THE DEVIL AND ALEISTER CROWLEY
[based on a talk delivered by Allen Greenfield Feb. 14, 1992 e.v. at Eulis Lodge Temple, Atlanta, GA]
Let me see if I can set the stage for you. We are quoting from Milton’s Paradise Lost. It is important that you realize that Milton was a devout Christian in an era of devout Christian zeal in England. The speaker is Satan. Satan and his broken army are lying prostrate on a lake of fire after their defeat by the Host of Heaven. If the speech sounds like a chivalrous knight addressing his defeated comrades, rallying them, you will see my point. Whatever we are imagining here, it is not the “Satan” of today’s low church fundamentalist Christians.
Satan arises, and says to his lieutenant:
“If you are he; but O how fallen! How changed. From him, who in the happy Realms of Light, clothed with transcendent brightness, did outshine myriads though bright: If he whom mutual league, united thoughts and counsels, equal hope, and hazard in the glorious enterprise joined with me once - now misery has joined in equal ruin; into what pit you see from what height fallen, so much the stronger proved He with his thunder; and until then who knew the force of those dire arms? Yet, not for those nor what the Potent Victor in his rage can else inflict do I repent or change, though changed in outward luster, that fixed mind and high disdain, from sense of injured merit, that with the mightiest raised me to contend, and to the fierce contentions brought along innumerable force of Spirits armed that themselves dislike His reign, and me preferring; His utmost power with adverse power opposed in dubious battle on the Plains of Heaven - and shook his throne. Although the field be lost, all is not lost; the unconquerable Will, and study of revenge, immortal hate, and courage never to submit or yield; and what is else not to be overcome? That Glory, never shall His wrath or might extort from me. To bow and sue for grace with suppliant knee, and deify his power who from the terror of this arm so late doubted His empire, that were low, indeed, that were an ignominy and shame beneath this downfall; since by Fate the strength of gods and this empyreal substance cannot fail, since through experience of this great event in arms not worse, in foresight much advanced, we may with more successful hope resolve to wage by force or guile eternal war irreconcilable, to our grand Foe, who now triumphs, and in the excess of joy sole reigning holds the tyranny of Heaven . . . One who brings a mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven. What matter where, if I be still the same, and what I should be, all but less than He whom thunder has made greater? Here at last we shall be free; the Almighty has not built here for his envy, will not drive us away: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” I’m going to start this out with a personal story. By my own lights, and according to my own understanding of the term, I am not a Satanist, nor have I ever been such. Yet, a rumor of Satanism has haunted me and dogged my professional career for several years now, and, so far as I have been able to trace its source, it is the assumption that my association with the OTO, the EGC and the philosophy of Aleister Crowley makes me, ipso facto, a Satanist.
In the Autumn of 1989 Creating Loafing In Atlanta published a cover story dealing mostly with the Satanism hysteria then current, primarily focusing on heavy metal culture. A reasonably balanced piece, it made an offhand reference to Aleister Crowley as a Satanist. In replying to this allegation as an EGC Bishop, I referred readers to Israel Regardie and Gerald Suster for some perspective on Crowley’s actual perspective on such matters.
I was then employed by an AT&T Security System Dealership. Many of the floor employees were militant Christian fundamentalists, and, as I moved rapidly up in the company, I found both my wife (also employeed there) and myself being harassed by this group, who, it turned out, accounted for my advancement in the company not on my personal ability, but my imagined `deal with the Devil.’ I left this company after six months of effort, working with Upper Management, to quell this rumor. When I decided to leave I had, in fact, been nominated for a top executive position in the company. The last straw came when I discovered that the house “Satan Squad” had decided that the Devil had sent me there to seduce Upper Management into Satan’s camp. All, mind you, from a letter in Creative Loafing, the essence of which was that I did not consider Aleister Crowley a Satanist. The stigma followed me to yet another Senior Position. I was the General Manager and highest ranking official of a corporation in this State when office politics caused me to get into an extended dispute with the Company President’s local protege. Ostensibly my subordinate, I later discovered, as she confessed at a Labor Department Hearing, that she had burgled my private files in an effort to obtain evidence of my occult activities! After I had parted company with the firm on less than cordial grounds, I discovered that her coworker, my other assistant, had been quizzing one of my acquaintances as to whether or not I was a Satanist. Only the desire to avoid negative publicity for the OTO kept me from taking further legal action against the company in question. We really need to understand what is meant by a “Satanist” if we are to understand how this relates to the OTO and to Aleister Crowley personally. Being a classicist and poet as well as a magician, Crowley was very apt to use Miltonian symbolism in laying out his radical perspective on human - or superhuman nature. Milton’s imaginary Satan is the eternal rebel, differing in character from Shelley’s Prometheus but little. Crowley, being one of the first spiritual thinkers to comprehend the religious implications of Freud’s new model of human consciousness, was also interested in the exploration and integration of the unconscious forces and repressed sexuality underlying our conscious lives. He recognized that much of what Christianity came to consider “sinful,” “wicked,” “evil” or “Satanic” was, in fact, primal natural sexuality as such. Hence, the veneration of Levi’s version of “Baphomet” as beast-man-woman-deity all together. Therefore to the extent that the image of the integrated being, beyond sexual guilt or inhibition is “Satanic” then Crowley is clearly Satanic, as are all subscribers to modern scientific concepts of human nature. To the extent that the image of the eternal rebel, from the serpent who tempts people to knowledge and immortality to Shelley’s Prometheus, punished by the gods for giving humanity some measure of control over our environment - to the extent that this is Satanic, Crowley is a Satanist, as is George Washington, Thomas Paine, Thoreau, Martin Luther King and every person who has ever rebelled against or questioned authority. Crowley was usually inclined to either shrug such matters off, or to explain his views in anthropological terms. “This `Devil’,” he wrote in Book Four, “is called Satan or Shaitan, and regarded with horror by people who are ignorant of his formula, and, imagining themselves to be evil, accuse Nature herself of their own phantasmal crime. Satan is Saturn, Set, Abrasax, Adad, Adonis, Attis, Adam, Adonai, etc. The most serious charge against him is only that he is the Sun in the South. The Ancient Initiates, dwelling as they did in lands whose blood was the water of the Nile or the Euphrates, connected the South with life-withering heat, and cursed the quarter where the solar darts were deadliest. . . But to us, aware of astronomical facts, this antagonism to the South is a silly superstition which the accidents of their local conditions suggested to our animistic ancestors. . . We have therefore no scruple in restoring this `devil worship’ of such ideas as those which the laws of sound, and the phenomena of speech and hearing, compel us to connect with the group of `Gods’ whose names are based upon ShT and D, vocalized by the free breath A. For these Names imply the qualities of courage, frankness, energy, pride, power and triumph. “ This, to any educated person, is obviously poetic, anthropological and psychological symbolism, not Satanism. Elsewhere in the same volume Crowley goes on to say unambiguously, “The Devil does not exist . . . `The Devil’ is, historically, the God of any people that one personally dislikes.” He observes with Gustav Davidson, for example, that the `Satan’ of the Old Testament is a title (Numbers 22:22) meaning `the Adversary’ and is clearly a sort of `devil’s advocate’ in the Courtroom of Almighty God, not the “Prince of Darkness” at all! It is only in the New Testament and in later Christian writings that the “Prince of Darkness” comes into being, passing, like Santa Claus, only in modern times to something like a separate God of Evil.
Today we find the modern American Protestant “Televangelists” touting Satan as a kind of “antiGod” with powers rarely before ascribed to him. I maintain that these people have themselves lapsed over into a kind of Christian heresy, something like the Manicheism that rocked early Christianity to its foundations in positing a force of evil independent of God. This neatly disposes, of course, of the embarrassing and never answered question of why a good god would create evil, but it throws over the notion that the Christian Deity is the one and only Lord of the Universe. Crowley was much more moderate in his attitudes, regarding Satanic symbolism as merely one of the symbolic levers to full awakening, which was his real interest.
One final comment, and a warning; the fundamentalists are a rear guard of fanatics. Not all of them are stupid, and some of them are dangerous. If the press asked Aleister Crowley if he engaged in human sacrifice, he was apt to say that he “sacrificed millions of children every year.” He was, of course, counting sperm he had ejaculated over an average year. He took the press lightly. But, on one occasion during a court trial, when asked under oath if he believed in the efficacy of human sacrifice, he said something quite different. “Human sacrifice works. I am unalterably opposed to it,” said the Great Beast. I doubt in the mean-spirited climate of today he would either much approve of the barnyard Satanism of certain heavy metal cultists with a taste for mutilation and mayhem, nor would he fail to take seriously the mob-hysteria of the Geraldo Rivera / John Ankerberg / Maury Terry demagoguery. This is the real evil of our time, and it is dangerous. If someone asks me if I am a Satanist, I take them to mean what they do, and I just say “no” and let it go at that.