Tuesday 13 April 2021

Aleister Crowley: Beyond the Legend of Infamy

Leon Kennedy's portrait. This post originally published in 2009 as part of advance publicity for my Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus. I am posting part of the introductory sections from my upcoming Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus in greater detail than previously available. Although it serves as a scene setter (and hopefully appetite wetter here), I think the piece works on its own as an initial defence of Crowley against his critics and indicator of what an extraordinary and fascinating man he was. THE ENIGMA: BEYOND THE LEGEND OF INFAMY “What Einstein did for physics and Joyce for the novel (and Picasso for painting, and Pound for poetry, and Wright for architecture), Crowley did for the mystic tradition.” Robert Anton Wilson. Introduction to Israel Regardie The Eye in the Triangle. I believe that Aleister Crowley was the most comprehensive prophet of the twentieth century in all of its diverse, ecstatic, terrifying glory. There are immediate problems in trying to understand why that might be the case. Crowley has accrued around himself a remarkable legend of infamy. In the nineteen-twenties, during his lifetime, the British press described him as the “wickedest man in the world.” “A man we’d like to hang.” Here was the King of Depravity. A bisexual drug addict who practised the worst forms of black magic. Since his death the reputation has expanded still further until it’s easy to find accounts describing him as a practitioner of human sacrifice. One particular quote seems to represent the hardcore of the legend of infamy. It’s in Crowley’s 1928 book Magick, from a chapter entitled “On the Bloody Sacrifice.” “For the highest spiritual working one must accordingly choose that victim which contains the greatest and purest force. A male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory and suitable victim.” In a footnote Crowley then says “he made this particular sacrifice on an average about 150 times a year between 1912 and 1928.” The quote is thrown up again and again in exposes by Christian authors and even allegedly serious occult writers. The very last sentence of Crowley’s “Bloody Sacrifice” chapter says “you are likely to get into trouble over this chapter unless you truly comprehend its meaning.” So let’s think about this one. We’re being asked to take this passage as evidence that Crowley murdered 150 children a year from 1912 to 1928. That’s 2,550 of them. This would make him unique in the annals of crime. It’s strange how he got away with it really. Rather odd that we have no record of any of the victims. No witnesses. No evidence. Although expelled from some countries and refused entry to others, he was never arrested for any offence, let alone served a jail sentence. Some of his books were banned, even burned as pornographic. He lost a libel action in Court. The little matter of those 2,550 child murders seems to have been ignored. Perhaps there’s another explanation. Crowley was a great jester and a man who loved to write in code. He put cryptic meanings into his books that only those with a certain commitment to the subject would be able to understand. Although he didn’t mind being upfront and shocking in some of his poems, Magick was a serious work which he hoped to see remain in print and reach a wide audience. By 1928 he’d seen himself condemned in the kind of cultural climate that was making works like James Joyce’s Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover unavailable through their use of material related to sex. Crowley’s magickal practices involved sex. The “male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence” was his sperm. It’s as simple as that. The “Scarlet Woman” of Crowley’s magick and the mysteries of the “bloody sacrifice” appear, amongst other things, to be connected to menstruation and a whole secret tradition surrounding that. As a human being he had many failings which rendered him sometimes a sad tragic figure and often showed him as reprehensible in his relationships. He inherited a fortune that would be valued in the millions today and was able to live a superb romantic life for over a decade. A complete lack of functional intelligence, which he readily admitted to, meant that he entirely squandered his resources and was reduced to becoming in effect a ruthless beggar who thought nothing of wasting the generous gifts of friends on high living whilst those close to him starved. And he did suffer himself. Two of his young children died. The loss of his fortune and the lack of commercial success and acclaim of his literary work, along with the unprecedented vilification in the press and his prolonged slide into a wretched heroin addiction with an attendant long-term weakening of his general health, was assuredly a major test of his gigantic egotism. Through all this nonetheless, he did demonstrate a stoic determination to disseminate his ideas and this never failed him even in his last frail days in a Hastings boarding house. Yes he did, here and there in rituals during his career, kill an animal, and I personally don’t approve of that. He didn’t however, as another persistent story states, kill his “occult son,” named Macaleister. The tale is that, at some point in the nineteen-twenties, Crowley had a “magickal” son who he had named Macaleister. The two of them performed a ceremony to raise Pan. Something went horribly wrong and Macaleister was found dead the next morning. Crowley, reduced to the level of a naked, gibbering idiot, ended up in an asylum in Paris. I first came upon this tale in an introduction by Dennis Wheatley to an edition of Crowley’s novel Moonchild. The story gets retold in many shallow surveys of the occult and variations of it continue to circulate and expand. It may seem strange that this dramatic episode is absent from the works of his principal biographers. Surely the hostile John Symonds could have created a damning chapter out of such lurid material? Basically the whole story is a complete fabrication. Macaleister never even existed. It has often been suggested that, towards the end of his career, he was perhaps insane, at least senile, and basically a spent force. The fact that he was undeniably dependent again on heroin during his later years is usually taken to imply a complete decline. In reply to this I would simply suggest taking a long hard look at the work he produced during that time. The Book of Thoth remains to this day perhaps the greatest of all Tarot decks. It’s creation involved six years of work with artist Lady Freda Harris. That represents a tremendous amount of application. It does rather seem that the legend of infamy may be some kind of smokescreen of nonsense. What lies behind it? Crowley was a poet hailed in numerous literary journals as a genius. His work was included in the Oxford Book of Mystical Verse but he was also responsible for what has been considered to be some of the vilest pornography in the English language. Crowley has also been considered to be either a monstrous degenerate or pioneer of sexual freedom for the endless lovers, both female and male, that he had throughout his life. At one time he held some of the world mountaineering records having climbed higher in the Himalayas than anyone else. He played chess to a standard approaching that of a Grand Master and was able to simultaneously manage two games whilst blindfolded, thus displaying extraordinary abilities of visualisation and concentration. Crowley was one of the first westerners to immerse themselves in the study of eastern religion, having travelled extensively in Arab countries, India, and China. Beyond the studies of the many translators of the time, in the first decade of the twentieth century, he practiced physical and mental yoga with great dedication. Many works that later became famous in the West were familiar to him such as the I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad Gita, Dhammapada and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. He was the first person of any note in the West to systematically experiment with the full range of consciousness expanding drugs ie, cannabis, mescaline, ether, cocaine and heroin. For better or for worse, the psychedelic revolution of the sixties was inspired more by him than anyone else. First and foremost though, Crowley comes down to us as the magician. A member of the most famous occult group of the nineteenth century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he went from there to believe he had received in 1904 a communication from a non-human entity, an angel for want of better terminology, who dictated to him a scripture for a new age or Aeon. This work was The Book of the Law and it contains the phrase which is most strongly associated with him, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” He came to refer to himself as the Great Beast 666 thus guaranteeing the horror and hostility of many Christians. What did he really mean by this? Photo of the Stele of Revealing taken in 1997 by Andrew Collins We find in the book things that seem to be fascinatingly prophetic of the Nazi era and the psychedelic sixties. There are also early indications of themes later to become increasingly visible in New Age and pagan circles; the return of the goddess and the deities of Egypt. A case can be made for Crowley’s influence in the mid-twentieth century rebirth of witchcraft that has proved to be a crucial aspect of the ever-expanding general pagan revival. One of the most distinctive oddities of the years since the Second World War has been the UFO phenomenon and the culture that has arisen around it. Here again, remarkably enough, his presence can be discerned. His influence can be seen in the life of a military theorist who inspired the Nazis, a rocket scientist who had a moon crater named after him, the founder of the most controversial and powerful recent new religion, and the psychedelic psychologist who helped turn on the sixties flower children. This was one man. And this is the enigma of Aleister Crowley. Picture the effeminate homosexual side of Crowley and Crowley the pornographer. Can we then see this man 22,000 feet up the Himalayas without oxygen? Can we see the junkie likewise? Could we picture Quentin Crisp or Sid Vicious in that context? As Thelemic writer Gerald Suster clearly stated in The Legacy of the Beast, “debauched degenerates don’t set world mountaineering records.” Contrariwise, how about Chris Bonnington? Can we see him returning from an Everest trip to write a book of mystical or pornographic verse and proclaiming himself to be Logos of the Aeon of Horus? When, on one occasion, Crowley was camped out on a glacier, he insisted on packing with his climbing equipment leather-bound editions of the great poets. He would retire to his tent to drink champagne and write his own epics. What about some of our recent esteemed poets such as John Betjeman or Philip Larkin? Can we imagine them performing a magical ceremony in the Great Pyramid or rites of sex magick with prostitutes or taking psychedelic drugs? As for yoga, can we imagine some of the sweetness and light types who get attracted to it composing poems such as On the Delights of Passive Pederasty, and Of Dog and Dame, or going big-game hunting? This indeed is the enigma of Aleister Crowley. We all have different facets to ourselves but in Crowley they are written large. Very large. Any one of his different aspects would serve most people for a life’s work. How can we get to the essence of the man? Most piccies and Crowley quotes copyright OTO. Colourised image David Bersson. Leon Kennedy painting National Portrait Gallery. Love is the Law.

Monday 24 August 2020

From USA Nazi UFOlogy to QAnon podcast video


Here’s a wide-ranging discussion with Steven Snider of The Farm podcast that starts with material from my Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus, concerning William Dudley Pelley, Silver Shirts, George Hunt Williamson, and Sirius. Spirals out to take in Alice Bailey, ancient astronauts, Wandering Bishops, Allen Greenfield, the Nag Hammadi plasmate, The Nine, Uri Geller, Andrija Puharich, Arthur Young, eventually leading in to Millennialism, Extinction Rebellion and QAnon.


Saturday 8 August 2020

Cosmic Trigger Synchronicity Special



The global lockdown  has led to a massively intensified online connectivity between people through Zoom and Skype. I have found it most notable and strange to have had greater quality interaction and reached more people whilst in physical solitude than when out giving lectures and meeting up in person.

The best example for me involved a complex chain of associations that began when American astrologer Aeolian Heart wrote a post concerning the Liverpool dream of CG Jung. I contacted her and a live synchronicity scenario rapidly unfolded that  took in the story of the KLF, and Daisy Eris Campbell leading the Cosmic Trigger crew on a wild journey from Liverpool, via Cerne Abbas and the Large Hadron Collider, to Bollingen, and demonstrated the remarkable time-release voltage present in Jung’s little-known 1939 West Country jaunt. So here is all that, the Beatles, Illuminatus, a brief intrusion from Charles Manson, Abraxas in Glastonbury Abbey, and plenty more.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Aeolian Heart History and Myth Interview

I’ve long been a fan of American astrologer Aeolian Heart. I love the blend she presents whereby the nuances of an astrological event are drawn out via an analysis of a rock song by the likes of Jim Morrison, a poem from the Romantic era by Shelley or Blake perhaps, or some aspect of Renaissance Hermeticism. I welcomed the opportunity to talk about my History and Myth book, which strongly features the Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn conjunctions as part of its meta-structure. We talk history mysticism and cycles, all sorts. I’m really happy with the end result and hope you might enjoy listening as well.

Saturday 6 June 2020

My Magical Thing Interview with Julian Vayne.

The Julian Vayne My Magical Thing series of video interviews features people who can be considered to be occult practitioners of some kind talking briefly about an item they possess that has an interesting story. I realised I had an opportunity to air a wild and wacky tale involving a figurine of the Egyptian cat goddess Bast. I contacted Julian and was pleased that he was happy to feature me.  

Readers of my Atargatis would know that I embarked on a psychic questing adventure along the River Thames in 1991 but mention that some details were excluded, primarily for reasons of space and pace in relation to the wider story. This little tale dates from the beginnings of that story.  It was featured in my very first Glastonbury lecture, The Goddess and the River Thames, almost 25 years ago in July 1995. I did repeat the lecture a few times and it was taped by the Isle of Avalon Foundation in the mid-nineties but, since then, the Bast story has not featured in any of my books, or podcast interviews. Some of it was briefly mentioned in my YouTube lecture When Magic and Fiction Meet. This is the fullest version currently available. It’s a great example of the extent to which extreme strangeness became part of my everyday life then.

History and Myth Podcast Interview

Nice to have been talking to Amanda Bradley of Mystic Waldorf in New Zealand about my new book during the time of the full moon and eclipse. It's inevitable in doing this round of promo interviews that I will repeat myself but I'm trying to bring something a bit different into each one, depending on who I'm talking to. I do also go a little beyond what is included in the book.