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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Golden Surfer and his mate the Monkey

Thoth Tarot, Crowley-Harris
Who is this jolly naked dude with snakes on his head, tiptoeing on the edge of striped surfboard? It's the Magus from Crowley's Thoth Tarot.

So working our way down from the top of the card, we see a caduceus, a symbol of Mercury. To the left side is some sort of stylus, to the right is an unfurling scroll. Then there is the figure of the Magus himself, the god Mercury. To the left is a wand with an ibis head, a small vessel billowing flames, and a glowing coin stamped with an 8-pointed star. To the right is a winged egg (an orphic egg), a 2-handled loving cup from which emerges coils of smoke or vapour, a short sword. At the Magus's ankles, which are coiled about by a snake's tail, there are two stylised wings emerging from the backs of his ankles. (That's because he's Mercury, remember!) On the left, glowing through the transparent larger ankle wing is a glowing sunburst, and on the right, rising from the bottom of the card, is a surly-looking monkey, fist raised (but you'll notice that the hand position is twisted around the wrong way. As if an angry ape weren't disturbing enough.) The figure of the Magus stands tiptoe on what looks to me like a surfboard stood up on its end. And of course all around him we see the usual geometric lines intersecting outward. The title of the card features the symbol for Mercury and the Hebrew letter 'Beth'.

Lady Frieda Harris wrote of this card:

'He is Mercury, the messenger of God, and juggles with the four symbols of the elements, and the papyrus or the Word, the pen or the Will, the wand or Wisdom. He represents the creative force in action. As Thoth in Egyptian tradition, his attendant and shadow is the Cynocephalus Ape.'

I have to admit it's the ape that most puzzled me upon examination of this card, so I started digging around for references to this figure. Lon Milo Duquette says of him: 'This creature...is the personification of an ironic curse that afflicts Thoth-Mercury and all who attain the grade of Magus. Because falsehood and misunderstanding are inherent in all speech and writing, it is the cosmic duty of the Ape of Thoth to constantly mock the work of the Magus and distort his words. As Crowley points out, "Manifestation implies illusion." '

Well, that sounded like a Crowley-ized version of reality, so I dug around some more and found out that the Egyptian god Thoth is associated with baboons (or 'cynocephalus apes', ie, dog-headed apes) because he was said to be able to take the form of one. The ape's name is Astennu. In some versions, Astennu is Thoth in a baboon manifestation, in others, he is a companion to Thoth who sits with him in the Judgement Scene. In the  Egyptian Book of the Dead, Astennu appears in Spell 17, where he sits upon the Great Scales and lets Thoth know when the pointer marks the middle of the beam. It would seem, that his job is not confusion but accuracy.

 It seems to me just like Crowley to turn a traditional meaning around to its opposite. Look what he did with all that Bible imagery, for example. I am prepared to believe that the Crowley-ized version of the 'Cynocephalus Ape' is just more of his habit of taking iconic religious imagery and changing its inherent purpose or function, ie perverting it.

Now, why the Magus is tiptoeing on a surfboard I still haven't figured out!


  1. I like that he seems to be having fun juggling the elements - like manifestation doesn't have to be hard work or serious, it can be playful, joyful... :)

    I love that you dig beyond Crowley and his acolytes, though I also like the idea of the monkey as a trickster, which is another aspect of the Magician.

    1. Yes, I was thinking about the organ grinder and the monkey after I posted this. Great minds!

  2. more nakedness on your Tarot cards.........tsk tsk :-)lol. Mercury Messenger to the gods? and the name of the closest planet to the sun.

  3. is this the magus you liked best? My deck came with 3 and this is not the one I chose to put in my deck.

    1. This is the one that Crowley approved for the deck. The others are rejects that publishers later decided to include in the deck instead of those 'title' cards. They're just little extras.

    2. I went with my gut and picked one of the others. LOL

    3. Which one did you pick? :)