334. Limitation (VI)
The English occultist Aleister Crowley is infrequently mentioned today, but he enjoyed a significant influence on the mid-1960s counterculture and retains a low-level following, for good or ill. Crowley’s name itself has certain occult overtones when broken down into its constituent parts: it is pronounced as in “crow”, and the crow is a bird that has always had certain associations with messages from the gods—latterly, “-ley” has become associated with the ley lines that supposedly link the ancient sites of Britain, said to date from druidical times when the whole country served as a single ceremonial temple. As for his first name, Aleister, it sounds plain peculiar.
Crowley billed himself and was billed by the press as “the wickedest man in the world”, and this was in the mid-1930s—so there was stiff competition. Although Crowley was an unsavoury man, immured in drugs, intra-occult in feuds, and various curious sexual arrangements he demonstrates that the old reactionaries were right to observe, in that very hackneyed phrase, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing people he doesn’t exist.” Crowley exemplifies this rule, for though he acted the “Satanist”—or at least was in with dark demonic forces, anyway—he certainly thought that the Devil, many other psychical entities besides, existed; and so, though he was not a decent man, he was a long way from being “the wickedest man in the world” when his direct competition was Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and all their imitators who were quite convinced that the Devil did not exist.
Now if you owned a particularly attractive black cat, I would be reluctant to trust Crowley around it—lest it be used for certain magical “workings”. “Have you seen Smokey, Aleister?” Cue gnomic grin. Crowley came from a wealthy family, attended Cambridge, played chess at a high level, and undertook various mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas; so this was a person more than capable of unleashing havoc on a Stalinian scale; and he had the charisma, to judge from his occult lodges, to do so. Yet his concrete damage seems to have been largely contained—in the visible realm, anyway—to unhappy personal lives and, eventually, his own impoverished and somewhat solitary demise in Hastings.
In other words, this was not a man to emulate and his ideas were in many ways perverse and deeply unsound; and yet he never truly achieved real devilish destruction, being bound by a non-materialist and symbolic sensibility. Perhaps his greatest crime, in my estimation, was to introduce the awful corny spelling “magick” into the English language, a term beloved by bearded men with a dandruff problem, an excessive affection for real ale, and some insipid sexual peccadilloes. Somehow nothing destroys magic so much as a trip to Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, replete with unattractive musty Wiccans. This is truly vile hocus-pocus indeed.
Meanwhile, back in the real world—by which I mean Twitter—you can see Chelsea Clinton wish the Church of Satan a happy new year. Ironic, naturally; Chelsea is far too sophisticated to take that literally; it was all a chance to stick it to those quasi-schizo rubes who wrangle snakes in the name of Jeeeeezus Christ. Except it is the irony that is the problem: the genuine Satanism is to think that there is only matter, and that it is preposterous to even worship a goat.
“Yeah, we worship a goat, but it’s just a symbol; it’s to piss off the Christians. We’re individualists at heart; we trust the science.” This is the standard spiel from every spokesman in a Satanist organisation. What is worse is that they mean it. There is no secret conspiracy between Crowleyites and the Fabian Society to promote stories of alien abduction as a cover for sexual abuse, as an intelligent though genuinely Satanic person once suggested to me. The real Satanism lies in the assertion that it is just a symbol, just a provocation—we Satanists are educated secular humanists; smart people, just like you…