A Review of Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World

Here is an excellent review of my book Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World, if I do say so myself. It gets the essential point of the book and recognizes that I take Crowley seriously enough to raise important criticisms about him. It is encouraging to see that some readers get what you are aiming at. It makes all the trouble you put into writing worth while. And I bet Crowley would like it too!

7 thoughts on “A Review of Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World

  1. An insightful and understanding review of the book which has brought the real Crowley out into the open and exposed him to the light of day… And none too soon.

  2. Just finished the book and found it a most enjoyable and worthwhile ride.

    One thing, though: Unless I missed through reading too fast, I saw no mention of Crowley’s assertion in “The Book of Thoth” that the Age of the Child would result in a 500-year dark age before the wonderful things no doubt inherent in it manifested themselves.

    That assertion I consider his most penetrating insight; and it can hardly be argued that the defeat of the Axis in his lifetime nullifies it.

    Your own hope is that The Child grows up quickly, but Crowley had no such illusion. Everywhere “that kid” is acting up and acting out — not simply among the youth, who can only take “do what you will” so far, but throughout a myriad of power-structures of all political, corporate, social, religious and philosophical persuasions on every continent:

    And those entities can take things very far indeed, up to and including burning down the house as they play with their matches.

    When The Child is the only Law West of the Pecos, so to speak, and there is no recognized power beyond the self, those who book a New Dark Age as almost a given can be excused for what might under other circumstances appear as plain unmitigated Wet Blanket Pessimism.

    That Crowley saw the (at least initial) dire consequences of the new Aeon tells me that Crowley-as-test-pilot was paying closer attention to his instrument panel than he is generally given credit for.

    At any rate, I missed the inclusion and discussion of this prediction in your excellent and thorough work; and the annoying word “why” intrudes itself, unbidden, into what’s left of an old man’s consciousness.

    1. Many thanks for your comments and I’m glad you enjoyed the book. Crowley’s prophecy in the Book of Thoth wasn’t left out for any reason, other than space and time. One can only cover so much and inevitably some things certainly worth mentioning get lost. I do say that Crowley envisaged a coming age of “force and fire,” so the idea that some dark time was on its ways was mentioned. My remarks about the “crowned and conquering child” growing up have to do with Crowley’s somewhat immature – to my mind – ideas about freedom and “doing what you will,” and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that everyone except him and his followers is mature. The truth is the opposite: most of us aren’t. I do think “growing up” and becoming responsible and aware is the basic aim of all spiritual practice. Crowley to me seemed to make a religion out of doing whatever he wanted. While exciting and fun initially, in the end this sensibility leads to boredom and emptiness, and Crowley’s last days do seem to suggest that he faced these problems. In his play Man and Superman, Bernard Shaw presents Hell, not as a place of torment and pain, but as a place where you have nothing to do but entertain yourself. Heaven is a place of effort and struggle. I think Crowley’s notion of will is essentially passive and negative. It is more about “freedom from” rather than “freedom for”, in Nietzsche’s distinction. Crowley had a strong idea of what he didn’t like or want to do, and this is true of most of us. But I don’t think he had a very clear idea of what positive aim he should direct his energies toward. It’s this aspect of the “child” philosophy that I feel is lacking. In any case, many thanks again for your perceptive and stimulating remarks. You’re the kind of reader I want to reach.

      1. Just so — and I think Crowley would have been an interesting addition to “Man and Superman”: Give John Tanner a run for his money as a paid-up Enemy of God.

        I guess my point was that the fractured consciousness Crowley exhibits was in all its facets both “fake” and “not fake”; and that the two were not infrequently simultaneous: He could at one and the same time beat the drum for his philosophy AND calmly note the actual outcome of it — first on himself, and then by extension on the world at large. That’s the part I called “Crowley-as-test-pilot”.

        This is no defense of the guy — I have never really trusted him, not even in the first blush of discovery when I gather many are tempted to become acolytes. But that “test-pilot” part of him I do find to be the most reliable chunk of the curiously arrested development you describe in the book.

        I am not myself A Genius, not even close, and can only guess at the stresses to which the “messianic” mind is subject. Looking in from the outside, it has always been a question for me whether such a mind actually promulgates a given philosophy or is somehow adopted by it due to social, historical and other forces: Is more or less actually in the grip of those shaping forces, will-he-nil-he —

        The old argument whether The Man Makes the Times or The Times Make the Man will never be settled, perhaps because the answer is Both.

        That’s why I find the “test-pilot’s” assertion that the Age of the Child is fraught with certain peril for humanity at large of particular interest: Crowley warns of the danger of pursuing the same philosophy he has been pursuing (a 500-year Dark Age may be poetic hyperbole — alliterated or not — but it is still a clear Red Flag); he never-the-less pursues it like a good test-pilot because some part of him is sincerely convinced that The Age of the Child is a given, inescapable, and looming reality, and Someone ought to at least go over the ground.

        And simple logic and observation concludes that if it’s gonna be every man and women for themselves, things are gonna get dicey (to say the least); and dicey for perhaps a very long time.

        And what’s to be done about it? Couldn’t say, and won’t. Historical forces are what they are, and will play out despite anyone’s bluster, intentions, or plans. Crowley’s value outside shock entertainment lies in whether or not he correctly identified the next epoch in human development — not in how he reacted to that knowledge.

        Right now I think he was right. Take a look around you — and fasten your seat-belt, amigo …

        Many thanks for the conversation, Mr. Lachman.

      2. Many thanks again for these perceptive comments. I like the idea of Crowley as a ‘test pilot’. It strikes me as rather like Nietzsche’s belief that in order to combat the nihilism he saw on its way – and about which I believe he was spot on – he had to take it on himself and find a way out of it. (Sadly, too many just take it on as a fashionable postmodern attitude.) And I think this only helps make my point: that we should thank Crowley for experimenting in this direction and showing us that it doesn’t work. This is a point I try to make in an exchange I had with another Crowley biographer, Tobias Churton, on the Reality Sandwich website. You might be interested in it: http://realitysandwich.com/230073/the-lore-and-lure-of-aleister-crowley-a-dialog/ All the best, Gary

      3. Fascinating discussion.

        I am not particularly equipped to appreciate Mr. Churton’s arguments, whether through intellectual incapacity or simple personal predilection: I have never been absorbed with the notion of unleashing “the God” within me; it was always enough in my own (extremely) modest artistic career to try to “unleash” a little fun on the crowd on the dance floor, or a good healthy laugh or tear or thought in an audience for a stage production.

        I have played with a good many talented (on my own level; and, yes, you do detect a certain reverse-snobbery here … !) improvisational musicians who could summon up all manner of dark visions — “demons” perhaps, in the vernacular) — but I have known very few who could dispel or “exorcise” those demons once summoned.

        And I consider the vanquishing of dark demons to be the one of the proper tasks of any music I would care to play.

        In my mind, the truly great bluesmen, for instance, do NOT leave a depressing aftertaste: Chart construction, fine degrees of tempo, lilt, and humor, and many other cues remove the sting from whatever nominally “down” lyrics and themes may be employed, and even convert them to a positive sort-of glow in the listener.

        Largely improvised music of the sort pioneered by Miles Davis and his ilk is, I think, a bolder attempt at the commission of public “magic” than more the structured popular-type forms — although the success of those bolder attempts often falls far shorter in real life at creating real magic than a “simple” B.B. King or even George Thorogood tune.

        When I have succeeded with a band playing either original pop or cover songs (again, this is all strictly local stuff), I find dancers and listeners by-and-large transported more deeply into their own worlds, not mine; the band is appreciated, not deified … and the job of simple work-a-day “liberation” is well-accomplished.

        When everything goes right in some improv project, I find the opposite: I am The Hero, not the crowd. “YOU did that, didn’t you?” I am asked when a sort-of in-the-moment tribal community is established, with no apparent inkling that we ALL “did that”.

        Being human, and aware that a good part of the effect was indeed produced by intruding my own will from behind the drums on a set of musicians and the audience alike (many coming to the venue with no particular will to intrude on anyone else’s, or scant technique to do so), I would generally stick my toe in the sand and gently pooh-pooh the idea that “I did that” before (reluctantly, of course, and gracefully) conceding the point and accepting whatever goodies are offered for being An Obviously Superior Being.

        (If this is true on the local level, I can imagine what life is like for a national act … !)

        I get a kick out of being A Duly Acknowledged Magician, but not as big a kick as I do out of playing four hours of good dance music in a lively and simpatico club with three or four guys who really know their stuff.

        Well, and what does all this have to do with Aleister Crowley, Mr. Churton, and yourself?

        Maybe nothing, maybe everything, maybe both.

        In standard Western Logic courses, a basic tenet is that if a thing is proved to be both “A” and “Not-A”, you may draw any conclusion you want. And I think that is the key to anything “magical”: Not in choosing one side of the equation over the other, or in somehow “resolving” the contradiction, but in just allowing the contradiction to stand as is, and allowing the myriad of conclusions to make themselves, frequently at an unconscious level.

        Bernard Shaw, reviewing an actress who had caused a tremendous sensation at the climax of a scene, said that, in reality, at the precise instant at which that actress was hailed as delivering a technical masterstroke, she had actually done exactly …

        Nothing at all.

        And having thus worn-out my long-winded welcome, I wish for you all good things, and a Good Time to boot …

        Rick Lapin
        Albuquerque, NM

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