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Artist & Autist:
Crowley in the Light of Neville, Part 2

[1]

Neville

4,196 words

Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here [2])

It is with relief that one turns to Neville’s biography; the bright Sun, soft breezes and blue ocean of the Caribbean replace the dark and soggy little Plymouth Brethren colony.[1] [3]

Neville speaks of his father many times – itself a clue – but here is one of my favorites, and it includes much interesting material for our considerations:

My father would never go to church. He didn’t like the minister at all. What wonderful stories we have of my father and the minister. One day the minister said to my father: “I am one of the chosen.” My father looked at him and said: “I wouldn’t have chosen you.” He was just as brash as that with everything he did. He had no respect for the man. He never saw the inside of a church, except when we children were baptized. When my sixth brother was to be baptized – by this same minister – my father took two sea captains as godfathers.[2] [4] At the last moment the minister asked if the two gentlemen were Episcopalians, and when one claimed to be a Presbyterian and the other a Methodist, the minister informed my father that the child could not be baptized with these men as godfathers. With that my father said: “Give me my son. I will baptize him myself.” He took the child out of the minister’s arms, dipped his free hand in the water, sprinkled it on the child’s face and said: “In the name of Jesus, your name is Fred” and walked out. And that’s his name Fred Goddard.

That’s the kind of man my father was and still is. Not a bone in his body lacked courage. He found the Lord as his own wonderful human imagination, so when he wanted something he simply imagined he had it, and walked in that knowledge.[3] [5] I promise you, when you find the Lord and really trust him, you will know a peace you have never known before. You will never again bow before anything or anyone. Knowing that only your own wonderful human imagination is holy, He will be the only one you will ever serve![4] [6]

Of course, no separation issues arise, as Neville’s father, Joseph Nathaniel Goddard, was still alive at the time. Nevertheless, there are some interesting contrasts here. Joseph is far from a fundamentalist; he’s not even an Episcopalian! On the other hand, he’s no literal-minded “Satanist,” autistically inverting expected behavior in order to shock conventionality. Instead of being enslaved, like Crowley, to a childish reaction formation,[5] [7] Neville was able to model himself on his father’s good-natured cynicism toward established religion.

Even more interesting, Joseph was able to keep organized religion in a healthy perspective because he had actually discovered the same thing Crowley did, but was able to hold onto it rather than, as Lachman says, forgetting it: “He found the Lord as his own wonderful human imagination, so when he wanted something he simply imagined he had it, and walked in that knowledge.”

This dovetails nicely into another contrast. Crowley’s father, and subsequently Crowley, lived off the fortune raised by his own father, who founded a chain of what we today might call brewpubs. Neville, however, was born into somewhat genteel poverty, and witnessed the family’s rise to fortune (which, as with Crowley, help subsidize his metaphysical career[6] [8] in a haute bourgeois lifestyle).

Neville frequently tells the story of how his father Joseph and his brother Victor, using the power of their imaginations, started a grocery business that eventually became Goddard Enterprises [9], still the largest conglomerate based in the Caribbean:[7] [10]

I know from my own experience with my family what they have done. They started behind the 8-ball. Today [1941], as [for the] head[s] of all the big corporations, they are not paying very much. No; profits are down, and therefore dividend checks are down. My brother Victor, who does exactly what I am talking about – it’s all in his imagination – started behind the 8-ball; so this year he did a forty-million-dollar business, and so I got my dividend check. It was a twenty-per-cent dividend. How many companies are paying twenty per cent? He paid me twenty per cent on my stock; and all the other ones, they are going down and down and down, but I got a big check, twenty per cent. That’s unheard of, but we are a private company; therefore, we can pay what we want. It’s not public; every share of stock is owned by the family. So, my dividend check was twenty per cent of the value of my stock, because he didn’t read the papers, and he doesn’t have a TV set,[8] [11] and he’s not influenced by rumors. He can dream as much as anyone can dream [12].

Here, Neville describes the imaginal method used his father and brother:

Every morning after breakfast he would sit down in what we call the Berbice chair, and put his feet up on the arms of the chair. It’s a chair made in the West Indies [13]. And then he would simply with his eyes partly shut, he would see the day as he wanted it to be.

He would carry on mental conversations with men he had to meet that day, from his premises and brought to his conclusion, and that’s how he worked.[9] [14]

And my brother did the same thing. It doesn’t matter what things look like in the world; he sees it as he wants to see it. And things come up, and now they’ve made millions, but millions in a little tiny place like Barbados.[10] [15]

Perhaps because Neville witnessed his family’s rise from keeping ducks for dinner to owning a thriving business,[11] [16] he not only learned a useful method, but failed to acquire two of Crowley’s most distasteful characteristics: his snobbery[12] [17] and his sense of being entitled to whatever he wanted from anyone else.[13] [18]

Before turning to the maternal side, we need to look at one other matter: Both show a thorough knowledge of the Bible; but while Crowley writes in a “bombastic, quasi-biblical style,”[14] [19] Neville acquired an easy familiarity with the contents early on, without even owning his own copy; it enabled him to correct his teachers, a habit he continued into his lecturing years:

When Neville was still very young (in the fifth or sixth grade, I believe) he was to bring his Bible to school and recite a verse from it. Since the family only owned one Bible, and one of his brothers had already taken it to school, Neville arrived without a Bible. When he recited the verse, “Take up thy bed and walk,” the teacher corrected him saying the verse read, “Take up thy couch and walk.”[15] [20]

And when Neville could not produce his Bible, the teacher made him take off his shirt and pull down his trousers. Then he beat him unmercifully. Neville was taken out of that school to continue his education elsewhere, completing his high school years at the age of seventeen.[16] [21]

The incident recalls a similar one Crowley himself recounts in his Confessions; as Lachman tells it,[17] [22] Crowley “asked one of his instructors how Jesus could have spent three days and three nights in his tomb, when he was crucified on a Friday and resurrected on a Sunday.” The teacher admits that no one has solved that puzzle, so Crowley decided he would be the one to find the answer. Lachman notes that this “is [another] example of Crowley’s literalism” and “dogged persistence,” quite different from Neville’s ability to discern the spiritual message in the Bible’s symbols.[18] [23]

However, it doesn’t account for Neville’s later ability to demonstrate a complete command of even the most obscure passages, let alone his knowledge of Hebrew and the Kabbalah. All this he attributes to the guru he met years later in New York City: a man he described as a “black Ethiopian rabbi” named Abdullah.

Typically, Neville loved to tell stories of how Abdullah taught him,[19] [24] but never definitively identified him. Who was Abdullah?

Here again, Mitch Horowitz has performed the labor of seeking out the facts behind Neville’s stories, and has found a “plausible candidate” in Arnold Josiah Ford, a fellow Barbadian living in New York City, who was “a leading voice in the Ethiopianism movement, a precursor to Rastafarianism,” as well as an early supporter and later official of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association.

All this is enough paranoiac-critical evidence to convince me, but Horowitz is of sterner stuff: He admits that Ford, mysterious to the end, seems to have left New York for Ethiopia in 1931 (answering the call to repatriation issued by Haile Selassie in 1930), which is the year Neville says he began a five-year course of study with Abdullah.

But do not despair! We paranoid critics know that you only have to read enough before the clues start to appear, and Horowitz appends this footnote:

He affectionately called Abdullah “Ab” for short – a variant of the Hebrew abbba for “father.” Neville may have fashioned a mythical “father mentor” from various teachers.[20] [25]

And so we are back to the parallel to Crowley, who “thought of his father as a hero,” the man who stuffed him full of the Bible and passed on to him the need to evangelize, sermonize, and pamphletize the world.[21] [26]

It is a common archetype: Whatever Neville’s nodding acquaintance with the Bible, he needed the Father, “Ab,” to quicken the seed (as “the Seed is the Word”).[22] [27]

Lachman says that “Crowley may have hero-worshipped his father, but the real emotional knot was with his mother.”[23] [28] We’ve already looked at that traumatic relationship, and as we might expect, we find something quite different with Neville:

Many a man remains behind the 8-ball because no one ever thought he could be anything other than what he appears to be. Fortunately I had a mother who, at a tender age took me aside and persuaded me that I was her favorite. She would say: “You will make mother very proud of you, won’t you?” and naturally I said: “Yes, mother.” I wore long white curls at the time, and she would curl my hair, run her finger up my curl, kiss me, and send me on my way – then call the next one to have his hair curled. Mother told the same story to each of us. It was only after we had all grown to manhood that we discovered what mother had done, but by that time she had accomplished her purpose. She didn’t expect us to make a fortune but to be one in whom she would be proud, and in our own separate spheres we all became successful in her eyes.

Many a man is a failure today because no one ever believed he could be otherwise. So I say to you: if you believe that there is only one being and only one cross, you will lift the cross from a seeming other, and – as Simon – follow your imagination to its fulfillment.[24] [29]

A far cry from living up to being the Great Beast 666!

As I said above, I’m delving into all this not in the interest of some kind of Freudianism, but because we have here a concrete example of Neville’s method. An important implication of Neville’s teaching is that, if imagination creates the world around us, if it is the “outpicturing” of the contents of our consciousness, then we play a considerable part in the creation of the character of those around us.[25] [30]

Here is how Neville discusses it in one of his last books:[26] [31]

Man, through his imaginal activity, literally “calls into existence the things that do not exist” [Romans 4:17]. By man’s imaginal activity, all things are made, and without such activity, “was not anything made that was made” [John 1:3].

Such causal activity could be defined as, an imaginal assemblage of images, which occurring, some physical event invariably takes place. It is for us to assemble the images of happy outcome and then keep from interfering. The event must not be forced but allowed to happen.[27] [32]

If imagination is the only thing that acts, or is, in existing beings of men (as Blake believed), then “we should never be certain that it was not some woman treading in the wine press who began that subtle change in men’s minds” (William Butler Yeats).

All imaginative men and women are forever casting forth enchantments, and all passive men and women, who have no powerful imaginative lives, are continually passing under the spell of their power.

Well, is this not Crowley, a man of weak imaginative power, almost wholly the product of his parents; a Bible-thumping missionary for the Great Beast?

Neville accompanies these remarks with two stories submitted to him by his fans; the second suggests what might have been an alternative path for Crowley the insufferable schoolboy described by Lachman:

“When I read in Seedtime and Harvest[28] [33] the story of the school teacher who, through her imagination, in daily revision, transformed a delinquent pupil into a lovely girl, I decided to ‘do’ something about a young boy in my husband’s school.

“To tell all the problems involved would take pages, for my husband has never had such a difficult child nor such a trying parent situation. The lad was too young to be expelled, yet the teachers refused to have him in their classes. To make matters worse, the mother and grandmother literally ‘camped’ on the school grounds making trouble for everyone.

“I wanted to help the boy, but, I also, wanted to help my husband. So, nightly, I constructed two scenes in my imagination: one, I ‘saw’ a perfectly normal, happy child; two, I ‘heard’ my husband say, ‘I can’t believe it, dear, but do you know “R.” is acting like a normal boy, now, and it is heaven not having those two women around’.

“After two months of persisting in my imaginal play, night after night, my husband came home and said, ‘It’s like heaven around school’ — not exactly the same words but close enough for me. The grandmother had become involved in something that took her out of town and the mother had to accompany her.

“At the same time a new teacher had welcomed the challenge of ‘R.’ and he was progressing wonderfully well into all I imagined for him.” . . . G.B.

One final turn of the screw: that reference to the woman treading in the winepress. This is an allusion to a passage from William Butler Yeats, which Neville quoted in an earlier chapter of the same book:

“We should never be certain that it was not some woman treading in the winepress who began that subtle change in men’s mind, or that the passion did not begin in the mind of some shepherd boy, lighting up his eyes for a moment before it ran upon its way.” — William Butler Yeats[29] [34]

Neville seemed fond of this passage, using it several times in books and lectures, in various wordings; for example, here:

Yeats once said: “I will never be certain it was not some woman treading in the winepress who started a subtle change in men’s mind, or that a passion, because of which so many countries have given to the sword, did not begin in the mind of some poor shepherd boy, lighting up his day for a moment before it ran upon its way.”[30] [35]

In an early book, it appears in a homier form, with no attribution to anyone else:

By the power of imagination all men, certainly imaginative men, are forever casting forth enchantments, and all men, especially unimaginative men, are continually passing under their power. Can we ever be certain that it was not our mother while darning our socks who began that subtle change in our minds? If I can unintentionally cast an enchantment over persons, there is no reason to doubt that I am able to cast intentionally a far stronger enchantment.[31] [36]

Yeats was one of Crowley’s “magical brothers” in the Golden Dawn, and already an established author. Crowley showed him proofs of his latest poem – Jephthah – and Yeats was only able to offer some mild encouragement. Crowley was enraged, attributed Yeats’ reaction to jealousy, and “maintained a venomous animosity toward Yeats for the rest of his life.”[32] [37]

That would be very much in Crowley’s character, as Lachman and others have presented it, but could there be another reason – could Crowley (whom Lachman admits was a “natural psychic”)[33] [38] have sensed that Yeats knew his secret?

Crowley may have believed himself to be the Antichrist, but Neville is something better, the anti-Crowley: everything Crowley wanted to be, or thought that he was. That Crowley is still accorded interest, and even a kind of worship, in some quarters, while Neville remains in relative obscurity,[34] [39] is a great puzzle; but then, what else would you expect during the reign of the Antichrist?

Notes

[1] [40] “If there is one place in the world that is unlike my little island of Barbados, it is New York City. In Barbados the tallest building is three stories, and the streets are lined with palm trees and cocoanut trees and all sorts of tropical things. In New York City you must go to a park to find a tree.” Lesson Three in Five Lessons: A Master Class (1948); reissued with a bonus chapter by Mitch Horowitz (New York: Tarcher/Perigree, 2018); my review is here [41].

[2] [42] A pioneer troll?

[3] [43] “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

[4] [44] Neville Goddard, “God’s Almighty Power [45]” (12-02-1968).

[5] [46] “The danger, however, in enjoying ‘forbiddenness’ is that it forces you to remain a child. . . . Only a child is interested in doing what some authority tells him he shouldn’t, and only a child gets excited by being ‘naughty’.” Lachman, p. 31.

[6] [47] Despite being a middle-aged father of two and a non-citizen, Neville – perhaps due to his always superb physical condition – was drafted in November 1942. He later claimed that he used his “simple method” to obtain an honorable discharge – with citizenship – by March 1943. Be that as it may, Mitch Horowitz has established that the Army discharged Neville so as to “accept employment in an essential wartime industry”: delivering metaphysical lectures in Greenwich Village; see “Neville Goddard: A Cosmic Philosopher,” pp. 83-84.

[7] [48] By contrast, “Crowley was embarrassed by the source of the wealth he enjoyed as a boy and that he quickly ran through as a young man, and he makes no mention of it in his Confessions” (Lachman, p. 23).

[8] [49] Living the Dissident Right lifestyle!

[9] [50] That is, in accord with the “simple method” described above, he would create dramatic scenes in which he would hear the men he would meet agreeing with his premises.

[10] [51] Neville Goddard. This quote is attributed [52] to the lecture “Strong Imagination,” but I have not found it in the audio version [53]; it’s compatible with his other accounts, but I like the chair detail.

[11] [54] Neville describes the need to feed them cheap fish rather than expensive corn, until ten days before they were to be cooked, and typically turns it into a parable:

Now, although we are not ducks we do feed on ideas. Feed your mind a certain idea for one week and you will change its structure. Continue for two weeks and you will be well fed on lovely thoughts. You see, this is a fictitious world and you are its author. Nothing is impossible! It’s all fiction anyway, so live nobly and dream beautiful dreams; for you are all imagination, and your human imagination is the Lord God, Jesus – the Christ (Neville, “Anything You Want [55],” 1968).

[12] [56] Lachman says bluntly, “Crowley was a snob” (p. 20), and gives instances throughout his biography; usually this involved claims to some aristocratic heritage, including the Buddha, and was intertwined with his playacting talents. For example, when first attempting the Abramelin ritual – which, as noted, he only succeeded in when he relied on his imagination alone – he rented a swanky flat under the name Count Vladimir Svareff. “George Cecil Jones, his tutor in magic, remarked that if he wanted solitude, he should have called himself Smith” (Lachman, p. 69).

[13] [57] “I was taught to expect every possible luxury. Nothing was too good for me and I had no idea what anything cost” (Lachman, quoting Crowley’s Confessions, p. 41).

[14] [58] Lachman also notes that Crowley’s habit of citing his works by verse numbers is an “instructive” similarity (p. 113n17).

[15] [59] John 5:8. Neville seems to be right, as far as the King James and most other translations [60]; it is fascinating to observe that “couch” is the rendering of Darby [61], one of the founders of the Plymouth Brethren!

[16] [62] A story retold by a longtime follower, Margaret Ruth Broome, here [63].

[17] [64] Lachman, p. 29.

[18] [65] Neville would have told him that “three days,” in the Bible’s symbolic language, means to finish something completely, to bring a process to an end; as Jesus says from the cross, “It is finished.”

[19] [66] See the classic “How Abdullah Taught Neville The Law [67],” with audio link.

[20] [68] See his edition of At Your Command, op. cit., pp. 93-99.

[21] [69] Lachman, p. 23.

[22] [70] As a side note, the relevance of which will soon appear: from another angle, the relationship can be seen not as Father/Son, but Father/Mother. Frithjof Schuon observed that, contrary to the ignorant notions of Westerners, Muhammad does not play the role of Christ in Islam; Christ is the Qur’an, and Muhammad is the Virgin Mary. The archetypal sequence is: Gabriel announces/pronounces (reveals) the Qur’an/Christ to the illiterate (i.e. virginal) Muhammad/Virgin Mary. There are mediaeval paintings in which Gabriel’s words are in a kind of speech balloon which curls up into Mary’s ear (thus performing the Virgin Birth: “the seed is the Word”). This is the “sex magic” that Crowley (apparently accidentally) discovered in the higher degrees of the Golden Dawn. With typical literalness, Crowley interpreted this as the need for a homosexual degree (XIth) in which he would be the passive partner in a rite of sodomy, usually employing Victor Neuberg – as it happens, a Jew, like Ab. We might note the elements of sadism in Neville’s teacher’s methods as well. Neville was well aware of the sexual dimensions or analogues of his hermetical method, and no doubt enjoyed the gasps and pearl-clutching produced in his audience of housewives and society matrons as he calmly made use of the Song of Solomon: “What more beautiful description of this romance of the conscious and subconscious is there than that told in the ‘Song of Solomon’: ‘By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth [3:1] . . . I found him whom my soul loveth; I held him and I not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.’ [3:4]” (Feeling is the Secret, Chapter Two: Sleep); or, answering the question, “How often should I perform the imaginal act,” compared it to having sexual intercourse: “when satisfaction is reached, impotence follows . . . Your imaginal act is as much a creative act as a physical one wherein man halts, shrinks and is blessed” (Five Lessons, op. cit., Q&A, Question Six). Austin Spare’s sigilization method also involved masturbation to climax, the popularization of which later got Genesis P-Orridge in some hot water. I explore these various aspects in “Of Apes, Essence, and the Afterlife [71],” reprinted in Magick for Housewives.

[23] [72] Lachman, p. 24.

[24] [73] Neville Goddard, “Bear Ye One Another’s Burdens [74],” 03-17-1969.

[25] [75] I explored this a bit in Trump: The Art of the Meme (Amazon Kindle, 2017), where I argued that Trump’s “unimaginable” victory was, in fact, imaginal; Trump, a student of Norman Vincent Peale, no doubt used “positive thinking,” while his army of the Alt Right deployed the imaginal technique of meme warfare. However, an additional factor was the fevered imaginations of his opponents, who were continually fixated on terrifying (to them) images of Trump triumphant, thus giving an unconscious assist that likely made the difference in a close race.

[26] [76] The Law and the Promise, Chapter 10: “Things That Do Not Appear;” alluding to “. . . what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.” — Heb. 11:3.

[27] [77] Compare and contrast Crowley’s famous definition of magick: “to cause change in accordance with the will.”

[28] [78] Neville, Seedtime and Harvest: A Mystical View of the Scriptures (1956).

[29] [79] Op. cit., Chapter Four, “There is No Fiction.” The original passage is from Chapter Four of Yeats’ Ideas of Good and Evil (1903):

We should never be certain that it was not some woman treading in the wine-press who began that subtle change in men’s minds, that powerful movement of thought and imagination about which so many Germans have written; or that the passion, because of which so many countries were given to the sword, did not begin in the mind of some shepherd boy, lighting up his eyes for a moment before it ran upon its way.

[30] [80]Wonder-working Power [81],” 2-3-69.

[31] [82] Prayer: The Art of Believing (1945), Chapter Three, “Imagination and Faith.”

[32] [83] Lachman, pp. 54-55; adding that, “In later years Yeats fine-tuned his assessment and admitted that amid much rhetoric, Crowley had written at least six lines of real poetry.”

[33] [84] Lachman, p. 25.

[34] [85] The well-known Norman Vincent Peale is a mere knock-off; in fact, one of his last books, Positive Imaging: The Powerful Way to Change Your Life (New York: Random House, 1982), which seems like an attempt to “update” his Positive Thinking for the New Age crowd, often reads like a paraphrase of Neville’s writings.