I’ve had a year of transformation and crisis, turmoil and growth, which has been both traumatic and magical, appalling and unmissable. This isn’t one of those things where you can say “there, it’s over” (that isn’t how deep processes work), but I am coming through and feeling the joy of life return, and a much deeper sense of self-worth and original selfhood. I really have to thank my amazing husband for being with me through all this. He is an amazing man. Moreover I’m coming through as a Satanist, which I would consider a test of the fitness of my path.
We did a ritual at the weekend, with the first altar we have really set up as a Satanic altar, complete with a sigil of Baphomet wall hanging which I had painted.
The altar was oriented to the western wall of the living room. Black cloth, black candles in brass holders, silver (plated) chalice with wine, votive statue of the Set animal, athame standing in for a sword, and ritual “phallus” (in fact a dildo!). A picture of a naked man offering himself (blurred in the picture below) was added to affirm the earthy and carnal nature of the Satanic altar. A naked woman is the traditional Satanic altar, but for gay men that doesn’t really connect erotically, so a naked man offering himself was more appropriate for us.
It was a very simple ritual, but significant.
One of the things that has come out of the last year is my personal identification on an inner level with the Thelemic goddess Babalon (an identification of primal nature and sacred function). In fact Thelema continues to come out as having a personal compatibility and elucidating applicability for my own path. Babalon and The Beast are good by me.
So on we go, for life, liberty and selfhood.
It will soon be New Moon, first since the eclipse, and a New Moon in Libra, just after 1am BST. I am quite relieved, as it feels like something moving, emerging; resolving would be the wrong word for it, but there feels like there is an answer in it. Almost a physical answer.
Venus is still conjunct Mars, which is conjunct Jupiter, all in Virgo. Venus forms a T square with Neptune and Saturn. It’s been quite uncomfortable, but it’s as if it now comes to rest, acceptance, like when the sticky mess turns to risen dough.
This morning I had dreams of a Venusian Middle Eastern goddess which I felt a very physical sense of identification with. Venus is my chart ruler, and it’s not so surprising, certainly not for me. Phil was in there somewhere too, and it was all between sleeping and waking, and Phil had a kind of membraneous “cowl” over his head, like babies with “second sight” are meant to be born with. I felt relief with this dream, for part of me is tired of the struggle, the fight, however necessary I might have learnt that it is. A part of me is at peace today.
One of the real joys of Satanism is its freedom from coercive, consensual politics and mob trending. It is too individual, and too boiled down by nature for that. “Political correctness” can’t survive long, and even an idea like being “on the right side of history” becomes a little wry in the long view. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make our own choices in the things we question and love, and the things we explore. Indeed we are bound to, as the actual people that we are, irrespective of what anyone thinks we should or shouldn’t do. Gender is one of the areas that I personally question a lot, even as I withdraw from political colonization of the subject, and all the unpleasantness and dishonesty that involves. I hate to see people boxed in on gender, told what they are or aren’t, and what it means, whether they are being whipped for being non-conformist, or “traditional”, or something else. It is I think one of the more insidious assaults on individuality, and I can’t remember a time when that didn’t anger or upset me. It’s also an area which I find commonly confused with sexuality, which isn’t helpful either.
Satanism often has a quite male image (though there are many female Satanists, as well as transgender Satanists), and its iconography tends towards the masculine often. That was helpful to me, coming from the blithely female-centred world of neopaganism. It was refreshing, freeing and affirming. But I don’t actually want a solely masculine sacred universe, nor a solely binary one for that matter. Indeed myself is a mystery, entirely male, yet my very functioning is informed by resonance with intelligences both male and female, when I look into the world of the subconscious, and dream, and poetic communication. And btw I entirely reject the idea that as a gay man I am of an intermediate sex or gender. It’s something different to that, as I am a man without quotation marks. I have an unambiguous relationship to both my gender and to masculinity. Maybe when the fish swims upstream its meaning must take in more than itself, in order to be itself. I don’t know.
So my dream was a relief. And that got me thinking about figures and iconography, and that brought me to the Thelemic figure of Babalon. Babalon is a goddess who was brought to our consciousness by Aleister Crowley, along with The Beast as a god. You can see these two as demonic gods if you like, and I wrote something about Babalon here. Crowley was himself bisexual, yet his iconography is very heterosexual, but I think it is important to understand these figures not as role models of sexuality or gender. They are beyond that. I was disappointed to find male Thelemic magicians often viewing Babalon as a kind of cosmic porn queen, though the place of sexuality in Thelemic magick maybe makes it understandable, and I certainly have nothing against porn, quite the opposite. I on the other hand tend to relate to goddesses as wisdom figures, but there is in Babalon, as in a number of other Venusian goddesses, that fusion of sexual fire, soul and literal physical experience which, as in my dream, irrigates the fields of our inner life and its union with our own bodies. There is no desire for her, but in her there seems to be some of my own nature, or vice versa. As the glass rings to its musical note, I recognize a core part of myself.
I need my gods, my deities, my demons, to be free. That is part of the appeal of my practice. That is why I could not relate to the neopagan worshipping of sacrificial male and procreative female, dragging us back again to a world without choice, a world of loaded, coerced options. That is part of why I answered the Devil’s call, and answered as myself.
And the Devil is many genders.13th October 2015: minor edits without change of meaning.
We have Sun! We have blue skies! The back door is open, incense is burning and it’s starting to feel like very early Summer. In two days it will be the anniversary of the reception of The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley (111 years ago). I feel almost like I’m back in my twenties.
The little group I set up on facebook for the overlap of Satanism and Paganism is indeed very small right now, but it has already been fun and interesting. I’ve been revisiting Demonolatry with tentative, mixed but palpable results, and everything is largely up in the air, which is pretty much where it should be when you are enquiring.
The living, devotional, spontaneous, expressive, jubilant core of things is the same though – just no certain context to tie it into anything other than life.
I am reminded of when I was very young (when all this started), and I learned to get out of one hole after another, by falling in them. I’ve developed skills and experience since then, and familiarity with my own inner terrain, and some of the inner terrain that might be termed not mine, except that I know we are way, way, way bigger than we generally imagine and experience.
Nothing fundamentally changes about you, you just have to find why it is good, and indeed brilliant. I’m the same child that thought I was being possessed by a ghost, and needed my mother’s help to get me to banish it. I’m the same teenager devoted to Pan, and communicating with my Lord, in private, and taking night flights in my imagination. I’m the same twenty something, in love with Austin Osman Spare’s vision, painting and making magick in an East London suburb. I’m the 31 year old recovering from a breakdown, only to have everything illumined by the Oneness of Being. I would be mad if I weren’t myself.
You don’t fundamentally change. You hold the same cards, but you learn better what they mean. And while you might be a god (and you are), you can only be your own uniquely different god. What that means is something that only you can choose and decide. The world will obviously never be full of Nietzschean supermen, Van Goghs or Cleopatras, or variations on them. An old Thelemite friend of mine once said “you know people don’t understand, that just because you’re a sweet, caring person, that doesn’t mean you don’t seek power”, and she meant both that there was nothing wrong with being sweet and caring, and that everyone does still seek power, whether they look like it or not. I also remember Gerald Suster once pointing out that it could be someone’s True Will to be similarly “sweet” and inconspicuous. The fact is you are still going to have be able to look after yourself, one way or another, but there can’t be any kind of “cookie cutter” Thelemite or Satanist for instance. That should be obvious, but it is worth restating.
Myself, I’ve always been a slacker, believed in the virtues of enjoyment and pleasure, and that love is the central meaning of life for me.
Don’t waste inordinate amounts of time trying to change yourself or the world. Know yourself. From that you will know what life you want. You can only grow into what you most deeply are.
Do that, and you will change the world plenty, where it counts.
But make sure you enjoy it.
Love, and do what you will.
I recently finished reading Martin Booth’s biography of Aleister Crowley, A Magick Life, which I think I first started 5 years ago but got side tracked on.
This must be the third biography of Crowley that I’ve read, starting with The Great Beast by John Symonds in my late teens, which while not considered a sympathetic or unbiased account, did manage to inspire me in parts nonetheless. My favourite had been The Magical World of Aleister Crowley by Francis King, which was more sympathetic. This latest book was really worth reading though, as it gives a fair treatment without smoothing over Crowley’s faults, and uncovers facts and follows up leads that do fill out the story, especially with respect to some of Crowley’s followers and “Scarlet Women”.
Some of the story remains boring for me (mountaineering, just not my thing), and Crowley’s British Empire attitude, combined with his apparently inflated personal self-assessments do rankle, as does his callous and careless treatment of a good few people in the story. But we know about that already, and he did anything but try to hide it. What Booth’s account does add though is that extra detail about the people who were part of AC’s life (including his children), and underneath all the exorbitant surface of a life lived so large, you eventually get a sense of the human reality underneath it all. That, and Crowley’s undoubted genuineness in his dedication to Thelema. By the end of the story I felt I had a deeper, more well rounded and related sense of this man than I have had before. His last days, tended by a former partner (Deirdre McAlpine) and their son are really moving. At the end I felt he had love and a peaceful (if still somewhat notorious) happiness, and that touched me.
In an odd way, his life seems like a “decline” into humanity. He becomes more creatively interesting to me as his money runs out (which is also when he really starts painting, so maybe that is my bias) and his imperial, pseudo-aristocratic attitudes lose their back up in America. I had always been greatly seduced (and certainly inspired) by tales of The Abbey of Thelema in my youth, but here it appears as an exotic but disastrous failure in terms of essential hygiene, practicalities and public relations. Ahead of its time as a learning experiment, but nevertheless a failure. Crowley wanted to do an Abbey 2.0 with a tighter run ship and more selectivity, but it didn’t happen. Unfortunately so much of the records of the Abbey were seized and destroyed by the authorities as “obscene” that the experiment’s researches are largely lost.
I was very interested to hear more about Leah Hirsig, one of Crowley’s most famous “Scarlet Women”, and certainly a figure in her own right. She was there with him from his painting years in America, through The Abbey at Cefalù, to some time after, in spite of being largely abandoned by Crowley. She continued with amazing strength and commitment to Thelema. She finally repudiated Crowley and her position as Scarlett Woman in 1929, but not her belief in their philosophy, though we don’t know for how long. She went on to the rest of her life, a marriage, and reportedly returned to her career as a teacher of music. Unlike some others who had played the role of Scarlet Woman, she returned as her own person, from precarious positions of poverty and drug dependency. She lived to a good age apparently, dying in 1975 according to internet searches, though Booth puts her year of death as 1951, which would have made her only 67 or 68, still not bad for a woman of the times who had lived life in extremis till her 40s. We don’t have much information about what she lived, believed, thought or might have taught after Crowley. It is one of the unfortunate biases of biography that we register colourful train wrecks better than what might be happier human realities.
I would love to know what she gained from life, and what she made of it. The part in the story where she walks away from Crowley, with considerable dignity, is one that hits a nerve with me, and has me rooting for her. If you have ever loved someone as a virtual god and had them behave accordingly, you will know the hazardous extremes to which it subjects a person, even without it being a Crowley. But in fact that very predicament can be an occupational hazard of loving (though we don’t like to admit it), and certainly of loving sexually and emotionally as an experience of the sacred. Whatever Leah went through, you never felt she was less than her own person, which is what makes her such a compelling figure for me. You can feel how essential her part of the puzzle is, and you can but salute her as both a survivor and a co-creator of a work. Thelema can appear stereotyped in its implied sex role allocations on the surface, but I for one do not believe in that metaphysical “allocation by genitals”, and I do not believe that Thelema is that shallow.
Another figure from the Cefalù period is Jane Wolf, who apparently went on to help found the Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis in Southern California, and was its lodge master. I would have liked to read more about Jane Wolf, though of course this was not her biography.
When we get to the War years (WWII) and after, Crowley seems more at peace, in declining health but more stably looked after all in all, though his heroin addiction revived due to the unavailability of an asthma medication from Germany. I always thought that the late production of things like “The Book of Thoth” (and the brilliant tarot cards he produced with Frieda Harris) and “Magick Without Tears”, all in his supposed “twilight years”, showed an astonishingly modern mind of great lucidity, insight and humour. In old age, when Grady McMurtry referred to him as “Master”, Crowley looked over his shoulder and said that he couldn’t see any masters there. The man who had played the part of the colourful, mystical megalomaniac with such determination for so long, apparently dropped the mask of performance near the end. What persisted was his absolute belief in Thelema.
Crowley and the band of bohemian seekers who joined him remain pioneers, especially in these accounts from the 1920s. There is a tremendous amount of the (sometimes tragic) interweaving human stories that are lost, unaccounted for, unrecorded. Israel Regardie once said that had Crowley been living in the 1960s rather than the time he did, he would have been distinguished by his brilliance, but he would otherwise have been largely at home, one among many, rather than the demonized figure he was. In other words, he was too far ahead of his time. That does seem to be true, and the tale of his life does appear like an object lesson in what can happen when the future arrives in a place that isn’t ready for it. I think you can see some of the same in DH Lawrence. What a very extraordinary time it was.
I really do love astrology, as it can provide such a useful language for understanding psyche, human nature and experience. It has many different elements to it, both in terms of the signs of the zodiac, the houses associated with them that orient the natal chart in space, and the “planets” (which include objects that aren’t scientifically planets at all, such as the Sun, Moon, Pluto and certain asteroids and planetoids).
Something that concerned me very much when I was younger was the finding of the “True Will” which was talked of in Thelema. This was somewhat akin to finding your “real self” and your authentic direction in life. It was also a bit like finding your “genius” or contacting your “daemon”.
The time that I was really throwing myself into this was my twenties, and I probably had a fairly typical misunderstanding of what this would mean or look like. It was basically very bohemian, and you kinda thought you would end up as an artist, or magus, poet or, well you didn’t really know but it ought to be pretty wild. It’s an understandable misunderstanding, because it is going to be very individual, and it will be in contact with your creative wellsprings, and you will be being your absolutely unique self. Getting to that would involve some degree of taboo breaking, exploration and inner adventure. But that doesn’t mean that your “true course” is going to be of that nature in appearance.
When I found my true course, it was overwhelmingly about love, but it was also about healing and service. My self is always going to be pretty damn freaky, it has to be, but my function (or you might say my functional purpose) is a lot more homey and about caring for people and things.
You can actually see that in my chart. My Sun is very closely conjunct Uranus in Leo (freaky self), and forms part of a T square with Mars in Taurus and Neptune in Scorpio (I’s weird and I like it), while my Mercury conjunct Pluto in Virgo likes getting to the root of things and delving into the dark. The Sun of itself is not the self, but it’s position and what it is connected to in the chart does say a lot about your self and how you find it. I needed to find that stuff, before I could find my place. Thus my crazy twenties, my breakdown, my breakthrough.
My chart ruler though is Venus in Cancer, at the bottom of the chart, square to the Moon (in Aries in the 12th house), and that is a lot of my character. I’d only learn to properly own that during my breakdown.
My authentic path though, that I could see in my North Node (what I need to develop in this life), in Libra, conjunct expansive, beneficent, healing Jupiter (in Libra also), and mystical, trippy Neptune in Scorpio. All that in the 6th house of service and integration. That is what gives the emphasis on healing and service, and also on peace and relationship.
What I want to say from this is that the nature of your self and how you find it, is not necessarily similar to the nature of the authentic course you find you are meant to be following. But in your case they are interrelated, and you will find the resolution of that.
Thus my form of service and healing is Witchcraft. And I kinda look like a devil worshipper that thinks the world of my husband and family.
It all makes sense.16th February 2014: I know the term “service” is open to misunderstanding, thanks to the associations with self-abnegation and self-sacrifice that Christianity has tended to give us, but it is actually a perfectly good, and useful term.
Back near Beltane I almost did a post on what some might term “red goddesses” (and I think that is poetic, if open to reductive interpretation). What that means to me is goddesses whose character and attributes seem directed towards love, eroticism and individuality, rather than the common Pagan obsession with “mother” and procreation*. These are often “venusian” deities to our modern view point, and what really interests me is the potential divergence of eroticism and procreation which they embody, right in a female form which has socially been used to carry the meaning of fertility and procreation over and over. It’s not that they can’t have children, it’s just not their meaning.
I gave up on that post at the time, because the associations of Beltane were so conventionally fertility related. It seemed appropriate in the first place because of the rulership of Taurus by Venus. Now we are on our way to Venus’ other sign of Libra I might have another go.
The sort of goddesses that might be included here are Inanna, Ishtar, Hathor, Aphrodite, Venus, Freya, and the Thelemic deity Babalon. The goddess which I have had a personal connection with is Freya. You can also note some connections with sacred prostitution, the spiritual erotic, and areas of overlap between the body, spirit and sexuality which completely burst the banks of typical “patriarchal” ideas. There are commonly links to transgenderism and homosexuality which can also often be picked up. It’s an area which is very dear to me.
On the subject of Babalon, she is often depicted riding on “the beast”, and in the Crowely Thoth tarot trump she appears to be riding an animal that looks very leonine (apart from the multiple, polymorphous heads!), matching the astrological rulership of the card. What this always recalled for me was the depiction of various Hindu goddesses, shown riding mounts. I remember mulling over this back in 1990 and feeling that Babalon reminded me most strongly of Durga, who is often shown riding a lion. Durga is like the power of spiritual realization itself, awesome, self-evident, liberated. She famously defeats the “demon” that besets the gods and the universe in no uncertain terms. At the time I went looking for a poster of her at a local head shop in Margate. I got a beautiful, brightly coloured poster and took it home. When I got home I looked at the tiny order code in the bottom right hand corner. It read “666”. I laughed.
Phil Hine and his friends reported an interesting attempt at working with Babalon (again in 1990, funnily enough). as he says:
“The lesson of the rite was that the magician cannot bind demons to his will without recourse to Babalon. That is, you cannot work with energies and forms by seeking to restrict or bind them, but only by letting them flow through you. ……. Seen in these terms, Babalon is not so much the cosmic fuck which some male Thelemites seem particularly hung up on, but an image of wisdom and intuitive understanding of the process of growth; from that self-image which clings to attachments (ego) to that self which flows with change (exo). Invoking Babalon triggered a subtle shift in our collective field of awareness, resulting in an enhanced perception of gestalt; and once a new pattern is glimpsed, then we can begin to work with it”
I had to laugh at the comment about the fantasized “cosmic fuck”, because yeah, it gets pretty boring hearing that. Neither does it match the vision I may have glimpsed of a magnificent spiritual presence. But the erotic element is important I think, because it is there, in the lust for surrender, to both the physical and the spiritual. There is also here a form of magick which is hinted at by the idea of “sacred prostitution”, and congress with the invisible.
With intuition and heart a lot can be explored, by the grace of the rosy and the red.* there are of course other kinds of goddess, but this is one category of departure from the neopagan stereotype of maiden, mother and crone.