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The origins of the Ancient & Venerable Chinese Oracle known variously as the Yi-jing or Yi King, or I-Ching or Book of Changes are shrouded in the mists of Time, allegedly attributed to the Ancient Shamans of China some 4,000 years ago. Developed by the legendary first emperor of China and later by the venerable philosopher Confucius, it was later evolved into a sophisticated system that has brought wisdom and guidance to generations both in the East and the West. As if any introduction is needed, Aleister Crowley was, if nothing else, an explorer – in mind, body, and spirit – and a seeker after new sensations, new knowledge, and new insights. Unlike many of his illustrious literary and Golden Dawn contemporaries, whose idea of the ‘Mystic East’ might well have been an opium den-cum-knocking shop behind a Chinese laundry in Whitechapel, the not inconsiderable inheritance that the young Crowley received at the age of 21 enabled him to travel and explore extensively, in the realm of the geographical as much as it did in those of sex, drugs, and occultism. However, it is beyond the brief of this essay to outline either an extensive history of the Chinese Oracle, or for that matter yet another biographical study of “the Wickedest Man in the World”. What I propose instead is to attempt an outline of the intersection and overlap between the two. Quite when and how The Great Beast made the acquaintance of the I-Ching (or Yi King as was his preferred usage, and the one I will stick to hereafter unless directly quoting another source) is unsure: despite the almost exhaustive description of his spiritual studies en route to joining the Golden Dawn given in his Confessions, and the (some would say libellous) extent of the descriptions of his investiture into that Order published in The Equinox, nowhere does he make clear when or how he came into contact with the Oracle. The most likely explanation is that his interest dates from a visit to San Francisco’s China Town in 1900. However, even though his Confessions enthuses about his visit there, and then goes on to describe in some detail his journey via Honolulu to Yokohama to Shanghai, to eventually catch up with his former Golden Dawnsponsor now turned Buddhist monk Allan Bennett in Ceylon – including much discussion of Buddhism, and his practices of yoga and asana with Bennett – there is still no reference to the Oracle. Then, in 1905-06, he embarked on his “walk across China”, an odyssey that that took him from the Burmese border across the Yunnan Province and ending in Shanghai (all the time attempting to complete the perilous Abramelin Working that he had unwisely left unfinished after his start at Boleskine House, overlooking Loch Ness... ) At the end of the following year, December 13th, 1907, Crowley penned Liber Trigrammaton XXVII, synthesizing the Chinese duality of Yin/Yang (represented by the solid and broken lines of the Yi King) with the Tao (represented in this system by a dot), resulting in a series of 27 trigrams for
he considered it on a par with the Stanzas of Dzyan – the supposed sacred received texts upon which Blavatsky’s epic The Secret Doctrine. which appeared as part of the Sacred Books of the East series. yet he himself believed that one of his greatest achievements was the identification of the trigrams with the sephiroth of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. and then “finally that Winter” Liber DCCCXIII vel Ararita: in short. but most of his written material that relates specifically to the Yi King was produced during his time at Cefalu in the 1920s. the actual apparatus is simple. Liber Trigrammaton XXVII. Crowley would have relied on the nineteenth century translation made by James Legge. which was read to mean “Cross the water – an uncivilized country. most of the Holy Books of Thelema – and all of them detailing forms of Initiation or Oracle. was a comment. for Crowley the last months of 1907 were a period of heightened creativity & reception of ‘inspired’ texts: Oct 30th Liber VII. of the judgments and line texts of the Yi. he states: “The Yi King is mathematical and philosophical in form. and five minutes is sufficient to obtain a fairly detailed answer to any but the most obscure question. Indeed. Dec 3rd Liber Arcanorum sub figura CCXXXI. Dec 11th & 12th Liber Porta Lucis.) Indeed. a .which he wrote brief commentary texts. In fact he took a number of crucial decisions in his life based on his interpretation of the Yi’s advice. On the title page. including the situating of his infamous Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu in Sicily. during his retirement on Aesopus Island in the Hudson River. he has amended the author’s name to read “Wood N’ Legge”!) There is no doubting Crowley’s personal faith in the Yi: looking at the published editions of his diaries.” Until he came up with his own rhymed version. Nov 3rd Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente. Too few people are aware that Crowley produced his own unique version of the Yi King. Ku. Nov 25th Liber LXVI Stellae Rubae. and it is from this that Crowley retained the lifelong habit of referring to the Oracle as the Yi King. and the notes are often more revealing of the Beast’s thoughts than the more formal commentary: its limitations occasioned not only Crowley’s rhymed version but also notes of exasperation in the margins of his copy. New York in 1918 he produced rhyming versions of the Daodejing (Tao Teh King) and Ge Yuan’s Qingjingjing (Khing Kang King). Indeed. Crowley’s personal copy of the book survives. in his own surprisingly and perhaps uncharacteristically terse introduction to his edition. or the Yi for short. or ‘mnemonic paraphrase’. Dec 13th Liber Tau. Its structure is cognate with that of the Qabalah. (Interestingly. when the local police attempted to evict the members of the ‘College of the Holy Ghost’ on orders from Mussolini’s Fascist regime. Later. such as The Magical Record of the Beast 666 (edited by Symonds & Grant from Crowley’s diaries for 1914-1920. it was again the Yi’s Hexagram XVIII. he appears to have consulted it almost daily for a period of several years. the cornerstone of her Theosophical Movement. and including the sex-magickal record Rex De Arte Regia). (As a measure of Crowley’s assessment of the value of this work.
Nov 8th the name of Marie Therese de Miramar “A creole Cuban-born in Nicaragua to change the luck” appears.. ignoring the Yi’s warning of May 13th (Hexagram XX. It is interesting to think about his meeting with the young man Lawrence Miles. but as well as being a natural born magician.mhtml) he describes how he met ‘The Magus’ at Chancery Lane High Court. the whole thing blown up into the “Black Magic libel case”.. The Lord hath given & the Lord hath taken away. he reached a conclusion and advised me to seek more . in which her lurid account of the time spent at Cefalu portrayed Crowley as a monstrous degenerate. and then things got more serious the following year with the publication of Betty May’s Tiger Woman.A major concern for much of the year was his relationship with Kasimira Bass. where he was to keep the journals that were published in as The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley (Tunisia 1923) edited by Stephen Skinner.org/londinium. but separated in 1930. with particular reference to the Yi King and its baring on Crowley’s often tempestuous love-life: ‘. Raoul Loveday.mahendranath. after the Nina Hamnett case. I not only realized that the much libelled Aleister Crowley was probably the most far out and advanced thinker at the time. huffing to himself “I know that!” They were married in August 1929. who would eventually become known as Shri Gurudev Mahendranath: in his own account. Crowley became ever more absorbed with the Yi King: he sought its advice throughout the Autumn of 1933 about his attempted libel trial over Nina Hamnet’s depiction of him in her ‘colourful’ memoir. and these visits became more and more numerous.country in which the family is more important than the state” that lead Crowley to Tunisia. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Laughing Torso. he possessed a knowledge of both yoga and the I Ching which was superior to that of any other European. of initiating her into various mysteries of his ‘magick’. Thus when I had opportunities to meet him. The Londinium Temple Strain (which can be found at: www. Kwan) “a rash act”. During our conversations in London. but in July things deteriorated rapidly and on November 3rd he writes: “Kasimira bolted. neither romance nor passion influenced the decision: Crowley had to marry de Miramar to get her into the country.. and that they struck up a kind of friendship: “The Mage invited me to visit him in his Jermyn Street flat...!” At the end of the day. In October 2007.” Then. so that I cannot prolong. with many notes of prolonged love-making. but excites me too much. From the start of 1937. so that by June he was consulting the Yi about the possibility of marriage. The affair seems to have gone well for the first half of the year. responsible for the death of her unfortunate young husband. and by the 14th Crowley writes of consecrating their partnership and noting that “She has absolutely the right ideas of Magick & knows some Voudoo.’ As the 1930s progressed. Crowley sought diversion by absorbing himself more and more in the study of the Yi King. The press which had slandered him at every opportunity never once expressed any of his ideals or teachings.” Nov 19th: “She is marvellous beyond words. and an informant gave me an interesting description of some of its contents. he revealed a vast store of knowledge on a variety of subjects. Crowley’s Royal Court Diary for 1928 turned up at a Bloomsbury Book Auction’s sale in New York.
he felt. as The Master Therion remarked himself in one of his magical journals: “The Lord hath given & the Lord hath taken away. these.. In relation to higher yoga his judgment was sound.knowledge of yoga and the I Ching. It was the one time I saw him using his I Ching sticks (which I was able to recover from the library after the court order decreeing that his library belonged to the O. [There was a sketch in the original. get a signal and lay it down either right or left. Personally I like this method of taking the Oracle.O.T.” Ah well. oversexed. under my conservatorship). They either were mahogany or teak or stained dark to look so. They look like this. on one side of which was a broken line. holding each one upright with his right forefinger (eyes still closed). Edward Cornelius that: “Grady McMurtry always carried Crowley’s I-Ching sticks in a small pouched [sic] attached to his belt by leather straps..” and Crowley’s library should be under his “conservatorship” – to read in An Epistle on Aleister Crowley’s I-Ching Sticks by J. The way Crowley used them was to shuffle them (with his eyes closed) then take them one at a time and.T.] The blank side is the male (Yang. would help people to contact their Guardian Spirit more easily. First stick down is the bottom line.He was in the progress of taking an oracle from the I Ching. which for the main part seemed to consist of reminiscences by Grady McMurtry about being “overpaid. just shove it right or left as indicated. It is with great regret that I learned that the original sticks were accidentally lost one summer night while Grady was partying on a beach near San Francisco. Crowley used six equal strips of tortoise-shell. but did contain the following paragraph that I think warrants quoting in full: “. is that according to Perdurabo by Richard Kaczynski.O. 1920 in The Magical Record of the Beast 666 in which Crowley had remarked “I had invoked Aiwaz to manipulate the Sticks*” – but what had intrigued me the most was the relevant footnote: “*The six lines of the hexagrams of the Yi King. Newsletter. The divided side (looks like red nail polish to me) is the female (Yin. By my ruler they are less than an 8th of an inch in thickness.”) As a last word on Crowley’s Yi sticks. It gives you a chance for your Angel to communicate directly through your fingertips. receptive) side. You can also get moving lines this way. there is a comment . energy) side. for meditation is undoubtedly an important key.” (It is perhaps a sad afterword to this – particularly baring in mind Grady’s words about the court-order decreeing that “the O.. If one of the sticks wants to move when you lay it down.. I think.. browsing through Kenneth Grant’s touching memoir Remembering Aleister Crowley. on the other an unbroken line. but slightly more than a 16th thick. the position still needs understanding. With the I Ching.T. and over here” during WWII. but I do think it may be there.” It would be some years before I would read anything more on the subject: in the early 1980s.O. on June 7th 1937 Crowley recovered his own personal set of Oracle sticks. Now it was this particular matter of “Crowley’s IChing sticks” that had first aroused my personal interest: I remembered as a youth reading an entry for January 12th.” Another breakthrough with regard to the Yi King.. I was sent a photocopy of an article entitled On Knowing Aleister Crowley Personally from the O.
they were sometimes remarkably accurate. or perhaps ‘unconsciousness’. His method was to empty his mind and then to manipulate six flat pieces of tortoise-shell...“Quite adept at the Enochian System and the I-Ching. In his book Soul Flight.even if your average drop-out of drugs... on the other hand.” – but again. just as the IChing itself was being rediscovered and the Ancient and Venerable Oracle popularised amidst the heady atmosphere of incense and peppermints. but it was skrying in the Spirit Vision that was her forte. deviancy & diabolism has no more idea now than then of the Divine nature of that “Will” that Crowley championed. . any attempts to try and pin down Crowley’s nearest mystical and magical contemporaries with regard to the Oracle were evasive.. the Great Beast’s “Do what Thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” probably didn’t seem that different to “Do your own thing. that was fuelled by sex ‘n’ drugs ‘n’ rock ‘n’ roll.. but that is by no means the same as saying that they were actually introduced to the Oracle or such practices by the venerable and Hermetic Order itself. he is of little real help. Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society – coincidentally founded the year of Crowley’s birth – there seems to be little in her otherwise encyclopaedic works to suggest an interest in or even an awareness of anything further Eastern of origin than India or Tibet. that has gone on unwittingly or not to nurture the ‘Occulture’ of today. The Omen was derived from the Chinese Book of Changes (Yi King).. Crowley obtained the Word with the help of Sexual Magick. was obtained by opening at random The Book of the Law.” Crowley was probably the first modern Westerner to actually regularly divine using the Yi. man” .towards the end where he explains how it was Crowley’s practice to ‘send out’ on the first days of Spring and Autumn the Word. A Golden Dawn website describes the colourful and forceful founder-member Florence Farr as . Donald Tyson states . which Crowley then accepted as the Omen for the coming six months. to say the least. I do not know... approximately 1” by 5” in size. and Omen of the Equinox: “In his earlier years.members of the Golden Dawn [who] employed the I-Ching hexagrams as astral portals”. In my researches for this article. As for the nearest other ‘fellow traveller’. As the pieces fell they formed a figure.“There is little doubt that members of the Golden Dawn employed the IChing hexagrams as astral portals” – I presume in much the same way that we know that they made use of the tattvas. or hexagram. Both Crowley himself and his later student Dr. he may well still have a more important place in the history of the Yi here in the West. As his diaries show. without a date or a source this is of little help. How he received it in his last years. In the popular consciousness. but as he does not indicate which members or when. The Oracle. as much as he fought against it as well all his life. Whether Aleister Crowley was or was not the first contemporary thinker and explorer of comparative religions and key synthesizers of what he would now doubtless shudder to think of as “the New Age” to make use of and explore the IChing. his shaven head scowling down from among the grand and groovy on the cover of The Beatles ‘Sgt. The former “Wickedest Man in the World” was rediscovered by the Hippy generation of the 1960s. Pepper’s’. Israel Regardie could be described as “.. Oracle.
May they choose their Oracles with care this time.html) ‘The Confessions: An Autohagiography’ by Aleister CROWLEY (1929. revised 1969) . Edward CORNELIUS (most likely available at the web-address: www.com/EpistleCrowleysICHING. and maybe the Great Cosmic Wheel is ready for just one more turn as the children of the Children of the Sixties decide it’s time to choose just whose Love and Will they want to base their Law on.cornelius93. BLAVATSKY (1888) ‘The Essential Golden Dawn’ by Chic & Sandra Tabatha CICERO (2003) ‘An Epistle on Aleister Crowley’s I-Ching Sticks’ by J.P. Bibliography & Reference: ‘A Magic Life: The Life of Aleister Crowley’ by Martin BOOTH (2000) ‘The Secret Doctrine’ by H.Maybe the two aren’t so different after all.
‘The Equinox’ edited by Aleister CROWLEY (1909-1913. online at: www.mhtm) ‘On Knowing Aleister Crowley Personally’ by Grady McMURTRY (originally published in the O.com/athens/acropolis/1896/knowingac.mahendranath. Berkeley. CA. 1944) ‘The Holy Books of Thelema’ by Aleister CROWLEY (collected 1983) ‘Aleister Crowley & The Hidden God’ by Kenneth GRANT (1973) ‘Cults of the Shadow’ by Kenneth GRANT (1975) ‘The Magical Revival’ by Kenneth GRANT (1972) ‘Remembering Aleister Crowley’ by Kenneth GRANT (1991) ‘Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley’ by Richard KACZYNSKI (2002) ‘The Magical World of Aleister Crowley’ by Francis KING (1987) ‘The Londinium Temple Strain’ by Shri Gurudev MAHENDRANATH (currently available at the web-address: www. by Stephen SKINNER (2003) ‘The Great Beast’ by John SYMONDS (1952) ‘The Magical Record of The Beast 666’ ed. 1919.html) ‘The Eye in the Triangle’ by Israel REGARDIE (1970) ‘The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course In Practical Ceremonial Magic’ by Israel REGARDIE (1989) ‘The Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley (Tunisia 1923)’ ed.org/londinium. Newsletter.geocities. by John SYMONDS & Kenneth GRANT (1972) ‘Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley’ by Lawrence SUTIN (2000) ‘Soul Flight’ by Donald TYSON (2007) . 1939.O.T.
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