Aleister Crowley and Thelema—Equinox of the Gods

“Although Crowley preferred to cast himself in the mould of the Eliatic Greek school, going so far as to adopt the argumentative methods and intellectual idealism of Socrates, the Egyptian Book of the Law rails against such reasoning and argument.”


There is division hither homeward; there is a word not known. Spelling is defunct; all is not aught. Beware! Hold! Raise the spell of Ra-Hoor-Khuit!

Liber AL vel Legis, III: 2

“All is not aught” is a succinct though subtle refutation of certain streams of the Eastern philosophy. Even if we make a clear distinction between Aleister Crowley, the man or personality, and the consciousness current we term ’93’, the buddhistic way is intellectually alluring—for some, compelling.[1] It also becomes a very easy way if we pay lip service to it while neglecting the core meditation practice. Sri Ramakrishna, the Hindu sage and devotee of Kali, held a view that in no way contradicts ancient Egyptian pharaonic theology:

God has form and He is formless too. Further, He is beyond both form and formlessness. No one can limit Him.

Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita[2]

Great Neter: God comprehending all other Gods, E.A. Wallis Budge

Crowley and Thelema: God of all Gods

Crowley and Crowleyanity

The aim of magick is to make contact with occult intelligences. Historically, it has often been the case that such direct contact refutes mainstream dogma. Religion is about belief. The value of belief is in the telling of a good story but it is ultimately a bar to Gnosis. The ancient Egyptians had no word in their language for ‘religion’, since the concept for them did not exist. The Book of the Law is a transmission from an ancient Egyptian source. As such, it is a knowledge stream that vastly predates both science and religion.

Although Crowley preferred to cast himself in the mould of the Eliatic Greek school, going so far as to adopt the argumentative methods and intellectual idealism of Socrates, the Egyptian Book of the Law rails against such reasoning and argument.[3] Indeed, the rationalist science of today has its roots firmly immersed in the clay of classical Greek dogma. Thus scientism is not only against Nature but has also tricked mankind with its stream of inventions to the extent that all life on the planet is now under threat of imminent extinction.

Magical Timing

It is more likely that Crowley received the writing of the Book of the Law on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd April 1904, not the 8th, 9th and 10th as he subsequently claimed.[4] This was first noted by Kenneth Grant, who studied the diaries and holograph MSS of Crowley at first hand, while receiving personal tuition from him.[5]

Does it matter? If it matters at all, then it matters only for the purposes of understanding how practical magick works. The timing of things is vital in magick. To separate magick from Nature is to separate man from truth with the divisive sword of intellectual reason. Destruction is the outcome, as surely as is splitting the atom. When a magical operation is performed on the Equinox of Aries (20th March, the initiation of the Cairo working), the fulmination of that work arrives with the full Moon. In 1904, the full Moon in Libra very nearly coincided with Easter (Friday 1st April), and there was a lunar eclipse so that any corresponding events would be marked ever more deeply.

None of this need be of any concern to historians or scholars of the life and times of Aleister Crowley. Let it be then, that Crowley wrote down the book on the 8th, 9th and 10th April 1904. Then we can all sleep safe in our beds. After all, some observe this ritually, by reading aloud the three chapters of Liber AL vel Legis, one for each day. A more magical (and poetic) approach to this is to read from the book on the full Moon immediately following the Equinox of Aries each year. Anciently it has always been the Moon, and not any arbitrary calendrical date that determined the times for rituals. Crowley, on the other hand, wisely suggested it might be best to burn the book after the first reading.

Ouarda the Seer

Should it bother us that Crowley played down the role played by his wife, Rose or Ouarda the Seer? As she was the mediumistic agent for the whole business, Rose may very well have received and dictated the book to the scribe Crowley.[6] This would account for the instructions on practice given him in the middle of the second chapter that he clearly refused to obey. It would account for the fact of Rose’s handwritten notes added to the manuscript, not to mention that even by his own account the Beast had to consult with her concerning his anxiety over the neologism, “unfragmentary” (Liber XXX, I: 26). After that, the tone of the book becomes increasingly cryptic and menacing—hence the second verse of the third chapter that we have quoted.

Wise Words and Foolish

Some have interpreted, “there is a word not known” (AL, III: 2), as meaning that Crowley somehow failed to utter a word to inaugurate the New Aeon. The Aeon that subsequently ensued was abortive, so it is said. This has deluded some (including perhaps Crowley) into thinking an actual word—a word that can be spelled or spoken—is a necessary part of the equipment of a Magus that is somehow in charge or governance of an entire epoch in the history of human civilisation.

Some have posited that Crowley’s Aeon of Horus was very swiftly superseded by an Aeon of Ma’at.[7] This was later qualified by Kenneth Grant as a dual Aeon of Horus-Maat. Grant also made much mention in his books and letters of a ‘Wordless Aeon’. Others would have it that all aeons in time are presided over by Horus and Ma’at in both ancient Egyptian and astrological terms. The balance of the year is Aries and Libra. There is nothing in the Egyptian Book of the Law in any case about any “New Aeon”! All of this has introduced some bewilderment in the minds of those students of the occult that wish to find truth in written words and historical facts, so called. According to Liber AL vel Legis, III: 75:

The ending of the words is the Word Abrahadabra.

Everyone knows that ABRAHADABRA adds Qabalistically to 418. It appears in the grimoire attributed to King Solomon as a spell for invisibility, and the original form of this spell was ABRAKALA.[8] Crowley’s favoured interpretation was typically solar-phallic, ‘Father-Sun-Satan’. However, the seven-lettered ABRAKALA expresses the power of the divine creatrix, summed up in 256 or 16 x 16, the shade of the full Moon. There are three colours or primary kalas for the face of the White Goddess, white, black and red. She is either visible, invisible or in eclipse. During eclipse, a shade appears ahead of time, so to speak, thanks to the intervention of the body of the earth. Thus the powers of a lunar eclipse include prophecy, divination and oracular utterance.

One thing we can certainly be sure of is that Rose Crowley, who was first abandoned by Crowley and subsequently rejected by him, was the Pythoness and oracular seer that brought us the Egyptian Book of the Law.


Notes

1. Buddhism—generally speaking, for there are many schools of thought and practice—appeals to the rationalist and employs what might be termed ‘Greek reasoning’ to set its particular truth over and above all other truths. Perhaps the statement would be better qualified as ‘intellectual Buddhism’.
2. Recorded by Sri Mandiram, March 11, 1883: Conversations with Sri Ramakrishna [Vedanta Press].
3. See R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, Sacred Science (pp. 18, Inner Traditions International) and Plato’s Phaedrus for the naturalistic explanation that Socrates gives for all sacred myths. The interested reader is encouraged to read the Foreword by Robert Graves to his second edition of The White Goddess (Faber and Faber), as it is relevant in the present context.
4. Crowley cared little for such trifles as historical times and dates. The time and date of his birth is a documented fact. By his own admission (Confessions of Aleister Crowley) his recorded time of birth indicated that Cancer, ruled by the Moon, was rising on the hour. Crowley much preferred the fiery solar-masculine sign of Leo the Lion over the watery, feminine-lunar Cancer the Crab. He therefore simply changed the time of his birth to suit!
5. See Kenneth Grant, Beyond the Mauve Zone pp. 34 [Starfire Publishing].
6. Such a book does exist and is titled Liber L vel Ouarda, or Liber DLXXVI, The Book of Ouarda the Seer. The content is identical to that of the MS version but without the interrogative interruptions of the scribe Crowley. The numbering of verses differs therefore. Ouarda has the Qabalistic value of 576. The original title of the book was “L”, not “AL”, since it is a book of the Law of Ma’at, not a book of religious precepts.
7. A disaffected disciple of Crowley, Charles Stansfeld Jones (Frater Achad) posited an Aeon of Ma’at as commencing from 1948 e.v. See The Incoming of the Aeon of Maat [Starfire Publishing].
8. See The Flaming Sword Sepher Sephiroth, under the number 256  [Ordo Astri].

© Oliver St. John, 2018

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Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism

Surrealism and magick: Throughout the long dark history of humanity there have been magi. While some are known for their works, be it art or literature, there must be countless men and women that have either failed to develop their innate gift or have succeeded in mastering it while keeping silence to the end. Of those that fail to develop the gift (or curse)—whether by refusing it, fleeing from it in horror or becoming insane, there is little to be said. Of those that master it, whether partially or fully, some are known and others will never be known since they did not utter a word.

The word of a magus is irrevocable, as we shall see, though it is said that failure to utter a word is equally irrevocable since it must beget an abortive child. The momentum of the immense forces that first push the soul onward and then draw the soul inexorably inward towards annihilation of ego identity is sufficient to split the atom or, in psychic terms, to fragment the soul until its very name is forgotten and it endures dispersion and ultimate oblivion. The magical child, however, of which it is the object of the art of magical alchemy or of the Great Work to produce, is not the result of any cause. The ancient chestnut of determinism has become a poisoned apple in the hands of modern philosophers and rationalists. The magical child of consciousness—otherwise termed the True Will—grows as a seed in the silence of the womb of the cosmic Matrix. The fruit and the flower, nonetheless, has preexisted the seed. For this reason, the magi have oft been reported as stricken with awe at the sight of a portentous star where no star previously was seen, or plunged into rapture at the sight of a wild orchid blooming in a desert where a single drop of rain would amount to a miracle.

Surrealism and magick: The Magus of Power, Ithell Colquhoun

The Magus of Power, from Ithell Colquhoun TARO

Surrealism and the Occult

Automatism in the arts is frequently confused with mere techniques. True automatism is an inexorable condition of mind and soul that to all intents and purposes is exercised outside and beyond the will of the person, whether they are destined to become a master, a magus, or merely another victim swallowed up by an incomprehensible universe. For ordinary purposes, we may define artistic automatism thus:

The avoidance of conscious intention in producing works of art so that subjectivity forms the primary basis of the work.

Automatism was not an invention of the Surrealists, or of Sigmund Freud, but has always existed in magick and alchemy. Among the finest examples are the sigils or magical signatures of the Qabalistic Intelligences and Spirits of the planets as given by Cornelius Agrippa in Three Books of Occult Philosophy (1531) and centuries later copied into The Magus, by Francis Barrett (1801). These beautiful designs, along with other more abstruse signatures that can be found in medieval grimoires, were written on virgin parchment by the hand of the spirit, not that of the scribe. We also have the evidence of the Enochian language received through the invocations and skrying of Elizabethan mage John Dee and his assistant seer, Edward Kelley.

Surrealism and the Arts

Occult artist and writer Ithell Colquhoun—a friend of André Breton, Aleister Crowley and later, Kenneth Grant—was a member of the Surrealist School. Ithell Colquhoun defined her use of automatism as super-automatism, presumably to distinguish the method from the same term that is used in psychiatry and law. We shall from hereon adopt the term as used by Colquhoun, super-automatism, when we are referring to spiritual, magical or artistic method or even natural inclination.

Surrealism and Hermeticism

Within the modern Hermetic magical tradition there are some notable examples of super-automatism. Aleister Crowley claimed that he magically received, through the mediumship of his wife Rose, the Egyptian Book of the Law, Liber AL vel Legis, in Cairo 1904. When the book was first received, Crowley added a note to the manuscript saying:

This is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.

Crowley later insisted the book was dictated by a praeterhuman intelligence named Aiwass, his Holy Guardian Angel. In fact, there need be no essential contradiction between magical super-automatism and contact with a praeterhuman agency. Crowley was very sensitive, however, as to how the book might be viewed by posterity. He did not want what he considered to be his most important work compared with drawing room séances and psychism.

Magical Art: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Magical Surrealism: Sabbath (1954), Austin Osman Spare (sketchbook)

Artist Austin Osman Spare (1886–1956), who was associated with both Crowley and occult writer Kenneth Grant, used super-automatism in drawing, painting, and in the creation of magical scripts and even textual narratives. As super-automatism has been used in magical and Hermetic disciplines since time immemorial it can readily be seen why Surrealist artists shared ideas in common with occultists. Automatism is sometimes compared to free association, a method used by Sigmund Freud to plunder the so-called unconscious mind of his clients. The French poet André Breton, who published the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924, became aware of automatism through the work of Freud. Breton here defined Surrealism as follows:

Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.

The method used by Breton and others involved writing down as rapidly as possible anything that comes to mind. Thus modern automatism began as a literary method. Artist Max Ernst supplied the ‘first’ visual automatism by making collages from sections cut out from magazines, catalogues, advertisements or anything else that was available. Other painters enthusiastically took up automatism, from Joan Miro, André Masson and Ithell Colquhoun to Jackson Pollock, noted for his development of abstract expressionism. Although automatism is usually regarded as a separate method from that which Salvador Dali termed paranoiac critical, the end or object is really the same. Paranoiac critical can be defined as:

The artist invoking a paranoid state with the intention of deconstruction of the psychological concept of ego-identity.

Paranoia is taken to mean the fear that one is being manipulated or controlled by others. This may of course include the paranoid manipulation of others. Some of the tricks that Dali liked to play were very much inclusive of the ‘audience’, so the boundaries between who was doing what to whom were blurred, increasing the paranoia for all concerned! The aim of the method, however, is that subjectivity becomes the primary basis of the work. It is to defeat the rational mind, prohibitions and censorship that stem from ego.

Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988) described her work as “mantic”. Mantic means, ‘pertaining to divination or prophecy’, and is derived from the Greek, mantikos, ‘divination’, mantis, ‘prophet’. Unlike other artists, Colquhoun deliberately wished to connect Surrealism with magick, both philosophically and in terms of method or technique. In her own writings she drew comparisons between visual art and the medieval art of alchemy. Colquhoun wanted to achieve a union of natural and spiritual forces as well as a union of the disciplines of art and the occult. The union of subject and object, the I-Self with all that is ‘other’, the Not-Self, is the goal of yoga or union, and is a prerequisite for magick and mysticism at advanced levels.

Surrealism in Literature: Phallus of Cosmic Recollection

Thomas De Quincey employed a type of super-automatism, comparable to Salvador Dali’s paranoiac critical; in so doing, De Quincey may have endured, and attempted to describe in his writing, the equivalent ordeal in a Rosicrucian Hermetic fraternity called the Curse of a Magus. Any attempt to describe the indicible is doomed to failure, hence the “curse”, for as cleverly suggested by Aleister Crowley in his The Book of Lies, there is a certain obligation to speak truth even while knowing full well it will be fatally misconstrued or otherwise perceived as alogia or simple incoherence.

Others will also see the utterer of the truth, the irrevocable word, as a liar, madman or fool. The magus must utter an irrevocable word yet must reverse consciousness to sail a vessel against the flow of time and return to the source of the fountain of all life. To meditate upon Wisdom herself is to behold divinity face to face, the magical power of Chokmah—it is also to court with madness. According to Thomas De Quincey (1856 Revision to Confessions):

If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the Incommunicable. And if another Sphinx should arise to propose another enigma to man—saying, What burden is that which only is insupportable by human fortitude? I should answer at once—It is the burden of the Incommunicable.


Notes

Extracts from the book, The Magical Art of Surreal Romanticism.
© Oliver St. John 2016, 2018
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