In my previous entry I wrote about the first drawing I made in this series, a pen and ink portrait of Edwardian artist-occultist, Austin Osman Spare. This time I want to write about the last drawing I made. I'd been wanting to have a go at Aleister Crowley for a while. He's an interesting character, not someone I particularly admire, but an interesting character for sure. His influence on society has been huge and yet many people have never heard of him. He was controversial in his day and he worked on the fringes of what was acceptable, seeing himself as the prophet of a new age: the Aeon of Horus! Far out.
Born in 1875 into a wealthy fundamentalist christian family, he broke away, choosing instead his own less orthodox path. Crowley joined an occult society as a young man, The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and traveled the world in search of ancient esoteric knowledge. Something I always meant to do but never quite got round to doing. He experienced a life-changing vision while visiting Egypt in 1904 and after this experience he claimed to have been visited by a being who dictated to him his Liber AL vel Legis or The Book of the Law. This heralded the birth of a religion which Crowley named Thelema -- an ancient Greek word for "will."
Most people, once they understand something of Crowley's teachings, would be surprised to learn just how many of today's key culture creators are quiet followers of his philosophy. This is one of the reasons why I am so fascinated by him. It appears that he really was at least in part the prophet of a new age.
There is a link between Austin Osman Spare, the subject of my first portrait, and Aleister Crowley. Crowley attempted to recruit Spare into his secret occult society and Spare was for a short while taken in. He soon saw through Crowley's ways however and broke away, going on to develop his own personal occult philosophy.
During the period that these two chaps were at the height of their creative powers there was an explosion of interest in the occult. My great grandfather was heavily into it. He came from a very wealthy family and was heir to a fortune but was disinherited due to his dark dabblings and wild ways. One day, while preparing for an important seance, a woman from a local church appeared at his door and warned him not to attend, urging him to give up his unholy interests, claiming she'd had an ominous premonition.
Apparently he did cease his naughty ways after this enigmatic visit but that's all I know about him as this was all that grandad told my mother. All very tantalising. I feel that there could be a great story here. I really need to learn more about this ancestor of mine and now's the time to look, while there is still the chance that someone living might know his story.
I don't really believe in magic myself, I'm just fascinated by people who pushed themselves to the edges of sanity in the name of creativity. To be fair though, when we're talking about magic with reference to Crowley and Spare, we're not talking about wands and Harry Potter: we're talking about tried and tested systems of a far more ancient provenance. I do believe though that it is possible to radically transform yourself and the world around you through ritual and a focusing of the will. These people did just that, in a quest to access higher realms of creativity, but it's the resultant art that interests me more than the "magic."
In this sense Crowley's vision of a guiltless and liberated humanity seems similar to Nietzsche's philosophy--we should strive to become autonomous creative beings, free from the master-slave mentality of the Christianised West. This is a really positive message and it's something that I've aspired to for most of my adult life, long before I knew anything about these figures. The anarcho-punk bands I discovered in my teens, such as Crass and Subhumans, had a comparable message and I got a similar nihilistic individualism from Joy Division, a band I've always gained huge inspiration from.
I don't believe in magic per se but from my early childhood I have experienced visions (or hallucinations?), sometimes deeply traumatic. The trances could get so ridiculous and protracted that apparently my parents would eventually just give up and laugh. Years later, in my thirties, an actual entity visited me in a dream--an ancient archetype I associated with Woden. The following day a mad coincidence involving a drive north and the discovery of the site of the last great northern temple of Woden set my heart racing and my creative juices flowing. This was a turning point in my life and I began drawing and writing songs. I'll write about it sometime as it's an event that is relevant to all of my subsequent work. I used to worry that I had a faulty brain--the visions felt terrifyingly real, especially as a child when I'd be trapped in a waking nightmare. But they're now part of me and, as I've tried to understand them, I've learned to weave them into my creative process.
Here's an "experimental" synth song I recorded in my thirties, soon after the above experience. It was loosely inspired by the quest for liberation undertaken by those such as Austin Osman Spare. Tip: don't listen to it.
That's the basic story of why it might be that I feel some kind of connection with these two. So why did I choose to draw Crowley as a young poet and not as a ceremonial magician in ritual garb with his mad, penetrating glare? Because stylistically it fits well with the other three British occultist artists I chose for my series (I'm still working on the third, WB Yeats.) Secondly, he will be completely unrecognisable to most from this image. The cliched image of him with his pyramid hat and Baphomet hands would probably have been more recognisable ... but way too banal. And banal sucks.