Chapter 33


While at Akyab I wrote Ahab, which, with a few other poems, was published as a companion to Jezbel. I had also, at odd times, continued Orpheus and The Argonauts. The latter play is really five separate plays of the Greek pattern. The effect of my journey is very manifest. I had entirely neglected the obvious astronomical symbolism of the Golden Fleece, and had introduced a number of Hindu ideas, both about Magick and about philosophy. To illustrate the voyage, I included lyrics descriptive of actual observations of Vera Cruz, Waikiki Beach, Hong Kong and other places which had excited me.

The best thing in Book III of Orpheus, which occupied this period, is, perhaps, the invocation to Hecate, which I recited at Akyab with full magical intention. The goddess appeared in the form of Bhavani. The fact made more concrete my perception of the essential identity of all religions. Sinai and Olympus, Mount Kailasha and Mount Meru differed from each other as do the Dent Blanche, Mote Silvio and the Steinbockhorn. It is the same mountain seen from different sides and named by different people. It encouraged me to continue my studies in the Cabbala, which claims to reduce all possible ideas to combinations of comparatively few originals, the ten numbers, in fact; these ten numbers themselves being of course interrelated.

From the beginning I had wanted to use my poetical gift to write magical invocations. Hymns to various gods and goddesses may be found scattered through my works; but in Book III of Orpheus, Persephone is invoked directly by commemorating her adventures. I developed this much further in Book IV of Orpheus. The idea was put into my mind by Euripides, whose Bacchae I had been reading at odd times, having picked up a copy at a second-hand book store in San Francisco. When I had first read it, for academic purposes, I had entirely failed to realize that the play was an invocation of Dionysus. I now began to see that by commemorating the story of the god one might identify oneself with him, and thus constitute a subtler, stronger and more complete invocation of him that by any direct address. I might even go so far as to say that the form of the latter implies the consciousness of duality and therefore tends to inhibit identification.

My predilection is due to the fact that I am primarily a lyric poet. My deepest natural tendency is to exalt my soul by what I may call straightforward intoxication. Thus Shelly and Swinburne come more natural to {273} me than Aeschylus and Shakespeare, who intoxicate the reader by transporting him to their wonderland.

Sunday the twenty-third I went aboard S.S. Kapurthala to return to Calcutta. The next day we anchored outside Chittagong, a most uninteresting place. I was to lazy to land. Two days later I got back to Calcutta. Getting my mail, I busied myself in preparing for the great journey. It was now definitely settled that our expedition should meet at Rawalpindi. I only took one day off, when I went to Sodpur snipe shooting with a friend of Thornton's, with whom I was now staying, Lambe having gone off to Australia.

I have inserted the record of this short excursion somewhat at length. Most of it is taken from an account written up when it was still fresh in my mind. It should give an idea of the daily detail of such journeys and enable the reader to clothe with flesh the skeleton of my subsequent wanderings.

On the seventh of March I left for Benares and saw the usual sights — temples, yogis and dancing girls. I had become very cynical and blasé‚ about all these things, which only a few months before would have roused me to ecstasies of wonder. But I now made a wry mouth at the sour sub-flavour of everything. My conversation with Allan about Buddhism, and my own meditations, had disenchanted me. Everything was recognized automatically as illusion, calculated to fetter the soul if one allowed it to fool one.

On the twelfth I reached Agra. My entry about the Taj Mahal is interesting.

Saw Taj. A dream of beauty, with appallingly evil things dwelling therein. I actually had to use. H.P.K. formula! (This means that I assumed the god-form of Harpocrates to prevent the invasion of my aura by objectionable ideas.) The building soon palls, the evil aura is apparent and disgust succeeds. But the central hall is like a magic circle, of strained aura, like after the banishing.

The aesthetic criticism needs revision. I do not think the building beautiful; the conception is too exquisite for the scale of the execution. The is that of an etching twenty feet by thirty.

This reminds me of a puzzle that perplexed me many years later in Washington, D.C. I could not understand why the obelisk was so atrociously ugly. “How can even the Americans,” I said to myself, “go wrong over so absolutely simple a form?” I asked the sculptor, Paul Bartlett, who cleared up the difficulty, simply and shortly: “An obelisk is a monolith.”

It is one of the fundamental qualities of men who understand a subject perfectly to be able to sweep away the most elaborate illusions by appeal to bedrock fact. I remember how Frank Harris once enlightened me about imitation pearls. One knows how cleverly the manufacturers of these things present their case so as to deceive the very elect. But Frank Harris said: “A {274} pearl is a stone.” And the whole fantastic fabric of falsehood crumbled at the touch!

I cannot omit to mention one atrocity at Agra. Some prurient English curator had indulged his foul instincts by whitewashing a magnificent fresco in the palace because it was “improper”. In other words, he was so leprously lascivious that anything which reminded him of reproduction produced a frenzied spasm of sensuality in his soul. However, his vandalism still cried out against him. The beautiful wall which he had made as blank as his intelligence still reminded him of his rottenness. He had no resource but to whitewash all the other walls, in order to secure artistic uniformity!

After all, it is perhaps the best thing to do; having bowdlerized Shakespeare and edited the Bible so as to remove all reference to any kind of sin, it is hardly worth while to preserve the remains. There are only two courses open to logic; one can either accept the universe as it is, face every fact frankly and fearlessly, and make one's soul immune to the influence of any invasion; or abolish the whole thing by administering soporifics to the spirit. After all, the virtues which are dearest to degenerate Europeans imply the existence of those very things which they are most concerned to deny. The pious pretence that evil does not exist only makes it vague, enormous and menacing. Its overshadowing formlessness obsesses the mind. The way to beat an enemy is to define him clearly, to analyse and measure him. Once an idea is intelligently grasped, it ceases to threaten the mind with the terrors of the unknown.

I went to Delhi on the sixteenth. The best thing here is the Turkish bath, where the process of purification is completed by charming ladies. On the eighteenth I wrote about Orpheus, “The accursed Book III utterly finished. Oh Book IV! On the nineteenth I went and saw the fort with “Major Graham, a prize fool from South Africa”. The entry demands emendation. He wasn't a major; his name wasn't Graham; he had never been to South Africa; and he was anything but a fool! His idea was to represent himself as in charge of some Boer prisoners and obtain credit and cash by various misrepresentations.

The twentieth and twenty-first were great days in my life. I wrote an essay which I originally gate the title “Crowleymas Day” and published under the title “Berashith” in Paris by itself, incorporating it subsequently in The Sword of Song. The general idea is to eliminate the idea of infinity from our conception of the cosmos. It also shows the essential identity of Manichaeism (Christianity), Vedantism and Buddhism. Instead of explaining the universe as modifications of a unity, which itself needs explaining, I regard it as NOTHING, conceived as (illusory) pairs of contradictories. What we call a thought does not really exist at all by itself. It is merely half of nothing. I know that there are practical difficulties in accepting this, {275} though it gets rid so nicely of a priori obstacles. However, the essay is packed with ideas, nearly all of which have proved extremely fertile, and it represents fairly enough the criticism of my genius upon the varied ideas which I had gathered since I first came to Asia.

During the whole time, I had been studying the original scriptures of Hinduism and Buddhism very thoroughly. Besides this, I had discussed every aspect of religion and philosophy with immensely varied types of thinkers. From men of such spiritual and scholarly attainment as Allan Bennett, the Hon. P. Ramanathan, Prince Jinawaravansa, Paramaguru Swami, Shri Swami Swayam Prakashanand Maithala, to such excremental exponents of error as theosophists, missionaries and even members of the Salvation Army. Gathering all these shreds together, I had preferred to call the pattern Buddhism. The scientific agnosticism, rational psychology, and freedom from superstitious or emotional appeals, decided me in its favour. There were, of course, two vast gaps in my line. I knew little and understood less of Chinese thought, and was almost equally ignorant of Islam with its Sufi superstructure.

It was dramatically fit that I should have devoted these two days to this essay; for on the second I received a wire from Eckenstein. I had a day to spare before proceeding to Rawalpindi, which I spent at Oakley shooting magar. Here is the story:

Maiden, the proprietor of the hotel, came with me and provided a most admirable tiffin. I lent him my Mauser and relied myself upon the `577. After getting permission from the engineer in charge of the canal works, we put off in a small boat and rowed up the stream. Very soon we saw a fine big crocodile on the banks; but as they are very suspicious beasts an slide into the water at anyone's approach, we determined to try a long shot. I crawled into the bow of the boat, and while the natives held the boat steady, loosed off at about a hundred and thirty yards. The shot was either a very good one or a very lucky one, for the magar was certainly mortally wounded by it. We rowed rapidly up to the beast to find him lashing about in a couple of feet of water and bleeding profusely. I had almost certainly shot him through the heart. Unfortunately, this is of very little use with these reptiles. We got up as close as the natives could be persuaded to go. There certainly was some risk if we had gone quite close in, but we ought to have ventured near enough to drive a boat-hook into the mud between him and the deep water. But they could not be persuaded to do this and there was no time for argument. Maiden sat up in the middle of the boat and fired about fifteen Mauser cartridges into the struggling crocodile, which I think was a proceeding of doubtful utility. He {276} persuaded me, however, to fire a couple more cartridges myself, which I did, right down the beast's throat. The second shot, however, very nearly led to a catastrophe, as the boat was not at all steady and the recoil of the heavy express sent me an awful cropper backwards on to the gunwale of the boat. Luckily no harm came of it. I was now more anxious than ever to get hold of the beast or to pin him with the boathook, thought his struggles were gradually ceasing, but nothing we could do was any good; little by little he slid off the shallow into the deep water and sank. After hunting about for twenty minutes we gave the affair up as a bad job.

Rowing slowly up the stream, we soon caught sight of another fine beast, though not quite so big as the one we lost. I took, however, an extraordinarily careful shot at it and had the good luck to smash its spine. Everyone thought I had missed, but I swore that was impossible. Certainly the beast did not move as we rowed towards it. I sent the natives on to the bank, and after an infinite display of funk they ventured to catch hold of its tail; of course it had been shot stone dead. We got the body on board and rowed back to tiffin.

On Sunday, March 23rd, I took the mail for Pindi. As luck would have it, the car reserved for the expedition was on the train. So I jumped in and was introduced to my four new comrades.

The Chogo Ri expedition had begun.


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