Chapter LII: Family: Public Enemy No. 1


By Aleister Crowley

Chapter LII: Family: Public Enemy No. 1

Cara Soror,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

In your last letter you mention “family pressure.”  Horrid word, family!  Its very etymology accuses it of servility and stagnation.

Latin, famulus, a servant; Oscan, Faamat, he dwells.

It almost deserves the treatment it gets in that disreputable near-Limerick:

Three was a young lady named Emily
Who was not understood by her femily,
          She acted so rummily,
          The head of the fummily,
Had her matched with a greyhound from Wem-b-iley.

They feared she would breed a facsimile—
Bring utter disgrace on the fimilly,
          So the head of the fommily,
          Read her a homily—
And the devil flew out of the Chim-b-illy!

A word ought to have more respect for itself!

Then, think what horrid images it evokes from the mind.  Not only Victorian; wherever the family has been strong, it has always been an engine of tyranny.  Weak members or weak neighbours: it is the mob spirit crushing genius, or overwhelming opposition by brute arithmetic.  Of course, one must be of good family to do anything much that is worth doing; but what is one to say when the question of the Great Work is posed?

Bless you, the whole strength of the family is based on the fact that it cares for the family only: therefore its magical formula thus concentrated is of necessity hostile to so exclusively individual an aim as Initiation.

Its sentiments are reciprocated.

In every Magical, or similar system, it is invariably the first condition which the Aspirant must fulfill: he must once and for all and for ever put his family outside his magical circle.

Even the Gospels insist clearly and weightily on this.

Christ himself (i.e. whoever is meant by this name in this passage) callously disowns his mother and his brethren (Luke VIII, 19).  And he repeatedly makes discipleship contingent on the total renunciation of all family ties.  He would not even allow a man to attend his father's funeral!

Is the magical tradition less rigid?

Not on your life!

The one serious grimoire of the Middle Ages is The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.  He makes no bone about it.  He even condescends to point out the family as the most serious of all the obstacles to the performance of the Operation, and he gives the correct psychological reasons why this should be so.  You said it yourself!  “Family pressure” was your pungent and pertinent expression.  Just so.

I think that “family” should include any body of persons with common interests which they expect or wish you to share.  One's old school or university, the regiment, the golf club, the business, the party, the country: any of these may dislike very much your absorption in affairs alien to their own.  But the family is the classic type, because its pull is so potent and persistent.  It began when you gave your first yell; your personality is deliberately wrenched and distorted to the family code; and their zoology is so inadequate that they always feel sure that their Ugly Duckling is a Black Sheep.  Even for their Fool they find a use: he can be invaluable in the Church of in the Army, where docile incompetence is the sure key to advancement.

Curse them!  They are always in the way.

Even centuries after one of them is dead, he exercises his abominable craft; and you are only the less able to ward off the slaps of the Dead Hand, because (after all!) there is a whole lot of him in you.  He appears at times as a sort of alien conscience; and, indebted as you may be to him for your physical constitution—I give him credit for not having saddled you with gout, rheumatism, T.B., or other plague—and many of your most useful virtues, you want to handle your assets yourself, without a subterranean current of criticism, or even active interference through others in your sole preoccupation in the Great Work.

I have not actually detected any ancestor of mine stealing my whiskey, as the advertisement warns us may happen: but—oh well!  However you like to look at it, he is always an influence upon you; and that, good or bad, you quite rightly resent.

In the Brahmin caste, the aspirant to Yoga makes it a rule to fulfill his duties to the family and the State; once those jobs are definitely done, he cuts the painter, and becomes Sannyasi.  Many a Maharajah, many a Wazir, to say nothing of less responsible people, plan their lives from their earliest days of wearing the sacred Cord as Brahmacharyi, with these ambitions carefully mapped out; and when the right moment comes for him to disappear into the jungle—the rest is Silence.

A sound scheme: that is, provided that one has full confidence in the General Theory.  But we Caucasians happen not to believe in the Vedas, at least not in the dyed-in-the-wool sense which comes natural to the budding Brahmin; as to “our own”—why our own?—scriptures, no intelligent person takes them seriously any more.  Some folk whittle away merrily, and fashion a Saviour in their own images; others strain the text and concoct a symbolic interpretation which is more or less satisfying—as can be done with any bunch of legends.  But such devices leave us without Accepted Authority, and without that nobody is going to gamble away his life.  Thus the Path for men of spiritual integrity begins with absolute scepticism.  Our methods must be exclusively inductive.

“Gamble away his life,” did I say?  Indeed I did.  If there is any truth at all in anything, or even any meaning in life, in Nature herself; then there is one thing, one thing only paramount: to find out who one is, what is one's necessary Way.

The alternative to the Great Work is the hotchpot of dispersion, of fatuity, or disconnected nonsense.

To the performance of this Work the nearest obstacle and the most obvious is the Family.  Its presumption is manifest, in that it expects everybody to yield it first priority.

In the Russian troubles following the October Revolution, General Denikin, who was trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back on the wall, captured the aged parents of Leon Trotsky, in command of the enemy, and chivalrously telegraphed him to withdraw his troops to certain positions, otherwise the old people would be shot.  Trotsky replied “Shoot!”

The point of this story is that I hope it will answer your next question: You are so very clear and firm about the family; then why don't you insist on all your pupils starting with a domestic holocaust?

Why?  Because a lot of my early rock climbing was done on Beachy Head. Ask me something harder!

Look you now, chalk has every possible element of danger from the standpoint of the cragsman.  All the more glory to him who can master it!

It is an essential part of the Rosicrucian system that the Adept should “wear the costume of the country in which he is travelling.”  I take this in the widest sense.  By that word “country” I understand this planet and this social status “to which it has pleased God to call me.”  The Brethren of the Rose and Cross depreciated monastic life or hermit life: perhaps they thought such expedients cowardly, or at least as a confes- sion of weakness.

I agree.  One ought to be able to live the normal life of a member of one's class, to all external seeming; at least sufficiently so as not to appear unduly eccentric.

Perhaps “Let my servants be few & secret: …” bears some such implication.

But the condition of allowing such apparent laxity is this:  That one should be as swift and terse as Trotsky in any similar situation.

If one's family were reasonable human beings, (But they never are, she sighed) one could perhaps do wiseliest by explaining the situation.  “This Work of mine—you don't understand it, no need that you should—is the only important part of my life.  I mean to be scrupulously careful of your feelings, and I see no reason why my chosen career should damage our relations.  There is only one thing to remember: IF I ever get the faintest suspicion that you are opposing me, or condemning my plans, or interfering in any way, even with the best intentions, THEN—with a single blow I sever our relations, and for ever.”  “Well, that's really very nice of you, Holy One,” you might say; “but you are not the only one to be considered, what about the Masters?  Do they ride us on the snaffle?  Tradition says not so.”

This depends wholly on you.  If you are a quite ordinary Aspirant, and a few dozen incarnations one way or the other don't make such a difference, then They presumably won't bother about you at all.  In the course of centuries, Karma will roll out the creases.

But—suppose you are of those specially chosen to execute some necessary operation in the course of Their plans?  Quite another pair of boots to tread that Path.  Don't imagine that you are not on it yet, either, just because you happen to be in a mood of humility.  A pawn may be more powerful than a Rook, in some positions.

However, even if you are not on it, you can start to-day.  That is one of the matters that depends exclusively on you.

If you have already taken the appropriate and adequate Oath, well and good; if not, take it now!

What Oath?

To cross the Abyss, you have to give up “all that you have and all that you are.”  This Oath is unconditional: see The Vision and the Voice for details.

But for the present so much is neither desirable nor possible: in fact, you cannot genuinely realize what it means.

So you may content yourself with a simple, reasonable and intelligible Oath for the present: to devote “all that you have and all that you are” to the service of the Order.

The advantage of so doing is that the Grand Auditor of the City of the Pyramids takes immediate notice.  He brings your account (Karma) up to date, and starts you off with a Cash Ledger.  That is, he arranges for your errors to be paid for on the spot, instead of the customary credit system that goes on for centuries.  The advantage of this is that you know what you are being punished for, and learn your lesson at once.

This process is, naturally, very painful at times; for one thing, you can't dope yourself with illusions about your being a grand-souled, great-hearted, misunderstood saint, martyr, and hero.

And—this I tell you from most bitter experience—the agony is sometimes all but unendurable.  The Masters (or the Lords of Karma, or whatever you like: I have to put all this in a silly romantic language, if I am to get the meaning across at all) see the position with absolute accuracy; They know at once how so-and-so, which you made rather a point of offering, is really that which you feel you can bear to surrender.  Believe me, it is a very thorough winnowing, “with which he shall thoroughly purge his floor,” when Vannus Iacchi whirs in the mill.

My personal attitude to all this is, it may be, unduly positive.  I may be a bit of a fanatic.  But I'm inclined to think that you will feel the same, because of your detestation of the “elusive.”  Having decided to gamble, there is no sense in fumbling with the dice.  Anything that makes for closer contact, prompter action, clearer vision, is to be welcome.

The deliberate swearing of such Oaths, and the passionate adherence to them, is the surest method of approach to the Masters.  You force the gate of Their temple; if not actually one of Them, you are at least in Their class.

Only one reminder: it is worse than useless to take these Oaths with any such ambition.  One of the most precious privileges thus gained is the clean sweep that is made of all pretence.

This too is painful beyond words at first.  Until the process starts, you have not the faintest idea of how you have wrapped yourself in layers of lies.

(The Baltis are like this, you know; they wrap the baby when it is born, and add rag after rag, never removing any, until a prosperous citizen at 40 is more like a bale of cloth than a human being!)  May I add that you are going to be shocked?  Ideas of the most atrocious and abominable nastiness, things literally unthinkable by your normal conscious apparatus, are discovered as the mainsprings of your character!

Those in attendance at confinements are always at first amazed and horrified by the remarks of the most virtuous and refined ladies; but that is the mere loosening of a few superficial layers, such as are accessible to anaesthetics.  These revelations amount to not 1/10 of 1% of the grisly horrors that are revealed by Sammasati.

Now go ahead!

Love is the law, love under will.

Yours fraternally,


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