Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Alas! It is unlikely that either you or I should come upon a copy of Max Beerbohm's portrait of Mathew Arnold; but Raven Hill's famous cartoon is history, and can be told as such without the illustration.
We shall have to go into the matter, because of your very just criticism of my magical writings in general—and these letters, being colloquial, are naturally an extreme case.
Far-off indeed those sunny days when life in England was worth living; when one could travel anywhere in Europe—except Russia and Turkey, which spiritually, at least, are in Asia—or America, without a pass- port; when we complained that closing time was twelve-thirty a.m.; when there was little or no class bitterness, the future seemed secure, and only Nonconformists failed to enjoy the fun that bubbled up on every side.
Well, in those days there were Music-halls; I can't hope to explain to you what they were like, but they were jolly. (I'm afraid that there's another word beyond the scope of your universe!) At the Empire, Leicester Square, which at that time actually looked as if it had been lifted bodily from the "Continong" (a very wicked place) there was a promenade, with bars complete (drinking bars, my dear child, I blush to say) where one might hope to find "strength and beauty met together, Kindle their image like a star in a sea of glassy weather." There one might always find London's "soiled doves" (as they revoltingly called them in the papers) of every type: Theodora (celebrated "Christian" Empress) and Phryne, Messalina and Thais, Baudelaire's swarthy mistress, and Nana, Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill.
But the enemies of life were on guard. They saw people enjoying themselves, (shame!) and they raked through the mildewed parchments of obsolete laws until they found some long-forgotten piece of mischief that might stop it. The withered husks of womanhood, idle, frustrated, spiteful and malignant, called up their forces, blackmailed the Church into supporting them, and began a senseless string of prosecutions.
Notable in infamy stands out he name of Mrs. Ormiston Chant.
So here we had the trial of some harmless girl for "accosting;" it was a scene from this that inspired Raven Hill's admirable cartoon.
A "pale young curate" is in the witness box. "The prisoner," he drawled "made improper proposals to me. The actual words used were: "why do you look so sad, Bertie?'"
The magistrate: "A very natural question!"
Now, fifty years later, here am I in the dock.
("How can you expect people to take your Magick seriously!" I hear from every quarter, "when you write so gleefully about it, with your tongue always in your cheek?")
My dear good sister, do be logical!
Here am I who set out nigh half a century ago to seek "The Stone of the Wise, the Summum Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness:" I get it, and you expect me to look down a forty-inch nose and lament!
I have plenty of trouble in life, and often enough I am in low enough spirits to please anybody; but turn my thoughts to Magick—the years fall off. I am again the gay, quick, careless boy to whom the world was gracious.
Let this serve for an epitaph: Gray took eleven years; I, less.
Elegy Written in a Country Farmyard
Here lies upon this hospitable spot
A youth to flats and flatties unknown;
The Plymouth Brethren gave it to him hot;
Trinity, Cambridge, claimed him for her own.
He climbed a lot of mountains in his time
He stalked the tiger, bear and elephant.
He wrote a stack of poems, some sublime,
Some not. Tales, essays, pictures, plays my aunt!
At chess a minor master, Hoylake set
His handicap at two. Love drove him crazy.
Three thousand women used to call him pet;
In other matters—shall we call him "lazy"?
He had the gift of laughing at himself;
Most affably he walked and talked with God;
And now the silly bastard's on the shelf,
We'll bury him beneath another sod.
In all the active moods of Nature—her activity is Worship! there is an element of rejoicing; even when she is at her wildest and most destructive. (You know Gilbert's song "When the tiger is a-lashing of his tail"?) Her sadness always goes with the implied threat of cessation—and that we know to be illusion.
There is nothing worse in religion, especially in the Wisdom-Religion, than the pedagogic-horatory accents of the owlish dogmatist, unless it be the pompous self-satisfaction of the prig. Eschew it, sister, eschew it!
Even in giving orders there is a virile roar, and the commander who is best obeyed is he who rages cheerfully like an Eights Coach or a Rugger Captain. "Up Guards and at 'em!" may not be authentic; but that is the right spirit.
The curate's twang, the solemnity of self-importance, all manners that do not disclose the real man, are abominations, "Anathema Maranatha"—or any other day of the week. These painted masks are devised to conceal chicanery or emptiness. The easy-going humorous style of Vivekananda is intelligible and instructive; the platitudinous hot potatoes of Waite are neither. The dreadful thing is that this assumption of learning, of holiness, of mysterious avenging powers, somehow deceives the average student. He does not realise how well and wisely such have conned Wilde's maxim: "To be intelligible is to be found out."
I know that I too am at times obscure; I lament the fact. The reason is twofold: (a) my ineradicable belief that my reader knows all about the subject better than I do myself, and (at best) may like to hear it tackled from a novel angle, (b) I am carried away by the exultant exaltation of my theme: I boil over with rapture—not the crystal-clear, the cool solution that I aimed at.
On the Path of the Wise there is probably no danger more deadly, no poison more pernicious, no seduction more subtle than Spiritual Pride; it strikes, being solar, at the very heart of the Aspirant; more, it is an inflation and exacerbation of the Ego, so that its victim runs the peril of straying into a Black Lodge, and finding himself at home there.
Against this risk we look to our insurance; there are two infallible: Common Sense and the Sense of Humour. When you are lying exhausted and exenterate after the attainment of Vishvarupadarshana it is all wrong to think: "Well, now I'm the holiest man in the world, of course with the exception of John M. Watkins;" better recall the words of the weary sceptical judge in A. P. Herbert's Holy Deadlock; he makes a Mantram of it! "I put it to you—I put it to you—I put it to you—that you have got a boil on your bottom."
To this rule there is, as usual with rules, an exception. Some states of mind are of the same structure as poetry, where the "one step from the sublime to the ridiculous" is an easy and fatal step. But even so, pedantry is as bad as ribaldry. Personally, I have tried to avoid the dilemma by the use of poetic language and form; for instance, in AHA!
It is all difficult, dammed difficult; but if it must be that one's most sacred shrine be profaned, let it be the clean assault of laughter rather than the slimy smear of sactimoniousness!
There, or thereabouts, we must leave it. "Out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and I cannot sing the words of an epithalamium to the music of a dirge.
Besides, what says the poet? "Love's at its height in pure love? Nay, but after When the song's light dissolves gently in laughter."
Oh! "One word more" as Browning said, and poured forth the most puerile portentous piffle about that grim blue-stocking "interesting invalid," his spouting wife. Here it is, mercifully much shorter, and not in tripping trochees!
"Actions speak louder than words." (I positively leak proverbs this afternoon—country air, I suppose): and where actions are the issue, devil a joke from Aleister!
Do you see what is my mark? It is you that I am going to put in the dock about "being serious;" and that will take a separate letter—part of the answer to yours received March 10th, 1944 and in general to your entire course of conduct since you came to me—now over a year ago.1
Love is the law, love under will.
1: See Chapter XLV.
© Ordo Templi Orientis. Original key entry by W.E. Heidrick for O.T.O. HTML coding by Frater T.S. for Nu Isis Working Group.