By Barry Kavanagh, 17 October 2000
Have you read the John Symonds biography of Crowley?
The Great Beast.
Um, yeah and then it was updated as King of the Shadow Realm.
Uh-huh. Well, I read The Great Beast, I mean, you know, it’s a good biography, if you accept the fact that John Symonds clearly does not like Aleister Crowley. It’s kind of biased. There’s a new one that’s just come out which I’ve just started, which seems to be a bit more balanced. I’ve forgotten who it’s by but it’s one that’s just come out in the last month or so.
I heard that Lawrence Sutin, who wrote Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick is doing one.
I’m not sure about that but –
– It might be just a rumour –
– That sounds interesting. Yeah, Crowley’s an interesting guy. I think that one of the problems with Crowley is the people who are interested in him, that you’ll get a lot of these little fucking middle class Satanists who are just trying to shock their mum and dad. They’ve heard that Aleister Crowley was “the wickedest man in the world” and so they say “Oh yeah, well I’m really into Crowley and I’m really into the philosophy of Charles Manson and I really like William Burroughs.” They don’t like William Burroughs because he was a brilliant writer, they like him because he shot his wife and did a lot of junk. It’s this kind of “Look at me, I’m being bad.”
Yeah, I see it as very American as well, there’s so much Christianity [there] that they just take these symbols and you know, one creates the other, the extreme of Christianity creates this kind of satanic thing.
Oh sure, It’s like Anton Szandor La Vey, you know? Melinda Gebbie, who’s my girlfriend as well as a collaborator, she’s from San Francisco. She went over there and was meeting up with a lot of her old friends, a lot of the American underground artists, I mean ’cause she used to be one of them, and she was also hanging out with Carla La Vey, who she says is a very nice woman –
– That’s the daughter, is it?
Yeah but who has had to grow up being Satan’s daughter and she [Melinda] said that she actually saw La Vey’s house and you know, it’s a rubber Satan show. It’s carnival Satanism, it’s just anti-Christianity. That’s what I don’t like about – I mean, in the pure philosophy of Christianity, I find there’s a lot to recommend it, the same as there is in an awful lot of different schools of thought -but the actual religion Christianity is obviously something that is completely soul-destroying. It’s just a big a mistake to try and become the mirror image of it, “Oh you’re good, so we’ll be bad.” Because to some degree Satanism is purely a kind of disease of Christianity. You’ve got to really be Christian to believe in Satan.
There’s a Taoist principle where opposites create each other.
Yes, of course they do. I think that is absolutely spot-on. You couldn’t really argue with that. Yeah, opposites create each other, black creates white. All these dualities, that you can’t really have a single thought enter the world without its shadow following behind it immediately. No, I agree completely.
What are your thoughts on Crowley the man?
I think that he was a brilliant scholar. I think that it’s difficult to make a judgement of Crowley, mainly because he himself did almost everything he could to obscure his – I mean, he played up to all the rumours and the notoriety and for a while I think he thought “Oh well, all publicity is good publicity.” It didn’t actually work out like that.
He had a very painful end.
Well, it depends. I tell you, I’ve got a great little picture. Well, it’s only in a catalogue, it’s a reproduction. I went down to that Crowley exhibition that they had a couple of years ago in London. They’d got a load of his paintings. And they’d also got paintings by Frieda Harris. And they’d got, yeah, a couple of originals from the Thoth deck, which were nice to look at, quite interesting to see. They’d also got this little pencil drawing called A.C. Dying by Frieda Harris. A little pencil drawing of this frail, skeletal guy with a wispy beard, sunk in the pillows of his bed, eaten away, consumed by his illness and he’s got one finger, just touching his bottom lip. And when you hear of the alleged Crowley’s last words, “I am perplexed,” then – yeah, I was coming out of the exhibition with Steve Moore and talking to him, he’s a friend of mine, a fellow comic writer, a fellow occultist and he was one of the editors of Fortean Times for a long while.
He edits Fortean Studies.
Yeah, he edits Fortean Studies, well he’s recently packed that it but he’s back into comic writing now but Steve’s one of my oldest friends, no relation but I’ve known him since I was fourteen. But we were coming out of the thing and we were talking about this vulnerable, fragile little pencil sketch of Crowley and Steve said “You know, it’s very much like the actual pictorial of the ‘I am perplexed,’ you know, the finger to the lip, wondering, questioning,” and I thought “Yeah but on the other hand it kind of looks like the sign of silence,” and it’s quite ambiguous. Is it “I am perplexed?” which would be a terrible thing, to be the last words of a man like that, you know, a terrible, damning thing for Crowley. Or is it a magus, making the sign of silence? There’s something about the ambiguity that I really liked and that I really found emblematic of what I think of Crowley. If I wanted to morally judge him, I’d say that he was probably a bit selfish, probably a bit thoughtless about other people sometimes.
Like Ninette Shumway?
Like his women in general, although sometimes I think that the women caused him as much pain as he caused them. Probably a little bit silly, probably a little bit selfish, certainly not evil.
No, I would never have thought that.
No, the “evil” was all kind of theatrical, it was all playing up to the Sunday newspapers and stuff like that, which probably wasn’t a good idea, it certainly wasn’t as good an idea as he thought at the time.
His magic is definitely something he couldn’t escape from. When he tried to write novels, Moonchild, Diary of a Drug Fiend, they’re just full of it, full of all this –
– I think that they were intended to actually be magical works. I think that the big problem with –
– I think they’re awful as novels.
They’re not that good. I tell you, the main problem is that they actually read very much like Dennis Wheatley but with the sides reversed. It’s very much like “Alright, we’re still in a Dennis Wheatley novel but now all the Satanists are the good guys.” [Laughs] No, I mean, there are some bits of his writing that are brilliant. Some of his writings, it’s doggerel, some of it is very beautiful. I admire the prose style of The Book of the Law, that’s about all I admire about it. I’m sure that there probably is great wisdom there and I’m pretty certain he did channel it from somewhere but I don’t think it was from the genuine Angel of the Aeon! It was probably something pretty fucking big and scary but no, no, I could never accept [it], it’s too mad and cruel, it’s too heartless, it’s too inhuman, I’m not interested in that. If that’s what godhood’s all about then I’ll settle with what I’ve got.
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