Chapter 70

That fertile passage through Paris on my return from Chogo Ri, which had already born so much fruit in my life, had still some seed — which now came to harvest. I have mentioned Nina Olivier, whom I loved so well and sang so passionately. In my sunlight she had blossomed into La Dame de Montparno, the Queen of the Quarter. But I have not mentioned an obscure prig whom I will call Monet-Knott, whom I had met through my fiancée, the “Star” to Nina's “Garter”. This brainless and conceited youth had become accompanist to the greatest dancer of her generation. Let me call her Lavinia King. She, first and never equalled, had understood and demonstrated the art of dancing as a complete language of the affections of the mind and heart. Knott and Nina, as already recorded, had contracted a liaison. I met Knott for the second time when I was introduced to Fenella Lovell and wrote “The Ghouls”, as previously related. I saw a fair amount of him in the next few weeks; so that, running across him in London on October 11th, he took me after supper to the Savoy to meet Miss King1).

A boisterous party was in progress. The dancer's lifelong friend, whom I will call by the name she afterwards adopted, Soror Virakam, was celebrating her birthday. This lady, a magnificent specimen of mingled Irish and Italian blood, possessed a most powerful personality and a terrific magnetism which instantly attracted my own. I forgot everything. I sat on the floor like a Chinese god, exchanging electricity with her.

After some weeks' preliminary skirmishing, we joined battle along the whole front; that is to say, I crossed to Paris, where she had a flat, and carried her off to Switzerland to spend the winter skating. Arrived at Interlaken, we found that M?rren was not open, so we went on to St Moritz, breaking the journey at Zurich. This town is so hideous and depressing that we felt that our only chance of living through the night was to get superbly drunk, which we did …

(Let me emphasize that this wild adventure had not the remotest connection with Magick. Virakam was utterly ignorant of the subject. She had hardly so much as a smattering of Christian Science. She had never attended a séance or played Planchette.)

Lassati sed non satiati by midnight, I expected to sleep; but was aroused by Virakam being apparently seized with a violent attack of hysteria, in {676} which she poured forth a frantic torrent of senseless hallucination. I was irritated and tried to calm her. But she insisted that her experience was real; that she bore an important message to me from some invisible individual. Such nonsense increased my irritation. But — after about an hour of it — my jaw fell with astonishment. I became suddenly aware of a coherence in her ravings, and further that they were couched in my own language of symbols. My attention being thus awakened, I listened to what she was saying. A few minutes convinced me that she was actually in communication with some intelligence who had a message for me.

Let me briefly explain the grounds for this belief. I have already set forth, in connection with the Cairo working, some of the safeguards which I habitually employ. Virakam's vision contained elements perfectly familiar to me. This was clear proof that the man in her vision, whom she called Ab-ul-Diz, was acquainted with my system of hieroglyphics, literal and numerical, and also with some incidents in my magical career. Virakam herself certainly knew nothing of any of these. Ab-ul-Diz told us to call him a week later, when he would give further information. We arrived at St Moritz and engaged a suite in the Palace Hotel.

My first surprise was to find that I had brought with me exactly those Magical Weapons which were suitable for the work proposed and no others. But a yet more startling circumstance was to come. For the purposes of the Cairo working, Ouarda and I had brought two abbai; one, scarlet, for me; one, blue, for her. I had brought mine to St Moritz; the other was of course in the possession of Ouarda. Imagine my amazement when Virakam produced from her trunk a blue abbai so like Ouarda's that the only differences were minute details of gold embroidery! The suggestion was that the Secret Chiefs, having chosen Ouarda as their messenger, could not use anyone else until she had become irrevocably disqualified by insanity. Not till now could her place be taken by another; and that Virakam should possess a duplicate of her Magical Robe seemed a strong argument that she had been consecrated by them to take the place of her unhappy predecessor.

She was very unsatisfactory as a clairvoyant; she resented these precautions. She was a quick-tempered and impulsive woman, always eager to act with reckless enthusiasm. My cold scepticism no doubt prevented her from doing her best. Ab-ul-Diz himself constantly demanded that I should show “faith” and warned me that I was wrecking my chances by my attitude. I prevailed upon him, however, to give adequate proof of his existence and his claim to speak with authority. The main purport of his message was to instruct me to write a book on my system of mysticism and Magick, to be called Book Four, and told me that by means of this book, I should prevail against public neglect. It saw no objection to writing such a book; on quite rational grounds, it was a proper course of action, I therefore agreed to do {677} so. But Ab-ul-Diz was determined to dictate the conditions in which the book should be written; and this was a difficult matter. He wanted us to travel to an appropriate place. On this point I was not wholly satisfied with the result of my cross-examination. I know now that I was much to blame throughout. I was not honest either with him, myself or Virakam. I allowed material considerations to influence me, and I clung — oh triple fool! — to my sentimental obligations towards Laylah.

We finally decided to do what he asked, though part of my objection was founded on his refusal to give us absolutely definite instructions. However, we crossed the passes in a sleigh to Chiavenna, whence we took the train to Milan. In this city we had a final conversation with Ab-ul-Diz. I had exhausted his patience, as he mine, and he told us that he would not visit us any more. He gave us his final instructions. We were to go to Rome and beyond Rome, though he refused to name the exact spot. We were to take a villa and there write Book Four. I asked him how we might recognize the right villa. I forget what answer he gave through her, but for the first time he flashed a message directly into my own consciousness. “You will recognize it beyond the possibility of doubt or error,” he told me. With this, a picture came into my mind of a hillside on which were a house and garden marked by two tall Persian nuts.

The next day we went on to Rome. Owing to my own Ananias-like attempt to “keep back part of the price”, my relations with Virakam had become strained. We reached Naples after two or three quarrelsome days in Rome and began house-hunting. I imagined that we should find dozens of suitable places to choose from, but we spend day after day scouring the city and suburbs in an automobile, without finding a single place to let that corresponded in the smallest degree with our ideas.

Virakam's brat — a most god-forsaken lout — was to join us for the Christmas holidays, and on the day he was due to arrive we motored out as a forlorn hope to Posilippo before meeting him at the station at four o'clock or thereabouts. But the previous night Virakam had a dream in which she saw the desired villa with absolute clearness. (I had been careful to say nothing to her about the Persian nuts, so as to have a weapon against her in case she insisted that such and such a place was the one intended.)

After a fruitless search we turned our automobile towards Naples, along the crest of Posilippo. At one point there is a small side lane scarcely negotiable by motor, and indeed hardly perceptible, as it branches from the main road so as to form an acute-angled “Y” with the foot towards Naples. But Virakam sprang excitedly to her feet and told the chauffeur to drive down it. I was astonished, she being hysterically anxious to meet the train, and our time being already almost too short. But she swore passionately that the villa was down that lane. The road became constantly rougher and narrower. {678}

After some time, it came out on the open slope; a low stone parapet on the left protecting it. Again she sprang to her feet. “There”, she cried, pointing with her finger, “is the villa I saw in my dream!” I looked. No villa was visible. I said so. She had to agree; yet stuck to her point that she saw it. I subsequently returned to that spot and found that a short section of wall, perhaps fifteen feet of narrow edge of masonry, is just perceptible through a gap in the vegetation. We drove on; we came to a tiny piazza, on one side of which was a church. “That is the square and the church”, she exclaimed, “that I saw in my dream!”

We drove on. The lane became narrower, rougher and steeper. Little more than a hundred yards ahead it was completely “up”, blocked with heaps of broken stone. The chauffeur protested that he would be able neither to turn the car nor to back it up to the square. Virakam, in a violent rage, insisted on proceeding. I shrugged my shoulders. I had got accustomed to these typhoons.

We drove on a few yards. Then the chauffeur made up his mind to revolt and stopped the car. On the left was a wide open gate through which we could see a gang of workmen engaged in pretending to repair a ramshackle villa. Virakam called the foreman and asked in broken Italian if the place was to let. He told her no; it was under repair. With crazy confidence she dragged him within and forced him to show her over the house. I sat in resigned disgust, not deigning to follow. Then my eyes suddenly saw down the garden, two trees close together. I stooped. Their tops appeared. They were Persian nuts! The stupid coincidence angered me, and yet some irresistible instinct compelled me to take out my notebook and pencil and jot down the name written over the gate — Villa Caldarazzo. Idly, I added up the letters 6 + 10 + 30 + 30 + 1 and 20 + 1 + 30 + 4 + 1 + 200 + 1 + 7 + 7 + 70. Their sum struck me like a bullet in my brain. It was 418, the number of the Magical Formula of the Aeon, a numerical hieroglyph of the Great Work! Ab-ul-Diz had made no mistake. My recognition of the right place was not to depend on a mere matter of trees, which might be found almost anywhere. Recognition beyond all possibility of doubt was what he promised. He had been as good as his word.

I was entirely overwhelmed. I jumped out of the car and ran up to the house. I found Virakam in the main room. The instant I entered I understood that it was entirely suited for a Temple. The walls were decorated with crude frescoes which somehow suggested the exact atmosphere proper to the Work. The very shape of the room seemed somehow significant. Further, it seemed as if it were filled with a peculiar emanation. This impression must not be dismissed as sheer fancy. Few men but are sufficiently sensitive to distinguish the spiritual aura of certain buildings. It is impossible not to feel reverence in certain cathedrals and temples. The most ordinary {679} dwelling-houses often possess an atmosphere of their own; some depress, some cheer; some disgust, others strike chill to the heart.

Virakam of course was entirely certain that this was the villa for us. Against this was the positive statement of the people in charge that it was not to be let. We refused to accept this assertion. We took the name and address of the owner, dug him out, and found him willing to give us immediate possession at a small rent. We went in on the following day and settled down almost at once to consecrate the Temple and begin the book.

The idea was a follows. I was to dictate; Virakam to transcribe, and if at any point there appeared the slightest obscurity — obscurity from the point of view of the entirely ignorant and not particularly intelligent reader; in a word, the average lower-class man in the street — I was to recast my thoughts in plainer language. By this means we hoped to write a book well within the compass of the understanding of even the simplest- minded seeker after spiritual enlightenment.

Part One of Book Four expounds the principles and practice of mysticism in simple scientific terms stripped of all sectarian accretion, superstitious enthusiasms or other extraneous matter. It proved completely successful in this sense.

Part Two deals with the principles and practice of Magick. I explained the real meaning and modus operandi of all the apparatus and technique of Magick. Here, however, I partially failed. I was stupid enough to assume that my readers were already acquainted with the chief classics of Magick. I consequently described each Weapon, explained it and gave instructions for its use, without making it clear why it should be necessary at all. Part Two is therefore an wholly admirable treatise only for one who has already mastered the groundwork and gained some experience of the practice of the art.

The number 4 being the formula of the book, it was of course to consist of four parts. I carried out this idea by expressing the nature of the Tetrad, not only by the name and plan of the book, but by issuing it in the shape of a square 4 inches by 4, and pricing each part as a function of 4. Part One was published at 4 groats, Part Two at 4 tanners, Part Three was to cost 3 “Lloyd George groats” (at this time the demagogue was offering the workman ninepence for fourpence, by means of an insurance swindle intended to enslave him more completely than ever). Part Four, 4 shillings. Part Three was to deal with the practice of Magick, and Part Four, of The Book of the Law with its history and the Comment; the volume, in fact indicated in the Book itself, chapter III, verse 39.

The programme was cut short. The secret contest between the will of Virakam and my own broke into open hostility. A serious quarrel led to her dashing off to Paris. She repented almost before she arrived and telegraphed {680} me to rejoin her, which I did, and we went together to London. There, however, an intrigue resulted in her hastily marrying a Turkish adventurer who proceeded to beat her and, a little later, to desert her. Her hysteria became chronic and uncontrollable; she took to furious bouts of drinking which culminated in delirium tremens.

The partial failure of our partnership was to some extent, without doubt, my own fault. I was not whole-hearted and I refused to live by faith rather than by sight. I cannot reproach myself for this; for that, I have no excuse. I may nevertheless express a doubt as to whether full success was in any case possible. Her own masterless passions could hardly have allowed her to pass unscathed through the ordeals which are always imposed upon those who undertake tasks of this importance.

The upshot has been that, although I dictated Part Three to Laylah in the spring of 1912, I felt that it was not sufficiently perfect to be published. From time to time I revised it; but it remained unsatisfactory until in 1921 I took it in hand seriously, practically rewrote it and expanded it into a vast volume, a really complete treatise on every branch of Magick. Part Four is still incomplete. I feel that I cannot publish the Comment on The Book of the Law until I am absolutely satisfied with it, and there is still much work to be done.

My midwinter wandering was so wholly taken up with Virakam that there was no adventure of interest to recount, with one exception. In Naples we had a sitting with the famous Eusapia Palladino.

Her claim to extraordinary powers rests entirely on the famous report of Messrs Feilding, Baggalay and Carrington. Feilding I knew personally very well. I had cross-examined him repeatedly about her without shaking his testimony. I met Baggalay once or twice and his evidence corroborated Feilding's. When I came to know Carrington later, I found myself unable to attach serious credit to anything he said, and it certainly seemed suspicious that he should have acted as impresario to Eusapia shortly afterwards and exploited her in the United States.

Besides this, I had analysed carefully the printed reports of the sittings. I could find no loophole; until one day my precious memory came to the rescue. It told me what is not by any means apparent on a straightforward reading, that in one of the s‚ances, I think number six, no phenomena occurred in the cabinet. Somewhere else in the book, quite disconnectedly, we find that during this s‚ance there was no table in the cabinet. “Aha!” said I, “so when the trumpets and tambourines and so on are really out of her reach (never mind whether her arms are under control or not!) she cannot sound them.” It may seem arbitrary and unjust; but to me that one fact knocked away the props from the whole structure. I had had sittings with many celebrated mediums and never seen any {681} phenomena which impressed me in the least as being caused by occult forces. (It is to be remembered that I have seen so many phenomena of absolutely indubitable authenticity in the course of my magical work that I am predisposed to expect such things to happen.)

In sitting with Eusapia, my main objects were first to get an idea of the atmosphere, so as to visualize more clearly the events recorded in the famous report, and second to criticize my own evidence. The question had suggested itself: “Feilding and the rest are clever, wary, experienced and critical, but even so, can I be sure that when they describe what occurs they are dependable witnesses?” As luck would have it, my single séance threw a glaring light on this point.

Eusapia was sitting at the end of a table with her back to the cabinet. Virakam was on her right, I on her left. It was my business to make sure that she did not kick and to keep hold of her left writs. After a short time the fun began in the customary manner by the curtain of the cabinet bulging and finally falling across Eusapia's left arm and my right. I could thus see into the cabinet, that is, into the corner of the room, by turning my head. Now, Eusapia was supposed to have a third arm, an astral arm, with which she could do her deadly deeds. My attention was attracted to the cabinet by seeing a shadowy arm moving about it it. My intellectual faculties were completely alert. I reasoned as follows: “The arm which I see is a left arm, not a right arm. It cannot therefore be Eusapia's left arm, because I am holding her left wrist with my right hand.” Almost before I had completed this syllogism, the arm disappeared from the cabinet; at the same moment I felt Eusapia replace her left wrist in my hand, which had not informed me that she had removed it.

It is a small premise on which to found an universal proposition and yet I do so without serious hesitation. I dare not for a moment compare myself with such expert investigators as Feilding and the rest. Still, I have some experience. I am not entirely an ass and I certainly know a great deal about psychology for one thing, and the unreliability of sensory impressions for another. Ex pede Herculem. If I, such as I am, cannot be relied upon to say whether I am or am not holding a woman's wrist, is it not possible that even experts, admittedly excited by the rapidity with which one startling phenomenon succeeds another, may deceive themselves as to the conditions of the control? It seems to me extremely significant that Feilding has never obtained a cabinet phenomenon with any medium when he has interposed netting between the man and the curtain.

Feilding invited me to some of the s‚ances of the then famous medium Caracini, who had been turning Rome upside down by turning tables upside down, teaching grand pianos the turkey-trot and materializing mutton chops. I was inclined at first to believe that there was some slight {682} element of genuineness in the man for the simple reason that he failed to bring off anything at all in my presence. The trumpery elementals that amuse themselves at the expense of the spiritist type of imbecile keep very clear of Magicians. (Readers of Eliphas Lévi will remember that D.D.Home was panic-stricken at the approach of the adept.) After two hours of watchful waiting Feilding suggested trying for cabinet phenomena. The cabinet was, as usual, a corner of the room with a cloth pinned across, behind this being a table furnished with trumpets, tambourines and similar baitful bogies. At the suggestion Carcini sprang from his seat and extended his hands towards the upper part of the curtain. I required no further information. There was nothing suspicious in his act but the psychology was final. There was an association in his mind between cabinet phenomena and physical manipulation.

I take this opportunity of pointing out that no cabinet phenomena of any sort have ever taken place when netting has been placed between the curtain and the medium. We can hardly conceive of any type of force capable blowing trumpets, impressing wax, etc., which would be intercepted by netting, except that normal to humanity.

May I further remark that, in our generation, no professional medium has ever produced evidential phenomena of any kind with the exception of Eusapia Palladino, Mrs Piper, Eva C. (if she can be classed as professional) and Bert Reece. I have dealt already with Eusapia. I never met Mrs Piper, but her record somehow fails to impress me as remarkable. Eva C. is still sub judice and I will now deal with Bert Reece, after permitting myself the single observation that spiritists who talk about the cumulative value of their evidence have only four doubtful integers to add to an interminable string of zeros.

I met Bert Reece in London just before the war of 1914. His claim to fame was based on two items. First, if you put your hand on his head you could sometimes feel a throbbing, which of course proves beyond all possibility of a doubt the immortality of the soul. In this calculation I have adopted the official American standard of proof. Second, he was able to read and answer questions which had been previously written on slips of paper in his absence (presumed), folded up and distributed in various pockets. Having answered the first question a paper was handed to him; he then answered the second and so on.

This modus operandi suggests that he relies for success on some variation of the trick known as “the one after”, though I personally believe that he changes his methods as much as he can. It seems perfectly obvious in any case that a trick of some sort is being worked.

The real point of interest is that Hereward Carrington, who boasts that he has explained every single “sealed letter reading” that has come under his {683} notice, admits failure to explain this case, and he has assured me personally that he is completely baffled and inclined to believe that some occult power is at work.

Bert Reece is an Americanized German or Polish Jew from Posen. He was, I suppose, at this time about sixty years old. He commanded enormous fees for consultations. Many of the biggest business men in the States acted habitually on his advice. My own interest was limited to the curiosity aroused by Carrington's statement.

I went to see him at the Savoy Hotel in London. His personality is delightful and he received me with charming courtesy. He then asked me to write five questions on five slips of paper as usual, fold them, and put them in separate pockets. I said that I could not possibly think of troubling him to that extent. I should be perfectly convinced if he would read a word of three letters already in my pocket. (I had put the word TIN inside the back of my watch.) He of course refused the test and I knew where I was. However to humour him, and incidentally to observe his method, I did as he asked. Some of my questions were such that he was unlikely to know the answer. Others concerned the Cabbala. In one case I did not know the answer myself; but if he was really in touch with a high intelligence he could find out and I could check his correctness by the method elsewhere explained.

He read my questions correctly, but failed to answer any of them. Before answering the first time he made a number of suspicious movements that inclined me to think that he manages to pick one's pocket of the first slip after which, of course, the “one after” method proceeds merrily.

I called on him in New York early in 1915 with the idea of trying him out by offering him a share of the proceeds of persuading one of my friends to invest in a certain financial scheme. (Needless to say, my friend was a party to the plan.) Reece agreed without hesitation. I simply told him to answer the questions in such a way as to persuade the inquirer of certain facts. As luck would have it the test was even more conclusive than I had arranged for. In one of the questions a certain man's name occurred. According to my arrangement with Reece, he should have answered that this man was not to be trusted. The name bears a distinct resemblance to my own. He jumped to the conclusion that I was meant and praised the man up to the skies.

There was still one more sitting. He was to do his utmost to persuade his consultant to adopt a certain course of action. He tried every trick for the best part of an hour, without producing the slightest result. The atmosphere was one of cold disgust, mixed with a certain contemptuous pity. At the same time, one could not but understand that, given the original sine qua non, he could lead his client by the nose into the most absurd actions. This prima materia of the work need not be the pure gold of confidence. It is {684} quite sufficient if the client is morally and mentally unstable from fear, credulity, anxiety, desire or even natural uncertainty — this last being, of course, an evident condition of any serious consultation whatever. Give him something to work on and little by little one is bound to fall into his line of thought, after which it is child's play to turn every incident to advantage. The client will come away from the consultation convinced of the supernatural powers of the charlatan.

From the beginning of my investigation of so-called psychical research, I felt sure from mere consideration of the conditions of the problem that the adhesion of so many prominent men of science to spiritism must be explained by psychological facts. This saved me a great deal of time. The first key that I tried fitted the lock.

I noted immediately that the scientific men concerned were in some cases, though not in all, indisputably trustworthy as observers. They were capable of detecting fraud and of devising methods to exclude it. I was faced with the alternative of accepting the hypothesis of spiritism, which revolts my scientific spirit and is repudiated, by my instinct as an initiate, for a foul blasphemy and profanation, or I must find some reason for supposing that a number of men reputed trustworthy observers are for some reason rendered suddenly incompetent.

I have said a number of prominent men of science, but in point of fact very few of them have any sort of claim to rank in the first flight. However, such as they are, it is certainly curious that their first leaning towards spiritism becomes manifest on their reaching an age when the sexual power begins to decline.

I submit the following explanation of the psychological process of conversion in these cases.

1. The failure of the sexual energy turns their attention to death.

2. The inexpugnable fear of death demands the resort to some spiritual soporific.

3. Their scientific training makes it impossible for them to take refuge in any superstitious religion.

3a. They probably lack the pagan courage to accept the situation philosophically, their moral integrity having been injured in childhood by their Christian upbringing.

4. They seek consolation in some theory of immortality which promises to verify its theses by scientific evidence such as they are accustomed to accept.

5. They approach their first séances with a subconscious will-to-believe of great intensity.

6. They are sufficiently aware of this attitude to make a point of exaggerating their scepticism to themselves; that is, they affirm their scepticism with {685} an emphasis the more passionate in proportion as they hope, at the bottom of their hearts, to find sufficient evidence to shake it.

7. They satisfy their consciences by making a great display of their acuteness in detecting fraud, actual or possible, and thereby excuse themselves for adding, as if by afterthought, “obviously there are a few minor points whose explanation is not immediately obvious.”

8. They concentrate their attention on these unexplained points until they fill the entire point of view.

9. What with overstrained attention, Freudian forgetfulness and the illusions of desire, they quiet their consciences sufficiently to assert the genuineness of some few of the phenomena, preferably those which are, so to speak, the thin end of the wedge and are explicable on hypotheses not fundamentally repugnant to the main body of scientific truth.

10. The critical attitude of their colleagues excites the usual reaction and rouses them to defend vigorously propositions originally put forward tentatively under every reserve.

11. Feeling their sand castle crumbling with each wave of the purifying salt water of criticism, they shovel fresh sand to the support of the threatened edifice. In their haste and eagerness they abandon all pretence of examining the quality of the material and no longer distinguish between the qualities of evidence.

12. It is now quite easy for mediums to persuade them that they are chosen captains of a crusade. Even when they continue their original methods of testing the genuineness of phenomena, the mediums have become familiar with their methods and found out how to circumvent them. In the words of Browning: “So off we push.”

So much for the so-called scientific contingent. Browning's “Mr Sludge, 'The Medium'” is to me the deepest and completest psychological study ever written. I only wish it could be matched by a parallel exposure of the half-hidden perversities and trickeries of the scientific mind.


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This incident and its sequel are described in “The Net”, chapter one. [Later Crowley changed the title of The Net to Moonchild.


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