by Brian Allan
The magic practised by Crowley and many of his acquaintances came under the heading of ‘Goetia’ from the Latin, ‘howling’. Traditionally, Goetia was created by King Solomon, who, after having been given the power by God, was supposedly able to command a variety of demons to assist in the building of his near legendary temple. Although having its roots in pre-Christian traditions, much the Goetia as we know now is probably a product of the medieval European church with its attendant hierarchies of angels and demons. The best-known example of the Goetia is the ‘Lemegeton Clavicula Salomonis ‘or ‘Lesser Key of Solomon’. Goetic magic is extremely ceremonial, which is totally in keeping with the organisations to which Crowley had belonged; all of them favoured elaborate costumes and rituals. If there really is a spiritual abyss then there is no doubt that Aleister Crowley gazed long and deeply into it when he invoked the Goetic rituals of ‘Abramelin the Mage’.
During this lengthy and complex ritual the student attempts to contact his guardian angel who then passes on knowledge about how to use the newfound ability and power to command demons to the students will. Legends from Goetic lore tell of magicians who either went mad or died as a result of dealing with entities and forces that were much too powerful for them. In Crowley’s case he seems to have been a match for the powers he unleashed although the same cannot be said for many of his disciples who either went insane or became alcoholics simply because they could not cope with the reality of what they had seen and done. In common with Anton La Vey, Crowley’s philosophy also preached a remarkable degree of tolerance and license that was enshrined in his famous dictum, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, love is the law, love under will’. This has (wrongly) been interpreted to mean an amoral free for all, but as has often been pointed out, ‘Do what thou wilt,’ is not the same as ‘Do what thou like’, it is not a carte blanche permitting any and every act, perhaps the difference is subtle but nevertheless it is valid.
Current thinking on the Goetia carries a strong resonance with another magical discipline, that of ‘Chaos Magic’. Other than a degree of commitment and dedication from the practitioner, this type of magic requires neither costume nor ritual. Modern ceremonial magicians who have some background in psychology contend that Goetic demons are in fact the negativity and anger existing within the human psyche, in other words, the collective unconscious. If this is the case, then the magician is commanding atavistic forces that are present not only in him, but also throughout humanity, in effect, archetypes. This in itself opens up another area of speculation, are demons and their lesser cousins in fact the product of the combined energy fields created by human beings? Are the imp’s, trolls, fairies and other bizarre entities of antiquity manifestations of the subconscious mind, did they exist only as long as humanity believed they existed. In other words, since we and everything around us however solid it appears, at a subatomic level is a swirling, electromagnetic matrix, then consciousness, which is part of this matrix, may be able to use the energy to manifest it’s wishes.
This is of course one of the corner stones of Chaos Magic; i.e. absolute and unswerving belief in something alters subjective and objective perceptions of reality. Perhaps if a magician called up a demon of ferocity and rage then lost control of it, would this mirror the proposition that as in chaos theory, if a butterfly beats its wings in Melbourne would it cause a tornado in Oklahoma? In other words, providing the magician, either ritual or chaos, was in control of the force he had invoked then it would remain the ‘flutter of a butterfly’s wing’. But because of the many factors involved, once released there is no predicting what the outcome might be, which exactly illustrates what can happen in chaos magic. It is often said that the entities materialised by the use of Goetic magic are unreliable, sly and stupid, and have to be controlled by whatever means necessary. One method by which a Goetic, or ritual magician may control the entity he has summoned is by the use of threats, which are made using divine names, or specifically the vibration or frequency the names create. This supposedly informs the entity that the magician speaks with the authority of the god or other sacred being whose name he invokes, it also another excellent demonstration of the latent power in frequency and resonance.
As already mentioned, earlier in the article, at the subatomic level we and our world are nothing more than a cohesive matrix existing at a series of frequencies, it therefore follows that other realities will have frequencies specific to them. It is possible that the words uttered by magicians have no intrinsic power in themselves, but the phonemes and tones with which the word is constructed does, in short; frequency; is this the key to magic, does learning to use the words of power enable the resonant frequencies of power? Although not strictly a use the ‘magical’ use of sound, the manner in which this skill was most often used was during combat by traditional Samurai warriors and other practitioners’ of martial arts. The attacker would often utter a loud cry designed to momentarily lower the blood pressure of their opponent thus giving them a slight advantage. However, although the effect of sudden noises on human beings may produce a physiological reaction rather than a magical one, it is nevertheless effective and demonstrates how sound affects us. Its modern counterpart is taught to infantry soldiers during weapons training with fixed bayonets, they are taught to shout as they charge and plunge their bayonet into a practise dummy. While this may have a similar psychological effect on the enemy in a one to one basis, in the clamour and noise of modern warfare it can probably be discounted.
‘The abyss gazes also into thee’
The end results of using any form of magic, and I include all forms of psychic ability in this description, are completely unpredictable. Are all ‘seekers’ or magicians affected to some degree by their experiences, or does the abyss select its own victims, or is it a mixture of both? Were Crowley and La Vey both monsters and were they mad? So far as the use of the term ‘monster’ is concerned then yes, depending on how one defines the term ‘monster’, perhaps they were, but the term ‘monstrous’ probably describes them better, particularly Crowley. Both were utterly convinced of their own abilities and both had a clear idea of what they wished to do, although if financial gain is anything to go by, it seems that La Vey was the more successful of the two. Having said that, it should be remembered that La Vey founded his satanic church in a post-war era that was rapidly coming to terms with a newfound sense of liberation and freedom from moral hypocrisy and humbug; it also catered for a specific need. Bear in mind too, that like millions of others, those who had recently returned to the United States from the Second World War had glimpsed the bloody excesses in an unholy abyss created by (all too) human beings. Furthermore, it is a matter of fact that many of those who had been forced to enter this abyss emerged scarred for life both emotionally and physically by what they had seen and endured there.
In terms of presentation, both used theatrical techniques in their ceremonies and although Crowley used modified versions of accepted Goetic practises, La Vey created specific psychodramas for use in his temple. He obviously learned a great deal for his varied career as a fairground and burlesque musician and forensic photographer. Like Crowley, he also adopted modes of dress to accentuate and enhance his presence, in this case the deification of Lucifer, he even took to wearing a flamboyant black and red costume that included a tail and horns. Although he eventually abandoned this practise, he originally excused himself by saying that people expected to see a personification of the Devil, something instantly identifiable, so he gave it to them. This technique is virtually identical to that used by religions down the ages. Angels as we know them now were an invention of the medieval Roman Catholic Church which (correctly) calculated that by creating a hybrid, physically desirable winged human, it made acceptance of them much easier. It is also strange that the image he chose had been modified by medieval artists employed by the Catholic Church from traditional images of goats and stags, who were the embodiment of mythical characters like the horned entity, ‘Hearne the Hunter’ and his alter ego, the deity Pan.
Were they mad? Perhaps, but not in any obvious fashion, modern commentators have suggested that they both may well have been psychopaths, although a better description might be ‘liberated’ or ‘uninhibited’. Madness is often popularly defined by the following saying, ‘There’s a very fine line between madness and genius’ which is a particularly apt description of what befell some of those souls, brave or foolish enough to concentrate upon and study the real nature of the intangible forces that surround us. After they had gazed into the occluded abyss of forbidden knowledge did they become unable to detach from the elusive, addictive, infernal power residing there? Did the unique insight they obtained so overwhelm their rational mind that all that remained was an irrational fear and obsession driving them further into some dark sanctuary of their own devising? There is little doubt that this was the end result for many of those lacking sufficient strength of mind and determination, but not for men like La Vey and Crowley whose madness manifested through their charisma, showmanship flamboyance…and yes, their skill.
© Brian Allan 2004