Alistair Crowley was a famed occultist in the early 20th century; he collaborated with an artist to modify the tarot to return to some of the interpretations prior to the modifications initiated by the very popular RWS.
Both RWS and the Thoth systems are similar and have their roots in the Golden Dawn tradition, but there are some significant differences as well.
|Some representative cards from Alistair Crowley's Thoth deck|
The author's name is Yvonne Rathbone
Differences in the Major Arcana
The biggest difference, and I believe the most fundamental difference, is in the Fool Card. The Fool is a representation of the path walker. He is the being who walks the path laid out in the other cards. How a deck represents the Fool gives an indication of how the deck represents the individual.
In the Waite-Smith deck, the Sun of Kether is shown above and behind the Fool. In Thoth, the Sun is shown at the Fools genitals. This difference in the location of the divine source indicates the Waite Smith deck as being based on a Christian theology whereby God exists above and outside of the journeyer. Thoth expresses a Pagan view of God being the creative force that exists inherently within us all.
The 8/11 Split:The next big difference is in the numbering of the Major Arcana, specifically the cards called Strength and Justice. Which card comes after the Wheel shows how the deck represents Karma. In Thoth, Justice is the eighth card, Strength is eleven. In WS this is reversed. This difference can be seen as one of how the Universe and Karma (as shown in the Wheel) interact with the individual.
When Justice follows the Wheel, it shows a view of Karma that is retributive or restitutive. In this model, Karma is paid for through Justice, whether it's punishment or the legitimate taking on of responsibility. In the second model, Karma is followed by Strength and shows a different result of the effect of Karma. In this model, Karma is the vehicle for the integration of the physical, animal nature with the "higher" levels of being.
Differences in the Courts
Waite-Smith and Thoth have different court card configurations and how a new deck structures their courts can tell you something about influence. Waite-Smith has the order King/Queen/Knight/Page. Thoth has the order Knight/Queen/Prince/Princess. I'm more persuaded by the presence of Thoth style Knight/Prince male configuration replacing Waite's King/Knight than I am the presence of Princesses.
In "Pictorial Key To The Tarot," Waite states that the courts serve as a bridge between the Lesser and Greater Arcana, but that the lack of distinction between them and the Majors is shown by their "conventional character". (pg. 165) He doesn't think they have enough symbols to qualify as anything but for mere divination and fortune telling. He indicates that the arrangement of King/Queen/Knight/Page is derived from standard playing cards. This could be a blind.
Crowley, in contrast, states very clearly in "The Book Of Thoth" the important role the courts play in his deck. They are the embodiment of the Tetragrammaton (the most holy name of God.) He uses Knights instead of Kings to denote the active quality of the first letter of the Tetragrammaton. Queens are the fixing nature of the second. Princes are more literally the sons of Queens than Knights are. Finally, the Princesses represent the "re-absortion of the Energy" and "the silence into which all things return."
Many decks use princesses instead of pages and do not in the least reflect the complex symbolism Crowley reserved for the courts. Often they do it simply to infuse the deck with more female characters and give a balance of male and female energy. Trust me. Crowley didn't give a damn about doing this. The presence of the princess is not indicative of Thoth influence by itself, but there are other imagistic indicators that we can look for.
In Thoth, the King/Knights are active and they are all shown on horseback. The knights in Waite-Smith are shown on horseback as well, but in that system they are third down on the totem pole. So when the top ranking male court card is the one on horseback, I see Thoth.
The queens in Thoth are seated with different totems; Wands:leopard, Cups:stork, Swords:severed head (ew) and Disks:goat. In contrast, Waite-Smith usually shows images on the queen's thrones; Wands:lions, Cups:cupid & fish, Swords:butterfly, Pentacles:goat. Only the goat is the same. Waite-Smith also adds two other animals to the queens, one of which is commonly copied. That is the black cat in the Queen of wands. The rabbit in the Queen of Pentacles goes largely unnoticed.
|More Thoth cards|
Differences in the Minors
The main difference between Waite inspired minors and Thoth inspired minors lays in one of the largest difference between the two decks. Waite put pictures on his minors. Thoth uses stylized pips (arrangements of the suit symbols as in playing cards.) Because of this, I look for Waite influence in the minors differently than I do Thoth influence.
It's pretty easy to spot the most apparent influence of Waite in the choice of imagery for the pips. A boat ride on the Six of Cups, a patient gardener on the Seven of Pentacles, a person with swords in his back on the Ten of swords. The use of these images such as these indicates a Waite basis.
The influence of Thoth in the minors is harder to see. It's not enough that a deck just use pips. This could refer back to the Tarot de Marseilles. Instead, in the Thoth minors we must look for specific instances where the given meanings differ radically from Waite.
And one of the surprises I found as I was researching the differences between these decks is that there aren't that many radical differences between the meanings of the minors. The most extreme I found are:
Card Thoth = Waite-Smith
4 of Cups Luxury, Change = Stability Weariness, disgust, aversion
8 of Cups Indolence, stagnation = Leaving something behind
2 of Swords Peace, balance = Indecision, denial
6 of Swords Science = Moving away from difficulty
7 of Disks Failure, blight = Patience
Here's a link to a site that provides comparison between Rider-Waite and other, older traditions.
I hope you find this information useful as you study differences between deck structures and individual card interpretations.