Crowley originally intended the Thoth deck to be a six-month project aimed at updating the traditional pictorial symbolism of the tarot. However, the project was to span five years, between 1938 and 1943, as its scope grew ever wider. Crowley and Harris were meticulous in their work, and Harris painted some of the cards as many as eight times.The current edition of the U.S. Games Systems deck contains two prototypes of The Magus card as painted by Lady Harris, each making use of markedly different style and symbols. Completed by Lady Harris but then rejected by Crowley, these were never intended to be a part of the deck proper. They are now included as a bonus treat for aficionados of the deck. Neither Harris nor Crowley lived to see the deck published. The first full publication was by Ordo Templi Orientis in 1969, although this initial printing was seen by many to be of inferior quality, and in 1977 Harris' paintings were rephotographed for a second edition. A further update with new photography took place in 1986, while the current edition is based on a revision of this update which was first printed in 1996.
The illustrations of the Thoth deck are rich in symbolism, based upon Crowley's stated desire to incorporate symbols from many disparate disciplines, including science and philosophy, as well as to draw on his extensive knowledge of various occult system (as described in detail in his Book of Thoth). For example, The Hanged Man and The Moon draw from Egyptian mythology, and the Princess of Disks holds a disk bearing the Taijitu. The pip cards in the four suits (Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks) depict their objects in carefully crafted positions; for example, the Four of Swords (which Crowley named "truce") shows four swords with their points toward the center of an imaginary square, suggesting a possibly tense peace. The card illustrations are uniformly stark and vividly illustrated throughout.
Each of the minor arcana pips (1-10 of each suit), other than the four Aces, has been given a title. Crowley named them based on his intended symbolism. This symbolism does not always follow the more popular Rider-Waite tarot deck.
In the Minor Arcana, cards 1-10 are attributions of the sephira on the Tree of Life. Kether rules the Ones, Chokmah rules the Twos, Binah the Threes, and so on, and so forth down to Malkuth ruling the Tens. Kether being Unity, moving down the Tree to Malkuth, being Manifestation furthest away from that Unity.
Crowley altered the names of all the court cards apart from the Queen in the Thoth deck, which can cause some confusion for people used to the more common decks. The typical corresponding names are as follows:
Traditional Court Card Name
Thoth Deck Court Card Name
In Bill Butler's "Dictionary of the Tarot" published by Schocken books in 1975 he forms a relationship between the court cards that is different and when relating back to the traditional tarot seems to suggest different meanings and should be documented here. In his book the chart would be shown as follows: