Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Thelemic UFOlogy and the Cult of Lam

A section of the cover image of 
Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus:
Yuri Leitch's rendition of Lam.

Here is an extract from the extensive consideration of UFOlogy in my book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus. It is obviously intended to interest the reader in the larger work. 

Amazingly enough there are some who believe that Aleister Crowley was perhaps the first alien contactee in the modern sense of the term. A Thelemic ET theme has also been suggested running through the Babalon Working, taking us into the birth of the UFO era. This seemingly wild idea will lead us into a consideration of the Contact phenomenon itself and the manner in which UFOlogical studies can take us into the wider field of the paranormal and occultism. Eventually, after a most extraordinary journey indeed, we shall return to the mystery of The Book of the Law and ponder whether it may contain a secret key to the whole process.

Kenneth Grant was just twenty when he met Crowley in 1944. Already well-read in western occultism and eastern mysticism he embarked on a crash-course magickal apprenticeship whilst serving as the Beast’s secretary. It only lasted a few months but ensured that Grant became one of Crowley’s literary executors alongside John Symonds. This afforded him access to unpublished material and later involvement in the production of editions of many of Crowley’s works.

The leadership succession in the OTO has been a controversial and litigious issue ever since Crowley’s death. Rival groups have formed. Grant became the head of one of them, known to history as the Typhonian OTO. As well as a connection to Crowley, he also had the distinction of prolonged close contact with the prodigiously talented shamanic artist Austin Osman Spare. After assimilating all kinds of knowledge and experience over a period of decades he finally published his first major work, The Magical Revival, in 1972, an account of contemporary occultism seen from the perspective of the Aeon of Horus.

Grant may well be the most controversial occultist of the second half of the twentieth century. There have been critics who have considered him to be genuinely insane and/or monstrously evil and that his writings are a major distortion of Crowley’s legacy. Others consider him to be an awesome genius. It does seem rather remarkable that a person of his potential should meet the dying Crowley at such a young age. For now, we shall focus on the theme of what could be termed Thelemic UFOlogy that runs through nine books by Grant that have come to be called the Typhonian trilogies.

The illustrations in Magical Revival include a reproduction of a drawing made by Crowley in 1919 which Grant describes as ‘Lam, an extra-terrestrial intelligence with whom Crowley was in astral contact.’ It’s important to be clear about the history of this image as so much mythology and contention has arisen around it. In 1918, during a period when he was living in America, Crowley engaged in an extensive six-month long magickal episode known as the Amalantrah Working, primarily with the aid of his Scarlet Woman of the time, Roddie Minor. A combination of sex and drugs helped induce repeated consistent visionary material focused on a being named Amalantrah. Crowley was satisfied that the imagery and names produced were authentic in as much as they met his Qabalistic checking criteria. Towards the end of the written records of the working, Amalantrah made the enigmatic statements “It’s all in the egg”, “Thou art to go this Way.” Unusually for Crowley’s magickal records there appear to be details missing during the final phase.

The drawing seems to originate from the same period and depicts a being with an elongated egg-shaped head and no ears. It was publicly displayed in an exhibition of Crowley’s art-work in New York in 1919. It also featured as the frontispiece for an edition of HP Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence with an extensive running commentary from Crowley. There it was designated as ‘The Way’ and given this explanation: ‘LAM is the Tibetan word for Way or Path, and LAMA is he who Goeth, the specific title of the Gods of Egypt, the Treader of the Path, in Buddhistic phraseology. Its numerical value is 71, the number of this book.’ It was later stated that the figure was Crowley’s ‘guru’ and ‘painted from life.’ That appears to be all that Crowley ever had to say about it. It is by no means clear that the word Lam is a name belonging to the being in the picture.

Unlike Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, Blavatsky’s Voice is a short devotional work of Eastern Mysticism and not loaded with her usual esoteric detail. It tries to evoke the source of consciousness, considered to be a silent void, and the key to its mystical realisation, poetically rendered as experiencing its voice. Crowley’s mystical side was entirely in harmony with such sentiments and equated the idea with Harpocrates perhaps implying that Lam, as an image of the Voice of the Silence, could be linked with a complex of associated ideas in the Thelemic system.

Part of Crowley’s commentary briefly refers to another 1918 event when he spent time on Esopus Island in the Hudson River in New York State. During that period he claimed to have accessed a number of past life memories that became significant in the emerging Crowley myth. These included the major occultists Cagliostro and Eliphas Levi.

Sometimes overlooked in this catalogue is Ko Yuen, stated to be a follower of Lao Tzu, the author of one of the great masterpieces of the wisdom tradition of humanity, the Tao Te Ching. During the Esopus retreat, Crowley produced a version of the Lao Tzu classic full of cross-referencing notes to the Qabalah. In the introduction he states that he was still in ‘almost daily communion’ with Amalantrah. ‘He came readily to my aid and exhibited to me a codex of the original, which conveyed to me with absolute certitude the exact significance of the text.’ Crowley had travelled across Southern China. Taoism was a big influence on his mysticism. The I Ching was his constant companion for decades. The records of the Amalantrah Working show extensive use of it. This 1918 work immediately preceded the Blavatsky commentary and the appearance of the Lam picture. Tao has often been translated as “Way,” the actual title of the drawing. This has lead to the suggestion by Alan Chapman in the 2007 Fortean Times Crowley special that the figure may actually be Lao Tzu himself as depicted by a reincarnation of one of his followers. Crowley’s lack of draughtsmanship skills have simply meant it’s a poor depiction of a Chinaman.

After this brief appearance, the picture seems to vanish from sight until Kenneth Grant came upon it during his short stay with Crowley who actually gave it to him which alternatively suggests that it was not particularly important or the exact opposite, with him recognising something of the young Grant’s temperament and potential.

Cover image of Whitley Strieber's Communion.

Following its dissemination through the three Typhonian trilogies, the image generally known as Lam is probably Crowley’s most famous art-work. Its original use as the frontispiece to Blavatsky has been virtually forgotten. The visual archetype of a grey ET has become well-established in popular culture, particularly since the eighties when Whitley Strieber’s Communion featured a striking image of one on its cover. The resemblance to Lam was enough to establish a conceptual linkage that has since become a widespread internet truism whose mythology has included a number of further connections that critics could consider tenuous.

The Babalon Working was concerned with ripping a hole in the fabric of reality to encourage influences from beyond to enter in. That may seem a pretentious megalomaniacal enterprise but consider the very events that Jack Parsons had been connected with. The science of the time was doing precisely that. After the atomic explosions it was easy to believe that the veil was thin and further momentous events near at hand.

It has been increasingly speculated that, following Crowley’s Lam contact, the Babalon Working also opened a larger portal that bore a direct connection to the influx of UFOs the following year during which Crowley died. This idea has been widely repeated outside of Grant’s work and is gaining strength with each passing decade. That both portals were opened in America, a major focus for early UFOlogy, has also been deemed significant.

Jack Parsons

In Outside the Circles of Time Kenneth Grant stated that ‘Parsons opened the door and something flew in’. The flavour of that something is indicated by a strange episode that occurred in March 1946 at the time of the conclusion of the Babalon Working. Marjorie Cameron saw an unidentifiable aerial phenomenon. She was exhilarated, considering it to be a Thelemic sign, a ‘war engine’ mentioned in The Book of the Law. This event inevitably predisposed her to be particularly interested in a phenomenon that erupted into popular consciousness the following year.

Marjorie Cameron

Grant instigated a specific Cult of Lam after coming to feel that the portrait was a focus of an increasingly intense extra-terrestrial energy that would be of great importance during the Thelemically significant decade of the eighties (remember ‘I am the warrior Lord of the Forties: the Eighties cower before me & are abased’?).

It is worth pausing to consider what “Extra-Terrestrial” may be considered to mean. To most people it will obviously refer to something originating on another physical planet elsewhere in the universe. In this Thelemic context it designates experiences and intelligence not confined to the consensus three-dimensional co-ordinates of planet Earth. Higher dimensional realms coterminous with 3D may well be the spaces these mysteries move through.

Ramana Maharshi.

Grant is a mystic like Crowley. For all of his exposition of entities and magical realms his ultimate devotion is to the non-dual philosophy perhaps best expressed by Hindu Advaita Vedanta and its peerless modern exemplar Ramana Maharshi. As far as this ET issue is concerned it means the distinction between inner and outer is abolished. It is in harmony with Jung’s intuitions. The field of UFOlogy thereby becomes an aspect of esoteric psychology. Its classic cases represent processes of magical and spiritual initiation for individuals and humanity as a whole, whether understood by their subjects as such or not. There is confusion and possible failure and tragedy implicit in this extraordinary scenario.

The basic Kenneth Grant position, which is now an important aspect of the magick of the Typhonian OTO, is that firstly Lam is a name and image of something that gives access to Extra-Terrestrial gnosis, a state of consciousness. Lam was intrinsically part of the Amalantrah Working which opened a portal of some kind to other dimensions. This makes Crowley the first modern style ET contactee. It also opens up a consideration of what is the real nature of the Secret Chiefs of Occultism and in particular, Aiwass.

In the Cult of Lam as initiated by Kenneth Grant and developed by his closest long-term associate in the Typhonian OTO Michael Staley, Lam is not necessarily a distinct entity but a trans-aeonic portal to gnosis outside of the circles of time. Something about his visual appearance potentially serves to stimulate aspects of consciousness otherwise dormant. He could be a mask for the experience of the Hidden God/Holy Guardian Angel and help serve the purpose of crossing the abyss.

The basic method of Lam meditation consisted of creating a magickal space by the usual banishings and then sitting silently in front of a copy of the Crowley picture staring into its eyes. The name was then repeated internally in the manner of a mantra. This process was considered sufficient to potentially stimulate an altered state of consciousness. As mood shifted an imaginative attempt would be made to enter into Lam’s head, the Egg of Spirit, and then look out from his eyes. Profoundly alien zones might be thus encountered or general mutations of consciousness allowing download access to previously unknown realms of being.

An extension of this procedure formulated by Michael Staley begins with the fact that the name Lam also happens to be a Sanskrit seed syllable featured in some Kundalini yoga systems referring to the base chakra wherein the great serpent power resides that can be raised up the spinal column through a progressive expansion of consciousness until a climactic enlightenment at the top of the head. Staley’s development involves visualising a serpent with the head of Lam ascending the spine through the chakras. The process does not directly identify Lam with Kundalini but may produce similar results.

We have established at least one example where, regardless of the particular cases’ credibility, there is an overlap between the study of UFOlogy and occultism. Closer investigation soon reveals that this zone of overlap is in fact of considerable size and any account of UFOlogy which ignores it is profoundly incomplete.

Text from Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus.
Available to buy on Amazon, both in the UK and USA in Kindle format.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Blog Talk Radio Leary and Crowley lecture

Artwork by Adam Scott Miller

My Blog Talk Radio presentation entitled Timothy Leary: heir to Aleister Crowley? is available for listening now.

Phone problems in the last five minutes prematurely curtailed the broadcast but I had finished the essential material.

Most of the lecture is taken almost verbatim from a chapter in my book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus.

The central topic is a mysterious episode in 1971 when Leary and the English writer Brian Barritt found themselves walking in the footsteps of Aleister Crowley and Victor Neuberg in their legendary occult workings in the Algerian desert that included the raising of John Dee's "mighty demon" Chroronzon.

Although the subject has been discussed by other writers, I believe I have a unique and interesting perspective on what it actually meant abd how it helps us to understand the whole drama of Leary's life.

Listen to it here:

Friday, 5 November 2010

From Hell: the 1888 matrix.

After seeing Alan Moore discussing Austin Osman Spare on BBC2's Culture Show last night I decided to repost a piece from last year inspired by his greatest creation.

Following an online comment thread concerning the Johnny Depp Jack the Ripper movie From Hell I found myself pondering again on a subject that has been present in my life for decades. The film has somewhat polarised opinion. I come down in its favour. I present here what is primarily an expanded version of material featured in my Avalonian Aeon on what I have termed the 1888 matrix, an extraordinary scenario centred on London that has given the modern world a set of potent mythic icons that continue to inspire and disturb us. How very strange that, alongside the grimly historical Ripper, stand the equally immortal figures of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, Dracula, and Sherlock Holmes. They also accompany the birth of the magical order that has most strongly influenced the modern revival, the Golden Dawn.

Johnny Depp’s Abberline was a real policeman involved with the case whose biographical details only bear the faintest resemblance to the movie portrayal of drug-addled psychic. Clearly he has been mythologised. This annoys some people depending on their temperaments. I accept all movies as inherently mythological, even supposed historical documentaries. I am happy to be led by that process. Mythic figures can enable us to see things from a unique viewpoint that may enhance our understanding. Depp’s detective helps us to appreciate that the Ripper murders were a nightmarish hallucinatory scenario full of nuances indicative of something vast and hideous just out of sight in the shadows intruding into the comfort and safety of our daytime consciousness and consensus reality. Drug-enhanced psychic visions of murder are a good vehicle for such perceptions.

Although the prostitute victims of the Ripper are generally depicted in the movie as entirely unglamorous and grim glimpses are given of their dangerous degraded lives, Heather Graham as Mary Kelly seems almost an absurd and even objectionable exception. Let’s just say she scrubs up pretty well for 1888 Whitechapel. The final murder was hideous in the extreme and despite the scarcity of available biographical details Kelly has generated tremendous sympathy over the years. In defence of the Graham portrayal, it has been said that she was noticeably different from her eventual associates in general appearance and demeanour. A thousand people saw her funeral procession. Many prayers have been said for her and one modern devotee paid for a grave stone. Of course we would all want to rescue her from her fate and the movie plays on this. There are mysteries concerning her death and the suggestion that someone else died in her place dates from 1888 and is not just a plot device.

Dorset St in 1888, the general area where Mary Kelly lived and died.

The basic scenario in From Hell is that the Ripper was Queen Victoria’s surgeon, William Gull. He acted as the agent of a Masonic conspiracy to save the royal family from a scandal after a dissolute prince had married a prostitute in a secret Catholic wedding. In this scenario the Ripper’s victims knew each other and the royal bride. Elements of this theory had been circulating for some time before cohering in the currently recognisable form. The one work most responsible for this is Stephen Knight’s 1976 Jack the Ripper: the Final Solution, which in turn inspired Alan Moore’s legendary graphic novel From Hell on which the movie is based. Hardcore Ripperologists tend to reject the whole package but some mythic potency has seen the general idea take root in popular culture.

William Gull.

The power of the movie and Knight’s book is that they can serve as an entrance into a realm that provides an ever-expanding context for the basic drama that at the very least is fertile ground for Jungians. Something mighty strange was going down in 1888. Alan Moore’s graphic novel is the definitive treatment of this bigger picture. To criticise the movie of the book for not doing its scope justice seems a bit futile to me as it would take an elaborate mini-series at least to do so.

The starting point for this larger journey and the fundamental frame for the mystery comes from material produced by poet novelist Iain Sinclair in Lud Heat on the architect of some notable London churches, Nicholas Hawksmoor. Five of these buildings, dating from the reconstruction after the great fire of 1666, and expressing all manner of Masonic and Aegyptian influences, lie in a pentagramic configuration anchoring an arcane matrix of powerful influences that have called forth murder and mayhem over the years. The last and most hideous of the Ripper’s murders was committed in the immediate proximity of a Hawksmoor church.

Christchurch Spitalfield.

From Alan Moore's graphic novel.

Ripperology has some points of comparison to Arthurian studies. Here are realms where every single known fact has been examined and analysed in minute detail on innumerable occasions. Over the years individuals have found themselves becoming obsessed with the topic and drawn into weird odysseys that lead them to some new angle, some new interpretation. There is the quest for the historical Arthur and the search for the true identity of Jack the Ripper.

There are partisans for their respective candidates. Rivalries arise with attendant controversies. Eccentrics abound. The fields are fertile. Many of these journeys of exploration yield incredible results that understandably convince the navigators of their veracity. Whether it is an interpretation of a Grail text or the hints of some vast conspiracy, something of validity continues to surface so that even if one can reject a certain hypothesis it is often conceded that is has revealed something of merit. In recent years the Grail industry has seen the emergence of the holy bloodline theories with the increasing centrality of Mary Magdalene until they have become the theme of a blockbuster novel and Hollywood film. In Ripperology the theories bringing in the royal family and the masons have been incredibly stimulating to many creative minds inspiring the genres’ Parzival in the form of Alan Moore’s From Hell and a number of books and movies.

In each case, the Grail literature and the Ripper, some kind of esoteric background has been postulated. Just as I have come to identify a distinct twelfth century flavour, a bigger picture in which to appreciate the Grail mystery (which I have elaborated upon in my Mysterium Artorius), so likewise I have mulled over what I came to call the London 1888 matrix. I had already figured out a lot of the details before coming to Alan Moore’s comprehensive catalogue.

On 8/8/88, the Lyceum theatre premiered a stage version of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde. It was an immediate sensation, evoking strong responses in its audience. The leading actor’s transformations from the figure of a pillar of the community to a monster right in front of their eyes was horrific stuff for a pre-psychoanalytical culture with no real sense of any lurking inner demons.

It proved to be a powerful experience for the young Irish manager of the theatre, Abraham “Bram” Stoker (pictured above). Within a decade he would be inspired to conjure a figure of equal power from the collective unconscious to stand alongside Mr Hyde on the streets of London.

Gary Oldman as Dracula.

Something strange was stirring. Just a few weeks after the play’s opening the first of the Whitechapel murders occurred. The “autumn of terror” had begun.

This was the London where Madame Blavatsky was living out her last years, publishing the epochal Secret Doctrine in 1888. A few miles away from the Ripper’s Whitechapel, in 1887, coroner Wynn Westcott claimed to have discovered cipher manuscripts in some books bought on the Farringdon Road.



With the aid of an associate knowledgeable in the occult, Samuel Liddell Macgregor Mathers, he set about translating the information that led to the foundation of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn the following year. Or so the mythology goes.

And lots of other evocative little fragments contributed to a particular flavour. The Elephant Man was coming to public attention. One of the greatest fictional characters in British consciousness, Sherlock Holmes had just set out on his first published case, A Study in Scarlet. And Hitler was in the womb during the time of the Ripper murders.

Holmes unravels the masonic Ripper conspiracy. An excellent movie.

Was there an occultist background to the scenario? I am sure of it. There is another interesting suspect to place alongside William Gull. An old school teacher of mine, Melvin Harris, pointed the finger at Robert Donston Stephenson.

Stephenson fits the bill right across the board. Onetime army surgeon, dissolute addict of prostitutes and initiate of ceremonial magic of a nineteenth century French flavour, traveller amongst African magicians, contributor to Blavatsky’s Lucifer magazine, this man was a disturbing presence. He actually wrote an article as early as December 1888 suggesting a satanic element in the murders. In this, he may be the first instance of such a posited occult connection. His closest associates of the time, who numbered the Theosophical writer Mabel Collins and the London literary figure WT Stead all considered him to be the Ripper. An anecdote relating to this appears in Crowley’s Confessions.

Ivor Edwards further investigated Donston, going back to basics by actually measuring out the murder sites in relation to each other by the yard and taking compass bearings and so on. He suggests a rival configuration to the Hawksmoor pentagram. The first four victims were laid out facing North, South, East, and West respectively. All of the women were killed within a five-hundred yard radius. Edwards’ findings are revealed in the pulp-titled Jack the Ripper’s Black Magic Rituals. It is enough here to say that he believes that with the final placing of Kelly the killings were meticulously enacted on a vesica piscis design that provided maximum desecration of the Christian cross and female form.

The movie of From Hell can work to open a doorway that results in a long journey. When coming back to it later I would suggest it may not seem diminished through that greater knowledge but enhanced. However conscious and deliberate the historical protagonists were the basic insight of Alan Moore as stated in the movie makes perfect nightmarish sense. This enormous matrix gave birth to the twentieth century where the old gods live again and Mr Hyde, Dracula, and the Ripper serve as embodiments of the collective Shadow we have to integrate and we intuitively sense that we need the flawed brilliance of a Sherlock Holmes or Depp’s Abberline to help us crack the case.