Okay so I’m sitting around waiting for various people to get back to me about furniture and pausing occasionally to try and get candle wax out of a carpet and blah blah blah, so I figured it was time to talk about Aleister Crowley some more. This rambling is brought to you by St. Elder, an excellent elderflower liqueur and also the saint that would be my personal patron if I was a high-Church variety of Christian.
When we last left our, um, hero, he was wandering around Europe being a flagrant asshole, even more so than most young men in Europe at the time, which is a pretty impressive feat.
At the same time, a bunch of other people in Europe were going “hey you know what’s awesome GHOSTS ARE AWESOME and also ceremonial magic,” because there was a move to note that the Mr. Banksian SCIENCE! and EMPIRE! thing that had taken up a lot of the era was COMPLETE BALLS and there are probably parallels to the forties-fifties-sixties thing in the US here but I will get to that another time, and plus I’d bet someone already wrote a bunch of books on that. I think the Generations people are a good place to start.
Anyhow, one of the results was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which theoretically comes from a coded manuscript written by ancient Rosicrucians and which is probably some kind of forgery, plus some woman who could contact supernatural “Secret Chiefs” who were really in charge of “any magical order or esoteric organization,” per Wiki. (Does this mean one of those guys is personally organizing Shriners parades? Who got stuck astrally watching Scalia strip off at the Bohemian Grove? I’m seeing a lot of arguments here.) The actual manuscript contents are a version of the Renaissance version of the Jewish Kabbalah, plus astrology, geomancy, and Tarot, plus alchemy and Hermeticism, plus Hey These Masonic/Rosicrucian Titles Sound Cool, Let’s Do That.
A couple Victorian gents with Extremely Victorian Names, William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers either wrote these or got ahold of them through Means and turned them into a fairly workable magical curriculum slash society, because there was no cable back then so people founded magical lodges for entertainment, as far as I’ve ever been able to tell. Seriously, you do enough reading on the subject and it looks like founding an occult society was just what people did on Friday nights. As with all magical societies in that time period, there was a lot of Mystical Jazz Hands about the source of the documents and Ancient Lodges That Are Conveniently In Germany and Maybe Dead, which is like the occult Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada. The HGD did admit women on an equal basis, though, and it’s got some rather cool practices, so, hey, props. None of us can help our founders being Extremely Victorian.
So. One of the guys in the Order was the brother-in-law of a chemist who got talking to Crowley about alchemy, which apparently was just a thing people did back then, and introduced him to said brother-in-law, who introduced him to the Order, and Crowley was like, fuck, sign me up. There are theories that dude was in the Secret Service and keeping an eye on Mathers, but also he’d had a mystical experience in 1896, when he first took it up the ass, which, okay, some people are really into the buttsex, I guess, YKIOK and all that, but it makes it more likely that at least some of his interest was genuine. (Mathers was the only head by that point, because Westcott had left important occult documents in a cab. AS YOU DO.)
For a few years, Crowley went through the order, while of course having a lot of sex and doing approximately all of the drugs, and this bugged a number of people, including Yeats and others who were into some weird chaste mystical love bullshit and/or trying to be Extremely Respectable in their own Victorian weirdo ways, which…Crowley was an excessive asshole, but on this one he was kind of right on. Like, you’re already wearing robes and chanting in languages, people are going to Have Issues, there is literally nothing you can do to make them not and why do you care anyhow, those people are awful.
Well, you’ve made me agree with fucking Aleister Crowley. THANKS VICTORIANS.
So, okay. The lodge in London was like, fuck off, we’re not initiating you any more, take your scandalous ass elsewhere. Crowley fucked all the way off to Paris, where Mathers was currently living, and got personally initiated by him, and then told him to go “seize the Vault of the Adepts” which in normal terms means get the rest of the GD kicked out of the flat where they were meeting, and is significantly less cool, especially since a judge was like “…well, these other people are actually paying the damn rent, so.”
Would kind of love to have seen that court case, really. Occult Law & Order. In the criminal justice system, the people…have really bizarre drama.