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Artist & Autist:
Crowley in the Light of Neville, Part 1


Aleister Crowley, presumably after having consumed his daily drug regimen.

4,286 words

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

“It’s when one gets to the parents that a bottomless pit opens. My dear, such a pair.”[1] [3]

“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.”[2] [4]

Unlike, it would seem, not a few on the Dissident Right, I have never had much use for The Great Beast, Aleister Crowley.

The acute readers here at Counter-Currents have no doubt observed that the title of my most recent collection, Magick for Housewives [5], is meant as, if not an homage, at least a jovial allusion to Crowley, who from time to time (likely when in need of money) would put aside the pose of The Great Beast and produce something purporting to enlighten the general public, usually titled something like Yoga for Yahoos or Yoga for Yellowbellies.[3] [6]

The rest of his work, however, I find pretentious, obscure, and filled with all the fusty paraphernalia of traditional “magic” (which is exactly what needs to be stripped out) and tarted up with schoolboy obscenity to shock provincial curates.

Moreover, I had figured out, through reading Colin Wilson,[4] [7] that it was all something of a sham; magick (as he would spell it), “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will,” requires “the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” – i.e., learning one’s True Will (see what I mean about unnecessary obscurity?) – which, as it happens, is identical to the Will of God, so in fact everything is all right exactly as it is already. Even Wittgenstein would agree.[5] [8]

I have, on occasion, discussed Crowley, but only in the context of his politics.[6] [9] However, a recent reading of Gary Lachman’s deeply researched and engagingly written book on the Beast[7] [10] suggests that there may still be more to say about Crowley; in fact, there may be some interesting points to bring out through a comparison with my own guru, Neville Goddard.

Now, this is not – entirely – a manifestation of my own monomania. In various explorations, here on Counter-Currents [11] and elsewhere, of the teaching of the mid-century, mid-Atlantic mystic Neville Goddard (who always went by “Neville”), I’ve frequently referenced a book by Israel Regardie[8] [12] which not only contains the first study of Neville’s teaching – and still one of the few that have appeared – but also has the extra interest of being written by no less than one of Aleister Crowley’s private secretaries.

Indeed, Regardie makes the connection almost explicit: “Of all the metaphysical systems with which I am acquainted, Neville’s is the most evidently magical.”[9] [13]

That two so apparently different figures should have any point in common is more than enough to get me going, using what I’ve called (after Dalí) the “paranoiac-critical method [14],” or what Alan Watts called the “Chinese box” method, “whereby we illumine one theological system . . . by looking at it and seeing what happens to it in the context of another.”

For example:

The fact that the Christian scriptures can include the Hebrew, but not the Hebrew the Christian, does not imply that Christianity is a better or truer religion than Judaism. From the standpoint of an unprejudiced observer, it implies only that if you put the Hebrew revelation within the context of the Christian revelation, the former undergoes a most interesting transformation. Whether or not this transformation will be something more than interesting, that is, deeply moving and convincing, will depend upon the reaction of each individual.[10] [15]

If we start just with their names, we already can discern an interesting pattern of resemblance and dissimilarity. Like Madonna or Cher, Neville always went by his first name, at least in his career as a metaphysical lecturer.[11] [16] His full name, Neville Lancelot Goddard, suggests an association with the Arthurian legends and the Grail.[12] [17]

Edward Alexander Crowley, on the other hand, hated his name, especially the diminutive “Alick.” Moreover, he “had a taste for adopting names,”[13] [18] and bestowed on himself a variety of pseudonyms, or let’s say titles indicative of some mystical aim or accomplishment, such as Frater Perdurabo (“He who endures to the end”). But the most famous of these was indeed bestowed by his mother, who in a moment of anger called him “The Great Beast, 666.” Crowley, typically, liked it and went with it, sometimes in the original Greek, To Mega Therion.

Already, just in considering their names, bestowed or adopted, we’ve begun to discern a number of important themes: Crowley and Neville as performers, and their parental influences.

Again, Regardie supplies the clue:

[The] fundamental psychological factor in Neville’s teaching [and] the fundamental fact about Neville himself . . . is a very simple fact. Neville is a dancer.

I have watched Neville dance. He is superb. He has a magnificent body. I have already remarked that he has charm and is very handsome. When he dances, his muscles move with that lithe suppleness which one associates with the trained athlete. His every movement suggests power in repose, the effortless ease of the cat, with its undisguised sensuality and force of movement. As an artist, he knows the value of alternate relaxation and tension. Above all, he knows the dance. His metaphysics and his system, are a dance, – a dance of words, a dance of mind, a dance of feeling. And unless you can dance with him, his system is likely to be unproductive. His system is in reality strictly personal – an offshoot of his own personality. To make it work as he has done, you too must become like him.

An artist in every fibre of his being, he has the capacity to sink himself whole-heartedly and imaginatively[14] [19] in the task at hand. He is an artist, and has passion and fire on hand at every moment. The artist in him is truer than his desire to expound publicly the system he does expound. He has the ability spontaneously to apply his own teaching. It is quite another story, however, to teach the practical elements of his system to those who are not artists, who have not his imaginative or emotional capacity to engage in this ecstatic dance of the mind which evidently means so much to him.[15] [20]

With this in mind, it is interesting to note that Crowley “developed a method of inducing a trance via a kind of magical dance that produced a peculiar lucidity.”[16] [21] He also stage-managed “magical drug parties” with group dancing, and throughout his career, acolytes such as Victor Neuberg and Leah Hirsig would be pressed into service to provide some sort of ritual dance to assist Crowley’s magickal activities.

Though Crowley himself doesn’t seem to have been much of a dancer, he was certainly something similarly performative: an actor. What Lachman calls his “penchant for playacting”[17] [22] began in childhood, and Lachman is no doubt correct to link this to the whole Golden Dawn frippery of robes and headdresses which I deplored earlier. He also notes that “he later enjoyed playacting as a spy.”[18] [23]

Miles Mathis has also noted an even earlier connection between Crowley’s playacting and espionage, unnoticed (or unmentioned) by Lachman:

[The] transparent absurdity of his entire [official] biography starts at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was recruited by the British secret service and traveled to Russia while still a student (1897). He was also connected to Footlights, the famous Dramatic Club at Cambridge, where he slept with the (male) President of the Club.[19] [24] This is apropos, since Crowley would be an actor all his life.[20] [25]

Miles means by “actor” an agent of the intelligence services (perhaps the “Secret Chiefs” to which he would appeal from time to time), but we can put aside Miles’ obsessions and acknowledge this as a profound apprehension of the role of play-acting in Crowley’s magickal methods.

If Crowley and Neville were both, in some sense, performers, what was the nature of their act? Or to put it a bit crudely, though perhaps in the spirit of New Thought, what were they selling?

The answer, as Regardie has already told us, is magic(k). More specifically, a modern, stripped down, cleaned-up version, suitable for the modern mind.

Mitch Horowitz has conveniently provided us with an even briefer summary of what Neville called his “simple method to change the future”:

To recap the formula: First, clarify a sincere and deeply felt desire. Second, enter a state of relaxed immobility, bordering on sleep. Third, enact a mental scene that contains the assumption and feeling of your wish fulfilled. Run the little drama over and over in your mind until you experience a sense of fulfillment. Then resume your life. Evidence of your achievement will unfold at the right moment in your outer experience.[21] [26]

Here is not the place to discuss whether this works.[22] [27] But anyone with the faintest acquaintance with Crowley can see that this is far from all the baroque entanglements that readers like Wilson, and myself, find so dreary and distasteful. Yet Lachman tells us, describing “his magnum opus, Magick in Theory and Practice,” that “in essence Crowley tries to modernize magick, to free it of its traditional encumbrances, to anchor it in the psyche and imagination of the magician.” And yet, Crowley’s work “is not in any way written for ‘all,’ despite Crowley’s protestations”:

For connoisseurs it remains rich fare,[23] [28] but for the average reader it is impenetrable, [what with all its} rituals, exercises and reading lists . . . He is too fond of hinting at hidden knowledge, giving the work twists and turns that either fascinate of befuddle, but are clearly meant to entire the reader to seek him out. And he can’t avoid a generous sprinkling of his sardonic wit.[24] [29]

All this is a far cry from Neville’s “simple method,” as well as from his direct, engaging, and indeed, charismatic books and lectures. And it’s not as if Crowley was – entirely – a fraud; Lachman insists that “for all his flaws as a human being, Crowley took magic seriously and was actually very good at it.”[25] [30]

Lachman gives a couple of examples of Crowley’s magickal successes that provide the clue to what went wrong. In one, Crowley, seemingly on the brink of madness, decides to go whole hog into the abyss and attempt the ultimate goal of the Golden Dawn: the Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel – which, as we’ve noted, simply means contacting your True Self or True Will. This required performing a medieval ritual called “the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.” The problem was, he was “on horseback in some remote part of Asia,” while “everything he needed to work the Abramelin magic was back in Boleskin.”[26] [31] Wisely rejecting the idea of traveling back there in his astral body, Crowley realized “he could create an imaginal temple – not an imaginary one – in his mind.”[27] [32]

Later, discussing Crowley’s Liber IV (aka Book Four), Lachman notes that in Part One, Crowley says that “the key to genius is quieting the mind”:

“All geniuses have the habit of concentration of thought, and usually need long periods of solitude to acquire this habit” (Liber IV). Here Crowley hits on the key: concentration of the mind, something he learned from Eckenstein and Allan Bennett. One feels that after this central insight, all the paraphernalia of ceremony and ritual are unnecessary. Crowley himself had grasped this during his Augoeides invocations in China [described above]; he didn’t need his magical instruments because he could do everything in his mind. But if the mind can do that, what else might it do?

Crowley didn’t get the hint, and this is what’s frustrating about him; he often grabs hold of an important insight, but drops it and falls back into the “satanizing” and rebellion that he knows is unnecessary.[28] [33]

So Crowley had grasped the key discovery: the human imagination itself is the creative power; and then promptly forgot about it. Later in life, he was still engaging in obfuscations:

Crowley told Laver that “magic is something we do to ourselves,” explaining, however, that it is “more convenient to assume the objective existence of an Angel who gives us new knowledge than to allege that our invocation has awakened a supernatural power in ourselves,” a remark that contradicts what he always claimed was his key discovery, the reality of “discarnate intelligence”[29] [34] (p. 309).

Why? Lachman gives us the surprising answer: Crowley, the great theorist of Will and Magick, lacked both will and imagination.

Crowley’s need for constant “strong” stimulation suggests that he lacked imagination and that his mind, formidable as it was, was curiously literal. Crowley seems, I think, to have suffered from a kind of autism. I don’t necessarily mean in some pathological sense, but he seemed to lack the kind of nuanced, “tacit knowing” that most of us enjoy and that allows us to grasp the essence or meaning of some idea or experience, without having to go to extremes or into precise detail in order to “get it.” Crowley only got it by going to extremes. . . . Crowley was not evil, but his need for excess, for “strong” things, more times than not, was a source of suffering for those around him.[30] [35]

For example, at fourteen, Crowley decided to test the idea that cats have nine lives:

Crowley submitted one to arsenic, chloroform, hanging, gassing, stabbing, slashing, smashing, burning and drowning before finally throwing it out a window. The stupidity is numbing but it shows the autistic exactitude that Crowley often displayed.[31] [36]

“Autistic exactitude” is exactly what would account for Crowley’s dogged persistence in acquiring the most detailed and esoteric knowledge of the world of Magick, while being incapable of expressing it in any kind of attractive or easily understood manner,[32] [37] and ultimately missing the point entirely.

As for will, Crowley’s lack of will is most clearly shown in his response to his parents, and the Christianity they came to represent to him: he not only rejected both, but set out to spend the rest of his life cocking a snoot at them.

It’s not quite true that Crowley lacked will; his will was actually quite strong, but he lacked control over it.[33] [38] Thus, he would set a course for himself, and see it through to the end (hence, his magickal name, Frater Perdurabo),[34] [39] without ever being able to change or abandon it if circumstances changed:

Crowley thought of his father as a hero and as a friend and there is a suggestion that he exaggerated his importance in the Plymouth Brethren[35] [40] . . . Crowley’s father seems to have possessed a high degree of vitality and dominance – he was a forceful personality who could impose himself on others, much as Crowley himself did – and this made up, in Crowley’s mind, for his narrow-mindedness and intolerance.[36] [41]

We can surmise that Aleister either inherited a strong but literal and narrow-minded will, or else was completely subservient to whatever his father’s will had been.[37] [42]

Crowley’s own literalism, and his belief in a coming apocalypse . . . may have its roots in his family’s beliefs, and it is not too difficult to see in Crowley’s later ministry both a reversal and an emulation of the creed in which he was raised.[38] [43]

“The real emotional knot was with his mother,” however, whom he despised to her dying day as a “brainless bigot of the most narrow, logical and inhuman type.”[39] [44] His father died when Crowley was eleven, and – presumably unable to transfer his affections to his mother, but unable to break away from his parents’ beliefs – he did a typically childish thing: he resolved to “change sides” just to spite her:

I simply went over to Satan’s side; and to this hour I cannot tell why.” (Confessions)

It certainly had the effect he wanted: after embarking on his career of sin, “his mother was so scandalized by his behavior that she called him the Beast 666, from the Book of Revelation.”

If indeed Emily Crowley was responsible for his son’s satanic self-image, he did his mother proud and lived up to this sobriquet with gusto.[40] [45]

I bring all this up, not to engage in any kind of crap Freudianism, but to make a point about will and imagination, which is itself rooted the theory of magick itself. But before that, I want to add one other factor in Crowley’s upbringing, and then, in the spirit of the Chinese Box, bring in some of Neville’s biography.

The final detail, in which Emily Crowley’s remark takes root, is Crowley’s relationship with the Bible. As noted already, the Crowleys were members of the Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist cult. They began each day with a reading form the Bible, – “Crowley’s own impressive familiarity with Scripture no doubt stems from this practice” – and in fact “the Bible was the only book available to [young Alick],” who felt “solidarity with the dragon, the False Prophet, and, predictably, the Beast and the Scarlet Woman.”[41] [46]

Later, at the Abbey of Thelema Crowley would “read extracts from The Book of the Law, much as his parents had read from the Bible in his childhood.”[42] [47] Indeed, “Crowley believed in the literal truth of this new holy scripture just as his Plymouth Brethren father believed in the literal truth of the Bible.”[43] [48]

The Bible was clearly the major influence on Crowley – his later readings in magic supplemented rather than replaced it – and we see the same pattern emerging: Rather than growing out of it, and arriving at a measured evaluation of it, Crowley simply inverts it – “changes sides” – and keeps to it with same dogged fundamentalism.[44] [49]


[1] [50] Anthony Blanche begins to unveil the mysteries of Sebastian in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Two [51].

[2] [52] Neville (Goddard), Prayer: The Art of Believing (1945), Chapter Three.

[3] [53] Also published as Eight Lectures on Yoga [54]. Crowley himself was operating in a whimsical English tradition, such as Hilaire Belloc’s Economics for Helen [55] or Shaw’s The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism [56]. Someone should do something like that for the Dissident Right.

[4] [57] See his Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (Wellingborough, Northamptonshire: The Aquarian Press, 1987), as well as his earlier chapter on Crowley in The Occult: A History (New York: Random House, 1971). From the former: “The main problem for the average reader – particularly of [Symonds’ biography] The Great Beast – is that Crowley seems such an intolerable show-off that it is hard to believe anything he says” (p. 73); and: “The chief impression left by a study of Crowley’s life and works is that he wasted an immense amount of time and energy trying to shock everyone he came into contact with, and his dislike of orthodoxy turned him into an unconsciously comic figure, like Don Quixote” (pp. 153-154).

[5] [58] See my essay “Magick for Housewives: The Not-So New and Really Rather Traditional Thought of Neville Goddard” in the fourth volume of Aristokratia and reprinted in Magick for Housewives: Essays on Alt-Gurus [5] (Melbourne, Victoria: Manticore, 2018). The point was also made by Alan Watts: If a Westerner hears someone say, “I am God,” he demands proof, in the form of commanding thunder or causing water to spring from rocks, since for him God is a kind of magician behind the scenes. But to an Easterner, “I am God” means “I have realized my fundamental identity with the cosmos,” and he sees no need to “do” anything special, other than what he – who is actually “HE” – is already doing throughout the whole cosmos.

[6] [59] See “’The Name is Crowley . . . Aleister Crowley’: Reflections on Enlightenment & Espionage [60],” and “The Unmaking of the Magus: Crowley as Political Animal [61],” both reprinted in Magick for Housewives, op. cit.

[7] [62] Gary Lachman, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World [63] (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2014).

[8] [64] The Romance of Metaphysics (1946); the relevant chapter on Neville [65] appears as the Introduction to The Power of Imagination: The Neville Goddard Treasury; Mitch Horowitz, ed. (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2015). As Mitch Horowitz summarizes:

In a little-known book from 1946, the occult philosopher Israel Regardie took measure of the burgeoning creative-mind movements, including Unity, Christian Science, and Science of Mind. Regardie paid special attention to the case of Neville, whose teaching, he felt, reflected both the hopes and pitfalls of New Thought philosophy. Regardie believed that Neville possessed profound and truthful ideas; yet he felt these ideas were proffered without sufficient attention to training or practice. Could the everyday person really control his thoughts and moods in the way Neville prescribed?

This is a point that will acquire some irony in our examination of Crowley. See Horowitz, “Neville Goddard: A Cosmic Philosopher,” in his edition of At Your Command: The First Classic Work by the Visionary Mystic Neville (New York: Tarcher Cornerstone Editions, 2016 [1939]), pp. 100-101; my review, “Lord Kek Commands: A Look at the Origins of Meme Magic [66],” is reprinted in Magick for Housewives.

[9] [67] Regardie, op. cit., p. 13.

[10] [68] See his Beyond Theology: The Art of Godmanship (New York: Pantheon, 1964), Chapter One. The Chinese Box method is also a kind of common sense version of “hermeneutics”; see my “Re-kindling Watts,” Part Two [69], also collected in Magick, op. cit.

[11] [70] One of his characteristic stories, oft repeated and verified by Mitch Horowitz, was how he used his power of imagination to engineer a discharge from the Army, during the Second World War, in order to perform this “essential wartime activity” in Greenwich Village. See “A Cosmic Philosopher,” op. cit., pp. 83-84.

[12] [71] It’s not known how intentional was Neville’s naming; a story we’ll later encounter, involving the baptism of his brother, indicates Neville’s father had a rather off-hand approach to such matters.

[13] [72] Lachman, p. 15.

[14] [73] The significance of this phrase, which I have italicized, will soon be made plain.

[15] [74] Regardie, op. cit., pp. 13-14. I’ve noted the importance of Neville as a dancer, in the essays collected in Magick for Housewives; in particular, the connection to Krishna and Shiva, which I explored in a different context in one of my earliest essays on Counter-Currents, “The Babysitting Bachelor as Aryan Avatar: Clifton Webb in Sitting Pretty, Part 2 [75].” It is indeed interesting that both Neville and Clifton Webb achieved their first fame as featured dancers on Broadway.

[16] [76] Lachman, p. 82.

[17] [77] Lachman, p. 26.

[18] [78] Lachman, p. 48; see also my reviews noted above of books on Crowley’s espionage career, reprinted in Magick for Housewives.

[19] [79] More on this [80]: “Herbert Pollitt, female impersonator and art collector, was a stage female impersonator under the name of Diane De Rougy. He took his femme name from a celebrated courtesan, Liane de Pougy. In 1898, whilst appearing at the Cambridge Footlights club, he met and had an affair with the then unknown Aleister Crowley. Crowley would later write that ‘I lived with Pollitt as his wife for some six months and he made a poet out of me’. Pollitt did not share Crowley’s spiritual quest, and Crowley ended the affair shortly after going down from Cambridge in 1898. He later recognized this as an ‘imbecile’ mistake, and he continued to regret it.”

[20] [81]From Theosophy to the Beat Generation or How even the Occult was Disguised [82].”

[21] [83] The Miracle Club (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2019), Chapter Ten: “Mirror Man: The Centrality of Neville Goddard,” pp. 132-33.

[22] [84] For which, see Horowitz, loc. cit.

[23] [85] I am reminded of what D. H. Lawrence said of Fr. Rolfe’s Hadrian VII: “if it is caviar, at least it came from the belly of a live fish.” I seldom feel this way about Crowley. For more on Rolfe (who also loved onomastic tomfoolery, such as styling himself with titles like “Baron Corvo”), see my “e-Caviar for the Masses!: Olde Books for the Downwardly Mobile Elite [86].”

[24] [87] Lachman, pp. 267-68.

[25] [88] Sorta like Walter White.

[26] [89] The manor house where Crowley liked to pretend to be a Scottish laird.

[27] [90] Lachman, p. 67 & 133 (italics his). Lachman notes that “’imaginal’ is a term developed by the philosopher Henry Corbin” to refer to that which is “not the imagination in the sense of ‘make believe’ but in the sense that an artist or poet uses the imagination as a creative power.” This is exactly what Neville teaches: that man is, as Blake says, “all imagination,” and that this imagination is the creative power that “out-pictures” the world around us; the latter is the ex-pression of what we have im-pressed on our imagination.

[28] [91] Lachman, pp. 172-73, italics mine.

[29] [92] Lachman, p. 309.

[30] [93] Lachman, p. 19.

[31] [94] Lachman, p. 28.

[32] [95] Louis Wilkerson remarked that Crowley “wanted to appeal to the general reader but he never could because he knew nothing about him.” Lachman, p. 20.

[33] [96] Colin Wilson would likely note that this is related to the lack of imagination.

[34] [97] Lachman notes he “could hold a grudge for years” (p. 28).

[35] [98] Lachman calls this a “sect of extreme Christian fundamentalism” who “eagerly anticipated the Day of Judgement” (p. 22). I recently discovered that one of the Plymouth Brethren founders, John Darby, even invented “the Rapture.” Wikipedia [99]: “John Nelson Darby was an Anglo-Irish Bible teacher, one of the influential figures among the original Plymouth Brethren and the founder of the Exclusive Brethren. He is considered to be the father of modern Dispensationalism and Futurism.”

[36] [100] Lachman, p. 23.

[37] [101] “Again, it has not escaped the attention of people writing on Crowley that father and son shared an interest in intoxicating substances [the family’s money was derived from a chain of pubs] and spirituality, although Crowley exceeded his father in both concerns, and for a time Crowley’s father was a teetotaler, exercising an abstinence Crowley himself rarely displayed.” Lachman, loc. cit.

[38] [102] Lachman, loc. cit.

[39] [103] Lachman, p. 26, quoting Crowley’s Confessions.

[40] [104] Lachman, p. 32.

[41] [105] Lachman, p. 22, p. 25.

[42] [106] Lachman, p. 225. Did the readings occur after supper so as to invert his family’s morning readings?

[43] [107] Lachman, p. 106.

[44] [108] It’s as if Crowley took Blake’s maxim, “I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man’s” (Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion [109]) to mean he had to forge his own shackles.