Weird Old Uncle Al

OK, so it’s been a few years since I bothered with a blog (my first one was back before the term ‘blog’ was coined). I’m a little bored these days, so I’ll get back to it. Too bad I deleted the old one with all its contents, but what can you do. It’s not the least of my regrets, I’ll have you know.

crowelywiccaI’m always flabbergasted about the Wiccan—and Pagan in general—dislike of that strange old Alfred Hitchcock-lookin’ oddball, Aleister Crowley. OK, sure, the guy didn’t have a Christopher Lee basso profundo voice like one might expect; in fact he sounded like the priest in The Princess Bride. One can almost hear him solemnly intoning “Mawiage…Sacred Mawiage, of gods and men, is what bwings us togethah today.” (No, seriously. Go listen).

Sure, they called him ‘the wickedest man in the world’. Big deal. Being a wicked man in the immediate post-Victorian period wasn’t exactly difficult, was it (plus that’s rich coming from the colonial British establishment of the day). What was so wicked about the man, anyway? Well, he was fond of having sex with men (he was wilder than Oscar), getting high, and freaking out the squares. Hell, that’s half of my gay friends right there, and the only thing wicked about any of them is their love of bad club music and their withering sense of snark. And yeah, he did like to leave a steaming pile of shit on people’s doorsteps now and then—but that’s what you get when the Great Beast knocks in late October and you’re handing out apples instead of a full sized Snickers bar. You’ve got it coming in that case, and the 8 year old in me has no sympathy for you (my current “adult” self has little either, you cheapskate, and so help me, you bastards who hand out Chick comics….they’re warming up the Ivan the Terrible suite in the southwest corner of Hell for you).

Anyway.

The accusations frequently leveled against him are rarely based in fact, although sometimes in his writings, which (as noted above) were intended to freak people out. A few pages into Magick in Theory and Practice one finds the quote, referring to a magical sacrifice, “…one must accordingly choose the victim which contains the greatest and purest force. A male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory suitable victim.” He also noted he performed this sacrifice about 150 times a year. Reference to the rest of his work makes it clear that by such a child he meant ejaculation (the only thing other than meditating that Crowley crowed about doing so much). It tells us a lot about Victorian morality that one couldn’t write openly about masturbation, but could use terminology related to child sacrifice in print (or as South Park has put it, showing the same attitude still exists in contemporary America, “horrific deplorable violence is okay, as long as no one says any naughty words”.

Don’t get me wrong, the man was surely an asshole of the highest caliber. You wouldn’t want to bring him home to meet Mother (or Father for that matter, unless one or both was in a dry spell and you didn’t much like them), but the reputation with which he’s been slapped is certainly hyperbolic. So what’s the deal? A broken oath taken during the Golden Dawn initiations? Pshaw. Gardner and the Farrars have been accused of the same yet Wiccans are still drawing heavily on those folks (even if they won’t admit it). Plus it’s rather amusing, as Crowley himself noted, to swear a terrible oath to protect mystical secrets, and then being handed the Hebrew alphabet as the first of these (I wonder if my Biblical Hebrew prof knows he’s now on some heebie-jeebie Secret Masters hit list).

The man even had the respect of more ‘respectable’ occultists of his day, including that lovely lady, Dion Fortune (see Alan Richardson’s Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune: The Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age, which is based in part on previously unpublished correspondence between the two). So, Wiccans, chill out on the old fella.

And of course no mention of Crowley in the context of Wicca is possible without the whole “Crowley wrote the Book of Shadows OMG WTF BBQ” bit of crap. Sure, GBG (and a metric shit ton of other witches) have used quotes from Crowley’s work but so what? A few quotes don’t mean Jack (Parsons or otherwise). If that’s the case then my Masters’ thesis (and everyone else’s) was written by someone else as well and some other jackass should be paying off my loans (but can leave my name on the parchment thankyewverymuch).

It should be noted that Weird Uncle Al certainly foresaw the rise of Wicca and the rest of the Pagan movement well before GBG burst onto the scene (with his voluminous coattails that had room for Sanders, Cochrane, and all the rest). Near the beginning of the First World War, while Gardner was still kickin’ it in Malaya, sippin’ on Djinn and juice, Crowley wrote,

“…the time is just ripe for a natural religion. People like rites and ceremonies, and they are tired of hypothetical gods. Insist on the real benefits of the sun, the Mother-Force, the Father-Force, and so on; and show that by celebrating these benefits worthily the worshipers unite themselves more fully with the current of life. Let the religion be Joy, but with a worthy and dignified sorrow in death itself; and treat death as an ordeal, an initiation…in short, be the founder of a new and greater Pagan cult.”

Sure, he didn’t mention nudity, which was part of Gardner’s naked ambitions (yes, that was on purpose) for a new religious movement or revival, but doubtless he’d have supported it and then roundly convinced all participants to express awe at his…ahem…magical will.

The man even provided one of the nuclei around which the modern Pagan conception of a three-fold Goddess developed, explaining the Maiden-Mother-Crone paradigm in his (admittedly awful) novel Moonchild (which does have the added cred of inspiring one of the strongest openings for any 1980s era Iron Maiden album; up the irons, yo).

Heck, the man even had a low opinion of L. Ron Hubbard, writing to Karl Germer, “Apparently Parsons or Hubbard or somebody is producing a Moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts.” And anyone with a “piss on Hubbard” attitude is ok in my books.

Beyond that, Crowley gets some more counter-cultural cred by appearing on the cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; inspiring the best guitar solo of Randy Rhodes’ all-too-short career (don’t argue; you’ll lose); being a prime inspiration for Jimmy Page (look him up, whippersnappers, and get off my lawn while you’re at it); and popping up in David Bowie’s Quicksand.

So give the old bastard some love. If he was alive and running around today he’d be on a list of Llewellyn’s latest authors and would have earned less of a reputation for assholery than Kanye West.