Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea. Blog, Internet resources, online reading groups, articles and interviews, Illuminatus! info.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

RAW on Aleister Crowley

[This essay/book review is one element in a group of documents that Mike Gathers sent to me and gave me permission to reprint on this blog. It appeared in Gnostica, Vol. 5, No. 4 (#40) in 1976 -- Tom]

THE LORD OF FORCE AND FIRE: A Review of "The Law is For All."

By Aleister Crowley
Llewellyn Books, 360 pp., $7.95

A physicist named Saul Paul Sirag recently told me a somewhat thought-provoking anecdote about Uri Geller. Saul Paul, who was involved peripherally in the investigation of Geller at Stanford Research Institute, went to see Geller one evening in an expanded-consciousness state. He asked Uri, "While I'm in this state, can I see SPECTRA?"

(SPECTRA, of course, is the alleged extraterrestrial intelligence communicating through Geller.)

"Look into my eyes and wait," said Uri.

Saul Paul looked -- and Uri's whole head turned into the head of a hawk.

I draw no moral from this episode and I certainly do not think that it proves anything. Saul Paul, a very skeptical scientist, would certainly howl with rage if anybody claimed such an anecdote is "proof" of anything.

Nontheless, something is certainly suggested, and the unconscious senses a resonance. The suggestion grows more interesting when one learns that Dr. Andrija Pujarich also encountered SPECTRA in the form of a hawk while visiting Uri Geller in Israel. Dr. Pujarich's account of these encounters (there were several) is in his book, Uri. It is impossible that Saul Paul Sirag' s experience was the result of auto-suggestion brought on by reading Pujarich's similar experience. Saul Paul did not read about Pujarich's SPECTRA-hawk until months after his own vision.

Of course, every parapsychological investigation turns up a few similarly bizarre episodes; but scientists do not generally write them up. They are "anecdotal, not statistical, and not under laboratory control," and therefore prove nothing. The trouble is that (as Jung knew) they haunt the people involved, sometime for years, and often key off abrupt "spiritual" or behavioral mutations. Like UFO "contactees" or LSD users, people who've had this type of archetypal encounter often feel that they have been touched by a higher intelligence.

It happened to Aleister Crowley in Cairo in 1904 when "the world was destroyed by fire," as he said later. On the tangible level, Crowley came out of the experience with a book which most people think was written by him but which he always insisted was dictated to him.

The book, Liber Al vel Legis or The Book of the Law, announces that the Equinox of the Gods has come, that the age of the Dying God, Osiris, is over, and that we are entering the age of Horus, the Hawk-headed Lord of Force and Fire.


Worse (or better). Horus himself speaks in the last chapter of Liber Al and tells us, in no uncertain terms:

Now let it first be understood that I am a god of War and Vengeance. I shall deal hardly with them ...

I will give you a war-engine ...

Sacrifice cattle, little and big, after a child ...

Deem not too eagerly to catch the promises; fear not to undergo the curses. Ye, even ye, know not this meaning all ...

I am the Warrior Lord of the Forties; the Eighties cower before me and are abased ...

Even the most resolute skeptic must grant that this is not bad as prophecy of the twentieth century, for a manuscript produced in 1904. When one learns further that the book is full of Cabalistic cryptograms built on the number 93, one may be more impressed, for the ninety-third element, plutonium, is the trigger of the mightiest war-engine of all, the hydrogen bomb. It is not far-fetched to think that some people, over-given to what the Sufis call "the vice of literalness" may be following the instruction to "sacrifice cattle, little and big" in order to prepare for the apotheosis of the Hawk-headed God in the Eighties.

The Law Is for All is a collection of all of Crowley's commentaries on The Book of the Law, together with a long and determinedly commonsense introduction by Dr. Israel Regardie, certainly the sanest and most scientific of Crowley's expositors. (I'm not sure it would be accurate to call him a "disciple.")

Dr. Regardie is most concerned with demonstrating the extent to which the book was produced by Crowley's "unconscious," or by an aspect of his unconscious. He is careful not to deny that some other, more esoteric entity might have influenced or "inspired" Crowley's unconscious; but the tendency of his interpretation remains "reductionist" or, at least, psychogenic. He emphatically rejects the interpretation of Mr. Kenneth Grant, self-declared successor to Crowley as Outer Head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, who holds that the book was actually transmitted to Crowley by an extraterrestrial from the system of the dog star, Sirius.

I have been so presumptuous as to dissent from Dr. Regardie's emphasis, in correspondence with him. Both his view and Grant's are equally true, I suggested: that is, the aspect of Crowley's unconscious through which the book was given to us might be "extraterrestrial," if we accept the thought that part of the Terran unconscious is itself extraterrestrial. (The "extraterrestrial unconscious" is described, under that name, in the recent writings of Dr. Kenneth Ring. It also appears, called "the metaphysical circuit," in the neuropsychology of Dr. Timothy Leary, and as the "+3" mental state in the works of Dr. John Lilly. If the DNA itself is of extraterrestrial origin, as suggested by DNA's co-discoverer, Sir Francis Crick, Terran physiology, neurology and psychology would all have latent components of a cosmic, unearthly aspect.)

Dr. Regardie replied to this argument with a sentence only a high adept could write: "All explanations are true simultaneously."

Crowley's own commentary approaches this mystery in typically hermetic and elusive language, defining the communicating entity as "the 'Babe in the Egg of Blue' ... not merely the God of Silence in a conventional sense. He represents the Higher Self, the Holy Guardian Angel ... Almost identical symbols are those of the secret God of the Templars, the bisexual Baphomet, and of Zeus Arrhenothelus, equally bisexual, the Father-Mother of All in One Person ... But the 'small person' of Hindu mysticism, the dwarf insane yet crafty of many legends in many lands, is also this same 'Holy Ghost' or Silent Self of a man, or his Holy Guardian Angel." Is that quite clear, class?

Modern neurology, of course, recognizes a Silent Self, a "bisexual" Higher Self, in a sense. This is associated with the usually silent right lobe of the brain, called the Silent Lobe, which becomes mysteriously active in yogis, LSD-users, persons who score high on ESP tests and (oddly) musicians. It is associated with the idea of "polymorphous perverse," in the stilted language of Freud and Norman O. Brown; that of "hedonistic," "Tantric" and "rapture-prone," in less Teutonic definitions; "childish" and "playful" in Taoist descriptions; "just like ordinary life, but one foot above the ground" in the famous Zen metaphor; and it is evidently highly active whenever magick (i.e., ESP or PK) is being done.

(Readers interested in more details about the Silent Lobe should consult Robert Ornstein's Psychology of Consciousness and Timothy Leary's Neurologic.)

The paradox is that the Silent Lobe is both more "spiritual" and more "animalistic" than the usually-dominant left lobe, where our linear-logical processes occur. It both turns one on to "subtle" energies ("astral" bodies, "auras" etc.) and also tunes one in to abnormal awareness of one's own body, the bodies of others and our evolutionary (animal) heritage. With the Silent Lobe speaking, one does not need to read Darwin to understand that one is the descendant of three-and-a-half billion years of mammals, reptiles and fish. Indeed, it was almost certainly this Silent Lobe experience which gave Sufis and yogis their marvelous insights into evolutionary process 1,000 or 2,000 years before Darwin.

If the cataclysm of Cairo, 1904, was this turning on of the Silent Lobe of Aleister Crowley, his subsequent identification as The Great Beast is no huge mystery. The Great Beast is the end product of evolution, the mind that knows itself to stand midway between animal and divinity, ready to leap from Earth to the stars. Or, to say it another way, the Great Beast is the DNA code become conscious through a human being, the only Earth-creature who thus far can become conscious of it.

Crowley, indeed, points directly to the DNA as the source of his inspiration, using the best language available to him before the work of Crick and Watson. He calls is "the talisman," the secret Lord of Force and Fire within the spermatozoa, and he insists on its immortality: "It stands plain, even to skeptical reason -- indeed, most of all to the skeptic -- that our talisman, one microscopic serpent of which can build for itself such a house as to rule men's bodies for a generation like Alexander, or their minds for an epoch like Plato, cannot be destroyed or diminished by any conceivable force." In his Magical Diaries, the same thought is expressed even more strikingly: "The subconscious mind is aware of its own immortality." The subconscious, the DNA mind, Jung's "collective unconscious," Leary's "neurogenetic archives," -- the Great Beast, the Lord of Force and Fire, the "dwarf insane but crafty," Pan, and all of Crowley's other poetic metaphors for the intelligence communicating through him.

The Book of the Law communicates this sexual-evolutionary secret in its very structure. The three chapters are image-glyphs of 0, 1 and 2. Zero, speaking in the first chapter, is Nuit, or Naught, or Night, namely Samadhi, the obliteration of normal consciousness by the DNA-mind: the highest peak of human awareness. One, speaking in the second chapter, is Hadit, the serpent, kundalini, the trance of unity, or dhyana, midway between normal consciousness and Samadhi.

Two, speaking (and not speaking) in the third chapter, is the Horus twins: Ra-Hoor-Khuit (the active, or yang, left lobe) and Hoor-Pa-Kraat (the silent, or yin, right lobe): normal, dualistic conciousness.

But, as the similar symbolism of Crowley's Book of Lies makes overt, 0 is also the vagina, 1 the penis, and 2 the testicles, and the great magick number 012 is a glyph of coitus. Only when ordinary consciousness explodes in the shock of orgasm does the normal primate, Homo Sapiens, catch a glimpse of the DNA-mind, the Holy Guardian Angel, Shiva Dancing. (The notorious "secret" of the IXth degree of the Ordo Templi Orientis was that the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel is most likely to be successful if performed during actual coitus.) That this is already coded into The Book of the Law, 1904, and that Crowley only consciously learned the secret from the O.T.O. in 1912, are just other spooky things that happen when the Silent Lobe begins to "speak."

Of course, all of this is quite traditional and ordinary -- the trans-time perspectives of the Silent Lobe were well-explored in India and the Near East millennia ago, and even the sex-magick techniques which made Crowley so controversial in his own time are merely a revival of ancient lore, as can be seen in Payne-Knight's History of the Worship of Priapus and Thomas Wright's Worship of the Generative Organs, two anthropological classics which Crowley always recommended to his students.

What is new, and alarming, about The Book of the Law, and most central to Crowley's commentaries, is the Law of Thelema -- "Do what thou wilt." "Thou has no right but to do thy will." "There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt." Even this is hardly astonishing; is is the way most aristocracies and ruling elites have always acted, while preaching humility and submission to the masses. What is new and what is stressed in the title Dr. Regardie set upon these commentaries is the universalization of this Herrenmoral. "The law is for all," not just the elite. That is the shocker.

What the book seems to advocate goes beyond Nietzsche's intellectualized Social Darwinism, beyond the philosophical egotism of Max Stirner and Ayn Rand, beyond even the wildest flights of de Sade. It is not necessarily advocating the Hobbesian "war of all against all" (see below) but it is definitely a total, complete, unmitigated renunciation of all morality.

Now, I for one have never found this particularly frightening. It is an open secret, carefully hidden from the young but easily discoverable if one peeks into postgraduate texts on social science, that there is no rational basis for preferring any tribe's morality to any other tribe's morality. All are equally arbitrary, capricious and, at least partially, absurd. The morality of Roman Catholics or Fijians or communists or academic humanists or vegetarians is precisely as sensible, and as silly, as the morality of Confucians or snake-worshippers or Samoans or fascists. People will accept any one of these moralities if they have been conditioned to accept it since childhood, and can immediately see how absurd each taboo-system is if they have not been conditioned to it. To be truly educated, in the twentieth century, is to understand this central fact of anthropology, however one chooses to cope with it.

Of course, few have fully adapted to this shocking revelation (just as few have adapted yet to the 100-year-old Darwinian discovery that we are all mammals.) It is particularly amusing that Marxists and liberal humanists -- whose philosophies of dialectical materialism and scientific relativism leave no room at all for absolute morality in the old sense -- are still quite indignant whenever their own value-system is violated. Most intellectuals, indeed, recoil from the facts of cultural relativism as vehemently as any hard-shell Baptist; they cling to some traditional morality, usually the one in which they were raised by their parents, as if to say, "If reason leads us to amorality, to hell with reason!" In view of Buchenwald and Hiroshima, Vietnam and Watergate, there is certainly something to be said for that position.

Nonetheless, we can certainly not be very intelligent, and possibly we cannot even be sane, if we refuse to accept what we know is the truth. However fearful we may be, it might be wise to try facing up to a post-relativistic universe and seeing what we can do about living with the facts. This, evidently, is what The Book of the Law urges and what Crowley bravely attempted to do in the various commentaries collected in The Law Is for All.

In the first place, if there is no absolute morality, mankind yet needs some kind of code to regulate its interactions. (Without rules of the game, we cannot play together, as Alan Watts so charmingly said.) The Book of the Law gives us a possible standard for negotiation, a new basis for judgment: the individual will. "Thou has no right but to do thy will. Do this, and no other shall say nay. For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect."

As Crowley comments, "In practise it is found that those who are willing to fight for their rights are respected, and let alone. The slave-spirit invites oppression." This is a hard doctrine, certainly, but history seems to bear it out. As Robert Heinlein once pointed out, when men fought duels at the slightest affront, there was a much higher standard of courtesy than at present. This is not to invite an elite of alleged supermen to exploit all and sundry, as Nietzsche's system does (or is alleged to do.) "The law is for all." If The Book of the Law does not check A's mammalian tendency to exploit or abuse B by frightening A with a bogey called Morality, it must certainly check A by encouraging B to defend his turf, "by any means necessary," as Chairman Mao used to say.

And does this mean that all conflicts of interest (or opinion) are to be settled by force, by the mightiest "war-engine"? Here we enter the center of the Crowleyan dialectic and confront the paradox of Thelema. I propose that general acceptance of the Thelemic standard would lead to much less violence, not to more.

Is is possible? Or am I just engaging in complicated sophistry? Let us see.

Outside of Machiavelli and the Klingons on Star Trek, one is hard put to name any predators who justified themselves on the blunt grounds, "It is my Will to conquer and exploit you." On the contrary, the most vicious and murderous behavior is virtually always "justified" by some form of tribal morality -- spreading the True Religion, or maintaining Racial Purity, or defending National Security, or some such pompous rationalization. This hypocrisy may be more necessary than we generally realize. It may be impossible to organize even so small a crime as a lynching without some such moralistic balderdash. Certainly it is hard to see how you could get a million men into an army, and march them off to a place where they will attempt to kill another million, who will meanwhile be trying to kill them, on the grounds that "It is my will to have a war next Tuesday." It always seems necessary to tell them "That gang over there needs to be punished for its sins" -- for being Moslems, or Communists, or something foreign.

Certainly, if everybody who was starting a great enterprise, whether a war or something else, were to announce, "It is my will to start such-and-such a project; come along now, you guys," the natural tendency would be to ask, "Is it my will to go along with this -- or would I rather stay where I am and carry out my own will?" Run your eye back over the worst wars, crusades and inquisitions of history, and ask if they could have been organized and carried out among people who accepted the Law of Thelema. It does seem that most of them required a population brainwashed into believing they had a "duty" to obey certain "moral" demands laid upon them by leaders allegedly inspired by God or by history or by some resonant abstraction of that sort.

It is even hard to see how the Law of Thelema, universally applied, would lead to more homicides on an individual basis than we have at present. It can never be A's true will to see B dead; only false ethical teachings and hypocrisy can make it seem that way to A. If A is a true Thelemite, he will know, long before any homicidal thought can enter his head, that he wants B to cease certain behaviors that oppress or annoy him. If A is a true Thelemite, B will not have to guess that A is harboring such thoughts; B will know in no uncertain terms. As in the days of duello, this can only lead to a higher general standard of courtesy and more consideration all around. People only abuse one another as they do nowadays because they think they can get away with it.

Of course, it still remains that it might be A's will to steal B's car. What of it? As de Sade pointed out in his remorselessly logical way, general acceptance of this philosophy may be the best way to ensure an equitable distribution of property. Some of us -- as Max Stirner argued -- would certainly find this preferable to the tyranny and bureaucracy of a socialist state.

In terms of personal mental hygiene, Thelemic thinking is undoubtedly healthier than all traditional morality. If you recognize that your latest problem is totally without "moral" significance -- for instance, you have a disease which you can't, by the wildest stretch of the imagination, blame on anybody -- then it's just a question of coping with the situation as best you can. When you finally realize that people are on the same natural evolutionary continuum with bacteria and wild animals, then you can begin to deal with hostile humans the same way you deal with infections or four-legged predators -- rationally, without claiming you're "right" or they're "wrong." This discourages cruel fanaticism, and encourages sane horse-trading. It is then that one fully appreciates the great liberation implicit in Crowley's "Do What Thou Wilt" and becomes free, really free, instead of being an unwilling actor in a soap opera written by the superstitious barbarians who created morality 30,000 years ago. You are also free of anger, hatred and resentment -- which are great burdens to drop. They live happiest who have understood and forgiven all.

It is in the sexual area, of course, that Crowley's teachings are most beneficial. Almost all the sexual misery and impotence on this backward planet results from sexual morality -- except for the small fraction caused by war wounds (and even war may be the result of sexual frustration caused by stupid morality, as Wilhelm Reich argued.) Surely, the aeon-old exploitation of women would have been impossible without morality, as Crowley argues in some of the bitterest and funniest passages in these commentaries. Just as surely, every idiocy that has grafted itself onto the Women's Liberation movement is another form of morality.

It is in the sexual area that we can most clearly see that the main effect of morality has been to make people more cruel and stupid. Read up on the persecution of any sexual minority -- the homosexuals, the fetishists or whoever -- and you will find it hard to attribute sanity to the human race any longer. Crowley, who sees this with a deadly accuracy, also sees that any minority, if armed with morality and a sense of its own "righteousness," can become as vicious as any majority. His warnings against the excesses of Gay Pride, although written in the 1920s, seem prophetic of some of the idiocies currently infesting avante-garde life in America.

Crowley interprets the Law of Thelema literally, logically, consistently. The gay have the right to be gay; the straight, to be straight; the promiscuous, to be promiscuous; the monogamous, to be monogamous; the virgin, to be virgin. "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." It is hard to find another sexual revolutionary who isn't pushing one preferred mode at the expense of the others, and thus bringing in the cruel "old morality" again in a new guise.

But all this is the sociological, surface aspect of the Book of the Law. More crucial, as we approach the apotheosis of the eighties, is the growing manifestation of the forces that Crowley either transmitted or created. Just to make a list of Aleister Crowley's major teachings or obsessions, all of them linked to the prophecies in the Book, is to describe the major cultural and intellectual revolutions of our time.

He sought to revive Paganism, as the native Western mystical tradition equivalent to yoga; and the new Paganism is everywhere. He opposed Christianity in general and Christian sexual morality in particular; and Christianity, especially its sexual morality, is everywhere in contemptible decline. He rediscovered the use of psychedelic drugs for consciousness expansion; and these drugs played the major, acknowledged role in the artistic innovations of the sixties and are now playing a major, but unacknowledged, role in the scientific breakthroughs of the seventies. He favored the Tarot and I Ching as divinatory methods, and these are the most popular divinations around these days, although the Tarot was practically forgotten in his day and the I Ching nearly unknown in the West. He brilliantly anticipated the liberation of women (despite his own ambiguous attitudes on the subject, the result of negative female imprints from his Fundamentalist mother); and the liberation of women is now re-making everything from the sciences to business. He predicted that contact with nonhuman intelligences would soon revolutionize all our thinking; and several sober scientists are now claiming communication with dolphins, with plants, with extraterrestrials and with a variety of "entities" impossible to categorize in our traditional terms.

Crowley also foreshadowed the revolution in epistemology -- the decline of Aristotelian logic, the coming of quantum theory, Cantor's transfinite numbers, Goedel's proof, relativity, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Bohr's complimentarity, even Bell's theorem. He predicted repeatedly that the fear of death would cease by the end of the twentieth century, and geneticists are now talking about biological immortality, parapsychologists of survival beyond the body. (My own estimate, based on conversations with some of the brightest young researchers, is that by 1990 we will have either longevity and the first step toward biological immortality, or proof of survival after the death of the body, or, quite likely, both. What will people find to worry about after that?)

All of this is implicit in the symbolism of Crowley's Equinox of the Gods -- the change-over from the Aeon of Osiris, the dying God, to the Aeon of Horus, the Lord of Force and Fire who dies not. Remember the explanation of those mysterious hawks associated with Uri Geller (and Dr. Pujarich, although he never mentions Crowley's prophecies, appropriately called the hawk that visited him in Israel "Horus.") The powers that Crowley transmitted and aided are quite clearly more powerful on this planet today than they were when Crowley himself died, in poverty and obscurity, in 1947.

Nobody who wants to understand the mutation occurring among the domesticated primates of Terra can afford to ignore the prophecies and visions, the wit and logic, of The Law Is for All.


Eric Wagner said...

Great stuff. Thanks for publishing this, Tom and Mike G. I just spent the last week hanging out with Joyceans, which I loved, but I needed this dose of RAW.

I also just learned that Joyce biographer Richard Ellmann interviewed Crowley extensively while researching Yeats.

Oz Fritz said...

Thanks for the info on Crowley. I was unaware of this.

I found some account of it here:
about halfway down:
"Wilde’s biographer Richard Ellmann visited Crowley at Hastings (presumably at Netherwood) shortly before the Beast’s death at the age of seventy-two in 1947. He apparently told Professor Ellmann the story of his involvement with Althea Gyles and how the artist became caught up in the psychic battle between Yeats and Crowley for control of the Golden Dawn. Ellmann published an article, ‘Black Magic Against White: Aleister Crowley Versus W. B. Yeats’, in the Partisan Review in 1948, based on the account Crowley gave him."

It goes on from there.

michael said...

Anyone know where Ellmann's article Oz Fritz cited above is collected/housed?

Thanks for Mikey G and Tom for this piece, which I had never seen.

I hope Gathers has been Bogarting far more RAW articles than he had ever let on. Dude! Pass around another!

Neil_in_Chicago said...

don'cha just love coincidence? A week or so ago, I was going through a box of old sf magazines, and there was a copy of the Analog with the big pyramid and the guy in the Horus/hawk helmet on the cover, which reminded me of this nest of synchronicities of RAW's. (The mag is in some of his own accounts.)

However, I'm commenting here because anyone who hasn't read Tom Whitmore's utterly unbelieveable account, Raiders of the Lost Basement should read it RIGHT NOW. I mean, what are the odds it was the owner of a science fiction bookstore, who had all the personal connections necessary . . .

Unknown said...

This explained so much, thank you! I heard RAW had some illuminating commentaries on Crowley's work and found it interesting that he made a comparison of the Law with Nietzschean philosophy and 20th century paradigm shifts.