Adam and Eve

ADAM AND EVE
By GEORGE SYLVESTER VIERECK

(This article is as true to-day as when it was written eight years ago. Times do not change, or we with them; we are the same yesterday and to-day and for ever.)

We exaggerate racial distinctions. Save for skin and clothes we are not, any of us, far removed from the ape. Primal instincts in men and women are the same throughout the world, and the lure of the flesh is the same. The American college boy and the young Eskimo in his sealskin are stirred by the same primitive impulse. The fundamental facts of sex are identical in Kalamazoo and in Pekin. But our attitudes toward sex undergo various transformations, with changes of climate. We all have the same appetites, but our modes of gratification vary with our refinement. The table manners at Sherry’s are not those of Childs’. The desire of Lucullus for whipped oysters, and the ravin of the Parisians, who stood in line for bread during the great revolution, were fundamentally one and the same hunger; but the mastication of the Roman was art, while the French mob chewed, munched and bolted hideously. Similarly, it may be safely affirmed, that the ways of the love-famished lad are not those of the gourmet.

Europeans are gourmets in love. They relish it as they relish their oysters. We are a trifle ashamed of it. But, being human, we cannot starve ourselves. We steal to love’s banquet stealthily, with an uncomfortable feeling of doing wrong. We sin, but we sin against our principles. The continental youth sins on principle. We make the flesh indecent, a thing we despise, but from which, being human, we cannot divorce ourselves. The refined European spiritualizes the flesh; he makes it beautiful; he turns its frailty into strength. Consequently, his love-life is healthier than our own. Even when hectic desire entices him into devious gardens of passion, vulgarity will not bespatter his roses. We cannot be wicked without being coarse. The consciousness of sin dwells in our hearts like a worm. Spiritually there is nothing of the Greek in us.

We may, however, speak of a renascence of the Greek spirit abroad. Euphorion has not yet sprung into life. He is about to be born. Germany is in travail. She is laboring, painfully, slowly. Her, at times, morbid caprices in the immediate past were those of a woman enceinte. The trip of the Greek dance is heard again in Berlin. The subtleties of Greek sophists are echoed in German letters. Poets hark back to the Hellenic themes — Hofmannsthal’s Œdipus confronts the Sphinx. Electra wails in the music of Strauss. Nudity, the weapon of Phryne, is raised to an art by Olga Desmond. The voice of Dionysos is heard in Nietzsche. Germany’s joy in the body is not yet purely Hellenic. Poisonous vapors cloud the sun. But sunrise is nigh. Already we hear the little laugh of Aspasia. Germany has beheld the glorified hetaera re-encased in the flesh. Beautiful and cerebral, and free, she is the inspiration of sages and poets. Not hers the penalty of mortality. She is the mother of spirit-children; and Charmides is her kinsman. He is more purely spiritual. Docile and enthusiastic, pupil and friend, his lovely presence comforts and stays in those high altitudes of the mind where the garlands of passion shrivel to dust.

We are not yet prepared for Hellenic ideals. Charmides amongst us would be a dandified “high-brow,” and Aspasia, “off-color.” We would mar and crush and pervert her. And we would certainly “cut” her. We understand physiological passion, and we understand spiritual passion, but we are intensely suspicious where one partakes of the elements of the other. It is curious that the greatest singer of spiritualized passion should have been an American. Leaves of Grass, not Mademoiselle de Maupin, is “the Golden Book of Spirit and Sense.” Perhaps Whitman was given to us because we most needed him.

We need him more than ever for the emancipation of man and the emancipation of passion. Every country, they say, has the government it deserves. We are governed by Woman. We cringe before her as slaves before the master. And, like slaves, we talk evil of her behind her back. And we adore her in false and hysterical fashion. The reason usually ascribed by foreigners for the truly anomalous position of woman in the United States is the scarcity of females among our early settlers. They haven’t been scarce, however, for a good many years. There have been plenty of them as long as I can remember. I would blame the Pilgrim Fathers. The essential indecency of the Puritan mind is clearly exposed in the attitude of the American Adam toward the American Eve.

We deify woman because we bestialize passion. We place her on a pedestal, we forget she has a body, so as not to despise her. We worship her as a goddess, because we fear to degrade her as a mate. We protect her by preposterous laws, because we distrust ourselves and her. We have not yet learned to love the body purely. We fail to discriminate between passion and vice. So distorted is our vision, that sex in itself seems debasing. But the instinct of sex is ineradicable. The goddess topples from the altar, if she does not descend voluntarily.

Man is divine because he is human. We are ashamed of that divinity. Out of that shame is born the sham of our Puritan morals and a morbidity of which we are hardly aware. We yield to temptation surreptitiously, like bad monks. We dare not make sin beautiful. We make it ugly and coarse. And every time we react against our own vulgar trespasses we prostrate ourselves before the Good Woman who doesn’t exist, and doesn’t want to exist. We glory in groveling in the dust at her feet. We give expression to the unhealthy sentiment that no man is good enough for a woman. When a prostitute slays one of her lovers, she is beatified in the press. We refuse to admit that a woman can be really bad.

I always thought it ungallant, if truthful, of Adam, to blame it all on the woman. But why go to the opposite extreme, and blame everything on the male? There is a strongly masochistic element in the American attitude toward woman. The man who wheels a baby carriage for his sick wife deserves laudation — he is a hero; but the man who assumes the domestic functions of the female unnecessarily is a specimen from Krafft-Ebing.

Elinor Glyn says that American men are like brothers or elderly aunts. Elinor has her flashes. The maleness of the average American is certainly not so insistently felt as that of his cousin abroad. Externally, at least, there is frequently a certain feminine strain in the American man. He is handsomer, more graceful, less strongly sexed. Abroad, where men dictate theatrical {60} fashion, the Chorus Girl monopolizes the musical comedy stage. In an Amazon kingdom there would be only Chorus Boys. We have not reached that phase as yet, but undoubtedly the Chorus Boy is already in the ascendant.

Our women are more self-possessed, more athletic, and, if it must be said, more mannish than the Laura of Petrarch and the Gretchen of Faust. Such modifications must already affect in some subtle manner the relations between the sexes. They give rise to cycles of problems novel in the present stage of civilization. Perhaps the balance of power is shifting. We have placed woman in the saddle: beware lest she take the reins! Some day we may be officially what we are already in essence, a matriarchy, swayed by the “mother right” of primitive races. Unless a radical readjustment takes place, the world may see the spectacle of an American Amazon Queen ruling a henpecked nation.

One hope, however, remains to the Mere Male: the Eternal Woman. Yes, woman herself. For we are mistaken if we imagine that she looks up to the man who humiliates himself before her. She is much too near the earth, too human, to find pleasure in the exalted position we force upon her. Nietzsche put the case rather strongly; too strongly, I think. It is not the whip she craves, but the master. When an American woman has the opportunity of meeting a foreigner, she usually marries him. His masterful masculinity, not his title, compels her attention. International marriages are often unfortunate, because the American woman, nursed in selfishness, lacks the worldly wisdom and graceful resignation of her less imperious sister. Nevertheless she is glad to slip from her pedestal unnoticed, when she travels abroad. Accustomed to epicene adoration, she not infrequently falls an easy victim to aggressive maleness abroad.

The American Girl in Europe reminds one of a young queen traveling incognito. But that is perilous, little girl, if you don’t know the rules of the game! The young German girl is wiser than you in some things. She is less self-possessed, but more self-reliant. She doesn’t expect a man to carry all her bundles. And she is not afraid to go home unaccompanied, if need be. And when she goes out with a man, she will not permit him to pay for her as a rule. It isn’t reasonable that the male should support the female before they are married. The young American is expected to pay for the mere privilege of dining with a woman. Dear ladies, who read this, do not think that I would not gladly invite you to dinner. I object to the principle, not to the custom. The young German woman generally accepts no such favors as a matter of course. She knows that “give and take” is the basis of every bargain. An unfair bargain demoralizes the gainer. She also knows that the law of the man is not the law of the maid. What’s sauce for the gander isn’t always sauce for the goose.

Eve abroad knows that Adam is polygamistic; and that, if we wish to preserve the institution of matrimony we must provide safety valves for the man. One half of the world, we know, believes in polygamy. The other half practices it. The Koran sanctions, economy vetoes, a plurality of wives. Occidental nations are monogamic in theory, not in fact.

The continental woman, as a rule, overlooks the extra-marital exploits of the husband. The necessity for this precaution is recognized officially only in the Code Napoleon. But if you talk to the wives confidentially, they will make startling admissions. I know a charming couple, somewhat advanced in years, whose married life is an idyl. With tender solicitude they read each other’s wishes from their eyes. I was astonished, because I had been told that for many years the husband had spent half his income on a mistress. And the wife knew it, always. We had a heart-to-heart talk.

“Where is she now?” I inquired.

“She is dead,” the old lady answered. There was a trace of relief in her voice.

“And she has had no successor?”

“None. You see, he is getting older, and even before her death he had come back to me. He loved me all the time; the other woman merely appealed to his senses. I am very happy now. I only regret the money he squandered on that — that woman.”

“Hush,” I said, “she is dead. It is only just that men should be more lavish with their mistresses than with their wives. The Scarlet Woman is disinherited. Legally, socially, she is defenseless. The wife is privileged, fortified by the world. Surely the guerdon of sin is scant in comparison.”

“Probably you are right,” she replied. “I begin to see life more steadily every year. We never speak of her, save as one speaks of a friend. He tries hard to make me forget, as well as forgive. I let him exert himself. I accept his little favors,” she added, wistfully. “I tried hard enough to make him forget in the past, and — failed. I did not let him kiss me for many years.”

“And now?”

At this moment the husband came home from a late constitutional, bringing her flowers like some ancient Philemon to his Baucis, and tenderly kissed her behind the ear. If she had been an American woman, she would have dragged him to the divorce court years and years ago. And the late afternoon of their lives would have been sunless and loveless.

We often make a mess of marriage because we marry too young. We are in indecorous haste to perpetuate the species. Marriage invariably rubs the first bloom from the rose of romance. But sometimes, between sincere men and women, the flower of perfect understanding blooms more lovely in the place of the first impetuous passion. But the soil must be prepared for its growth. The inexperienced boy-husband and his girl-wife are too impatient. They will not wait for the soft tendrils to sprout. Leaf by leaf they pick the rose to pieces, and then, in petulant anger, desert the garden.

Europe provides, for the husband, at least, an amorous education antedating his marriage. He needs lessons in sentiment, not in sensation. Kisses, bought and loveless, are insufficient. The young German generally has what is called “a minor affair,” Ein kleines Verhaltniss. One might call it a miniature marriage. The girl, usually some shopgirl, sincerely loves him. She does not expect him to marry her. And some day, she knows, she will lose him. He brings culture beyond her station into her life. She teaches him the lesson of loving kindness. But for her, he would learn from the gutter the lesson of vice. She is the steward of his affection. She keeps it pure for the woman who will take her place. When he marries there will be tears, and not a little heartache. And then she, too, will marry, and will bring a trace of the refinement of her lover into the humbler home of the husband. The miniature marriage is at an end. None the worse for their experience, the youth and his inamorata will each enter the major life.

Do not misunderstand me. The standard of bourgeois morality is the same the world over. But we are all of us sinners. Only abroad, men trespass artistically. We are bunglers in sin. In {61} Europe, however, the moral code is not indiscriminately applied. Genius is not compelled to wear the cloak of ready-made morals. There is a certain poet abroad; he is very famous. I will not mention his name. Everybody knew that he was equally in love with his wife and with an actress of great reputation. Society respected his peculiar temperament, and invariably asked either the wife or the mistress when he was invited. The mistress lived with him in town; the wife shared his country seat. It happened some years ago that both women about the same time whispered the tenderest secret into his ear. That, I believe, is the way they put it in novels. When at last the fatal day had dawned, the poet is said to have traveled hither and thither between his two abodes, to comfort both women in their hour of need. Berlin laughed, and forgave.

Margarete Beutler, a woman of distinguished poetical gifts, frankly announced in an autobiographical sketch that she was temperamentally unfitted for permanent wedlock; and Gabriele Reuter, a Hypatia of letters, boldly advertised the birth of her extra-marital child. Both women command the respect of even respectability abroad. Europe has accepted still stranger erotic vagaries from genius. Not because she approves of sexual irregularity, but because she attaches no exaggerated importance to purely personal physiological functions. Brain counts for more than conventional morals. Aphrodite’s reputation in Greece was deplorable, but she nevertheless remained a goddess. Mercury was a thief, but divine honors were not therefore withheld. Those in whom the divine spark glows and burns, must be forgiven many frailties that would be unpardonable in mortals not so inspired. Their genius, in turn, casts the glamour of romance over the squalid facts of existence.


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