity and sensitivity), both cards are emotionally attuned to one another; the Thoth Queen of Cups is related to Cancer in the system of Chaldean decans and the Liber T Moon (even though assigned to Pisces astrologically) rules that sign. They make a formidable duo for navigating affairs of the heart, although with some uncertainty due to the irregularity of the Moon.

The “handshake” cards here are the King of Wands and the Emperor, a fascinating double helping of authoritarian Fire in the domain of Water. In an earlier study I did a detailed alignment of the court cards with the Major Arcana, in which I called the King of Wands the “little brother” of the Emperor. There seems to be some role-reversal going on since the Thoth deck is the senior partner in this array; maybe it’s passing the baton to its understudy. In either case, it looks like a “Father knows best” irritability may lie not too far beneath the placid surface. Enveloped by two strong Water cards, they suggest a “wet sauna” that purges emotional toxins by bringing intense heat and humidity together in a cleansing mist of self-affirmation. The keywords on the Navigators cards are “restriction + propulsion,” reminding me of the “Venturi effect,” in which the velocity of a fluid  increases when the cross-sectional diameter of its transporting pipe is reduced. Although there is certainly enthusiasm in their opinionated repartee, there may also be a lack of heartfelt empathy when these decks are joined in, for example, a love reading.

In the Swords row (showing the decks’ eloquence and directness), Fire cards dominate, with the Thoth 7 of Wands displaying fearlessness and the Liber T Wheel of Fortune offering an unabashed appetite for change. Both cards represent a gamble, one against daunting odds and the other against Fate. Taken together, we get the tarot version of the Starship Enterprise, boldly going in tandem where neither deck will ever reach under its own power.

The “handshake” cards are the Aeon (Judgement) and the Star. Bountiful optimism abides in these cards, and whatever shared verdict the decks pronounce will be meted out with visionary zeal and conviction. The Star is the only Air card in this entire layout, so its significance in providing inspiration and insight should not be underestimated. This is a higher-pitched reprise of the King of Wands/Emperor dialogue, and adds a touch of class to their patriarchal posturing. The keywords on the Navigators cards are “realization + revelation,” a perfect match for the import of this combination.

In the Disks row (revealing the decks’ solidity and reliability), the Thoth delivers the Ace of Cups, all-penetrating but not especially stalwart when life demands a “Rock of Gibraltar” instead of a warm, fuzzy embrace. The Liber T brings to the table the watery Hanged Man, also less than forthright in pragmatic terms. I don’t think I would yoke these decks together for any kind of business-related decision-making inquiry. This sentiment is reinforced by the fact that this layout contains no Earth cards whatsoever.

The “handshake” cards are the 3 of Wands and Death. The first of these is generally seen as a card of enterprise and the virtue of patience in pursuing it, while Death needs no introduction: it represents the finality of irreversible change. The Thoth card operates on a smaller stage and busies itself with mundane commercial initiatives while Death looms over all, buyer and seller alike, immune to the petty details of commerce. There is no obvious affinity between these cards, except perhaps as reflected in the Navigators keywords: “cohesion + transformation.” A coming-together of some kind imparts the motive force to drive important change, with cohesion implying “traction.” Whether the Liber T has the clout to impose its doleful metamorphosis on the rather intractable, single-minded mercantilism  of the Thoth will spell the difference between a noteworthy ending and simply “an ending.”

This layout presents a blaze of color that makes the Thoth look a bit dowdy compared to the other two. I had the fanciful notion that I was looking at a Carmen Miranda “fruit headdress.”

Carmen Miranda.jpg

It strikes me that, in using these decks as equals in a two-deck reading, the Liber T should be “given its head;” that is, allowed a certain flamboyant latitude in trumping the somewhat more staid testimony of the Thoth. It is a very worthy deck that does justice to its Golden Dawn roots, as does the Thoth but in a slightly different manner. The two are a pleasure to work with in concert, both for their comfortable similarities and their compelling differences.

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