Friday, August 23, 2013

Crowley Demystified

Just kidding, it doesn't seem possible from a guy who said, "Magick is getting into communication with individuals who exist on a higher plane than ours.  Mysticism is the raising of oneself to their level."

However, the title works, it's a real attention grabber so in the spirit of it, I will present Aleister Crowley's researches as simply and lucidly as possible according to my own understanding.  I've been asked a few times over the years: "where to start with Crowley?"   I found it a difficult question because of the multi-faceted nature of his output - different people will initially respond better to different areas - so I usually suggest reading Robert Anton Wilson's overview of Crowley in Cosmic Trigger I.  That was my introduction to the mage.

Some preliminary remarks:

What follows represents my own study and researches. 

Crowley communicates on many levels.  That's why his books so richly reward rereading.  While the lenses of perception get cleansed and magnified through daily practices, understanding and comprehension grows and develops through experience.  More on his multiple layers of communication later.

The first time I read Magick in Theory and Practice sometime in the early '80's, I turned it into a Magical Retirement, that is to say, I dropped out of all the conventional social games and spent a week concentrating on reading and digesting the book and doing some spiritual practices.  I rented a room above a dive bar, The St. Regis Hotel in downtown Calgary, Alberta and fasted from food, drugs and alcohol.  After morning yoga, I'd walk around downtown Calgary and find somewhere interesting outdoors to read the book.

I understood very little of Magick in Theory and Practice then, but enjoyed it immensely.  It would often read like mysterious, abstract prose/poetry; a definite mood descended hard to convey.   Some of Rimbaud's poetry comes close. Even though most of what I read didn't make a lot of sense at the time, I did have a distinct feeling that information was reaching a deeper level. 

Yet one section jumped out as lucidly clear and easy to comprehend.  The Introduction to Magick in Theory and Practice (Part 3 of Book 4) where Crowley gives the definition of magick and follows it up with a series of theorems, illustrations and examples in scientific-like fashion.  Before the definition he writes:

I swore to rehabilitate MAGICK  to identify it with my own career ... 

Crowley defines magic as the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in accordance with Will.

The theorems go on to explain his basic philosophy.  For instance:

23.  Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one's conditions.  It is the art of apllying that understanding in action..

24. Every WoMan has an indefeasible right to be what (s)he is.

Just reading that relatively short Introduction will provide an excellent expose of Crowley's motives and intentions.

After the experiment ended, I felt energized, enthused and inspired though I didn't quite know exactly why since I seemed only marginally further along with grasping how magick works and practicing it.  I did have a good time with it at least.

Crowley appears more interested in having the reader think for themselves rather than blindly following his instruction.  Sometimes he'll deliberately mislead to keep the reader on their toes.  You'll also find a great deal of humor in his writings even in the most serious subjects.  Everything might not need to be taken as literally true, or maybe it is, everyone has to decide for themselves.  You'll find paradoxes, riddles, hidden jokes, contradictions, blinds, dead ends, outrageous allegory, illuminated inuendo etc. etc. etc.  Taken all together, Big Al's writings can seem like a vast labyrinth,  successful navigating of which constitutes part of the student's training.

Crowley applied the principles and practices of Science extensively toward his endeavors at consciousness transformation through magick and mysticism.  He studied Chemistry in college and stayed fairly current with developments in Science throughout his life.  He invokes Einstein's Theory of Relativity on the first page of the Book of Thoth, a book which summed up his occult knowledge and cosmological viewpoints through the tarot.  It was written near the end of his life.

Robert Anton Wilson suggested that Einstein introduced Relativity in Science, James Joyce introduced it in literature while Crowley introduced Relativity into spirituality as he sought a stronger scientific grounding in the mystical arts. 

We place no reliance on virgin or pigeon
Our method is science, our aim religion.

Is a motto Al came up with for the O.T.O.

A core textbook of Crowley's system is MAGICK, Liber ABA, Book Four.  It's divided into four parts which are:  Mysticism, Magick ( Elementary Theory), Magick in Theory and Practice, and Thelema: The Law.  The most current edition, put out by Weiser's, is affectionately known as the blue brick for it's blue dust jacket and size.

Part 1 Mysticism has on the title page below the title:



The scientific attitude shows right at the very start.
In the book Cosmography Buckminster Fuller gives his favorite definition of science which could equally apply to the practice of magick:
"Sir James Jeans pronounced what is to me the most sensitively inclusive and accurate definition of science when he said, 'Science is the sincere and consistent attempt to set in order the facts of experience.'"

Where magick and other esoteric practices such as Jungian active imagination differ from conventional science is that they acknowledge the validity of (so-called) inner experience to cause change (ie magick) in an intentional way to oneself and one's environment ( ie one'sSELF).  Magick also allows for the experience of receiving non-ordinary communication.
* * * * * *
Before we go too much further it seems prudent to separate the myths and superstitions of the man, Aleister Crowley from the work and system of radical brain change transformation and development he presented.
Crowley carries one of those charged names that conjures lots of superstitious nonsense in the minds of the public who have only heard of his sinister reputation.  The reason for this largely undeserved reputation, and the abundance of false stories surrounding him, some of them self-perpetuated, remains a subject for another time.
The man, however, definitely behaved unsaintly at times.  It appears just as much of a mistake to worship him as an infallible holy guru as it is to revile him as a black magician and doer of evil.  Both make the mistake of confusing some Crowley personality legend with his work.  Confusing the message with the messenger.
The multiple levels of communication he wrote in seems cognate with the multiple levels of consciousness he experienced and mapped out.  Yet, in the Book of Lies he reveals that not even he can always tell the difference when he writes in ch. 56:
"So wrote not FRATER PERDURABO, but the Imp Crowley in his name
For forgery let him suffer Penal Servitude for Seven Years; or at least let him do Pranayama all the way home....
And yet who knoweth which is Crowley, and which is FRATER PERDURABO?"

Frater Perdurabo (brother who will endure onto the end) was one of Aleister's magical mottos.

Western culture worships personality.  We expect our heroes, especially our religious figures to be god-like.  Their behavior should be in accord with the ideas they espouse.  While this certainly makes sense to some degree, prophets and philosophers gain more credibility when they live up to the ideas they preach, it ignores the common experience of envisioning a way of life far beyond one's current capacity.

Nietzsche and his Superman, Ouspensky and his New Model of the Universe, both Crowley and Gurdjieff with their ambitions for a network of "schools" criss-crossing the globe give some examples of idealistic visions difficult to attain, at least within the immediate timeframe.

Crowley once wrote something to the effect that he was the worst Thelemite because he was the first.  Elsewhere, in a letter to a student, he wrote that he meticulously recorded all his experiments in a diary so that those who followed him could learn from his mistakes and failures.

None of this is meant to excuse Crowley, he doesn't need an excuse or apology, the work he did on behalf of all is quite extraordinary.  It's meant to show that the imp Crowley need not unduly influence the experiments his work suggests.  Indeed, it's quite possible to get the gist of Crowley's vision without ever hearing about him or his jargon.  I'll provide some examples a little later.

Incidentally, several years ago I had a similar conversation with Bill Laswell, separating Crowley's system from his reputation, sitting in the lounge at Masterdisk mastering studio in New York waiting to master the Ramones album, Brain Drain we had just finished mixing ( mix engineers Robert Musso and Jason Corsaro hadn't arrived yet).  As we were talking, I happened to notice Joey Ramone from the other end of the lounge paying attention to our conversation.  He was the only Ramone present.  I have no idea what, if anything, he thought about the subject.

Aleister Crowley ready to rock!

* * * * * *
A root principle of Crowley's system is Will.  That internal dynamic force able to deliberately plot a course of action and carry it out.  Crowley called his system Thelema, the ancient Greek word for Will.  He believed that every individual has an intrinsic purpose for incarnating on this planet and that their life may function optimally by discovering this purpose and carrying it out.  He called this purpose True Will and declared that Higher Intelligence had given him an instruction to pass on to humanity: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
So it seems that an initial step on the path of Thelema involves formulating or discovering one's True Will.  This seems hardly a new idea, bearing close resemblance to the age-old instruction gnothi seauton - know thyself found in the ancient Egyptian temple of Luxor, the Oracle of Delphi, and used extensively by Plato in his dialogues. 

Samuel Coleridge had a poetic view of this self-examination:

"She looked at her own Soul with a Telescope.
What seemed all irregular,
she saw and shewed to be beautiful Constellations;
and she added to the Consciousness hidden worlds within worlds."

 Some people have difficulty formulating a True Will but it's really not that hard to begin this process.  It might help to remember that the elaboration of True Will functions more like a continuous journey than an end point.  It's not necessary to come up with the ultimate purpose of your existence in order to begin formulating a True Will.  One way to start - just look at what you like to do.  What are your proclivities?  How would you spend your life if you could do whatever you wanted if time and money were no object?
E.J. Gold writes somewhere that the first question a student gets asked when applying to an esoteric school is: "Why are you here?"  It can help reveal, unveil, prod or provoke True Will by asking, why am I here on this planet ... in this body... at this time. ... with this set of life circumstances?
The answer to the question 'why am I here,' and thus True Will tends to get modified and refined with time and experience.  For example, take someone who works in a shoe store and enjoys it.  They could start by saying, 'I am here on this planet at this time to sell shoes.'  Later they might consider and reflect upon the various ramifications of selling shoes.  Comfortable shoes help people function better in their jobs so maybe the salesperson's True Will has something to do with providing a service that helps people do their own thing?
I use this somewhat absurd example for two reasons.  The first is because I asked Robert Anton Wilson at a workshop what the purpose of Evolution was?  He replied that he didn't know but he hoped it had something to do with making more comfortable shoes to lecture in.
The second reason is to demonstrate that True Will doesn't have to manifest as some high falutin' idealism like saving the planet or making the world safe for consumerism.  It seems just as effective for apparently mundane activities.  It could be a person's True Will to be a good accountant or bookkeeper, a construction worker or a school janitor.  John Lennon's primary purpose in life from 1975  until 1980 was to raise a child, it seems.

Earlier, it was Lennon's will, along with thousands or millions of others, to end the Vietnam war.  I mention this because Lennon had a particularly creative and demonstrative approach to applying his will to end the war.  That war did end as a result of anti-war pressure.  This brings up a theme that we will return to and investigate later, that magick can change and/or influence events on a large scale.

It seems that when Presence, Will, and Attention focus in the same direction the momentum of entire Scenario Universe is on your side.  However, it's not always easy to stay aligned to True Will.  Endless distractions, social pressures and other obstacles appear such as the need to 'make a living' that can temporarily impede what you really wish to do.  Crowley maintained that he only got into trouble when losing sight of his True Will.

Buckminster Fuller experienced the same thing when he dropped out of society to pursue his own vision.  In Cosmography he writes:

"It seemed to me that I was clearly informed on how to proceed.  If and when I was doing first what first needed to be done, working out the most effective strategies in pure principle, I would be able to carry on successfully.  If I was not doing things in proper order or doing irrelevant things, I would be unable to carry on.  If I was not getting along, I would change course and look for a way to return to smooth sailing."

I use Fuller as an example to begin to demonstrate that the paradigm Crowley articulated appears common to many different disciplines and belief systems.  To my knowledge, Fuller did not incorporate Crowley's writings into his world view.  No evidence appears that he ever heard of him.  Yet, there exist striking similarities between Fuller's approach and Crowley's system.  Fuller could even be accurately called a model Thelemite, ie. an empowered individual, in my opinion.

For instance, here is how Bucky describes this new paradigm:

"I posited, for example, that humanity was entering an unprecedented state of comprehension of principles and mental competence adequate to the epochal inception of conscious, spontaneous, voluntary realization of magnificently essential, new-to-Earthian humans, functioning in Universe.  This new stage of human evolution was no longer automatic, but a matter of conscious will."

- Cosmology, p.14-15



  1. I never really understood "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," so I really appreciate your lucid explanation. And I look forward to learning more. Loved the Joey Ramone story, too.

  2. Tom, there's also another aspect to that. Witchcraft has the adage "And it harm none, do what thou wilt." I think Uncle Al was "improving" on that. The "second half" of his statement is "Love is the law. Love under will." I believe one needs all of it. Or maybe I'm just a sap.
    Oz, this was brilliant. I can't wait for the next installment.

  3. Good point, Gary. You never see the second statement quoted. I seem to be learning a lot.

  4. Thanks for your input Tom and gacord. I plan to get the next installment up soon.

    Love is the law, love under will often goes with Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law as a complementary statement or a reply. Crowley used to start his letters with Do what thou wilt... and close them with Love is the law... In my opinion, they also stand as independent statements. In the Book of the Law, which I'll talk more about later, those statements don't appear together though they both appear in it.

    Thanks for the Witchcraft adage gacord. Think it might have been the other way around, that Gerald Gardner "improved" upon Crowley. It seems that Crowley helped Gardner establish some of the principles of the Witchcraft revival, one of the many influences he had upon modern occultism. Gardner also borrowed from Crowley's written material apparently, sometimes verbatim. I don't know the full story behind their collaboration but it probably could be researched online.

  5. Terrific piece. I too loved the Joey Ramone bit. I've toyed with the idea of reading some Crowley this year. I've never finished his Autohagiography.

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  7. Thanks Eric. I wrote most of this piece some time back and just recently finished it. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, his autohagiography provides another excellent overview and source of Crowley and his ideas. We studied it in RAWs Crowley course. It will become even more excellent when they finally publish the unedited version (quite a bit more there) that's been promised for some years now.

  8. Interesting to find this text by chance... Oz, I like your down to earth approach.

    I grew up surrounded by New Age, and have in some ways become a hard-headed skeptical.

    I am exhausted after playing 6 gigs in two days. This read was inspiring and invigorating.

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