EDIT: You can find the first part of this analysis here: Crowley Part 1
The Magical Record Of The Beast, being the second act in the journal begins on December 26th of 1919. This section of the journal see’s a different writing style and perhaps it is wholly due to the change of location and company that we see the writings take on more general ideology, but with longer entries. Gone is the short updates of the former section, and now we see a lot of philosophy and more references to Thelemic practices in depth. If I had to place it in modern terms, the first section of journals read more like a tweet, whereas this section shows entries that could be a blog post!
Shortly after his return to England, we are to learn that Crowley was under suspect of doing work for the Germans during the Great War and was considered a traitor. If we knew Crowley for sex magic in the former entries, in this section we began to see a different use that comes to light: drugs. When Crowley had returned to England he had been suffering greatly from asthma attacks and a doctor at the time prescribed the use of heroin as a cure.
By January of 1920, Crowley was on his way to Paris to stay with Leah Hersig, one of his very prominent Scarlet Women.
“2 Jan. [Friday]
This is a rotten hexagram for a journey
P.S No: a very good one,, change and pleasure
Leave Victoria 10.00 am for Paris….
3. Jan [Saturday]
… But the genial rain has not come yet. Letter from Leah who wants to come to Paris.
Where should I take Leah for her confinement? Describe place. Moon of Fire. A primitive place; a forest, perhaps. In what direction? Air (wind and wood). South West according to Fu-Hsi, South East according to King Wan. Fontaneblue clearly fulfils all these conditions…”
Crowley also talks by this time of heroin being a distorting force, and that Hashish “has the analytic power for its truly valuable function; it’s the Sword rather than the Scimitar for that it adds Beauty to its sharpness…” So it becomes quite plain in the text that drug use is entering his life in a rather prominent way.
The Magical Record Of The Beast takes up a total of 120 pages in this journal, which is a substantial amount. It’s not my design to display to you the entire context of his disclosure, but to convey how it corresponds to his known biography. As I said earlier after Crowley had come back to England he had been prescribed the use of heroin by a physician to cure his asthma, asthma which had become more and more troublesome over the years. The knowledge of prescription drugs was vague back in those days and heroin would have been more readily available as a cure-all for many ailments.
This year of drug use is followed up by more in-depth journal entries, although less specific in daily tasks, they had a higher tone of ritual and more generalized concepts in terms of worship for Thelema. We also see the entrance of his consecrated Scarlet Woman, Leah Hersig, who would help him found the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Italy. Leah would be his ultimate sex consort in reference to his identity “The Beast” and together they created a chaotic myriad of dysfunction in terms of defining cult worship in Italy. In fact, they were booted out by Mussolini for their practices that were considered immoral. An event we haven’t time to fully cover in this blog post.
The use of drugs are spiked in this part of the journal as in this entry by Crowley as he has several sexual partners other than Leah, this includes his fascination with a particular woman who didn’t adhere to the Thelemic philosophy:
“I wanted to make love to her; and I wanted to smoke a few pipes of opium with her, she being a devotee of that great and terrible God.”
In other words, Crowley wanted to corrupt, as it was a woman he perceived as devoted to the Christian god. He wasn’t bound to any particular woman, although there would always be one who would dominate his dysfunctional household. Drugs prevailed in Crowley’s and Hersig’s practice as the journal lays out his distorted magical practices. Episodes of cocaine use and then declarations of outright hallucinations ensue:
“Leah and I have both had hallucinations, e.g last night she thought I was outside the house, in her room, in the kitchen, all within a few minutes. (I was actually in bed, but out of the astral in Sabbath). Incidentally, she dreamt that I was preparing some magical ceremony.)
Can we trust that this individual was having a true astral body experience? He was known at this time to be taking heroin, hashish, and cocaine. These as we know today are all drugs that alter your experience of reality. They can create hallucinations and aggressive behaviour that one’s personality would not normally display. So the question still remains, does ritual with extensive drug use count as an insight into human values or as a spiritual enlightenment? Today we believe there are psychedelics that achieve this, unfortunately, Crowley was not prescribed or using the right ones, at least not during this time.
Crowley considered Hersig the ultimate partner, but we also know that at the time of Cefalù he was operating as what we would now call a cult leader (the term did not exist at the time). According to record, Crowley had a significantly co-dependant Hersig have sexual intercourse with a goat and then its throat was slit as part of a Thelemic ritual. He sexually abused multiple other people in this twisted commune, including having sexual acts in front of children. Perhaps he was known for the concept of “do what thy will”, but was this Hersig’s will, or any of the other peoples will? Or were they influenced by a narcissistic cult leader who was constantly high on drugs and slowly becoming an avid drug addict?
Even Crowley’s creative work is influenced by the onslaught of drugs at this time:
Hell! A night of it again! It was a short poem that I had in mind, possibly five or six quatrains. Cocaine elaborated it to this 5-hour epic; 51 quatrains…
Trying a new method of taking cocaine; larger doses at longer intervals. Last time I had an hour or so of impatient nervousness’ to-night none.
Crowley is experimenting and using himself as the Guinea Pig. We know he practiced many rituals we consider normal today, such as meditation and yoga, however here he is taking on the spiritual realm with drug experimentation. As we established in the first part of this blog, Crowley has a highly narcissistic personality. He views people as items that are there to meet his need. Is he unable to see them in an empathetic way? Or is Crowley a victim of his own time, where physicians prescribe heroin for asthma? If this is the fact then I suppose we can understand why he chose to experiment with drugs so loosely in terms of spirituality. LSD was still being experimented with in the 1950’s and onwards, long after Crowley’s death. Perhaps Crowley was a product of media hype and cultural exploration that has gone wrong? It’s easy to have a scapegoat in order hide societies own ills.
It is hard to take an entire novel of journal entries and sum them up for this blog, but we can say his journey with Leah Hersig ended the way every journey, with every woman ended, in the illusion of Crowley’s iconic persona being broken by the reality of his abuse. Hersig would continue on until her death in 1975. She married William George Barron and would go on to reject Crowley’s status as a prophet, yet recognized the concepts of Thelema. A stab in the back of a narcissist who said that Thelema meant you were your own God, however, seemed to be operating as a corrupt cult leader himself.
Crowley died an addict. At the end of his life, he read cards for free in a halfway house in Hastings, UK. He died alone because of his selfish concepts of what it means to be spiritual. He used people’s energy to gain spiritual enlightenment and his journals convey he had this addicted parasitic perspective towards more vulnerable individuals. It is said that his ego broke at the end of his life and he did father a child he did feel empathy for. But the question still comes, did Crowley, regardless of his reckless spiritual pursuit, have a higher purpose in creating a new path for the larger culture of the western world? Surely he has influenced many in sex, ritual, song, paint, film and more. Surely he has undoubtedly influenced me to purchase his journals and write of him.
Love him or hate him, we can’t escape his writings and his enigmatic influence. We can however, with the value of hindsight, be aware of what created his downfalls. Yes, Crowley talked the talk but didn’t always walk it. Today Thelema still operates as a religious law, but perhaps with growth and an influx of people who can walk the talk, it is operating as intended originally. It isn’t always an easy job to pioneer a path that no one has traveled before, and Crowley no doubt did just that.