Harris, Frieda

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Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris
Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris

Contents

[edit] Tarot contribution

Lady Frieda Harris is most famous to the Tarot community as the woman who painted Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot under his guidance, documented in hilarious, illuminating detail in their correspondence. She remained one of Crowley's greatest supporters (in all senses of the word) and closest friends until his death.

[edit] Biography

Marguerit Frieda Harris, nee Bloxham, (1877 - May 11, 1962) was commissioned by Aleister Crowley to paint the Thoth Tarot. Although involved in the women's branch of Freemasonry and Co-Freemasonry, her interest in the occult was not deep. Crowley had to initiate her into his Orders to expand her knowledge and commence the spiritual training necessary to design a deck of such power. By his own admission, the deck was intended to be traditional, but she encouraged him to commit his occult, magical, spiritual and scientific knowledge to the project. Apart from his mother, Frieda Harris was probably the strongest, longest lasting and most platonic relationship in his life. The extant letters from Frieda Harris to Crowley show her fondness and compassion for him, despite his regular begging for more money. Along with Louis Wilkinson, Frieda seems to be one of the few genuine friends in Crowley's life.


[edit] Overview

Frieda Harris is an enigmatic figure in the world of the occult, despite her massive contribution to the Thoth Tarot.

Marguerit Frieda Bloxam was born in 1877; she married Sir Percy Harris, Chief Whip in the Liberal Party. In the British Parliamentary system; Whips are responsible for party discipline, and until recently were shadowy figures. Whips prefer to be anonymous to the outside world, and they know where the bodies are buried. Percy Harris was very boring in real life, while the Liberal party has been a minority party for most of this century. The General Election at after the end of World War II saw the Liberals lose most of their seats. Sir Percy Harris became actively involved in the British Liberal International Council, becoming Chairman, until his death in 1952. He introduced Viscount Samuel and Lord Perth into the organization. Sir Percy Harris eventually defined the aims of the group as for a 'clear statement' of Liberalism against which those totalitarian forces claiming to be Liberal could be judged. Three main tasks were laid out in the agenda:

  1. To provide an occasion at which people of Liberal outlook from several countries can exchange views
  2. To evolve a formula of common agreement on the general world situation, and on the Liberal approach to it, which can be made the basis of an international organization of similarly minded people
  3. To discuss the organization of such an international group, and to take the preliminary steps necessary for it to begin its work.

(A Sense of Liberty: The History of the Liberal International Author: Julie Smith)

What Frieda saw in Percy is a mystery. Frieda was vivacious, fun, outgoing, and a party animal, so perhaps she took the opportunity to move in more exciting circles. There have been suggestions that she had an affair, but there are no details. Aleister Crowley is notorious for his sexual appetites, but interestingly nobody has suggested there was anything but a platonic relationship between them. Frieda seems to have been one of his most significant female relationships. He certainly sings her praises in the Book of Thoth, this from a man who had very little good to say about anyone. Percy and Aleister did meet on several occasions, and there was a mutual antipathy between them, which did nothing to dim Frieda's enthusiasm - on the contrary it probably inspired her.

Frieda was a member of Co-Masonry, an offshoot of the Theosophical Society where women had equal status, unlike traditional Freemasonry. She was using her artistic talents in esoteric work, as evidenced by her designs for the Tracing Boards, which are currently on sale on the Net. Frieda Harris also worked under pseudonym Jesus Chutney.

[edit] 1937 - Introductions

There were three significant events in 1937 - she met Aleister Crowley; he initiated her into his own Order, and she studied the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Crowley was on the lookout for a talented artist for the three month Tarot project. His headhunter was Clifford Bax, playwright, author, and co-editor of an art & literature magazine entitled The Golden Hind between 1922-24, founded by Austin Osman Spare. On June 9th, 1937 Bax had intended to introduce the artists Meum Stewart and Leslie Blanche to Crowley, but they do not seem to have turned up, so he invited Frieda instead. Bax may have known Harris through Masonic links. Clifford Bax was also instrumental in introducing John Symonds to Crowley. Symonds takes up the Frieda Harris story:

"Crowley helped her through the portals of the mystical Order of the A.'. A.'. (Argenteum Astrum) She took the name of Tzaba “Hosts”, which adds up to 93; this is also the number of the thelema current which she was trying to tap." John Symonds, The Great Beast.

Frieda Harris was no stranger to ritual through her membership of Co-Masonry, but her knowledge was lacking. As well as reading books by Crowley, her studies of Anthroposophy were to be a critical aspect in the creation of the Tarot. It is quite possible that her studies of Steiner were suggested by Crowley himself. Crowley is on the record as saying that his mission was to continue the work of Helena Blavatsky and Theosophy. Another avenue may have been Greta Valentine who introduced Frieda to Aleister. Greta Valentine was a London socialite whom Crowley loved, but probably never conquered.

"When they met in 1936 she was studying anthroposophy, the mystical teachings of Rudolf Steiner, whose school she attended. Her own interests stopped short of traditional occultism."

Greta was an artist friend of Frieda, and it was at her house in Hyde Park Crescent, London, that Frieda and Aleister worked on the Book of Thoth.

[edit] Projective Synthetic Geometry

Sometime in 1937 Frieda Harris started taking lessons in Projective Synthetic Geometry based upon the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and Goethe, from Olive Whicher and George Adams. Frieda was a keen student, and informed Whicher that she was incorporating some geometric designs into the Thoth tarot deck she was working on. Frieda took private lessons from Whicher, and it seems that Whicher visited Frieda at her studio near Regents Park to view ongoing designs for the Thoth Tarot. Whicher says Frieda had dyed her hair bright red, which was unusual at that time - had she become another Scarlet Woman? Despite Olive Whicher's distaste for all things Crowleyan she actively encouraged Frieda in her endeavours, which is surprising in itself.

[edit] Disciple of Crowley

On 11th May 1938, Lady Harris officially became Crowley's disciple. Crowley begins to teach her the finer points of divination - evidently she has a choice of discipline, and she opted for the I Ching:

"The Yi was your own choice from several. I approved highly, because it is the key to the kind of painting after which you were groping when I met you."

Letter from AC to FH, Dec 17th. (The date is 1936, but should be 1938).

There is a suggestion in this quotation that Frieda had been seeking an occult outlet for her artistic talents. Perhaps she was lacking in confidence, but Aleister intended to prepare her for divine inspiration:

"If you are to make a new mark in art, you need a new mind, a mind enlightened from the Supernal Triangle."

Letter from AC to FH, Dec 17th.

He evidently succeeded in guiding her on the Path.

[edit] Frieda visits Crowley

The author William Holt in his autobiography describes how he accompanied Frieda to Crowley's lodgings at 93 Jermyn Street, Piccadilly. While Frieda drew some charcoal sketches, there was a discussion on the Book of Thoth that Crowley was writing. After a lull in the conversation, Crowley disappeared, possibly for a heroin injection to ameliorate his asthma, and returned with the portrait of Lam, to the obvious discomfort of Holt. Crowley claimed that Lam was “his guru”; Frieda Harris knew exactly what she was getting into.

Grady McMurty also recalls seeing Frieda Harris at the same address.


[edit] Creating the Tarot

The High Priestess from the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot
The High Priestess from the Crowley-Harris Thoth Tarot

Frieda lived the construction and design of the deck to the point that events in her life mirrored the cards she was working on. For example, when she was working on the Eight and Nine of Swords, she experienced all sorts of accidents and delays.

Frieda was sending Crowley a regular stipend throughout the project. She was also using her society contacts to find financial backers for the exhibition of the paintings, the catalogues, and for the publication of the Tarot. The mental, emotional and spiritual pressures took its toll on Frieda, who became somewhat erratic. Aleister was sufficiently concerned to call in the lawyers to protect his 66% investment in the project. Despite the legal hitches, Aleister gives Frieda fulsome praise in the Introduction to The Book of Thoth - this from a man who spent much of his life creating enemies:

"She devoted her genius to the Work. With incredible rapidity she picked up the rhythm, and with inexhaustible patience submitted to the correction of the fanatical slave-driver that she had invoked, often painting the same card as many as eight times until it measured up to has Vanadium Steel yardstick!"

Throughout the project she insisted on her own anonymity, but she revelled in working for such a notorious man. Although the Book of Thoth was published in a 200 limited edition, neither Crowley nor Frieda lived to see the deck printed.

[edit] Crowley's last days

There is break in the Frieda Harris - Aleister Crowley Letters after the Exhibition in July 1942, but she was in contact with him, particularly towards the end of his life:

Letter Frieda Harris to Frederic Mellinger 7th December 1947:

He was well taken care of. I made him have a nurse about 3 months ago as he was dirty & neglected & he had Watson who was most devoted & the Symonds were as nice as they knew how to be. At the last Mrs. McAlpine & the boy were there. I saw him the day he died, but he did not recognize me. I think Mrs. McAlpine was with him but she says there was no struggle, just stopped breathing
I shall miss him terribly
An irreplaceable loss
Love is the law, love under will
Yours Sincerely
Frieda Harris

[edit] Frieda as Executor of Crowley's Will

Frieda Harris and Louis Wilkinson were executors of Crowley's Will. The legal battles over the succession of Crowley and the O.T.O were bitter, and still continue today. Aleister was very devoted to Frieda, but he knew her shortcomings. While she was a talented artist and interpreter of his Thoth Tarot, she would be totally out of her depth when it came to dealing with the vultures who had been circling well before his death.

[edit] Frieda Harris and Wicca

The controversy over the exact origins of modern Wicca through Gerald Gardner will never end, but as Executor of Aleister's Will, Frieda had to deal with the egos jockeying for succession long before Aleister's ashes started to cool. One reason why Frieda was chosen as executor (with Louis Wilkinson) may have been that she had no aspiration to become the Head of the O.T.O.. A more cynical interpretation may be that Crowley knew Frieda's naivete in dealing with hard-bitten occultists would result in controversy and ill will. Frieda found herself at the centre of a maelstrom of letters claiming the crown:

'After Crowley's death his close collaborator, Lady Harris, thought Gardner to be Crowley's successor as head of the OTO in Europe. Gardner claimed as much himself."G. B. Gardner . . . is head of the O.T.O. in Europe." Lady Frieda Harris, letter to Karl Germer, January 2, 1948 (Allen H. Greenfield, The Secret History of Modern Witchcraft)

However, in a postscript to a letter to Frederic Mellinger on 7th December 1947 her confusion is evident:

"Are you the head of the order here or was Gerald Gardner I can't find him, I fancy he died?"

Frieda was not even certain of her own status:

"I think I am a member of the O.T.O. "

Postscript in letter from Frieda Harris to Karl Germer, January 2nd, 1948

Karl Germer seemed to know little about Gerald Gardner either:

"I received to-day a letter from Mr. Gerald Gardner, who says he is sailing from New York on March 19th and would stay in New York for a few days. I may either see him then, or, if I would have to go to the West Coast on a several months' trip, I might arrange to visit him on my way there. Did you ever meet him?"

FH to Karl Germer, 18th January 1948

Frieda Harris had plans to do a lecture tour in the USA exhibiting the original paintings in the Fall of 1948, but this never materialised.

[edit] Thoth Tarot and Wicca

"The goal of the occult path of initiation is BALANCE. In Freemasonry and High Magick, the symbols of the White Pillar and Black Pillar represent this balance between conscious and unconscious forces.

"In Gardnerian Wicca, the Goddess and Horned God - and the Priestess and Priest, represent that balance." (The Secret History of Modern Witchcraft by Alan Greenfield)

What is interesting about this quotation is that Frieda and Aleister devote a lot of time in their letters on the Adjustment card, which is all about balance - and there is the title, 'the woman fulfilled', mentioned in the Book of Thoth; their letters make the sexual connotation abundantly clear. The Thoth Fool card has numerous Wiccan Gods associated with it: The Green Man, Dionysus, and Cerunnus; all fertility symbols. The Priestess card is associated with Artemis or Diana, Goddess of Wicca. Olive Wicher, who taught Synthetic Projective Geometry to Frieda, says that she wanted to be known as Diana.

Lady Frieda Harris died in Srinagar, India on 11th May 1962.

Her epitaph is found in the Book of Thoth:

"May the passionate "love under will" which she has stored in this Treasury of Truth and Beauty flow forth from the Splendour and Strength of her work to enlighten the world; may this Tarot serve as a chart for the bold seamen of the New Aeon, to guide them across the Great Sea of Understanding to the City of the Pyramids!"


Source: Supertarot — Used by permission

[edit] Publications

[edit] decks

[edit] papers

Correspondence with Aleister Crowley, publication, place, year [ISBN 999999]

[edit] poetry

Bump! Into Heaven - A selection of mystical and other verse

[edit] Website

[edit] Books on this artist

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