Aleister Crowley Again: In Which Serial Killers Are Involved

I hope, as the kids say, you packed a lunch.

Because at this point, you might be thinking: well, this drunken history of early-20th-century Occult Drama is all very well and good, but did Aleister Crowley ever have any theories about Jack the Ripper?

Of course he did. 

Everyone and their mom has theories about Jack the Ripper. (I have some thoughts about that, but that’s tangential and meta and thus will get its own post.) Aleister Crowley had theories about everything…

…although this one, at least the way he expressed it, was not per se his theory but one he “heard” from a “friend” and related in the course of being catty about a number of Victorian occultists. To get to the good part of this, you have to read past about six paragraphs of long-winded description of people who were “sent by the powers of darkness” to destroy Blavatsky (who Crowley seems to have admired, at least here). To wit: one was a Theosophist who wrote a lot about chastity but was actually getting it on in a bisexual fashion (to be fair, Crowley phrases this fairly amusingly) but is more the plot device here than an actual character.

See, Mabel the Theosophist was sleeping with Captain Donston (peak Victorian names for both these people) but was tired of him, perhaps due to the Corrupting Lesbian Influence of Victoria Cremers (whose physical and mental unattractiveness Crowley dwells on at length). Donston had also written a newspaper article in which he theorized that Jack the Ripper was trying to gain ultimate power or make himself invisible by committing murders in a “Cavalry cross” or inverted pentagram or something, and that this had succeeded because someone had seen a couple go into a cul-de-sac and then heard the woman scream and rushed in and found a dead body BUT NO MAN OMG.

(Crowley also says that the Ripper was just eating parts of his victims right there at the murder scenes, which: you eat, or claim to eat, half of one kidney…)

Cremers wants to retrieve some incriminating letters so Donston can’t ruin Mabel’s reputation . All three of them were living together (GREAT IDEA  ALWAYS WORKS OUT)  and Donston had a box in his bedroom that he always kept locked, so Cramers went in one night and opened it and found FIVE BLOODY NECKTIES OMG OMG OMG WTF BBQ.

I guess she…told Crowley about it, even though they don’t seem to have been friends, to say the least. She also apparently did not tell the authorities. (Later, her take seems to have wavered between “I told my Theosophist friends and we had him institutionalized in America,” and “Well he pinkie-promised that there wouldn’t be more murders and I thought he’d get his just desserts in the next life so, sure, Butcher of Whitechapel as a roommate!”)

(This is a massive condensation of the article, which has a writing “style” that lets some people interpret it as Crowley accusing *Blavatsky* of the killings, and in which Crowley refers to himself in the third person, of course. Don’t say I never did anything for you.) 

The parts of this story that are not bullshit: Donston wrote that article and the Pall Mall Gazette published it in a fit of sterling editorial judgment.

The parts that may not be bullshit: If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that Victorian occult threesomes were absolutely a thing. And I guess Donston could have had a box full of bloody neckties in his room, and Cremers could have found it and then chosen to tell Crowley and only Crowley. Maybe there were circumstances behind both decisions that we don’t know about.

The parts that are flagrantly bullshit: everything else, on…several levels. Like, figuring out where to start requires the assistance of Berenjagger.

Granted, “a Victorian serial killer is now a power being” would explain a lot about the world, so let’s stick a pin in the possibility that we’re all living in a fucking Alan Moore comic. At least it’s not Watchmen.

Having settled that, let’s begin with Donston’s “proof” of the spell’s “success.” Take your pick of Nighttime Visibility In 1888 Whitechapel Cul-De-Sacs Wasn’t Great, The Constable Was Probably A Little Distracted by the Corpse, There Are More Doors or Alleys Than We Think, and then put them all on the shelf of shit that doesn’t matter because that incident didn’t happen. Or, if it did, it went unrecorded by everyone except Donston’s off-the-record constable pal. The only murder where anybody reported screaming was Mary Kelly’s: two women heard someone yell “Murder!” and didn’t think anything of it because it was the kind of time and place where you couldn’t get freaked out every time someone screamed about homicide. The past: it kind of sucked.

(Also, as my friend Elise points out, if you’re committing these murders to make yourself invisible and then you are invisible by Murder Three Slash Four, why continue? Did you come for the invisibility and stay for the killing?)

Okay but was Pentagram of Bodies for Vast Occult Power the motive, even if it didn’t actually do anything? 


I mean, I personally am not Jack the Ripper, nor did I know him, but I do know too much about both the occult and serial killers, and That’s Not How Any Of This Works Dot Gif.

1) That’s Not How The Occult Works: I can’t swear to every fuckwit occult theory going around London in 1888–it was the height of Spiritualism and Theosophy and basically the only place and time where you got more magical bullshit for your money was California in 1970.  But I’m reasonably familiar with the field, and I can think of zero spells in any tradition that tell you to gain vast power by killing particular people in particular patterns. Sure, dude could have “worked it out” himself, or had “visions” of the Herbert Mullins variety, but…

2) That’s Not How Serial Killers Work. Arranging killings or body dump sites in a pattern, whether that pattern is a word or a pentagram or a happy face, is up there with “leaving a series of riddles so the police can find you and/or stop your next killing” as Shit Serial Killers Only Do In Movies. (And I may need to make my next blog post about that, because, wow, there’s a lot.) I could be wrong, my knowledge is not encyclopedic, but killing *a person* and not getting caught is a tricky endeavor. (Hello there, FBI!)  Killing multiple people? Exponentially harder. If you add “also drag each one to a specific point in London,” you’d probably get caught before the third or fourth, no matter how bad the cops were at their job.

As for picking the sites and committing the murders there, if you have the planning and perspective to only kill victims of type X in place A, B. C. D. and E, in order, you have probably channeled your desire for human misery into a less legally troublesome form and become governor of Texas.

Similarly, while serial killers do take trophies, the tie thing is just…is he saving the murder cravats as trophies? As an occult link due to the blood? (That would make more sense if Donston’s motive theory were correct, but: q.v. bullshit.)  If you’re already taking body parts, do you also need carefully preserved Homicide Neckwear? That’s a lot, is my point, like, even BTK would think this guy is extra.

Nonetheless, this is *Crowley’s* ridiculous theory, or the ridiculous theory he heard. And now it gets even weirder. 

See, in 1920 Crowley could no longer sponge off zines and sex partners in New York, so he went back to London, got accused of “treason” by tabloids there (and while I don’t love being fair to Crowley, JFC, John Bull, learn how espionage works) and picked up a heroin addiction from asthma medication. Being decently versed in 1920s medicine, I’m not surprised the doctor was like “Asthma? Try heroin!”; being decently versed in Crowley, I *am* kind of surprised he hadn’t picked up that particular addiction already.

So he and his latest women decamped to Paris and founded a Thelemic Abbey, which was basically a commune with more sex magic in front of kids (ew, no) but the eternal commune problem of nobody wanting to do the goddamn dishes to the point where feral dogs were apparently wandering through the place. Crowley was constantly wandering off to, and I quote Wikipedia, “visit rent boys and buy supplies, including drugs.” 

Into this enlightened paradise came Betty May and Raoul Loveday. Crowley was all over Loveday all “ooh, my magickal heir” but Did Not Approve of May because…she worked in a club, may have slept with a bunch of people, and had a cocaine habit, all of which were suddenly not okay with Frater What Nasal Cavity? Nobody does hypocrisy like the  Edwardian upper class, apparently, even when that upper class has spent its last decade or two living on friends’ sofas because it SPENT A WHOLE INHERITANCE ON BLOW AND PUBLISHING SHITTY POETRY. 

Loveday died–possibly because Crowley told him not to drink water from a certain stream, he did anyhow, turned out the warning was less Emanations of the Upper Astral and more Fucking Giardia, Bro–and May kind of flipped her shit. She went to the papers accusing Crowley of a bunch of things like cat murder, which Crowley did deny, and then she published her autobiography. 

In said autobiography? The Ties in the Box story, only in May’s account Crowley was the one with the ties, and he showed them to her and told her how he’d known Jack the Ripper, who was still alive and wore a brand-new tie each time he killed someone AND was a surgeon and a magician and could turn invisible and so could Crowley.

Again, I will note the apparent “Someone I don’t get along with at all? Great choice to hear about my encounter with a serial killer!” logic. 

This story also has the complication that Crowley was all of 13 in 1888.  So either a barely-teenage boy from a fucked-up repressed cult met and befriended a serial killer, or JtR saved the ties for some number of years (during which he stopped killing and went back to a normal life, like totally fucking happens) then met Crowley and passed them on because…he recognized a fellow magician and the Destined Gross Neckwear Scion? And then Crowley knew this guy was a serial killer and just didn’t say anything to any authorities? (Granted, this fits decently with the mountaineering incident, but also Crowley was even more into fame/infamy than he was into cocaine, WHICH IS A LOT, so I’d think he’d want the credit for that shit.) 

Also, the bit where Jack deliberately puts on a new Murder Tie every time is unintentionally hilarious, like, did he buy all of them up front? Was there a point where he ran out? Was his valet or whoever in on it, or was there a scene with “Sir, I just bought you a dozen silk ties, and…”


Just to make things interesting, the timeline here is weird.

See, May published her autobiography. Then a guy named Bernard O’Donnell, writing a book later, asked Crowley about the ties, and Crowley reportedly replied oh, sure, those ties? He got rid of them when he moved. Yeah, he’d known Jack the Ripper, dude had a lousy sense of humor, and he was dead now. That’s (as far as I can tell, fuckers do not put publication dates on things) when Crowley produced his whole Cremers/Donston story. Then O’Donnell talked to Cremers and she told him a whole bunch of things. Possibly. He was apparently not a model of journalistic integrity.

So what the fuck?

Possibility 1: Donston legit did have bloody neckties in a box, God knows why. He wasn’t Jack the Ripper–he was in a hospital when the second murder took place–but Jack was not the only murderer or even the only serial killer around, even if he was the only one recognized as such at the time. Maybe Donston had killed other people. Maybe he had really bad nosebleeds. Maybe–likely, since he had some of the Ooh Look At Me Occult Bad Boy nonsense happening that Crowley did–it wasn’t human blood and he kept them around to feel cool.

Possibility 2: Cremers, who had no love for Donston, made it up and told Crowley before there was bad blood between the two of them.

Possibility 3: Crowley, who really liked having the inside scoop on all things creepy and potentially-spinnable-as-mystical, made it up. The bloody ties? IDK, dude liked bloody ties, maybe it was from the pigeons.

Possibility 4: May made up the bit with the ties and Jack the Ripper for similar reasons to the Cremers-Dunston hypothesis: Ooh, Look How Awful this Guy Is. Crowley heard about it, decided to roll with it, and added the Cremers/Mabel/Donston element to explain how he got involved despite being thirteen at the time. Cremers either did likewise or O’Donnell asked some leading questions and elaborated.

I’m inclined toward 4 based on Crowley’s “Ties? Those ties that I definitely had? I, um, well, movers, you know how it is,” line with O’Donnell: sure, things do get lost over the course of 10-ish years, especially with a dude who moves around a lot and takes all the drugs, but that dialogue sounds like a guy who sees a chance to confirm a story that makes him sound both badass and above it all. Plus there’s the fact that nobody had ever heard of this bloody necktie thing before May started in on it–yeah, maybe everyone was sworn to vast magical secrecy, but as previous posts on this subject indicate, none of the occult orders did a bang-up job keeping its super-secret mysteries either secret or mysterious in any other context.

(Either that or the ties did exist and Crowley sold them to another morbid-ass individual, probably for drug money.)

I am guessing that the “occult ritual for power” angle played a role when Alan Moore wrote “From Hell” fifty-some years later, but Moore, to his credit, seems to have just latched on to good story elements wherever he can find them. The bloody neckties and the ritual and so forth are absolutely those–but honestly, I could probably get a pretty decent novel or three out of the sheer amount of Extra present in the people telling all of these stories, too.

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I'm Izzy. I write stuff: mostly vaguely fantasy stuff, and most notably the following books: Hickey of the Beast, published March 2011 by Candlemark and Gleam Romance novels from Sourcebooks: No Proper Lady Lessons After Dark Legend of the Highland Dragon The Highland Dragon's Lady Night of the Highland Dragon Highland Dragon Warrior Highland Dragon Rebel Highland Dragon Master I also like video games, ballroom dancing, and various geeky hobbies like LARPing. I have been known to voluntarily purchase and eat circus peanuts. Like, a whole bag at once.

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