Some e-mail comments regarding
Aleister Crowley's qualities as a
practitioner of the arts magic
The remarks below were first sent as messages to an e-mail
list-serve. I have left out the names of the correspondents
and edited their questions, which prompted certain of the
answers. The whole thread began with a remark of mine
suggesting that Crowley was not a good source for real
knowledge of the arts magic.
dear brothers and sisters,
magic works because of the universal laws, which can be applied almost accidentally and for almost any purpose.
consider an analogy ... water exists, as does arsenic. I can give my neighbor, who has a need, some water. I can also put arsenic in it. I can also, through carelessness, use a bowl that has traces of arsenic in it to carry that water that I give to my
neighbor and cause an injury.
suppose I have a high opinion of myself and my magical abilities. I read many texts, and liking to be the center of attention, I violate one of the formost cardinal rules, silence. my practice is very public, because I would rather be the center of attention and have my ego massaged for being a great occultist, then follow rules, regardless of how ancient and revered their provenence. in addition, I like drugs. now drugs lead only one way, there is no other possibility. they lead to illusion, for they intoxicate the consciousness, supress the conscience, cause movement in the astral body across the threshold of the etheric body, leading to the appearence of ecstatic and visionary experiences. if I practice arts magic under the influence of drugs I will wander in limbo.
now i am not making this up, for it is one of the false paths that I have followed myself (at least in part - I didn't violate silence, I just took a lot of drugs), so I know this from experience. the horrible part is that you believe as true what was experienced under the intoxicating influences. that is to say, to make it as plain as possible, that even after the intoxication is over, the mind believes the experiences of the ectasy to have been real. (years later, drug free, one can recover from this condition, but not easily and not without the most brutal self-examination, leading to a complete reconstruction of what one believes is true)
let me return to the analogy. like water and arsenic, magic and drugs can be mixed, intentionally or carelessly. there doesn't need to be an intention, just a kind of self-centered stupidity will suffice. certainly Crowley's works can work, but not because of his status as an adept, but rather because to some degree he follows the universal laws. but their working, or not, is not the problem. the problem is that by the loose discipline, what is illusory and harmful is mixed in with what accidentally follows the
universal laws. would you let a drug addicted doctor teach his confused ideas of surgery to the person who will operate on your child? if not, why then would you follow the practices of a magician who clearly by the lifestyle he led showed that he had little or no personal ethical standards whatsoever.
think about this for a minute. since creation, the world has been so ordered that magic is possible. magic is inherent in the structure of the universe. it is not all that is inherent, but it is a part of things, all the way down to the core.
in the most ancient times this knowledge was considered sacred, and was protected in all the ways possible. even so, dark hearted individuals obtained to this knowledge (or at least parts), and so along side the true paths, there also arose various dark
paths. some dark paths taught the universal laws, but encouraged evil outcomes. other dark paths, having less than full understanding of the universal laws, taught a mixture of truth and illusion, which being the case essentially corrupted the teachings. with the advent of Christianity a fundamental change occured in the mysteries, and the early Christians tried to stamp
out the old ways, supressing and confusing even more the ancient knowledge upon which the arts magic are based. with the arrival of the age of science, even the idea that reality might operate on magical rules became to be considered the sign of diseased mind.
now, in our age, the hunger for the divine knowledge of the universal laws grows strong, for science, being empty of soul and spirit, does not quench the thirst for the deep truths and the ultimate reality. yet, when one surveys the available textual
material, one finds only hints of the ancient sacred knowledge, and mostly a collection of bits and pieces, parts and fragments, and little that is whole and clean and rooted in the divine light.
at the same time, ethical people will proceed with caution. there is much good work striving to recover what has been lost in the course of time. there is true power in a good heart, and in a will given to reverence and respect. what can be known (the real beings) want to be known. the divine heirarchies wait for us, which is the basic promise of the parable of the prodigal son. our desire to penetrate the deep mysteries is met by an equal yearning in the Father and Mother for our healthy return.
even so, those who follow the magic path, the path of powers, walk in a mine field. much corruption and mal-intent lives within many of the texts that are promoted for our use. the Hebrews hide their deep wisdom on the other side of kabalistic philosophies designed to test the students mind and soul, before ever powers are awoke. the Tibetans demand years of
meditation, and treat budding magicicians with scorn, and wall them in caves to face hungry ghosts and angry vicious tankas.
in the west, charlatans have published more books of magic than there are stars in the sky and the gullible draw pentagrams in their basements and smoke dope and dream of waving wands and turning enemies into toads. meanwhile Mephistopheles giggles in the shadows, watching each potential Dr Faustus stumble in the darkness of their desire for easy answers, while
guardian angels cry tears of ethereal blood at the loss to the world of people of great heart who are now beguiled by imaginations of intercourse with powers and principalities.
there is probably no spiritual path as fraught with dangers as the magic path. you makes your choices, you gets your consequences. Crowley clearly violated at least one of the four cardinal rules of western occultism (magic), namely "to be silent". think on it, there is a reason for this rule. it is not arbitrary or pointless.
with great passion for the "work" and equal respect for all on this list,
a correspondent wrote: "What do you think of the teachings he left behind?"
You have to understand, in case it isn't clear, I am prejudiced about this. Here is the relevant story.
Years ago, after a kind of unusual spontaneous inner awakening, I gave over my education in life to divine providence. Instead of organizing my life in terms of goals, things I wanted to achieve and so forth, I followed carefully the 23rd Psalm. What came to me, I did.
Now this included elements of my inner life as well. Certain kinds of thoughts (spontaneous intuitions) were seen as "gifts". Thus all surprising life experiences and all "new thought" were imbraced as a mosaic of teaching. I saw the world as a book to be read, and boy did I read it. Some of it was funny, a lot was tragic and painful, but a great deal of learning went on (and actually still goes on).
During this period I acquired the aid of a "book spirit". This was in impulse to buy certain books, about which I knew nothing. I saw them, I felt this kind of moment of awakened interest (as if a kind of nice warm candle light was suddenly to burn in my heart), and bought the book. As I was living in Berkeley California at the time, you can guess that there were many quality used and new book stores.
It was at the urging of divine providence that I undertook an interest in magic, and then came to my first book of magic which was Franz Bardon's remarkable "The Practice of Magical Evocation". It was only after becoming very familiar with this text that I then began to look at other "magickal books", Crowley's among them. With few exceptions, I found them to be garbage
It is as if one's first taste of meat was prime rib. Everything afterward just didn't cut it.
Thus, my bias.
I have made some comments below in [brackets].
****** wrote: "You're saying that his drug habit may mean that most of his teachings are based on illusions; but they provide us with guidelines to verify for ourselves. This coming from someone who doesn't like Crowley but has to admit the value of his research."
[Value is a comparative gesture in many case. In my note to ******* I refered to Bardon's text. On the basis of that experience, Crowley has no "value" to me. Without a doubt he is/was very public, and people will naturally go to what is out there. I can't really suggest people shouldn't have taken him up. I can only put forward my view that his "value" is, to me, non-existent.]
***** wrote: " What are you saying here? That interaction with such beings is not possible, so "get real"? I'm sorry to disagree very strongly.
[No, I am not saying that. Much the opposite in fact. Interaction with such beings is likely, but the real question is which beings are they in fact. The heirarchy of the left has no problem lying and pretending to be other than they are. Such lofty beings as Archangels would never be summoned to an evocation. It would be hubris to attempt it. They are only avialable by Grace. Yet, people think they are in contact with such high beings, which means such people are living an illusion - either a mental condition, or they are being fooled by a being of the heirarchy of the left. Grace, by the way, is not obtained through magic, in and of itself. Magic is only one aspect of the tetragrammatic secret: to know (philosophy), to dare (magic), to will (gnosis) and to be silent (mysticism). These four characteristics of the soul need to be developed equally, one built out of the other. Finally in mysticism one achieves true interpenetrating intercourse with higher beings - being united. It is here, of course, where being mislead is most dangerous, for if the being being evoked is of the heirarchy of the left, then communion (uniting), means
interpenetration with evil - a disaster for the health and for the soul! Now it is possible in ceremonial magic to have an evocation where the being called down enters into a protected space, and the operator is able to maintain a separate consciousness. But some books advise working in the imagination, which means within the own mind. To invite a being, of the heirarchy of the left, there is to be avoided at all costs. Someone suggested (I have misplaced the message) that Crowley was a true adept. To me this would make meaningless the term "adept". I take adept to mean an initiate in the mysteries, and in the West these are very few. Initiates usually receive a specific mission (Saint-Germain, Christian Rosencroitz - sorry I have
mispelled this name, but I couldn't lay my hands on a quick reference), such that the Gospel admonition (by their works ye shall know them) reveals the truth.]
****** wrote: "I don't understand here either. Crowley's dead and whatever rule he violated, he has to deal with now, not us. Are you warning us against egomania? Or?"
[By his violating this rule, this meant he could only encounter a certain level of being, in all likelyhood only beings of the heirarchy of the left. In a sense, he had to live in illusion because he couldn't be trusted to be responsible enough. Of course, one way to protect the true myteries from those unwilling to do the real work is to make sure that many false paths are available. It is as if there was a kind of seive or filter or maze, and the seeker has to pass through trials and confusions and false trails before
developing the inner discrimination needed to find the way. Read Parzival.]
You wrote: "As for drug use, and magic...I haven't quite made up my mind, but then I have never had an addiction (except to books). I don't wish to devalue the Shamanistic methods that utilize these methods, as I do believe the have engendered conversation with the Natural World, and we must be able to control our physical world before we can ascend further. I am
undecided when it comes to natural substances, but will consider your words carefully. I personally do not use these methods, so it is not particularly an issue."
Your reference to shamanistic methods is important. Clearly peyote and certain mushrooms are significant in the spiritual life of some tribal peoples. I have a dear friend who is a mohawk healer and seer, and whose path is one of very devoted
purification. For example, no meat is eaten in her home, where she conducts her healing circles, not because vegetarianism is a good in itself, but rather because meat needs to be killed in a sacred way, otherwise the "murder" has an after effect on the
place, even though in itself it took place elsewhere. The product - the meat - carries a spiritual illness. There is a great deal more to her practice, all designed to maintain the purification of the sacred place where the healing is to occur.
Castenada's Don Juan initially gives C a lot of drugs, but in the end tells him it was completely unnecessary and was done only because C expected it.
One of the things my own research has shown is that there are decadent mysteries everywhere. The original teaching enable the shaman to be initiated and to converse with the Sky People (as my mohawk friend calls them), but after certain key aspects have been lost, maybe that is when the use of drugs becomes involved. I happen to think it is never necessary, for I can not
imagine higher beings asking or wanting the students and priests they care for to engage in self destructive or dangerous acts.
Yet, as you suggest, it maybe should be an open question. Perhaps it is my own addictive past that makes me a "true believer" in never using such methods.
another correspondent wrote: "You don't have a lot of room for Divine Love in your paradigm, do you? It's difficult to discuss when you're so persuaded you're in the right and everyone else is deluded."
It is difficult to give the whole of one's understanding in the few words permitted by this medium. Always there is so much context that could be spoken of, so that confusion and misunderstanding do not arise. I can appreciate your reaction, and agree with you on most points.
Certainly it is my experience that we are Loved. It is also my experience that we are "incomplete", and that life is there for us to work with much like a potter working on a wheel. The "work" is very creative, the lived life an Art.
Without doubt Grace exists, and high beings will "touch" us as we need. As to their permitting the heirarchies of the left to "impersonate" or appear to act in their name, this is a significant question.
I my experience, which is of course limited for who could know the whole of things, "impersonation" is an oft reported fact in the literature. The question as to higher worlds, and the Source of Love permitting such things, leads eventually to the central question of our age (again in my view), which concerns that nature and meaning of evil in human history. This is a matter that has occupied me for most of my life, beginning even as a young boy first experiencing the cruelty of other children.
In an essay on my website called: "Listening to the World Song: a report on the Experience of an Idea", I have written as follows:
"The Creation is never unclean in any given moment, whether we are looking at the natural world or the social world. The presence of evil in the social world is an absolute necessity. It is both anvil and hammer to our development, and we should stand in awe of it. The creation of the alchemical crucible of social existence, with its law of recompense [karma] and its invitation to love, is, in itself, a most remarkable act of Divine Love."
Of course, this statement should be understood to be surrounded by considerable context. So to return to the specifics under question, whether an Archangel would "permit" an "impersonation", my view is that it is the laws of Creation which "permit" it, and the Archangel is devoted to that Creation, if not in fact bound by it. The point is to realize that the "impersonation" itself has a purpose, for the heirarchies of the left play a divinely ordered role in the Creation. We are meant to face trials, and one of the kinds of trials we face is learning (in hard and unequivical ways) to distinguish the false from the true, the illusory from the real and the non-essential from the essential.
One of the aspects of the story of the Fall, that is often forgotten, is that Lucifer is/was a Cherubim - a being of glorious aspect and power. Those angelic heirarchies that followed his rebellion are also full of glory, although all are now among the heirarchy of the left. Our earthly idea of "tough love" is but a reflection of the Divine Love which makes us face real choices, and hard times, and encourages us to blunder often. Can anyone say they have never made a fool of themselves in life?
So it also happens, in my view and experience, in the Work.
****** wrote: "In other words what are some of the decadent mysteries you have encountered? Which do you consider to be exalted or legitimate?"
I used the term "decadent" in a somewhat technical fashion, which if you follow what I say next, will reveal that exaulted or legitimate are not the anti-poles to such a term.
Each true mystery comes from the Source, usually through a divinely authorized prophet of one kind of another. Following its incarnation, due to human interaction within the mystery, it must decay over time, i.e. become "decadent". In a sense, it "falls".
For example, history reveals many instances of mysteries practicing human sacrifice. Many of these were once true mysteries, which later for various reasons become corrupted. You may have seen the film the Ten Commandments, where when Moses comes down from the mountain top with the Tablets, his people have fallen into a decadent form of worship - worship of the Golden Calf, or Baal (if memory serves).
The Catholic Church, although in possession of the most profound mysteries, has, through its obsession with the affairs of the Prince of this World (politics), lost its essential connection again and again. Were it not for the work of the various Saints,
many of who have founded deep religions orders, the Church would have collapsed into decadence. But each new impulse (St. Francis, St. Ignatius etc.) gives a momentary corrective and a reprieve. This of course is due to Grace.
It is a serious question to me whether Crowley was connected to the Source at all. In the West, spiritual life has taken many forms, one of which is Ceremonial Magic. This form of work goes way back, way way back. It is practiced in the East as well, although in vastly different form in many cases. Pre-christain priesthoods clearly understood these practices, and we
know that they were practiced in high form in Egypt and so forth.
We also know Goddess worship existed in the West, with circles and rituals, and priests and priestesses. The question is: has decay set in over time, and how much and what has been lost? Where and when (and if) were these mysteries renewed?
Consider for a moment the civilization of Tibet. Before the teachings of the Buddha entered in, a very magical religion was practiced there called Bon. Some sources suggest this was in fact a residue of certain of the Atlantean mysteries. The teachings of the Buddha fundamentally altered much of these practices. Nevertheless certain elements of this civlization are
useful to recognize.
Each Llama was the head of a monastary, and the civil authority as well (essentially a functioning theocracy). Often a lineage was developed with the Llama incarnating again and again as head of the same monastary. Through the lineage a individuality was created that over time became more and more capable of various activities. In a sense, Tibetan Buddhism continually renewed itself from the inside out through the very powerful means of the Llama being able to indicate where he would reincarnate, and then the priests going out and finding the child (after tests which then identified him, he would be returned to the
lamasary - see Trungpa's Born in Tibet).
Yet in the West, everywhere we look the pagan mysteries came under fire, were attacked by the Christians - this was true both of the Goddess traditions and as well the Ceremonial Magicians. Many practitioners and many innocents have been crucified or burned at the stake.
I know this may all be known to you, but in case aspects of it were not, it is necessary to give the context. So the question is what happened during the dark years of the eclipse of the pre-chrisitain mysteries in the West?
Some of it we know. The alchemists preserved some things. The original rosicrucians other matters. The School that came into being with the founding of the Cathedral at Chartres additional material. No doubt some of these individuals also drew from the Source.
It was really only after the arrival of science, and the social effect of its reducing the temporal power of the Church, that the pre-christian mysteries began to emerge again from the shadows. But what was their true condition? Were they decadent, or had they been renewed? If they had been renewed, under the new freedoms possible with the decline of the Church's
power, by an initiate connected to the Source, would not that personality leave traces? Where are those traces?
My understanding is that only bits and pieces of the pre-christian mysteries remain, but nothing of their original true nature. There are no schools, no communties where all are involved in the rites and practices. Just many fragments and many many rumors.
Even so, something rather remarkable has happened. In our time many people have incarnated who are attracted to these remnants, who honor them and who want to see their revival. We call this the New Age, but truth to tell, it is very fascinated with the Old. Yet, this I think is a great gift to humanity, for anyway that an individual can find that reconnects them with the sacred in the scientific age is a occasion for rejoicing.
When I received a most remarkable education during my years in Berkeley, among my friends were a number of wiccans and other varieties of seekers into the old ways. The gentleness, the love of all that lives, the willingness to be open to all that spirit behind the scenes in Nature - only a very narrow mind would find problems there.
For me, enough of a discussion of Crowley. My views ought to be clear by now. Even so, the decisions really belong to each of us alone. If I sing of the dangers, it is because of experience and of my concern for all of us, and for the Work. Basically I wish to be a friend, who may disagree occasionally (as is the duty of a friend), but who will never truley find fault.
for my understanding of Buddhism see: "this and that"
for my basic understanding of Christianity see: "pragmatic moral psychology"
for my understanding of arts magic see: "Lazy Bear's Wizardly Emporium"
for my understanding of Native America practices see: The Mystery of the True White Brother
for the main page to my website see: "Shapes in the Fire".
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