Projective Synthetic Geometry in Lady Frieda Harris' Tarot Paintings and in Aleister Crowley's Book of the Law
It was in 1904 when the english magician Aleister Crowley wrote the the Book of the Law. It was dictated by a praeter-human intelligence calling itself Aiwass. The book consists of three chapters written down in Cairo on 8th, 9th and 10th April at noon.
33 years later, Crowley met the artist painter Lady Frieda Harris. He had decided to create a new Tarot deck and asked Harris to paint the cards according his ideas, that is according his instructions. Harris agreed, became a member of the O.T.O. and they becan their work. A lot of the cards had to be painted several times. The drafts still are in private possession while the final originals can be found at the Warburg Institute London, a part of the University Library.
The Library Warburg was founded in 1903 by the jewish son of a banker, Aby Warburg in Hamburg. At the beginning of the Nazi regime in 1933, the complete collection (80,000 books) was sent to London where the Warburg Institute now was founded. There, I was able to study the original Tarot paintings. I also saw the unpublished drafts of earlier versions, in private ownership. Lady Frieda Harris painted far more versions than the published ones. All in all, she worked five years on them.
At the end of his life, Crowley wrote a book about this new Tarot, called The Book Thoth. About the card The Aeon Crowley wrote in the Book Thoth:
>This new Tarot may therefore be regarded as a series of illustrations to the Book of the Law; the doctrine of that Book is everywhere implicit.< (Book of Thoth, page 115)
If you cut out these cards and remove their frames, especially the trumps can be put together in a very harmonic fashion. Why so?
Crowley noted in the Book of Thoth that the harmony of the cards was proof of the correct application of symbols and colours of the holy cabballa, upon which this tarot was created. By making collages of these cards, I learned that the link between the peculiar cards was not only made through their colours or symbols but through their geometry. Which kind of geometry was used by Harris, which made these links possible?
The Geometry she used was an evolution of the strict Euclidian geometry. Its roots had been developed by the mathematician Descartes in the 17th Century. It's called "Projective Synthetic Geometry" and was developed by many mathematicians and scientists throughout Europe. Many of Descartes' ideas were based on both mathematical and mystic assumptions, e.g. his axiom of parallels meeting at infinity. The ends of parallel lines lie in two opposite directions, but the idea of the point in infinity is that the point, infinitely distant in a direction, is the same as those infinitely distant in the opposite direction.
This step in the development of Projective Geometry, based on the idea of elements in infinity, brought movement and perspective to the Euclidian concept of rigid, fixed forms. In the following centuries the next step based on the idea of polarity (center and periphery) was taken; in other words, the concept of a polarity between a central point and an infinitely distant surface.
These thoughts then had the consequence that each point in each conceivable space is the same distance from a surface in infinity.
The next step, taken in the 20th century, comes from the concept of space, polar or opposite to our three-dimensional space. Can one move one's concept of a surface in infinity into an infinite center? ...
How did Frieda Harris come into contact with the concepts of Projective Geometry and their practical, graphical conversion?
Three people, whose spiritual paths were different from Crowley's, were responsible for this: Rudolf Steiner, George Adams and Olive Whicher.
Rudolf Steiner was the founder of Anthroposophy, from which, among other things, come Waldorf (Rudolf Steiner) schools, Eurhythmy and biodynamic agriculture.
George Adams was one of the people who helped to bring Anthroposophy to England. He met Rudolf Steiner personally during a trip to Dornach and at the same time beloned to a group of scientists who worked on the advancement of Projective Geometry. They worked on the concept of a space whose center is infinity.
Rudolf Steiner recognized that people required in their concepts the idea of infinity in the center as well as infinity in the periphery. Mankind needed the concept of infinity in the center in order to find their mental and emotional equilibrium, and in order to further develop spiritually. Steiner assumed infinity in a center in the sun. That is, infinity can be found in the sun, or perhaps better said, infinite nothing.
Olive Whicher tried patiently to explain the principles of Projective Geometry to me. She wrote and published together with George Adams books about Projective Geometry and worked after Adams death until today as an author, Anthroposophical researcher and teacher. Her last large publication was the book Sonnenraum (Sun Space), in which she explains in particular the mathematical research through the spiritual- scientific realizations of Rudolf Steiner. It is taught at Emerson College, a Rudolf Steiner school in Forest Row, South England.
In March, 1935, she met the Anthroposophical Society in London and therefore also George Adams a short time later. Adams taught Projective Geometry in the Rudolf Steiner house. Whicher attended Adams' lectures and soon began to work together with him. Adams and Whicher gave courses in Projective Geometry when Frieda Harris visited the Rudolf Steiner house.
This occurred as Harris began work on the Crowley Tarot cards, probably in the year 1937, because from this time on there are entries in Crowley's diaries about his work with Harris.
Harris took courses in Projective Geometry and made friends with Whicher and Adams. George Adams called her Diana, because he found that this name fit her substantially better than Frieda. A representation of Diana can be found on the tarot trump Art. Frieda sometimes told George and Olive about her work with Crowley, and that she used what she learned in the courses for her work on the tarot pictures. Whenever Olive told me about Harris, she spoke of what a special and friendly person she was.
The meetings with Harris also gave Adams and Whicher quite practical impulses in their own graphical work. Harris suggested that they use very hard colored pencils as well as very soft pastel colors for work with plant pictures. Some of these plant pictures that Adams and Whicher worked on still hang in the Rudolf Steiner House in London. On these plant pictures they worked in order to show the ideas of Projective Geometry in the world that is visible and well known to us. They also wanted to include Goethe's scientific ideas in their work. For me, the essential contents of Goethean research is a revolt against the mistake that one can analyze and understand something alive in the same manner as something dead. One can not attain an understanding of a tree by taking it apart and analyzing it like an automobile.
Goethe's idea of changing forms in the plant world is referred to by Adams and Whicher in their understanding of the constant process between space and anti-space, whereby anti-space is betterdescribed by the word Sun-space, because it is the source of the power that makes life on earth possible. That this power in the plants is visible to everybody, was recognized by Adams on a spring day in 1947 with Olive in Regents Park (it lies about a minuts from the Rudolf Steiner House), as they walked by a budding hedge Adams suddenly stopped and exclaimed to Olive (I quote from Whicher's book George Adams):
>"Naturally! That IS an ethereal space!"
And then he described in geometric terms how the germinating impulse - the united group of small flat leaves or an individual leaf, how it emerges as a cone from a point of growth and as it grows it loses ever more of its vitality - actually the living substance is a physical manifestation of an etheric space. This growth process is found, instead of in an ethereal space, in the space and with the powers of the "point of growth", which contains an infinity in the inside. So a seed or a germinating embryo is physically small, but ethereally large! It was an exact analog to the concept from higher mathematics.<
Also in the Book of the Law the infinitely small point, which contains the vitality of the infinity, is clearly emphasized. The book calls this point Hadit. Hadit describes itself in the Book of the Law as follows:
>I am not extended< and:
>I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star. I am Life, and the giver of Life, yet therefore is the knowledge of me the knowledge of death.<
The three chapters of the Book of the Law refer to the three Egyptian gods Nuit, Hadit and Horus.
Had or Hadit stands for the internal center of each human. It is the spark of light which transcends death and rebirth. Hadit is not extended. Its space is of the quality of the sun space.
Nu or Nuit is the goddess of the sky. She is the starlit sky and encloses everything that surrounds us.
Hoor or Horus is the child of Nuit and Hadit. He is the result of the interaction between the infinity in a center and the infinity in the periphery.
The second chapter of the Book of the Law begins with the following verses:
1. Nu! the hiding of Hadit.
2. Come! all ye, and learn the secret that hath not yet been revealed. I, Hadit, am the complement of Nu, my bride. I am not extended, and Khabs is the name of my House.
3. In the sphere I am everywhere the centre, as she, the circumference, is nowhere found.
4. Yet she shall be known & I never.
In these verses we find a reference to the thoughts contained in Projective Geometry and to the concept of the sun space.A quotation from Adams' essay Die Weltenkräfte des Umkreises und die Pflanze (The World Power of the Circumference and the Plant) will clarify this:
>We should as clearly as possible build the concept of real picture forces, which float over the universe as two-dimensional pages, instead of like terrestrially constituted forces of punctual centers shooting outward like arrows. Thus we obtain in a scientifically accurate manner the concept of forces with no focal point, but having a perimeter ...<
We can also find an analogy to sun space in our sensory organs: If we look into the distance, things appear smaller the further they are away from us. It is not possible for me to clearly describe how my eyes are connected with my soul in the sun space, but I know that the laws of optics corresponds with the laws of the sun space: The nearer visible things come to me, the larger they become, the nearer things are to the center of my perception, also coming to my soul in the sun space, the more space is available for them.
With reference to the concept of sun space I would also like to discuss the following verses from the first chapter of the Book of the Law:
6. Be thou Hadit, my secret centre, my heart & my tongue!
7. Behold! it is revealed by Aiwass the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat.
8. The Khabs is in the Khu, not the Khu in the Khabs.
9. Worship then the Khabs, and behold my light shed over you!
Aiwass is the envoy of the passive, introverted part of Horus. His nature corresponds to the sun. Hadit is located completely in the sun or anti-space; likewise the Khabs, the house in which Hadit lives. The connection between our soul and our body exists in the Khu. The Khu is our light- or astral body. Steiner wrote in Die Geheimwissenschaft im Umriss (An Outline of the Secret Science) that all of our passions and feelings are located in the astral body. In the Secret Science Steiner writes further that this astral body penetrates a further body in us, which animates our physical body.
The astral body, the Khu, also penetrates the life-body, which further penetrates our physical body. This life-body exists in an interrelationship between space and anti-space. It alternates between material and non-material existence. Since the Khu penetrates the life-body and this consists of an interplay between material and non-material, the Khu is always in direct contact with our flesh body and through our flesh body it can be influenced. The Khu has the proportion and nature of the Material, such that it is transitory. This is not so of the house of the soul and the soul itself. The house Khabs and its inhabitant Hadit are immortal. With the request >worship the Khabs<, Aiwass requires us to worship the eternal and therefore our internal, and to the things around us he counts not only our rough-material, but also our fine-material body.
The space- and time-structures described here aim at our internal and holiest and finally pursue a single target: They are to help each human to carry out his free will. This free will rises from the spiritual world: Our higher self, our soul.
Postscript 10. October 1999
Since September 18, 1999, I am again attending Emerson College and have the possibility of continuing discussion with Mrs. Whicher.
In March, 2000, Olive turns 90 years old, health permitting. She has strong memory problems and did not recognize me at first. With obvious effort and after several discussions she remembered our meetings from 1990/91.
Whicher read the above article about Projective Geometry in the Harris-Tarot in its corrected prototype form and confirmed the relevant facts. Today Olive describes the history of Projective Geometry in the Harris-Tarot somewhat differently:
Around the year 1938 she became aquainted with Frieda Harris. Frieda's studio was very close to Regent Park and also very close to the Rudolf Steiner House. Olive remembers visiting Harris several times in her studio, which must have been on an upper floor, since she remembers stairs.
Deviating from the 1990/91 version, Olive today tells me that she privately taught Harris in her studio during the time she worked on Crowley's Tarot. The difference from the first version is that in the earlier version Harris learned Projective Geometry from Adams' and Whicher's courses in the Rudolf Steiner House. I personally assume that both are the case.
Whicher also remembers that Adams became friends with Harris and they were very impressed by her personality. Whicher acknowledged again that Adams called Harris "Diana", which refers to the goddess represented on the card "Art" in the Crowley Tarot.
Olive told me that Harris had colored her hair red, which at that time must have been very special and unusual. Harris was a woman of liberal politics and had a very free-living, spirited and strong personality. Olive told me that she regretted when Harris left England for the rest of her life to spend her old age on a houseboat in Kashmir.
Quite particularly, Whicher expressed her regret that Harris did not turn to Anthroposophy.
In 1991 I requested permission from Whicher for me to publish an article about the connection between Projective Geometry taught in the Rudolf Steiner House and the Harris Tarot, with the help of some pictures from Whicher's "Sonnenraum" ("Sun Space"). After much hesitation Whicher gave me permission, with the reason being the freedom of information, as in Steiner's philosophy of the three-way arrangement of society (freedom in culture and religion, fraternity in economics and equality before the law).
Of Thelema and Aleister Crowley, Whicher holds nothing good.
It is completely incomprehensible to her why Harris did not find her way to Anthroposophy. At our last meeting, Whicher told me that it seemed to her as if Harris had been "under Crowley's spell", because she held to him so strongly. It caused Harris much grief that Crowley suffered so much due to asthma. Adams and Whicher both had an absolutely good opinion of Harris. Harris held absolutely to Crowley.
Whicher considered each work with the person or the teachings of Aleister Crowley to be false and dangerous. She regards a connection between Anthroposophical and Thelemic philosophy to be a mistake. To clarify this, finally a quotation from our last discussion: "Forget everything that you know and read all of the books that Rudolf Steiner wrote!"
Claas Hoffmann, Haferkamp 14, 21640 Horneburg, Germany
Claas Hoffmann, Emerson College, Forest Row, RH 18 5JX, England
Translated by Stephen L***