Mary d’Este Desti Dempsey Sturges aka Soror Virakam aka Soror Iliel aka Lisa la Giuffria
Week Nineteen (p.315-323 Hilaritas edition, Chapter 9&10 Part III all editions)
By Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
Unsurprisingly, Sartines’ honest viewpoint is almost identical to Signor Duccio’s or whomever might be the true “Spartacus.” Naturally, de Selby is somehow able to pick up on Sartines’ moment of hesitation hundreds of years in the future and record a laterally accurate hazard to who the original author might have been.
Behind all the insurmountable chaos and extrajudicial jailings there is an invisible hand as Cagliostro begins the transition.
Maria’s Daybook immediately lets us know that Lady Babcock’s psychic connection to Sigismundo is still intact; her prayer might do more for Sigismundo than any other effect within the pages of the narrative. Maria is perhaps able to think more kindly of Sigismundo, though she does try to bury the idea of him as quickly as she may, because of the news about Carlo’s virility and marriage. The d’Este family was/is a noble family of northern Italian descent that had/has ties to the house of Hapsburg.
A more interesting d’Este is a d’Este that never was: Mary d’Este, born Mary Dempsey. Dempsey was born in the American Midwest around the turn of the century and gave birth to Preston Sturges, a Hollywood polymath during the 30s and 40s (also producer of one of my all time favorite films, I Married a Witch). Dempsey, perhaps inspired by that New Thought ethos that meshed so well with the American frontier can-do attitude that enabled people to claim things that weren’t actually theirs, decided that her name was actually a mispronunciation of d’Este- she was actually royalty.
Presumably Mary d’Este is the name that she was going by when she met and befriended Isadora Duncan and later became her secretary.She had travelled to Europe and met Duncan in Paris while she was presumably studying theater. It was during this time that she also met Aleister Crowley. She became Crowley’s Scarlet Woman for a time around 1911 and they travelled to a place “beyond Rome” where he began to compose Book IV under the guidance of the disembodied spirit Ab-ul-Diz. Crowley details how d’Este, or Soror Virakam, began to channel Ab-ul-Diz and the precautions he took to make sure that the spirit was an objective being, similar to the measures he took to make sure Rose wasn’t just having a lark back in 1904. He also details how she claimed to know where they would write Book IV as she had seen their villa in a dream.
Crowley and Virakam travelled to Posillipo, near Naples to pick up “Vikaram’s [sic.] brat- a most godforsaken lout” (as Crowley refers to the young Preston Sturges) for Christmas. While travelling about the countryside Virakam/d’Este/Dempsey shouted that before them was the exact villa she had seen. The villa also fulfilled some requirements that Crowley had come up with using his own methods of magical deduction having to do with “Persian nuts.” (I can’t believe how much of my life I have based on what this guy says.) They rented the villa and began the book.
Soror Virakam is given author’s credit, along with Leia Waddell and Mary Butts, for Book IV which many consider to be Crowley’s master publishing achievement. Predictably, d’Este and Crowley had a falling out. He would paint a rather unflattering portrait of her in his novel Moonchild where she went by the name of Lisa la Giuffria. La Giuffria is portrayed as an indolent faddist who betrays Crowley (Cyril Grey) to the Black Lodge (led by characters based on Samuel Mathers, Arthur Waite, William Westcott, Yeats, and Annie Besant) causing the failure of the Butterfly Net Operation. Of course this is all part of the White Lodge’s, led by Simon Iff (also Crowley), plan.
Around this time d’Este was running a cosmetic company under her regal name which attracted the attention of the actual d’Este family who basically sent her a cease and desist. She did and changed her name to Desti. Desti/d’Este/Virakam/Dempsey/la Giuffria never really got the hang of traditional motherhood. In one incident in 1915 she left Preston on the docks after running after Duncan to join her on a voyage to France. Despite her unconventional lifestyle she seemed to have been remembered fondly by Sturges and the article where I found out much about her non-Crowley related life details how she was obviously an influence for many of his female leads. She certainly lived quite a life.
Mistress Kyte reads the cards for James and reveals the Hanged Man- while she is apologetic in the best theatrical card reader manner, he is comfortable with the shuffle. It is the card of every Irishman. The Hanged Man is probably one of the most romanticized of any of the Trumps, appearing in famous works such as Eliot’s The Wasteland with the familiar phrase “death by water.” The Hanged Man in the Thoth tarot represents the Hebrew mother letter Mem and the element of water- Crowley writes that it represents “the supreme adeptship” of the new Aeon but also warns that water is the element of illusion and in this capacity the card may allow leaks of Old Aeon sacrifice-fetishization through into the New. Crowley roundly castigates this idea and proclaims that the ethos of sacrifice must be done away with as well as the notion of redemption. Redemption implies debt, says Crowley, as stars owe nothing. Alas, in the eighteenth century, James Moon has a while before the Hanged Man means little else aside from drowning and sacrifice.
Maria gets The Star which is chock full of feminine, mystical, and Thelemic imagery which I believe Oz will do a much better job of explaining. Finally Sir John receives the Prince of Wands, Air of Fire, which is notably the card that Crowley identified with the most and of which he writes very poetically in The Book of Thoth.
The discourse on the bear god should be familiar to RAW readers as it is something he dwells on elsewhere. We end with Franklin grappling a maid and marvelling at the revelations brought back from Cook’s journey.
Happy New Year everyone. As John Higgs said in his last newsletter, we’re moving from an ill-defined decade into one that will be much different. A time where time-travellers will want to visit. Good luck to everyone.
From Eric: “In honor of Maria Babcock, I have chosen more Handel this week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qUhY2Tcwg4 .
Peace and welcome to the Twenties!”