Chapter 74

As I was sitting at lunch one day in the Hermitage beginning a lyrical ritual intended for the use of an individual in his private work, I found myself, in the middle of a sentence, at a loss for the next word. I have already explained how swiftly and spontaneously my spirit soars from stanza to stanza without need of previous reflection or subsequent revision. In all these weeks my pen had swung like a skater over the paper. Now suddenly it stopped; an eagle in full flight stricken by a shaft. That sentence has never been completed. The inspiration was withdrawn from me. My light had gone out like an arc-light when the cable is cut. It was long before I wrote again.

Three days later, the contract at the Aquarium was due to expire; and those days proved to me how perfectly my existence depended on inspiration. The city, from a crashing chorus of magical music, a pageant of passionate pleasure, became a cold chaos of inanity. The bells no longer sang; the sun and moon were stagnant, soulless spectres in a senseless sky — like a ghost on the gusts of the gale. I went from miraculous Moscow into a world of inarticulate impressions. St Petersburg failed to rekindle the wonder and worship which it had awakened in me of old. The Nevski Prospekt seemed narrower, meaner; a mere street. St Isaacs no longer enthralled me. I was able to compare the Neva with the Nile, the Ganges, the Rangoon River, and even the Rhine, as coldly and critically as Baedeker. My spirit need infinite repose after its incomparable effort, and this repose was granted to it by the voyage to Stockholm.

There are ways amid the Western Isles of Scotland, through the Norwegian fjords, and sometimes upon tropic seas, which speak to the soul in a language unknown to any other scenes. There is a solemnity and a serenity in their continual silence which seem not of this world. But the summer voyage across the Baltic, amid the archipelago is sovereign above any of these. There is no single ripple on the sea, no stirring in the air; the night is indistinguishable from the day, for neither suffers interruption; the steamer skins the surface of the sea as swift and silent as a swallow. One cannot even hear the engines, so utterly does their rhythm interpenetrate the totality of experience. There is a sense of floating in fairyland. One forgets the land whence one has come; one has no vision of the coast to which one is speeding. It seems impossible that the journey even began, still less, that its end is appointed.

One seems to flit between innumerable islands, some crowned with foliage, {718} some mere bare gray knolls, scarce peeping from the waveless mirror of water. There is a sense of infinite intricacy of intention as the steamer insinuates itself into one curving channel after another, or comes out suddenly from a labyrinth of lyrical islands into a shoreless silence. One's mind is utterly cut off, not only from terrestrial thoughts, but from all definite ideas soever. It is impossible to accept what we commonly call actuality as having any real existence. One neither sleeps nor wakes from the moment when Kronstadt fades to a pale purple phantom of the past till Stockholm springs from the sea, as if the Lethean languor of a dreamless death, a mere deliciously indefinite serenity, were being gently awakened to understand that its unguessed goal was at last in sight. The negative ecstasy of perfect release from the pressure of existence developed into its positive equivalent when the soul, soothed and made strong, by its swoon into stainless silence, was ready to spring, sublimely self-sufficient, to the summit of its starry stature, to grasp and grapple with the manifested majesty of the Most High …

In vain have I striven to compel language to convey the meaning of that miraculous voyage. It stands aloof, so pure and perfect in itself that naught can blur its beauty. It remains in my memory uncontaminated by the sordid stupidity of Stockholm, the tedium of the discomfortable dreariness of the return to London.

I found my work precisely where I had left it. The tenth and last number of //The Equinox// was published in due course. There was a certain pride in having triumphed over such opposition, in having “carried on” despite neglect, misunderstanding and treachery; in having achieved so many formidable tasks. There was also infinite satisfaction in so many signal successes. I could not doubt that I had made the Path of Initiation plain. It was beyond doubt that any man of ordinary energy, integrity and intelligence might now attain in a very few months what, until now, had meant years of desperate devotion. I had destroyed the superstition that spiritual success depended on dogma. I was thus able, to some extent, to go fearlessly into the presence of the Secret Chiefs who had chosen me to carry out their plans for the welfare of mankind, and say with upright head that I had not wholly proved unworthy of their trust. Yet withal, there was a certain sadness such as, I suppose, every man feels when he comes to the end of a definite stage in his career. Nevertheless, I knew that those who had thus far used me would not now throw me aside; that higher and holier service would be found for me.

During the autumn and until the solstice I went on with my regular work as usual, but with a subconscious awareness that my future lay in other fields; something was sure to happen to change the whole current of my life. Subtly enough, this change came about by diverting me from the public {719} action to which I had so long been bound by the sheer necessity of producing //The Equinox// on definite dates. I began to pay more attention to my own personal progress.

It must here be explained that my innate diffidence forbad me to aspire to the Grade of Magus in any full sense. Such beings appear only in every two thousand years or so. I knew too well my own limitations. It is true that I had been used as a Magus in the Cairo working; that is, I had been chosen to utter the Word of a New Aeon. But I did not regard this as being my Word. I felt myself ridiculously unworthy of the position assigned to me in The Book of the Law itself. When therefore I proposed to devote myself to my own initiations, I meant no more than this: that I would try to perfect myself in the understanding and powers proper to a Master of the Temple. At the end of 1913, I found myself in Paris with a Zelator of the Order, Frater L. T. I had been working on the theory of the magical method of the O.T.O.; and we decided to test my conclusions by a series of invocations.

We began work on the first day of the year and continued without interruption for six weeks. We invoked the gods Mercury and Jupiter; and obtained many astonishing results of many kinds, ranging from spiritual illumination to physical phenomena. It is impossible to transcribe the entire record, and to give excerpts would only convey a most imperfect and misleading idea of the result. As an example of actual intellectual illumination, however, I may quote the very impressive identification of the Christ of the gospels with Mercury. This came as a complete surprise, we having till then considered him as an entirely solar symbol connected especially with Dionysus, Mithras and Osiris.

In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, who is Mercury, and is therefore to be identified with Christ. Both are messengers; their birth mysteries are similar; the pranks of their childhood are similar. In the Vision of the Universal Mercury, Hermes is seen descending upon the sea, which refers to Maria. The Crucifixion represents the caduceus; the two thieves, the two serpents; the cliff in the Vision of the Universal Mercury is Golgotha; Maria is simply Maia with the solar R in her womb.

The controversy about Christ between the synoptics and John was really a contention between the priests of Bacchus, Sol and Osiris, also, perhaps, of Adonis and Attis, on the one hand, and those of Hermes on the other, at that period when initiation all over the world found it necessary, owing to the growth of the Roman empire, and the opening up of means of communication, to replace conflicting polytheisms by a synthetic faith. (This is absolutely new to me, this conception {720} of Christ as Mercury.) Some difficulty about the … (This sentence is now quite unintelligible.)

To continue the identification, compare Christ's descent into hell with the function of Hermes as guide of the dead. Also Hermes leading up Eurydice, and Christ raising up Jairus' daughter. Christ is said to have risen on the third day, because it takes three days for the planet Mercury to become visible after separating from the orb of the sun. (It may be noted here that Mercury and Venus are the planets between us and the sun, as if the Mother and the Son were mediators between us and the Father.)

Note Christ as the Healer, and also his own expression, “The son of Man cometh as a thief in the night”; and also this scripture (Matt. XXIV, 27), “For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even unto the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.”

Note also Christ's relations with the money changers, his frequent parables, and the fact that his first disciple was a publican.

Note also Mercury as the deliverer of Prometheus.

One half of the fish symbol is also common to Christ as Mercury; fish are sacred to Mercury (owing presumably to their quality of movement). (This I did not know before.) Many of Christ's disciples were fishermen and he was always doing miracles in connexion with fish.

Note also Christ as the mediator: “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”, and Mercury as Chokmah through whom alone we can approach Kether.

The caduceus contains a complete symbol of the Gnosis; the winged sun or phallus represents the joy of life on all planes from the lowest to the highest. The Serpents, besides being active and passive, Horus and Osiris, and all their other well-known attributions are those qualities of Eagle and Lion respectively, of which we know but do not speak. It is the symbol which unites the Microcosm and the Macrocosm, the symbol of the Magical Operation which accomplishes this. The caduceus is the universal solvent. It is quite easy to turn quicksilver into gold on the physical plane, and this will soon be done. New life will flow through the world in consequence. The god now lays his caduceus upon my lips for silence; bidding me only remember that on the following night he is to come in another form.

The temple was then closed.

Our occasional failures produced results as striking and instructive as our successes. For instance, having made an error in invoking Mercury, and thus having created a current of force contrary to his nature, we observed that events of a Mercurial character, no matter how normal, failed to occur. For {721} one thing, all communications with the outer world were completely cut off for sometime. It had been arranged that I should receive a daily report from London from my secretary. None arrived for five days; and that although nothing had gone wrong in London. No explanation was ever forthcoming. This is one of the many incidents tending to similar conclusions, all explicable only on the theory that the natural energy, which is normally present and is necessary to the occurrence of certain types of event, had somehow been inhibited.

The Jupiterian phenomena were especially remarkable. We performed in all sixteen operations to invoke this force. It seemed at first as if our work actually increased the normal inertia. Jupiterian phenomena which we had every right to expect simply failed to happen. Even in the matter of banqueting, which we were supposed to do lavishly in his honour, the opposition became overwhelming. Hungry as we might be, we seemed unable to force ourselves to eat even a light meal. Quite suddenly the invisible barrier broke down and Jupiterian phonemena of the most unexpected kind simply rained on us. To mention one incident only; a Brother who had always been desperately poor suddenly came into a fortune and insisted on contributing five hundred pounds to the use of the Order.

I must mention one incident of the Paris working as being of general interest, outside technical Magick. During the operation I had a bad attack of influenza, which settled down to very severe bronchitis. I was visited one evening by an old friend of mine and her young man, who very kindly and sensibly suggested that I should find relief if I smoked a few pipes of opium. They accordingly brought the apparatus from their apartment and we began. (Opium, by the way, is sacred to Jupiter, and to Chesed, Mercy, as being sovereign against pain, and also as enabling the soul to free itself from its gross integument and realize its majesty.) My bronchitis vanished; I went off to sleep; my guests retiring without waking me. In my sleep I dreamt; and when I woke the dream remained absolutely perfect in my consciousness, down to the minutest details. It was a story, a subtle exposure of English stupidity, set in a frame of the craziest and most fantastically gorgeous workmanship. Ill as I was, I jumped out of bed and wrote down the story offhand. I called it “The Strategem”. No doubt it was inspired by Jupiter, for it was the first short story that I had ever written which was accepted at once. More: I was told — nothing in my life ever made me prouder — that Joseph Conrad said it was the best short story he had read in ten years.

We ourselves became identified with Jupiter, but in different aspects. Frater L. T. was for some months following the personification of generosity, through himself with the most meagre resources. All sorts of strangers planted themselves on him and he entertained them. In my own case, I became that type of Jupiter which we connect with the idea of prosperity, {722} authority and amativeness. I received numerous occult dignities; I seemed to have plenty of money without quite knowing how it happened; and I found myself exercising an almost uncanny attraction upon every woman that came into my circle of acquaintance.

To me, however, as a student of nature, the one important result of this work was the proof of the efficacy of the magical method employed. Henceforth, I made it my principal study, kept a detailed record of my researches, and began to discover the rational explanation of its operation and the conditions of success.

More important yet, in the deepest sense, was a feature of the result which I failed to observe at the time, and even for some years after. In veiled language are hints, unmistakable as soon a detected, that I was even then, by means of the working itself, being prepared for the initiation thereto. The actual ceremony (using the word in its widest and deepest sense) extended over some years and is in fact the sole key to the events of that period. An outline therefore must consequently form a separate chapter, for without the light thereby thrown upon the facts of my career, they must appear incoherent, inconsequential and unintelligible. I was destined to undergo a series of experiences which apparently contradict the whole tendency of the past. My actions seem incompatible with my character; my environment seems incomprehensibly unnatural; in short, the effect of the narrative is to suggest that by some jugglery the life of a totally different individual has intruded upon my own.

Now, years afterwards, it still seems to me as if for the whole period of the initiation I had been transported into an unfamiliar world; their history is a magical history in the most comically complete sense. Its events are neither real nor rational — save only in relation to the condition of an experiment, exactly as a candidate in freemasonry sees, hears, speaks and acts with his normal senses, yet in a way which has no relation to his previous experience. The stolid old gentleman in evening dress is really King Solomon. He hears a rigmarole both false and meaningless in itself, which he must understand as conveying something entirely other than it apparently implies. His words are put into his mouth, and produce an effect neither expected, desired, nor understood. He performs a series of gestures neither comprehensible in themselves, nor even (so far as he can see) calculated to assist his purpose. And even when, at the end, he finds that he has complied with the prescribed conditions and achieved his object, he is unable to bring what has taken place into rational relation with his ordinary life. The situation is only the more bewildering that from first to last each incident in itself is perfectly common place.

Such is my own point of view with regard to my adventures in America. They are all perfectly probably in themselves, perfectly intelligible regarded {723} as details of a ritual; but they contradict every probability of human life as commonly understood. The chain of my career snaps suddenly; yet it continues as if it had never been broken from the moment that my initiation is over. The effect is to persuade me that this period of my life is in the nature of a dream. I meet strange monsters; one phantom succeeds another without a shadow of coherence. Even those incidents which help me to recognize that I am the central figure of the dream complete my conviction of its unreality.


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