A few years back, I did a little revisiting of my work with Franz Bardon’s books. It’s always instructive to look back over where I’ve been and track how it got me here, and Bardon had such a large and unambiguously positive role to play in my spiritual growth that it was a real pleasure to express some thoughts on him. Crowley’s a different story. Like most people involved in the occult today, Aleister Crowley has also been a major influence; he’s a lot more famous than Bardon, far more likely to be known at least on a surface level by the general public, wrote prolifically in a variety of formats, and even founded a religion. In short, there’s no escaping his shadow, and it’s just about an irreducible requirement of involvement in any sort of occultism, esoteric spirituality, magic, Neopaganism, or Yoga that one have a firm opinion of him one way or another.
I’ve given my assessment of Crowley before, and don’t mean to restate it all here. Since my initiation as a Nath, I’ve been digesting a lot, and this has meant also digesting where I’ve come from. My first mentor among the Naths, Sri Dhruvanath, once said of Crowley that he’s something of a crazy uncle for us. The Guru who brought our lineage West, Shri Gurudev Mahendranath (Dadaji), knew Crowley personally during the Beast’s later years and admired him for his pursuit of truth against the world, freedom in the face of a moralistic society, and wonder in the teeth of the aggressively mundane. Crowley was a unique person, a true individual, of that there can be no doubt, and he meant his magic and mysticism in all sincerity. He was also undeniably brilliant. But Dadaji was not blind to Crowley’s shortcomings and was quite honest about them in his own writing, even in the midst of praising those strengths. Crowley was an inspiration for a young Dadaji, but not an idol. An idol chains us while an inspiration makes us light. An idol doesn’t permit serious evaluation, while an inspiration allows us to learn from the good and the bad alike.
All of this is just preamble to a little project I’ve set myself. Partly, this is for fun, but partly it is a serious effort at seeing what there is, if anything, to Crowley that I’ve been blind to. It’s been since my early 20s that I’ve read any Crowley. In the intervening years, I’ve largely despised the man—as a magician, as a teacher, as a religious leader, and as a human being. It’s only been in the recent years that I’ve allowed my views to soften, but this is the first time I’ve allowed myself to go back and really look upon his work without emotional blinders.
I will therefore be re-reading Crowley’s magnum opus, Magick: Liber ABA — Book 4, for the first time in a decade and a half and reviewing each of the four principle sections—Mysticism, Magick: Elementary Theory, Magick in Theory and Practice, and Thelema, on their own terms, as honestly as I can and with as little presumption as I am able. Again, this is meant to be a fun project for me, but if I can learn something along the way and bring a bit more subtlety to my own perspective, so much the better. Let’s see where it goes.