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08/03/12 Aleister Crowle: His Contribution to the Western Msteries Tradition - Laurette Rockwit

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Journal of the Western Mster Tradition
No. 0, Vernal Equino 2001
Autobiograh
References
Notes
Aleister Crowle: His Contribution to the Western Msteries
Tradition
b Laurette Rockwit
"There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent.
For me, the time has come to raise my voice in the
interest of clarifying the record of Aleister Crowley.
He was one of the greatest mystics of all time,
although a very complicated and controversial
person."
[1]
Thus begins Israel Regardie's treatise on his former teacher and
mentor.
Thirty years later, it seems that this record is no clearer. Aleister
Crowley is no less controversial among the growing number of
students of the Western Mysteries. He is even less understood
with the general public.
Unfortunately, we cannot accomplish here, in a few short pages,
even what Regardie did to "set the record straight", much less
what he did not, in this regard. We cannot separate the man from
the body of myth and rumor that accompanies his life. We
cannot say for certain, any more than the still growing number of
biographers, what is true and what is not, in the host of
sensationalized stories about Aleister Crowley. It is impossible,
within this framework, to explore and come to understand his
writing and his work to any acceptable standard at all. The
former is a lifetime of study and the latter accomplished only by
the most insightful and dedicated student of the Mysteries.
The writer influences the reader, not just by what he includes in
his biography, but also by what he does not include. Any
biography, then, is slanted by the writer's choice of facts and
anecdotes included and discarded. It is impossible for the writer
of a biography, no matter how long or short, to keep his opinion
to himself. In the life of a man such as Aleister Crowley, there is
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to himself. In the life of a man such as Aleister Crowley, there is
no firm agreement of the facts. There is even less agreement on
how those facts come together to give an accurate perception of
the man. In a case such as this, where an accurate understanding
seems impossible to reach agreement on, it is nearly an
insurmountable task to tell the reader about the man, rather than
about the writer's perception of the man.
This article will attempt instead to explore Aleister Crowley's
contribution to the Western Mysteries Tradition. It will attempt
to inform the reader who is unfamiliar with Thelema about this
system of study and magic that grew out of the contribution of
Aleister Crowley to the field of Hermetics. The information is
basic and simplified, and interested students should seek a more
in depth explanation.
This article will also explore Aleister Crowley's relationship with
the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as how his
teaching and input may affect the student of the Western
Mysteries tradition as a whole, whatever his focus or
background.
With an examination of Crowley's contribution to magic in the
foreground, a rough sketch is drawn of the man and the
environments and influences that surrounded him at various
stages of his life, in order to add perspective to the work. Every
attempt is made to avoid sensational and unproved stories, or to
write of incidents out of context.
The reader is advised, however, to hold the aforementioned
impossibility of truly capturing the essence of a man as
perplexing and contentious as Aleister Crowley.
Edward Alexander Crowley was born on October 12, 1875, at
Leamington Spa, England. His time of birth is placed between 11
p.m. and midnight, the sign of Leo, ascending.
[2]
Nicknamed
"Alick" by his parents, he was reared with a strict Christian
fundamentalist upbringing.
[3]
As a young boy he idolized his father
[4]
, a brewer by trade,
[5]
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As a young boy he idolized his father
[4]
, a brewer by trade,
[5]
and a preacher by vocation. Edward Crowley traveled the
countryside preaching the doctrine of the "Plymouth Brethren'.
These followers of John Nelson Darby lived uncompromisingly
by literal biblical application and fear of eternal damnation.
[6]
Regardie believed that this childhood awe of his father remained
a lifelong influence on Crowley. Young "Alick" admired his
father's fervor and eloquence. In many ways Crowley's own life
and sense of mission was modeled on that of his progenitor.
[7]
Crowley had a less sound relationship with his mother, Emily. He
looked upon her with contempt as weak and foolish.
[8]
His
mother seems to have been rather unable to cope with or
understand the antics of a young male child. It was she who first
called him "the Beast", implementing a lifelong identification
with the antagonist in the Biblical Book of Revelations.
[9]
When he was small, Crowley assimilated and affirmed his
parents belief system. Crowley wrote, looking back at his
childhood, that he "aimed at being the most devoted follower of
Jesus in the school".
[10]
"Alick" was not allowed any book except the King James Bible.
He developed a fascination with the apocalyptic literature. One
may assume that the Book of Revelations served the same
psychological outlet in his fantasies that Star Wars, X-men and
Power Rangers satisfy in today's youngsters. With the Bible as
his only exposure to stories, "Alick" looked to this for adventure
and excitement. The Beast, the Dragon, the Whore of Babylon
and the False Prophet are the characters of this exhilarating saga
depicting the eternal battle of good versus evil. Children today
show the same fascination with antiheroes like Darth Maul from
the Star Wars Saga or Batman's nemesisses the Joker, Penguin,
and Catwoman.
[11]
Looking back at his childhood, Crowley would remember these
years as a happy time. He attended private Christian schools.
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years as a happy time. He attended private Christian schools.
The first school that he was enrolled in he disliked
immensely,
[12]
but he was moved, after a short time to another.
"He was thoroughly happy at this school; the boys liked and
admired him; he made remarkable progress in his studies and was
very proud of his first prize, White's "Selborne", for coming out
top in Religious Knowledge, Classics and French'."
[13]
Crowley
seems to have been a fairly well adjusted, though precocious and
roguish boy in his first decade. He says of his child self, "this
spirit grew uncheckedthe Earth was not big enough to hold
him."
[14]
. Perhaps this is the one constant that would remain in
Aleister's ever-fluctuating aggregate of personas.
Disaster struck the boy's life in his eleventh year. His father, his
idol and role model, Edward Crowley, died, on March 5, 1887,
after a ten month illness. Crowley tells us that, "from that month
onward there is a changea new factor had arisen, and its name
was death."
[15]
This tragic turn of events had a drastic effect on young Crowley's
life. He lost his hero, his image of the ideal, the center of his
universe. He also lost the rest of his world. His mother moved to
London to be near her family, removing the boy from his home,
and the circle of Brethren that enfolded the child in a capsule of
secure familiarity.
[16]
The new man filling the role of male role model in the youth's life
was his mother's brother, Tom Bond Bishop. Rather than taking
over the part of benevolent mentor, guiding the boy into
manhood through a firm belief system reflected in modeling
these high ideals, this uncle cruelly bullied "Alick", hypocritically
defying the strict Christian fundamentalism he professed to
embrace.
[17]
Regardie identifies this afflicted relationship with
his uncle as a key determinant, beginning the drastic change that
the child's view of Christianity would undergo.
[18]
Regardie defends the young Crowley for this growing bitterness
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sympathetically. "He was so emotionally traumatized in those
formative years that the psychologist might well wonder that he
grew into any kind of productive adult at all."
[19]
His identity and self-esteem now faltering, "Alick" began having
difficulties at school.
[20]
Eventually, abuse at school, which
included a punishment of nothing to eat except bread and water
while being made, day after day, to march around the
playground, took its toll, and "Alick's" health began to fail.
[21]
He was eventually taken from that school, but began a series or
tutors and day and boarding schools, none of which were
satisfactory.[22]
These negative experiences in the fundamentalist schools also
validated his growing belief that Christians were cruel and
merciless. Crowley faced frequent beatings, constant humiliation
and confrontation with bigotry, paranoia, and irrationality in
these fanatical institutions. With respect to Crowley's
educational environment, Regardie asserts, "morally and
physically, it must have been a diabolical engine of destruction
and corruption."
[23]
Young Crowley was relieved to be free of this restrictive
environment when he entered Cambridge University in October
of 1895.
"I had the sensation of drawing a long deep breath
as one does after swimming under water or [an even
better analogy] as one does after bracing oneself
against the pain inflicted by a dentist. I could not
imagine anything better in life. I found myself
suddenly in a whole new world. I was part of the
glories of the past, and I resolved to be part of the
glories of the future."
[24]
Crowley seems to have also resolved to put the days of strict
discipline behind him.
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"When I discovered that chapel was compulsory I
immediately struck back. The junior dean hailed me
for not attending chapel, which I was certainly not
going to do, because it involved early rising."
[25]
This lack of discipline was reinforced by Crowley's ability to
survive the academics with very little effort. He goes on to state,
"In fact, in my three years I only did one day's work for the
university, and that consisted in employing a boy to read through
a translation of a Greek play while I followed it in the text."
Despite this, he asserts, "I got either a first or second class in
every subject."
[26]
Crowley's goal, while at Cambridge, was to eventually enter
diplomatic service. He saw this as a way to travel and experience
all that life had to offer him. There was some incongruency in
this choice, however. Crowley did not have the predisposition to
learn the four languages required for this "major".
[27]
He also
says, "But in those days of adolescence I had no inducement to
do any kind of political thinking."
[28]
Crowley continued developing interests that began in childhood.
He had learned to play chess at the age of six.
[29]
At Cambridge
he was president of the University Chess Club.
[30]
He would
become so expert at the game that, in later years, Regardie says,
Crowley would play him and Gerald Yorke at the same time,
blindfolded. Crowley would retain the image of both boards in
his mind, and win both games.
[31]
Young "Alick" had been writing poetry nearly as soon as he had
learned to print.
[32]
He began writing more earnestly at
Cambridge and published several books of poetry. Included in
these was Aceldama, which he called his "first published poem
of any importance"
[33]
, and "Songs of the Spirit," a collection of
lyrics which reveal an ill-defined longing for spiritual
attainment."
[34]
. Other books of poetry from this period, also of
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attainment."
[34]
. Other books of poetry from this period, also of
a spiritual nature, are Green Alps and White Stains.
[35]
Poetry
would remain a lifelong passion for Aleister Crowley. He would
later write many devotional poems. AHA! included in Book 4
part 1
[36]
is a beautiful work, well known by students of the
Mysteries. Liber VII vel Lapis Lazuli, and "Liber LXV, Liber
Cordis Cincte Serpente" are included in The Holy Books of
Thelema
[37]
and also recommended by Regardie to Golden
Dawn students as devotionals.
[38]
Liber LXV describes the rising of the Power of Wisdom, often
visualized, in the Western Mysteries Tradition, as The Serpent
winding his way up the Middle Pillar within, linked to the
Egyptian Gods Typhon, and the dead and resurrected Osiris.
I am the Heart; and the Snake is entwined
About the invisible core of the mind.
Rise, O my snake! It is now is the hour
Of the hooded and holy ineffable flower.
Rise, O my snake, into brilliance of bloom
On the corpse of Osiris afloat in the tomb!
O heart of my mother, my sister, mine own,
Thou art given to Nile, to the terror Typhon!
Ah me! but the glory of ravening storm
Enswathes thee and wraps thee in frenzy of form.
Be still, O my soul! that the spell may dissolve
As the wands are upraised, and the ons revolve.
Behold! in my beauty how joyous Thou art,
O Snake that caresses the crown of mine heart!
Behold! we are one, and the tempest of years
Goes down to the dusk, and the Beetle appears.
O Beetle! the drone of Thy dolorous note
Be ever the trance of this tremulous throat!
I await the awaking! The summons on high
From the Lord Adonai, from the Lord Adonai!
[39]
During his years at Cambridge, embittered towards the ideology
he was brought up by, but seeking convictions beyond the
material, Crowley became interested in the Celtic Church.
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material, Crowley became interested in the Celtic Church.
"Here was a romantic and mystical idea which
suited my political and religious notions to the
ground. It lived and moved in an atmosphere of
fairies, seal woman and magical operations.
Sacramentalism was kept in the foreground and sin
was regarded without abhorrence. Chivalry and
mystery were its pillars."
[40]
With the Morte d' Arthur, Lohengrin and Parsival as his "holy
books" Crowley began his own quest for the figurative holy grail
- a quest, that would, in a sense, last his life span, taking him
through many strange lands both on this earth and in other planes
of existence.
[41]
Along with this interest in Celtic mysticism, Edward Alexander
would adopt the name that he would be known by from then on,
and be remembered by after his permanent departure from
Malkuth. Feeling the need to leave his past, and his childhood
nickname behind, and perceiving himself to not fit the image of
an "Edward" he took the Gaelic form of his middle name as his
identity. He became Aleister Crowley.
[42]
"Alick'" first began mountain climbing when due to his failing
health he was taken out of school and sent to the country, with a
tutor, to recover.
[43]
This interest grew during travels with his
mother during school vacations as he met more serious and
experienced sportsmen.
[44]
In 1895 he has his "first serious taste
of the Alps,"
[45]
the summer before his entrance into Cambridge.
Crowley would demonstrate a lifelong passion for travel.
Mountain climbing, travel and mysticism would ever be woven
together into the complex pattern of the fabric of his life.
It was while spending the winter break in Stockholm Sweden,
about midnight December 31, 1896, that Aleister Crowley had a
mystical experience resulting in such a profound effect that it
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mystical experience resulting in such a profound effect that it
determined the course of his life. He referred to this as the first
of two events that were to "put me on the road to myself."
[46]
He
described it as "the key to the purest and holiest spiritual ecstasy
that exists."
[47]
This experience was repeated exactly twelve
months later. Crowley says:
"my animal nature stood rebuked and kept silent
in the presence of the immanent divinity of the Holy
Ghost; omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, yet
blossoming in my soul as if the entire forces of the
universe from all eternity were concentrated and
made manifest in a single rose."
[48]
In October of 1897, while experiencing a bout of minor illness,
Aleister became contemplative of death. This led to his
realization of the futility of incarnate existence, and was a
foreshadowing of what is known in hermetics as "the Universal
Vision of Sorrow."
"I had been satisfied to escape from religion to the
world. I now found that there was no satisfaction
here. I was not content to be annihilated. Spiritual
facts were the only thing worth while. Brain and
body were valueless except as the instruments of the
soul."
[49]
Aleister searched for direction in this pursuit of knowledge of the
unseen. He read The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts, by A. E.
Waite, and wrote to its author asking for guidance. Waite
suggested that he read The Cloud upon the Sanctuary by
Councillor von Eckartshausen.
[50]
Israel Regardie would later
identify this perusal as a crucial juncture in Crowley's life.
[51]
The summer of 1898 Aleister traveled to Switzerland. He spent
his time there mountain climbing and reading the Kabbalah
Unveiled by S. L. Mathers. One evening, Crowley was relating
his interest in Alchemy to a group of men in the beer hall, and
was overheard by a practicing Chemist and Alchemist, Julian
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was overheard by a practicing Chemist and Alchemist, Julian
Baker.
[52]
Crowley relates that Baker kindly took him aside,
afterwards. Though Crowley had little understanding of the
subject at the time, perhaps Baker sensed in the young man an
earnest intent. Baker treated young Crowley with seriousness
and talked to him at length. Crowley was thrilled and excited,
and exacted a promise from Baker to meet with him in London,
and introduce him to a man who would be able to help him in his
quest for Wisdom.
[53]
This promised was kept. Baker introduced Crowley to one of the
two men whom Israel Regardie later identified as Aleister's
primary mentors and role models in the Golden Dawn.
[54]
This
man was George Cecil Jones, known in the Order by the motto
Volo Noscere, "I want to know".
[55]
Aleister soon determined that Jones knew things that he himself
was seeking to understand. He began visiting Jones on a regular
basis. Jones agreed to sponsor his initiation into the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret society dedicated to the
study of the occult.
[56]
The other man that Regardie targets as a colossal influence on
Crowley, also in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, is
Allen Bennett.
[57]
Bennett had been an adept on the Golden
Dawn since March of 1895, with the motto Iehi Aour, which is
Hebrew for "Let there be light".
[58]
Crowley clearly had great respect for Bennett. He tells of their
first meeting:
"I was aware of the presence of a tremendous
spiritual and magical force. It seemed to me to
proceed from a man sitting in the east, a man I had
not seen before, but whom I knew must be the very
Honorable Frater Iehi Aour, called among men Allen
Bennett."
[59]
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Crowley invited Bennett, who was experiencing financial
difficulties, to come and stay with him in what were much more
comfortable accommodations than the more experienced
magician would have otherwise afforded, and Bennett accepted.
The benefit to Crowley, in this arrangement, was that he was
now in the position to do ritual with Bennett on a regular basis,
and learn from him.
[60]
Bennett was a mathematician and scientist, specializing in the
study of electricity. He was also a dedicated student of Hindu
and Buddhism. Bennett would later move to Burma and become
a Buddhist monk, with the name Ananda Metteya. He would
play an important role in the Buddhist movement in Burma and
Ceylon.
[61]
"Close association [with Bennett] played a decisive
role in moulding Crowley's intellectual attitudes
where Oriental mysticism was concerned. For
through Ananda Metteya he became exposed to
Hinduism and Buddhism, to yoga and tantra
practiced of every kind. From then on, the whole of
his literary output is filled with the most profound
insights into the doctrines of Sorrow, Change and
Impermanence, the three characteristics
fundamental to the beliefs of the Theravadin
Buddhists."
[62]
It is, however, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn itself that
would play the largest role in shaping Aleister Crowley's
personality, beliefs, and destiny. This is the assertion of Israel
Regardie, the man who would begin his quest for wisdom with
Aleister Crowley as a mentor, and go on to become the father of
the resurgence in the Golden Dawn movement.
[63]
Throughout the first two decades of his life, Aleister seems to be
aware of a void in his life; something is missing, something
essential; he is searching, but is not sure of what it is that he is
seeking. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had the
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seeking. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had the
answer, and was able to help him define his goal. What he sought
was his own Divinity, his Holy Guardian Angel, the Holy Spirit
within.
This ancient abstraction of a part of man, which is one with the
divine, goes back to antiquity. The Apostle Paul alludes to it
often in the Christian New Testament.
1 Corinthians 2:9-16
9. But, as it is written,
"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him,"
10. God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For
the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of
God. 11. For what person knows a man's thoughts
except the spirit of the man which is in him? So also
no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the
Spirit of God. 12. Now we have received not the
spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God,
that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us
by God. 13. And we impart this in words not taught
by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit,
interpreting spiritual Truths to those who possess the
Spirit.
14. The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of
the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is
not able to understand them because they are
spiritually discerned. 15. The spiritual man judges all
things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16.
"For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to
instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
[64]
The French Mage Alphonse Louis Constant, writing under the
pseudonym Eliphas Levi, describes this force.
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"Furthermore, there exists in nature a force which is
immeasurably more powerful than steam, and by
means of which a single man, who knows how to
adapt and direct it, might upset and alter the face of
the world. This force was known to the ancients; it
consists in an universal agent having equilibrium for
its supreme law, while its direction is concerned
immediately with the great arcanum of
transcendental magicThis agentis precisely that
which the adepts of the middle ages denominated
the first matter of the Great Work. The Gnostics
represented it as the fiery body of the Holy Spirit; it
was the object of adoration in the secret rites of the
Sabbath and the Temple, under the hieroglyphic
figure of Baphomet or the Androgyne of Mendes."
[65]
This path up the Qabalistic Tree of Life to the Higher Self, is the
principal doctrine of the Golden Dawn.
[66]
Lytton calls this
Higher Self Adonai. In Abramelin it is referred to as The Holy
Guardian Angel. Theosophists call this the Silent Watcher or
Great Master. Gnostics say the Logos, and Egyptians Asar-Un-
Nefer.
[67]
Israel Regardie describes the teaching of the Golden Dawn, as it
was presented to Aleister Crowley.
"What is the function of the qabalistic interpretation
of religion? This magic of which both the Golden
Dawn and Aleister Crowley speak? If I say its goal is
illumination or the expansion of consciousness, not
much at first may be gleaned from that. Yet "being
brought to the Light" is a most apt description of the
high goals of the system. It is the Great Work. There
is no ambiguity in the concept of the Order Rituals
as Crowley found them towards the close of the
nineteenth century. The theme permeates the entire
work from Neophyte to Adeptus Minor, and
beyond."
[68]
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beyond."
[68]
Regardie had no doubt that this quest for the Light became, from
this time onward, the all consuming passion of Aleister Crowley's
existence.
[69]
"These roots", he says, "were developed, changed
and expanded, but they were the same roots to which he was
exposed long ago."
[70]
Though Crowley would ardently embrace the metaphysical
principles of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he would
ultimately become entangled in an unfortunate political struggle
within the Order. This struggle would conclude in a division of
the Golden Dawn into many smaller bodies and the demise of the
great inceptive fraternity.
Undercurrents of discontent were already stirring beneath the
surface when Aleister Crowley was initiated into the Outer Order
of the Golden Dawn on November 18, 1898. Crowley took the
motto Perdurabo, which means, "I shall endure until the end".
This, we can assume, is a declaration of intent to reach the
highest planes of enlightenment. In retrospective irony it can be
viewed as a dark foreshadowing of the events which led to the
termination of this vehicle of magical renaissance.
R.A. Gilbert describes the pivotal group of Golden Dawn adepts
as "a potentially disruptive core: enthusiastic but of independent
mind, they were not inclined to accept unquestioned the dictates
of an increasingly autocratic and eccentric Chief."
[71]
By all accounts, the Chief Adept of the Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers was all these
things. Of the man attempting to lead and control this group of
discontented magicians, Gilbert says, "Mathers stands out as a
truly great magician, but as a man, as a mortal, he falls."
[72]
Mathers insisted on complete submission from the adepts.
[73]
It
was this ego, Gilbert feels, that would eventually cause the great
revolt of the adepti.
[74]
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Virginia Moore lists five potential factors that led up to the great
schism. In addition to the reasons listed above, Moore points out
the London adepts dissatisfaction with Mathers move to Paris,
leaving Florence Farr as deputy and the adepts resentment at
waiting years to obtain promised higher grades. Moore also lists a
conflict involving Aleister Crowley as a factor in escalating this
atmosphere of increasing discontent.
[75]
When Aleister Crowley applied to the ruling chiefs of Isis-
Uranus Temple, in London, for admittance to the grade of
Adeptus Minor he was refused. This was largely due to a variety
of factors involving the adepts' disapproval of Crowley's
conception of morality. Mathers issued a stern warning to the
adepts of Isis-Uranus, and when that was ignored, invited
Aleister to Paris and initiated the young man himself.
[76]
Crowley took the motto Christeos Luciftias, which is Enochian
for "Let there be Light". The influence of Bennett on Crowley
may be noted in the similarity of this to Bennett's motto, which
was Hebrew for "Let there be Light".
[77]
Commenting on this action, Regardie notes that "Whether
Mathers was impressed by the latent promise of Crowley's
personality with its energy and enthusiasm, or whether he
decided upon his next step to show contempt for the ruling
Chiefs of Isis-Uranus Temple, we do not know."
[78]
Whatever the intent behind the action, it served to inflame the
conflict even more. Mathers' next move, naming Crowley as his
emissary to recover property and paperwork from the London
Temple, served to be his last as Chief of the Isis-Uranus Temple.
The adepts of the second order voted to sever all ties with
Mathers and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. With this
act of open rebellion, the great schism commenced.
[79]
After the separation of Isis-Uranus from Mathers, Allan Bennett
left to pursue his interest in Buddhism. With little left to keep
him in London Crowley left England and began a series of
adventures. In 1900 he traveled to Mexico. The next year found
him in India, and then visiting with Bennett in Burma. From
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him in India, and then visiting with Bennett in Burma. From
there he went mountain climbing in the Himalayas.
[80]
In 1902 Crowley returned to a mansion in Scotland which he had
bought in 1899 to attempt the Operation of Abramelin, a magical
working for the purpose of integrating the Higher Self or Holy
Guardian Angel.
[81]
Crowley found himself bored and with little
interest in re-pursuing the operation at that time.
[82]
He moved
around Europe restlessly, through Scotland, London, and Paris
and back again. In July, while visiting a friend, Gerald Kelly, in
Edinburgh he met and eloped with Kelly's sister Rose.
[83]
Crowley traveled with Rose to Ceylon in 1904 returning via
Cairo. It was here, in Cairo that the most important occurrence in
Aleister Crowley's life took place. This was the receiving of
Liber L vel Legis, the Book of the Law, from a discarnate entity
Aiwass, through the mediumship of Crowley's wife, Rose.
[84]
In 1906 Aleister walked across China with his wife Rose, after
which he completed the operation of Abramelin. Rose and
Aleister divorced in 1909. Crowley then traveled through North
Africa with Victor Neuberg, performing the Enochian calls of Dr.
John Dee.
[85]
Crowley visited the United States in 1900 and 1906, and lived
there from 1914 to 1919. During this last, extended stay he
engaged in extensive magical work during sequestered
retirements at Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire
[86]
and
Oesopus Island on New York's Hudson River.
[87]
Crowley resided In Italy from 1920-23, where he established the
Abby of Thelema at Cefalu. In the spring of 1921 he claimed the
highest theoretical grade of Ipissimus, though it seems to have
taken him several years to balance the energies involved.[ 88]
He was depressed and difficult to deal with in these years.
[89]
After being expelled from Italy by the Mussolini Regime he
traveled to Tunisia. The time in Tunisia was a low point in
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traveled to Tunisia. The time in Tunisia was a low point in
Crowley's life. He suffered greatly both from Chronic Bronchitis
and addiction to the treatment for it. The common treatment of
the day for respiratory illnesses was cocaine. He was also,
perhaps, still in a kind of aftershock from the ritual in which he
claimed Ipissimus.
[90]
Crowley wrote about himself at this time.
"The climax of their dealings with him came in the
weeks immediately preceding and following the
Spring Equinox of 1924 E.V. At this time he lay sick
unto death. He was entirely alone; for They would
even permit the presence of those few whom They
had themselves appointed to aid him in this final
initiation. In this last ordeal the earthly part of him
was dissolved in water; the water was vaporized into
air; the air was rarified utterly, until he was free to
make the last effort, and to pass into the vast
caverns of the Threshold which guards the Realm of
Fire. Now naught human may come through those
immensities. So in that Fire he was consumed
wholly, and as pure Spirit alone did he return, little
by little, during the months that followed, into the
body and mind that had perished in that great ordeal
of which he can say no more than: I died."
[91]
By the time of his return to Paris in 1924 Aleister seems to have
begun to find some measure of peace and acceptance, though he
would remain ever his droll and desultory self.
[92]
Over the next few years he traveled around Europe and North
Africa, though living quite extensively in Germany.
[93]
In 1945 Aleister Crowley went to live in a large Victorian house
in Hastings, England, that had been turned into a boarding
house.[94] Aleister died there on December 1, 1947.
[95]
His
"Last Ritual" on December 5, was attended by a small number or
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"Last Ritual" on December 5, was attended by a small number or
friends, including frater Achad, Lady Frieda Harris, Gerald
Yorke, and Kenneth Grant. Longtime friend, Louis Wilkenson
read Hymn to Pan, the Collects and Anthems from the Gnostic
Mass and selected passages from the Book of the Law.
[96]
Aleister Crowley is perhaps best known, among students of the
Western Mysteries Traditions, for his foundation of Thelema.
Thelema is Greek for "Will". As used in the Western Mysteries
Tradition it is a religion based on Liber L vel Legis. This is the
document Crowley obtained from a the discarnate entity,
Aiwass, through his wife Rose, in Cairo, in 1904.
Liber L vel Legis,[sometimes Liber Al vel Legis], the Book of
the Law, proclaims a new age for humanity, the Aeon of Horus.
During the Aeon of Horus man will look inward for
enlightenment. This is in contrast to the age of Osiris, in which
man looked to religious leaders to teach him about the divine.
"Life is no longer to be seen as something to be
endured with suffering and sorrow, but as a divine,
ecstatic, continuous unfolding. Nature and life are
continuous. Man is immortal (or at least can be,
potentially)."
[97]
The main precept of Thelema, "Do what thou wilt shall be the
whole of the Law." (I,40) is often misunderstood and taken out
of context. Used properly, it refers to the Will. This is our true
and perfect path, on which our Holy Guardian Angel guides us
when we have learned to hear and to follow our higher selves.
For those who are called, it refers to the Great Work. "Do what
thou wilt" does not mean, "Do what you like." It is the
apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond.
Do what thou wilt -- then do nothing else. Let nothing deflect
thee from that austere and holy task. Liberty is absolute to do thy
will; but seek to do any other thing whatever, and instantly
obstacles must arise. Every act that is not in definite course of
that one orbit is erratic, an hindrance."
[98]
In 1907 Crowley joined a German Rosicrucian Society, the Ordo
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In 1907 Crowley joined a German Rosicrucian Society, the Ordo
Templi Orientis.
[99]
This society was under the leadership of
Theodore Reuss, with ties back to a group founded by Karl
Kellner in 1895.
In this same year he founded the A.'.A.'., an organization
designed to promote individual occult study, with a strong
emphasis on Golden Dawn curriculum.
In 1912 Crowley was given a charter to form his own OTO lodge
in England.
[100]
With the addition of Thelemic rituals, which grew largely from a
study of Roman Catholic ritual, with symbolism specific to
Thelema, Crowley became the founder of a unique society made
of three distinct but related divisions. These associations, the
OTO, the A.'.A.'. and the Gnostic Church relate to verse (I, 40)
in Liber L vel Legis which states, "Who calls us Thelemites will
do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are
therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of
Earth."
[101]
Today a number of Thelemic organizations exist:
Ordo Templi Orientis, U.S. Grand Lodge
Thelemic Golden Dan
College and Temple of Thelema
Ordo Argentum Astrum
Aleister Crowley was a prolific writer who contributed a great
deal to the knowledge and study material available to the student
of magic today.
A full online library of the works of Crowley can be found at:
http://.otohq.org/otodocs.html
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http://.hermetic.com/crole/inde.html
ftp://ftp.msticalnet.net/pub/msticalinternet/inhelp/
Book IV includes four smaller volumes, including Magick
(elemental theory), Magick in Theory and Practice (a key book
in Crowley's system of Magic), Mysticism (an overall view of
mysticism and yoga) and Liber L vel Legis (the Book of the
Law).
Much of Crowley's work is in the form of short works called
Libers, most of which were published in the Equinox from 1909-
1913 and 1919. There are also longer Equinoxes which are book
length works. These include Eight Lectures on Yoga, published
in 1939, the Book of Thoth, published in 1944, and the Equinox
of the Gods, published in 1936.
The Book of Lies, a complex work full of puns, and a fertile
ground for qabalistic pondering, was printed in 1913. The Holy
Books, 1909-10, contain inspired and devotional poetry. Liber
777, and extensive work of qabalistic correspondences was first
published in 1909.
One may find the voice of a somewhat more matured Crowley in
Little Essays Toward Truth, published in 1938, and Magic
Without Tears, which he began writing in 1945, after his
retirement to Hastings.
[102]
In 1904 A. E. Waite made the following comment about Eliphas
Levi:
"No modern expositor of occult science can bear
any comparison with Eliphas Levi, and among
ancient expositors, though many stand higher in
authority, all yield to him in living interest, for he is
actually the spirit of modern thought forcing an
answer for the times from the old oracles. Hence
there are greater names, but there is no influence so
great-no fascination in occult literature exceeds that
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great-no fascination in occult literature exceeds that
of the French magus."
[103]
It is interesting today to consider this passage in light of Aleister
Crowley's claim to be Levi incarnated. Waite, who was part of
the body of Chiefs that refused Crowley admittance to the inner
order at Isis-Uranus might well write this about Crowley, if he
were alive today to comment.
Whether Aleister Crowley deliberately set himself to mimic and
surpass Levi, or truly was the reincarnation of the French
magician cannot be determined with certainty. It is a near
certainty, however, that all yield now to Crowley in living
interest, for he is undoubtedly the most colorful and
controversial figure in the history of hermetic arts.
Christopher S. Hyatt remarks that "A.C. flashed his truth [threw
it right in our face and rubbed our nose into it] publicly and
without any sense of apology or 'good taste'."
[104]
Robert Anton Wilson, Ph.D. tells of a remark made to him by
Caliph Hymeneus Alpha of the OTO, that "There is no sense in
trying to whitewash Crowley's reputation, Aleister spent most of
his life systematically blackening it."
[105]
Wilson's own view of the controversy surrounding Crowley was
that, "Crowley was always eccentric, often outrageous on
principle, and sometimes downright vicious, but he is unique
among the Illuminate in not trying to conceal such traits but,
rather, in making every possible effort to ensure that disciples
would never be able to sentimentally sanctify him."
[106]
There are certainly many aspects of Aleister Crowley's behavior
and lifestyle that may people disagree with in principal, such as
sexual promiscuity, experimentation with drugs for altered
consciousness and breaking of religious taboos. There is also an
abundance of myth and rumor about Crowley that can neither be
confirmed nor invalidated. It is, however, perhaps more
interesting to speculate on the extremity of the reaction people
often have towards Crowley.
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often have towards Crowley.
Christopher Hyatt observes that this reaction often surpasses
reason, and is not in proportion with other, comparable
examples.
"Crowley in my opinion is damned and feared by
many not because of his explicit sexuality, for who
is not aware or involved with the sexual revolution
in one form or another. Another explanation of why
he is so severely condemned is his drug use, yet
Leary and others have surpassed Crowley with this
form of experimental brain change. Still another is
his hatred of the Christian Tunnel Reality. Yet, some
bookstores handle the Satanic Bible while refusing
to handle Crowley. Why should this be?"
[107]
Invariable when the name of Aleister Crowley is brought up in a
discussion, someone mentions his addiction to cocaine. Though it
is well know that this was a commonly used remedy for various
ailments at the time, and that Crowley's addiction was from using
it to treat his chronic and severe Bronchitis. The same is not true
in the case of Sigmund Freud, who was also addicted to cocaine,
and for the same reason.
[97]
People also fail to recognize the
number of Americans ingesting cocaine when it was the "feel
good" ingredient in Coca-Cola.
Similarly the names Casanova and Don Juan are often used, with
positive connotation, to mean a charming dashing "ladies man".
Why then do we call Aleister "a misogynist" rather than use his
name as a similar form of flattery towards sexually "successful"
men? It seems that public opinion has a rather fluctuating
standard of determination.
Hyatt gives, as one possible explanation, Aleister Crowley's
assault on the ego, as part of his ongoing striving for higher or
altered states of mind. It is Hyatt's belief that our own egos feel
threatened by this denunciation of "our sacred personalities and
the system which feeds on these rigidities and fears".
[108]
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the system which feeds on these rigidities and fears".
[108]
This sacred ego, he says "is our greatest obstacle to finding our
True Will", which he asserts is synonymous with the Great
Work. The ego is, Hyatt declares "a random collection of input
data accumulated from the information [or dis-information] of
Mother, Father, Teacher, Culture, Friends, Religion and
History". It is the cause of much pain, and inhibits our true and
perfect self.
[109]
Robert Anton Wilson, Ph.D. agrees that, "Crowley tried, like all
mystics, to abolish the ego".
[110]
He points to the dissonance
between the imperative need for continuous loosening of ego
boundaries in the Great Work and the impossibility of their
complete erasure, as well as their evolutionary necessity, as the
cause of Aleister Crowley's capricious existence.
Crowley, Wilson tells us, "developed and nurtured a hierarchy of
separate selves, each with its own functions and levels of
awareness."
[111]
This is both a necessity and function of
mysticism. It also explains the variability we see in Crowley,
from his actions to his words and aptitudes as a transcendentalist
and visionary.
Wilson says that "Crowley tackled this problem with his usual
fool-hardy Total Commitment. He pushed the techniques of
ceremonial magic far beyond the point most occultists dare to
go."
[112]
John Symonds seems to agree with Wilson, though it is obvious
that he sees this obliteration of the ego in a less favorable light.
"Other people have no ego, are just weak, but
Crowley made a religion out of his weakness, out of
being ego-less. I know that ego-lessness is a
condition which Indian philosophy regards as the
supreme state, and towards which Sadhaka strives,
but in Crowley's case it is the point from which he
beginsIndeed, he rushed in where angels, let alone
Sadhakas, fear to tread. He lacked an inhibitory
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Sadhakas, fear to tread. He lacked an inhibitory
counterforce; he was always hurling himself into
magical and other adventures."
[113]
Sometimes, however, it is the simply the most obvious
explanation that is correct. Kevin Carlyon, described in The
Observer, an English newspaper, as one of Britain's best known
white witches, says "To those who would follow him I say, be
aware that he was taking the mickey of everything. He had a
sense of humour and so should not necessarily be trusted."
[114]
Aleister Crowley himself noted that this is a trait found to be
largely wanting in a substantial portion of the population. He tells
of a time that he "wrote a parody of the Declaration of
Independence and applied it to Ireland." With some friends,
including a female of Irish descent, and in an inebriated state, he
took a motorboat to the Statue of Liberty. Here he read this
Declaration, hoisted the Irish flag, and tore up an old envelope
that he claimed was his British passport and threw it into the
water. His lady friend, a violinist, played the Wearing of the
Green. They then went to soak up the alcohol in their stomachs
with breakfast, and home to sleep it off.
Of the response from his nation of origin, Crowley tells, "Over in
England there was some consternation. I cannot think of what
had happened to their sense of humour."
[115]
It is the author's opinion that to truly appreciate Aleister Crowley
a sense of humour is essential.
In 1928, Aleister Crowley invited a young man from America,
with an interest in mysticism and the occult, to travel to Paris to
become his secretary. He did not realize, at the time, that in
befriending this young man his relationship with the Golden
Dawn would become a full circle. This man was Israel Regardie.
Israel Regardie would one day record and publish for all
posterity the knowledge and rituals of the Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn, thereby passing this aspect of spirit of the Great
Work to a new generation.
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Regardie's influence on the modern Golden Dawn movement
cannot be discounted, nor can Crowley's influence on Regardie.
Regardie parted company with Crowley in 1932, when
Mandrake Press, Crowley's publisher, folded, leaving Crowley
unable to keep Regardie in employment. They parted as friends,
but sharp words were exchanged, from both sides, via the mail, a
few years later. This was apparently a squabble, childish on both
sides, where both men ridiculed the other's adopted name.
Contact between the two was dissolved, and a derogatory note
was circulated about Regardie, which he attributed to Crowley's
authorship.
[116]
That a strong respect and attachment for the older man remained
with Regardie is obvious from his biography of the former, the
Eye in the Triangle. Throughout the biography Regardie shows
empathy and a sense of protectiveness towards his former
mentor. This is illustrated in the many quotes from that book
used above.
Regardie, who later joined the Golden Dawn, rechristianed as
Stella Matutina, would have had his interest developed, if not
begun, by living with Crowley and learning about the Golden
Dawn from him. He also learned much of the foundational
knowledge of the Golden Dawn at this time.
Regardie refers to Crowley often in The Complete Golden Dawn
System of Magic.
[117]
Regardie used insight from Crowley's
work, including Liber HHH, in developing potential self-
initiation rituals and ideas on starting a Golden Dawn
temple.
[118]
He refers Golden Dawn students to, Book 4 Part II
for information regarding the creation and use of magical
tools.
[119]
He applauds Crowley for recognizing the importance
of balanced enjoyment of sexuality, though he recognizes that
Crowley himself had difficulty achieving this.
[120]
In discussing potential pitfalls and dangers involved in the use of
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Golden Dawn Magic, Regardie quotes Crowley from Liber O,
advising, among other things, caution in assigning objective
reality to experiences in other planes, and of resting or ceasing
the Great Work prematurely.
[121]
In examining the use and availability of devotional writing for
the Golden Dawn student, Regardie makes this statement.
"I must refer to the work of Aleister Crowley who,
after all, whatever is said and done, was once a
member of the order and owes a great deal to his
initiation therein. I especially suggest reading his
instruction which reviews the whole Eastern attitude
about Bhakta - Liber Astarte vel BerylliSo far as I
am concerned, this Liber is a masterpiece, which I
can strongly recommend especially to one
complaining about the absence of devotional writing
in the order.
"Furthermore, and this I think is paramount, there
is Crowley's early masterpiece Three Holy Books
This volume contains Liber LXV or The Book of the
Heart Girt with a Serpent, Liber VII or Liber Lapidis
Lazuli and finally Liber 813 vel Ararita. All three
are superbly written and breathe devotion in every
wordIt may be stretching definitions pretty far to
state that these may be considered part of the
Order's devotional literature. But on the other hand I
would rather consider these to be in that category
than the religious lucubrations of Mr. A. E. Waite
they convey more devotion and love to me"
[122]
It is clear then, that at their roots, the modern Golden Dawn
movement and Thelema are inseparably intertwined. Both claim
German Rosicrucian ancestry long before Aleister Crowley
began his study of the occult.
Crowley first began his focused quest for divine transformation
with initiation into the Golden Dawn and the study of its
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with initiation into the Golden Dawn and the study of its
teachings. After founding Thelema he influenced the man who
would publish the Golden Dawn material, risking censure
[123]
to
save the rituals and knowledge from obscurity. This knowledge,
now available to a new generation, has inspired countless
individuals and has led to the foundation of more than one
fraternal organization dedicated to its practice and study.
There are some points of contention between orders that
consider themselves Thelemic, and Orders which consider
themselves to be in the Golden Dawn tradition.
One of these differences is the employment of sex magic.
Thelemic sex magic focuses the subtle but powerful energies
involved in the various aspects of sex to catapult the
consciousness higher in the transcendental process.
The use of sex magic in Thelema traces its roots back to tantric
yoga, both through the roots of the OTO in Germany before
Crowley's initiation
[124]
and also through Crowley's interest in
Eastern practices springing from his association with Allen
Bennett and time spent in the East.
[125]
Other differences between Thelema and Golden Dawn orders
involve the use of symbolism from Liber L vel Legis, used in
Thelema but not incorporated into the Golden Dawn system of
magic.
Much of this symbolism can be traced [potentially and
controversially] back to Crowley's childhood fascination with the
Biblical Apocalyptic literature. It also illustrates the duel nature
of Chokmah and Binah, the first manifestations of the Divine in
its masculine and feminine aspects on the qabalistic Tree of Life.
Regardie says of Crowley "The ecstasy of sex he considered akin
to the ecstasy of spiritual experience."
[126]
This is often
illustrated in the symbolism of Thelema.
A crucial divergence is the Thelemic doctrine that mankind has
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A crucial divergence is the Thelemic doctrine that mankind has
entered a "new Aeon."
A full discussion of this deviation of doctrine deserves a more
thorough investigation than may be accomplished here, as
imperative as that dialog may be. However one implication of
this division relates to its application to the vast body of writing
by Aleister Crowley that pertains to the highest planes of
existence. In traditional Golden Dawn there are three theoretical
grades assigned to the "third order". Some consider these grades
impossible, others improbable, in the incarnate state, as the are
"across the Abyss".
Thelema asserts that now, in the Aeon of Horus, these higher
levels of attainment are a possibility. This discrepancy becomes
crucial in determining the value of Crowley's work on
transcendental magic.
Whatever one's fealty, it is illogical to assume that the GD and
Thelema live in different eras. There can be no doubt of the great
changes western culture has undergone since the Victorian age of
Crowley youth and the foundation of the original Hermetic Order
of the Golden Dawn, however one chooses to describe this.
Likewise, one cannot imagine that the demons of the abyss
interrogate seekers as to their order allegiance.
Both the Golden Dawn and Thelema are qabalistic in foundation,
based on the Otz Chiym, or Hebrew Tree of Life. This ideology,
termed theurgy, is a doctrine supposing one Divinity who
manifests down through the planes of existence. The gods of
various cultures are attributed to these "faces" or manifestations
of the Divine according to similarities in their characteristic
natures and traits. To say they are guided by different gods
contradicts their very foundation. We may accept, however, the
potential for a varied nature of this energy depending on the
focus of disparate sephirah in ritual and symbolism.
Western culture and mankind is in the age that it is, whatever
one chooses to call this age, or wherever one puts to it the
boundaries of time. Eternal laws of nature and divinity determine
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boundaries of time. Eternal laws of nature and divinity determine
the height we may achieve of transcendence and unity with the
one divine force.
That leaves the debate to be exactly what these natural and
divine laws afford. This question, it would seem, is not
answerable to any degree of satisfaction, to the body of hermetic
magicians taken as a whole.What is indubitable, however, is that
no practitioner of the western magical tradition tried harder or
wrote more about these attempts than Aleister Crowley. Stephen
Skinner puts it well, when he says, "Crowley dared to storm the
portals of heaven-by the back door or any other method of
ingress. If he failed, it was not from want of trying."
[127]
If Crowley's efforts were successful is up to the individual reader
to resolve for him or herself. Yet, for those who intend
themselves to "endure until the end", to ignore Aleister
Crowley's extensive treatise on the abyss and supernal planes of
existence, based on a life, controversial as this life may have
been, dedicated to the knowledge and conversion of the Holy
Guardian Angel within, is self-defeating and counter productive.
Inde