Aleister Crowley: freemason!|
By Bro. Martin P. Starr
IT MAY SURPRISE some and horrify others to learn that Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), the 20th centurys best-known mage, was ever remotely associated with the masonic fraternity. Although, unbeknown to him at the time of joining, all his affiliations were with unrecognized and irregular bodies, Crowleys status as a freemason went largely unquestioned by non-masons throughout his life. Events show that the distinctions of regularity meant much to his masonic contemporaries and little to the rest, where reputation as a freemason preceded him, as when the Nazi Geheime Staatspolizei arrested Crowleys German disciple Karl Germer in February 1935 for the 'crime' of being a friend of the 'Hochgradfreimaurer Crowley'. This paper examines Crowleys masonic contacts, regular and otherwise, with the express purpose of separating out the myths from the masonic realities, a task never previously attempted, and thereby elucidating the life of an influential figure in esoteric studies whose writings attract growing critical attention. From Nesta Webster and the British Fascist movement down to Lyndon LaRouche, Crowleys name and association with Freemasonry, much like that of Albert Pike, has been dragged in as a red herring in the 'orgy of cant' that typifies the anti-masonic outpouring of right-wing conspiracy theorists; it is hoped that some documentation might prove useful to brethren in rebutting similar nonsense. In a masonic context, Crowley is perhaps best remembered as a literate early 20th century enthusiast of the esoteric school of Freemasonry. Yet despite his interest in founding (if not running) organizations, Crowley was a social revolutionary and had little use for existing structures; this would prove to be his bane where English Freemasonry was concerned. Crowleys life was significantly affected by a number of brethren whose careers have been the subject of articles in recent volumes of AQC, including Dr. William Wynn Westcott (AQC 100 (1987), pp. 6-32) and Theodor Reuss (AQC 91 (1978), pp. 28-46), and some that could benefit from further scholarly attention, most prominent among them being John Yarker, whose Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Freemasonry devolved to the Ordo Templi Orientis, a non-masonic esoteric society now largely identified with Crowleys work. The present paper does not attempt to delineate the history of either organization, but refers to each in its place when Crowley attempted to obtain the recognition or involvement of the regular masonic authorities.
Crowley was born Edward Alexander Crowley on 12 October 1875 in Leamington, Warwickshire, the son of prosperous Plymouth Brethren parents. He was educated privately, at schools run by the Plymouth Brethren, and finally at Tonbridge, to matriculate at Trinity College, Cambridge in the autumn term of 1895. Here he was first able to step free of his family and their narrow intellectual atmosphere which forbade virtually all literature. After reflecting on the limits of mortality and human endeavour, in a search for a method to explore the spiritual world, Crowley took up the study of medieval Magic, starting with The Book of Black Magic and of Facts (1898) of A. E. Waite. Crowley, intrigued by Waites hinting that 'he knew of a Hidden Church withdrawn from the world in whose sanctuaries were preserved the mysteries of initiation,' wrote the author in the spring of 1898, asking for an introduction; Waite (who was not yet a mason) replied with the suggestion that Crowley read The Cloud upon the Sanctuary of Karl von Eckartshausen, an early 19th century devotional text of 'Rosicrucian' mysticism, which he studied assiduously over the Easter vacation of 1898. A chance meeting in Switzerland later that year brought Crowley into contact with the 'Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn', the fin-de-siècles most influential English esoteric society.
Crowleys initiation into the grade of Neophyte of the Golden Dawn took place in the [second] Mark Masons Hall, Great Queen Street, on 26 November 1898. In a real sense, this was Crowleys first distant brush with Freemasonry, as the Golden Dawn was created and led by an interlocking directorate of esoterically inclined freemasons, with ritual and organizational structure closely modelled on the Craft and certain Appendant Bodies. The parallels and blatant borrowings (e.g., the sceptres of the First and Third Principals in the Holy Royal Arch are used in the Golden Dawn rituals by the 'Hierophant' and 'Hegemon') which seem so obvious to a contemporary student, however, provoked little comment by Crowley, who took his initiation with deadly seriousness as his entry into the 'Hidden Church of the Holy Grail'.
By the time Crowley joined the Golden Dawn in 1898, Westcott had 'withdrawn his labours' from both the First and Second Order the year prior owing to official pressure from the Home Office. Westcott also tired of the increasingly dictatorial methods of his colleague Bro. Samuel Liddell Mathers, fellow member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, Westcotts right hand in the creation of the Golden Dawn and the sole author of its magically-inclined 'Rosicrucian' Second Order, 'Ordo Rosae Rubeae et Aureae Crucis'. Crowley met Westcott in person only once, on 17 April 1900, 1 but he saw Mathers frequently and had a high regard for the latters abilities as a magician and a scholar.
It is hardly surprising that when the London 'adepti' began openly to turn against Mathers in early 1900, Crowley immediately pledged himself to Matherss defence. Mathers, setting a fine example of masonic amity, proceeded to denounce Westcott privately for having forged the alleged correspondence with the German adepts upon whose foundation the warrant for the Golden Dawn was established. Crowley was sent to London as Matherss envoy and the whole fabric of the Order began to unravel in the face of the accusations of fraud levelled against Westcott. As far as Crowley was concerned, the matter ended with the 'Battle of Blythe Road' in April 1900, reducing the Golden Dawn to a fight in a police court over regalia. Little did Crowley know that his part in the break-up of the Golden Dawn, and his subsequent efforts to force Westcott to 'come clean' publicly as to its origins, made certain he would be shunned by Westcotts friends and colleagues when endeavouring to regularize his position in England as a mason.
On the advice of two unnamed members of the Golden Dawn, whom he met in Matherss company in Paris, Crowley set sail for Mexico in late June 1900. They are likely to have furnished Crowley with his introduction to:
Don Jesus Medina, a descendant of the great duke of Armada fame, and one of the highest chiefs of Scottish Rite freemasonry. My cabbalistic knowledge being already profound by current standards, he thought me worthy of the highest initiation in his power to confer; special powers were obtained in view of my limited sojourn, and I was pushed rapidly through and admitted to the thirty-third and last degree before I left the country. (The Confessions of Aleister Crowle y(1969), pp. 202-203).
The supreme Grand Council, thirty-third, etc., etc., also for the world at large, founded by the Duke of Medina and Sidonia, Commander of the Spanish Armada 2 was, in the words of Bro. John Hamill, 'a minuscule irregular body', and the conferral of the 33° in Mexico City by Medina-Sidonia granted Crowley no regular masonic standing. Whatever documentation Medina-Sidonia furnished Crowley, no trace of it survives among Crowleys voluminous papers; my attempts to trace Medina-Sidonias archives in Mexico have not met with success. The Golden Dawn connection to Medina-Sidonia seems likely as the latter shared Crowleys interest in ritual magic; they worked together to establish a
new order, The Lamp of Invisible Light', with Don Jesus as its first high priest. Crowley did not keep in touch with Medina-Sidonia after he left Mexico in April 1901. Clearly the candidate was not impressed; Crowley comments on the conferral of the 33° that 'it did not add much of importance to my knowledge of the mysteries; but I had heard that freemasonry was a universal brotherhood and expected to be welcomed all over the world by brethren.' (Crowley, Confessions, p. 695) Crowley was in for his first in a series of rude shocks where masonic recognition was concerned.
Shortly after his Mexican initiation, Crowley began to discuss Freemasonry with some broken-down gambler or sportinghouse tout' and he was refused recognition based on a difference in the grip. Crowley reacted with a 'measureless contempt for the whole mummery'. However, Crowley, who was a skilled amateur of chess and had planned a career in diplomacy, persisted and tried another gambit while he was resident in Paris in 1904 in his bid for masonic regularity. He petitioned Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343, a lodge chartered in 1899 by the Grande Loge de France, a body unrecognized by the United Grand Lodge of England, on 29 June 1904.
The petition gives his name as 'Aleister St. Edward Crowley', and his occupation as 'poet'. His petition was signed by the lodges secretary, the Reverend James Lyon Bowley, who was, according to Crowley, chaplain to the British Embassy in Paris. Bowley had begun his masonic life as a regular mason; he was initiated in the Apollo University Lodge No. 357 in Oxford, in October 1889 and resigned in 1899. He served as Provincial Grand Organist in the Provincial Grand Lodge of Oxfordshire for the year 1892. 3 One could see how Bowleys presence in the lodge could have led Crowley to believe that it was regular.
There is no record of Bowley having any connection with English Freemasonry after 1899. The presumption is that Bowley resigned his connection with English Freemasonry when he joined Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343, in which he was the thirtieth member on its roll. Crowleys petition was counter-signed by the Worshipful Master of Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343, Edward-Philip Denny, and the seventh member on its roll.
Crowley was initiated on 8 October 1904, presumably passed the following month, and raised on 17 December 1904; he is listed in the 'Tableau annuel' dated 31 December 1904 with the Grand Lodge number 41210, Lodge number 54. Crowley was 'warmly welcomed by numerous English and American visitors to our Lodge', thus reinforcing his belief that all was masonically well. He wrote enthusiastically about his experience to his brother-in-law, Gerald Kelly, later President of the Royal Academy of Art:
The eclectic mason. Crowley in the regalia of many of the masonic orders with which he claimed to be
If you are not yet a Mason, it is worth your while to become one in a French lodge. Ask Bowley, who likes Tannhäuser [a long poem by Crowley], or says he does, and all sorts of sweet things. (Letter, Crowley to Gerald Kelly, undated but c. 1904, University of London, Warburg Institute, G. J. Yorke Collection).
From the records made available for this paper, Crowley last appears as a member of Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343 in 1908. His name does not appear in the 1934 published list of members of the Grand Loge de France.
LONDON AND THE EQUINOX
After Crowley returned to England in 1908, he began to work on a serial publication entitled The Equinox, in which he would at last carry out his plan to reveal the true history of the Golden Dawn and its founders. He wrote to W. Wynn Westcott on 25 July 1908 (Letter in Private Collection 'C'), demanding that Westcott deposit with the British Museum the 'cipher manuscripts' upon which the Golden Dawn was founded or otherwise account for their reception and disposition if they were no longer within his care; without setting forth these facts publicly, Crowley averred that Westcott was party to an ongoing fraud. Crowley followed up this letter with a call upon Westcotts associate in the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia, Bro. Arthur Cadbury-Jones on 24 October 1908 4 with whom he had previously corresponded, and repeated his demands. None of this could have endeared him to Westcott, who had both an official and a masonic reputation to uphold.
Crowley announced in The Equinox the publication of the Second Order ritual, which appeared in the March 1910 issue. Mathers sued Crowley to restrain publication, claiming to be the chief of the Rosicrucian Order. On his own initiative, Cadbury-Jones sent to all the daily papers an open letter under Westcotts signature, written from the Societias Rosicruciana in Anglia office, distancing it from the Orders and parties in Mathers v. Crowley:
I shall be glad if you will allow me space in your columns to state that the societas Rosicruciana in Anglia' is not connected with the 'Rosicrucian Order' mentioned in a recent appeal in the High Courts, and that Mr. A. Crowley, neither is, nor ever was a member of this Society. (Letter, 24 March 19 10, Private Collection 'C').
Crowley in turn attempted to deflect some of the criticisms of his 'brother masons' that he was an oath-breaker in publishing the Golden Dawn ritual by claiming he did so in a good cause, and handed a laurel to Westcott in the process:
I wish expressly to disassociate from my strictures on Mathers Brother Wynn Westcott his colleague; for I have heard and believe nothing which would lead me to doubt his uprightness and integrity. But I warn him in public, as I have (vainly) warned him in private, that by retaining the cipher MSS. of the Order, and preserving silence on the subject, he makes himself an accomplice in, or at least an accessory to, the frauds of his colleague. (The Equinox, September 1910, pp. 5-6).
One can be certain this mollified Westcott not at all. Westcott was not one to be bullied by Crowley, and we will see that his influence could be far-reaching, at least in the minutum mundum of English Freemasonry.
ENTER REUSS AND YARKER
Matherss defeat by Crowley and the attendant publicity resulted in the latter being deluged by innumerable sole authentic Chiefs of the Rosicrucian Order'. One of the more persistent of these was Theodor Reuss, Frater Superior and Outer Head in mundo of the Ordo Templi Orientis.
The primary basis of Reuss' various fraternal enterprises including the Ordo Templi Orientis was a charter for a German Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite issued 24 September 1902 by its Grand Hierophant 97°, John Yarker, to Reuss and two colleagues. When Reuss first came to call on Crowley in the spring of 1910, 5 he at once offered Crowley the VII° of the Ordo Templi Orientis, which was considered to be the equivalent of the 33°. By this time Crowleys interest in Freemasonry had cooled considerably, as he thought it 'either vain pretence, tomfoolery, an excuse for drunken rowdiness, or a sinister association for political intrigues and commercial pirates'. (Crowley, Confessions, 628) Reuss attempted to convince Crowley that there were a few men who took Freemasonry seriously, and, more importantly, that the rites concealed profound magical secrets.
No doubt Reuss spread the good word about Crowley to John Yarker, who sent his Arcane Schools to Crowley for review, which appeared in the September 1910 issue of The Equinox. The review, written with the usual Crowleyan flourish towards those he wished to praise, contains these sentiments, pregnant with the assumptions of the Esoteric School of Freemasonry and a precursor of what was to come:
He [Yarker] has abundantly proved his main point, the true antiquity of some Masonic system. It is a parallel to Frazers tracing the history of the Slain God.
But why is there no life in any of our Slain God rituals? It is for us to restore them by the Word and the Grip.
For us, who have the inner knowledge, inherited or won, it remains to restore the true rites of Attis, Adonis, Osiris, of Set, Serapis, Mithras and Abel. (op. cit., p. 240).
Yarker, old and with few allies left alive, welcomed Crowley with open arms, gladly recognizing his Mexican 33° and conferring upon him by patent dated 29 November 1910 6 the 33° of the irregular 'Cerneau' Scottish Rite, the legitimacy of whose claims Yarker had argued in print for decades; in addition, Yarker granted the equivalent degrees in the other 'fringe' Rites he controlled, the 95° of the Rite of Memphis and the 90° of the Rite of Misraim. Between Yarker and Reuss, there must have been enough links to cover the world of irregular Masonry, so much so that Crowley found:
From this time on I lived in a perfect shower of diplomas, from Bucharest to Salt Lake City. 7 I possess more exalted titles than I have ever been able to count. I am supposed to know more secret signs, tokens, passwords, grand-words, grips, and so on, than I could actually learn in a dozen lives. An elephant would break down under the insignia I am entitled to wear. The natural consequence of this was that, like Alice when she found the kings and queens and the rest showering upon her as a pack of cards, I woke up. (Crowley, Confessions, p. 629).
Reuss again visited Crowley in the spring of 1912, claiming that Crowley had clearly published the central secret of the IX° of the Ordo Templi Orientis and must be obligated to secrecy. After some persuasion, Crowley took him seriously, and Reuss straightway proceeded to issue a charter dated 21 April 1912, 8 in the name of 'Aleister St. Edward Crowley, 33°, 90°, 95°, X°', styling him National Grand Master General for Great Britain and Ireland, with the British section to denominated 'Mysteria Mystica Maxima'.
Yarker, perhaps anticipating his demise, gave Crowley a further 'Dispensation' dated 7 August 1912, 'to take precedence of all previously constituted Authorities with special power to revive the dormant Mount Sinai and Rose of Sharon', 9 two London chapters of the Antient and Primitive Rite. It was perhaps at Yarkers insistence, considering that a mason of the Antient and Primitive Rite was supposed to be 'a member of a Lodge in good standing, working under a grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons', 10 that Crowley once again tried to establish a connection with Regular Masonry.
CROWLEY AT GREAT QUEEN STREET
Crowley came, on 19 August 1912, to call on Bro. W J. Songhurst, Secretary of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076; it is not clear from his letter, typed on stationery with the return address of 52, Great Queen Street, if their meeting was at the Quatuor Coronati office or elsewhere. It is significant that Songhurst felt it prudent to give 'due and timely notice' to Westcott:
You will be interested to know that I had a call yesterday from Aleister McArthur [sic] Crowley. He produced a Certificate, showing that he is a member of the Anglo-Saxon Lodge, warranted in Paris by the Grand Lodge of France. He is desirous of joining an English Lodge, but I told him plainly that as far as 1 am concerned, 1 should refuse his admission to any English Lodge with which I am connected. 1 recommended that he should see the Grand Secretary in order to get official information, and he promised to do so. But when I called there later in the day I found that he had already made enquiries early last week, and that the information there given exactly coincided with mine. (Letter, W J. Songhurst to W. Wynn Westcott, 20 August 1912, Private Collection 'C').
It is not certain if these incidents are the same ones Crowley refers to in his English Review article, 'The Crisis in Freemasonry',11 written under the pseudonym of 'a Past Grand Master', where the story has rather a different ending:
I returned to England some time later, after 'passing the chair' in my Lodge [Anglo Saxon Lodge No. 343], and, wishing to join the Royal Arch, called on its venerable secretary.
I presented my credentials. '0 Thou Grand Architect of the Universe!' the old man sobbed out in rage, 'why dost Thou not wither this impudent imposter with Thy fire from heaven? Sir, begone! You are not a Mason at all! As all the world knows, the people in Z- [Paris] are atheists and live with other mens wives'.
I thought this a little hard on my Reverend Father in God my proposer [Reverend J. L. Bowley]; and I noted that, of course, every single English or American visitor to our Lodge in Z- stood in peril of instant and irrevocable expulsion on detection. So I said nothing, but walked to another room in Freemasons' Hall over his head, and took my seat as a Past Master in one of the oldest and most eminent Lodges in London! (Crowley, op. cit., p. 130-131).
It was surely not the first time that an unauthorized visitor had crossed the threshold of a Lodge in Great Queen Street, but it is difficult to imagine what Crowley thought he gained by this manoeuvre as the recognition he sought still eluded him. One wonders if Crowley ever connected his being shut out of English Freemasonry to his behaviour toward Westcott, who undoubtedly had many defenders. But Crowley did not take his Golden Dawn motto of Perdurabo (I shall endure) lightly, and he was destined to try once more to obtain masonic recognition in his native country.
EXIT YARKER, ENTER MRS. BESANT?
The death of John Yarker on 20 March 1913 pitted Crowley against the Co-Masonic Theosophists for the corpse of the Antient and Primitive Rite. The stage was set for the conflict when the 1912 'Jubilee' edition of Oriflamme, the official organ of O.T.O. and the German Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite, announced that at Yarkers request 'Brother J. J. [sic] Wedgwood' was made 'an honorary Master Mason and attached him to the Lodge 'Holy Grail' in Munich as an honorary member'. James Ingall Wedgwood was many things, among them the Very Illustrious Supreme Secretary to the British Federation of the Co-Masonic Order, led by its Very Illustrious Most Puissant Grand Commander Mrs. Annie Besant. Word had come to Crowley that the Co-Masons had claimed to have 'bought' the Antient and Primitive Rite, and were going to turn it into a vehicle for the worship of the 'Coming Christ' or 'Alcyone', the teenage Indian boy better known as Krishnamurti.
Richard Higham, a long-time member of the Antient and Primitive Rite, convoked a meeting of its Sovereign Sanctuary in his home city of Manchester on 28 June 1913.12 Crowley protested at the presence of Wedgwood, whom he challenged to prove himself a mason; Wedgwood replied with the mildness of a clergyman that if Crowley was right in his contention that Wedgwood was no mason, that Wedgwood was equally entitled to object to Crowleys presence, 'it being the first condition of membership that a candidate should be a freemason in good standing under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of England'.13 After a diatribe by Crowley, attacking Besant, 'the nominal mistress' of the Theosophical Society, and her occult partner C. W Leadbeater, 'a senile sex-maniac', who is 'the hand which moves the wooden-headed pawn Wedgwood, hardly a man, certainly no Mason',14 the meeting disbanded sine die, only to regroup at Crowleys London studio on 30 June 1913, without Wedgwood and without incident, electing Henry Meyer to replace Yarker as Sovereign Grand Master General of the Rite. This convocation marks the effective terminus for the Antient and Primitive Rite, for it was Crowleys intent to consolidate all the 'bodies of initiates' in one system, that of the Ordo Templi Orientis, and he quickly lost all interest in Yarkers nearly moribund body. But there remained that nagging matter of masonic recognition, so Crowley strove for the last time to obtain the approval of the United Grand Lodge of England.
GREAT QUEEN STREET ROUND 2
In the midst of his conflict with the Co-Masons, Crowley attempted to strengthen his own hand while raising another against his Theosophical opponents by calling upon Sir Edward Letchworth, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, in these terms:
I wish to appeal to the fraternal Brothers of the Lodge of England in the following circumstances. I was made a Master Mason 17 December 1904 in Lodge 343 Anglo Saxon in Paris, working under the Grand Lodge of France. My proposer was the Rev J. L. Bowley, who I understand has been the Provincial Grand Officer in the Oxford Province, and I fully understood from him that the Anglo-Saxon Lodge was duly recognized by the Grand Lodge of England, and in fact numbers of admitted English Masons have attended the Lodge while on the other hand I have always been received with the greatest fraternal welcome in many lodges both in England and India, and no question has been raised as to my status except in the Grand Chapter of the Royal Arch at Freemasons' Hall. I must admit that at that time I was annoyed by what seemed to me a narrow-minded view of masonry. As the Ritual of my initiation was that in use all over England, and no such alteration of landmarks had taken place as that which has caused the breach between the G[rand] Lodge of England the G[rand] Orient. And I shall consequently prepare to support the G[rand] L[odge] of France in its claim to the validity of its initiations. I am now, however, credibly informed that recently the Grand Lodge of France has tolerated and even recognized so-called comasonry, and in these circumstances I see no course open to me but to resign from that Lodge, not only on masonic grounds, but because co-masonry is merely a mask for the cult of 'Alcyone', which I have no hesitation in describing as the most impudent blasphemy and filthy fraud that has ever been attempted in the history of the world.
I write to assure you of my thorough loyalty and allegiance to the principles of the Grand Lodge of England and I ask your fraternal kindness to make it as easy as possible for me to regularize my position. (Letter, Aleister Crowley to Sir Edward Letchworth, transcribed from shorthand dictation dated 27 June 1913, Yorke Collection).
The reply to this letter is no longer in the archives of the United Grand Lodge of England, but it could not have been helpful. Crowleys later writings show no awareness of the establishment on 5 November 1913 of the Grande Loge Nationale Indépendente et Réguliere pour la France et les Colonies Fran¨aises, now known as Grande Loge Nationale Française. This Regular body was recognized with alacrity by the United Grand Lodge of England on 3 December 1913. Crowleys approach to the English authorities could not have come at a less politically opportune time.
Questions remain as to why Crowley wanted their recognition and what did he expect to gain from his sudden partial capitulation to established authority. One can speculate that Crowley desired for himself standing as a mason in England to be equal with his colleagues Yarker and Reuss. The United Grand Lodge of England at that time had a growing concern about Co-Masonry, but it surely did not need or want Crowley as an ally. Some may see in this letter more than a measure of hypocrisy used to Machiavellian purposes. Crowley insisted that the Ordo Templi Orientis in no way infringed on 'the just privilege of duly authorized Masonic Bodies' the words chosen to allow plenty of room for future hairsplitting if needed.15 In truth, although the Ordo Templi Orientis admitted men and women on an equal basis, unlike Co-Masonry, its rituals and teachings were not those of any Regular masonic body, and on this basis, it could have been cleared from the charges of being a clandestine organization.
On the same date of his letter to Sir Edward, Crowley dictated a similar missive to Edward-Philip Denny of Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343, asking if their lodge might secede from the Grande Loge de France in the face of its toleration of Co-Masonry and seek the recognition of the United Grand Lodge of England; Dennys answer, if he made one, does not survive in Crowleys papers.16
SOLE AND SUPREME AUTHORITY
Having failed to establish himself masonically, and being incapable of obtaining any masonic recognition in England for the Antient and Primitive Rite, which had been opposed with vigour since its inception in 1872 by the Supreme Council 33° for England and Wales,17 Crowley abandoned for a time the unequal contest of authority by retreating to a high ground he could fashion after his own lights, namely the Ordo Templi Orientis. It could be argued that in the absence of Yarker Crowley wasn't greatly interested in Freemasonry per se, but found its forms and methods useful for his own purposes, as has been true for many other organizers of esoteric societies. But in the Ordo Templi Orientis Crowley claimed for himself an authority unimaginable in Regular Freemasonry, even though Reuss was its nominal head, and he continued to develop the work of this Order without let or hindrance during his American period (1914-1919). Believing that he had 'discovered' the Lost Word of the Master Masons Degree as well as the correct spelling of the word of the Holy Royal Arch,18 Crowley had its candidates swear to acknowledge him as 'the sole and supreme authority in Freemasonry"19 without fear of contradiction, though it is only with difficulty that one would imagine Reuss consenting to the wording.
THE DETROIT WORKING
During the First World War, Crowley and his few North American disciples worked to establish the Ordo Templi Orientis, first in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and later in Detroit, Michigan, United States of America. His faithful follower Brother Charles Stansfeld Jones20 lectured in Detroit on occult subjects and succeeded in interesting a few local masons who were also active in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Valley of Detroit. Among them was Brother Albert W. Ryerson 32°, proprietor of the Universal Book Company, who was persuaded to act as publisher for the March 1919 issue of Crowleys occult journal, The Equinox, which was filled with details on the Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley visited Detroit in April 1919 and again in the fall of that year. Crowleys predetermined opinion of the brethren is evident from the start:
With regard to the O.T.O., I take the liberty of advising you to get hold of the 33° man [Frank T. Lodge] in private. Sound him very carefully with regard to the principles of the 7°, and if you find him worthy, affiliate him to that degree. Your mental attitude should be, if I may dare say so, to regard the 32° people as so many pieces of rather nasty dirt. ... I am then determined to revise the rituals of the O.T.O. in such a sense that they will not conflict in any way with the Masonic ideals, and I suggest that you should arrange a conference between myself and these Masons, in which the rituals should be submitted to them for approval in this particular sense. (Letter, Aleister Crowley to Charles Stansfeld Jones, February 19, 1919, private collection).
Crowley could not veil his contempt for the recognized authorities, whom he thought would confer the 33° upon him and Jones; to the latter he suggested that he should: 'Affiliate Frank Lodge but rub it into him that even our eighth degree wipes its arse with the thirty third. As you and I need toilet paper, they can give us or sell us their dirty sheep skin' (Letter, Aleister Crowley to Charles Stansfeld Jones, March 13, 1919, private collection). But that was not all. Crowley, taking a page out of Yarkers book and writing it large, thought his connection with Yarkers irregular rites was his trump card to enforce his standing in Masonry:
My point about our 33rd is this, that we cannot admit that any one soever is higher in Masonry than ourselves ... My idea is to hele the breach with Memphis and Mizraim; these rites, though messy, keep going. Now I am Patriarch Grand Administrator General, and can be S.G.M.G. at the election, which, by the way, is overdue. Now I propose that the Scottish Rite absorb M. and M., conferring all its degrees formally upon their 32nds. Our price for this is seats on the S.C. of the Scottish in America. Otherwise, we use our energy to run every rite, Scottish and the rest, on our own ... Remember, we don't admit that their rite is any good until it has our O.K. Theirs is a forged charter. (Letter, Aleister Crowley to Charles Stansfeld, Jones, c. April 1919, private collection).
It is easy to picture how contemporary brethren would have reacted to an overture based on these suppositions. Certainly no authorities in the regular bodies would have paid any attention to claims based on the Rites of Memphis or Misraim which had been condemned as clandestine in several American Grand Jurisdictions in the previous century. Needless to say, Crowley was not offered a seat in the Supreme Council of the Northern jurisdiction and his proposed 'League of nations' where he would make this exchange did not occur. A reminiscence of the work in Detroit casts a diplomatic view on Crowleys perceived relationship between the Ordo Templi Orientis and Freemasonry; however, there is no evidence to suggest that any 'General Council of the Scottish Rite' was involved in these affairs, but rather a few brethren acting on their own:
The accounts of the new Rite [Ordo Templi Orientis] made a great impression; and in particular, attracted the attention of the Supreme Grand Council, Sovereign Grand Inspectors General of the 33rd and Last degree of the Scottish Rite in the Valley of Detroit, Mich. . . . I was therefore invited to Detroit, and a series of conferences was held. A Supreme Grand Council of the 7th Degree of the O.T.O. was formally initiated.
However, when it came to the considerations of the practical details of the rituals to be worked, the general Council of the Scottish Rite could not see its way to tolerate them, on the ground that the symbolism in some places touched too nearly that of the orthodox Masonry of the Lodges.
While we are of course in no sense subordinate to the vulgar convivial Masonry of the Craft Lodges of England and North America, or to the political Masonry of Europe, we recognise in them what is an influence for good, especially as they have a tendency to militate against the foul sorcery of all Christian Rites. We are therefore anxious to avoid in any way appearing to infringe on what they consider their peculiar privileges.
In order to meet these views, it was suggested that I should re-write the rituals in an entirely new symbolism, which would in no way be considered as in competition with the accepted ritual of the Craft. (Letter, Aleister Crowley to Arnold Krumm Heller, 22 June 1930, private collection).
Crowley only completed a revision of the first four rituals of the Ordo Templi Orientis when the 'Great Lakes Council VII°' fell apart in a swirl of divorces and bankruptcies, ending with Crowleys departure for England in December 1919. It was the last attempt Crowley made to align the Ordo Templi Orientis to regular Freemasonry in any manner. Although Stansfeld Jones was made a regular mason in Detroit, his petition to the Valley of Detroit was rejected, leading Crowley to conclude that 'Freemasonry in the States is one of the most evil organizations that has ever existed' (Letter, Aleister Crowley to Charles Stansfeld Jones, July 25, 1921, private collection). Crowley was not much of a good loser and perhaps this is one game he ought not to have played at all.
From 1920 to the end of his life in 1947, Crowley did not involve himself personally in Freemasonry, nor seek the support of any regular masonic authority for the Ordo
Templi Orientis. He deigned to let the masonic trappings of the Antient and Primitive rite with its numerous degrees tedious in the extreme to his mind fade into a dim
historical past. Crowley would agree to confer the degrees of the Antient and Primitive Rite, if pressed, only upon regular masons, and there was little demand for them.22
In closing, it may be illuminating to consider the following passage. Do we find in it a reflection of the utility Crowley the mage saw in Freemasonry?
When a man becomes a magician he looks about him for a magical weapon; and being probably endowed with that human frailty called laziness, he hopes to find a weapon ready made. Thus we find the Christian Magus who imposed his power upon the world taking the existing worships and making a single system combining all their merits ... Others again have attempted to use Freemasonry. There have been even exceptionally foolish magicians who have tried to use a sword long since rusted.
Wagner illustrates this point very clearly in Siegfried. The Great Sword Nothung has been broken, and it is the only weapon that can destroy the gods. The dwarf Mime uselessly tries to mend it. When Siegfried comes he makes no such error. He melts its fragments and forges a new sword. In spite of the intense labour which this costs, it is the best plan to adopt.26
Major thanks are due to three Past Masters of Quatuor Coronati Lodge, first to the late Ellic Howe, who introduced me to John Hamill and R. A. Gilbert. It is by their example and with their support that this study, begun before I was a member of the Craft, was completed. I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of the late G. J. Yorke, whose collection of Crowleyana is now in the care of Dr. W. F. Ryan, Librarian of the Warburg Institute, to whom I am grateful. For permission to quote from the unpublished works of Aleister Crowley, I thank William Breeze of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Madame Florence de Lussy of the fonds maçonique of the Bibliothèque Nationale helped me to obtain Crowleys records still with the Grande Loge de France, provided by their François Rognon. Brother Arturo deHoyos made available to me his translations of the Reuss rituals and commented on an early draft of the paper. Sr. Rolando Cervantes kindly translated Spanish correspondence and made inquiries relative to Mexico.
The Equinox. London and Detroit, 1909-1919.
The Kneph. London, 1881-1900.
Oriflamme. Berlin and London, 1902-1913.
Books and Articles
Crowley, Aleister, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. London: Jonathan Cape, 1969.
Crowley, Aleister, The Magical Record of the Beast 666. London: Duckworth, 1972.
Evans, Isaac Blair, The Thomson Masonic Fraud. Arrow Press: Salt Lake City, 1922.
Gilbert, R. A., 'William Wynn Westcott and the Esoteric School of Masonic Research'.
AQC 100, 1988.
, The Golden Dawn Companion. Aquarian: Wellingborough, 1986.
Green, Martin, Mountain of Truth: The Counterculture Begins Ascona, 1900-1920.
Hanover and London: Tufts University by University Press of New England, 1986.
Hamill, J. M., 'The Seeker of Truth: John Yarker 1833-1913'. Beitrâge zur europâischen Gestesgeschichte der Neuzit. Festschriftfür Ellic Howe. Freiburg: HochschulVerlag, 1990.
Howe, Ellic, 'Fringe Masonry in England, 1870-85'. AQC 85. 1972.
, 'The Rite of Memphis in France and England 1838-70'. AQC 91. 1979.
, The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.
Mandleberg, John, Ancient and Accepted. London: Supreme Council 33° by the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle Ltd., 1995.
Möller, Helmut and Howe, Ellic, 'Theodor Reuss and Irregular freemasonry in Germany, 1900-23'. AQC 91. 1979.
, Merlin Feregrinus: vom Untergrund des Abendlandes. Würzburg, 1986.
Queenborough, Lady (Edith Starr Miller), Occult Theocrasy. Abbeville: privately printed, 1933.
Yarker, John, Constitutions, General Statutes and Ordinances of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Masonry in and for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and its Dependencies with the Public Ceremonials, and a Sketch of the History of the Rite. London: Sovereign Sanctuary in and for Great Britain and Ireland, 1875.
, The Arcane Schools. Belfast: William Tait, 1909.
1. An undated note by Westcott in Private Collection 'C' (described by R. A. Gilbert in The Golden Dawn Companion, 1986, p 176) reads: '1900. April 17 Crowley called on me as Mathers friend'.^
2.At Daggers' Point', New York Sunday Mercury, 29 July 1883, quoted in The Kneph, Vol. III No. 9 (September, 1883), p 69.^
3.Brother John Hamill graciously supplied the details of Bowleys involvement in English Freemasonry. (Letter, John Hamill to the present author, 20 October 1986).^
4.Cadbury-Jones, who was then Secretary-General of the SRIA, detailed their meeting in a note dated 24 October 1908, Private Collection 'C'; it is clear from this note that Westcott and Cadbury-Jones were neither amused nor frightened by Crowleys increasing pressure.
5.There is possible evidence of Reuss being aware of Crowleys work prior to 1910. Allgemeine Satzungen des Ordens der Orientalischen Templer O.T.O. (dated January 1906), has on its cover a simplified version of the lamen designed by Crowley c. March 1970 and used on the cover of Captain J. F. C. Fullers book on 'Crowleyanity', The Star in the West (1907); of course, the Reuss publication may well be backdated.
6.Reproduced in Crowley, Confessions, facing page 481.
7.Crowley had some contact with the notorious fraud and degree-monger, Matthew McBlain Thomson and his 'American Masonic Federation', based in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States of America.
8.'Reproduced in Lady Queenboroughs Occult Theocrasy (1933), vol. 2, appendix 4, illustration 11. The present location of the original is unknown. The charter was created for the German Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite, but the letters 'OTO' have been added to the top of the document by hand.
9.The 'Dispensation' itself does not survive in Crowleys papers; what we have are Crowleys abstracts from it in various letters and a parallel document issued in 1942 to Crowleys successor as Outer Head of the Ordo Templi Orientis, Karl Germer.
10.Constitutions, General Statutes and Ordinances of the Sovereign Sanctuary of the Antient and Primitive Rite of Masonry in and or the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ... (1875), p 15.
11.Published in The English Review, xxxv (August, 1922), pp 127-134; the corrected page proofs are in the Yorke Collection, where it is entitled 'Are You a Mason?', perhaps inspired by the contemporary silent film of the same name. The title of 'Past Grand Master in the United States of America' was conferred on Crowley by none other than Matthew McBlain Thomson! The article is extensively quoted and paraphrased in Crowley, Confessions, pp 695-710.
12.Reuss issued Crowley a charter dated 31 May 1913 appointing the lattersovereign Grand Master General of the said Rite in Great Britain and Ireland until a regular Convocation of Prince Patriarch Grand Conservators does meet and either confers or repeals this present appointment.' (Letter, G. J. Yorke to the present author, 16 September 1980) Crowley ultimately claimed the 97° after the death of Reuss.
13.Crowley, Confessions, p 711.
14.[Crowley, Aleister,j 'Report of the Proceedings at Manchester, with a Note on the Circumstances which led up to them' in The Equinox, September 1913, p xxix.
15.'As a lawyer you will appreciate the words "Just" and "duly authorized"; for that leaves us a loophole if at any time we become strong enough to tell the Grand Lodge of England to do what the old man of Newcastle did when he was so requested. But at the present moment it would simply be silly to make ourselves enemies in influential, however imbecile, quarters. I was extremely annoyed with Yarker when, in senile decay, he visited a Co-Masonic Lodge.' (Letter, Crowley to Hugh George de Willmott Newman, 15 August 1944, Yorke Collection).
16.Crowleys proffered cure for irregularity was ahead of its time; in 1964, a portion of the membership of Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343 left the Grande Loge de France and reconstituted as Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 103 under the Grande Loge Nationale Française.
17."See Mandleberg, John, Ancient and Accepted (1995), p 802 for the approach made to the Supreme Council 33° by the Antient and Primitive Rite in May 1913 after Yarkers death; contact was refused.
18."See Crowley, Confessions, pp 705-707 for his account of the 'discovery'.
19."See the 'Preliminary Pledge-Form of M.°.M.°.M.°. '(n.d. but c. 1913); copies are preserved in the Yorke Collection.
20.Jones was raised in Detroit Lodge No. 2, Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan, on 27 April 1920, after Crowleys return to England. My thanks are due to Brother Richard R. Amon of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of Michigan for Jones' masonic record.
21.Crowley declined to attend the Congress of Thomsons International Masonic Federation in Zurich in July 1920; see Crowley, Aleister, The Magical Record of the Beast 666 (1972) pp 132, 148.
22.A notable example being the case of George H. Brook, William Bernard Crow and Hugh George de Willmott Newman, all 'episcopi vagantes', who unsuccessfully attempted in 1944-1946 to have Crowley charter them to confer the combined degrees of the Rites of Memphis and Misraim.
23.Crowley. Confessions, p 700.
24.[Crowley, Aleister], 'The Present Crisis in Freemasonry', The English Review, xxxv (August 1922), p 133.
25.See Green, Martin, Mountain of Truth: The Counterculture begins Ascona, 1900-1920 (1986), pp 104-106.
26.Crowley, Aleister, introduction to his translation of The Key of the Mysteries (La Clef des Grands Mystères) by Eliphas Levi in The Equinox, September 1913, supplement pp viii-ix.
Reprinted with permission of Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge N. 2076. vol. 108 (1995) ed. Robert A. Gilbert. ISBN: 0907655327. pp. 150 - 161. Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner Ltd., Frome and London. 280p. Endnotes 23-25 are not numbered in the text.