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lady frieda harris

︎Artist, Painting, Tarot, Philosohpy, Occult   
︎ Ventral Is Golden


Little is known about the private life of Lady Frieda Harris (1877–1962), save for that she was a suffragette and initially published illustrations and esoteric writings under the pseudonym ‘Jesus Chutney’, to be judged on the merits of her creativity instead of her nobility.



Although the wife of a British MP, Freida Harris had streaks of flamboyancy but desired to retain anonymity within the sphere of her creative output.
Closely associated with various esoteric and co-masonry societies, she became most widely known as the artist executant of the Thoth Tarot. At sixty years old, Harris was to urge infamous British occultist, Aleister Crowley (one of the precursors to the countercultural movements of the 1960's), to revise the symbolism of the traditional tarot deck as a legacy to his life’s work.

Initially refusing the project, Crowley eventually gave way to Harris’ enthusiasm. The tarot deck was then accompanied by The Book of Thoth, as a means of understandng the new holisitc symbolism. 
Intended as a six month project, but through the often demanding specifications imposed by Crowley (as well as the early threat of air raids), Harris spent almost five years (1938-1943) drawing and redrawing the designs, sometime draughting upto eight versions for a single card. Despite the strain this took on their creative relationship, Harris’ artwork became iconic, from the standpoint of both Tarot history and Thelemic imagery, and consequently the Thoth Tarot is one of the most popular Tarot decks in the world, having never been out of print since it's first publication.











Harris also studied Anthroposophy, a philosophy of intuition, that gave primacy to developing the faculties of the imagination by subjecting it to outcomes of rational verification. Developed by Rudolf Steiner and used as a pedagogical method, Anthroposophy aimed to give spiritual experiences a similar clarity to that attained by the natural sciences. It’s name derived by way of ‘human’ (anthropos) ‘wisdom’ (sophia).

It could be said that Harris, much like Steiner, had intimations that the conceptual powers of imagination, inspiration and intuition could extend the limits of nature in order to forge it into reflective capacities, such as philosophy, art and science. Harris also studied the art of Projective Geometry, a mathematical approach influenced by the discovery of perspective during the Italian Renaissance, which imbues the overall aesthetic of the Thoth Tarot with a meticulous compositional balance.

With allusions to Astrology, the Kabbala, Gematria, Gnosticism, and Egyptian mythology, the Thoth Tarot is an embodiment of Harris' skills of visually conjuring the multidimensional symbology of Crowley's universe.
Crowley, who was noted for rarely saying anything nice about anyone, paid uncharacteristic tribute to Harris with adulation in the biographical note from The Book of Thoth:
“She devoted her genius to the Work. With incredible rapidity she picked up the rhythm, and with inexhaustible patience submitted to the corrections of the fanatical slave-driver that she had invoked, often painting the same card as many as eight times until it measures up to his Vanadium Steel yardstick! May the passionate “love under will” which she has stored in this Treasury of Truth and Beauty flow forth from the Splendor 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.”


Both Harris and Crowley never saw the published version of the tarot deck. Frieda Harris having died in 1962, Crowley in 1947, with the final tarot deck being printed in 1969.




Further Reading ︎
The Art of Freida Harris
Memoirs of a Century
Women & The Occult


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Mark