353. The creative (III)
There are three stages as regards the English occultist Aleister Crowley: firstly, he seems to be a devil; secondly, given that the press lies about everything, he becomes interesting if suspect; finally, you conclude that he was a devil all along. Everyone with an interest will tell you that Crowley was born into a “Christian fundamentalist” family; precisely, his father was a member of the Plymouth Brethren—a reclusive and restrictive sect—and this fits the usual conceptualisation of historical celebrities by our regime; Crowley was in rebellion against “Christian fundamentalism” or can be construed to be so and is, therefore, somewhat “good”.
Yet the real interest in Crowley’s father—a man who died when Crowley was young and whom he always admired—was that he was originally a Quaker; he was a convert to the Brethren. It was in the blood: the taste for religious experiment and extremism, probably ultimately related to a gene for who knows what. A similar process was at work with G.K. Chesterton, the famous arch-Catholic writer, who did not come from a Catholic family at all.
Religious converts—people who seek out new and evermore extreme religions—are often neurotic, narcissistic, and otherwise unstable; and we find all these traits in Crowley and Chesterton. That Crowley should put together his own extreme religion, sewn together from Western esotericism and Ancient Egypt and bits and bobs of Hindooism, should come as no surprise; nor should the way he devised extreme rituals—rituals of blood, sodomy, and drugs—to celebrate his faith. His father, a religion-shopper, chose the extreme strictures of the Plymouth Brethren and his son found extreme strictures in the other direction—though even Crowley was known to indulge in the ultimate vice, chastity, from time to time.
So Crowley was his father’s son to the end, even if their religious expressions were different. They were the narcissistic, neurotic, and questing type; the type that is fascinated by the strictures and ceremony of religion but always dissatisfied with existent religions. As a narcissist, Crowley was a great feuder in esoteric circles and often sued for libel; he bullied and cajoled—and sometimes got his way, even if he wrecked an organisation to do it. Crowley really was bad; and this is easy to tell because he claimed Satan did not exist. It is just about acceptable to claim God does not exist—understandable, anyway—but people who do not think Satan exists are definitely up to no good; the evidence is plain to see about us. Ultimately, Satan is the lie.
Crowley’s self-created religion, Thelema, fits in with what Traditionalists like René Guénon call “the Kali-Yuga”, the age of dissolution in the great cosmic cycles. Crowley was certainly dissolute; and his self-created religion, in its mix of different faiths and esoteric rituals, represented—along with its obsession with individual expression—a dissolution of the sacred. A noted historian once reported that Crowley was not a Satanist simply because he did not identify himself as such. Um, somewhat naïve there, I think. “A man does not call himself a Satanist; therefore, he is not one.” This is not brilliant detective work: a Satanist would be the very person to say Satan does not exist and claim not to be a Satanist.
The practical outcome of Crowleyism is demonstrated by the picture that illustrates this article and it is not pretty. “By their fruit ye shall know them…” Crowley’s life terminated in ugliness and squalor; and it is a shame that this figure—a product of late imperial decadence—should continue to enjoy such repute and influence, from the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to contemporary esoteric circles. Crowley is a definite type and if born several centuries earlier could easily have been a Puritan or perhaps one of the original Plymouth Brethren. Such men are never satisfied in religion or life; and if intelligent enough, as Crowley was, they impose their dissatisfaction and instability on society as well.