Lady Frieda Harris, wife of British Parliament Member, Sir Percy Alfred Harris, was 60 years old when she was commissioned by occultist Aleister Crowley to create designs for a deck of Tarot Cards. "The Thoth Deck" was to reflect Crowley's revisions of the traditional names and numbering schemes of the Tarot as well as Thelema, Crowlely's personal interpretations of ancient and contemporary esoteric teachings. Harris was not only an accomplished artist, she was already a member of a theosophical society known as the Co-Masonry. Soon after meeting Crowley in 1937, she became his disciple and started working on Tarot designs. The Tarot project was supposed to take 3 months but expanded into a huge, 5 year undertaking. During these 5 years, Harris worked with bombs literally dropping around her home, creating up to 8 versions of some of cards until the design was right. Harris set up (and ultimately funded) a series of shows of her works as well as a limited edition of 200 decks of the cards. That was the only time The Thoth deck would be published in either her or Crowley's lifetimes.
Crowley took great pride in Harris' designs, heaping her with praise but also claiming the majority role in their creation. For all her flamboyant airs (dying her hair red at age 61, writing esoteric verse under the name "Jesus Chutney") Harris shunned the spotlight and kept her work on the Thoth Deck anonymous, making Crowley's claims of ownership that much more effective. While Crowley acted as editor and supplied Harris with lists of symbols and colors, the ultimate honors go to Harris. Her color-drenched Art Deco interpretations clarify and augment Crowley's intricate esoteric theories.
After the Tarot project, Harris and Crowley maintained a friendship that waxed and waned but ultimately preservered. Crowley could be a difficult person to like and Harris was a strong enough character to step away from his tantrums (and to throw a few of her own.) Over the years, however, she continued to assist Crowley financially and was one of the two executors of his will.
Lady Harris died in 1962. Her original artwork for the Thoth Deck resides in the archives of the Warburg Institute in London. The poor quality of art materials available to Harris during the height of WWII has resulted in severe fragility of the originals and they await major restoration.
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