Frieda Harris, artist for the Thoth Tarot

by Aug 15, 20140 comments

Aleister Crowley commissioned Frieda Harris to paint the Thoth Tarot. Although involved in the women’s branch of Freemasonry – Co-Masonry, 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 style was 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 her show her fondness and compassion for him, despite his regular begging for more money. Along with Louis Wilkinson, she seems one of the few genuine friends in his life.

Frieda Harris and Louis Wilkinson were decent people, loyal friends to Aleister Crowley – the Occult community agrees on this point, which is quite incredible considering that they never agree on anything! They played a pivotal role as executors of Aleister Crowley’s Will, but they have been consigned to footnotes. Clearly friendship and loyalty are not valued qualities, unless of course they were not considered to be loyal to those jockeying for the Succession – the arguments still rage on his inheritance.

In the course of trying to assemble some kind of biography from the few snippets scattered in books and the Internet, I realised there seemed even less information on Louis Wilkinson, so I have included a few details of his life.

Louis Wilkinson (Marlow)

Louis had been friends with Aleister for many years. According to Sabazius, Liber OZ was written for him in 1941. Louis also contributed to the mythology of the origins of Wicca.

“[Francis] King relates that in 1953, he became acquainted with Louis Wilkinson, who wrote under the pen-name of Louis Marlow, and had contributed essays to Crowley’s Equinox. He later became one of Crowley’s literary executors. King says that in conversation, Wilkinson told him that Crowley had claimed to have been offered initiation into a witch coven, but that he refused, as he didn’t want to be bossed around by a bunch of women. (This story is well-known, and could have been picked up anywhere.)

“Wilkinson then proceeded to tell King that he had himself become friendly with members of a coven operating in the New Forest area, and he thought that whilst it was possible that they derived their existence from Murray’s “Witch Cult in Western Europe”, he felt that they were rather older.”

HISTORY OF WICCA IN ENGLAND: 1939 – present day: Talk given by Julia Phillips at the Wiccan Conference in Canberra, 1991.

At Aleister’s funeral, Louis Wilkinson read ‘Hymn To Pan’, the ‘Collects and Anthems’ from ‘The Gnostic Mass’ and selected passages from The Book of the Law. For a fuller picture of the man, see the Foreword by Hymenaeus Beta to The Law is For All, edited by Louis Wilkinson, a commentary on The Book of the Law, published by New Falcon Books.

Frieda Harris and Louis Wilkinson behaved with integrity, according to the notes of a Court Case,

11.2.1 –

There was trouble from the beginning, with Crowley’s literary executor stalling the shipment of the Library-Archives to Mr. Germer in New York. Given the relationship between Symonds and Grant, one may justifiably wonder whether Grant made copies before the material was sent to its rightful Heir. It is also justifiable to wonder whether Mr. Germer received all of the items that were in Crowley’s possession at the time of his death in 1947 e.v. Mr. Motta was of the opinion that Louis Wilkinson and Lady Frieda Harris supervised the process, and that otherwise, much of the material would never have reached Mr. Germer.

California Court case, 1985

Sir Percy Alfred HARRIS MP, 1st Baronet HARRIS (1876-1952)

Percy Harris was born in 1876 in Paddington, London, the youngest of three children. His father, Nolf Harris (b 1834), a ‘New Zealand Merchant’ lived at

197 Queens Gate

Nolf Harris was Austrian, his wife Elizabeth (b. 1850) from New Zealand. They were evidently wealthy – we know this from the address, but the British Census of 1881 shows they employed a Governess from Germany, and six servants, two of them from Germany. The reason I include this is that neither parent is registered for Frieda Harris or her sister, Florence. Percy got his title for being a member of the Privy Council at Westminster.

Percy Harris was Chief Whip in the Liberal Party. In the British Parliamentary system, Whips are responsible for party discipline, and until recently were shadowy figures. Whips are the movers and fixers, maintaining party discipline at Westminster. They prefer to be anonymous to the outside world, and they know where the bodies are buried. Parliamentary details of Percy Harris career is scant. The Liberal party has been a minority party for most of the 20th 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:

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

Early Days

Marguerite Frieda Bloxam’s birth was registered for the period October, November and December 1877 at St George Hanover Square, London. She married Sir Percy Harris in the second quarter of 1901 in the Paddington district of London. Her parents are not on her birth registration – were they dead or abroad? The 1881 census shows Marguerite Bloxam staying with her sister Florence at Boulters Lock, Cookham, Berkshire with two female servants, so if their parents were alive, they were not in the house on the day of the census – Florence is named as head of the household at the age of five. Frieda Harris would have been around 24 when she married, which I think is slightly old for that time. What the circumstances of when, where and how they met is a mystery.

There is confusion as to the spelling – is it Marguerite or Marguerete? Maybe a genealogist can cast some light on who Frieda’s parents were.

What Frieda saw in Percy is a mystery. She was vivacious, fun, outgoing, and a party animal, so perhaps she took the opportunity to move in more exciting circles. By the time she met Aleister in 1937 she had been married for 36 years. With no children to bring up, she was free to liver her own life while her husband worked on his career. There have been suggestions that she had an affair, but there are no details. Aleister is notorious for his sexual appetites, but interestingly nobody has suggested there was anything but a platonic relationship between them. She 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 her enthusiasm – on the contrary it probably inspired her.

Frieda Harris is an enigmatic figure in the world of the occult, despite her massive contribution to the Thoth Tarot. There are very little biographical details, so this essay is an attempt to flesh out her life particularly in relation to the tarot and to her role in executing Aleister’s Will. I claim no expertise in legal matters, nor do I have an axe to grind in favour of the USA or English O.T.O, since I am a member of neither of these organizations. My sympathy lies with 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. It is not clear if Crowley saw her work before they began the Thoth Tarot – he originally wanted to create a fairly standard deck. she also worked under pseudonym Jesus Chutney.

1937 – Introductions to Aleister Crowley

There were three significant events in 1937 – she met Aleister; 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 head-hunter 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, 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 story:

“[Crowley] helped her through the portals of the mystical Order of the A.’. A.’. (Argentum 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 a critical aspect in the creation of the Tarot. Crowley is on the record as saying that his mission was to continue the work of Blavatsky and Theosophy. Another avenue may have been Greta Valentine who introduced her to Aleister. Greta Valentine was a London socialite whom Aleister 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 they worked together on the Book of Thoth.

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. She 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 her at her studio near Regents Park to view ongoing designs for the Thoth Tarot. Whicher says She 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.


On 11th May 1938, Lady Harris officially became Crowley’s disciple and he  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 she 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.

Frieda visits Jermyn Street

The author William Holt in his autobiography describes how he accompanied her 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 he was writing. After a lull in the conversation, Crowley disappeared, possibly for a heroin injection, and returned with the portrait of Lam, to the obvious discomfort of Holt. Crowley claimed that Lam was “his guru”; she knew exactly what she was getting into.

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

Creating the 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 Aleister 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 her, 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.

Dion Fortune & Kenneth Grant

We know Dion admired the Thoth Tarot, because on the 8th January 1942 (six months before the Exhibition) she writes to Aleister:

Dear 666,

Many thanks for your letter and card. I am glad you find my tabernacles pleasant. I saw designs for two of your Tarot trumps at the Atlantis Book Shop… I should be interested to know when they are published. I have, I think, most of your books, but not ‘Thumbs up’.

According to Gareth Knight in Dion Fortune and the Inner Light, Aleister sent her a signed copy, No. 9, with the inscription:

To Dion Fortune, this small tribute to her achievement and attainment in the Science of Wisdom and to her eminence as an Artist in Words. Aleister Crowley.

No. 9 to Dion Fortune, as to the High Priestess of Our Lady Selene.

“The number 9 is sacred, and attains the summit of philosophy” Zoroaster

In Janine Chapman’s Quest for Dion Fortune, she interviews Kenneth Grant, student of Aleister Crowley about his contacts with Dion Fortune. Kenneth Grant was at Crowley’s house in Netherwood, Hastings in January or February 1945, when he meets Dion at the station. Dion was dying, but she was looking forward to seeing him again. At the house was Frieda Harris, who was going through the rejected Tarot designs with Aleister. Grant remembers them admiring the pictures. Significantly, one of Grant’s recollections of that day points to Frieda Harris’ pagan connections:

Further, he says that he well remembers Dion’s zest in discussing with Crowley the possibility of reviving the pagan attitudes to cosmic and elemental forces. Louis Umfraville-Wilkinson, a writer and co-literary executor with John Symonds for Aleister Crowley, was also present on that occasion.

Quest for Dion Fortune, Janine Chapman

The last days

There is break in the Harris – 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

Harris and Wilkinson act as 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.

  • Louis Wilkinson to Germer December 27, 1947, first page only
  • Wilkinson to Official Receiver , June 1, 1948, page 2
  • Germer to Lady Harris, Jan 29, 1948
  • Wilkinson to Germer May 6, 1948, two pages only: second page
  • Harris to Germer, June 13, 1948, one paragraph only
  • Lloyds Bank Limited to Wilkinson, June 17, 1948, 1 page only
  • Wilkinson to Germer, 3rd December 1948, 1 page only
  • John Symonds obtaining the copyrights to Aleister Crowley via the High Court of Justice on January 24, 1949
  • Wilkinson to Germer, January 21, 1950, 1 page only

Frieda Harris and Wicca

The executors had to deal with the egos jockeying for succession long before Aleister’s ashes started to cool. One reason why she and Louis were executors may have been that they had no aspirations to become the Head of the OTO. A more cynical interpretation is that Crowley knew their naiveté in dealing with hard-bitten occultists would result in controversy and ill will. She 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.

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.”

What is interesting about this quotation is that Frieda and Aleister devote a lot of time in their letters on Adjustment, 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 has numerous Wiccan Gods associated with it: The Green Man, Dionysus, and Cerunnus; all fertility symbols. The Priestess 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.

The Secret History of Modern Witchcraft by Alan Greenfield

I am not making any claims for the Thoth Tarot as the basis for Wicca, but Crowley does state that the Book of Thoth contains new magic for the millenium, so we would expect some references.

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!”

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