Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, Part 2 of 3
The Tobias Churton piece on "Aleister Crowley and the Yezidis" is admittedly speculative and conjectural, and terribly sloppy even so. Churton recklessly juggles the historical Crowley with the "'Aleister Crowley' of popular imagination," while his comparisons to Yezidism are nearly all in the subjunctive. The paper goes from bad to worse as Churton provides a long concatenation of mixed-together quotes from Thelemic and Yezidi source material, distinguished from each other only in the endnotes! And then in a big wrapup, he writes like an episode of Ancient Aliens, letting loose a stream of absurd hypotheses in the form of questions (e.g. "Are Yezidis prototypes, or long-lost cousins, of Thelemites? ... Was Crowley a Yezidi Prophet?"), and bashfully disdaining to answer them. As an "alternative history" video host might say: "Could these things be true??? The answer is: yes." But they probably aren't.
The "Frenzied Beast" paper by Matthew Rogers is excellent, but too short. The author's conspicuous good looks are absent from the printed page, and the article would have been improved by adding further materials on Crowley's orientation toward Neoplatonism. In particular, the augoeides doctrine in Crowley's works should have been given more exposure in connection with the source material in Iamblichus, and there should have been a comparison of "astral travel" in Crowley's modern occultism with its classical antecedents. Rogers is obviously aware of these features, and if he had known how long it would take this book to get to press, he probably would have expanded the scope of his paper to address them in greater detail.
Martin Starr's chapter was first written for the prestigious Masonic research journal Ars Quatuor Coronati, and in it he attempts to explain Crowley's relations with Freemasonry (originally to an audience composed of Masons who jealously assume the priviledged status of the United Grand Lodge of England and the "regular" bodies in its network of recognition). The chapter certainly presents a credible narrative to account for the development of Crowley's distaste for and derision of Freemasonry. Since its original publication in 1995 however, this paper's judgment of Crowley's Masonic standing has received a considered rebuttal from David R. Jones, who also explains some of the technical terminology of Masonic organizing that Starr's piece takes for granted. The relevant features of Crowley's American period have been fleshed out in Kaczynski's Panic in Detroit: The Magician and the Motor City.
The real opinions and motives in the relationship between Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edward Waite are a considerable enigma, and the chapter by Robert A. Gilbert provides as complete a picture of their interactions as one could reasonably expect on the basis of the surviving evidence, which makes for very interesting reading. Unfortunately, the closing paragraphs expose Gilbert's hostility toward Crowley, offering condemnation in a nonsensical comparison with Waite. Supposedly, Waite left (in his writings?) a real means of attainment to later generations, while Crowley did not. And Gilbert derides the contemporary O.T.O. in terms that have had debatable applicability in earlier decades, but are certainly false now. Or is Gilbert here tipping his hand as an exponent for some survival of Waite's Christianized "Holy Order of the Golden Dawn"? In the end, the matter is no clearer than the true sentiments of the dead occultists.
In another of the collection's older papers, Massimo Introvigne offers a few startling errors about Crowley (e.g. claims that Crowley hated his father, that Leah Hirsig was his first Scarlet Woman), but none of them have much bearing on his fascinating central topic of Crowley's admiration for Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Of the various papers in the volume, this is one of those which touches most directly on a larger theoretical issue of scholarship, in exploring the distinction between religion and magic in the inspiring and organizing of new sects. Sadly, Introvigne simply assumes the "magic" character (by his own definitions) of the revelation of Liber AL vel Legis, without any actual inquiry into or discussion of the Cairo working. In this chapter, Crowley ultimately serves as a hostile witness for the defense in an effort to exonerate Mormonism against accusations of having a magical basis. Not that Crowley was hostile to (his own notion of) Mormonism, but he would have wanted to see it convicted of magick!
(Next and concluding post: Witchcraft, Scientology, and Satanism)