Crowley and Yeats
October 6, 2016 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Both W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley were contemporaneous members of the British occult society, The Golden Dawn. They hated each other, due to conflicting personalities and views on magick [Direct PDF link to text from the 1948 Partisan Review]. This rivalry culminated in Crowley waging astral warfare on Yeats, and then attempting to seize the headquarters of the G.D. wearing a kilt and wielding a ceremonial dagger. Although the location of that headquarters is now a coffee shop, it once hosted a showdown between two of the world's most famous magicians: The Battle of Blythe Road.
posted by codacorolla (36 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Those banners come to bribe or threaten,
Or whisper that a mans a fool
Who..."
EXPELLIARMUS!
posted by clavdivs at 5:07 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


The Golden Dawn was fine until it got a Yeats infection.
posted by w0mbat at 5:15 PM on October 6, 2016 [10 favorites]


it'll be interesting to see which one of them will have had the most influence over time
posted by pyramid termite at 5:46 PM on October 6, 2016


Early rap battles were perhaps as interesting in their own way as recent ones.
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:48 PM on October 6, 2016 [7 favorites]


Yeats, no question. Crowley might survive for longer than I think due to the lovely tarot deck he and Harris created.

Crowley had the misfortune of working in the post-enlightenment, everything-that-is-un-quantifiable-does-not-exist age.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 6:01 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


A lot of the interesting (and not coocoo bananas) research seems to be hidden behind paywalls, or in physical texts. This book by Darcy Kuntz comes up a lot. I put in an ILL for it.
posted by codacorolla at 6:02 PM on October 6, 2016


I hope this is real. It sounds amazing.
posted by corb at 6:24 PM on October 6, 2016


"...he forced himself to utter a few polite conventionalities, but I could see what the truth of the matter was. I had by this time become fairly expert in clairvoyance, clairaudience and clairsentience. But it would not have been a very dull person indeed who failed to recognize the black, bilious rage that shook him to the soul.
I instance this as a proof that Yeats was a genuine poet at heart, for a mere charlatan would have known that he had no cause to fear an authentic poet. What hurt him was the knowledge of his own incomparable inferiority."


Crowley's Autohagiography is hilarious.
posted by ovvl at 6:30 PM on October 6, 2016 [8 favorites]


I'm definitely craving a more detailed account of this battle. Like a transcript or screen play version, or even a re-enactment.
posted by overglow at 6:51 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]



I'm definitely craving a more detailed account of this battle. Like a transcript or screen play version, or even a re-enactment.

Here you go
posted by TedW at 7:13 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is the sort of thing that makes me long to attend Magischola even though I would subsequently be banned for life from it.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:27 PM on October 6, 2016


it'll be interesting to see which one of them will have had the most influence over time

Crowley really, honest-to-god thought he was a poetic genius who would be remembered through the ages primarily for his poetry. His head, as the saying goes, was stuffed so far up his ass he could see the back of his teeth. He was an extraordinarily self-absorbed asshole, and the only reason he's remembered at all was due to a sensational (and mostly fictional) biography that painted him as this malevolent evildoer mired in sex and drugs. British 60's counterculture, being what it was, of course latched onto this image of Crowley as a proto-rockstar and elevated him accordingly. Nothing he actually did had much influence anywhere, just the image he left behind.

Being an ordinary run-of-the-mill asshole (as opposed to an extraordinarily self-absorbed asshole), Yeats never had a strong cult of personality, but unlike Crowley, he actually was a poetic genius. His work will almost certainly stand the test of time.
posted by Ndwright at 7:33 PM on October 6, 2016 [9 favorites]


*actually, I take that back, Crowley wasn't all image. The one thing he did with his work that had a lasting effect in the world was inspire L. Ron Hubbard to create Scientology (though to Crowley's credit, when he found out what Hubbard was doing with his work he was appalled). And even that may not be lasting, Scientology may not last much longer either.
posted by Ndwright at 7:36 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Crowley's real mistake was that he never fathomed the might of weaponized puppets.

"That was Aleister Crowley, the wickedest man in the world. Ford Maddox Ford just cut him dead."

"Oh don't be an ass."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:40 PM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


The dude tamed the Loch Ness monster! Is Scotland currently being terrorized by a giant lake monster? No? And need I mention LAM? Or Scientology's origins as a grudge-match against the old goat? And what of that very nice house in New Hampshire that randos with long hair and Ozzy playing on full blast from their borrowed/technically stolen VW Van are, for some reason, not allowed to enter because "this is a private residence" as if they did not see the giant staff of wood and bone I'd made? Did I mention that this New Hampshire house was Crowley's vacation residence? No? because I did a whole lot before the cops forced me into their significantly less awesome van with significantly more reinforced windows.

Yea, so all politics are local and all legacies are personal and all community service sentences in New Hampshire are effin brutal.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:42 PM on October 6, 2016 [13 favorites]


it'll be interesting to see which one of them will have had the most influence over time

If Crowley is indeed George W. Bush's grandfather, that would seem to give him a pretty good leg up.
posted by jamjam at 8:32 PM on October 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


How does Yeats' influence on poetry (and culture through poetry), compare to Crowley's influence on the culture of the occult and supernatural (from Led Zep / black metal / rock shit, to new age, to satanism, wicca and paganism, western cults as we know these things today), I wonder?
posted by idiopath at 8:55 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Thank you. Good to see Gordon White/Rune soup linked to here, rather than yet another NYT or Washington post blather party. I haven't made my mind up in regards to the Crowley vs Yeats conflict, but have Gary Lachman's The Secret Teachers of the Western world waiting for me at the local library, and find all of these characters pretty fascinating to read about.
posted by metagnathous at 9:10 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm no expert, but Crowley was kicked out of the G.D. for (at least in part) not being part of polite society. Yeats was far more acceptable to the intellectual magicians that comprised the inner circle. There appeared to be other group politics involved, and Crowley ended up on the losing side, while Yeats the winner. I believe the G.D. disbanded shortly after this, but Crowley's antics continued for years, and he formed his own lasting counter school of magic - Thelema. That same divide seems to map onto their personal lives. You learn about Yeats' work in school, but never his magical dabbling (at least I didn't), while Crowley is known for the magical dabbling and mostly forgotten as a poet. Crowley gets cult appeal that seems to filter more broadly out to pop culture, while Yeats is relegated to high brow (or at least middlebrow, as The Second Coming is such a go-to for things like The Sopranos) and academia.
posted by codacorolla at 9:10 PM on October 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm sitting round the corner from Cowley's childhood home right now! Easily the most famous person to come out of my adopted hometown. Never even realised he wrote poetry.
posted by Dysk at 9:12 PM on October 6, 2016


I'm deep in the Dion Fortune book, and have some respect for western occult. Crowley's contribution will survive some time.

I still think Yeats will outlive by a great deal. Say a surviving fragment in 2K time or what have you.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 9:12 PM on October 6, 2016


Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will. (93, y'all.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:12 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ah, only two streets away from my old flat and I never knew!
posted by halcyonday at 2:53 AM on October 7, 2016


> "Crowley, wearing a black Osiris mask and a kilt, and his mistress burst into the temple, casting spells and brandishing daggers. They intended to take the temple for Mathers', but were unsuccessful. The police came, the scuffle went to court, and the London chapter of the Golden Dawn won (as they paid the rent on the space)."

I surely cannot be the only one to find this UTTERLY HILARIOUS.
posted by kyrademon at 3:14 AM on October 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


Kyrademon, that was great. I also liked this bit:
But Yeats and two other white magicians came resolutely forward to meet him, ready to protect the holy place at any cost. When Crowley came within range the forces of good struck out with their feet and kicked him downstairs.
posted by edheil at 5:29 AM on October 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


The police came, the scuffle went to court, and the London chapter of the Golden Dawn won (as they paid the rent on the space).

According to Crowley's own example of magic from the introduction of "Magick in Theory and Practice", the summoning of police, lawyers and the use of the letter of the law in order to influence the power of a judge would all could as magical acts. So he lost the fight twice.
posted by charred husk at 6:02 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's like LARP but they're the only ones who don't know it's LARP.
posted by kewb at 6:06 AM on October 7, 2016


Many years ago, I read Crowley's novel Moonchild; I'm guessing the persona of the pompous charlatan “Gates” in it must be a thinly-veiled Yeats.
posted by acb at 6:07 AM on October 7, 2016


There is a very funny film to be made about the Golden Dawn society, and I'm surprised that no one's done it before. Possibly because most of the people so far with enough interest in Crowley to write it take him more seriously than, perhaps, is a good idea. Or perhaps a sprawling novel.
posted by Grangousier at 8:27 AM on October 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


"compare to Crowley's influence on the culture of the occult and supernatural (from Led Zep / black metal"

You'd never catch Yeats in Dragon Pants.
posted by clavdivs at 11:42 AM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


OK I finally got a chance to look at all these links. A couple comments:

1. David Griffin who runs the Golden Dawn website (one of them) is a wanker of the highest order. The little I know leads me to think he has inherited money. I find it impossible to believe he is qualified for any employment whatsoever. Those starter jobs at WalMart and McDonalds are above his pay grade. People with his skills are the standard libertarian economists' argument to do away with the minimum wage.

2. The Richard Ellman article is interesting. The ending:

So, at any rate, Crowley told me in Hastings a few months before his death.

In other words this is complete fiction. There might or might not be an actual court case which might be footnoted in a (attempted) serious Crowley biography like Richard Kaczynski's. I have not read Kaczynski's book although I know a bunch of people who have.

3.) There are no reliable narrators in this crew. The Partisan Review that Ellman was working for was a United States Government propaganda unit. See Frances Stonor-Saunders. I will vouch for the Stonor-Saunders book as being fascinating, although the reliability of some of the information is dubious. The documentation regarding the Partisan Review looks solid.

4.) Some of Gordon White's blog articles are great. Some are dreck. The one book of his that I own is roughly of the quality of Christopher Hyatt or Lon Duquette. It sits on my shelf and is in danger of culling for purpose of space conservation. A couple of Hyatt's have been sitting there for years. All Duquettes are long gone.

This is almost a complete tangent, but metafilter deserves better than any of the forgoing:

facsimile of Irish poet William Butler Yeats' magickal journal containing diagrams and other information from the Golden Dawn
posted by bukvich at 12:53 PM on October 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


It was fairly hard to get any sort of reliable sources online that weren't bound up in physical monographs or behind a paywall. It's an interesting story, even if probably not true. What benefit would the American intelligence apparatus have in slandering Crowley, though?
posted by codacorolla at 1:54 PM on October 7, 2016


There is a very funny film to be made about the Golden Dawn society, and I'm surprised that no one's done it before. Possibly because most of the people so far with enough interest in Crowley to write it take him more seriously than, perhaps, is a good idea. Or perhaps a sprawling novel.

It's true. Mostly what Crowley did was self-promotion in the form of well-read logorrhea and swanning about in costumes with a super spoopy look on his face. He is ridiculous and awful and deserves to be laughed at for as long as he is remembered. I would love to see a comedy in which he was basically a Mugatu figure. There is a horror novel, Hell House, in which he's thinly disguised, and although it is Srs Bsns I liked it.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:41 PM on October 7, 2016


What benefit would the American intelligence apparatus have in slandering Crowley, though?

None needed. The majority of the works that appeared in these publications served no agenda beside making the publications desirable to read. Most of the authors did not know the funds came from the government. Many of our favorite authors were taking money from these people. I cannot recommend Stonor-Saunders' book more highly. If I recall right I read the thing in two sittings.

If you need any of the information to be factual for some purpose you need to fact check the information closely. The CIA vetted Stonor-Saunders book before it went to the public.
posted by bukvich at 4:46 PM on October 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


For the idly curious, Martin Booth's Crowley biography A Magick Life does a decent overview of the essential duality between the raging egomaniac and the spiritual seeker.
posted by ovvl at 8:13 PM on October 7, 2016


Then there was that time in 1912 that a faction of the Golden Dawn upped sticks from London and moved to Havelock North, a small rural service town in the North Island of New Zealand. Havelock North is not known for its spirituality nor is it much like London, but it is known for its private schools. In fact, my friend Sam went to school there in the '90s, and one of her friends' families actually lived in the old Golden Dawn temple, the Whare Ra, architect-designed and built especially for the Order in 1912. She remembered it as an odd house, full of gaudy ritual spaces and vestibules and mantel spaces that would once have contained altars and tableaux for the temple's various initiation rites. Without curtains, robes, and dressing it all apparently looked quite strange.

For me, though, the one figure from that circle I wish I knew more about was Mary Butts. I have a copy of her journal, which is rich and fascinating, but I still haven't had a chance to track down any of her novels.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:01 AM on October 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


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