CROWLEY-HARRIS THOTH TAROT PAINTINGS IN THE VENICE BIENNALE
The 55th International Art Exhibition, or Venice Biennale, titled Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), is curated by Massimiliano Gioni and was organized by la Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta. It opens to the public on June 1 and runs through November 24.
O.T.O. International Headquarters and the Warburg Institute arranged for the inclusion of nine of the Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris Thoth Tarot paintings. We have held back releasing news of their inclusion until the general press releases from the Biennale went out, which happened in mid-March.
A few Thoth paintings have been shown before. Leaving aside Harris’ own shows in the 1940s, the first was the inclusion of “Atu XX, The Aeon” in the O.T.O.-curated October Gallery Crowley art show of 1997, which had a brief run. The second was the inclusion of four trumps (Atu II - The High Priestess, Atu IX - The Hermit, Atu XVIII - The Moon and Atu XIX - The Aeon) in the 2008 Traces du Sacré show at the Centre Pompidou, which ran for just over 3 months.
The Biennale is the first time so many Thoth paintings will be on public display for such a length of time—about 5 months. Attendance at the last Biennale approached 400,000, so this will introduce the Thoth Tarot to a large, new and sophisticated audience.
We wish to thank Massimiliano Gioni and his assistant-curator Helga Just Christoffersen for their inclusion of Crowley and Harris, and the Warburg Institute for making the loan of the paintings possible.
The nine paintings included are:
- Atu VIII - Adjustment, 1940
- Atu XII - The Hanged Man, 1938–40
- Atu XV - The Devil, 1938–40
- Atu XVI - The Tower (or: War), 1939
- Atu XVIII - The Moon, 1938–40
- Atu XIX - The Sun, 1938
- Queen of Wands, 1938–40
- Ace of Cups, 1940
- Queen of Cups, 1938–40
As a side note, this year’s Biennale also includes work by two other Thelemite painters, Harry Smith and Xul Solar.
For information, see:
- La Biennale de Venezia (English)
- La Biennale di Venezia - 55th International Art Exhibition - The Encyclopedic Palace
- Venice Biennale to showcase new generation of young British artists
- Venice Biennale Artist List Announced
THOTH TAROT RESTORATION PROJECT COMPLETED
O.T.O. had known for many years that the original Thoth Tarot paintings, owned by the Warburg Institute, needed urgent restoration work if they were to be preserved for future generations. The initial estimate obtained by the Institute from a British firm of conservators many years ago was discouragingly high.
Eventually, an arrangement was made between the O.T.O. and the Warburg’s in-house conservation specialist, Susan Campion, who kindly offered to do the work on a time-available basis for a cost that seemed possible, if not easy, for O.T.O. to raise. The Institute kindly made available its conservation studio for the work, a large savings of costs over sending the work out. We began internal fund-raising back in 2005 and the work began in 2006, reaching completion in late 2011. The project requirements changed during restoration due to conditions discovered on disassembly of the mounted cards—see the conservation report. Susan Campion generously offered to perform the additional work required—much of it very challenging technically—within the original estimate.
O.T.O. was eventually able to raise the full amount required, including extra funds beyond the original estimate to have replacement storage boxes built, totaling over $53,000. Of this, nearly $48,500 came directly from the O.T.O. membership—including several wonderfully generous individual donations, and including pooled donations sent in through local bodies. The comparatively small topup needed to complete the project came from the International Headquarters treasury.
I am incredibly proud of O.T.O. as an organization, and of my brothers and sisters who gave so generously. Thank you all—and thanks to Treasurer General Vere Chappell for coordinating the fundraising.
I especially wish to thank Susan Campion, and the curators of the Yorke Collection, for making this possible.
It was this restoration project that made possible the inclusion of several of the Thoth Tarot paintings in major art exhibitions—the paintings could not have travelled otherwise.
THOTH TAROT COPYRIGHT LITIGATION
O.T.O. is filing suit in U.S. Federal Court against U.S. Games Systems, and perhaps others, over the Thoth Tarot Deck.
Years ago O.T.O. licensed the Thoth Tarot to AGMüller (whose assets are now part of Königsfurt Urania, a division of Carta Mundi, the world’s largest card producer). In an attempt (clearly misguided in retrospect) to “make room” in the deal for U.S. Games, who had long published the deck under an arrangement with Samuel Weiser dating from the days when the deck was public domain in the U.S.A., we set up the deal to let U.S. Games continue in North America, supplied with the decks by AGMüller, with U.S. Games executing a separate license with O.T.O.—the U.S. copyright to the Thoth Tarot had by then been restored, in 1996. We concluded our contract with AGMüller for world distribution less North America. The “set-aside” of North America to accommodate U.S. Games gave rise to a last-minute clause in our contract with AGMüller that allowed AGMüller to ship decks to U.S. Games royalty unpaid—it being understood that U.S. Games would take care of its royalty obligations for North American English sales through the separate contract that they were expected to conclude with O.T.O. To my surprise and dismay U.S. Games then refused to sign the contract—or even discuss the contract any longer; and this was the contract that O.T.O. had negotiated hard with AGMüller to get for U.S. Games. Sadly, this loophole in our AGMüller contract has been exploited ever since, to the detriment of both copyright owners of the Thoth Tarot. The grand total paid to the copyright owners for North American English language deck sales (by far the largest market in the world) has been exactly zero.
Incidentally, don’t believe what you read in some places on the Internet about Thoth Tarot copyright terms—these rights don’t expire anytime soon. If memory serves, they run until end of 2039 (first authorized publication in 1944 + the 95 year extended US term) in America, and they run until end of 2032 in Europe (the life of Lady Harris, the last co-creator to die, in 1962, plus 70 years).
This distorted rights situation has also kept the color-corrected new edition of the Thoth Tarot Deck off the market in English—U.S. Games insists on selling the absurd “three-Magician” version of the deck, with its over-saturated colors that are nothing like the original paintings. Around 2007, O.T.O. went to considerable trouble and expense—with very supportive assistance from AGMüller and the Yorke Collection curators—to digitally rephotograph the deck in high resolution, using a (rented!) $100,000 Phase One camera. We even did the typesetting and layout for the new deck in multiple languages, including English, for free—all in the interests of finally getting a version out that would meet Crowley’s and Lady Harris’ exacting standards. We’ve been very disappointed—thus far, it has only appeared in German.
I have compared this printing of the deck to the original paintings, and it is almost perfect. The original paintings have not faded over time, as some have claimed (the originals have always been protected from light, barring brief exhibitions, and are stable Winsor and Newton pigments). The problem is that prior printings have been simply negligent about color correction—which was admittedly harder in the pre-digital era—and in some cases, colors have been “pushed” to get an effect the publisher likes. Matching the subtlety of the paintings themselves is much harder, but clearly worthwhile.
With this litigation, we fully expect a typical American-style defense strategy that seeks to pit their considerable financial resources against ours. We’re veterans of this sort of asymmetrical fighting, and have prevailed against much larger opponents more than once. Having prepared thoroughly for the case, both legally and financially, we are confident of winning.
But we do want to ask for your support. If it offends your sensibilities that our shared legacy in the Thoth Tarot (one of the crowning achievements of Crowley’s life’s work) is being squandered and demeaned artistically against the creator’s and the estates’ wishes in this cynical manner—as it offends mine—please donate to the O.T.O. Legal Fund, and please be generous. We very much wish to conclude this as quickly and economically as possible, without hampering other ongoing O.T.O. projects.
Donations to the O.T.O. Legal Fund can be sent via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by check to Ordo Templi Orientis, Treasurer General, 24881 Alicia Parkway, Suite E-529, Laguna Hills, CA 92653 USA.
In other legal news, O.T.O. now has in-house counsel in its New York office, with a very qualified intellectual property attorney and member looking after our licensing. We now have the ability to handle smaller litigations entirely in-house in any state.
O.T.O. PUBLISHING NEWS
We have, as many of you know, issued two large paperback collections of Crowley’s fiction, The Drug and Other Stories, and The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works (Wordsworth Editions, UK). These were done for a nominal royalty fee in order to sound out the depth of the market for Crowley in paperback at a low price-point, and they seemed like good titles for introducing Crowley to a wider audience. The endnotes were a lot of work, and give a preview of some of the new research done for Crowley’s unabridged Confessions. If you haven’t ordered, do—they’re very reasonable (Simon Iff is currently (April 2013) $4.50 and The Drug is $7.19 with free shipping worldwide from www.bookdepository.com). And very readable, too. They are not at all what you might find floating on the internet—these have been carefully proofed and corrected, and draw on all available archival sources.
I have only just emerged from a very deep editorial rabbit-hole that lasted much of the last year, and am pleased to report that all of Crowley’s surviving diaries are now in page proofs—totaling over 6,000 pages as things now stand. This was a necessary exercise in order to develop a consistent editorial standard across the entire series, as we’re about to publish the first new volume of diaries to appear in some fifteen years.
As many of you know, the second volume of his Collected Diaries appeared in 1998 as The Vision and the Voice with Commentary and Other Papers (Equinox IV(2))—we are developing a slightly revised reprint of this. We are in the final stages (indexing—or rather, reindexing!) what will be the third volume in the series (chronologically), The American Diaries (Equinox IV(3)). This will be followed by the first volume, The Early Diaries (Equinox IV(4)), which is in second page proofs. We are optimistic that The American Diaries will go to press around mid-summer.
We have also developed a new edition of The Holy Books of Thelema (Equinox III(9))—currently in final proofs except for the appendices (the joys of typesetting Egyptian hieroglyphs are new to us here). This is a high priority for reissue.
We also have a new edition of The Diary of a Drug-Fiend that includes Crowley’s corrections and final additions, with his notes and a good editorial apparatus, needing only the introduction completed. We have newly-mastered versions of several out of print “backlist” titles—Liber Aleph, Eight Lectures on Yoga, The Law is for All, The Revival of Magick and Little Essays Toward Truth, that are nearly ready to be sent to press. Some of these may be released via print on demand and ebook at a price point that will be affordable to students.
A few months ago Apple revised its specification for its ebook format to allow free online updates for purchased ebooks. This is great, as we were planning to release via Apple as their file format is very secure. This new feature will allow us to improve the ebooks as we find necessary corrections, add material, or even substantially revise ebooks to use newly-supported features in the Apple ebook environment. Ebooks will of course look very different in, say, five or ten years, than they do today. We dislike, in principle, the idea of charging twice for the same book, so this is a welcome feature. It may also permit us to release in ebook before we release a print version (e.g., before the indexing for the print book is completed—an index being less important in an ebook, which behaves very differently and has a built-in search function). It is usually considered bad for business to release in ebook before print, but we’re more interested in saving money for our readers than sticking them for the maximum possible. That said, we’d like to be able to ensure that respectably-printed hardcovers remain available, for the comparative few who want them.
The unabridged Confessions is at an advanced state—it has had final proofs read for everything but the new editorial matter, and was indexed (though it now needs re-indexing). A few years ago I was so far along that at one point I described it as an “in press” title in a bibliographic citation. That proved too optimistic, as it was put on hold to allow the key volumes of diaries to appear first. As the first three volumes of the Collected Diaries cover 1894 through 1919, they span most of Confessions (which ends with a small amount of material for the early 1920s). This approach—releasing the first three volumes of the Collected Diaries—will allow the diaries to be cross-referenced by page in Confessions, making both sets of books much more useful as references.
We may, conditions permitting, begin issuing Confessions this year with volume 1 (this first volume has little parallel material in the diaries), and try to issue further volumes concurrently with the publication of the diaries, i.e., issuing the book volume by volume. Confessions volume 1 is basically complete, and features a great many previously-unseen photographs, and some new (and surprising!) research. The book is set and laid out to match the 1929 Mandrake Press first edition typographically, and will use a binding and paper of similar quality, with a great many full page photographs.
I did make much of my research for Confessions available to Richard Spence, Richard Kaczynski and Tobias Churton for their recent Crowley biographies—this happened at different times, so that their respective books reflect a little of the new Confessions but at different stages. Their own new research is incorporated and gratefully cited in the new Confessions. But the last few years of work on the new Confessions has turned up amazing new material and research.
A slightly technical digression by way of explanation and apology is in order. Confessions, the various volumes in the Collected Diaries series, and many other projects have been delayed by a painfully long and protracted series of technical problems having entirely to do with the software platform used by O.T.O. for book production.
Since 1991, our major books have been done in Adobe Framemaker, a powerful large-document book publishing program—we began using Framemaker with version 2 before it was owned by Adobe. This program made possible the programming of extensive cross-references and complex indexes characteristic of our bigger books, like Liber ABA (Magick) and The General Principles of Astrology. Years ago now, Adobe decided to kill off Framemaker on the Macintosh, so we moved the projects to Windows, and for a time were able to maintain and further develop the books with that work-around, unsatisfactory as it was (The Drug was produced in Frame under Windows, for example). But stability issues (crashes) increasingly became a problem, so we decided to move everything to the new Adobe book production program InDesign (which was used for Simon Iff). Incomprehensibly, Adobe chose not to provide a migration path for people moving book projects from their old book production program (Framemaker) to their new book production program (InDesign)—at least, they don’t provide one that doesn’t throw away most of your programming. O.T.O. has worked with a third-party provider of a conversion utility that—after about a year of extra programming—eventually succeeded in preserving our original cross-references. Even with this, conversion still requires 50+ hours per book of hand programming to get things working properly. And sadly, all our Framemaker indexes are lost, i.e., not convertible. Well, I did them once, I’ll do them all again—but indexing is unbelievably tedious and time consuming—and contrary to popular belief, it has to be done in your head, knowing the entire book, and not using computer aids (that works for directories, not esoteric books).
There are other books that were nearly completed in Framemaker some years ago but stalled in the press due to the financial pressures occasioned by our legal exertions in the UK. These include Jesus and Other Papers (The Equinox III(2)), The Philosophy of Magick and Mysticism, The Unabridged Commentaries on Liber AL vel Legis, Crowley on Drugs, The Book of Oaths and The Golden Rose. These books need different amounts of further conversion and indexing, and will necessarily have to follow after our near term releases discussed above.
So in short, please excuse the long delay in the appearance of books, and thanks for your patience.
I had one of those rare real-world material/spiritual experiences last year. I had sent out final proofs on The Holy Books, and a few weeks later the advance shipment of a large consignment of books from South Africa arrived. I knew it included a frighteningly rare Crowley title of great importance—the one-volume edition of Thelema (1909), i.e., The Holy Books, printed on actual sheepskin vellum (not Japon vellum, a type of paper favored by Crowley) and bound in Morocco by Zaehnsdorf. I had good reason to think it might be the very copy that appears on the altar in the famous “Magician” photo of Crowley, as I knew that A.C. had inscribed the book, almost certainly to Windram on his departure for South Africa after his 1913 visit to London, so it had without question been Crowley’s copy before 1913.
I was not, however, quite prepared for what arrived: the book includes several early comments on verses of Liber Legis (a few of which are important), as well as a very important text correction to Liber CCXX III:37 which resolves a longstanding textual difference between three sources: (1) the versification of the Stèle of Revealing from a now-lost vellum notebook, which was published with the reading “kill me!” in The Equinox I(7) (1912) and The Equinox of the Gods (1936); (2) a quotation (“fill me!”) given in a pencil note to Liber XXXI, the MS. of Liber AL, giving directions for the extent of the quotation to be inserted from a contemporary vellum notebook; and (3) the editions of Liber Legis published by Crowley, all of which gave “fill me!”. In this copy Crowley’s marginal holograph note clearly corrects “fill me!” to “kill me!” in the text of Liber CCXX.
Below are photographs of the book’s binding and the page with the correction to Liber Legis. These photos are just quick snapshots taken before rushing the book into safe deposit—I don’t care to have such valuable Order property around on an ongoing basis.
That this particular book—with corrections!—should arrive in that brief period when The Holy Books were being proofed was amazing, though not entirely unsurprising to me. I believe the Secret Chiefs are paying attention to our work and can arrange such things—if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be editing The Holy Books in the first place!
Further details about the correction to Liber CCXX may be found Essays on Liber Legis.
The underlying tale of the James Thomas Windram Accession to the O.T.O. Archives is a story in itself, which I will briefly relate here. We knew of the collection’s existence in South Africa as some years ago Frater Shiva X° of Australia, with assistance from the South African Crowley scholar Clint Warren, had met and befriended Windram’s only child, Clive Aleister. Clive had been born soon after Bro. Windram’s death in 1939. Clive’s mother had written to Crowley to ask what she should do with Windram’s books and papers, and A.C. advised her to save them for the boy. She did, and Clive hung onto them for many decades, but finally, last year, decided that it was time they went to the O.T.O. The collection included the original O.T.O. charter for South Africa signed by Crowley and Leila Waddell, Windram’s robe (made by Northam), numerous first editions (including a nearly complete deluxe binding of The Equinox, a Book of Lies signed “Perdurabo,” and one of the very scarce Japon vellum copies of The Goetia—graced with a few of young Clive’s crayon scrawls from his boyhood!), and dozens of valuable books from the secondary literature, including some mint first editions, e.g., of Forlong’s Rivers of Life. I wish to thank Bro. Clint Warren for flying the bulk of the collection from South Africa to the US. We are deeply grateful to the Windram family—I can think of no better example of a son keeping faith with his father’s wishes, or of a widow keeping faith for both husband and son. That this collection should have been preserved largely intact for a century and come to us out of the blue in our centenary year—100 years after the founding of the M∴M∴M∴ and the South African O.T.O.—is all the more fitting.
Frater Superior O.T.O.