Aleister Crowley was born on this day, October 12th, in 1875.
He is one of those figures I visit in this blog from time to time. The last time looks to be five years ago. What follows is an updated version of that last entry.
I believe the first time I became aware of Aleister Crowley was when I was living in a Zen monastery in Oakland, California. The writer Alan Watts handed on a copy of Crowley’s autobiography to Jiyu Kennett Roshi, the head of the monastery.
It had been given to Watts by his publisher who, thanks to some timely introductions facilitated by the good Dr Watts, was soon to be the roshi’s publisher, as well.
As it turned out when Kennett Roshi was a small child in England she and other children were told to be good otherwise Aleister Crowley would steal and eat them. Mr Crowley spent a lot of time cultivating a reputation as the “Wickedest Man in the World.” It was, as we might say today, part of his brand.
The roshi had an interest in the occult herself and so read the book. Over the next year she used it as a text in what she called “anti-enlightenment,” which she used in an ongoing seminar for her “senior” students. So, I became familiar with the old boy, if through a rather backhanded way.
I confess zero interest in matters occult. It’s kind of a gut thing. There’s so much in the world that it is impossible to attend to it all. And, way early on, I found a simple first sort is if assertions about reality are not replicable by third parties I just move on.
I did, however, find I rather liked occultists. As a lot they’re quite interesting. And so later I discovered and became a big fan of the participant observer of the occult movement in England and to some degree North America, Francis X King, whose books were witty, snarky, and filled with the gossip of the phenomenon of Anglo-American occultism from the last decades of the Nineteenth through the first half or so of the Twentieth centuries.
I snacked on the biographies and histories like candied popcorn. Mr King’s forays into practical magic, again, just didn’t capture my attention. I still, however, have odds and ends of lore about the figures in that movement rattling around in the dark corners of my head. Ask me sometime about the Anglican cleric and alchemist who, according to Mr King could “entertain any idea so long as it was sufficiently unlikely.”
I think the majority of folk who read this blog have at least a passing interest in Buddhism. And, speaking of passing, there were actually a couple of passing Buddhist connections to him. Most notably one of Crowley’s early and very close associates, Allan Bennett is generally believed to be the second Englishman to become a Buddhist monk, and who would also establish the first Buddhist mission in England.
Mr Crowley would eventually become the prophet of a religion whose motto was “Do what thou wilt is the whole the whole of the Law.” His religion’s primary holy text, a channeled document, the Book of the Law has one passing reference to Buddhism as one of the religions the new one is intended to replace.
Crowley traveled widely in Asia, including visiting Bennett, now Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya, and took sufficient interest in Buddhism to write an essay favorably comparing Buddhism and science. However, the occultist quickly moved on to the word salad that seems closely associated with much of occult writing, and, I fear lost my interest.
Crowley also did a “translation” of the Tao de Ching. For a taste of word salad, his version of chapter one.
The Tao-Path is not the All-Path. The Names is not the Thing named.
Unmanifested, it is the Secret Father of Heaven and Earth;
manifested, it is their Mother.
To understand this Mystery,one must be fulfilling one’s will, and if one is not thus free, one will but gain a smattering of it.
The Tao is one, and the The but a phase thereof. The abyss of this Mystery is the Portal of Serpent-Wonder.
That for me is sufficient evidence that there isn’t much in his teachings to attract most who find Buddhism, or Taoism for that matter, compelling.
His great passion was magic, and particularly magic that used sexual energies. Of course, there’s also his church. And, my oh my, bottom line: his is one heck of a story.
And, so, I find myself thinking of him.
Today he would have been one hundred, and forty-six years old. How time flies…