In which our intrepid hero blogs his marginalia.
I’m currently a bit over 130 pages into Lawrence Sutin’s Do What Thou Wilt, a biography of Aleister Crowley, and it’s got some doozies in’t. Some examples:
Rabelais, in the concluding chapters of his Gargantua (1534), described an ideal community—one drawn in distinct contrast to what Rabelais saw as the corruption rife within the Christian monastic orders—named “Theleme”. The governing maxim of this community was “Do what you will”. In his later essay “The Antecedents of Thelema” (1926), Crowley claimed that Rabelais had, in his Gargantua, foreseen the future coming of Crowley, the Great Beast.
Goddamn, I wish I’d had the balls to pull that one at university: “It’s not plagiarism, Professor—it’s the fulfillment of prophecy!”
Crowley promptly devoted himself for sixty-seven consecutive hours—without so much as taking a meal—to the composition of Tannhäuser, a “poetical and magical” drama […] In Act IV, there is a scene in which Tannhäuser seems to merge with Crowley pursuing sex in the slums of Mexico:
Mine was, with weariness of blood and brain,
More bitter fruit of pain
Sought in the darkness of a harlot’s bed,
To take me as one dead:
To loose the girders of the soul, and gain
Breathing and life for the Intelligible;
Find death, yet find it living. Deep as Hell
I plunged the soul; by all blind Heaven unbound
The spirit, freed, pierced through the maze profound,
And knew Itself, an eagle for a dove.
Crowley privately published Tannhäuser in 1902 with a “Preface” that stressed the element of self-portraiture. He dreamed it a study in “the morbid psychology of the Adept” and avowed that it had “been written in the blood of slain faith and hope.”
If ever I end up running a homebrew Unknown Armies campaign, I’m seriously going to have to look Tannhäuser up.
[Crowley] described [Aiwass’] voice as “a rich tenor or baritone” of “deep timbre, musical and expressive, its tones solemn, voluptuous, tender, fierce, or aught else as suited the moods of the message.” Aiwass spoke without accent—it sounded to Crowley like a pure “English-in-itself.”
Crowley […] never actually saw Aiwass. He heard the voice coming from behind him, seemingly from a corner of the room. And yet Crowley experienced, during the three days [that Aiwass dictated The Book of the Law to Crowley in Cairo in April 1904], a “visualization” of Aiwass within his own “imagination.” In this visualization, Aiwass possessed “a body of ‘fine matter,’ or astral matter, transparent as a veil of gauze or a cloud of incense-smoke. He seemed to be a tall, dark man in his thirties, well-knit, active and strong, with the face of a savage king, and eyes veiled lest their gaze should destroy what they saw.” The clothing of Aiwass suggested Assyrian or Persian, as opposed to Arab, dress. […]
He would, in decades to come, frequently weigh and revise this assessment. Aiwass would become, during these ruminations, “a God or Demon or Devil”; and/or a “praeterhuman” intelligence; and/or a minister or messenger of other Gods […] Crowley had “been permitted to see Him in recent years in a variety of physical appearances, all equally ‘material’ in the sense in which my own body is so.” Yet, despite these sightings, of certainty there was none.
I know I’m certainly not the first person to suggest it, but this just screams Nyarlathotep. I know I have Call of Cthulhu stats for Crowley somewhere. I can’t wait to see Crowley’s movements between 1925 and 1929—he might be a nice diversion to drop into Masks of Nyarlathotep.
I’m also planning to use Yeats’ poetry to add a bit of flavour to the campaign, and (as any good Crowley bio should) Do What Thou Wilt has Yeats aplenty. I really, really, really wish I’d been able to pick up a copy of Pagan Publishing’s Golden Dawn sourcebook when it was in print.