THE TRUE BELIEVER: Drugs seduce the weak, but so let it be: as it is written: “stamp down the wretched & the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world.” Let all the world take these drugs so that millions may awaken to Our Law, and fear not that some must suffer early rebirth, a small penalty for a glimpse of the Dawn upon the East. Yet let the aspirant beware of addiction, obsession, and sleepiness, lest he be like my great rival, who I will not deign to mention here except by reference to the well-known failings of his mother and his charter. True, I had eaten bad mushrooms when I became a Master of the Temple, but I swore the Oath, and that’s what matters.

“Hashish at least gives proof of a new order of consciousness, and (it seems to me) it is this primâ facie case that mystics have always needed to make out, and never have made out.”

THE CHAOTIC: Crowley was a drug revolutionary for his time, and researchers like Timothy Leary, Stanislav Grof, and Terence McKenna are indebted to him. That said, I’m supposed to limit my use of psychedelics until I can do what? I’d never have tripped if I thought I needed to climb to Nepal and study at someone’s feet first. LSD and MDMA didn’t even exist in Crowley’s time and they’ve changed the old rules.

THE SKEPTIC: Psychedelic drugs were once erroneously known as psychotomimetic drugs, that is, drugs that induced psychotic symptoms. While this turned out to be more false than true, the use of psychotropic drugs in visionary experience inevitably raises the questions of delusion and disorder. Again, though, we must beware of reductionism. Changes induced by such means as drugs, psychosis or harsh spiritual practices such as fasting or flagellation may be pathological in one sense, but they induce states of

consciousness which deserve study if only because they are hard to explain. These states might shed light on the study of consciousness as well as the treatment of mental illness.

Given this and Crowley’s reliance on the reinterpreted Book of Revelation, it would not be far off the mark to call Thelema itself a form of esoteric Christianity.

THE MYSTIC: The experiences induced by drugs are lesser mysteries, tools useful only to the very beginner who needs to break the grip of ordinary consciousness, and to the experienced mage who possesses the strength of mind to resist the blandishments of drugs. Drugs do not represent a shortcut; nothing can substitute for one’s own spiritual work, and only in rare circumstances can they be combined. As for the slanders raised against my mother, I only note my pity at the depths to which the Qliphoth can ensnare the unwary or inept drug experimenter. I would wish him well in the next life if he were not on the road to utter destruction, and I have given his address to the police.

CHRIST AND LUCIFER

Crowley’s hostility to Christianity was vitriolic and intense. There are many Thelemites who are equally hostile and would not accept or admit that any part of Christianity, esoteric or not, is part of Thelema. The exclusion of Christian symbolism does not reflect Crowley’s usage. Biographically, Crowley’s hatred of Christianity began with his upbringing in the Protestant tradition known as the Plymouth Brethren, to which his parents belonged. Moralistic and restrictive, the Plymouth Brethren were also obsessed with the Book of Revelation. His mother called the rebellious Crowley “the Beast” early in life well before The Book of the Law confirmed him in this title.

Lawrence Sutin credibly suggests in his biography Do What Thou Wilt that one thing Crowley despised about the Plymouth Brethren was its Quaker-like egalitarianism. This might explain the rigid hierarchies of Crowley’s groups and his support for the Golden Dawn’s heavy-handed leader MacGregor Mathers.

The Christian elements of his system were in part meant to annoy Christians.

Crowley’s theory of ancient sex magick revolves around the Gnostics, a group of ancient Christian-Jewish-Pagan fusion sects who preoccupied 19th century occultists. The 20th century discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library made Crowley’s ideas of Gnosticism obsolete, but he believed the Gnostics had been sex magicians who held the sexual inner keys of the formula of the Eucharist of the Catholic Mass, a symbolic form of a central sexual secret carried down by the occult underground through the centuries. Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, one of his most frequently practiced rituals today, is meant to restore his idea of the pre-Christian secret to its proper place of reverence. Given this and Crowley’s reliance on the reinterpreted Book of Revelation, it would not be far off the mark to call Thelema itself a form of esoteric Christianity. [Emphasis added, Metzger]

Placing the symbols of others’ religions into one’s own syncretistic system is often considered offensive. An examination of the column for Christianity in Crowley’s 777 reveals a wicked sense of humor at work. “God the Holy Ghost (as Incubus)” in the place of Yesod, for instance, smacks of gleeful wickedness. Similar forms of protest are evident in the Gnostic Mass and the O.T.O.’s Trinitarian central secret. The Christian elements of his system were in part meant to annoy Christians.

However, it would be a mistake to treat the Gnostic Mass and similar Christian elements in Thelema as low parodies merely meant to offend. Christian symbols appear at the very heart of Crowley’s system and his sincere devotion to them is apparent. For Crowley there was pleasure in using Christian symbols in transgressive ways, but that was not his primary motive in using symbols like the Rose and Cross, or the Great Beast and Scarlet Woman. These symbols had personal significance and his interpretations were sincere despite their elements of protest.

As an opponent of Christianity, Crowley was drawn by the examples of the literary “Satanic school” and the seminal French magician Eliphas Levi to reinterpret the Devil in positive terms. The “Satanic school,” like Gnosticism, is a post facto interpretive category and not an organization or an historical meeting. It includes poets and playwrights such as Byron, Shelley, Blake, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and Shaw. In occultism, Blavatsky had expressed her sympathy for the fall of the angels as the source of Liberty in her history of the solar system, as reflected in the name of her periodical Lucifer, not to be confused with the Free Love magazine of the same name. With the shaking

of sexual taboos came the suspicion that perhaps Satan was not such a bad fellow after all.

Belief in the witch or black magician exists in all cultures. These reputed malefactors delight in wreaking havoc and raining ill fortune on the community. Although there are curses in magical practice, nothing real corresponds with the ancient horror that anthropologists call witchcraft.

With the shaking of sexual taboos came the suspicion that perhaps Satan was not such a bad fellow after all.

Literary Satanism was nothing like the popular idea of “Satanism.” Thus one must be hesitant to call Crowley, or anyone, a Satanist, because that would invoke legend rather than reality. In this sense there is no such thing as a Satanist. In a broader sense, though, there is a kind of Satanism in Prometheus Unbound and The Devil’s Disciple, in Beyond Good and Evil, in Rabelais, Louys and Blake, and in Levi, Blavatsky, and Crowley.

It would hardly be credible to deny that Crowley was part of the Satanic school in this broader sense, since Thelema contains elements traditionally associated with Satan, and the name Satan itself is used with respect in rituals, poems and essays. The Great Beast and the Scarlet Woman are associated with “the dragon, Satan” in the Bible’s book of Revelation. Crowley makes many statements which interpret Satan in a positive light throughout his career, from his dedication to an early poem (“Why Jesus Wept,” 1905) which says “I, at once a higher mystic and a colder skeptic, found my Messiah in Charles Watts, and the Devil and all his angels” to a late essay on the Tarot trump The Devil (The Book of Thoth, 1944) that “the card represents creative energy in its most material form; in the Zodiac, Capricorn occupies the Zenith. It is the most exalted of the signs; it is the goat leaping with lust upon the summits of earth… the formula of this card is then the complete appreciation of all existing things. He rejoices in the rugged and the barren no less than in the smooth and the fertile. All things equally exalt him. He represents the finding of ecstasy in every phenomenon, however naturally repugnant; he transcends all limitations; he is Pan; he is All.”

Crowley’s “Satanism,” if it can be called that, is not very oppositional in itself, though it partakes of rebellion. Satan to Crowley is a misunderstood symbol for the sacred energies of sex. He writes about these positive sexual

qualities much more than he dwells on Satan as the opposition to God. Their opposition is a Christian concept that he rejects. There is an irony and a playfulness in his use of Satan, but Crowley’s Satan is a surprisingly sunny figure, just as Crowley explained the meaning of his adopted number, 666, as “little sunshine.” As Blake could embrace both Los and Christ, Crowley was a curiously Christian Satanist.

ALEISTER CROWLEY. “The Devil does not exist. It is a false name invented by the Black Brothers to imply a Unity in their ignorant muddle of dispersions. A devil who had unity would be a God.

‘The Devil’ is, historically, the God of any people that one personally dislikes. This has led to so much confusion of thought that THE BEAST 666 has preferred to let names stand as they are, and to proclaim simply that AIWAZ—the solar-phallic-hermetic ‘Lucifer’—is His own Holy Guardian Angel, and ‘The Devil’ SATAN or HADIT of our particular unit of the Starry Universe. This serpent, SATAN, is not the enemy of Man, but He who made Gods of our race, knowing Good and Evil; He bade ‘Know Thyself!’ and taught Initiation. He is ‘the Devil’ of the Book of Thoth, and His emblem is BAPHOMET, the Androgyne who is the hieroglyph of arcane perfection. The number of His Atu is XV, which is yod he, the Monogram of the Eternal, the Father one with the Mother, the Virgin Seed one with all-containing Space. He is therefore Life, and Love.“—Magick in Theory and Practice, XXI:II.

Belief in the witch or black magician exists in all cultures. These reputed malefactors delight in wreaking havoc and raining ill fortune on the community. Although there are curses in magical practice, nothing real corresponds with the ancient horror that anthropologists call witchcraft.

“It seems as if I possessed a theology of my own which was, to all intents and purposes, Christianity. My satanism did not interfere with it at all; I was trying to take the view that the Christianity of hypocrisy and cruelty was not true Christianity. I did not hate God or Christ, but merely the God and Christ of the people whom I hated. It was only when the development of my logical faculties supplied the demonstration that I was compelled to set myself in opposition to the Bible itself. It does not matter that the literature is sometimes magnificent and that in isolated passages the philosophy and

ethics are admirable. The sum of the matter is that Judaism is a savage, and Christianity a fiendish, superstition.“—The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, chapter 6.

“It seems as if I possessed a theology of my own which was, to all intents and purposes, Christianity. My satanism did not interfere with it at all; I was trying to take the view that the Christianity of hypocrisy and cruelty was not true Christianity. I did not hate God or Christ, but merely the God and Christ of the people whom I hated.”

THE TRUE BELIEVER: Christianity is the curse of the world. Those who cling to it in the new Æon of Horus will be banished when the Sun shall fully rise. When the Prophet wrote “the Christians to the lions!” He did not speak idly or in jest. Christians are the enemies of Freedom and they do not even understand the few fragments of the Secret Tradition that are perverted in their rites. Only when they are all dead and gone can we truly become as “a strong Man who goeth forth to do his Will.”

THE CHAOTIC: Christianity is the hand with the stick that has instilled shame and guilt as virtues so we have a whole society of mass-produced clone-farm humanoids who are afraid to think. The way to dissolve these shackles on a mass scale is through a culture of individuality and the reality distortion effect that has become the dominant paradigm. Christians are plodding, literal robots who would probably lock up all the magicians if they could get away with it.

THE SKEPTIC: Christianity’s failings are well known to those of us who come from Christian cultures. We are less aware of similar problems in other cultures and religions. Of the many faiths, Christianity is among those adapting most quickly to the modern world and the idea of human rights, and now at the start of the 21st century liberal theologies are taken seriously in many mainstream denominations. It is hard to find a Thelemic group as devoted to pluralism as liberal Christian groups and Unitarian-Universalism.

THE MYSTIC: The Equinox of the Gods has come as it does every two thousand years, installing new Officers and Rites, and sweeping away the darkness of the old ways. Where once blazed the Cross of Suffering as the Sun of Beauty now there is the Crowned and Conquering Child, whose message is not of salvation from without but Grace from Within, the

Kingdom of Heaven that is within you. Through all the Æons there is one thread of tradition and one Great White Brotherhood whose immortal spiritual Chiefs share the Wisdom of their Teaching with humanity. The Christians could not destroy the Gnosis and now the Initiates of the Sanctuary of the Gnosis have embraced the formula propounded at the new Equinox with Joy and Love in their hearts.

CROWLEY’S PERSONALITY

Aleister Crowley was talented, intelligent, capable, arrogant, judgmental, prejudiced, and not afraid to turn polite-ness aside if it would get in the way of a good insult. His talents extended to ritual and meditative practice, writing, mountain climbing, sexual athletics, attracting followers, and achieving publicity. His vices went as far as anti-Semitic blood libel, rabid hostility to Christianity, misogyny, child neglect, loss of friends, obnoxiousness, and megalomania.

There are marked similarities between Crowley, MacGregor Mathers, his mentor in the Golden Dawn, and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society. All three were charming, impressive, well-read, anger-prone, tough-talking international spiritual leaders. They were creators of new religious traditions when traditional belief in Christianity was on the decline due to science and knowledge of Eastern and pre-Christian religions. Followers were drawn to them by their magnetism, energy and talent, but frequently did not know what to make of their character flaws. In each case there is cause to suspect mental disorder by the criteria of modern psychology, but Szasz and Laing remind us that inspired wisdom is often socially condemned as insanity. Moralistic, pathologizing or reductionist accounts of “insane” people are necessarily oversimplifications. In some cases, such as Crowley’s, the “insane” person provides so much ammunition that character assassination becomes inevitable.