Two recent events have struck damaging but no doubt not fatal blows to the modern spermaphagic cult of Thelema, also known, not inaccurately, as Crowleyanity. One was an act of God and one was an act of mischief.
The act of God was an electrical fire that destroyed the Scottish manor house of Boleskine on the banks of Loch Ness. This property was once owned by the would-be magus Mr. Aleister Crowley – the ‘Master Therion’ - who purchased it specifically to perform the rites of demonic invocation detailed in the notorious late medieval manual The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. As it happened, though, Mr. Crowley – the self-styled ‘Laird of Boleskine’ - only managed to complete a portion of these rites before he scuttled off to Paris on more urgent business, but he later nominated Boleskine as his central magical residence and made it the ‘qibla’ (direction of prayer) for his followers (Thelamites). To this day, Thelamites turn towards Boleskine in the performance of Thelemic rites and the altar in Thelemic rituals such as the so-called Gnostic Mass is oriented to that location. Unfortunately, the ancient manor is now gutted and the Thelemic qibla is nothing but smoldering ruins. We might assume, or hope, that the purifying potency of fire exorcized the residues of Mr. Crowley’s many stray demons in the process.
The second blow to Thelemic piety was the recent publication of Richard Cole’s long-awaited expose, Liber L. vel Bogus, of Mr. Crowley’s fabrications regarding his so-called Book of the Law. For those not familiar with basic Freemasonry, at the front of a Masonic lodge there sits the ‘Book of the Law’ which may be – in theory – either Bible, Torah, Koran, or other sacred text. Mr. Crowley’s Western esoteric concoctions, to wit the system of ‘Thelema’, inevitably took quasi-masonic forms, and at their centre is Crowley’s own holy writ, Liber AL vel Legis, the Book of the Law, said by Crowley to have been revealed to him by a “praeterhuman intelligence” named ‘Aiwass’ in 1904. In the snazzily titled Liber L. vel Bogus, Mr. Cole details his investigations into Crowley’s account of how and when he, Crowley, received this new sacred scripture.
Crowley put together a carefully crafted, yet remarkably ambiguous and typically vague, myth of his reception of this supposedly holy work. According to this account, the delivery of Liber AL vel Legis through Crowley’s prophetic agency is nothing less than the single-most important event in human history since the discovery of the wheel. It was given to him by direct voice communication by this ‘Aiwass” (there are various spellings and pronunciations but it is usually consonant with the English “I was”) on three days, between noon and 1pm, on April 8th, 9th and 10th in Cairo in 1904. Crowley sat patiently in his ‘temple ‘ – a ground-floor flat in the European quarter of the city – and Aiwass (a “messenger from the forces ruling this planet”) directed him what to write verbatim. This was proceeded by various signs and omens, including premonitions given to Crowley’s new bride, the unfortunate Rose Kelly. Thelemites, by definition, accept the divine provenance of this text and regard it as the definitive guide to the ‘New Aeon of Horus’, a new law for a new era, with Mr. Crowley playing Mahomet to this neo Koran.
Unfortunately, as Mr. Cole documents, virtually no aspect of Crowley’s account of his Book of the Law, stands up to scrutiny. Crowley claims, for instance, that he and Rose stayed in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid and that Rose received premonitions that “They [the gods] are waiting for you.” Crowley interrogated her and even though, he says, she knew nothing about magic or mysticism, [itself a lie] she was able to give uncannily accurate answers to questions about Egyptian god forms. Cole establishes that this account of the interrogation of Rose was most likely a complete fabrication. After that, moreover, Crowley says that they went to the Bulaq Museum in Cairo where Rose identified Horus on the stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu – exhibit number 666. This stele became the ‘Stele of Revealing’ – the sacred icon of Thelemites which is placed on the altar during the Gnostic Mass. Yet, as Cole notes, the Bulaq Museum in Cairo was closed some two years before these supposed events. So it is quite impossible for the events Crowley describes to have taken place.
More damning is the physical evidence of the extant manuscripts of the text in question. Upon close examination, Cole has established, the manuscripts bearing Crowley’s handwriting and which are reproduced with all official publications of the Book of the Law, bear an unmistakable watermark that can be dated to no earlier than 1905. It is thus impossible for the Book of the Law to have been “received” by Crowley in 1904 as he so often stated. There have been attempts to hide this fact, Cole claims, but the evidence is clear. The very physical evidence of the case is against Crowley’s account. The story, almost in toto, is bogus.
Instead, what does seem to be the case is that Crowley composed what became his Book of the Law as an off-hand example of automatic writing – then popular among occultists (W.B. Yeats’ A Vision being an example of the same). At the time Mr. Crowley discarded it and neglected it, buried in his prodigious but very uneven flow of so-called poetry and prose, until, at a certain point in his meglamaniacal career, he decided to elevate it to the status of scripture – and thus himself to the status of World-Prophet - and in doing so he fabricated a back-story of its reception from an “Aiwass” in Cairo. By this time poor much-abused Rose was a hopeless drunkard and other points of the tale could not be verified or refuted either way. It became the centre-piece of Crowley’s new religion, based, of course, upon himself.
As reviewers of Mr. Cole’s book have pointed out, much of this has already been known for some time – even in Crowley’s own lifetime. Yet Liber L. vel Bogus brings together the evidence of Crowley’s fraud in a new, cogent and complete form, albeit written in a repetitive and a trifle whiney style. It strikes a savage blow to the very heart of the Thelemic mythos. Thelemites, therefore, must today adjust to not just the demise of their ‘qibla’, the burning of Boleskine manor – and the cremation of the Laird of Boleskine's ghost - but also, and more substantially, to the certainty that their sacred text, Liber AL vel Legis, is not what the Master Therion, prophet of the Aeon of Horus, said it is.
All the same, it is not clear what Mr. Cole’s motives for these revelations about the Crowley revelation might be. He seems intent on exposing Crowley as a colossal fraud and, in other parts of Liber L. vel Bogus, as a certifiable five-star real-deal psychopath. (He was, it seems, every bit as loopy and self-delusional as Wynn Westcott of 'Golden Dawn' Secret Chiefs fame.) At the same time, though, he seems in admiration of the man. Cole is probably best described as a Thelemic heretic with questionable motives – standard stuff in the mirky and ego-plagued realm of Crowley-admiring occultism.
The present writer – let it be made clear – is not in the least in the Crowley-admiring category. But he does have a professional interest in the Great Beast as a (perverse) manifestation of the Orientalist spirit in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There is much about Crowley that is unpleasant, and much more that is altogether nauseating. There is also much that is amusing, and there are, amidst it all, a few strokes of genius. The poetry - bad imitations of Swinburne - is truly aweful. The Simon Iff detective stories are fun. The Book of Lies is a self-mocking romp. Magick in Theory in Practice is a stylistic gem. Liber AL vel Legis, though, is a tiresome quasi-Egyptian paean to self-indulgent individualism – Ayn Rand meets Wallace Budge. 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.' And Thelema as a whole – that is, as a religion - is a joke (if indeed it was not intended to be one from the outset and the world just hasn’t caught on yet.)
What can one say? If, in all seriousness, you turn your face to Scotland - Scotland! - to make your daily devotions, your religious compass is drastically astray! It is good to see this pseudo-religious relic of the counter-culture knocked out of its smug New Aeon more-evil-than-thou complacency.
Harper McAlpine Black