Friday, February 24, 2012

Aleister Crowley in 2012

Yes, he’s British. Oh yeah, and he’s dead. Nevertheless, the many voters unhappy with the current roster of major party candidates should be advised that there is a campaign to elect Aleister Crowley as a write-in candidate for President of the United States in 2012. Who knows? Perhaps the old occult master has some tricks up his ectoplasmic sleeve and can pull it off. Or perhaps not.

Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) is one of those characters who keeps cropping up in odd places. Somerset Maugham (a friend of one of Crowley’s mistresses) based his novel The Magician on him. Ian Fleming had him in mind while inventing the character Le Chiffre for the Bond novel Casino Royale; while with British intelligence, Ian had worked up some wartime disinformation schemes with Aleister. He is present in Sir Geoffrey Cyon, a character in Gene Roddenberry’s movie Spectre. He inspired Ozzy Osbourne to record his song Mr. Crowley. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin purchased Boleskine House, Crowley’s old home on the shore of Loch Ness. Crowley appears in the PlayStation game Nightmare Creatures. He never quite goes away.

My first introduction to him was in 1967 when my sister with a smile pointed out his picture on the cover of the Sgt Pepper album by The Beatles. “Who?” I asked. In answer, she gave me the only mildly ironic book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: an Autohagiography. While I was not then (and am not now) won over to Crowley’s mystical world view, I did enjoy reading his account of his role in the lively social climate at the turn of the century.

We often forget just how lively a milieu it was. True enough, ultra-conservative Victorian values prevailed among the general population, but the intellectual circle was different. There were advocates of Free Love (they liked the capitals back then) such as Victoria Woodhull, visionaries such as HG Wells, Fabian socialists such as GB Shaw, pagan revivalists such as poet WB Yeats (who sparred with Crowley for control of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), bon vivant wits such as Oscar Wilde, theoretical scientists such as Albert Einstein, and anarchists such as Emma Goldman. Mountaineering, poetic, bisexual, philosophic Aleister Crowley was in the middle of it.

Rejecting Christianity and other prevalent religions but dissatisfied with secular skepticism, he was drawn to neo-paganism. While in Egypt in 1904, he and his wife (of the time) Rose performed a magick ritual (he added the “k” to distinguish “magick” from the parlor tricks of entertainers) and received a revelation from Aiwass, a messenger of the god Horus. He wrote down everything Aiwass told him and named the result Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law). This book was the beginning of his philosophy of Thelema, which he expanded over the years with other revelations and numerous other books. “Thelema” is Greek for “will,” with a connotation of appetitive will.

The core of the belief system is,
1- Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law;
2- Love is the law, Love under will;
3- Every man and every woman is a star.

Crowley founded the occult order A.’. A.’. (Argenteum  Astrum, or Siver Star). He and his initiates became notorious for ritualistic drug use and sex magick. Echoing Freud, he said that part of his mission was to “cure the world from sexual repression.” He caught the attention of Theodor Reuss, head of the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orienti); Reuss initiated him into the O.T.O. and made Crowley a Grand Master.

Aleister died in 1947, but Thelema continued to spread; the philosophy also has influenced occultists who took the principles in new directions. Crowley in the last months of his life initiated Gerald Gardner into the O.T.O. Gardner then founded Wicca, a modern interpretation of ancient pagan practices. Gardnerian Wicca, still the dominant denomination, is not identical to Thelema, but borrows liberally from Thelemic principles; no one seems to know how many adherents of Wicca there are, but even the low-end estimates (100,000+ in the US alone – high end estimates are several times that) indicate they are more numerous than members of some religious sects that are considered “mainstream.” Crowley also indirectly influenced Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard by way of occultist and prominent rocket scientist Jack Parsons.

I’m not a mystic of any kind, whether traditional or neo-anything. Therefore, I once passed on a very tempting offer by a young woman to join a Wiccan coven (as the only male with a dozen ladies) because she was entirely serious about it and it didn’t seem right for me to fake being so. That probably was a foolish decision. Nevertheless, as a statement of political principles, the Thelemic platform is something I can get behind. If Aleister appears on the ballot, he’ll get my vote. In fact, if he appears on the ballot, I’ll reconsider my views on magick.

Aleister Crowley:

Governments too often exhibit the most deplorable stupidity, however enlightened may be the men who compose and constitute them, or the people whose destinies they direct. It is therefore incumbent on every man and woman to take the proper steps to cause the revisions of all existing statutes on the basis of the Law of Thelema. This Law being a Law of Liberty, the aim of the legislature must be to secure the amplest freedom for each individual in the state, eschewing the presumptuous assumption that any given positive ideal is worthy to be obtained.”

Aleister Crowley in 2012


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