In Search of Frieda Harris

  • Deja Whitehouse

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Frieda Harris (1877 – 1962), wife of the Liberal MP Sir Percy Harris, is chiefly remembered for her Tarot paintings which were a fundamental component of Aleister Crowley’s Book of Thoth, his last major magical work. This thesis examines how a woman from an ostensibly conventional Victorian middle-class background came to make such a major contribution to modern Western Esotericism. My assessment is presented within the context of British social and cultural history, comparing various aspects of Harris's life with those of female contemporaries who had similar occult interests.

A comprehensive study has been made of primary sources comprising transcripts of Crowley’s diaries, and Harris and Crowley’s personal correspondence. Additional material includes transcripts of card descriptions dictated by Crowley, talks delivered by Harris and material written for exhibition catalogues, held in the Yorke Collection at the Warburg Institute in London. Additional correspondence and other supporting documentation have been procured from the following sources: the Parliamentary Archives, Westminster; West Yorkshire Archives; Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries; Special Collections Library, Penn State University; Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin, and the Tate Gallery Archives.

Historically, Western esoteric studies have been undertaken largely by male academics who present a predominantly male perspective of the various movements and main contributors. The balance has only recently been addressed in the works of female researchers such as Alex Owen and Joy Dixon, and for a more general audience, Mary Greer. This thesis extends this study by showcasing Harris as a major contributor to Western Esotericism within the context of British social, cultural and art history, illustrating the actual and perceived changes in women’s status during the period 1877-1962.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRonald E Hutton (Supervisor) & Grace Huxford (Supervisor)

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