Wednesday 19 November 2008

Melissa Harrington on Aleister Crowley PT2

Melissa Harrington gave a fascinating talk on Aleister Crowley at Witchfest last week. It was entitled Aleister Crowley- the Man, the Myth and the Magic.

Yesterday, on A Bad Witch's Blog, I posted my notes on the first part of her talk, about the life of Aleister Crowley.

Today, I am covering what Melissa said about his magic and how that links into paganism and witchcraft, and also about her personal experience of using his material in rituals.

At the talk, Melissa said: “My journey with Crowley began via Wicca. I was a new Wiccan and fortunate enough in a the magical group that put on Crowley's ritual drama The Rites of Eleusis about 25 years ago. That was when I first came across Crowley's work.

"I saw the Rites of Isis,which is a fantastic poem that Crowley had borrowed from Swinburne and I adapted it to work with some Dion Fortune material for Wiccan rituals. I loved the way Crowley had mixed together stuff from different sources."

The poem begins:

Isis am I, and from my life are fed all showers and suns, all moons that wax and wane, all stars and streams, the living and the dead, the mystery of pleasure and of pain.
For the full poem, follow this links

Melissa said: "We went on to do another ritual that had been written by people who had worked with Kenneth Grant,who is one of the heirs of Crowley in many ways and who founded the Typhonian OTO. The ritual required the Star Ruby to be performed at the beginning. I didn't know a Star Ruby was, and neither did a lot of other people there because they weren't working intensively with that kind of Thelemic current.

"Luckily, I was going out with a Norwegian who ran a Thelemic camp. He showed me how to do the Star Ruby, which is a banishing ritual based on the lesser banishing ritual, called The Hexagram, which is a basic banishing ritual in ceremonial magic.

"When I did the Star Ruby for the first time it was like being plugged into the mains. I could feel power surging through me. I had always believed that magic was a gentle thing, generated within us and with the gods. But this was just me saying some words and doing some action and feeling I was plugged into the mains.

"When I went to stay with my Norwegian friend, I began looking through his books and writing my own ritual. Before I performed it we went up into the mountains to look at the stars. Then I started to say the lines of my ritual, and as I said them this strange fluting light appeared. It was the Aurora Borealis - the Northern Lights. It became the shape of Nuit, the star goddess, who is central to Crowley's work.

"The aurora is the most amazing natural phenomena I have seen but it is weird to respond tome when I spoke to it. Although, as magicians know, this is possible. I decided to join the Ordo Templi Orientis in England. I spent several years in the OTO and learnt a lot but decided it wasn't really my main path. I left after achieving the lower triangle of initiations, but I do not regret my time there. I also realised there were several versions of the OTO due to schisms."

Melissa then read a section on Nuit from The Book of the Law, Crowley's main sacred text, which was dictated to him by the goddess Nuit on 8 April 1904. It starts:

With the God & the Adorer I am nothing: they do not see me. They are as upon the earth; I am Heaven, and there is no other God than me, and my lord Hadit. Now, therefore, I am known to ye by my name Nuit, and to him by a secret name which I will give him when at last he knoweth me. Since I am Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof, do ye also thus. Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.
You can find the full text on this link:

Melissa said: "Part of the full version of this was adapted into the Wiccan book of Shadows. People often work with these pieces in their original text when they perform the Gnostic Mass, which Crowley wrote as an ecclesiastical version of his philosophy, which he called Thelema.

"Thelema is Greek for Will and in Cabalistic numbering is the same number as agape, which links with Crowley's password 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will'.

"Today, there are many magicians who are not involved with initiatory systems who are using Crowley's systems and there are many witches who work with the Gnostic Mass. I feel the mass is a bit antiquated – a bit turn of the last century – in its structure, but it does contain a fair bit of poetry that has crept into the Wiccan Great Rite, because it is a male/female polarity working.

"When you think about Crowely as person, however, you have to look at him in a different light because he was awful to women and to his children. He really was working to be the Word of the Aeon, but one woman who knew him said: 'It is hard to think he is the Word of the Aeon because he is the rottenest person I have ever known.'

"A way some Thelamites think of this dichotomy is that he may have been the Prophet and the Word, but he was also human. He had real human failings. Crowley was recently voted one of the most interesting Britons ever. He continues to appeal, including to young people, because of his emphasis on finding your own way and finding your true will. That is what interested me. The idea that you can do nothing but your own will can be good for those who are 'yes girls' to help them actually say 'no'.

"A lot of Thelemic stuff is solar phallic. Crowly called himself The Great Beast 666, which is a solar number. As a woman in my 40s, I look at a lot of Crowley's stuff and see emphasis on boy's willies, and I wonder if Crowley ever totally grew up. But for a woman to be using solar phallic magic can be powerful, rather than just sinking into the passive, dark nightside that can overwhelm women in some feminist practises.

"Crowley was also a goddess worshipper and left a body of work that we, as witches, can take to use as we will."


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