Taking a look at the Thoth Princesses (translate to Pages for RWS-style decks, or Knaves for the Marseille). Aleister Crowley and his artist partner, Lady Frieda Harris, have built a rich set of symbolism over the traditional archetypes in the Tarot, and the Princesses are a very special part of that symbolism. The inimitable Alison Cross, expert on all things court card, once posed some questions to help those of us in a little tutorial of hers to parse the significance of the Thoth princesses. Here are my answers.
Does he/she stand for beginnings?
Princesses. All young, each one very powerful-looking for her seeming age. Sweeping lines. Two in movement (Wands and Cups), two still, one seemingly in study (Disks), the other seemingly in defense against a threat (Swords). Not seeing obvious beginning symbols . . . checking DuQuette (Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot) . . . ah, here it is. The Princesses have a special relationship with the Aces. Crowley assigns each Princess and Ace to a quadrant of the Zodiac and a geographical region. It’s quite a web he weaves for the entire court.
Tentative steps in an untried direction?
Well, they’re young and sexy, I’ll give ‘em that (maybe not so much the Princess of Cups, but she’s still pretty cool). Untried directions, yep. The two movers (Wands and Cups) are headed off in new directions quite dramatically, as is the Princess of Swords to deal with whatever she’s swinging her sword at (something abstract of course). The Princess of Disks is the only one not moving, but light is shining on her from below, and she seems almost to be summoning something from the Earth.
Traditionally, they are also messengers—is that what you want them to be here?
Each seems to be conjuring something or presenting something to or leaving something for the viewer. A bright multi-petaled disk, an arc of light or a stone pedestal, a tiger or sun wand, and a sea turtle. Actually, the Princess of Wands may just be pointing you to the flaming Yellow Brick Road to Oz.
How do Pages relate to their suit?
Clouds, dark and billowy and shafts of light for Swords. The green of her body and clothing is not standard for the suit, but is likely dictated by the complex esoteric color scheme explained in the beginning of the book. She’s right out there ready to fight.
A semi-abstract forest of brown trunks, what looks like a large fur cloak, and green roots going down into the light from the Earth flank the Princess of Disks. She definitely looks well fed (or pregnant—my, my!?) and studious.
And the Wands thing is quite typical, all fire and red/orange/yellow, dragging a tiger behind her.
The Princess of Cups floats in an abstract blue and yellow sea with a fish, and the sea turtle (her skin is even green).
Are there common features to the beginnings of the Major Arcana, the beginnings of the Minor Arcana and the beginnings of the Court Arcana?
Commonalities between the Fool and the Princesses: A tiger and flames (in the Wands), the diamond crystal in the Princess of Disk’s staff, the reptile (turtle) in the Cups (vs. the crocodile in the Fool), the green clothing on the Princess of Swords.
And as previously mentioned, the Princesses are all wedded by astrology and elemental relationships (they are as a group in with the element of Earth, even though each also represents the element of their suit) to the Aces. The Aces are also the ground of being in the world, dense with matter.
Not your daily draw kind of deck, the Thoth, like I’ve said before. Each Princess carries a version of the Ace’s object with them, be it the disk, the torch, the cup or the sword, in similar style and color.
What’s your take?
Lots to look at without even cracking the book. And then, when you do, the Thoth Tarot gives you layer upon layer of symbolic meaning. Almost overwhelming, really, but also very, very fascinating. All hail the Princesses and all hail the power of potential!
I do recommend trying out these questions on the appropriate initial characters in the Court cards of your favorite deck. See what patterns develop. Let me know in the comments what you find out!