New Aleister Crowley biography by Gary Lachman
June 10, 2014 5:21 PM   Subscribe

Gary Lachman, occult author and ex-Blondie bass player, has just published a new biography of Aleister Crowley, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World. Excerpts from the book are online here and here. He is interviewed on the Expanding Mind podcast with Erik Davis and Maja D'Aoust here.

Amazon link to book here. The folks at lashtal.com dislike it and they haven't even seen it yet. Gary Lachman on metafilter previously.
posted by bukvich (38 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah, Aleister Crowley. The reason I learned the word "polemic".
posted by Wolfdog at 5:22 PM on June 10, 2014


I'm reading The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley: Tunisia 1923. He spent most of that time on some combination of ether, heroin, and cocaine, partly due to addiction and partly to deal with asthma. So sad - a brilliant mind, often scrambled. It's the passages of lucidity that make the rest so hard to read, because you know how good it could have been.

As a result of that book, I found an extremely well-written excerpt from a longer scholarly work describing Crowley's trip to Algeria in 1909, which culminated with him invoking a demon into his body. Many speculate that it was this incident that marked him for the rest of his life.

Added via edit: he really should have lived in the 1960s.
posted by Atrahasis at 5:40 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


What's with that 1-star review on Amazon? I've never seen a comment by the author get universally voted down to the point it gets 'unhelpfuled' by Amazon.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:54 PM on June 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


Gary composed (I'm Always Touched by Your) Presence, Dear, which has a kinda mystical vibe to it. The excerpts from his book are interesting.

Martin Booth did a pretty good bio of Crowley, A Magick Life, which does a decent knife edge between the higher spiritual quest and the dank aura of scam artistry. Crowley's own Autohagiography is hilarious.
posted by ovvl at 6:56 PM on June 10, 2014


Does anyone use the word "wicked" in its original sense anymore? It has such an antiquated, sort of Lovecraft/Crowley/CS Lewis sort of feel to it.

Like Alistair Crowley is the Wickedest Man In The World, whereas you'd never hear Marilyn Manson called that.
posted by Sara C. at 8:36 PM on June 10, 2014


My girlfriend's deep into Thelema/OTO stuff, and they general reaction to this book, as far as I've heard is skepticism at best.

Honestly, I don't get involved with it, partially because I don't get off on organized religious ceremony stuff, and partially because I really don't like the cult of personality around "Uncle Al"—or cults of personality in general.

Still, it's harmless.
posted by SansPoint at 8:54 PM on June 10, 2014


robocop is bleeding: What's with that 1-star review on Amazon? I've never seen a comment by the author get universally voted down to the point it gets 'unhelpfuled' by Amazon.

Joseph Thiebes is an OTO scholar-type fellow of some renown apparently.
posted by SansPoint at 8:56 PM on June 10, 2014


Thiebes's review is quite interesting as he claims Lachman used online versions of Crowley's works which are "full of errors." Having most of Uncle Aleister's works in print and having looked at most of the online material which can be freely downloaded I am wondering about this claim. I haven't really noticed much difference. The OTO today is primarily a means for Hymenaeous Beta (aka William Breeze, a violist for the band Coil back in the day) to live off the new copyrights they are claiming for Crowley's works. New editions with intros and notes by Breeze and the same old text that has been published in the public domain in the past. It's a business. Meanwhile Lachman has been writing a number of biographies of Blavatsky, Ouspensky, and Jung that are quite good. His other books are also quite good. I am looking forward to read this one too.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:52 PM on June 10, 2014 [6 favorites]


.What's with that 1-star review on Amazon? I've never seen a comment by the author get universally voted down to the point it gets 'unhelpfuled' by Amazon.

It seems more than a little ironic that followers of Crowley have become pseudo-religious zealots.
posted by empath at 12:03 AM on June 11, 2014 [2 favorites]


I just want to know if Crowley is really Barabara Bush's father.
posted by Mad_Carew at 6:30 AM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


I highly recommend Lachman's Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius. Lachman has made quite a career for himself as a historian of the occult.
posted by jonp72 at 6:55 AM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a huge disconnect between the very nice Thelemites I've met in person, and the vitriolic (and surprisingly authoritarian) online O.T.O./Thelema community.

Crowley's own Autohagiography is hilarious.

So much mountainclimbing! Sheesh...can we just get on to the Abramelin working already?
posted by malocchio at 7:49 AM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


The OTO today is primarily a means for Hymenaeous Beta (aka William Breeze, a violist for the band Coil back in the day) to live off the new copyrights they are claiming for Crowley's works.

I get why you say that but the OTO is an organization of around a thousand individuals. If anybody is interested in inside dope I found a website of Peter-Robert Koenig who purports to be a trained ethnographer who joined the organization and came away with a load of documents including something he claims is the meeting minutes when Breeze was elected to the caliphate. I found it pretty wild but 99.99% of metafilter users would probably think it is the most boring thing ever.

Minutes of the Special Ninth Degree "Caliphate" Election
Held September 20/21, 1985


(Another new (to me) item in the Lachman book excerpts is that Lachman is a former OTO member.)
posted by bukvich at 7:56 AM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Thiebes's review is quite interesting as he claims Lachman used online versions of Crowley's works which are "full of errors." Having most of Uncle Aleister's works in print and having looked at most of the online material which can be freely downloaded I am wondering about this claim.

Also, it's not like all the printed editions are error-free, as I found when evoking Alloces using Bifron's sigil.

Boy, was my face red!
posted by malocchio at 8:21 AM on June 11, 2014 [5 favorites]


Koenig's website as a whole has a lot of interesting stuff. The feuds, the lawsuits, the constant fighting about orthodoxy make for a good read for those who like this sort of stuff. I was once a Crowleyite but drifted away. Not being a joiner I avoided the OTO here in the Bay Area. Back in the early 90's I spent a month with a very active and high ranking member of the OTO from Europe. I got to meet the two camps in the east bay. One was the public group where possible members were sent to try them out. The other group was the serious one where a small percentage of recruits got to go when they passed the tests. Needless to say I was not impressed. More a Crowley fan club. Via my guest I got to meet Breeze in NYC. For someone who at the time a fairly self identified Crowleyite this was kind of like meeting the Pope. But like that emperor, he wasn't wearing any fancy robes. This event probably sealed my fate as I let Uncle Al just become one of many people who I read and enjoyed. But keeper of the secrets of the universe? Nope. I'm still looking.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:01 AM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


In Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers the section on tantric sex has a quotation attributed to the current Dalai Lama which boils down to do not mess with it unless you are very advanced or it can really mess you up. And when he says very advanced he means like you spent five years alone in an icy cave sitting for eighteen hours a day.

Aleister Crowley is an illustration of messing yourself up because you think 10 000 hours makes you very advanced. For that kind of experience 10 000 hours is just a fair start.
posted by bukvich at 9:12 AM on June 11, 2014


I found it pretty wild but 99.99% of metafilter users would probably think it is the most boring thing ever.

Minutes of the Special Ninth Degree "Caliphate" Election
Held September 20/21, 1985


Oh wow. Thank you for reminding me why I got the hell away from OTO's older sister (Golden Dawn) and never looked back. I mean yes, this shit is wild, but the rules-lawyering, my God.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:45 PM on June 11, 2014


I sort of feel that I should buy this so I can shelve it next to Bruce Thomas' biography of Bruce Lee, and then I'd have a "biographies written by bass players" section.
posted by thelonius at 4:59 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


dude oto cardinals or whatever bickering about when to drive over to the holiday inn so they can elect their new space pope might be the best thing ever and i just got a book that's about psychic sasquatch's inter-dimensional connection
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:35 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]


Aleister Crowley is an illustration of messing yourself up because

Was Aleister Crowley really that "messed up"? I've always just assumed he was an eccentric rich dude who liked to do the sorts of things typical of the idle rich. He pretty obviously was into the whole Doing Stuff People Think Is Evil idea*, but most of those evil things were things that are considered downright pedestrian nowadays. I mean, he was bi? He did some drugs? He thought he could summon demons?

*Personally I've always seen a lot of parallels between him and Oscar Wilde, it's just that Wilde was sort of more nice about his deviance.
posted by Sara C. at 6:04 PM on June 11, 2014


Yeah, Crowley was a pretty fucked up dude for his time and context. He was also, I think, actually a true believer in all the things he believed in; he actually broke into the premises of the Golden Dawn (the magickal order he belonged to before sodding off and creating Thelema because the GD wouldn't admit him into the Inner Order) so as to steal various documents containing the Inner Order teachings.

I don't really buy into that stuff anymore, but as with all spiritual practice, advancement does need to be earned and cannot simply be taken. Those who believe in the occult--or at least many I've known--are of the opinion that he tried to take without earning, and that unbalanced him, or unbalanced him further.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:11 PM on June 11, 2014


Oh, I'm sure he believed it. And I know he was evil for his time.

But in hindsight I don't know that I can say that any of the spiritual stuff he was messing with "led to his demise" or anything like that. He just seems like an asshole.

It's weird, this might be how I finally realize that, as fascinating as the occult is to me, I just straight up don't believe in any of it. Because I just don't believe that any of the occult stuff he did made him the asshole he was, that there was anything he "didn't earn", or whatever.

Though I definitely think he was a colonialist and an appropriator of traditions that didn't belong to him. But I doubt that's because he didn't meditate for enough years.
posted by Sara C. at 6:43 PM on June 11, 2014


I'd read this but I still haven't finished the copy of "Diary of a Drug Fiend" I bought at Sanctum Regnum back in the '80s (I still have it, I'll finish it as soon as I'm done with Infinite Jest) and I'm trying to avoid spoilers.
posted by MikeMc at 6:58 PM on June 11, 2014


He was also, I think, actually a true believer in all the things he believed in

Oh, there was definitely a lot of wink-and-a-nod humor in his books. I don't think he took it entirely seriously.
posted by empath at 7:28 PM on June 11, 2014


And I know he was evil for his time.

"Evil" is a pretty strong word. I think he mostly liked getting laid and getting high. I don't think 'evil' really entered the picture.
posted by empath at 7:30 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]


There is a strong correspondence between the metaphors of OTO rites and the things someone in a sexually conservative society (where they'd risk ruin/arrest for things like homosexual relationships) might do to vet potential partners. Just saying.
posted by mobunited at 1:08 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


mobunited could you be more specific please? You have really got me scratching my head here.

The initiate leaves their wallet unguarded.

He or she affirms some statements of dubious logical rigor.

Some goofy and almost certainly harmless mindfuckery occurs.

Am I missing something here? Which of these three elements might be most useful in vetting sex partners?
posted by bukvich at 8:27 AM on June 12, 2014




Am I missing something here? Which of these three elements might be most useful in vetting sex partners?

Anytime you're engaging in potentially illegal activity with someone, it's good to make sure they can speak in code and keep secrets.
posted by empath at 6:24 PM on June 12, 2014


I don't think that's it. OTO is not a particularly criminal crew. And they have no secret-keeping superpowers. The Peter Robert-Koenig website linked above is a catalog of OTO scandal and scuttlebutt. I me-mailed mobunited.
posted by bukvich at 7:37 PM on June 12, 2014


Am I missing something here? Which of these three elements might be most useful in vetting sex partners?

Many OTO practices use code words for sexual activities or describe them directly, and these are progressively revealed through initiation--you don't get invited to ritual fellatio unless a community trusts you. OTO rituals include what are potentially autosexual, heterosexual and homosexual acts, though the mystical language and philosophical bent of the organization certainly allows for drift. While I think the sexual is more of a means (and more symbolic than actual) than an end in the modern OTO, I bet that 100 years ago priorities were somewhat different. Membership in all manner of strange clubs was tolerated for wealthy people, but homosexuality and even adultery could risk criminal prosecution and/or ostracism. Certainly, these secrets may have been semi-open, but it may have been more important to make the gesture, placing transgressive activities in a social cul de sac away from social norms.
posted by mobunited at 8:55 PM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


And I know he was evil for his time.

dafuq? I never said evil, nor implied it. I said 'fucked up.' You really need to stop doing this with people's words.

While I think the sexual is more of a means (and more symbolic than actual) than an end in the modern OTO

I've known more than a few OTO people (and TOT), and no, it's not more symbolic than actual.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2014


I never said evil, nor implied it. I said 'fucked up.' You really need to stop doing this with people's words.

He was fucked up for any time. He was considered downright monstrous for his own time. So evil works, IMO. Maybe the original "wicked" really is the best word for the job.

Either way, you need to stop assuming that everything typed on this here website is a knock down drag out flame war. Two people can have a conversation where they broadly agree but have different takes on a thing, without it being an epic conflict of people putting words in people's mouths.
posted by Sara C. at 12:48 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Epic conflict? Assuming flame war?

You are still doing the thing I just said you really need to stop doing.

Don't. Put. Words. In. My. Mouth. End of discussion.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:37 PM on June 13, 2014


OTO is not a particularly criminal crew

Engaging in homosexual acts was certainly illegal at the time.
posted by empath at 12:20 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


So back in October, NYU Hosted its first Occult conference, which I attended, and at which Gary was a speaker. A good, weird time! Gary was talking about his recently published biography of Madam Blavatsky. My interest piqued, I grabbed a copy.

My takeaway is that Gary does his homework, but enjoys being an apologist for the magical claims of his subjects. I haven't read his Mystic Sixties book, which I've heard great things about, but the conversational writing style slows me down when the author advocates for woo without any evidence.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 6:07 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Engaging in homosexual acts was certainly illegal at the time.

During Crowley's tenure, for sure. I think the person who made the comment above was referring to the contemporary OTO. Unlike say the EOGD (or whatever they're calling themselves these days), who have definitely engaged in criminal (stalking, etc) behaviour, as well as other behaviours one might associate with Scientology than with an occult group nominally focused on finding your true self/KCHGA.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:35 AM on June 14, 2014


During Crowley's tenure, for sure.

This is rather my point. I believe the OTO was to a certain extent a vehicle for communities to gather for sexual expression that was persecuted by law or social censure.
posted by mobunited at 10:43 AM on July 9, 2014


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