Paul Weston's new book Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus covers them all. He rounds up all of the myths and stories that have come to form a litany, or lore, of 20th Century occultism. Whether you agree with his worldview or not, the book is an invaluable contribution to the ongoing study of the persistence of the esoteric mindset. So just in time for the holiday, here's part two of my interview with Paul, and it's chock-full of his trademarked blend of erudition and die-hard contrarianism.
One wonders if Crowley understood that the ones who truly heard the siren call of Aiwass were entrenched in power long before he was even born. The bankers and the boards of directors, the politicians and the preachers were already putting the commandments of the Liber Al into practice, and they've only become incalculably more 'wilful' since Crowley's death.
You and I agree that Jung and Crowley are conjoined in a way, particularly through Crowley's visionary experiences (the Aeon) and Jung's (the Aion). But somehow they took very different paths. How would you boil down their essential differences?
Temperament and function. Jung understood that he was the keeper of some Arcanum but was careful not to let the Seven Sermons to the Dead leak out very far. This had too much of the flavor of occultism. Crowley, perhaps imitating his lay preacher father, took on the prophet role and publicized his Book of the Law and the story of its reception to the max.
The magician is unlikely to be fully integrated into modern society in the way a therapist and thinker might be. Jung needed an aura of scientific respectability. He also seemed to be able to handle marriage and family life despite various affairs. His closest female companions including his wife did not tend to self destruct or be cast aside but to be strong figures that left their own body of work behind. All of this worked very well for him. It put him into a position for example where he could help the publication process of the Nag Hammadi stash and write a book on Flying Saucers right in the middle of the crank-heavy fifties that could be respected.
The Magical Battle of Britain is a fascinating chapter in history. How would you rate Dion Fortune as an occultist, a writer and as an historical figure?
Dion Fortune is probably the most well-loved, respected, and influential female occultist. A recent book by her biographer Alan Richardson that compares her with Crowley suggests that she could be considered as the Shakti of the Age alongside the Beast’s Logos of the Aeon. That’s high praise indeed and grants her global status. I’m not sure I can place her alongside some of the Hindu divine mother types such as Meera and Amma in terms of the voltage being pumped out, or even Blavatsky, but it’s a measure of the respect in which she’s held by her admirers.
Perhaps her most interesting and important idea was that it’s possible to work magic with archetypes that literally changes their potency in the collective unconscious. The best example is that of the figure of the Priestess. Numerous models have existed for the male magician. From the Middle Ages to Crowley, there was a certain way of being, a particular style that the would-be adept could take on board. For women it was different. The burning times had left unfavorable archetypes associated with witches. If the figure of the Priestess was to return, somehow she needed to be rehabilitated, restored to the fullness of her functions. People had to have an idea in their heads of what such a figure would be like and how she might feel and behave in the modern world.
Fortune was interested in finding Qabalistic attributions to Arthurian names and locations. This took on greater urgency in 1940. Acting on her own inspiration, she arranged for synchronized group visualizations focused on Glastonbury Tor and featuring Arthur and Merlin with the intention of somehow stirring up those forces to help protect Britain against the Nazis. In this, she really took on the function of Morgan in Avalon. Her belief was this work went beyond the war situation and was concerned with the regeneration of the national psyche after the war in the coming new age. I’ve made my own connections with it in modern times and I believe it remains switched on to this day.
I feel that the return of the Priestess witch figure and the revival of the Glastonbury Arthurian mythos owe major debts to her. Add to this the Magical Battle of Britain workings and you have quite a numinous legacy.
You confess you don't see L Ron Hubbard as the villain most others seem to. What do you see in him that others don't?
Firstly, the man’s ability to press people’s buttons is extraordinary. There are those who can discuss Hitler and serial killers quite calmly and then start shouting and foaming at the mouth the moment LRH is mentioned. This is very interesting. When it comes to his interaction with Jack Parsons and role in the Babalon Working he tends to be portrayed as a pantomime villain who we are encouraged to heartily boo and throw tomatoes at.
While our understanding and appreciation of Jack has steadily grown, the LRH scenario remains undeveloped. If the Babalon Working ripped a hole in the fabric of reality and helped usher in the UFO era and suchlike, it was due to the extraordinary alchemy of the cast of characters, not just Jack. You couldn’t have Enochian without Edward Kelley. The Parsons Hubbard interaction was crucial to the intensity of what occurred.
In my twenties I worked for a Hypnosis and Parapsychology institute. I recognized a lot of the training material and had a quiet word with the chief. He had been in Scientology for fifteen years during the East Grinstead phase and claimed to have been very close to Ron. During the turbulent sixties he had left under a cloud and had the full force of the controversial disconnection procedures used against him, being declared “fair game”. Despite this, he was now peddling LRH material, including a few OT drills, and I was getting it on the cheap. I was satisfied that it was potent stuff. What I was most interested in was what was Ron actually like? My boss told me he was an utterly astounding man, a massively charismatic total genius. I was hearing this during the same period that Ron Jr was sounding forth on dad as deranged drug crazed, wife beating, baby aborting, black magician megalomaniac.
This rather large diversity of opinion utterly fascinated me and gave me the sense that the whole story had yet to be told. Russell Miller’s Bare Faced Messiah still left me with that feeling. We have what appears to be a thorough demolition of Ron’s alleged war record and yet the controversial Fletcher Prouty, a man with an apparent deep background in military intelligence and author of books on CIA black ops and suchlike waded in with an extensive rebuttal, claiming that Ron was indeed a high-level operative.
We can’t effectively evaluate the source material but we can see something pretty clearly and I’m surprised people miss this point. LRH set up what was effectively an espionage dept within his church. He also created his own navy and ran an international organization from it, dodging and dealing with all kinds of problems with other governments and intelligence agencies. This got pretty heavy. His wife was jailed. He survived. Indeed he continued to play this game whilst in total seclusion during the last years of his life and left meticulous instructions behind enabling the continued growth and survival of his creation. Isn’t it pretty obvious that he had some talent for this? He played a game no other mystic, magus, guru type has ever engaged in to that level.
The man has been portrayed as a psychotic fantasist and his OT III material as preposterous. Gerald Suster said of Crowley that debauched degenerates don’t set world mountaineering records. Well, psychotic sci-fi fantasists don’t handle hassle from intelligence agencies, massive press vilification etc very well either.
The idea that maybe some of our past lives have been on other planets and that we have been involved in an aeons old space opera whereby our incredible capacities have been enslaved without our conscious knowledge is a powerful piece of modern Gnosticism. Even if it’s not true in the way that last weekends football results are true it gets you thinking in what Ouspensky used to call “other categories” It stirs for me that poignant idea of some huge mysterious secret life that we all have and are so often consciously unaware of. I am willing to cut LRH some slack. That at least gives me a chance of spotting some useful ideas amidst the controversies.
NOTE: Paul elucidates his opinions of LRH on his blog. Click here.
I would argue that Jack Parsons is a crucial figure in the evolution of genre entertainment because of his connections to the sci-fi and pulp stars of his day. How do you rate him otherwise?
I think Parsons is the second greatest figure in Thelema behind Crowley. I believe he was and is a profound magickal force. That’s a bit contentious as the Beast himself wrote Jack off as a failure. What’s so compelling about him is he is a recognisably modern figure. It’s possible to imaginatively enter into his world. He was clearly at the cutting edge and the cast of characters he interacted with was quite astonishing. Crowley, although a man demonstrating a twenty-first century Quantum Psychology, seems more distant as his prime was in the Edwardian era.
There are occultists who consider the Babalon Working to have been a failure. I feel it has sent major ripples out ever since and the real purpose of it may have been something that none of the participants were entirely consciously aware of. We now have the internet truism that it ripped a hole in the fabric of reality and ushered in the UFO era. It is true that Majorie Cameron did see a UFO before the 1947 eruption. I do feel that the Project Diana timescale you have uncovered is an important one. There’s no getting away from the sci-fi mentality of Jack and Ron.
It soon became clear that the sci-fi pulp thing is intimately connected with occultism. The UFO scene and the contactees of the fifties demonstrate that. Sci-fi was often the vehicle for a new Gnosticism. Sometimes the authors were conscious of this. Indeed, the UFO phenomenon itself was a vehicle for the re-emergence of all kinds of old ideas. To me it’s a wider spread of the Nag Hammadi plasmate thing. This includes Jack’s major passions for Gnosticism and witchcraft. I have tried in my book to bring together a whole bunch of stuff that was going down at the same time that I feel partakes of a greater unity. Parsons was stage center.
He seems like another one of those cases like Crowley of a perfectly prepared vehicle. His life likewise appears to make a mockery of the idea of random unfolding. The timing involved in a man of such sensibilities being available to act as the meeting point of so many potent influences is notable. I would certainly consider him to be a candidate for the title of coolest man of the twentieth century. What lingers more than anything for me, beyond the power and mystique of the Babalon Working and his explosive departure, are his passionate libertarian writings. Speaking on the cusp of the Cold War McCarthyite fifties, he issued a call to arms that was later heard clearly in the sixties. What’s intriguing is that those writings were not known during that time but what was expressed in them hung in the airwaves. It’s like the witchcraft and Gnostic interests as well. Parsons was plugged into the zeitgeist so much he was practically a living embodiment of it.
Parsons' favorite novel was Darker Than You Think, a book that author Jack Williamson claimed emerged from dream therapy. But the book is packed with 'Thelemic' ideas and themes. How do you account for the parallels?
I read “Darker” during the writing of my Parsons material. I have often sought out a book on the basis of its influence on a person of interest to me. I have never had such a strong sense of reading over someone’s shoulder as I did there. Jack was brooding over every page. Crowley was a name known to many but the level of “exposure” is another thing altogether.
I think with Williamson we may be seeing a combination of archetypal stirrings informed by the cultural climate featured in books such as those by William Seabrook, movies like Curse of the Cat People, and general film noir sensibilities. I don’t think he necessarily had to be familiar with Crowley’s Babalon, have read The Vision and the Voice or seen the Thoth tarot.
Maybe some discovery might one day prove otherwise but I think the passion and talent of a writer stirring his own depths are enough to explain it. We need a great movie or mini-series of this book!
What is it in the AngloSaxon psyche that is drawn to these extremes of the occult or hyper-reductive Fundamentalism? And which would you say is the operating theme in England today?
The need for certainty sits uncomfortably against fear of the unknown and potentially destabilizing. This tension is a fundamental dynamic in societies everywhere. In nations where there has been a long established habit of power and influence that has been deemed to be a natural birthright, any signs of uncertainty, decline, and fall, can exaggerate those tensions and lead to big outbreaks of non-rationality. Such manifestations may produce creativity and freedom or Holy Wars and doomsday cultism.
On the streets of Britain you are likely to encounter varieties of the same bog-standard Kali Yuga nightmare visible in any western country. The operating theme is mediocre gratification through junk food, booze, reality TV, special effects movies, skunkweed, boy bands, slut pop, and the pornographication of the mass imagination. As the Sex Pistols said, “your future dream is a shopping scheme.” And this is worth protecting through a progressive erosion of our civil liberties.
Some sensitive souls are repelled and resist in accordance with whether they are frightened of change or inspired by it. We don’t have the equivalent of the Bible Belt but we are cultivating a Koran Belt that has already proved problematical and fertile ground for inspiring fledgling Nazis to preach their sermons in response. The best have lacked all conviction and the worst are filled with passionate intensity.
Our rich heritage of ancient sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury, and Glastonbury, along with our deeply rooted national mythos of Arthur and Robin Hood cannot be suppressed however. The modern myth of 1940 and the Finest Hour still carry resonance. Like the US, we do have a very strong belief in the importance of freedom and will resist all obvious attempts at enslavement. There is a revulsion against Fundamentalism. The ancient archetypes come to the surface when help is needed.
Their genius has been to mouth the pabulum and the platitudes of Western liberal democracy while taking a daily jackhammer to its foundations. They work literally around the clock to destroy nationhood, personhood and autonomy, while throwing us off the scent with the mewling drivel of their babbling witch doctors, their televised talking heads and their postmodern puppets in the Professoriate.
A lot of people think Crowley was evil incarnate- I'd say he didn't even know where to begin.
But the historical record will see Crowley and his contemporaries as important figures in the rediscovery of the ancient wisdom- and ancient history- that was stolen from us seventeen centuries ago. Crowley and Parsons were victims in a way, and accepted the role of villain that a cowardly and hypocritical post-Victorian society laid out for free thinkers, and succumbed to the excesses that they mistakenly believed led to the palace of wisdom.