78 For this and most of the other references in this chapter to Set’s origins, names, etc. see H. Te Velde, Seth, God of Confusion: a study of his role in Egyptian mythology and religion, Leiden, Brill, 1967.
79 Ibid., pp. 3-7.
- As shown in Jacco Dieleman, Priests, Tongues, and Rites: The London-Leiden Magical Manuscripts and Translation in Egyptian Ritual (100-300 CE), Leiden, Brill, 2005, pp. 130-138.
- For this rather startling revelation, see Jarl Fossum and Brian Glazer, “Seth in the Magical Texts,” in Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 100 (1994) 86-92.
- H. Te Velde, op. cit., p. 4.
- See Joscelyn Godwin, Christian Chanel, and John P. Deveny, The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor: Initiatic and Historical Documents of an Order of Practical Occultism, York Beach, ME.: Samuel Weiser, 1995 and T. Allen Greenfield, The Story of the Hermetic Brotherhood of Light, Beverly Hills, Looking Glass Press, 1997.
- From a letter written by Michael Bertiaux dated October 10, 1987 and cited in Peter Koenig, “XI
—Per Aftera Ad Astra, Anal Intercourse and the O.T.O.”
- This episode is discussed in some detail in H. Te Velde, op. cit., pp.32-80. 86 See, for instance, the Papal Bull Humane Vitae.
- The original text in the Book of Lies has, instead, Chaos, Babalon, Eros and Psyche, in line with the Greek motif of the ritual which is entirely in that language, as the Star Sapphire is in Latin. Crowley changed the Star Ruby sacred names to the more overtly Thelemic nomenclature evidently out of a need to bring it more in line with his doctrine. However, Chaos and Babalon seem more appropriate, especially in light of the Creed of the Gnostic Mass, discussed above.
- Chapter LXIX, or “Sixty-Nine.”
“But look there,” he continued, “there, sandwiched between that nightmare of Huysmans’, and Walpole’s Castle of Otranto—Von Junzt’s Nameless Cults. There’s a book to keep you awake at night!”
“I’ve read it,” said Taverel, “and I’m convinced the man is mad. His work is like the conversation of a maniac—it runs with startling clarity for awhile, then suddenly merges into vagueness and disconnected ramblings.”
Conrad shook his head. “Have you ever thought that perhaps it is his very sanity that causes him to write in that fashion? What if he dares not put on paper all he knows? What if his vague suppositions are dark and mysterious hints, keys to the puzzle, to those who know?”
“Bosh!” This from Kirowan. “Are you intimating that any of the nightmare cults referred to by Von Junzt survive to this day—if they ever existed save in the hag-ridden brain of a lunatic poet and philosopher?”
“Not he alone used hidden meanings,” answered Conrad.
—Robert E. Howard, “The Children of the Night” (1931)
ROBERT E. HOWARD WAS ONE of the circle of fantasy authors around H. P. Lovecraft sometimes referred to as the Lovecraft Circle. He contributed to what has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos” by writing stories such as the one excerpted above which referenced Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, and other motifs. One of his contributions to the Mythos was the fictional Nameless Cults by Von Junzt, which became the awkward Unaussprechlichen Kulten89 in Lovecraft’s German rescension and from there into “Unspeakable Cults.” Howard’s most famous creation, however, was Conan the Barbarian, the fantasy character made even more
famous by the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1936, at the age of 30, Howard committed suicide. He was not the only member of Lovecraft’s inner circle to do so. In 1951 he would be followed by Robert H. Barlow, the noted anthropologist of ancient Mexico, expert in the Nahuatl language, and the literary executor of Lovecraft’s estate. He committed suicide in Mexico at the age of 32.
One of the prevailing themes in Grant’s work (and especially in that of Lovecraft and his circle of fellow gothic horror writers) is of cults that are either African, Afro-Caribbean, Middle Eastern or Asian. In other words, cults that could be defined as non-Western. While Crowley speaks of these cults in passing, he does not focus on them to the extent that Grant does, and Grant does so because he feels that the practices and beliefs of these cults hold keys towards understanding underlying themes and techniques of occultism in general and Thelema specifically.
Thelema’s origins, as described in the previous two chapters, can be found in the interpretation of Egyptian mysteries by the British organizers of the Golden Dawn, the secret society in which Crowley was initiated, and their reevaluation and re-imagination by Crowley himself. Most of the religious references in the Book of the Law are to Egyptian god forms familiar to anyone who had been through the initiatory system of the Golden Dawn.
But there are tantalizing references to other schemes of initiation in AL, and while Crowley did immerse himself for awhile in Asian methods of magic and mysticism his focus always remained on those systems that were most familiar to Westerners, and those elements of Asian systems that were already in translation in English. He had virtually no background in African or Afro-Caribbean systems. He was thus limited in his ability to draw the same inferences and conclusions of later occultists who had access to greater resources, either in translation or through direct experience of the non-Western systems.
This is beginning to be rectified, and it is largely to Grant that we owe this expansion of Thelemic ideas, methods, and practices into non-Western systems of initiation, and vice versa.
However, while the intellectual composition of Thelema has been extended greatly through Grant’s work, it is through the creative and
visionary accomplishments of H. P. Lovecraft that we owe the emotional content, albeit in ways the horror writer never consciously intended.
“Weird fiction seems to vie with works on witchcraft, voodoo and dark magic.”
—Robert E. Howard, “The Children of the Night”
It is the contention of this writer, as well as of Kenneth Grant, that Lovecraft in some way—unconsciously, probably—was in touch with, or otherwise aware of, the same spiritual material that informed Crowley’s contact in Cairo in 1904. We have seen in the previous chapter how closely events in Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” mirrored Crowley’s Holy Book revelations. There are other parallels, and other synchronicities, between the two writers and as we proceed with this investigation we will look at some of them. What is compelling about these correspondences is that the one amplifies and explains the other. Grant’s genius lay in making those initial connections between the horror writer on the one hand and the Prophet of the New Age on the other. It was a bold contention, for it was in danger of making modern occultism look like some kind of role-playing game, a sword-and-sorcery affair replete with scary monsters and secret books.
Several of the cults most important to Lovecraft’s stories are precisely those that intrigue both Crowley and Grant. These include the Haitian religion of Voodoo (also spelled variously vodou, vodun, etc.) and the Mesopotamian religion of the Yezidi. “Voodoo” makes its appearance in Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” as well as throughout Grant’s published work. Grant’s interest in this Afro-Caribbean religion was intensified through his relationship with Michael Bertiaux (b. 1935) of La Couleuvre Noire (the “Black Snake”), an occult order based on Haitian Vodou with ideas and methods derived from the Western mystery traditions as well as Lovecraftian and Thelemic elements.
Bertiaux had spent some time in Haiti before embracing his own particular occult path, and became a member of a society—the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua or OTOA—allegedly created by a mysterious and possibly non- existent Haitian occultist Lucien-Fran;ois Jean-Maine (1869?-1960) of whom there is very little hard information. The OTOA was evidently a mixture of quasi-Masonic ritual and initiation and traditional Vodun, forming a bridge between European-style ceremonial magic traditions and the Afro-Carib-bean Vodun cultus. Jean-Maine was allegedly the inheritor of an ancient Haitian occult lineage that numbers among its lineage- holders the venerable Ordre des Elus-Cohen which had a branch in Leogane, Haiti. This is not the place to go into the history of the Elus Cohen (or “Elect Priests”), so suffice it to say that it was a branch of the eighteenth century Martinist order and the branch most closely concerned with ritual magic. Martinism began as a Masonic-type society in pre- revolutionary France but its founder—Martinez de Pasqually—died in Haiti in 1774. Haiti at that time was a French colony. Hence the suggested French Masonic-Haitian Vodun connection.
Bertiaux worked and expanded upon the system he inherited, and brought it into line with Thelema by 1972. His Vodoun Gnostic Workbook became quite well-known for its imaginative combination of western esotericism, Afro-Caribbean concepts and terminology, and sex magic. Kenneth Grant saw in Bertiaux’s work a verification of his belief that the Thelemic magical current had to be allinclusive if it represented a genuine change of Aeon. That meant that analogues had to be found in African, Latin American and Asian traditions as well as the more familiar European and Middle Eastern practices. Not only that, but these traditions would also hold keys to the full implementation of the current, based on their knowledge of occult matters and technologies stemming from their own environment, culture, and history and which might be either ignored or missing in western systems. Knowledge, to Grant, is power.
As we mentioned above, Crowley’s own knowledge of these practices was thin. This is not to criticize Crowley, for deep understanding of these mystical technologies had always eluded Western observers and there were few who had the requisite background in the languages and rituals of India,
Africa, and the indigenous cultures of all continents in the early twentieth century. That would gradually change, and by the beginning of the twenty- first century a growing number of religious studies and anthropology scholars have made tremendous inroads into Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian, African, and Afro-Caribbean languages and scriptures, both written and oral. Grant’s contribution was to make as much use as possible of the growing body of esoteric literature in translation from Asian and African sources in order to elaborate upon Thelemic themes and to create a more powerful ritual machinery for probing the darker side of occultism.
Thus, not only the Haitian religious system known as Vodun but also primary source material on Tantric practices make their way into Grant’s grand design. These elements were always there in Crowley’s writings and even in Liber AL itself, of course. But before Grant the focus primarily had been on the Egyptian, Kabbalistic and to some extent alchemical characteristics of Thelemic ritual and concepts. Bertiaux—and the Tantric expert David Curwen—were able to contribute to Grant’s knowledge of non-European occultism in important ways.
Heretofore, the occult or esoteric practices of any culture were basically consistent with that culture and it’s religious and magical ideas. This was the case even when there was obvious borrowing, such as within the syncretic faiths (such as Santeria, Vodun, etc.) where there was an admixture of foreign components with an indigenous belief system. The power of magic rests, however, in its antinomian nature: it lives on the outer limits of what is traditional, acceptable, “normal,” and legal. While Gnosticism, for instance, can be understood as a kind of Christian esotericism, it borrowed heavily from Egyptian and Platonic sources, sources that would have been anathema to orthodox Christians.
But this type of syncretism was a result of neighboring cultures meeting each other and borrowing from the religious and esoteric practices of the other. What is proposed in Grant’s project is nothing less than a borrowing from whatever source, wherever in the world, and whenever it existed. There is no sense of geographic proximity resulting in adulteration of one method or another, but of the deliberate search through the world’s religions, esotericisms, mysticisms and magics for methods that can be adapted to the overall agenda of Thelema. While this seems to have been Crowley’s original intention—as reflected, for instance, in the tables of correspondences between the world’s religions that can be found in Liber
777, a project begun by members of the Golden Dawn and greatly expanded by Crowley—it would be Grant who would make this type of deliberate and conscious syncretism a cornerstone of his cult.
Leaders of religions may quarrel with each other over beliefs and dogma; devotees of religions may fight and kill each other over their differences; but mystics understand each other, regardless of their formal affiliation. Mystics are interested in techniques for achieving altered states of consciousness that can lead them to greater and deeper understanding. The attempt by some in Thelemic circles to forge bonds between Tantra, Vodun, Kabbalah, ceremonial magic, and alchemy represents this point of view. This is not—and should not be—an attempt to find justification for one particular dogma over another, or to prop up one particular interpretation over another. It is, instead, a quest for truth in the discovery of workable techniques. Magicians are interested only in what works. Like scientists from both sides during the Cold War, there is curiosity and a willingness to learn from potential enemies as well as from friends.
The danger in this approach lies in the facile comparisons made between different cultures as if their gods and rituals had exact equivalents among those in another completely different culture. There is evidence of this in Liber 777 and the tables of correspondences which demonstrate the creators were often too quick to make associations between deities that may or may not have much in common. This tendency has been called “universalism” by the post-modern critics who instead emphasize ethnic and cultural originality and uniqueness. Both of these approaches—in their extreme manifestations—are equally erroneous, in my view.
What Grant has done is to cull these different techniques and approaches in order to discover knowledge that cultures other than his own had obtained through the use of methods that might have been neglected in the West due to ignorance or tabu. This is especially true when it comes to occult or esoteric techniques that are sexually-based or based upon a knowledge of human anatomy and physiology that has been put to use by those who perceived a spiritual analogue to physical properties and functions. While a Western bias has been to downgrade the importance of the human body, or to see the human body as a potential source of sin and transgression, the Asian and African viewpoints reflect a respect for the body and an interest in examining biological functions in terms of their
spiritual potential, or their potential for attaining higher—or simply altered
—states of consciousness.
Thus, sexuality and drugs became the province of non-Western esoteric practices after the rise of Christianity in Europe repressed and suppressed these ideas. While there is much more to Asian and African forms of spirituality and esotericism than sexuality and drugs, these represented the missing pieces in the Western repetoire.
The story of the OTO has the founders traveling to the Middle East to obtain initiations in “sex magic” and related methods. Pascal Beverly Randolph (a major influence on modern Western esotericism) also claimed Middle Eastern initiations, and Aleister Crowley himself traveled through North Africa and India—as well as Ceylon—in search of African and Asian wisdom.