Figured since some people wanted to talk about AC i would make a thread for it.
The Great Beast – Aleister Crowley
by Robert Anton Wilson
O – The Fool
All ways are lawful to innocence. Pure folly is the key to initiation. – The Book of Thoth
Crowley: Pronounced with a crow so it rhymes with holy: Edward Alexander Crowley, b. 1875 d. 1947, known as Aleister Crowley, known also as Sir Aleister Crowley, Saint Aleister Crowley (of the Gnostic Catholic Church), Frater Perdurabo, Frater Ou Mh, To Mega Therion, Count McGregor, Count Vladimir Svareff, Chao Khan, Mahatma Guru Sri Paramahansa Shivaji, Baphomet, and Ipsissimus; obviously, a case of the ontological fidgets - couldn't make up his mind who he really was; chiefly known as The Beast 666 or The Great Beast; friends and disciples celebrated his funeral with a Black Mass: or so the newspapers said.
Actually it was a Gnostic Catholic Mass (even John Symonds, Crowley's most hostile biographer, admits that at most it could be called a Grey Mass, not a Black Mass - observe the racist and Christian-chauvinist implications in this terminology, but it was certainly not an orthodox R.C. or Anglican mass, I mean, cripes, the priestess took off her clothes in one part of it, buck naked, and they call that a Mass, gloriosky!
So the town council had a meeting - this was the Ridge, in Hastings, England, 1947, not 1347 - and they passed an ordinance that no such heathen rites would ever be tolerated in any funeral services in their town, not never; I sort of picture them in the kitch Alpine-Balkan garb of Universal Studios' classic monster epics, and I see Aleister himself, in his coffin, wearing nothing less spectacular than the old black cape of Bela Lugosi: fangs showing beneath his sensual lips: but his eyes closed in deep and divine Samadhi.
Because that's the sort of images that come to mind when Aleister Crowley is mentioned: this damnable man who identified himself with the Great Beast in St. John's Revelations in an age when the supernatural is umbilically connected with Universal Studios, Hearst Sunday Supplement I-walked-with-a-zombie-in-my-maidenform-bra gushings and, God's socks, Today's Astrology ("Listen, Scoorpio: This month you must look before you leap and remember that prudence is wiser than rashness: Don't trust that Taurus female in you office" - I repeat: God's socks and spats); this divine man who became the Logos when Logos was just a word to pencil into Double-Crostics on rainy Sundays; this damnable and divine paradox of a Crowley!
Listen, some critic (I forgot who) wrote of Lugosi "acting with total sincerity and a kind of demented cornball poetry" and the words, like the old crimson-lined black cape, seem tailored equally well for the shoulders of Master Therion, To Mega Therion, the Great Beast, Aleister Crowley. This is the final degradation: this avatar of anarchy, this epitome of rebellion, this incarnation of inconsistency, this man Crowley whom his contemporaries called "The King of Depravity," The Wickedest Man in the World," "A Cannibal at Large," "A Man We'd Like to Hang," "A Human Beast"; and, with some anti-climax, "A Pro-German and Revolutionary."
Now, to us, he is quaint. Worse: he is Camp. Worse yet: he is corny.
We don't even believe his boast that he performed human sacrifice 150 times a year, starting in 1912.
None of these cordial titles was invented by myself. All were used, in Crowley's life-time, by the newspaper John Bull, in it's heroic and nigh-interminable campaign to save England from the Beast's pernicious influence. See P.R. Stephenson, The Legend of Aleister Crowley.
I -- The Magician
The True Self is the meaning of the True Will: know Thyself through Thy Way.
– The Book of Thoth
For there is no clear way, even on the most superficial level of the gross external data, to say what Edward Alexander Crowley (who called himself Aleister: and other names) really was trying to do with his life and communicate to his fellows.
Witness: here is an Englishman (never forget that: an Englishman, and bloody English at times he could be) who in the stodgiest year, of the dreariest decade of the age we call Victoria, commits technical High Treason, joins the Carlists, accepts a knighthood from Don Carlos himself, denounces as illegitimate all the knighthoods granted by "the Hanoverian usurper" (he also called her a "dumpy German hausfrau" - poor Vicky), yes, and then for years and decades afterward continues, with owl-like obstinacy, with superlative stubbornness, with ham heroism, with promethean pigheadedness, to sign himself "Sir Aleister" - a red flag in the face of John Bull.
But more: the same romantic reactionary, the same very parfet bogus knight, hears that the French authorities, scandalized by the heroic size of the genital on Epstein's statue of Oscar Wilde, have covered it with a butterfly - and, bien bueno, you guessed it, there he is, at twilight with hammer and chisel, sworn enemy of the Philistines, removing the butterfly and restoring the statue to its pristine purity - but why by all the pot-bellied gods in China, why did he turn that gesture into a joke by walking, the same night, into London's stuffiest restaurant, wearing the same butterfly over the crotch of his own trousers?
A Harlequin, then, we might pronounce him, ultimately: the archetypal Batty Bard superimposed upon the classic Eccentric Englishman? And with a touch of the Sardonic Sodomist - for didn't he smuggle homosexual jokes (hidden in puns, codes, acrostics and notarikons) into his various volumes of mystical poetry?
Didn't it even turn out that his great literary "discovery" the Bagh-I-Muattar [The Scented Garden] was not a discovery at all but an invention - all of it, all, all! from the pious but pederastic Persian original, through the ingenious but innocent English major who translated it (and died heroically in the Boer War), up to the high Anglican clergyman who wrote the Introduction saluting its sanctity but shivering at its salacity - all, all from his own cunning and creative cranium?
Yes: and he even published one volume, White Stains (Krafft-Ebing in verse) with a poker-faced prologue pronouncing that "The Editor hopes the Mental Pathologists, for whose eyes alone this treatise is destined, will spare no precaution to prevent it falling into other hands" - and, hot damn, arranged that the author's name on the title-page would be given as "George Archibald," a pious uncle whom he detested.
Sophomore pranks? Yes, but in 1912, at the age of 37, he was still at the same game: that was the year he managed to sell Hail Mary, a volume of versatile verses celebrating the Virgin, to London's leading Catholic publishers, Burns and Oates: and he even waited until it was favorably reviewed in the Catholic press ("a plenteous and varied feast for the lovers of tuneful verse," enthused the Catholic Times) before revealing that the real author was not a cloistered nun or an uncommonly talented Bishop, but himself, Satan's Servant, the Great Beast, the Demon Crowley.
But grok in its fullness this fact: he really did it. You or I might conceive such a jest, but he carried it out: writing the pious verses with just the proper tone of sugary sanctimoniousness to actually sell to a Papist publisher and get cordial reviews in the Romish press - as if Baudelaire had forced himself to write a whole volume of Edgar Guest: And just for the sake of a horse-laugh?
To understand this conundrum of a Crowley we will have to Dig.
II -- The High Priestess
Purity is to live only to the Highest: and the Highest is All; be thou as Artemis to Pan.
– The Book of Thoth
These jokes sometimes seem to have an obscure point, and one is uneasily suspicious that there might be Hamlet-like method in this madness. Even the alternate identities can be considered more than games: They might be Zen counter-games. Here's the Beast's own explanation of the time he became Count Vladimir Svareff, from The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography.
"I wanted to increase my knowledge of mankind. I knew how people treated a young man from Cambridge. I had thoroughly appreciated the servility of tradesmen, although I was too generous and too ignorant to realize the extent of their dishonesty and rapacity. Now I wanted to see how people would behave to a Russian nobleman. I must say here that I repeatedly used this method of disguise - it has been amazingly useful in multiplying my points of view about humanity. Even the most broad-minded people are necessarily narrow in this one respect. They may know how all sorts of people treat them, but they cannot know, except at second hand, how those same people treat others."
And the Hail Mary caper has its own sane-insane raison d'etre:
"I must not be thought exactly insincere, though I had certainly no shadow of belief in any of the Christian dogmas... I simply wanted to see the world through the eyes of a devout Catholic, very much as I had done with the decadent poet of White Stains, the Persian mystic of Bagh-i-Muattar, and so on... I did not see why I should be confined to one life. How can one hope to understand the world if one persists in regarding it from the conning tower of ones own "personality?"
Just so: the procedure is even scientific these days (Role-Playing, you know) and is a central part of Psychodrama and Group Dynamics. "You have to go out of your mind before you can come to your senses," as Tim Leary (or Fritz Perls) once said. Sure: you can even become Jesus and Satan at the same time: Ask Charles the Son of Man.
For Artemis, the goddess of nature, is eternally virgin: she only surrended once, and then to Pan: and this is a clue to the Beast's purpose in his bloody sacrifices.
III -- The Empress
This is the Harmony of the Universe, that Love unites the Will to create with the Understanding of that Creation.
– The Book of Thoth
The infant Gargantua was sent to a school run by the Plymouth Brethren, the narrowly Fundamentalist sect to which his parents belonged. He commends the school in these cordial words from his essay "A Boyhood in Hell":
"May the maiden that passes it be barren and the pregnant woman that beholdeth it abort! May the birds of the air refuse to fly over it! May it stand as a curse, as a fear, as a hate, among men. May the wicked dwell therein! May the light of the sun be withheld therefrom and the light of the moon not lighten it! May it become the home of the shells of the dead and may the demons of the pit inhabit it! May it be accursed, accursed - accursed for ever and ever.'
One gathers that the boy Alick was not happy there. In fact, the climax of his miseries came when somebody told the Headmasters that he had seen young Crowley drunk on hard liquor. Our anti-hero was put on a diet of bread and waters and placed in coventry (i.e., nobody, student or teacher, was allowed to talk to him), without being told what offense he committed; this Christian punishment (for his own good, of course) lasted one full year – at which point his health collapsed and a relative not totally committed to Plymouth Brethren theology insisted that he be removed from that environment before it killed him.
This incident is a favorite with the Beast's unsympathetic critics; they harp on it gleefully, to convey that they are not the sort of religious bigots who would torture a child in this fashion; and they also use it to explain his subsequent antipathy to anything bearing the names or coming under the auspices, of "Jesus" or "Christ."
It was this school, they say, which warped his mind and turned him to the service of the devil; a nice theory for parlor analysts or term papers, but it has the defect of not being quite true. The King of Depravity never did embrace Satan, as we shall see, and he kept a very nice mind full of delicate distinctions and discriminations; of this experience he himself says, "I did not hate Jesus and God; I hated the Jesus and God of the people I hated."