Week Eight: Chapter Eight “My Lady Greensleeves” pg. 139-147 Hilaritas Press editionBy Gregory Arnott
Special guest blogger
After asking Oz for confirmation, I am confident in saying that the structure of this chapter is taken from Crowley’s Liber Aleph. This is ironic for a chapter dealing explicitly with Maria’s initiation into a Wiccan coven as Oz pointed out that Liber Aleph was written as a series of letters from father to son. (Specifically from Crowley to Charles Stansfeld Jones, better known as Frater Achad, his “magical son.”) The intermittent Latin titles are used throughout Liber Aleph and Robert Anton Wilson uses the same device in Masks of the Illuminati. The biblical phrase for He is like a refiner’s fire also appears prominently in the earlier novel. The tone of this chapter, specifically the ecclesiastic sounding “yea, the…” repetition, is also taken from Crowley’s Holy Texts.
Here is my Google-assisted hack-job translation of the titles, considering the action that happens following each title I believe my unwieldy versions make some sense:
The Hardening of Man
On the Danger of Alternative Love
On the Four Equal Virtues
The Female Formula
The Crazy Love
The Great Works of the Microcosmic Star of Which there is Four
The Secret Horror
The Delicate Powers of Art and Love
Hold, Illegitimate Vigor
The coven that Maria is initiated into is more-or-less an anachronism with the language taken from post-Gardnerian Wicca. Bear with me and for any neo-pagans who might be reading, I’m not trying to be offensive.
The fact that the language is so strongly influenced by Crowley’s writings is appropriate. As Kenneth Grant and other writers have related, during the Twilight of the Magicians, the lingering years of the two great English occultists of the 20th century, namely Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare, an eccentric customs-officer named Gerald Gardner was lurking around in their company.
Gardner, who follows in the grand tradition of magic by being a goddamn liar, claimed that his Wiccan practices were derived from a coven that had kept pre-Christian religion alive. He had mostly made up his practices from stitching together elements of the, now discredited, anthropological studies of Margaret Murray about a supposed witch-cult, Freemasonry, and ceremonial magic. In fact, the three degree ceremonies presented by Gardner for the purpose of Wicca were penned by, wait for it....Aleister Crowley.
Curiously, RAW’s use of terms such as “women’s mysteries” and the “burning times” doesn’t appear to be ironic. I believe this is curious when we consider how much hostility towards some late-twentieth century academic models of femininity RAW displayed in his writings, especially since both of those terms are complete, artless bullshit. The concept of “women’s mysteries” bastardized the study of pre-modern religion and tried to replace the complex mythological development of goddesses such as Demeter, Sekmet, Selene, and Isis into a group of gentle Montessori teachers whose feminist, pre-agricultural utopia was ruined by the arrival of phallic gods. Given that there is nary a drop of historical evidence for these gentle matriarchal societies and that the historical record of how these goddesses were apprised and worshipped is much more ambiguous didn’t stop the believers from trying to rewrite history. (Though Crowley doesn’t spend the time moralizing like later witches, it is worth noting that according to his structure of history the first Aeon was matriarchal and was subsumed by the agricultural-phallic second Aeon. We are now in the third Aeon where the focus is on the development of the complete person, the child, and individual sexual dimorphism seems to be the rule of the day.) Perhaps even more annoying is the use of the idea of “the burning times” which, forgive me, is such a stupid fucking concept my ears bleed anytime I hear someone utter it.
There was no “burning time” that modern covens suffered through and survived underground as they watched legions of innocent believers of the “old religion” burn at the stake. Historical evidence, known as far back as the turn of the twentieth, indicates that pretty much every witch hunt was either a power-play by ruling/ecclesiastic authorities or the result of hysteria. The excellent Swedish film Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages presents a compelling and intelligent examination of these phenomena- even better, watch the version with William S. Burroughs narrating.
In conclusion, this chapter is made up, not that big of a revelation in a novel, almost whole cloth from twentieth century notions that couldn’t have existed because ceremonial magic hadn’t come along to create them yet. The notion of the four elements was around at the time but the codification of what those elements mean “spiritually” wasn’t wholly accomplished until a bunch of old Rosicrucians got together to combine the works of Paracelsus, Agrippa, the Qabalah, and Tarot into one system of magic. A study of the Tarot will reveal how many of our romantic notions (for example, that the modern playing deck is derived from the cards smuggled from ancient Egypt) are entirely erroneous. Indeed, before Moina and MacGregor Mathers codified the Qabalah to to the Tarot, building on the work of Eliphas Levi, any use of it for divination or meditation would have been no more sophisticated than basic cartomancy. Even the pentagram, today used as a symbol of neo-paganism, wasn’t imbued with its microcosmic significance until the Golden Dawn came along to create the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and their study materials.
Yes, there are examples of the four elements, the four apostles, the four faces of Ezekiel’s angels throughout history, but to say that there was a working system of knowledge, linked with similarly initiated members throughout history is as romantic and ahistorical a notion as the existence of Sigismundo Celine, Old Kyte, and Maria Babcock. And blimey, I haven’t talked about anything that actually happens in the chapter -- I guess that’s a sign that it’s time for me to get to bed before I become any crankier and end up with a crudely fashioned crystal tipped wand through my throat or a mail order athame through the heart.
The stuff about the I Ching is mostly accurate in that Leibniz was obsessed with the similarities between the Hexagrams and his notions of binomial numbers and Calculus, however it would still be almost a century before writers began to connect the I Ching to Western Mysticism. The pioneer of this connection? You guessed it, Aleister Crowley.
From Eric: A soundtrack for our “Study-Group or Coven or whatever this was called” (Nature’s God, pg. 142). https://youtu.be/nwn2zd8ROlQ
My own musical offering: https://youtu.be/zE4yQxRvWGU