Chapter 71

The spring of 1912 found me once more hovering between London and Paris. I wrote a few first-rate lyrics, a few more or less important essays, such as “Energized Enthusiasm”, but on the whole, the virtue had gone out of me as far as big conceptions and elaborate executions were concerned. The campaign of 1911 had exhausted my heavy ammunition for the time being.

None the less, I could point to one solid achievement on the large scale, as I must consider it, although it is composed of more or less disconnected elements. I refer to The Book of Lies. In this there are ninety-three chapters: we count as a chapter the two pages filled respectively with a note of interrogation and a mark of exclamation. The other chapters contain sometimes a single word, more frequently from half a dozen to twenty phrases, occasionally anything up to a dozen paragraphs. The subject of each chapter is determined more or less definitely by the Cabbalistic import of its number. Thus, Chapter 25 gives a revised ritual of the Pentagram; 72 is a rondel with the refrain “Shemhamphorash”, the Divine name of 72 letters; 77 Laylah, whose name adds to that number; and 80, the number of the letter Pé, referred to Mars, a panegyric upon war.

Sometimes the text is serious and straightforward, sometimes its obscure oracles demand deep knowledge of the Cabbalah for interpretation; others contain obscure allusions, play upon words, secrets expressed in cryptogram, double to triple meanings which must be combined in order to appreciate the full flavour; others again are subtly ironical or cynical. At first sight the book is a jumble of nonsense intended to insult there reader. It requires infinite study, sympathy, intuition and initiation. Given these, I do not hesitate to claim that in none other of my writings have I given so profound and comprehensive an exposition of my philosophy on every plane. I deal with the inmost impulses of the soul and through the whole course of consciousness down to the reactions of the most superficial states of mind.

I consider this book so important as a compendium of the contents of my consciousness that I beg leave to illustrate the above points.

“Mind is a disease of semen” asserts a theory of the relations between the conscious and subconscious, whose main thesis is that the true ego lurks silent in the quintessence of physical form, whereas the conscious self is no more than the murmur of its moods whenever its supremacy is challenged by environment. In Chapter 37, thought is compared to the darkness of a {687} lunar and spiritual ecstasy to that of a solar eclipse. Both shadows are rare accidents in a universe of light. Again, “In the Wind of the mind arises the turbulence called I. It breaks; down shower the barren thoughts. All life is choked.” Elsewhere, deep spiritual wisdom is evoked by tea at Rumpelmayer's, dinner at Lapérouse, breakfast at the Smoking Dog, a walk in the forest, or the dealings of the Master with his disciples.

Let me further brag that even uninstructed souls have found enlightenment and ecstasy in these mysterious mutterings.

One brilliant boy wrote in Poetry and Drama as follows:

Creation and destruction of gods has been for centuries mankind's favourite religious mania and philosophical exercise. The Book of Lies is a witty, instructive and wholly admirable collection of paradoxes, in themselves contradictory, summing up and illustrating various experiments in god-making. Frater Perdurabo, however, has not written a philosophical or mystical treatise; on the contrary, his book leaves one with a feeling of intense exhilaration and clearheadedness. The book cannot be judged by the mere reading of excerpts; nor can it be read straight through. Indeed, if one is really desirous to appreciate its subtleties, this should not be attempted before twelve p.m. To be carried about and discussed at leisure, to annoy, repel, stimulate, puzzle and interest, are evidently some of its functions. Stupendously idiotic and amazingly cleaver, it is at the same time the quintessence of paradox and simplicity itself; yet when all this is said one is still far from the core, for just when one thinks to have discovered it, one finds that many obvious beauties of thought and expression have been overlooked, others misinterpreted. Sometimes one is even doubtful if the author himself could translate into definite terms the exact meaning of his aphorisms and paradoxes without detracting from the value of the book as an artistic expression of his personality. This is, however, an individual appreciation. The Book of Lies will therefore be interpreted differently by each reader and judged accordingly.

The best short story, as some think, that I have ever written belongs to 1912, “The Testament of Magdalen Blair”. The idea was based on a suggestion of Allan Bennett's made in 1899, and fallow in my mind ever since. It was this. Since thoughts are the accompaniments of modifications of the cerebrial tissue, what thoughts must be concomitants of its putrefaction? It is certainly as ghastly an idea as any man could wish for on a fine summer morning. It thought I would use it to make people's flesh creep. My difficulty was how to acquaint other people with the thoughts of a dead man. So I made him a man of science and provided him with a wife, a student at Newnham, endowed with extraordinary sensibility which she develops into {688} thought reading. She and her husband make a series of experiments and thus develop her faculty to perfection. He gets Bright's disease and dies, while she records what he thinks during delirium, coma and finally death.

I managed to make the story sound fairly plausible and let myself go magnificently in the matter of horror. I read it aloud to a house party on Christmas Eve; in the morning they all looked as if they had not recovered from a long and dangerous illness. I found myself extremely disliked!

Encouraged by this, I decided to offer the story to the English Review; but (for various reasons) sent it in as from another hand. I got a friend of mine to enclose it with a letter to say that it was the work of her daughter at Cambridge. (The story ends, by the way, with the widow, unable to endure the horror of knowing what was in store for her and the rest of humanity, urging everybody to blow out their brains with dynamite as the most practical method of minimizing the agony. She is then put in an asylum, where she demonstrates the genuiness of her claim to report accurately what people are thinking but fails to impress the English doctor through implored by the most eminent German professor in that department of science to allow her to work with him.) The editor wrote to my friend that he would like to publish the story, but required proof of its literal truth.

I cannot comment upon such incidents. I have never been able to understand the psychology of such crass stupidity as I have found almost universal among editors and publishers. I can understand any man considering any piece of literature worthless, or thinking it a supreme masterpiece. Hume's remarks on the “unhappy barbarism” of Shakespeare, and Shelley's delusion that Leigh Hunt was a poet, are perfectly intelligible to me; but I am completely baffled by such mental operations as here indicated. Another instance will be found in connection with my story “The Stratagem” on a subsequent page.

A third symptom of the disease of the same individual is brought out in my poem, “To A New Born Child”. The editor protested that it was rather rough luck on a kid to predict such misfortunes for it. In other words, he had not the remotest idea what the poem was about. Considering that this particular editor is quite justly reputed to be far and away the best man in England in the matter of appreciating first-class work, it is perfectly incomprehensible to me that he should be such an arrant blockhead.

Most of my time in 1912 was taken up by the O.T.O. The Order was a great success and ceremonies of initiation were of almost daily occurrence. I was also very busy helping Laylah in her career. The problem was not easy. I soon discovered that it was not in her to undergo the dreary remorseless drudgery demanded by ambition to the classical concert platform. Striking too as her success had been in the Rites of Eleusis, it soon became {689} clear that its source was the impulse of my personality. I could invoke the gods into her; I could not teach her to invoke them herself.

The truth of the matter was that her art was a secondary consideration with her. Secretly, she herself was probably unconscious of it. She was obsessed by the fear of poverty, the Oedipus-complex wish for a “secure future”, snobbish ambition to improve her social standing. As soon as she passed the age of thirty and came into contact with the atmosphere of America, the spiritual and even the romantic sides of her character wasted away. She rushed desperately from one prospect of prosperity to another, only to find herself despised and duped by the men she was trying to deceive. At last she dropped to the depth of despair and in her drowning struggles lost her last link with life and love. She became a traitor and a thief; and bolted with her spoils to hide herself, like Fafnir, from the very eye of heaven.

I failed to divine the essential hopelessness of helping her. I idealized her; I robed her in the royal vestures of romance. The power and passion of her playing inspired me. Her beauty, physical and moral, bewitched me. I failed to realize to what extent these qualities depend upon circumstances; but it was clear by the beginning of 1912 that she could never get much higher than leading the Ladies' Band in The Waltz Dream as she had been doing. The best hope was to find something equally within her powers which would yet give her the opportunity to make an individual impression. I therefore suggested that she should combine fiddling with dancing. My idea was, of course, to find a new art form. But of this she was not capable. She failed to understand my idea.

I acquiesced. I turned my thoughts to making a popular success for her. We collected six assistant fiddlers, strung together a jumble of jingles and set them to a riot of motion; dressed the septette in coloured rags, called them “The Ragged Ragtime Girls” and took London by storm. It was a sickening business.

Laylah had spent some weeks in New York with Two Little Brides. I had given her introductions to various correspondents of mine in the city; people interested in my work. One of these demands attention, both for her own sake as one of the most remarkable characters I have ever known and for the influence of her intervention on my affairs.

Her name was Vittoria Cremers. She claimed to be the bastard of a wealthy English Jew and to have married a knavish Austrian baron. She was an intimate friend of Mabel Collins, authoress of The Blossom and the Fruit, the novel which has left so deep a mark upon my early ideas about Magick. In 1912 she was in her fifties. Her face was stern and square, with terribly intense eyes from which glared an expression of indescribably pain and hopeless horror. Her hair was bobbed and dirty white, her dress severely {690} masculine save the single concession of a short straight skirt. Her figure was sturdy and her gait determined though awkward. Laylah found her in a miserable room on 176th Street or thereabouts. Pitifully poor, she had not been able to buy Liber 777 and had therefore worked week after week copying in the Astor Library. She impressed Laylah as an ernest seeker and a practical business woman. She professed the utmost devotion to me and proposed to come to England and put the work of the Order on a sound basis. I thought the idea was excellent, paid her passage to England and established her as a manageress.

Technically, I digress; but I cannot refrain from telling her favourite story. She boasted of her virginity and of the intimacy of her relations with Mabel Collins, with whom she lived a long time. Mabel had however divided her favours with a very strange man whose career had been extraordinary. He had been an officer in a cavalry regiment, a doctor, and I know not how many other things in his time. He was now in desperate poverty and depended entirely on Mabel Collins for his daily bread. This man claimed to be an advanced Magician, boasting of many mysterious powers and even occasionally demonstrating the same.

At this time London was agog with the exploits of Jack the Ripper. One theory of the motive of the murderer was that he was performing an Operation to obtain the Supreme Black Magical Power. The seven women had to be killed so that their seven bodies formed a “Calvary cross of seven points” with its head to the west. The theory was that after killing the third or the fourth, I forget which, the murderer acquired the power of invisibility, and this was confirmed by the fact that in one case a policeman heard the shrieks of the dying woman and reached her before life was extinct, yet she lay in a cul-de-sac, with no possible exit save to the street; and the policeman saw no signs of the assassin, thought he was patrolling outside, expressly on the lookout.

Miss Collins' friend took great interest in these murders. He discussed them with her and Cremers on several occasions. He gave them imitations of how the murderer might have accomplished his task without arousing the suspicion of his victims until the last moment. Cremers objected that his escape must have been a risky matter, because of his habit of devouring certain portions of the ladies before leaving them. What about the blood on his collar and shirt? The lecturer demonstrated that any gentleman in evening dress had merely to turn up the collar of a light overcoat to conceal any traces of his supper.

Time passed! Mabel tired of her friend, but did not dare to get rid of him because he had a packet of compromising letters written by her. Cremers offered to steal these from him. In the man's bedroom was a tin uniform case which he kept under the bed to which he attached it by cords. Neither of the {691} women had ever seen this open and Cremers suspected that he kept these letters in it. She got him out of the way for a day by a forged telegram, entered the room, untied the cords and drew the box from under the bed. To her surprise it was very light, as if empty. She proceeded nevertheless to pick the lock and open it. There were no letters; there was nothing in the box, but seven white evening dress ties, all stiff and black with clotted blood!

Her other favourite story is more to the point. At the critical moment of her mission, Madame Blavatsky had been most foully betrayed by Mabel Collins with the help, according to the stratagems and at the instigation of Cremers, who not only justified, but boasted of her conduct.

It may be matter for surprise that I was not warned of the woman's character by this confession. But I have one invariable rule in dealing with those that come to me for training and that is: to pay no attention whatever to their relations with myself, but to advise them according to the principles of the A∴ A∴, as if we lived in different planets. For instance, if a man tells me he is a thief, I refuse on principle to lock up my spoons; I use the information solely as a key to his character, and tell him that in robbing others he is really robbing himself by violating the principle which protects him from theft. I trusted Cremers absolutely, though I knew this — and even that she had, at one time, been the paid spy of some blackmailing vigilance society in America, which, under cover of moral indignation, forged false evidence against convenient candidates, implicating them in the white slave traffic, extracting hush money, or prosecuting when the victim was not worth despoiling or refused to pay up, and sometimes by way of “making an example”, in order to frighten the next batch whose blood they proposed to suck.

I left a book of signed cheques in her charge; I allowed her access to my private papers. I gave no sign that I saw how she was corrupting the loyalty of Laylah and making mischief all round. Presently, at the end of 1913, she got influenza. I went to visit her unexpectedly; there, on the table by her bed, was a memorandum showing unmistakably that she had embezzled large sums of money by fraudulent manipulation of the aforesaid cheques. I failed to conceal from her that I had seen and understood, but I continued to act towards her with unvarying kindness and continued to trust her absolutely. It was too much for her! She had hated me from the first, as she had hated Blavatsky, and vowed to ruin me as she had ruined my great predecessor; and now, when she had robbed me and betrayed me at every turn, I had not turned a hair. The consciousness that her hate was impotent was too much for her to endure. She developed an attack of meningitis and was violently insane for six weeks, at the end of which time she melted away to hide her shame in Wales, where she supposed sensibly enough that she would find {692} sympathetic society in thieves and traitors after her own heart. I understand in fact that she is still there.

During the whole period up to the outbreak of the war, my work gradually increased and consolidated. I must mention the visit of my representative in South Africa, Frater Semper Paratus. This brother possessed the most remarkable magical faculties, within a certain limited scope. It was natural for him to bring into action those forces which impinge directly upon the material world. For instance, his ability to perform divination by means of geomancy (which presumes the action of intelligences of a gross type) has no parallel in my experience. Let me illustrate what I mean.

By profession Frater Semper Paratus was a chartered accountant. He would be called in to audit the finances of some firm. He would find himself confronted by an overwhelming mass of documents. “It means three weeks' work,” he would say to himself, “to discover the location of the error.” Instead of exploring the mass of material at random, he would set up a series of geomantic figures and, after less than a hour's work, would take up the volume geomantically indicated and put his finger at once upon the origin of the confusion.

On another occasion, he bethought himself that, living as he did in Johannesburg, surrounded by gold and diamonds, he might as well use geomancy to discover a deposit for his own benefit. Indifferent as to whether he found gold or diamonds, he thought to include both by framing his question to cover “mineral wealth”. He was directed to ride out from the city by a given compass bearing. He did so. He found no indication of what he sought. He had given up hope and determined to return when he saw a range of low hills before him. He decided to push on and see if anything was visible from their summit. No, the plain stretched away without promise, a marshy flat with pools of stagnant water dotted about it. At his moment of complete disappointment, he noticed that his pony was thirsty. He therefore rode down to the nearest pool to let him drink. The animal refused the water, so he dismounted to find out the reason. The taste told him at once that he had discovered an immensely rich deposit of alkali. His geomancy had not misled him; he had found mineral wealth. He proceeded to exploit his discovery and would have become a millionaire in short order had he not met with the opposition of Burnner, Mond & Co.

On the other hand, his clairvoyance was hopelessly bad, so that he could not pass the examination for the Grade of Zelator of A∴ A∴ though in other points entitled to a much higher degree. One of his practical objects in visiting England was to ask me personally to get him over the stile.

I did so. At the very first trial I enabled him to use his astral eyesight. Our joint work developed and we resolved to make a series of investigations of “The Watch Towers of the Elements”, beginning with that of Fire. The {693} question arose: “Why does the instruction tell us to rise vertically in the astral body for a great distance before penetrating the symbol under examination?” I said, “It seems to me a mere superstition connected with the idea that heaven is above and hell beneath one.” To clear up this point, we decided to enter the Watch Tower directly, without rising. Our visions, occupying three successive days, showed no abnormal features. But — and here one cannot help feeling that Semper Paratus's faculty of making connection with forces in close contact with the material plane is involved — no less than five fires broke out in the studio during that period. On the third night, Semper Paratus decided to walk home to the house of the friends with whom he was staying in Hampstead. It was late at night when he approached; but his attention was at once attracted by smoke issuing from the house. He gave the alarm and the fire was quickly got under. The mysterious and significant point about the incident is that the fire had got started in the one place in a house where there is no rational explanation for an outbreak — in the coal cellar!

One further illustration of the peculiar qualities of this Brother. I had advised him to evoke the forces of Fire and Air on return to South Africa, they being naturally plentiful in that part of the world. He began with the fiery part of Fire, which includes lightning. When he began his ceremony there was no indication of electrical disturbance; but in a few minutes a storm gathered and his temple was struck.

Another Brother similarly evoking the forces of Water, the cistern of his house burst during the ceremony and flooded it.

Similar incidents constantly occur to those Magicians whose forces tend to manifest in concrete expression. But such men are rare. In my own case, though many similar phenomena have occurred, as already recorded, I regard them as due to defects of insulation. They warn me to take pains to perfect my circle.

The art of producing phenomena at will is a totally different question. The simplest, most rational, and most direct method had been known to me since the summer of 1911; but for some reason, I had never practised it systematically or recorded my results methodically. I believe this to have been due to an instinctive reluctance in respect of the nature of the method. It was not until January 1st, 1914 that I made it my principal engine.


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