Noting Aleister Crowley’s Birthday | James ford


Aleister Crowley was born on this day, October 12, 1875.

He is one of those personalities that I visit from time to time on this blog. The last time seems to be five years ago. The following is an updated version of this last entry.

I believe the first time I discovered Aleister Crowley was when I was living in a Zen monastery in Oakland, California. Writer Alan Watts handed a copy of Crowley’s autobiography to Jiyu Kennett Roshi, the head of the monastery.

It had been given to Watts by his editor who, thanks to some timely introductions facilitated by the good Dr Watts, was soon to be the editor of the roshi as well.

As it turned out, when Kennett Roshi was a little kid in England, he and other children were told to be good, otherwise Aleister Crowley would steal them and eat them. Mr. Crowley has spent a lot of time cultivating a reputation as “the baddest man in the world”. It was, as you might say today, part of his brand.

The roshi was interested in the occult herself and therefore read the book. Over the next year, she used it as a text in what she called “the anti-enlightenment,” which she used in an ongoing seminar for her “senior” students. So I got to know the old boy, even if it’s in a rather roundabout way.

I admit zero interest in occult matters. It’s kind of an instinctive thing. There is so much in the world that it is impossible to take care of everything. And, very early on, I found a simple first sort: if the statements about reality are not reproducible by third parties, I move on.

I found, however, that I rather liked the occultists. Like many, they are quite interesting. And so later on I discovered and became a big fan of the participant observer of the occult movement in England and to some extent in North America, Francis X King, whose books were witty, sarcastic and filled with gossip about the Anglo-American phenomenon. occultism from the last decades of the nineteenth to about the first half of the twentieth century.

I nibbled on biographies and stories like candied popcorn. Mr. King’s forays into practical magic, again, just didn’t catch my attention. However, I still have details of the characters in this movement that vibrate in the dark corners of my head. Ask me about the Anglican cleric and alchemist who Mr. King said could “entertain any idea as long as it was improbable enough.”

I think the majority of people reading this blog have at least a passing interest in Buddhism. And, speaking of passing, there were actually some fleeting Buddhist connections with him. Most notably one of Crowley’s first and very close associates, Allan Bennett is widely regarded as 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 whatever you want, the whole of the Law”. The main sacred text of his religion, a channeled document, the Book of the Law has a fleeting reference to Buddhism as one of the religions that the newer is intended to replace.

Crowley traveled extensively in Asia, including visiting Bennett, now Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya, and became sufficiently interested in Buddhism to write an essay comparing Buddhism and science favorably. However, the occultist quickly switched to the word salad which seems to be closely associated with much of occult writing and, I fear, lost my interest.

Crowley also did a “translation” of the Tao of Ching. For a taste of the word salad, his version of the first chapter.

The Tao-Path is not the All-Path. Names are not the named Thing.
Unmanifest, he is the Secret Father of Heaven and Earth;
manifested, it is their Mother.
To understand this Mystery, one must accomplish one’s will, and if one is not thus free, one will gain only a little.
The Tao is one, and the Le is only a phase of it. The abyss of this Mystery is the Serpent’s Portal of Wonder.

This is proof enough to me that there is not much in his teachings to appeal to most of those who find Buddhism, or Taoism for that matter, convincing.

His great passion was magic, and in particular magic which used sexual energies. Of course, there is also his church. And, my oh my, the bottom line is: it’s a hell of a story.

And suddenly, I find myself thinking of him.

Today he would have been one hundred and forty-six years old. How time flies…

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