A Life of Aleister Crowley

Lawrence Sutin
St Martin's Press, 2000

Paul A. Green

The Whole of the Law

Aleister "666" Crowley
Charge: Edward Alexander Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) stands accused of the standard crimes - Satanism, murder, reefer madness, hi-jacking the Rituals of the Golden Dawn, riding the Scarlet Women to death, whipping a minor poet with nettles, inspiring Black Metal cultists....

Scene: The High Court of the Supreme Sanctuary of the Gnosis. Shafts of dusty light from high windows slant across the ancient scarred mahogany Bench, inlaid with battered carvings of Graeco-Egyptian godbeasts. A air of stale incense and musk. On the walls, faded bas-reliefs depicting Pan in various tantric couplings with voluptuous Edwardian ladies and/or saturnine youths.

Exhibits before the Bench: vast piles of of yellowing newsprint and torn album covers ; daggers; robes; jewelled rings; a syringe ; an alpenstock; some grubby tweed plus-fours; and the scrawled manuscript of Liber Al Vel Legis Sub Figura CXX which is the Book of the Law.

The Court will rise. Enter the Magister Templi and Scribe of Thoth, Brother Paul, his Ibis-feather headgear a little askew. He is sweating. This is going to be the Trial of Trials, the Trial of the Aeon.

He boots up his iMac to review the Akashic Record.

Magister: Read the charges.

iMac: Edward Alexander Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) stands accused of the standard crimes - Satanism, murder, reefer madness, hi-jacking the Rituals of the Golden Dawn, riding the Scarlet Women to death, whipping a minor poet with nettles, inspiring Black Metal cultists, abandoning his comrades to the snow demons of the Himalayas, failing to settle his bills at the Cafe Royal, and being a British gentlemen who should have known better than to become a bogus magus perpetrating bombast and buggery -

Magister: (wearily) We have heard all this before. Mr. John Symonds and his King of the Shadow Realm, Mr. Colin Wilson and his Nature of the Beast, Mr Alexander Hutchison's The Beast Demystified, and all these ancient scandal sheets and psychedelphic there any new evidence?

iMac: Our learned friend Professor Lawrence Sutin, an expert in jurisprudence, has prepared an appeal.

Magister: Very well. I suppose Mr Crowley had better materialise for us...

Magister Templi draws a pentagram on his screen and slowly intones the Cry of the Tenth Aethyr. His garbled syllables of Enochian reverberate down the corridors mingling with the cries of the Court Ushers: "Bring Forth the Beast!" A great wind fills the Court.

Through a vortex of whirling dust and sand Crowley rises from the well of the dock. He is sallow, flabby and priapically naked except for a bedraggled frock-coat and top hat. He coughs and curses as the hat slips off, revealing the familiar phallic dome of his skull.

Sutin: With respect, your honour, I don't think this icon is a wholly accurate representation of my client.

Magister: There are others?

Sutin: Indeed your honour. In the pictorial archives of the OTO -- Order of Oriental Templars -- we may behold the young Swinburnian poet, the smiling Edwardian paterfamilias, the hardy explorer trekking in the Himalayas, the Adept with his consecrated sword, the wispy-haired pipe-smoking guru approaching the transparency of death -

Magister: Yes, yes - we have dealt with the polymorphous nature of the accused in an earlier judgement. I refer to our Document 666. And we acknowledge the traumas of his childhood, the death of his father, the repressive mother. But you cannot deny that he has frequently appeared in Court. He is an inveterate Breaker and Maker of Law -

Crowley: Do What Thou Wilt shall be the Hole of the Whore...

Magister: The Oath of the Magus is the Will to Silence!

But the Court has suddenly filled up. Across the benches and galleries Witnesses for the Prosecution bob up and down in the foggy murk, shouting over each other. Crowley acknowledges each one with a wave or a sardonic grin.

Witnesses: Crowley trespassed in the Vault of Christian Rosenkrantz - Golden Dawn won damages and costs! Crowley blacklisted by the Trades Protection Association for extremely bad debts! 100 Rupees Reward for Information on Mystery Calcutta Shooting! Crowley in 1910 injunction against Rosicrucian rivals! Crowley refused to testify in 1911 Sodomite Libel Case! Sinister Scandals of Aleister Crowley - Varsity Lad's Death! A Cannibal at Large! A Bogus Suicide! An Undischarged Bankrupt! Expelled from Sicily! Deported from France as a Spy! Crowley fined for feloniously receiving stolen letters! Crowley sued Constable & Co in 1934 for libel and lost - notorious summing up -

On the screen a red-nosed and bewigged Mr. Justice Swift purses his lips and shakes his jowls.

Swift: I have been over forty years engaged in the administration of the Law . I thought I knew of every conceivable form of wickedness... wickedness... wicked...

The clip loops into jerks and stutters, then freezes. The Witnesses continue to mouth noiselessly.

Crowley: The blaggard nobbled the jury. But outside the Old Bailey a young woman was so moved she offered to bear me a magickal child. I availed myself of the opportunity immediately and proceeded to -

Magister: Please assume a silent god-form, Mr. Crowley. Mr Sutin, I must ask you to present your brief.

Sutin: Your honour, I wish to establish certain key concepts - that my client is not a crude Satanist but a scientific illuminist, a dedicated explorer of altered consciousness via his re-invention of Western gnostic and qabalistic tradition, via his exploration of Eastern mystical practice in the field, via his pioneering experiments with psychotropic drugs. My client has sought to establish a magickal and libertarian religion, the Law of Thelema, based on a central revelation contained in a holy text, the Book of the Law.

Magister: A curious parallel with his father, a lay preacher of the Plymouth Brethen, who believed in the absolute authority of the Holy Word.

Sutin: Indeed, your honour.

Magister: Are you a Thelemite?

Sutin: No, sir. However, I believe that the accused has been sincere in his conviction that the Law of the Thelema offers the post-millenic world an authentic path of spiritual development. His sexuality has been a sacramental quest. He is not a common con-man or vulgar libertine.

Magister: He has written some very coarse limericks, usually to or about his mistresses.

Up in the mists of the Public Gallery a be-medalled figure in khaki leaps to his feet, brandishing a smoking revolver.

Major-General J.F.C Fuller: Don't be a damned fool, man. He also wrote some of the greatest lyric poetry since Shelley or Baudelaire.

Crowley grins like a naughty schoolboy. General Fuller salutes him and sits down.

Magister: Can't you stop Mr. Crowley evoking all these random phantoms?

Sutin: Such manifestations only demonstrate that my client's energy and flair attracted the comradeship and love of distinguished men and women. He has travelled around the Earth and climbed two of the most difficult peaks in the Himalayas - there never was any truth in the rumour that he murdered his sherpas in the brave but doomed assault on Kanchenjunga in 1905. He is a world-class chess-player, a sportsman whose happiest moments have been in a dug-out canoe drifting down the Irawaddy or marching across the Moroccan desert. He has subjected his body to extreme privations and dangers. He is a man of action who has embraced life, a forceful and incisive prose stylist who does not flinch from the complexity and dark ambiguity of experience.

Magister: No cosy vapid channelings from Uncle Aleister. We will allow you that.

Sutin: He has now become an icon of the counter-culture, an influence on Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Robert Anton Wilson -

Magister: Graham Bond was so influenced by Crowley that he threw himself under a subway train - or so the legend goes. He wasn't the only one. And you will not deny that "Do What Thou Wilt" can been used as a murder mantra by every psychopath in the City of Chorasin.

Sutin: Too many people forget the antiphon: "Love is the Law. Love under Will." And the aim of the Magus is to find his True Will - his destined orbit...

Magister: So - has your client ever found his True Will?

Crowley stares across the Court. Witness and spectators shimmer into smokey transparency.

Sutin: In his Autohagiography he tries to suggest that the process of self-integration was straighforward, a logical progression from his discovery of magick at Cambridge to assuming the role of Ipsissimus in 1920. But he has often bluffed and bullied himself into god-hood to conceal a profound abyss of self-doubt and self-loathing. I can also show through close examination of his writings and his actions -in particular his relationship with Herbert Pollitt and Victor Neuberg - that he was wary of admitting his bisexuality, especially in a passive role. He has also found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his moments of visionary consciousness, and the exalted status they appear to confer, with all the chaos of his daily life and his apparent inability to deal with mundane details of money or the demands of ordinary relationships. Or control his increasing intake of heroin.

Magister: We find it difficult to reconcile his moments of visionary consciousness with his anality.

Crowley squats defiantly in the Dock and sticks out his flickering tongue like a large toad.

Sutin: Quite so, your honour. Anecdotes about Mr.Crowley defecating on the carpet at literary salons are unfounded. I admit a coprological element in certain of his relationships, notably with Sister Alostrael. Let me cross-examine my client...

Magister: We don't seem to have any choice.

Crowley: ( huskily) It was a frightful ordeal of cruelty and defilement...she stood above me hideous in contempt...

Sutin: Why did you partake in such activities?

Crowley: Magick transcends all material distinctions. There are no differences.

Sutin: Yet you describe these experiences as an ordeal. What did you hope to learn from them?

Crowley: (whispering) That some supreme violation of all the laws of my being would break down my karma or dissolve the spell that seemed to bind me...

Sutin: You see, your honour, even my client's grossest excesses were an attempt to loosen the girders of the soul.

Magister: Well, I suppose they were consensual. Personally I prefer his frolicks with the Ragged Ragtime Girls. Couldn't we invoke one of them? There was that charming violinist, Leila Waddell -

Sutin: This is no time for frivolity, sir. May I remind you that Mr. Crowley faces a more serious charge, which I would like to repudiate.

Magister: Yes, in Magick in Theory and Practice, a lucid and enlightening manual of the occult. But there is this little problem of Chapter 12, the paragraph about sacrificing children. Where he claims to have "made this particular sacrifice about 150 times per year..."

Crowley: (mumbling) It was a joke, you numbskulls...

Sutin: An esoteric joke. It is sexual sacrifice, the sacrifice of oneself spiritually.

Magister: But why court such a dangerous misunderstanding? I suspect that inside the Incarnation of Horus the Crowned and Conquering Child there is still a sadistic British public schoolboy shouting for attention.

Sutin: The defendant is a survivor of the sadistic British public school system. It almost destroyed his Will.

Magister: Granted. It is one of the sad facts of the British psyche. He almost transcended it.

Sutin: I would also like to cite the more human - indeed vulnerable - aspects of the Master Therion: his grief and desperation at the deaths of his own children Nuit Lilith, and Anne Leah.

Crowley: (quietly) I was howling like a mad creature all day. I was more helpless than the veriest quack magician.

Magister: What about his politics? - he has been accused of crypto-fascism. Some of his German followers admired Hitler. Did he instigate the Occult Reich?

Sutin: He made some overtures to his German contacts; but his Order of Oriental Templars was suppressed by the Nazis.

Crowley: Poor Karl Germer was sent to a concentration camp. But I always know England could knock Hitler for six. In 1939 I offered my services to Department B5 in British Military Intelligence. Later Ian Fleming wanted me to interrogate Rudolf Hess.

Sutin: He appears to be telling a kind of truth.

Magister: Fascinating. Finally, Mr Sutin, can you shed any new light on the matter of the Babalon Working and Mr. Crowley's relationship with Jack Parsons?

Sutin: Your honour, we can only speculate. I have nothing more to add.

Magister: Then I will sum up. I have been engaged in the study of Mr. Crowley for over thirty years. I have read many accounts of his life and work - Symonds, Cammell, Regardie, Suster, Wilson, Jean Overton Fuller,D'Arch Smith, the excellent Francis X. King, Booth, Robertson et al. You have explored the paradoxes of his career with great clarity and balance. You have stared deep into the Hole of the Beast, removed the encrustations of myth, and allowed us to form an objective judgement. Mr. Crowley, I sentence you to be an icon of the New Aeon. What have you to say?

Crowley: Perdurabo.

Sutin: I advise you to accept the judgement, Mr. Crowley. This is no time for cryptic mottoes...

Crowley: Perdurabo. "I will endure..."

© Paul Green, 12/2000


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