Category Archives: Tarot

Thank you Frieda, Lady Harris

“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 his Vanadium Steel yardstick!”

― A. Crowley, The Book of Thoth

Ancestral Spirits play a huge part of Pagan and Magickal world view. For me this isn’t just blood Ancestors, although I’ve got a couple of pretty exciting ancestors in my history. If my fathers tales are to be believed my family line includes a Scottish Cattle raider and a sailor who went with Columbus to find the New World. But that is by the by. I also believe that our political, religious, spiritual and magickal ancestors should also be venerated. Their lives, their work, their struggles, have all contributed to who I am now. Had Emmeline Pankhurst and her sisters never been born I would not have been able to vote in our local elections last week. Thats worthy of rememberance.

Without Gerald Brosseau Gardner, Philip Peter Ross Nichols (who I have recently discovered went to school in the same village I grew up in) or Orrell Alexander Carter (Alex Sanders) I would not have the religious and philosophical view that I have. They are another form of ancestor. And I also venerate them accordingly. As a result my personal diary doesn’t just contain the important dates relating to family and friends it also lists the birth and death dates of other important people. This week we have the anniversary of the death of Helena Blavatsky and Frieda, Lady Harris. Both movers and shakers in the Occult world in the last 150 years.

I shall leave Mdme. Blavatsky for another day because her influence on the world probably deserves several posts dedicated just to her alone. But Lady Harris is currently of great personal interest for she, along with Moina Mathers and Pamela Coleman Smith form a Triad of talented mystical women who have shaped the face of the world of Tarot. One of my life’s great passions.

Much of late has been done to recognise Pamela ‘Pixie’ Coleman Smith and the part she played in the Rider Waite Smith deck. And not surprisingly because its is probably the most popular deck in the world. I know very few readers who didn’t start out life with some variation of this deck. But two other decks have also shaped the world of tarot, although they are somewhat less talked about. Possibly because their symbolism is a little bit more obscure, a little bit more abstract, and at times dare I say it, more beautiful.

The Thoth, sometimes called ‘The Aleister Crowley Thoth’ is to me as much the work of Lady Harris as it is of the Great Beast, as Crowley liked to call himself. And it is said that this deck is the stunning, complex, detailed and deeply occult deck it is today because Frieda encouraged Crowley to add his own knowledge and imagery to the work rather than just creating another derivative Book T inspired Tarot deck.

Born in 1877 Marguerite Frieda Harris seems to have lived the first half of her life in relative comfort and respectability. The daughter of a Surgeon she went on to marry an MP of the liberal party who thanks to a baronetcy awarded in the 1930s was entitled to call her self Lady Harris. There is an interesting quirk regarding this title. As the wife of a Baronet she was entitled to use the name Lady before her surname, so in formal situations she could be introduced ‘Lady Harris’ but in more informal situations she could not be called ‘Lady Frieda’. Thus when discussing her it is correct to call her Frieda, Lady Harris. However this didn’t seem to stop her from ‘adopting’ the name ‘Lady Frieda’ and it seems to have stuck. It’s not very common to read articles or listen to discussion involving her that use her correct title.

Although an apparently quite private conventional person, in my opinion this little quirk alone is indicative of a more free spirited personality hidden underneath. The fact that at the age of 60 she took up with the man who was known as ‘the wickedest man in the world’ to paint the most amazing tarot deck ever created cements that belief in my eyes. What is it they say, behind every strong man there is an even stronger woman and I truly believe that to be the case when it comes to Coleman-Smith, Mathers and Harris.

She was obviously a deeply loyal woman, she continued to care for Crowley supporting him both physically and financially right up until the end. She used her connections to promote gallery exhibitions of the original artwork for the deck. Helped finance the first run of 200 decks, and as a woman of means even paid Crowley an allowance to allow him to pursue his work in the Occult. And when his body (and many friends) failed him she provided nursing care. Finally she then gifted the original artwork to Crowley’s secretary Gerald Yorke before moving to India to live out her days.

She died on this day 11th of May 1962 in Srinagar Kashmir.

 

Travel well Lady Harris,  daughter of the firmament, may your artwork continue to inspire students of the Tarot and the Occult for generations to come.

A is for Apple

Two posts in one day, gosh I hear you say this blog is like the bus service nothing for ages and then two come along at once, well sort of. I wrote this back in early 2007 for an earlier incarnation of my blogging life, I’d actually forgotten about it, but somebody I know and respect brought up today the concept of beauty from a magickal perspective, and I was reminded of this. So I thought I would trot it out for a 2nd run around the block, I hope it is of interest.

Apple mythology and folklore abounds, it is found in ancient irish, greek, welsh, norse and english liturature. From Adam and Eve, through to Merlin and Vivianne it’s symbolism appears over and over again. After a visit from the apple lady a month or so back I took it upon myself to understand more about this fruit and what it means from a mythological and magical perspective.

That the Apple Lady chose to visit me came as no surprise, I grew up on a very large fruit farm, where apples were the primary crop. There is something very eery about an apple orchard at dusk, there is a presence as old as time, that will manifest under just the right conditions. It effects man and beast alike, I have seen domestic cats momentarily turn ferile, attacking anything in thier path and dogs shiver and yelp in fear at something that to the eye is not there.

Perhaps this occurance of the veil thinning in such a manner is a reflection of the long history man has had with this fruit, creation myths aside. Apples have been cultivated for millenia, although in the British Isles not in the format we most commonly think of, in all likelyhood most of the earlier apple tales would have referred to the “crab” apple, rather than a Granny Smith. But none the less this long relationship has ensured that it has a prominent place in our conciousness and subsequently our mythology.

Irish Mythology

Aillinn

The Ogham stave “Quirt” is most commonly taken to mean apple and more specifically the crab apple (although there is some contention about this amongst scholars), in an Irish myth Aillinn, the granddaughter of the king of Leinster, in true Romeo and Juliet style fell in love with Baile the heir to the throne of Ulster, these two kingdoms were sworn enemy’s and in true romantic tradgedy style the pair died, it was said that from Baile’s grave grew a Yew tree and from Aillinn’s an apple. These tree’s were purported to have been cut down by the Filidh (Irish poets) and the tradgedy was written upon them in Ogham. They were eventually gifted to Art son of Conn, but upon his reading them, they drew shut never to be opened again.

~ Theme, death and rebirth, knowledge and withheld knowledge.

Conle

A mysterious and beautiful woman appears one day to Conle, she throws an apple at him and then promptly disappears. Conle then exists on nothing but the flesh of this apple for an entire month, an becomes consumed by the thought of this woman. When she appears again to him, he follows her to the other world never to be see again.

~ Temptation, Journey to the otherworld, inability to return to this world.

Bran Mac Febal

After hearing a beautiful woman sing, he falls asleep and upon waking discovers he is holding the “silver bough” of Emain. This was a beautiful branch containing golden apples purported to have come from the apple tree in the centre of an Otherworldly Isle (the Irish version of Avalon). After many adventures he makes it Emain, where he stays for a long period of time, and for everyday that passed in Emain many more years passed in Erin (Ireland), home sickness eventually over takes him and his comrades and the resolve to return home, only to discover the pasing of time and the inability to return home. They too sail away never to be seen again.

~ Temptation, Journey to the Otherworld, inability to return to this world.

Cormac

One day a mysterious stranger appears to Cormac, carrying an apple branch containing golden apples, besotted with this treasure he agrees to trade his wife and children for this wondrous item. Eventually the thrall of the branches magic starts to wear off and realising his loss, he resolves to venture into the otherworld to find them. Upon arriving he is greeted by Mananan, who declares the branch was a lure. Discussion passes between them and Cormac enquires about the meaning of a sight he witnessed upon his journey. Mananan lies to Cormac and Cormac catches him out, but Mananan refuses to give him the answer. Later they fall asleep and wake in thier own beds in this world.

~ Temptation, Journey to the Otherworld, Knowledge and withheld Knowledge.

Cu Roi

His otherworldly wife betrays him for the love of Cu Chulain and he is slain. In some recensions of the story he hides his soul in an apple that resided in the stomach of a Salmon that would only surface every seven years.

~ Temptation, Death, Knowledge.

Welsh Mythology

Culwch and Olwen

Culwch journey’s to the otherworld to gain the hand of Yspadden, the giant’s daughter, Olwen; To win Olwen’s hand he has to complete many impossible tasks. He petitions Arthur his cousin to help him in these tasks, his aparell during his appearance in Arthur’s court, it that of a four cornered cloth of purple which has golden apples of great value on each corner.

~ Journey to the Otherworld, Epic Challenges, Giants.

Peredur

Hidden from the concept of war by his mother, a chance meeting with a group of knights; set him on the path of becoming a great warrior. One of the knights he encountered was Owain, who is described as the one “who kept track of the knight who had divided the apples in Arthur’s court”.

~ Epic Challenges, Knowledge and withheld Knowledge.

Afallach

Purported to be the father of Modron (Father of the Mother), his name possibly derives from the welsh word “afall” meaning apple.

Greek Mythology

Eris/Discord

Eris is snubbed when is not invited to a wedding, she turns up anyway and throws a golden apple (possibly from the garden of hersperides) inscribed with the word Kallisti, into the proceedings. Kallisti means to the fairest, the goddesses assembled argue over who this gift is intended for. This argument in a round about way sparked the Trojan war.

~ Temptation, Death

Hera

Gaia gifts Hera enchanted apples trees upon her marriage to Zeus. She plants them in the grove of immortality, also known as the Garden of Hesperides.

~ Otherworld, Immortality

Atlanta

After rejecting many suitors, Hippomenes asked Aphrodite to aid him in persuing his suit of Atlanta. Atlanta declares she will only marry a man who can beat her in a foot race, knowing full well that she cannot be beaten. Aphrodite gift’s Hippomene’s apples from Hesperides, and instructs him to drop them along the route as he run’s. Atlanta cannot help but pause to scoop up these treasures and thus looses the race.

~ Temptation, Epic Challenges

Herakles

Charged with pergorming twelve seemingly impossible tasks to atone for commiting infanticide. His 11th task was to gain the golden apples from the Garden of Hesperides. Later as a gift for achieving these tasks, he is given the gift of immortality.

~Epic Challenges, Immortality

Norse Mythology

Idunn

The keeper of the apples of immortality in Asguard, she is stolen and taken to the giant Pazi in Jotenheim. Without her apples, the gods start aging and a battle ensues between the gods and the giants, the gods eventually win and Idunn is restored to Asguard.

~Immortality

English / Arthurian Mythology

Morgana/Morgraine/Morgan Le Fey

Half sister to Arthur, she plots his downfall, yet at the brink of his death when he is mortally wounded; accepts him into Avalon (The Island of Apples) to heal him and keep him safe until the hour of Britains greatest need.

~ Immortaility, Death/Healing

Merlin

Having been driven mad after the loss of his men in battle, he retires to the forests of Cumbria, he laments his loss. “Nineteen were the apples trees which once stood here with thier fruit: they stand no longer. Who has stolen them from me, where have they gone so suddenly. Now I see them now not. So fate both supports and opposes me, letting me see and preventing me from seeing”.

~ Otherworld, Death/Healing, Knowledge and withheld knowledge.

Apples and the Tree of Life

I encountered my Apple Lady whilst scrying, specifically I was in Tipareth of Geburah (the beauty of severity), she entered via Nun the 24th path of the Tree of life, which joins Netzach (victory) with Tipareth (beauty), which corresponds to the 13th Tarot Trump – Death. This is the path of “The pain of the obligation”; Regardie describes it as “the path of hidden energies that, when aroused, leads to increasing levels of illumination”. He futher explains, “Outmoded ideas of the ’self’ evaproate as new self-images and ’similitudes’ form to replace them. The task of the student on this path is to let go of the old and yield to that which is unfamiliar”.

Many of these stories have common themes, death and resurrection, knowledge and hidden knowledge, temptation often by a beautiful woman, percieved impossible challenges. So what does the apple teach, who is the “Apple Lady”. She has a role in just about every pantheon and every mythology group, her role is that of transformation, of progression, challenges that elicit spiritual and magical growth often through a purification through death, death of apects of the practitioner that bind them or cause conflict within thier ego that prevents them from reaching thier potential, from discovering thier true will.

The Apple Lady offers you the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but to accept that fruit requires that step your feet along a path from which you cannot return, no matter how much you would wish it. And to eat that fruit will ensure that you will never be the same again. Possibly better, more complete, but undeniably different.

Did you know?

I own 6 tarot decks, no neither did I, until I took the time to root them out and count them up and that isn’t including the 3 blank decks I found still in the cellophane wrapping their original purpose now lost in the mists of time. I also have the pencil sketches of the Major Arcana for a deck of my own based upon the Guardians and Tresures of Britain. Not bad for somebody who doesn’t read cards…or should that be didn’t read cards….or maybe it should be somebody that didn’t fess up to reading the cards.

The problem was that I was never trained and I could not in all honesty say I was self taught because my very first deck (which actually is no longer with me but in better hands – Im a bit absive with my decks, ask me to do a “chaos” spread for you one day if we ever meet) was the Rider Waite and an accompanying “Idiots Guide” style book, I hated it, hated it with a passion, so I gave it away. But I did read, at one point fairly often, but it was intuitively, I knew nothing of the traditional symbology or so I thought. So when people asked me if I would give them a reading (because all occultists know the cards don’t they?) I would change the subject, get a very bad cough, or suddenly be unable to find my deck. Hmm maybe that is why I have so many decks, I kept hiding them in safe places so I accidently on purpose couldn’t find them, and then I really couldn’t.

Anyway I’m getting of track a bit, where was I, Oh yes, I would have been very happily preserving this little charade until a couple of acts of syncronicity occured. Yup, damn that syncronicity, I tell you when the revolution comes it will be the first up against the wall and shot, my life will then be so much easier. Firstly I had quite an indepth discussion with a fellow student of the mysteries regarding oracular aspects of working with Hekate. And secondly I discovered that a very well respected and talented teacher of the Tarot was running a weekend long workshop at a local MBS store. I still don’t really know what possessed me to book myself on the course, as lovely and clever and talented as they are, I normally find that, although in theory the MBS crowd and occultists should have a common ground, in reality, whilst they may only be standing 5 ft appart, there is a great yawning, gaping, abyss that separates them; as a result the idea of spending a weekend in such company would normally send me screaming down the high street tearing my hair and renting my clothes with much gnashing of teeth and beating of breast.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised, firstly it is possible that there may be validity in the statement that all occultists know the cards, it appears my years of scribbling, underling, highlighting and general wanton destruction of my copy of 777 for various “doings” may have paid off, because it turns out I had a bloody good idea of what was actually going on in the cards from a traditional point of view, secondly I have been asked by the owner of the shop to put together some talks and she was specifically interested in me facilitating a weekend Hekate workshop. Now I initially balked at the idea, she basicially inferred that I was going to have to “Goddess” it up a bit, not really my style, but apparently who am I to judge because every time I think about it this song pops into my head U2 – Mysterious Ways Click on the Link and really listen to the lyrics, go on I dare you, because if that isn’t an Oracular message, then I’m the irrepresible spirit of Monkey!