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Aleister Crowley as Political Theorist, Part 1

No, it is not Winston Churchill. It is somebody far less evil.

2,602 words

Part 1 of 2. Read Part 2 here.

Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), who styled himself the “Great Beast 666,” is an enduring presence both in the occult subculture and contemporary popular culture. He is hailed by some as a philosopher, magician, and prophet. He is condemned by others as a depraved egomaniac. But, for the most part, he is merely consumed for his shock value and diverting eccentricities.

Yet not much is known about Crowley as a social and political theorist who addressed the problems of industrialism, democracy, and the rise of mass man and society. Crowley’s social and political theory is grounded in a Nietzschean critique of morality and a metaphysical critique of modernity that often parallels the Traditionalism of René Guénon and Julius Evola.

The influence of Nietzsche is evident in Crowley’s aim of creating a new religion that would replace the “slave morality” inherent in the “Aeon of Osiris,” represented in the West as Christianity. A new Aeon of “force and fire,” the Aeon of Horus, “the Crowned and conquering child,” would be predicated on a new “master morality” expressed in Crowley’s new religion of “Thelema,” meaning “Will,” to be understood in Nietzschean terms as “Will to Power”: an endless upward striving to higher forms, individual and collective.

Crowley and Traditionalism

It may be surprising to group Crowley with Evola and Guénon as part of the counter-current to the leveling creeds of materialism, rationalism, and liberalism. Crowley, after all, is generally thought to have emerged from initiatic societies like Freemasonry and the Illuminati that promoted liberal humanism as a new “rationalist” religion, much as communism became a religion with its own saints, martyrs, holy wars, dogmas, rituals, and liturgies, despite its materialistic intentions.[1] Crowley, for instance, included Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Illuminati in his list of “saints” for his Thelemite Gnostic Mass.[2] The vast bulk of Crowley’s followers, moreover, are liberal humanists as well.

Guénon dubbed the attempts to promote liberalism and materialism in the guise of Tradition the “counter-tradition.”[3] In the words of the well-known 19th Century authority on occultism Eliphas Lévi,[4] a former Freemason[5] and socialist propagandist turned Catholic:

Masonry has not merely been profaned but has served as the veil and the pretext of anarchic conspiracies. . . . The anarchists have resumed the rule, square and mallet, writing upon them the words Liberty, Equality, Fraternity—liberty, that is to say, for all the lusts, Equality in degradation and Fraternity in the work of destruction. Such are the men whom the Church has condemned justly and will condemn forever.[6]

To this day, the French Revolutionary slogan “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” is the motto of the French Grand Orient lodge of Freemasons. These anti-initiatic secret societies were engaged in an occult war, with political, social, moral, and economic manifestations.

But this is not the whole story.

Even within these Masonic and illuminist movements, genuine occultists sought a return to the mythic and the re-establishment of the nexus between the earthly and the divine.[7] Pre-eminent among them was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in Britain, where Crowley entered his magical apprenticeship. The Golden Dawn was closely associated with Freemasonry, but it seems likely that its leadership such as Mathers and Westcott identified with a traditionalist and un-profaned form of Masonry.[8] W. B. Yeats’ membership in the Golden Dawn also counts as evidence of a traditionalist current (even though Yeats was in bitter conflict with Crowley).

Surprisingly, Evola himself concedes that Crowley was, at least in part, a genuine initiate. Evola claims that the Golden Dawn, with which Crowley was involved, was “to some extent” a successor “to those of an initiatic character.”[9] Evola also granted that Crowley’s system of “magick” was drawn from traditional initiatic practices: “It is certain that in Crowleyism the inoculation of magico-initiatic applications is precise, and the references or orientations of ancient traditions are evident.”[10] (Given that Evola was writing of Crowley at a time when the world was in political ferment, and Evola was himself very much involved with that ferment as a critical supporter of Fascism, it is notable that even Evola did not explore the social and political implications of “Crowleyism,” especially given that Crowley’s expressed views were largely in accord with Evola’s.[11])

Crowley, therefore, despite some of his associations, should not be counted among the counter-tradition. “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” were repugnant to him, and it was frankly absurd for him enroll Weishaupt[12] among the Telemite “saints.” Crowley’s inclusion of Weishaupt can perhaps be explained not by what he was for, but by what he was against. For Wesihaupt directed much of his conspiratorial energy against the Catholic Church, which on a very superficial level might have prompted Crowley’s admiration.

The initiatic Tradition championed by Evola and Guénon is fundamentally and frankly elitist and aristocratic. In Traditional society, “magick” was an integral part of life, a means of harmonizing human life with the cosmos. Thus there is no foundation for equality and democracy, as Lévi writes:

Affirmation rests on negation; the strong can only triumph because of weakness; the aristocracy cannot be manifested except by rising above the people. . . . The weak will ever be weak . . . the people in like manner will ever remain the people, the mass which is ruled and which is not capable of ruling. There are two classes: freemen and slaves; man is born in the bondage of his passions, but he can reach emancipation through intelligence. Between those who are free already and those who are as yet not here is no equality possible.[13]

Crowley rejected democracy for the same reasons as Lévi, Evola, and Guénon. In the Thelemic ‘bible’ The Book of the Law, Crowley writes of democracy: “Ye are against the people, o my chosen;”[14] about which Crowley commented: “The cant of democracy condemned.”[15]

Having rejected democracy and other mass movements as innately alien to the “Royal Art,” Crowley sought to develop the political and social aspects of Thelema, writing an uncharacteristically clear commentary on his ‘bible,’ The Law is for All: An Extended Commentary on the Book of the Law.

The Book of the Law

After Crowley predictably fell out with the leadership of the Golden Dawn, he spent several years traveling. In 1904 Crowley and his wife Rose were in Egypt, where according to Crowley, an event occurred that was of “Aeonic” significance. Crowley claims to have received a scripture for the “New Aeon,” channeled from the “Gods” through a supernatural entity called Aiwas from whom Crowley claimed to have received Liber Legis via automatic writing.[16] What was written by Crowley over the course of three days became the bible of Thelema, a Greek word meaning Will, which the Liber Legis proclaims as the name of the doctrine.[17]

Liber Legis reads in parts like a mystical rendering of Nietzsche, with a strident rejection of herd doctrines including Christianity and democracy. (Crowley lists Nietzsche as a “saint” in his Gnostic Mass.[18])

Under Thelema all doctrines and systems that restrict the fulfillment of the “will” or the “True Will,” whether social, political, economic, or religious, are to be replaced by the Crowleyite religion in a new aeon, the Aeon of Horus, “The Conquering Child.”[19] “Will” is the basis of Nietzschean evolution, and it becomes clear that Crowley was attempting to establish a Western mystical system of self-overcoming along the lines of ancient yogic practices of self-overcoming to achieve higher states of Being.

“Do what thou wilt” is the foundation of Thelema.[20] It does not mean a nihilistic “do what you want,” but “do your will” that is, your “true will,” which must be discovered by rigorous processes. Crowley states that the dictum “must not be regarded as individualism run wild.”[21]

Reflecting the individual “true will,” Thelemic doctrine describes “every man and every woman [as] a star.”[22] That is, each individual is a part of the cosmos but with his or her own orbit;[23] or what one might call an individual life-course.

Liber Legis states, the slaves shall serve.”[24] Again this is Nietzschean in the sense that many individuals, probably the vast majority, do not have the will to discover and fulfill their “true will.” While everyone is a “star,” some shine brighter than others. In The Star Sponge Vision,[25] an astral revelation, Crowley explained this inequality as reflecting the “highly organized structure of the universewhich includes stars that are of “greater magnitude and brilliance than the rest.”[26] The mass of humanity whose natures are servile and incapable of what Nietzsche called “self-overcoming”[27] will remain as they are, their true wills being to serve the followers of—again in Nietzschean terms—a “master morality,”[28] those whom Liber Legis describes as being “Kings of the Earth,” those whose starry wills are that of rulers.[29] (If some of the prose supposedly dictated to Crowley by Aiwaz sounds remarkably similar to Eliphas Lévi, it might be because Crowley claimed to be reincarnated from, among many sages from ancient to recent times, Lévi himself![30])

Such a doctrine while individualistic is not anarchistic, nihilistic, or even liberal. It is the revival of castes. More here is implied than classes, which are an economic and materialistic debasement; castes reflecting a metaphysical order where each individual fulfils his function according to his true will—or duty, dharma—as manifestation of the cosmic order. To followers of the Perennial Tradition, caste is a manifestation of the divine order and not merely a some economic division of labor for crass exploitation.[31]

Crowley (or Aiwaz) does explain the fundamental anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian doctrine of Thelema in these terms, again reminiscent of Nietzsche:

We are not for the poor and sad: the lords of the earth are our kinsfolk. Beauty and strength, leaping laughter, and delicious languor, force and fire are of us . . . we have nothing to do with the outcast and unfit. For they feel not. Compassion is the vice of kings; stamp down the wretched and the weak: this is the law of the strong; this is our law and the joy of the world.[32]

This hierarchical social order, while in accord with the perennial tradition, postulates a new aristocracy, the old having become debased and beholden to commerce. (Crowley himself was of bourgeois origins, so he ennobled himself with the title of “Sir Aleister Crowley.”[33]) Under the “Aeon of Horus”[34] the new aristocracy would consist of Nietzschean self-overcomers. Crowley specifically refers to the influence of Nietzsche in explaining the Thelemic concept: “The highest are those who have mastered and transcended accidental environment. . . . There is a good deal of the Nietzschean standpoint in this verse.”[35]

However, in contrast to Nietzsche as well as Guénon and Evola, Crowley also draws on Darwinism. After referring to the “Nietzschean standpoint” Crowley states in Darwinesque terms:

It is the evolutionary and natural view . . . Nature’s way is to weed out the weak. This is the most merciful way too. At present all the strong are being damaged, and their progress being hindered by the dead weight of the weak limbs and the missing limbs, the diseased limbs and the atrophied limbs. The Christians to the lions.[36]

Crowley saw an era of turmoil preceding the New Aeon during which the masses and the elite, or the new aristocracy, would be in conflict. Crowley wrote of this revolutionary prelude to the New Aeon: “And when the trouble begins, we aristocrats of freedom, from the castle to the cottage, the tower or the tenement, shall have the slave mob against us.”[37]

Crowley describes “the people” as “that canting, whining, servile breed of whipped dogs which refuses to admit its deity . . . ”[38] The undisciplined mob at the whim of its emotions, devoid of Will, is described as “the natural enemy of good government.” The new aristocracy of governing elite will be those who have discovered and pursued their “true will,” who have mastered themselves through self-overcoming, to use Nietzsche’s term. This governing caste would pursue a “consistent policy” without being subjected to the democratic whims of the masses.[39]

To be continued . . .

Notes

[1] Note for example the embalming of Lenin and his entombment at an edifice reminiscent of the stepped pyramids of ancient priest-kings.

[2] Aleister Crowley, Magick (Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1984), p. 430.

[3] Guénon, René, The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of the Times (New York: Sophia Perennis, 2002).

[4] Pen name for Alphonse Louis Constant.

[5] Lévi makes an allusion to having taken the oath of the “Rosy Cross,” indicating he had been initiated into the quite high degree of Rosicrucian in Freemasonry. Eliphas Lévi, The History of Magic (London: Rider, 1982), p. 286.

[6] Eliphas Lévi, p. 287.

[7] Julius Evola, Revolt Against the Modern World (Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1995).

[8] In this writer’s opinion in regard to Freemasonry, it is all a bunch of scabrous bastardy, which should be treated with suspicion, whether in its Grand Orient, “irregular” or United Grand Lodge forms. Westcott, founder of the Golden Dawn, for example regarded the “true religion” of Freemasonry to be Cabbalism. R. A. Gilbert, The Magical Mason: Forgotten Hermetic Writings of William Wynn Westcott, Physician and Magus (Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1983), Westcott, “The religion of Freemasonry illuminated by the Kabbalah,” ch. 21, pp. 114–23.

[9] Julius Evola, “Aleister Crowley,” Mask and Face of Contemporary Spiritualism, (Bocca, 1932), chapter IX, http://www.counter-currents.com/2010/08/aleister-crowley/

[10] Julius Evola, “Aleister Crowley.”

[11] The most comprehensive examination of Evola’s political and social views available in English translation is Men Among the Ruins, (Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1992).

[12] Robison John, Proofs of a Conspiracy (Boston: Western Islands, 1967).

[13] Eliphas Lévi, The History of Magic, (London: rider, 1982), p. 44.

[14] Crowley, Liber Legis (“The Book of the Law”), (Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1976), 2: 25.

[15] Crowley, The Law Is For All (Arizona: Falcon Press, 1985), p. 192.

[16] Crowley was also however to call Aiwaz his own “Holy Guardian Angel,” or in mundane psychological terms his unconscious; therefore Liber al Legis could be regarded as an example of automatic writing, a likely explanation given that the writing styles of Aiwaz and Crowley are remarkably similar.

[17] For an account of Crowley’s occult career and the so-called “Cairo Working” where Liber Al Legis was written, see Colin Wilson, Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast, (Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1987).

[18] Crowley, Magick (Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1984), p. 430.

[19] Part 3 of Liber Legis is the revelation of Horus as the God of the New Aeon , which aeonically follows that of Isis (matriarchy), and the present Aeon of Osiris, the religions of the sacrificial god, including Christianity. Horus is described as the god of war and vengeance. (Liber Legis 3:3).

[20] “There is no law beyond do what thou wilt.” Liber Legis 3: 60.

[21] Crowley, The Law is for all, p. 321.

[22] Liber Legis, 1: 3.

[23] The Law is for all, pp. 72–75.

[24] Liber Legis 2: 58.

[25] Crowley, The Law is for all, pp. 143–45.

[26] Crowley, The Law is for all, pp. 143–45

[27] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 136–38.

[28] “There is a master morality and slave morality…” Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1984), p. 175.

[29] Liber Legis 2:58.

[30] Magick, p. 430. Other “Thelemic saints” listed in the Gnostic Mass from whom Crowley claimed to be reincarnated included Mohammed and Swinburne. Thankfully, Weishaupt is not among the lineage.

[31] Evola, The Hermetic Tradition (Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1995), pp. 89–100.

[32] Liber Legis 2: 17–21.

[33] Crowley, Magick, “Gnostic Mass,” “The Saints,” p. 430.

[34] “I am the Hawke-headed god of silence and of strength.” (Liber Legis 3:70).

[35] The Law is for all, p. 175.

[36] The Law is for all, p. 175.

[37] The Law is for all, p. 192.

[38] The Law is for all, p. 192.

[39] The Law is for all, p. 193.

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