Book Review: Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley

Book Review: Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley September 13, 2010

{Aleister Crowley. Diary of a Drug Fiends. Weiser Books 2010. 368 pages. $18.95}

Review by Star Foster

Why on earth should you read this book? I know I asked myself that question. What moral, spiritual or religious value could be found within? It is the story of a couple who ride the highs of heroin and cocaine until they find themselves addicted, degraded and enslaved to their habit. Through Thelema they find salvation from the demands of heroin. The book is more than just an advertisement for the curative powers of the disciplines of Thelema. It’s also an insight into our own addictions and habit and our pursuit of our own spiritual work.

The book has a lot of faults, from bad science to obvious propaganda to a ridiculous bourgeois perspective. Yet, for all it’s faults, the book is quite a gem. It provides a very unique insight into one of the most celebrated occultists of the modern age and in it’s self-conscious way gives a heartfelt and charming introduction to the religion of Thelema.

As an insight into Crowley the book is invaluable. I found myself many times wondering if Crowley envisioned himself as Lamus, Pendragon, or both? While the horror of drug addiction is described rather graphically, the book does seem to be Crowley grappling with and justifying his own addiction to heroin. Crowley remained addicted to heroin until his death, 25 years after Diary of a Drug Fiend was published. The single most troubling aspect of the book is the idea that heroin, morphine, laudanum and other opiates are perfectly wonderful things if you just have the right attitude about them.  I have no doubt that Crowley truly believed this but from our vantage point almost one hundred years later the very idea is horrific. The very idea of advocating heroin for spiritual enlightenment is anathema to my very soul.

However, I do think his ideas regarding addiction have merit. We have many habits that don’t change the chemical makeup of our brain and are perfectly legal, yet they still distract us and prevent us from doing our True Will. His very idea of keeping track of our habits is sound advice. Whether it’s tobacco, television, iPhones or ice cream, we all have some standby to keep the silence at bay, when sometimes it’s the silence we truly need.

I enjoy these stories about the visions and insights received under the influence of drugs, because it is comforting for me to know I have received these highs and avoided these lows by the non-addictive practices of meditation, trance and ecstatic dance. It’s nice now and then to be reminded that you can open your consciousness without losing your freedom. Reading about people using drugs to become enlightened reassures me I am not missing anything by abstaining.

I also enjoyed his idealized vision of the Abbey of Thelema. It’s been said that perhaps we should consider the worth of  historical characters by their motives, rather than the outcomes of their deeds. Many men have accomplished great things for horrid reasons. While the Abbey did not survive the fascists, his vision of it did. The real Abbey may have bourne little resemblance to the one he describes in the book, but it is a lofty goal. I like that.

I also enjoyed the discussions the characters have about Thelema and True Will. Minus the heroin, it’s a very wholesome sort of introduction to Thelemic philosophy with just a taste of Thelemic religion. As a Wiccan I know I owe a philosophical and liturgical debt to Thelema and the last third of this book was a nice way to revisit those roots.

So yes, there are a lot of things to complain about in this book. My particular beef being Lou’s discovering her True Will as the one chance for the book to truly stand out and yet it caves into this Victorian misogyny that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Yes some of the language is overblown and the whole of Lamus’ behavior up until the last 50 pages annoys the crap out of me. Yes, it’s an advertisement wrapped up in a novel. Yes, it glamorizes very dangerous drugs. Had Crowley merely written about drugs or a novel about the wholesomeness of the Abbey of Thelema the story wouldn’t have been nearly as effective, or as likely to have been published. Not only is this a fascinating look at addiction from our history, for the discerning reader, the book is also a useful tool for exploring the concept of True Will.

The Weiser edition is a good size with period appropriate fonts and an odd picture of someone smoking opium on the front, which fits the spirit if not the facts of the book. My only complaint is that a brief autobiography of Crowley and a bit of history and science regarding heroin would have been really nice. Altogether, a really fascinating book. I will likely read it again.

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  • 93,

    Nice review. I always thought Crowley projected aspects of himself into Lamus, Pendragon, AND Iff.

    AC wrote in notes:

    “Peter Pendragon. A composite figure, but mostly imagined – i.e. he is my idea of a fairly common type. The worst elements are drawn accurately from one Cecil Maitland, son of the Revd. Maitland (of a junior branch of the family of the Earls of Lauderdale), a renegade Romish priest notorious in the ‘Oxford Movement’…

    King Lamus. As nearly as possible an accurate self-portrait in all respects. I merely avoided physical stigmata which would have made identification impossible to miss.

    Simon Iff, a wish-phantasm of myself as an old man…”

    93 93/93