Why whitewashing Crowley is a bad idea

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Crowlyite followers are celebrating some anniversary of Aleister Crowley at the moment and there seems to be an effort to whitewash some of the Great Beast’s darker aspects.

It is well known that Crowley was anti-Semitic, misogynistic, bully who tortured and exploited his students. However, there is now an attempt to paint him as a “man of his time” who was nevertheless attempting to push back the boundaries.

This is the pop-culture Sergeant Pepper’s view of Crowley which has nothing to do with the real person, who would look with much contempt at those who see him as a counter-culture icon.

One of the more obvious things that people have been doing is scouring what Crowley has written for “proof” that he was none of the things people said about him. For example, the anti-semitic label can be dismissed because he once wrote: “No people can show finer specimens of humanity. The Hebrew poets and prophets are sublime. The Jewish soldier is courageous, the Jewish rich man generous. The race possesses imagination, romance, loyalty, probity and humanity in an exceptional degree.”

However what needs to be set against this are more damning quotes like: “A similar case is presented by the Jew, who really does only too often possess the bad qualities for which he is  disliked; but they are not proper to his race” and “In the previous spasm she had rushed to the registrar the most nauseating colopter that ever came under my microscope. It was a Whitechapel Jew.”

What is more dangerous is that this racism leaks into his teaching. For example he identifies the “evil” form of Aries rising as Jewish: “One must further remark that each sign governs two main types … the active and the passive. Thus Aries: the high brows, long face, aquiline nose, tall thin muscular figure, shows the fiery and martial qualities of the sign. But there is an evil and averse counterpart corresponding to the ovine nature. We have the gross, hooked, pendulous proboscis; the thick, flabby, moist lips; the patient stupid eyes, and timid, hunted gait of the bad type of Jew.”

Crowley was also a conspiracy nut believing in the Protocols of Zion and repeat some of the allegations as fact. In his “Preface to Sepher Sephiroth”, originally published in Equinox 1:8. Written in 1911 he wrote:

“Human sacrifices are today still practised by the Jews of Eastern Europe, as is set forth at length by the late Sir Richard Burton in the MS. which the wealthy Jews of England have compassed heaven and earth to suppress and evidenced by the ever-recurring Pogroms against which so senseless an outcry is made by those who live among those degenerate Jews who are at least not cannibals.”

For those who came in late, Jews were frequently accused of ritual sacrifice, murder, and cannibalism in Eastern Europe since the Middle Ages is called “the blood libel against the Jews” — a malicious falsehood (libel) that claims that Jews drink the blood of human victims as part of their rituals — that ritual human sacrifice is part of Jewish religion.

Those seeking to white wash Crowley quote him saying this about the Chinese: “I realised instantly their spiritual superiority to the Anglo-Saxon, and my own deep-seated affinity to their point of view.” After meeting the consul of Tengyueh: “We met with a warm welcome at the consulate from Litton’s Chinese wife, an exceedingly beautiful woman with perfect manners. They had five charming children.”

Compare that to the following: “One cannot fraternise with the Chinese of the lower classes; one must treat them with absolute contempt and callousness.”

What we see in these conflicting quotes, and there are many, that Crowley might respect individuals but hate the race in general. For example, the Solicitor-General of Ceylon, the Hon. P. Ramanathan, was a “man of charming personality, wide culture and profound religious knowledge” yet the people were “idle irresponsible people, purring with placid pleasure.”

So, what about the concept that Crowley was just a “man of his time and class.” There was nothing unusual about being a racist bigot then, everyone was.
However, that is historical re-positioning of the type that gets on my tits. Sure, you can find evidence of backward racism in that time, but in the style and to Crowley’s level you should start reading racists condemned by both mainstream conservatives and liberals alike. It is important remember that Crowley was not American, and the racism of the UK was different, and less obvious, from that of New World. A US clansman would be as unwelcome among the English aristocratic far-right of Crowley’s time. For Crowley to write that sort of stuff crossed too many lines.

This blog cannot deal in detail with Crowley’s obvious hatred of women which are often white washed with long quotes from the Book of the Law about how important women were. However there are darker quotes which suggest that is largely meaningless:

“… morally and mentally, women were for me beneath contempt. They had no true moral ideals. They were bound up with their necessary preoccupation, with the function of reproduction. Their apparent aspirations were camouflage. Intellectually, of course, they did not exist. Even the few whose minds were not completely blank had them furnished with Wardour Street Chippendale. Their attainments were those of the ape and the parrot. These facts did not deter me. On the contrary, it was highly convenient that one’s sexual relations should be with an animal with no consciousness beyond sex.”

Unless Crowley were a southern back-woodsman, this sort of mindset was long out-of-date and completely out of keeping with the equality suggested by both the Golden Dawn and his own magical teachings.

What most people do not want to understand when they read Crowley is that they are not looking at a 1960’s love guru with progressive views. Just because someone takes drugs and sleeps around with different genders does not make them progressive. There are many gay right-wingers (usually full of self-hate)

In fact, Crowley wanted a new aristocracy which could pursue long-range goals without the encumbrances of pandering to democratic whims. Crowley described a government following a Thelemic course as one in which, far from a hedonistic free-for-all, “set[s] limits to individual freedom. For each man in this state which I propose is fulfilling his own True Will by his eager Acquiescence in the Order necessary to the Welfare of all, and therefore of himself also.”*

Victor Neuburg bullied

My view of Crowley is not that he was an evil black magician, but someone who did some good stuff but failed to deal with his own stuff. This unbalanced before he started to deal with the heavy stuff. While it was wrong for him to be blackballed from the GD for being gay, I am not really sure that was entirely the reason. He was a young arrogant twat, who developed without guidance to be an old autocratic arrogant twat who knew a bit about magic. His inherent anger and violence against students like Victor Neuburg, coupled with his messianic megalomania undid a lot of his cleverer stuff. What Crowley was doing was not hedonism or free thinking, it was compulsive and destructive.

Whitewashing this out of Crowley, presumably to keep him as the 1960’s guru image does him no service. Not only do we get an incorrect assessment of the person, we are unable to fix his mistakes.

Indeed, while justifying him, you repeat his mistakes. There are Thelemites who think it is ok to treat women like sex slaves because Crowley did it. I have a friend who suffered appalling at the hands of the Canadian OTO for the crime of being a strong woman.

Fashionable fascism is now a thing worldwide and Crowley’s teachings are a magnet for those who consider themselves hedonistic libertines. Unless Crowley’s fascist, white-superiority and backward leanings are shown for what they are, then there is a danger they will corrupt and contaminate any chance of a spiritual awakening from those who follow that way. Crowley could become the justification for every right-wing autocratic bullying occult leader to give in to their psychology.

* Crowley, The Book of Wisdom or Folly, Samuel Weiser, 1991, Liber Aleph Vel CXI, De Ordine Rerum, clause 39.

 

2 thoughts on “Why whitewashing Crowley is a bad idea

  1. W.B.Yeats to Lady Gregory” Well last week he(Mathers) sent a mad person whom we had refused to initiate, to take posession of the rooms and papers of the society. The person seized the rooms and on being ejected attempted top retake possesion…..The envoy is one Crowley, a quite unspeakable person. He is I believe, seeking venegance for our refusal to initiate him. We did not admit him because we did not think a mystical society was intended to be a reformatory.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment that Crowley did some good stuff, but history should judge him for who he really was, and in the perspective of his own time and place. I know very little about the level of racism and antisemitism of Crowley’s place and time, and I am not without my own criticisms of Jewish culture with its obsession with genital mutilation of males, but Crowley was no saint or person to model one’s self after or emulate. The man had serious problems and needed help. I don’t think you can go to the opposite extreme and color him all bad and not recognize some of his contributions, but I find the man distasteful and, as you put it, unbalanced.

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