I found that my long abstinence from magical practices had injured my powers. I resumed elementary drill and soon got back to my old form. For one thing, my protection against mosquitoes had worn off. I spent a night motionless, offering my body to them and concentrating on the thought that they were equally divine with myself. I forced myself to love them, so that in union with them the apparent differences between us might vanish in ecstasy. I compelled my body to accept, to welcome and even to long for their bites, as being acts of love whereby I nourished their lives. In the morning, though badly bitten all over, there was no inflammation whatever; and from that time on they never bit me at all.
I soon recovered the powers of Pratyahara and Dharana. My mind became still; the impact of impressions ceased to obsess me, I became free of the illusion of the reality of material things. All events became equally indifferent, exquisite phrases in an eternal symphony. (Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F a bad one; yet this is exactly the stand point from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.)
I soon began to acquire the Magical Memory to recall my past incarnations. I refuse to assert any theory of what this really means. All memory is a re-awakening of ancient impressions. What I was really doing was penetrating to the deeper layers of my unconscious self. When, therefore, I remember my life as Cagliostro or Pope Alexander the Sixth, I am quite willing to interpret the experience as a dreamlike imagination, a dramatization of certain deeper elements in my character. I may, however, argue on the other side, that my present life is, almost equally, an artistic representation of my nature. There are also some fairly strong arguments for the actuality of such memories. Events in the past sometimes throw light on the present. For instance, when I came to remember what had happened to me in Rome, Naples and Paris, I understood certain obscure instinctive feelings about those cities which had always been unintelligible,1 and were in direct conflict with my conscious ideas about them. I will summarize as follows:
Shortly before the time of Mohammed, I was present at a Council of
Masters. The critical question was the policy to be adopted in order to help humanity. A small minority, including myself, was hot for positive action; definite movements were to be made; in particular, the mysteries were to be revealed. The majority, especially the Asiatic Masters, refused even to discuss the proposal. They contemptuously abstained from voting, as if to say, "Let the youngsters learn their lesson." My party therefore carried the day and various Masters were appointed to undertake different adventures. Mohammed, Luther, Adam Weishaupt, the man we knew as Christian Rosencreutz, and many servants of science, were thus chosen. Some of these movements have succeeded more or less; some have failed entirely. In my present incarnation I have met several such Masters, who, having failed, are now building up again their shattered forces. My own task was to bring oriental wisdom to Europe and to restore paganism in a purer form. I was involved in the catastrophe which overtook the order of the Temple, and as Alexander the Sixth, failed in my task of crowning the Renaissance, through not being wholly purified in my personal character. (An appropriately trivial spiritual error may externalize as the most appalling crimes.)
Before this Council, there is a long gap of complete amnesia. I merely remember that I was Ko Hsuen, a disciple of Lao Tzu, the author of the "King Khang King", the classic of Purity; which, by the way, I translated into English verse during this Retirement. All I know is that somehow or other I made a "great miss", forfeited my Mastership, and had to climb the ladder again from the bottom. It is the shame and agony of this which have prevented me from facing the memory --- so far.
Almost every day I found myself in some new trance, each of course perfect in its own way, and each of a depth and sublimity which makes description impossible to attempt; yet all the time it seemed to me that each trance was no more than the letter of a word, as if some truth were being revealed which could only be expressed piecemeal. The crown of these trances was an angelic vision such as I had never before enjoyed. The communication was perfect on all planes of being; and this completeness conferred a sense of reality altogether beyond previous experience. It was the difference between meeting a friend face to face, and trying to reconstruct his personality from letters, photographs, gramophone records, memories and cherished flowers.
It may be that this vision was granted me in order to fortify me for the climax of my Retirement. On September 5th, my record contains the following entry.
I feel that I am more likely to be able to convey some hint of the colossal character of this revelation if I simply quote the broken staggering words in which I wrote it down at the time. As will be seen, I did not dare to write what it actually was, but I remember at this moment how I had to invoke
the deep-seated habit of years to get courage to drag myself to my diary. I felt like a soldier wounded to death, scrawling in his own blood the horrifyingly disastrous information which he has lost his life in seeking.
5:00 p.m. The meditation of this afternoon resulted in an initiation so stupendous that I dare not hint at its Word. It is the supreme secret of a Magus, and its is so awful that I tremble even now --- two hours later and more --- 2:20 p.m. was the time --- as I write concerning it. In a single instant I had the Key to the whole of the Chinese wisdom. In the light --- momentary glimpse as it was --- of this truth, all systems of religion and philosophy became absolutely puerile. Even the Law appears no more than a curious incident. I remain absolutely bewildered, blinded, knowing what blasting image lies in this shrine. It baffles me to understand how my brother Magi, knowing this, ever went on.
I had only one foreshadowing of this Vision of Jupiter --- for so I may call it! --- and that was a Samadhi which momentarily interrupted my concentration of Sammasati. This can only be described vaguely by saying that I obtained a reconciliation of two contraries of which "There is a discrimination between good and evil" is one.
This experience has shaken me utterly; it has been a terrible struggle to force myself to this record. The secret comes along the Path of Aleph to Chokmah. I could write it plainly in a few words of one syllable, and most people would not even notice it.1 But it has might to hurl every Master of the Temple into the Abyss, and to fling every adept of the Rose Cross down to the Qliphoth. No wonder One said that the Book T was in ashes in the Urn of a Magus! I can't see at all how it will affect me at present. Even the Way of the Tao looks idiotic --- but then of course that's what it is! So I suppose that's it, all right. And its freedom, in an utterly fascinating and appalling sense, is beyond my fiercest conception.
An experience of this intensity demands a period of repose, no less than a boat race or any other form of intense effort. The adepts have always insisted on due preparation for any initiation. As The Book of the Law says, "... Wisdom says: be strong! Then canst thou bear more joy. ..." I accordingly broke up my camp after a few days' holiday from magical work, and returned to New York.
The next period is strangely confused. It was as if I were left in the Desert with no idea of direction and surrounded by a series of mirages. Innumerable people came into my life and passed out again, without leaving any trace.
The fact was that none of the people appointed by Amalantrah to various tasks were willing to undertake them. It may well be that this was due to a lack of real faith on my part. The communications from the Wizard had become confused and even contradictory. I had failed to understand his plan and to acquiesce unreservedly in it. This weakness of mine naturally reacted on the other people concerned.
Only one clear duty lay before me. The five years of silence which were to follow the publication of number 10 of The Equinox were at an end. I therefore devoted myself to planning another ten numbers, beginning at the spring equinox of 1919. I had an immense amount of material ready for publication. The one critical omission was the comment on The Book of the Law, which I had constantly shirked re-writing. I pulled myself together and went down to Atlantic City for the purpose of getting this done. My idea was to write it inspirationally; which is correct. The only drawback was that the inspiration was forced and feeble. I know now that the writing of this Comment must be a definite miracle, parallel with that of the production of the Book itself.
I stumbled on through the Desert somehow. Even today I hardly understand the object of the ordeals of this journey. At the beginning of the next Chokmah day I found myself on the edge of the oasis which I was to make my home. I had identified myself with the god of my Grade of Magus, Tahuti, the Lord of the Word, and I was invested accordingly with the attributes proper to him. The last of the officers in my initiation was the Ape of Thoth. This creature translates into action his thought or, in other words, is the instrument through which his idea assumes sensible form. This Ape became my permanent companion. At this moment, she is beside me in a bathing house at Marsa Plage near Tunis, writing these words.
Tahuti being the Lord of Speech, I published number 1 of volume III of The Equinox on March 21st, 1919. I arranged for it to contain something like a complete programme of my proposed Operation to initiate, emancipate and relieve mankind.
The first item is a "Hymn to Pan", which I believe to be the most powerful enchantment ever written. Next, after explaining the general idea of my work, I issued a curriculum, classifying the books whose study should give a complete intellectual knowledge of all subjects which bear on the Great Work.
The book of The Sandal presents a lyrical interpretation of the Law of Thelema. This is followed by the first installment of "The Magical Record of my Son", Frater O.I.V.V.I.O., to show how in actual practice a fairly normal man came to attain to be a Master of the Temple. Every pertinent detail of his career from the start is clearly set forth.
The latter half of the volume is devoted to explaining the principles of
the O.T.O. showing how men and women may work in groups publicly, and giving outlines of a social system free from the disastrous defects of our present civilization. I republished the Ritual of the Gnostic Mass in this section. The supplement consists of Blavatsky's Voice in the Silence with a very full commentary. My purpose was to bring back Theosophists to the true principles of their founder; principles which have been shamefully abandoned by her successors --- to the utter ruin of the society, either as a nursery for adepts or as a civilizing influence in barbaric Christiandom.
During this winter, I was approached by a powerful body of high grade freemasons in Detroit. They knew only too well that their Order was at the best tomfoolery; and, for the rest, anything all the way down to fraud and blackmail. They desired the light which they knew me to possess. I offered to reorganize freemasonry, to replace the pomposities and banalities of their ragbag of rituals by a simple, lucid and coherent system.
I soon saw that any effort would be a waste of time. Even their compact group was torn by bitter jealousies. Their leader, for all his fine talk, had only one real desire --- to communicate with his dead wife, a silly smirking society waxwork, a pink-tea princess! Their second string was a doctor, who spent sleepless nights sweating with shame and sentimentality in an agony of anxiety as to whether it was his duty to get divorced in order to marry a white-haired spinster, half-crazy with the pain of cancer, with whom he had no sexual relation at all, but an overwhelming obsession that she was his sister-soul, his mystic mate, his psychic partner and his Ouija Wife. A third, illiterate and bigoted, was a mere spat of ignorant argument that the signs of the zodiac had somehow got mixed up, apparently owing to some confusion about the precedence of the twelve apostles! The only member of the group who had even a smattering of education, as we understand it in Europe, was more than half insane on the subject of sex. He had got it into his head that a secret method of managing such matters existed, the possessor of which could perform all sorts of miracles, from curing consumption to making a million dollars. He spent his life hunting for books on sexual Magick; and, knowing that I was in possession of the secret he sought, spent a whole night shivering in the corridor with his ear to the keyhole of my bedroom, in the hope of hearing something that would give him a hint. He even tried to use his own mistress to spy on me: when she came from my room, he started to browbeat and bully her into giving the minutest details of her adventure!
The best of the crowd was a young doctor who had sufficient sense to see how stupid the rest were, to disdain the bluff of the advertising adepts, and to realize that genuine magicians were necessarily gentlemen and scholars. He felt himself utterly lost in the darkness of Detroit, but despaired of mending the matter by setting forth to seek the Graal without guidance. He was
so fixed in doubt and distrust that even the truth, soiled by his suspicion, could not quell the whispers of the demons of denial. They persistently persuaded his shaking soul that the weeds of falsehood grew so rank that never a seed of truth might find a space to shoot. Thus, doubting the whole world, he had learnt to doubt himself. His will was sodden with scepticism. He could never make up his mind to do anything definite. The man had many great qualities, but the dollar-snatching charlatans that pullulate in America had driven him to drift and potter. He did not even understand that he might have saved his soul by devoting himself to the shallowest quack in Chicago, daring death and damnation for the hollowest humbug that ever wrote himself Rosicrucian without knowing how to spell it. Pluck would have pulled him through in the long run; as Blake said, "if the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise."
It did not take me long to see that the real object of this gang was to exploit me. They wanted something for nothing; instead I was the only man to profit --- I gained the knowledge of the astonishing variety of dirty tricks that men could play under the mask of friendship and respect.
But I was immune to the virus. I possessed not only something, but everything, and was only too eager to give it for nothing. I naturally became an object of the deepest suspicion. Unable to comprehend honour, unselfishness and generosity, my frank loyalty and royal largesse baffled their brains. They felt sure that it concealed some super-subtle scheme for swindling them or getting them into my power. They thought they knew that the more noble an action appeared, the deeper the deceit and the dirtier the design beneath it. I adhered to simple straightforward sense. I told the truth without a thought of what might happen in consequence. It was inconceivable to them that I, knowing so much, should yet be innocent. They knew me poor. It was strange indeed that I never tried to make money, or even accepted it when offered! The result of all this was that I, doing my utmost to enlighten them, deepened their darkness. I simplified and emphasized the truth; they merely floundered further into falsehood.
I tried my hardest to manifest myself, to explain my point of view, my mental methods, my morals, manners, motives and magical objectives. I merely became the more mysterious. They could never guess how I would act in any circumstances. My purpose being single, it was incomprehensible to their complex confusion of cravings. My "yes" appalled them --- it was such a sinister way of saying "no"; and when I said "no" they sweated and swooned with fear of what I might mean by so satanic a way of saying "yes". I kept on smiling; I became silent; they saw me as the Sphinx. They began to quarrel among themselves; scandal, divorce suits, bankruptcies and every sort of nastiness followed. My "son", who had lived in Detroit for some months trying to teach them the elements of sense and decency, left them to
stew in the stinking soup they had cooked, and went off to Chicago. Both he and I learnt a priceless lesson in our dealings with these demoniacs. We have that to thank for the steady, quiet, natural success of his campaign in Chicago.
One cannot deal with Americans on the principles which seem inevitable in Europe. One often sees a placard in offices, "come in without knocking. Go out the same way." They would rather not hear unpleasant truths. What! Shoot a sleeping sentinel? Nope; rush the chloroform in case he wakes! They have learnt the psychological fact that confidence is a real asset. A man works best when he feels he is sure to succeed. A fear of failure palsies every faculty. The vogue of Christian Science, and countless cults for drawing in dollars by wishing one had them, persuading oneself that somehow or other they will arrive, scorning every success, forgetting every failure, shutting one's eyes to unpleasant facts, and interpreting every bit of good luck as a triumph beyond the power of trumpets to tell --- a token of the intense interest taken by the Almighty in His favourite child --- this course of conduct, though its more reasonable practitioners are ready to admit that it is rant and rubbish, is pursued as part of a calculated policy. They are ready to fool themselves in order to take advantage of the stimulating effect of optimism.
The other side of the medal is this: when any man points to any fact that shakes this opium serenity, checks this cocaine self-assurance, that man takes a chance of a free ride out of town on a rail. The spirit of criticism is detested and dreaded. It is easy to understand why this is. The States have been won from the wilderness by a system which demanded courage and clear sight from the pioneers; but once the trail was blazed, the rest of the work was done on a basis of credit which a European banker would consider utterly reckless gambling. Everyone, from the farmer and merchant to the manufacturer and financier, entered into a tacit agreement to bet that any given enterprise would succeed. As the natural resources were there, while luck decreed that the commonwealth should not have to face any overwhelming obstacle, the gamblers have won. It is obvious that any man in an outpost besieged by nature (such as is every new settlement outside New England, the Atlantic coast and the old settlements in the south) was really a traitor if he said, however truthfully, anything which might daunt the spirit of his comrades. Those men won out through sheer ignorance of the chances against them, stolid stupidity which blinded them to their desperate plight and bestial insensibility to the actual hardships which they had to endure. It was criminal to insist on the existence of evils for which there was no remedy.
This spirit has persisted, though its utility is past. It has become a fixed feature of the religion of the country. It was the deadliest delusion that I had to meet. Spiritual attainment, magical; development, any line of work
soever whose material is subtler than the sensible world, demands (as the first condition of success) the most severe spirit of scepticism, the most scientific system of research. For immediately one becomes aware of impressions and ideas which are not subject to the criticism of sensory perception, they are inevitably influenced by the individual characteristics of the observer and the distortion is difficult to detect because, until one is very advanced indeed, one is not aware of the aberration caused by the error of the instrument. Even in the world of sense, similar troubles occur. To a man who is colour-blind, the red light is "really" green --- beyond his power to make any correction, because the source of his error is in the instrument of sight itself. He might well say, "But if, as you tell me, this green lamp is red, how do I know that it is a lamp, not a tiger? I have only my eyes to depend on."
I found it impossible to persuade even the most intelligent people who came to me to take the first step --- that of clearing the ground of their minds of every preconceived idea. They yearned for me to fill them up to the neck with any ridiculous rubbish that flattered their vanity, fed their folly, doped their dread of death and damnation, and inflated their idle fancies, intoxicated their inane ideals. I simply hammered away with cold common sense. I drenched them with douches of doubt. I pricked their bladders of bluff; I tapped their dropsical sentimentality and applied a clyster of candour to the constipation of their respectability. By this simple expedient I drove them all away. I made myself enemies everywhere. The crowd of charlatans were particularly annoyed. They were eager to hail me as their master and even to give me the lion's share of the swag. It hurt them horribly when they found I would not play the game, or even take the trouble to hail them to my barn door. Every people has the prophets it deserves; the credulous cowardly ice-cream-soda idealist is best left with the illiterate illuminati, rascally Rosicrucians, magpie mediums, parrot psychics, and cockroach clairvoyants with whom they feel at home. One cannot initiate imbeciles.
My adventures in Detroit came as the climax which confirmed the conclusions I had already formed from casual conversations and correspondence with a fairly large and varied selection of would-be disciples. Only in rare individuals could I detect a trace of genuine aspiration, of the ambition to attain, either for their own sake or for that of others, in any allowable sense. They wanted more social success. Nobody seemed to have the faintest idea of what is really meant by knowledge and power. Some seemed anxious to help the progress of humanity; but here again, the wish was partly a puff-ball of pride, partly a maudlin sentiment such as one finds in servants' hall novelettes.
The ignorance of all, without exception, was simply without limit. It
was rare to find a man who knew so much as the names of the most famous classics. Their ignorance was not even accessible to instruction. It was armourplated, and adorned with a bigoted belief in the most blatant balderdash. I met the heads of four flourishing cults who claimed to be Rosicrucians. Not one of them had so much as heard of The Fama Fraternitatis or The Chymical Marriage. The most famous astrologer in the States, who makes fifty thousand dollars a year, did not know that the solar system was essentially a disk. She thought the planets were stuck at random in the sky like so many plums in a suet pudding. In thirty years of daily use of the Ephemeris, she had never observed that Neptune takes fifteen years or so to pass through a sign of the zodiac, and told her clients that Neptune being in such and such a sign at their birth, they must possess various curious powers. When I pointed out that this applied to everyone born in three lustres, she was at first bewildered, then incredulous; and, proof being produced, angry and insulting.
These were the highest class of merchants of Magick. The majority of writers on the subject bleat on from blunder to blunder. I met no single man in the United States in five years who had any idea what Yoga actually is, much less of the metaphysical theories on which it is based. Its objects and methods were either understood so vaguely as to be a mere variation on Sunday School sob stuff, or distorted by dreams of the dollar or the dread of disease; their information being based on some book purporting to be the secret instruction of a particularly prominent yogi, but in fact the illiterate rubbish of an unsuccessful horse doctor from Idaho who could hardly find India on the map --- even if you offered him a dollar to do it.
This illiterature is distributed indiscriminately; a vast venomous vomit! There being no background of education, no standard of criticism, the reader has no means of distinguishing between the best and the worst. He has no means of forming a groundwork on which his mind might build. It is impossible for the European to understand the helplessness of these people. We have definite principles in our minds by which, consciously or unconsciously, we judge with fair correctness of things which may be in a sense entirely strange to us.
For instance, suppose that I am unable to read a single word of Russian. I am nevertheless able to get a fair general idea of the probable character of the contents of any book by applying what I may call Sherlock Holmes methods. Obviously, I might be deceived. Gogol's masterpiece might be badly printed on rotten paper and defaced with vile illustrations in order to fool me. A series of such traps would teach me to distrust my judgment.
Now, this is just the position in which the American finds himself. He has been sold so many pups that he flinches when he hears "the watchdog's honest bark". He has been told, till his ears are nigh bursting, every sort of
falsehood, even a truth being exaggerated until its original nature hardly matters, on every conceivable subject.
From earliest infancy, every American citizen is trained in "make-believe". That is why Huckleberry Finn is the one masterpiece of character drawing that America has produced. The American is at heart acutely ashamed of his defects. His ideal of perfection is intensely dear to him, and I am the last person to blame him for refusing to admit that its attainment is impossible. But his nerves are constantly raw from realizing in his inmost heart that he is, after all, lacking in all sorts of ways.
In one way or another practically every American is devoured by this demon of discontent, which is by no means the species which we call divine. The yearning of the poet to surpass all other singers, his rage at the resistance of the language to his rapture, have their root in his absolute trust in and worship of himself.
I cried, Like Elijah: This is no country for the poet Aleister Crowley, or the adept, To Mega Therion, whose hope to help his fellow men has this one anchor: Truth shall make you free!
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