1 James Branch Cabell
ALEISTER CROWLEY WRITES JAMES BRANCH CABELL
James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) was a satirical fantasy writer of considerable talent. Fame, however, would likely have eluded him altogether were it not for the ultimately failed attempt to ban his erotic novel Jurgen (1919). He rapidly became a cult hero, and, as is often the case, was just as quickly forgotten. He lived on into the late 1950s, “wryly amused at the whole thing,” as Louis Rubin of Hollins College put it, he “continued to write his books and to live his modest, quiet life in his house on Monument Avenue in the west end of Richmond, with winters in Florida and summers in the `Northern Neck’ area of Virginia, meanwhile contemplating the vicissitudes of fame.”
The cult following’s long-ago departure, however, should not deceive; Cabell’s stature among discerning bibliophiles and occasional critics mark him as an outstanding novelist, a southern aristocrat of modest but independent means who “proposed to go right on writing what he pleased. Which he did,” as Rubin put it.
As some of our readers no doubt know, the mischief of Jurgen included an amusing paraphrase of Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass. Consider this brief extract from “As To A Veil They Broke,” the twenty-second chapter of the novel. In the Land of Cocaigne, Queen Anaitis invites Jurgen to a ceremony. He is taken to a chapel “adorned with very unchurchlike paintings.” In the chapel were a man wearing a robe of gold and white, and two naked children, one carrying a censor, the other a salt cellar and pitcher of water. Jurgen is given a lance.
“Meanwhile Duke Jurgen held the lance erect, shaking it with his right hand. This lance was large, and the tip of it was red with blood.
“ `Behold,’ said Jurgen, `I am a man born of a woman incomprehensibly. Now I, who am miraculous, am found worthy to perform a miracle, and to create that which I may not comprehend.’
“ Anaitis took salt and water from the taller child, and mingled these. `Let the salt of earth enable the thin fluid to assume the virtue of the teeming sea!’
“Then, kneeling, she touched the lance, and began to stroke it lovingly. To Jurgen she said: `Now may you be fervent of soul and body! May the endless Serpent be your crown, and the fertile flame of the sun your strength!’
“ Said the hooded man again, `So be it!’ His voice was high and bleating, because of that which had been done to him.
“`That therefore which we cannot understand we also invoke,’ said Jurgen. `By the power of the lifted lance,’ - and now, with his left hand he took the hand of Anaitis, -`I, being a man born of a woman incomprehensibly, now seize upon that which alone I desire with my whole being. I lead you towards the east. I up raise you above the earth and all the things of earth.’”
Crowley, for his part, is lavish in his praise for Cabell.
“As I have tried to show in my essay (The Review, July 1923),” he says in his autobiography, “James Branch Cabell is a world genius of commanding stature.”
“I regard his epic,” Crowley continued, “of such supreme importance to mankind as an exposition of the nature of the universe that I have not only sent him a copy of THE BOOK OF THE LAW in the hope that he may find it in the way out of his Buddhistic demonstration that `everything is sorrow’ but followed it up by letter after letter urging him to use it, for his work cannot attain perfection until it culminates in a positive conclusion.”
The following memo, from Aleister Crowley to James Branch Ca bell, was written at Cefalu in 1923, and was found among a collection of rare Crowley materials. It appears to be a draft of one of the letters referred to above by Crowley in his Confessions.
Almost every verse of the Book of the Law contains profuse mathematical and philosophical truths concealed in apparently standard English, which English has none the less its regular meaning. You will have noticed the style of the Book is for the most part astoundingly sublime, and the ineffable wonder of the whole thing is that I should have written it down from the dictation of a voice whose owner I could not see, one hour exactly for each chapter, on three consecutive days. It is thus quite certain that the author is somebody possessed of knowledge and ingenuity utterly beyond my capacity. Indeed, I feel confident in saying, beyond the capacity of any human being imaginable. Incidentally there are passages in the Book which baffle exegesis until certain events took place, years after writing it, which were entirely beyond my control, yet which furnished proof that the
Author of the Book knew what was going to happen or was able to bring events to pass.
May I give you one very strange example? I have studied the Book all these eighteen years. Verse 19 of Chapter III utterly baffled me. How could I “count well” the name of the Stele; it never had a name! But I played about with the figures and it suddenly dawned on me that 718 was the value of the name “Stele 666”. “That’s it,” I said to myself. “In a sense the Stele is my Stele.” But I wasn’t quite satisfied, and then it came on me like an earthquake, that after all, the Stele did possess a name - its description in the catalogue of the Museum of Boulak - that name, the only name it ever had, was actually Stele 666.
As to controlling external events, let me tell you one extraordinary incident. In November 1917, appeared the end of my article in The International, “The Revival of Magick”. It challenged the readers to find what was meant by 666 (my Magical Motto To MEGA THERION [in Greek T], adds to 666.) One night in January, I asked an Intelligence with whom I was in touch, if I could spell my motto in Hebrew so as to get new numbers which might throw some light on something. He replied “Yes.” I asked “ All three words of the name or the last only?” He said, “The last only”. I then tried all sorts of ways of spelling Therion and got no results. That was on a Saturday night. I went to the office on a “Workless Monday” for my mail. Nothing there. But on Tuesday Viereck sent round a letter addressed to him which had arrived on Monday, having been written on Saturday night at about the time I had made my enquiry. The writer was a perfect stranger to all of us. He asked Verick to tell me that he had solved the riddle in my article of November and gave the spelling of Therion in Hebrew making the value 666. This was astonishing enough; but much more was to come. The stranger signed himself as Samuel Bar Aiwass Bue Jacou de Sherabad, from which I deduced that his father’s name was Aiwass. This had been given to me as the Author of the Book of the Law, see Chap I, verse 7. I had only HEARD the name, which I supposed to be a made up name like Tzadquiel or Taphtartarath; I had no idea it was a regular human name. I had tried to spell it and made it 78. Now, however, I wrote to Friend Samuel for the correct spelling, which he gave. I was astonished to find that the value was 93 like that of Thelema (in Greek T), the word of the Law, and Agape, the method of carrying out that Law. The Author of the Book had therefore, so to speak, signed it infalli- bly identifying himself by means of this number with the essence of the message which he had come to impart.
These two incidents are mere sampleschosen from an immense number. I hope to be joined this month by a mathematics Professor so that we may collect, classify, and make clear the innumerable evidences that this book is of praeterhuman origin. You will at least understand how it is that I regard it as incomparably the most important human document existent. You will excuse me, in fact, if I seem a little mad on the subject; but really, hardly a moment passes without the discovery of some new and important secret in its secret pages. The very mistakes in the Book, as they seem, conceal strange secrets. For example: Chapter III, verse 47 - “This circle squared in its failure”. The Hebrews concealed the value of pie in the name of God alhim - 3.1415, which is incorrect in the fourth place. But by putting our secret key ShT to sanctify this name we get 3.141593 pi correct to six places (note 31 and 93).
But this note must not be as endless as the decimal of pie! You must forgive a sick and lonely man for inflicting upon you the subject nearest his heart. I am really very eager that you should bring the Law of Thelema into your work as a solution of the dreadful hopelessness, futility and fatuity of this riddle-life. “Do what thou wilt” explains and justifies existence. We do what we do because it is our nature; the Guise which we lay upon ourselves to make a figure of our Secret Idea. “Lust of result” ruins our work and makes it ridiculous. There can be no result. We are bounded by our own illusion - Self-devised. The life of Manual was Success, being wholly the symbolic self-realization of a creative boy - a series of illusions which came to nothing, yet allowed him to see, externalised, the reaction of the Universe upon various facets of the diamond Soul. Jurgen’s excursion was a failure, because he worked with “lust of result” to obtain something outside himself, not knowing what, (and still less than nothing of the kind exists) because he could not face the fact that he had sold the poet to the pawnbroker. Have I read you aright? I was a little sad about chapter 22 of Jurgen, feeling that you had to some degree misunderstood my message. For none of us, not even the least spiritually developed, may fulfill himself solely by self-gratification. Each of us has a Will of external import, necessarily related to everything that exists, and all our conscious desires are so many masks - one fixed expression concealing our infinite variety. We are all ideal Triangles, and every triangle we draw is but a single case - true, yet on con- cealing and even denying all the other possibilities of the real Truth, inexpressible in form, and so mocked as illusion by sense-bound spirits.
Verily and Amen! My silent solitude in this Abbey, with its windows open upon the Eternal, and its gates closed to the Conditioned, constantly strengthens my conviction that so great a Master of Thought and language as yourself dare not leave the world without Hope. Your deepest, so far, has been to proclaim an irrational Faith that selfless Heroism somehow avails men against abject aimless inanity of Life. You cannot rest there. It must be shewn that energy is indestructible, that nothing is waste, that all True Work is worth while. And I hope that my Masters may be using you to put Their Key into your hands, that you may fling open the doors of the Secret Palace of the King, and shew that Famine was universal. You have shewn that nothing in the world, however great and glorious, is worth stretching forth an hand to take; shew now that everything in the world, however small and contemptible, is worth life’s danger and hardship to attain. (You have done this in a way in Domnei). I want a Book to complete the Manuel-Jurgen group in a Trilogy, and Beholds the Great Fool, knowing nothing because identified with All (which, not being divided against itself cannot be known) doing nothing because doing his True Will, fulfilling the Universal Will by opposing no resistance to it in an attempt to grab some illusion, and suffering nothing because realizing that all that happens to him is a mirror description of himself. He goes laughing and dancing through the world, and destroys all evil and sorrow as he goes, by the simple method of showing everybody he meets that their vices and their discontent arise from ignorance, that they are each one perfect in his way, each a necessary illusion through which the All becomes conscious of itself (just as the Fool interprets himself to himself through his own set of illusions) and each only a nuisance to himself and others by following false Ideals, interfering with others for various mistaken reasons, and so on, thereby causing all sorts of collisions, losing his way and so despairing of Direction, fearing the Future, regretting the Past, and misplaying——-the Present. The Fool shows each one his proper path and puts him on it; it soon appears that there is room in the world for all alike, that all are equally worthy of wonder and worship, that Perfection is inherent in the Whole, and that the object of Life (which is motion) is to dis play an ever-changing pageant, thus enabling each to become conscious of the All, which otherwise would remain homogeneous, devoid of quantity and quality, Unknown and Unknowable.
I do hope you see this point of view. It has saved me from spiritual despair, made all things intelligible and adorable for me, set me radiantly reveling in my Work, which I had almost abandoned as fatuous; I am in love Adventure.
The world is dying with disgust with its own dreary vanity; the treadmill its one task, the Sodom apple its one food, oblivion its only joy, and “Hope not” its final word of wisdom. You have declared this doom more dreadfully than any man since Gautama; for you have left no loophole, either in time, space, or condition of existence, for any being, from Koshchei to Dame Lisa. The world is waiting for you to utter the Wizard Word Thelema, which changes every curse into Blessing, gives meaning to the most incoherent gibberish, and bows down the most barren tree with sun ripe fruit.
Forgive this spate of speech! My words are little worth; but if you will read the Book of the Law often enough, the Spirit of the Lord which is in you will shew you the splendour of this Freedom, and inspire you to send forth its sunlight through the prism of your Art, that men may behold your “Bow in the Cloud” and know that the floods are diminished upon the face of the Earth.
Collected and edited by AHG