Thursday, August 21, 2014

Aleister Crowley - Magick, Rock and Roll, and The Wickedest Man in the World

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name
But what's puzzling you is just the nature of my game
- Sympathy for the Devil, The Rolling Stones

Aleister Crowley - Magick, Rock and Roll, and The Wickedest Man in the World, by Gary Lachman is the latest bio on ole Beastie to come out.  I was going to pass on it having read every other bio on Big Al I could get my hands on, but then considered there might be a good look at Crowley's immense influence on rock and roll from a qualified source who had played in a band I liked.  The author is the bass player from Blondie.  I'm very glad I changed my mind.  I'm finding this to be the most engimatic of all the Crowley biographies apart from his own autobiography.

Superficially and ostensibly, this book aggressively brands Crowley in the persona I call " the demon Crowley" ie his popular legend of living as a drug addled black magician pursuing Satanism and Evil without regard for anyone but himself and just all around being an egotistic naughty boy.  This is the Crowley most of the public knows, if they've heard of him at all, due to John Symonds publication of The Great Beast in 1952.  Symonds was clearly biased and prejudiced against Crowley, but nonetheless this image caught on, an image that Crowley had helped foster to some extent.  In this new bio, Lachman calls Symonds' book "flawed" but still feels it's the best Crowley bio out there.  Israel Regardie called Symonds, "that most hostile biographer."

AC -MRRTWMW seems the spiritual heir of Symonds' book, but taken to the next level.  It appears by far the most negative biography about Crowley and everything he stood for.  The demon Crowley gets fully evoked in all its dark and dreary counterglory.  Through very clever selective perception, much judgement and amateur psychological evaluation this perspective paints a picture that seems far blacker than Symonds. Damning comments from his diaries seem taken out of context in this case against him.  Eyewitness accounts by anyone who ever had anything bad to say about Crowley get stacked up against him.  The writing, however, goes far beyond the citation and judgement of bad deeds.  It makes irrational associations to give a worse picture as for instance when talking about another writer who put forth that Cagliostro was a charlatan, the writing in this new bio says One of Crowleys former incarnations, Cagliostoro was considered a charlatan, by such and such.  In fact the negative reinforcement gets so strong and continuous that it seems like the pov of this book operates as a program to get the reader to permanently enter an anti-AC mindset or reality tunnel.  It seems like a form of subtle hypnosis or neuro-linguistic programming.  For example, from p. 177:

"Like Crowley, Randolph used drugs as an aid to mystical states; he has been described by the esoteric scholar Christopher Bamford as " in equal parts authentic and a fake" - again like Crowley. Randolph, an unstable character, blew his brains out in 1875 at the age of 45."

Another superstitiously extravagant claim holds that some of the mischief Crowley did with his magick back in 1909 helped to cause the disastrous circumstances at the free Rolling Stones concert held at Altamont.  Richards and Jagger studied AC with Kenneth Anger which had something to do with it the book alleges, though it's left unexplained.  Crowley and his philosophy gets compared with  Charles Manson.  He's called an admirer of Adolf Hitler.  It goes on and on never seeming to miss a moment to get a dig in at Crowley.

In fact it begins to feel slanted to the point of ridiculousness.  The bias looks extremely transparent and some of the statements appear to say much more about the author than about AC, like obvious psychological projection - mirror reflection.  It fact, it seems so obvious that I suspect it' s a dodge, a misdirection to get the reader to consider the author in a particular way.  I suspect that behind this  negative Crowley mask the author wears lies an adept communicating genuine teaching.  I suspect this book to be a trick, a teaching device applying shocks in a particular way with a lot more to it beneath the surface.  It seems like something Crowley might do or someone very advanced in his teaching techniques.  I remain open to all possibilities.
This bio started to look like more than it seems when I noticed the author deliberately discredit the source of one of the quotes that opens the book -  not just once, but twice.  It begins with two quotes, a rational, even one from Crowley and a hysterical one from Vittoria Cremers that reads:

"It was sex that rotted him.  It was sex, sex, sex, sex, sex, all the way with Crowley.  He was a sex maniac."

Lachman tells us later that Crowley accused Cremers of embezzlement making her prejudiced against him.  Then we are told that she held a grudge against AC.  These are the only credentials given for her to make that quote, it doesn't even mention if they were lovers.  So why use a quote with dubious truth and no authority to back it?  Well, for one thing, the two quotes by Crowley and Cremers very nicely anticipate and encapsulate the flavor of the book's subject matter - what opening quotes are intended to do - ONLY in those quotations, Crowley sounds totally rational and gives a completely sane explanation for much of the rest of the book, while the accuser here, Vittoria Cremers gets deliberately discredited by the author.  This seems completely opposite to the atttitude of the rest of the book where Crowley seems to take all the blame.  The book starts with Crowley's quote giving a reasonable defence/explanation why people see the demon Crowley.

Another possible reason for the quote - sex sells!  Every advertiser knows that.  I submit that one hidden agenda of this new biography is attract people to the current of the Great Work as Crowley presented it.  Are young people reading about Crowley for the first time going to see that quote and consider, "oh that bad man, he liked sex too much"  or " hey, sex, let's check this guy out."  A kind of bait.  The author practically tells you that in so many words when he comments favorably on the Symonds bio saying it's the best of the lot despite its flaws, then says quite rightfully that The Great Beast was responsible for keeping Crowley's name alive until it he became more widely known.  The public gets attracted to the sensationalism of the demon Crowley legend, but it also gets into the hands of many people who saw through the author's bias and searched further.  Aleister Crowley - Magick, Rock and Roll, and The Wickedest Man in the World will likely have a similar effect, maybe moreso, now that there's rock and roll to help with the marketing!

The bio started to look  like active magical ammunition, when I began experiencing mildly precognitive coincidences.  For instance, I kept  thinking of the Shakespeare line: "Methinks he doth protest too much"  from the constant put downs when to great amusement I read Lachman suggesting the same quote applies to Israel Regardie's so-called protestations of AC's innocence in The Eye in the Triangle then writing: "... and is therefore suspect; at the end of it, Regardie himself admits that it is with real relief that he can unburden himself of the task of exonerating Crowley." The Eye in the Triangle seems pretty balanced with the pros and cons of Crowley.  One wonders if Lachman anticipates real relief from the burden of implicating Crowley?  If he was referring to himself?  This bio does end graciously toward Crowley on a positive note, in my opinion.  It could get read as sarcastic, but I suspect it's genuine maybe because I also agree.  Toward the end I wondered if there would be mention of AC's second most popular saying: "Love is the law, love under will" and discovered it a few pages later with the only explanation that Crowley ended all his correspondence with it.  It gets mentioned again a few pages after that as if the author wants to be sure the reader sees it, but again with little explanation.

Next, I happened to look closely at the front cover which depicts Crowley in magical regalia making horns with his thumbs in front of his ears in the posture called Vir which represents the Hierophant.  The book's title and author's name is printed in a white band across AC's forearms.  A graphic of a dark gold sunburst resides in the center behind the "I" and "S" of Aleister and the "W" of Crowley.  The letters inside the sunburst read IS W.  W = vau = the Hierophant.  Looking at this sun placed over AC's chest made me suddenly realize for the first time that he was making himself into a rough form of the Tree of Life in this photo.  I now saw it as a powerful magical statement.  His upright forearms indicate the twin pillars of Mercy and Severity, his hands and thumbs = Chesed and Geburah, the radiant triangle on his hat = the Supernal Triad, and his eyes and forehead are positioned perfectly to suggest Daath and the Abyss.  Crowley's name in large letters expands out from the Tiphareth region, the subtitle covers Hod (Magick), Netzach ( Rock and Roll) and Yesod ( the Wickedest Man in the World, the foundation of this book).  The author's name. Gary Lachman, appears appropriately in the position of Malkuth, the material world which this book seems mostly to dwell in as you would expect.  I find it interesting that Crowley gets belittled frequently about his physical condition, and the narrative often talks about how he's battling disease or drugs when not engaging in degenerate sex or ruining people's lives yet they use one of his strongest looking photos for the front cover.  He's looking his best.

The sunburst on the cover recalls another Crowley book which has always had a radiant sun graphic on its cover, The Book of Lies.  Perhaps this bio identifies itself as another book of lies, another series of koan type puzzles with great truth underneath?

A qabalist gets trained to see multiple points of view.  Part of that training involves learning to read things backwards or in mirror image; to consider the opposite pov of any communication.  This has a basis in Taoism, a philosophy Crowley was fond of, with the notion that every thing contains the seed of its opposite.  This is shown in the well-known yin/yang symbol.  In Sympathy for the Devil, arguably The Rolling Stones most Crowleyesque song, they sing of this identity of opposites in the bridge : 

Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners Saints ...

A qabalist might apply this same logic to the title and hear it in a whole new way.

Some of the interpretations the writer draws from Crowley's work seems exactly opposite from common understanding by people who have tasted the pudding.  For instance, stating that to 'do what you want' as the highest aim of AC's magical system.  On p. 58 he writes: 

"... Crowley would espouse a philosophy expressing this antinomian rejection of opposites." 

This sentence itself seems opposite to Crowley's espousement in that he accepted opposites, or maybe we're just talking semantics, however the next sentence in the book looks very interesting.  It appears the author instantly reverses himself with the opposite attitude.
Almost all skepticism in this bio seems unbalanced against Crowley, and the author usually sounds very sure of himself.  He speaks as if with a voice of authority.  Yet in a paragraph on p. 341 that begins by talking about the inspiration behind The Matrix,  a movie about an illusionary, programmed surface reality, he writes:

 "Today we all live with a sense of reality not being quite what it seems.  Rightly or wrongly we have - at least in the West - grown suspicious of every authority; to borrow a phrase from the philosopher Paul Ricour, we live under the "hermeneutics of suspicion" and the once firm fitting for our beliefs is now little more than thin ice.  This sense of ontological disorientation has reached contemporary pop."

Like Timothy Leary, one of Crowley's successors, the author suggests that his own authority be questioned or at least approached with skepticism.  Again, this seems completely in accordance with Crowley's training of rigorous, but balanced skepticism.

Perhaps this bio appeared with the intention to stimulate a 'sense of ontological disorientation' amongst Crowley true believers or people who regard him as a hell of a holy guru?  Actually, that one person could be so black and horrible yet so profoundly influence a cultural movement based on peace, love and understanding seems another kind of ontological disorientation. 

AC - MRRTWMW will also serve as a filter.  People who unquestioningly believe this account will likely not pursue the subject any further.  I see it as kind of a preliminary test to see if one can get past the mask of the demon Crowley.

Teacher's of Crowley's caliber will deliberately create obstacles for their students to overcome at certain points in the training.  This biography could be serving that purpose by putting the reader in confront with the demon Crowley.  As well as functioning to keep Aleister's name, then his work in the public eye through the vehicle of John Symonds, the demon Crowley also seems the first Guardian of the Temple.  It helps to have a sense of humor.

If AC - MRRTWMW did get written by a student or graduate of Crowley's, then it seems a sheer act of courageous love to slosh through all the pain and misery of constructing the demon Crowley image, faux as it may be, for the benefit of current and future travelers.  It reminds me of an esoteric interpretation by Gurdjieff regarding Judas' betrayal of Christ.

Some more curious things in a bio that seems to have Paint It Black playing in the background for most of it:

1. We are told about Crowley's identification with Christ in his oath for the assumption of his Holy Guardian Angel, the pinnacle of his True Will.  The writer then, very disingenuosuly for a prolific writer and researcher of esoteric subjects, mistakenly confuses Christ with Christianity by way of misdirection/explanation.

2. The author has no problem passing judgement and giving strange moralistic interpretations on statements from The Book of the Law, but says on p. 118 that it requires

"...a knowledge and expertise of Kabbalah and other arcane hermeneutic disciplines most of us do not possess or have the time inclination or inclination to acquire."

Again, it seems the author shows us a rationale for rejecting other statements and conclusions made in the book.  He gives valuable direction on what's needed to fully understand Crowley and The Book of the Law, ie qabalah, while letting us infer that his arguments don't necessarily have that same background.  Yet the front cover depicts a subtle Tree of Life?

3.  This seems only pure coincidence, but some may find it curious - the phrase, " But this was the aim of his entire magical system..."  occur on p. 36.  Chapter 36 from The Book of Lies has The Star Sapphire ritual which definitely speaks to "the aim of his entire magical system."

I recommend anyone interested in Crowley to read  Aleister Crowley - Magick, Rock and Roll, and The Wickedest Man in the World while monitoring their own reactions to some of the more outrageous and salacious commentary.  At times the author shows adeptness at stepping on corns ala Gurdjieff.

Since I like rock and roll even more than Crowley  I will end with Led Zeppelin's  response and commentary, Trampled Underfoot, that I divined earlier today.  It's a longish version but it does nicely illustrate a theurgic invocation via rock and roll especially right at the end of the song.


  1. If I hadn't knows Gary Lachman had been a rocker himself, I would've thought he was a stealth Right Wing Xtian. He seems to hate "hippies," who ruined what could have been for him.

    You, Oz, have more knowledge of Crowley in the nail on your smallest left toe than Lachman will ever have.

    Dig: Paul Krassner's review of Lachman's previous book:

    We all have our own Uncle Als. Mine is not Lachman's...unless he's trying to do for cannabis what "Reefer Madness" did for it?

  2. Thank-you for the kind words. I also considered at one point that the writer acted for Xtian agents getting their revenge.

    It seems kind of funny in one sense because these adversaries that occult writers tend to attract often end up helping out their targets in unexpected ways and probably without knowing about it.