Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gnosticism & The "Real" World Part 4

The following information comes from Tobias Churton's Gnostic Philosophy: From Ancient Persia to Modern Times published by InnerTraditions in 2005 on pages 315 to 321. Aleister Crowley-the "King of Depravity," the "Human Beast," "the wickedest man in the world" -or so said to be by the yellow press at the time, met Nancy Cunard: poet, publisher, 1920s avant-garde star, determined campaigner for racial, social and sexual equality-and discoverer of Samuel Beckett in the late 1920s.

She had written to Crowley asking him for astrological advice involving her financial relations with her mother, Lady Emerald Cunard. Nancy was afraid that her mother was about to cut her allowance off because she was living with the black American jazz pianist Henry Crowder. The two met again in 1933. Nancy was organizing interracial dances in Notting Hill and the East End of London. She was also working on a major public appeal for the Scottsboro Boys. On 25 March 1931, nine black youths aged thirteen to twenty were found guilty in Alabama of raping two white prostitutes. Eight of them were sentenced to to die in the electric chair. Crowley signed Nancy's appeal like this: "This case is typical of the hysterical sadism of the American people-the result of Puritanism and the climate-Aleister Crowley, Scientific Essayist."

On 10 March 1933 Crowley noted in his diary: "Great public meeting to protest against Scottsborough Outrage turned to African Rally 8 PM. It would have been a perfect party if the lads had brought their razors! I danced with many whores-all colours." Nancy Cunard even visited Aleister Crowley in England in the summer of 1944 during wartime conditions-hardly the best time to travel-but shows she had a great deal of courage. And Crowley wrote to her thanking her hugely for her visit: "My own adorable Nancy, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. How too angelic a visit. But let it not be so 'far between' the next time! I cannot remember so few hours packed with so much rapture."

On 24 October 1954, Nancy Cunard sent these letters to Gerald Yorke, Crowley's old friend and preserver of his manuscripts, with an accompanying letter: "What a galaxy of people he did offer himself to! This particular point seems practically the pivot of the man-man or magus-does it not? I should have hated all the 'hoolie-goolie' stuff, but that seems to have been long before. I can well imagine him absolutely terrifying many people-serpent's kiss and all. ( I have had the honour; no trouble whatever, it lasted about 10 days, very pretty on my right wrist.)...La! What a picture it evokes, even this short sequence: there he was, in an excellent inn, see how well fed, with plenty of coupons &c...It has been a pleasure to copy them for you, but alas that none of us will see him again." Note: Regarding the "Serpent's Kiss" mentioned in the letter. In the 1920s in the south of France, Crowley enjoyed the joke of asking women if they wanted the "serpent's kiss." Those who agreed offered their hand and received a bite-an anarchic frisson from a bygone age.

Edward Alexander Crowley had been born into a family of well-off Christian fundamentalists in 1875. His family were members of the Exclusive or "Plymouth" Brethren in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He received his education from a group of strangely sadistic Brethren, whose efforts at indoctrination intensified after Edward's beloved father's death in 1887.

Crowley referred to his education by his mother's family as "A Boyhood in Hell." The many privations he suffered led to the collapse of his health. He began to despise (in the form of a viperous wit) what he knew as Christianity, sympathizing with "the enemies of Heaven." He questioned the moral absolutes of Christianity-good and evil-holy and unholy etcetera. Back in the days of the late 19th century, questioning the foundations of one's culture wasn't near as common as it is now. Crowley felt an acute loneliness and deep isolation, and began to seek a solution to the problem that might go beyond not only these apparent opposites but also the sufferings and miseries of life itself.

His youthful rebellion against the established relgion of the West is expressed bluntly in some passages of his Confessions, of which the following is the most succinct: "I was trying to take the view that the Christianity of hypocrisy and cruelty was not true Christianity. I did not hate God or Christ, but merely the God and Christ of the people whom I hated. It was only when the development of my logical faculties supplied the demonstration that the Scriptures support the theology and practices of professing Christians that I was compelled to set myself in opposition to the Bible itself. It does not matter that the literature is sometimes magnificent and that in isolated passages the philosophy and ethics are admirable. The sum of the matter is that Judaism is a savage, and Christianity a fiendish superstition."

It would seem that Crowley was among many other things a very spiritual person. He wasn't religious in the ordinary sense of the word-but he had an intense drive to know-to have the experience of gnosis-the highest possible level of spiritual illumination. In 1913 Crowley described himself as a Holy Illuminated Man of God or "HIMOG"-and took this appellation very seriously.

At the same time, Crowley decided to improve his health, physical weakness, and prevail against the taunts of his peers by developing amazing skill in the discipline of mountaineering, a sanctuary for many solitary young people and an area in which Crowley did extremely well.

In 1895 Crowly matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a very adept scholar at this point and preferred his own voluminous reading to that prescribed by his tutors. The Crowley family wealth (somewhat ironically in the brewing trade for a family of fundamentalist Christians-although even Jesus Christ said "eat, drink and be merry" -or was that someone else? :-) ensured that money wouldn't be a concern for him at this stage in his life.

There is still more to post for this article-I wanted to take a break and look something up-I should still have it here in a bit. Thanks again for all of your fantastic comments and all the best to anyone stopping by! The second image is of a young Aleister Crowley.


X. Dell said...

(1) Crowley: "I was trying to take the view that the Christianity of hypocrisy and cruelty was not true Christianity. I did not hate God or Christ, but merely the God and Christ of the people whom I hated. It was only when the development of my logical faculties supplied the demonstration that the Scriptures support the theology and practices of professing Christians that I was compelled to set myself in opposition to the Bible itself."

Sounds a lot like Lennon. At first professing no animosity toward Christ but rather the "thick and ordinary" nature of Christians, eventually drifts toward atheism. Interesting too, McCartney's interest in Crowley, hence his appearance on the Sgt. Pepper album.

(2) You enticed me to look more into the life of Nancy Cunard. Sounds like a fantastic woman.

Devin said...

Xdell-thanks much once again for your comments!!
I think it happens very often that children and young adults exposed to religious fundamentalism become anti (organized) religion-or religous "nuts" themselves-I didn't know about this early part of Crowley's upbringing until I read the Crowley part in Churton's book
I also agree that Nancy Cunard sounds like a fantastic and fascinating woman-thanks again so much for your interest and comments-about to do the last part for tonight-and hope to continue very soon with the rest of Churton's information about Crowley and more about Gnosticism in general-best to you as always!!

Autumnforest said...

My holiday gift to blogs I follow is to tell them what I love about their blogs.

Yours is where I go to learn, to open my mind, to contemplate, to visualize. You have a wonderful way with the written word and your hunger for knowledge is so beautiful. Some people just have a very special soul, and you're one of them, Dev. Keep it up! p.s. I will be sending positive energy your way the next couple days. Just imagine me over your shoulder. I'll be there giving you confidence.

Devin said...

Autumnforest-thanks so much for your kind words !!! they touched my soul deeply and I so thank you for them -I also can't tell you how much I will appreciate the extra positive energy on the 17th-whatever happens with my case-the decision will be most likely made that very day-whether we hear about it right away is another matter!!
thanks again for your very kind words and I could say exactly the same thing about your blog and soul!!
all the best in the world to you and yours my friend and I hope to chat soon one way or the other-thanks again!!