Tag Archives: autobiography

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 4 – Magical Workings

At this point in Crowley’s autobiographical work, he begins to get a little deeper into magickal theory, which can be challenging and demands a lot of the reader. Early in this section, he draws on kabbalistic mysticism to explain the symbolism associated with the proverbial Fall.

I have already explained briefly what are meant by Neschamah, Ruach and Nephesch. I must now do a little more deeply into the doctrines of the Cabbala. The human consciousness is represented as the centre of a hexagon whose points are the various faculties of the mind; but the uppermost point, which should link the human consciousness with the divine, is missing. Its name is Daäth, Knowledge. The Babylonian legend of the ‘fall’ is a parable of the shutting out of man from Paradise by the destruction of this Daäth and the establishment of this Abyss. Regeneration, redemption, atonement and similar terms mean alike the reunion of the human with the divine consciousness. Arrived at the highest possible point of human attainment by regular steps, one finds oneself on the brink of the Abyss, and to cross this one must abandon utterly and for ever all that one has and is. (In unscientific mysticism the act is represented sentimentally as the complete surrender of the self to God.) In unsectarian English, the act implies first of all the silencing of the human intellect so that one may hear the voice of the Neschamah.

(pp. 509 – 510)

There is a lot to unpack here. Essentially, the fall from the Edenic state is the separation of the human consciousness from the divine. There then exists a space separating the divine and human consciousnesses. This is what Crowley refers to as the Abyss, and it must be crossed in order to reunify one’s consciousness with the divine. But to cross the Abyss into the realm of divine being is not a simple task, and one must dedicate him or herself completely. Half measures avail nothing. Here he lets the reader know that the first thing a seeker must do is learn to quiet the mind. The practice of meditation with the goal of silencing the ego allows the practitioner to get that first bit of insight needed to cross the Abyss.

So how does one actually cross the Abyss? Crowley directs those seeks to The Book of the Law.

I know now from the experience of others that The Book of the Law is veritably a Golden Bough. It is the only thing that one is allowed to take with one through Hades and it is an absolute passport. In fact, one cannot go through Hades at all; there is no ‘one’ to go. But the Law itself bridges the Abyss, for ‘Love is the law, love under will.’ One’s will-to-cross is to disintegrate all things soever into soulless dust, love is the one force which can bind them together into a coherent causeway. There, where torn thoughts sank through the starless space, aching and impotent, into what was not even nothingness, each alive for ever because reduced to its ultimate atoms so that there is no possibility of change, no hope of any alleviation of its anguish, each exquisitely mindful that its captain had slain himself in despair; there may men pass today in peace. What with The Book of the Law to guide them, and my experience to warn them, they can prepare themselves for the passage; and it is their own fault if the process of self-annihilation involves suffering.

(p. 513)

What is important to note here is that the spiritual path, the crossing of the Abyss, and the reunification with the divine, is something that must be done alone. The practitioner and seeker can accept guidance and support, but the actual work must be done on one’s own.

There are a lot of details in this section of the book which are too in-depth to cover in this short post. I found myself having to pause and contemplate throughout, just to get the gist of what he was writing. Having said that, I feel like this is a good place to stop in regard to this section of the book. But I will share my thoughts on “Part 5: The Magus” once I finish reading it.

Thanks for stopping by, and may you be safe and healthy.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 3 – The Advent of the Aeon of Horus

In the timeline of Crowley’s autobiography, this section pertains to the period associated with his writing of The Book of the Law, which he claims was channeled from a preternatural intelligence called Aiwass.

It may be said that nevertheless there may have been someone somewhere in the world who possessed the necessary qualities. This again is rebutted by the fact that some of the allusions are to facts known to me alone. We are forced to conclude that the author of The Book of the Law is an intelligence both alien and superior to myself, yet acquainted with my inmost secrets; and, most important point of all, that this intelligence is discarnate.

(p. 397)

Crowley believed that the Book would usher in the next phase of human spiritual evolution, which he calls the Aeon of Horus.

Through the reception of the Book, Crowley proclaimed the arrival of a new stage in the spiritual evolution of humanity, to be known as the “Æon of Horus”. The primary precept of this new aeon is the charge to “Do what thou wilt”.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Crowley spends very little time discussing The Book of the Law in this section of his autobiography, and instead returns to telling stories of his travels. Further on in the section, Crowley lets the reader know that the stories are symbolic, representing the Mystic Path, citing as an example his other works which symbolize aspects of the mystical journey.

This conversation led to my endeavouring to put a certain vividness of phraseology into my poetry. ‘The Eyes of Pharaoh’ was my first attempt to give vivid and immediate images. I chose my similes so as to strengthen the main theme. Later in the month, at Mandalay, I wrote approximately half of ‘Sir Palamede the Saracen’. The idea of this book was to give an account of the Mystic Path in a series of episodes, and each episode was to constitute a definite arrangement of colour and form. Thus, Section I shows the blue and yellow of the sea and sand, a knight in silver armour riding along their junction to a point where an albatross circles around a mutilated corpse.

(p. 464)

He immediately follows his clue with a story that appears to symbolically represent a mystical experience.

On November 15th we started up the Irrawaddy by the steamship Java and reached Mandalay on the twenty-first. I spent my days and nights leaning over the rail, watching the wavelets of the great river and the flying-fish. I became insane. There I was, lean, stern, brown and immobile; and there was a set of disconnected phenomena, each with a sufficient reason in itself, and the whole of them uniting to produce another phenomenon; but there was no connection between one set of reasons and the other. Each wavelet was caused by certain physical conditions and the effect of the total was to slow down the revolution of the earth. But neither the so-called transitory, nor the so-called permanent, phenomenon was ultimately intelligible. Further, what I called ‘I’ was simply a machine which recorded the impact of various phenomena.

(p. 465)

In this passage, I interpret the rail as symbolizing the threshold between ordinary consciousness and heightened awareness, or an altered state of consciousness. In order to successfully engage in magick and mysticism, one must shift states of awareness and then gaze into the abyss, where thoughts and energy pulsate in waves. When one is in this state, the practitioner is “insane,” for all intents and purposes. He is no longer grounded in this plane of reality. In this altered state, Crowley realizes that his ego, or normal consciousness, is separated from the stream of divine power, and that his “normal state of consciousness” is nothing more than a machine that records the effects of stimuli, but does nothing to create conscious change through the use of the will.

I will provide one more example from this section to demonstrate Crowley’s use of allegory. In the following paragraph, Crowley is using the metaphor of exploration to represent his spiritual quest and search for occult power. He cites examples of others who have pushed the boundaries by exploring forbidden paths and going against the established paradigm, and how they are all met with resistance, hatred, and violence.

I thought this story extraordinarily typical of human thought in general. Everyone admits that we have reached the summit of wisdom, scaled the loftiest pinnacles of morality, put the crown of perfection upon the cranium of progress, and everyone knows perfectly well how this remarkable result has been achieved. But at the first hint that anyone proposes to take a step farther on this road, he is universally set down as a lunatic of the most dangerous type. However, the most savage Lolos are content with that diagnosis, whereas the most enlightened English add that the pioneer is not only a lunatic but a pervert, degenerate, anarchist and the rest of it – whatever terms of abuse chance to be in fashion. The abolition of slavery, humane treatment of the insane, the restriction of the death penalty to serious offences, and of indiscriminate flogging, the admission of Jews, Catholics, Dissenters and women as citizens, the introduction of the use of chloroform and antiseptics, the application of steam to travel, and of mechanical principles to such arts as spinning and printing, the systematic study of nature, the extension of the term poetry to metres other than the heroic, the recognition of painting other than voluptuous coloured photographs as art, and of music other than classical melody as art – these and a thousand similar innovations have all been denounced as chimerical, blasphemous, obscene, seditious, anti-social and what not.

(pp. 481 – 482)

Crowley was certainly labeled as insane, perverted, blasphemous, and so on. Whether he was just labeled this way because of his brazen break with the established mores of his time is not for me to judge. But clearly he was aware of the criticism leveled against him, but he chose to continue exploring his path regardless.

Thanks for stopping by. I will share my thoughts on Part 4 once I complete reading it.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 2 – The Mystical Adventure

In this second part of Crowley’s autobiography, the focus is on a period of his life when he was traveling and exploring various spiritual paths in the process. It is almost like a travelogue from an occult perspective. Throughout the section, he unreservedly shares his opinions on the various cultures he encounters. There is one passage in particular where he compares his view of Americans with Europeans.

The psychology of these people really interested me. They had no experience of the kind of man who knows all the tricks but refuses to cheat. Their world was composed of sharps and flats. It is the typical American conception; the use of knowledge is to get ahead of the other fellow, and the question of fairness depends on the chance of detection. We see this even in amateur sport. The one idea is to win. Knowledge for its own sake, pleasure for its own sake, seems to the American mere frivolity. ‘Life is real, life is earnest.’ One of themselves told me recently that the American ideal is attainment, while that of Europe is enjoyment. There is much truth in this, and the reason is that in Europe we have already attained everything, and discovered that nothing is worth while. Unless we live in the present, we do not live at all.

(p. 209)

It seems that the assertion that the American ideal is attainment is still valid today. When I hear of the obscene amounts of personal wealth that some individuals have amassed, I cannot help but think that our system of values is flawed. At some point, the accumulation of more stuff does nothing to increase happiness, which for me is important. As I am now in the later stages of life, it is happiness and not stuff that is of value to me.

One idea that Crowley promotes which I am in complete agreement with is that an individual should explore all spiritual paths.

I sailed for Ceylon, chiefly because I had said I would go, certainly not in the hope of assistance from Allan. Perhaps because I had found my feet, he was, as will appear, allowed to guide them, in what seemed at first sight a new Path. I had got to learn that all roads lead to Rome. It is proper, more, it is prudent, more yet, it is educative, for the aspirant to pursue all possible Ways to Wisdom. Thus he broadens the base of his Pyramid, thus he diminishes the probability of missing the method which happens to suit him best, thus he insures against the obsession that the goat-track of his own success is the One Highway for all men, and thus he discounts the disappointment of discovering that he is not the Utter, the Unique, when it becomes plain that Magick, mysticism, and mathematics are triplets, and that the Himalayan Brotherhood is to be found in Brixton.

(p. 232)

This was something I learned in my youth. I read a book called The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley which taught me that various traditions essentially teach similar ideas, but are just presented differently. It was then that I realized that I need to explore all available paths, and to learn as much as possible from each one. It is an approach that has served me well over the years. I still have my old copy of Huxley’s book, and may have to reread it sometime soon. I’m sure it will be a different experience than it was 35 or 40 years ago.

The last thing I want to mention about this part of the book is Crowley’s definition of poetry.

A poem is a series of words so arranged that the combination of meaning, rhythm and rime produces the definitely magical effect of exalting the soul to divine ecstasy. Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Machen share this view.

(p. 345)

This is an excellent definition of poetry. I remember my days taking creative writing classes, and the professor would encourage us to read our poems out loud to ourselves to get a sense of how they sound, the cadence and intonation being critical in the evocation of emotion that the poet seeks to convey. For a while, I attended open mic poetry readings, and learned to appreciate how the spoken word can be vastly different than the written word. One need only attend a great performance of a Shakespeare play to validate this claim.

As I did when I finished Part 1, I will take a short break from this book and read some other stuff before moving on to Part 3. Thanks for stopping by, and always explore life’s paths with an open mind.

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The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: Part 1 – Towards the Golden Dawn

Like many people, I am using my time in social distancing to catch up on reading, particularly books that have been on my shelves for years waiting to be read. This is one of those books which I picked up at a used bookstore over 15 years ago and never bothered to read. But curiosity finally got the best of me and I decided to read the first part.

For those who are unfamiliar with Aleister Crowley, he was born Edward Alexander Crowley on October 12, 1875 and died December 1, 1947. He was an “English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer. He founded the religion of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century.” He “gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, being a recreational drug experimenter, bisexual and an individualist social critic. He has been called ‘the wickedest man in the world’ and labeled as a Satanist by the popular press. Crowley has remained a highly influential figure over Western esotericism and the counterculture.” (Source: Wikipedia)

The book is comprised of six parts, so I figured that I would share my thoughts after each part, as opposed to attempting to cover the nearly 1000 pages in a single post. The first part is entitled “Towards the Golden Dawn.”

The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Latin: Ordo Hermeticus Aurorae Aureae; or, more commonly, the Golden Dawn (Aurora Aurea)) was a secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Known as a magical order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was active in Great Britain and focused its practices on theurgy and spiritual development. Many present-day concepts of ritual and magic that are at the centre of contemporary traditions, such as Wicca and Thelema, were inspired by the Golden Dawn, which became one of the largest single influences on 20th-century Western occultism.

(Source: Wikipedia)

So the first part of Crowley’s autobiographical work focuses on his life leading up to and including his initiation into the Golden Dawn, where he interacted with individuals including MacGregor Mathers, Arthur Edward Waite, and William Butler Yeats. While much of this section focuses on Crowley’s early family relations, education, and his interests in chess and mountain climbing, he eventually begins to share his experiences and thoughts regarding magick and the occult. Crowley provides the following definition of Magick.

From the nature of things, therefore, life is a sacrament; in other words, all our acts are magical acts. Our spiritual consciousness acts through the will and its instruments upon material objects, in order to produce changes which will result in the establishment of the new conditions of consciousness which we wish. That is the definition of Magick. The obvious example of such an operation in its most symbolic and ceremonial form is the Mass. The will of the priest transmutes a wafer in such wise that it becomes charged with the divine substance in so active a form that its physical injection gives spiritual nourishment to the communicant. But all our actions fit this equation. A tailor with a toothache takes a portion of the wealth derived from the business to which he has consecrated himself, a symbol of his accumulated and stored energy, in order to have the tooth removed and so to recover the consciousness of physical well-being.

(p. 125)

As a person who is very interested in the poetry of W. B. Yeats, I was curious to hear what Crowley had to say about him. I had heard that the two did not get along well, but Crowley arrogantly belittles Yeats’ work, implying that his poetry is superior to that of Yeats. I found the section to be entertaining, and chuckled inwardly to myself.

I had a set of paged proofs in my pocket one evening, when I went to call on W. B. Yeats. I had never thought much of his work; it seemed to me to lack virility. I have given an extended criticism of it in The Equinox (vol. I, no. ii, page 307). However, at the time I should have been glad to have a kindly word from an elder man. I showed him the proofs accordingly and he glanced at them. 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 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 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.

(pp. 165 – 166)

Crowley makes a very interesting comment in regard to the practice and teaching of mystical arts.

I have always felt that since the occult sciences nourish so many charlatans, it should be one’s prime point of honour not to make money in any way connected with them. The amateur status above all!

(p. 181)

I also feel this way, and red flags always go up whenever I hear about rituals or speakers charging what are clearly excessive fees for services. I am happy to make donations to cover expenses and materials, or contribute in a way that is fair, but I generally choose not to pay for what seems to me a way for individuals to profit from doing “spiritual work.”

And this seems like a good segue into the last quote I wish to talk about.

Money-grubbing does its best to blaspheme and destroy nature. It is useless to oppose the baseness of humanity; if one touches pitch one runs the risk of being defiled. I am perfectly content to know that the vileness of civilization is rapidly destroying itself; that it stinks in my nostrils tells me that it is rotting and my consolation is in the words of Lord Dunsany. In the meantime, the water was to be wasted in producing wealth—the most dangerous of narcotic drugs. It creates a morbid craving—which it never satisfies after the first flush of intoxication.

(p. 188)

Crowley perfectly sums up how greed feeds upon itself, and how the insatiable lust for more wealth is fueling the environmental destruction of this planet. He was able to see this 100 years before it came to the forefront of the global consciousness. I don’t know if this supports Crowley’s that he is a prophet of this age, but clearly he was able to see inherent issues in humanity at a time when most people were oblivious to the threat that greed poses to our planet.

I’m going to take a short break from this book and read some other stuff, but I will return to it in the near future and share my thoughts on Part 2 when I finish that section. Thanks for stopping by, and keep challenging yourself.

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“Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda

I’ve had this book on my shelf for so long that I don’t even remember where I got it from. But as part of my goal to clear some of my unread books and continue reading more spiritual texts, I figured I would give this one a read.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. There were great insights, it read well, and the language was nicely crafted. In fact, it seemed just a little too polished for someone who was not a native English speaker, but hey, every writer needs a good editor.

Many years ago, I was a vegetarian, and I was so for about 13 years. When I started eating meat again (my body needed it when training for my first marathon), I grappled with the ethical questions of eating meat, even though I made sure to only get ethically raised meats. Then one day, I had a realization that plants and rocks, being comprised of energy, must also possess consciousness, just like animals, but a type of consciousness that we cannot perceive as humans. To survive, we must get energy from other things, living and non-living (in the case of minerals). A passage in this book affirmed this belief that I have.

The telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most skeptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor, and countless other appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals.

(p. 78)

During times of deep meditation, I have been fortunate enough to experience momentary shifts in consciousness, slipping briefly into states of heightened awareness. These moments are virtually impossible to convey using the limited tool of language, but Yogananda does an excellent job describing that ineffable experience.

All objects within my panoramic gaze trembled and vibrated like quick motion pictures. My body, Master’s, the pillared courtyard, the furniture and floor, the trees and sunshine, occasionally became violently agitated, until all melted into a luminescent sea; even as sugar crystals, thrown into a glass of water, dissolve after being shaken. The unifying light alternated with materializations of form, the metamorphoses revealing the law of cause and effect in creation.

(p. 167)

While I love to read, and I believe there is value in reading spiritual and mystical texts, it is important to not only read, but to practice too. Book knowledge will only take a person so far on the spiritual path.

The great guru taught his disciples to avoid theoretical discussion of the scriptures. “He only is wise who devotes himself to realizing, not reading only, the ancient revelations,” he said. “Solve all your problems through meditation. Exchange unprofitable speculations for actual God-communion.”

(p. 377)

The last passage from this book that I want to share concerns what is important for the sustainability and longevity of a society. We are at a point in human history where wealth, military power, and materialism are the measures of a society’s worth and strength. I do not agree with this paradigm. I believe it is art, the humanities, and how we care for each other that are the true measures of a society’s strength and endurance.

The Biblical story of Abraham’s plea to the Lord that the city of Sodom be spared if ten righteous men could be found therein, and the Divine reply: “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake,” gains new meaning in the light of India’s escape from oblivion. Gone are the empires of mighty nations, skilled in the arts of war, that once were India’s contemporaries: ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, Rome.

The Lord’s answer clearly shows that a land lives, not in its material achievements, but in its masterpieces of man.

(p. 340)

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