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Embodied Occultism

Keith Readdy

Contemporary Religiosity Represented in Aleister Crowley’s Experiential Science

Deparment of Theology and Religious Studies Universiteit van Amsterdam M.A., Contested Knowledge II: Cosmotheism and Disenchantment

Embodied Occultism 1 “Consciousness, says the materialist, axe
in hand, is a function of the brain. He has only re-formulated the old saying, ‘Your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost.’!” Aleister Crowley, Energized Enthusiasm: A Note on Theurgy

Ever since he delivered his lecture, Science as a Vocation in 1918, saying the words, “Entzauberung der Welt,”1 Max Weber has remained a topic of discussion in the social sciences for quite some time now. We know that, since the century of the Enlightenment, religion has struggled for validation in the face of rationalism and secularism. The same can be said more recently about esoteric discourse in the academy. The modern occult2, for instance played a significant role in mediating religious and the scientific worldviews. This can be exemplified in the enigmatic figure of 20th-century occultism, Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), who incorporated a scientific framework into his teachings, and who has undoubtedly influenced occultism and alternative spirituality3 ever since his death in 1947.4 Indeed, his system of magick,5 as well as the occult has only grown in popularity since the mid-20th-century.6 Why is this? Could it be due to the way occultism has dealt with, and to some degree overcome disenchantment?


“ The disenchantment of the world,” Published as (1922), "Wissenschaft als Beruf," Gesammlte Aufsaetze zur Wissenschaftslehre (Tubingen), 524-55. Translation, H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (trans. And ed.) (1946), in Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press), 129-156. 2 By the term, “modern occult,” I am speaking on behalf a particular movement beginning in the 19 th-century, and first popularized by Éliphas Leví (Alphonse Louis-Constant, 1810-1875). For a discussion on occultism as it is referred to herein, see Marco Pasi (2005) “Occultism,” in Knochu von Stuckrad (ed.) Dictionary of Religion (Leiden: Brill), 3:1364-68. Also see Atoine Faivre (1994) Access to Western Esotericism (Albany: State University of New York), 86-90; and finally, Wouter J. Hanegraaff (2013) Western Esotericism: A Guide for the Perplexed (London/New York: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc), 36-42. 3 I use the terms “alternative spirituality,” “New Age,” and “contemporary religiosity” in a broad sens e within this essay to refer to 20th- and 21st-century currents that can be considered religious yet remain outside of traditional forms of orthodoxy. It may be best to direct the reader to the discussion of the “New Age” phenomenon in Western culture in Wouter Hanegraaff (1998) New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Albany: State University of New York Press). 4 For Crowley’s influence on Western Esotericism, see Henrik Bogdan & Martin P. Starr (eds.) (2012) Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism (New York: Oxford University Press). 5 The growing popularity in “magick” as derived from Crowley for instance is discussed in J.R. Lewis (ed.) (1996) Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft (Albany: State University of New York Press). 6 The phenomenon of “Occulture,” or the fact that popular culture is permeated by the cultic milieu , has gained recent attention in scholarship. See Christopher Partridge (2004), The Re-Enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture, and Occulture Vol. 1 (New York: T&T Clark International), 62-86.

I will argue that personal experience has been a significant feature in 20th-century occultism. Wilson (1966) Religion in Secular Society (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books). is probably connected to the desire for an embodied religiosity.7 Indeed. 8:2. occultism’s growth as an alternative spirituality in Western culture may be due not only to its scientific features. this is only a means to an end.” as he advocated a rational and scientific methodology to occult practice. it does not fully explain the growing popularity of occultism and alternative spiritualities in Western culture today. and has been fully outlined in Olav Hammer (2001) Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age (Leiden/Boston/Köln: Brill). Disenchantment: An Epistemological Problem Religion in society has been forever changed by the forces of modernity. and Steve Bruce (ed. See Egil Asprem (2008) “Magic Naturalized? Negotiating Science and Occult Experience in Aleister Crowley’s Scientific Illuminism. 9 See Hanegraaff (1998).) (1992) Religion and Modernizaton: Sociologists and Historians Debate the Secularization Thesis (Oxford: Clarendon Press). His technique has been described as “naturalistic. that is. implementing scientific discourse into occultism has been a major legitimizing strategy in esotericism since the modern era. 139-166. 7 . Crowley’s approach has been discussed as a “naturalization” of occultism. however it is important to briefly discuss how the term will be understood in the present study.” Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism. 10 Scholarship on this is vast. will provide insight into the some of the “proposed solutions” to the problems that have been raised since the modern era. I. In this study. and specifically in the case of Crowley. who attempted to rationalize occultism with science. but also to claims that spirituality can be experienced in the body. because his approach to occultism seems to have made such a lasting impression on certain forms of contemporary religiosity. I exemplify this claim in the work of Aleister Crowley.Embodied Occultism 2 Aleister Crowley is an important figure to examine with regard to disenchantment. The importance of experience in occultism. While efforts to make esotericism scientific have been characteristic of the occultist current. It may assist the uninformed reader to reference Bryan R. I will examine it within the contexts of specific strategic efforts that have been made in attempt to deal with disenchantment. There is an implicit element in Crowley’s work that may help to explain the vitality of occultism within a disenchanted society — an emphasis placed upon personal experience.8 Still. This section then. 8 This is discussed below.9 It is assumed that the reader has a general familiarity with secularization theory10 and the Weberian concept of disenchantment. and who also insisted upon the primacy of personal experience to achieve spiritual attainment.

. “Disenchantment. and Re -enchantment. Asprem proposes a problem-centered investigation. these attempts to solve the problem of disenchantment are found in several discursive strategies of legitimization. so too did religion’s influence upon the social sphere significantly decline. we must concentrate on specific events in which individual actors are in some way confronted with a problem associated with the disenchanted world-view. dissertation.11 Weber calls disenchantment a social process. and rational and bureaucratic processes established law and government as secular entities. Legitimization: Some Epistemological Solutions The proposed solutions to disenchantment are characterized by attempts at legitimizing religious and esoteric thought. If we approach disenchantment in this respect. I will only have time to briefly hint upon it.D. It refers to the complex of historical developments associated with the effects of secularization and modernity. 1. 12 Egil Asprem (2013) “The Problem of Disenchantment:” (Ph. It has recently been pointed out by Egil Asprem that describing disenchantment as a process over vast periods of history is problematic and leaves us with many unanswered questions concerning the development of human events. 11 Richard Jenkins (2000). The epistemological torch of truth was handed over to scientific rationalism. 13 See Hammer (2001). however since I exemplify this in the case of Aleister Crowley. Adopting this problem-centered approach towards disenchantment is important for the present study.13 The present study focuses primarily on (c) as being the principle characteristic of contemporary religiosity. no.” Max Weber Studies. of which I will now briefly discuss. 1 (2000): 12. we will notice that there are particular circumstances in which efforts were made to either work around the problem or to reinforce it. Finally.Embodied Occultism 3 As briefly mentioned above. but calling it a process has historical limitations. (b) science and (c) personal experience. University of Amsterdam). it will be beneficial to discuss (b) as well. While Crowley’s work may have some elements of (a). As scientific advancements were made.12 We can admit that something like disenchantment has been going on in the last two centuries. In order for us to understand the complexity of disenchantment in the West. the term “disenchantment” is commonly attributed to sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920). II. although he probably borrowed the term from Friedrich Schiller. vol. Three methods have been identified in esoteric discourse: (a) the appeal to tradition. Enchantment. Instead.

17 Various esoteric movements 14 These narratives are often presented by religious leaders as historical facts. Atlantis. (2013). Native American shamanic traditions. Consequentially. regardless of empirical evidence to support them. however that the appeal to tradition is characteristic of many New Age movements. Again. Ficino considered this supreme knowledge to have declined. The two terms refer to the nature of the so-called ancient wisdom. however proposed the preservation and universality of core essences of such wisdom. 16 Contrast with perennialism is the etic historical contexualist approach. their implicit perennialism is nonetheless problematic. the appeal to tradition in esoteric and New Age movements claim to have recovered a once-lost ancient wisdom from the distant past . universalist perspectives about the trans-historical and unchanging nature of knowledge is generally questioned and remains open to empirical inquiry.16 b) Making Religion Scientific While movements that emphasize tradition may try to eschew. tracing the tradition to significant geographical locations and particular figures who are responsible for the spiritual evolution of humankind. scientific models have been used to legitimize religious and esoteric practices since at least the 19th-century. See Hanegraaff. see Hanegraaf (2012). ancient Egypt.Embodied Occultism 4 a) The Authority of Tradition and the Ancient Wisdom The appeal to tradition is certainly a relevant topic with regard to the problem of disenchantment. The philosophia perennis of Steuco. After all. however esotericism becomes qualitatively “scientific” in the modernist occult. This is what has been understood in religious scholarship as the philosophia perennis. An ambiguous chronology often links ancient traditions to contemporary religion. or in another galaxy far away. 89. 15 The term was coined by Agostino Steuco in 1540. Whether arising out of Tibetan Buddhism. Hinduism. in that they attempt to construct historical narratives in effort to legitimize their claims. 7-12. See Hanegraaff (2012) Esotercism in the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). however has become increasingly problematic since it has gained the attention of critical scholarship on the subject. or degraded throughout history with hope that it would one day be recovered. 36-42. or the perennial philosophy. the environment since the modern era demands that any epistemological claim must submit to empirical verification. for instance in Emanuel Swendenborg and Franz Anton Mesmer. It is worth noting. but it less important for the focus of this study.14 For many new religious movements. tradition is commonly suggested to have originated outside of Western orthodoxy at sacred and remote. 17 One may see traces of this happening slightly prior to the 19 th-century. scientific rationalism may be one of the biggest challenges that religion has had to face since the Enlightenment. if not ignore such critical analyses. . In this.15 This. Hammer (2001). Indeed. and often confused with the prisca theologia (ancient theology) also originating in Renaissance discourse by Marcilio Ficino. sometimes imagined or even non-terrestrial locations.

José Argüelles (1987) The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology (Santa Fe: Bear).22 In the 16thand 17th-centuries. manifesting as a deviant and meager attempt to legitimize non-rational thought as rational. Philosophy and Culture). of course at a time when the theory of secularization was still very prominent in the social sciences.Embodied Occultism 5 have incorporated science in some way from the 20th-century to present day.24 The strange and mysterious forces that had been dispelled by scientific rationalism could now be explained with regard to human brain activity and psychological states. (Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press). See for example.21 For example. for a history on psychical research. 22 I am referring here to the so-called “Hermetic Reaction” movements such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in the late 19th-century. 88. (London: Routledge). Nostalgia for the Absolute (CBC Massey Lectures) rev. and the quatum metaphysists who attempt to merge mysticism and physics. 21 Esotercism from the 18th-century forward has been characteristic of Enlightenment ideology and values. English fin-de-siécle occultism was comprised of members that belonged to the educated avante-garde bourgeoisie intellectual elite. (Toronto:House of Anansi Press Inc. 24 Hannegraaff (2003). Please see Alex Owen (2004) The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern.20 However. 18 Examples of each include. See Joscelyn Godwin (1994) The Theosophical Enlightenment. and spirits. ed. for Mayan calendar prophecies.23 and so new models that attempted to explain occult phenomena began to emerge. The concern here. Examples of this can be found in the experiments conducted in psychical research.18 These strains of 20thcentury esotericism. for instance labeled occultism little more than an occurrence of social deviance. 23 This argument has been put forward by Keith Thomas (1978) Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (Harmondsworth: Peguin). In the context above. Wouter Hanegraaff notes that the modern occult “psychologized” magical practices in effort to eschew the criticism of rationalist circles. science began to dispel the belief in the existence of angels. Fin-de-siécle occultism is particularly characteristic of an effort to reconcile science and religion. . 19 Faivre (1994). and more recently Amit Goswami and Maggie Goswami (1998) Science and Spirituality: A Quantum Integration (Delhi: Project of History of Indian Science. see Alan Gauld (1968) The Founders of Psychical Research. and finally quantum metaphysics. one could hardly argue that a classic example of this is found in Fritjof Capra (1975) The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (London: Fontana/Collins). How Magic Survived the Disenchantment of the World. Owen seems to be specifically referring to members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. George Steiner (2004). 20 Scholarship within the discipline of sociology in the 1970’s. however are not within the scope of this study. This was. demons. is the relationship between science and occultism. for ancient astronaut lore.). see Barbara Hand Clow (1995) Pleiadian Agenda: A New Cosmology for the Age of Light (Santa Fe: Bear). recent scholarship has pointed out that it can be understood as one of the many products of modernity. the millenarian Mayan calendar prophecies. (Albany: State University of New York Press). In his essay entitled.19 There have been some claims that occultism has been a reaction to modernity. which has its roots in the 19th-century. the fringe astronomers and ufologists that proselytize the truth of alien visitation.

Aleister Crowley seems to have suggested a psychological approach in his description of goetic demonology. time and space are merely constructs formed by our sensory apparatus. Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Carroll (1987) and Phil Hine (2010) . claiming that goetic spirits were merely recesses of the human brain. 2nd ed. prioritizes individual. but the end result leaves only an epistemological gap to satisfactorily justify their claims as truly scientific.” For instance. 331. The ultimate litmus test is whether you can experience their veracity for yourself. a systematic philosophical study of experience known as phenomenology emerged. 28 Hammer (2001). “There is no real need to believe in any particular doctrines. Before examining this. trans.”28 In other words. we must first look at the third strategy of legitimization in contemporary occultism — personal experience. and transcendentalism. personal experience. (Boston: Red Wheel/Weiser.Embodied Occultism 6 Israel Regardie. 25 26 Israel Regardie (1989). 29 Ibid. Hammer continues in the next section that.).”29 The third strategy of legitimization then.27 As we will see later. Aleister Crowley (1997). “New Age science constitutes a kind of epistemological circle.25 Such methods aimed at altering the consciousness of the practitioner so as to bring him or her to an exalted state of awareness. Defining the nature of experience has been problematic since the modern era... LLC. esotericists may go to great lengths to make their writings appeal to science. this was characterized by an epistemological problem. the faculties available to human perception is necessarily limited by how the senses receive information from the phenomenal world and then must be constructed into “categories. c) Experience In his discussion regarding science as a method of legitimization. Olav Hammer concludes. . Imannuel Kant is worth mentioning simply because he illustrated the difficulty on apprehending any transcendent reality. For a recent English translation. empiricism. With regard to religious experience. and was approached through rationalism. 30 In modern philosophy. we can never truly perceive a transcendent reality beyond the phenomenal world of sensible things. 329-330. The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the Kin. Aleister Crowley would go further in attempting to implement the scientific method to legitimize occult practices. A specific view of the world is clothed in scientific terminology and expressed by means of carefully selected bits and pieces of science in what is essentially a scientistic bricolage.26 Psychological models such as these are still used today in contemporary occultism.30 In the 20th-century. For Kant. for instance presented various visualization techniques and relaxation exercises in his teachings of the Golden Dawn. 27 See for instance proponents of Chaos Magick in Peter J. nor is one obliged to trust their antiquity or their scientific basis. see Kant (2011). In this sense.

More recent scholarship that approaches perennialism within a psychological model is in Robert Forman (1998). This. See Rudolph Otto (1923) and Mircea Eliade (1958). but of the adept few. 32 The perennialist. these it is argued. and other alternative spiritualities to a fundamental aspect of Western culture: individualism. New Age. Partridge argues is characteristic of much contemporary religiosity. See Steven Katz (1992). phenomenology of religion has been criticized as being associated with perennialism. rather. What is most important for the reader to understand here is not necessarily what constitutes experience and how we can define it. work eligibility is often measured by the type of training and experience we have acquired 31 Beginning with Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) and later expounded by Martin Heidegger (1889-1976). Indeed.32 but to go into the complicated history of the scholarship concerning the nature of experience would be too exhaustive for this essay. and that “[a]lthough an individual may turn to channeling. 76. the “immediacy of personal experience is understood as epistemologically crucial. 77 . Christopher Partridge claims that. In the secular world. the emphasis on experience may be what characterizes alternative spirituality in Western culture the most. detraditionalized. 34 Partridge (2004). and Wayne Proudfoot. and Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961). HansGeorg Gadamer (1900-2002). are not to be understood as external authorities — rather. to a guru. Much like the perennial philosophy discussed earlier. the “aboutness” of an object as it appears may reveal some detail that would otherwise be taken for granted. or essentialist school of religious experience.”34 Any advice on behalf of a spiritual guide should only be followed if it resonates with one’s own inner self. In contrast to perrenialism.Embodied Occultism 7 which sought to lay out a systematic method of studying the nature of consciousness. 33 Hanegraaff (1998)..”35 This point may connect occultism. or to astrology. authority rests not on the experiences of adherents. why is experience so important in 20th-century esotercism? Wouter Hanegraaff has noted that movements which emphasize the significance of experience rely heavily on the channeled messages or revelations of a small group of experts. In this sense. 35 Ibid. individual experience remains a large part of contemporary religiosity.31 In the 20th-century. to a sacred text. they should be understood as aids to assist us on our experiential journey within. which will in turn inform the experience. 27.33 While this may be true for many movements. (1985). claims there to be a fundamental experience at which all religious tradition aims. the phenomenological method sought to suspend scientific biases concerning the nature of objects in the world in an attempt to describe how such objects in the world appear to consciousness. For a general introduction on the topic see Dermot Moran and Timothy Mooney (2000). while adherents to New Age movements may seek outside guidance. It is agreeable that individualism and self-sufficiency are values reflective of Western culture. The Phenomenology Reader (Amherst: Humanity Books). contextualist argue that religious experience must be first grounded in the cultural and environmental conditions. that is. perennial phenomenology of religion looks for core elements that transcends cultural contexts.

Spirituality in the Flesh: Bodily Sources of Religious Experience (New York: Oxford University Press). who seems to have used it to describe the existential immediacy of human experience. See introduction in Thomas Csoras (ed. This. with all the fast-paced daily demands and time constraints. Could it be that personal experience in one’s religious life is so important because it provides an avenue for self-discovery and autonomy in the spiritual domain? It would only make sense that the more individualized our secular lives become. 37 Embodied cognition and how it shapes the experience of self has gained much attention in contemporary philosophy. or what is generally referred to as the “self. This concept has been extended in recent anthropological studies concerning the bodily factors involved how a person is situated and oriented within their cultural ccontexts. 1-20. How the Body Shapes the Mind (New York: Oxford University Press). dietary awareness. our personal experiences are directly responsible for our ability to maintain individual. Macquarrie and E. J. Healing practices. but that experience at its root is first and foremost grounded in an embodied state of being-in-the-world. and it exists in the world as a socially. happy lives. the phrase directly references ontology. desire to live spiritual lives and have spiritual experiences in their sensible embodied state of being. 38 Some examples of how the body responds to religious experience can be found in Robert C. Individual Experience: Making the Ontological Distinction While the importance of personal experience in contemporary religiosity may be connected to individuality and autonomy. or for that matter disenchantment? Could the emphasis on experience imply another dimension to disenchantment? Perhaps there is an ontological significance the problem. self-sufficient.37 What does this have to do with esotericism. Recent research in philosophical phenomenology has shown how perception is constructed not only by cultural objects within the environment. Robinson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell). trans. what is understood as the “self” is first and foremost an embodied self. books on “sacred sexuality. Fuller (2008).”. III. I believe is an important characteristic of contemporary religiosity.38 36 This phrase was first introduced by Martin Heidegger.Embodied Occultism 8 according to the description of the prospective job. are all examples of this shift towards embodied spirituality. there is an even more fundamental element implied here regarding the “self. so too do our spiritual ideologies reflect these same cultural values. The human person. In other words. See (1962) Being and Time. Therefore. Embodiement and Experience: The Existential Ground of Culture and Self (New York: Cambridge University Press).36 The human body is responsible for shaping human experiences. Yoga studios. Personal experience gives precedence to the fact that people in Western culture. . See Shaun Gallagher (2005). and historically situated object.” is the collection of experiences over time that is always culturally situated in the body.” and the growing interest on the spiritual use of drugs. culturally.) (1994). This being so.

3:2 (2003). Indeed.Embodied Occultism 9 I would now like to illustrate the above argument with a discussion on the methods and teachings expounded by Aleister Crowley. 224-245. Magick: Liber ABA. his methodological approach to occultism illustrates just how significant his place is in the on-going struggle with modernity. For a discussion about this.41 More importantly to the study of western esotericism. 40 Crowley added the “k” to distinguish the ceremonial magick he taught from its common misunderstandings. later he was influenced by the Eastern techniques of traditional Yoga. the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. and links the 19th-century occultist current with the 20th-century. 41 This depiction of Crowley can be found by simply typing his name into youtube or any internet search engine. He was trained in ceremonial magic under the auspices of the well-known 19th -century occult organization. 39 . after which he would then place his efforts towards establishing his religious philosophy of Several biographies have been written about Crowley.42 The majority of his methodological development happened prior to 1912. This may be why. and it has been difficult to find ones that aren’t biased in one way or another.39 While his methodology works within a scientific framework. 47. Crowley’s approach to occultism is characteristic of a unique blend of systematic procedures in an attempt to legitimize his religious philosophy. “The Neverendingly Told Story: Recent Biographies of Aleister Corlwey. as his writings seem to be the embodiment (no pun intended) of the aforementioned characteristics of much contemporary religiosity. his aim seems to be that of achieving illumination through an embodied existence.” Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism. See Aleister Crowley (1997). this spelling has remained in use in occultist literature in the 20th. Crowley went to great lengths to reconcile two seemingly contentious paradigms of thought—science and religion.and 21st-centuries.and 21st-century religiosity. his philosophy on spirituality has been extremely influential on 20th. The Occultism of Aleister Crowley: Magick40 and Yoga Aleister Crowley is popularly known as a controversial figure in history because of his deviant behavior and libertine attitudes towards drugs and sexuality. He is. 42 This is explored in detail in Marco Pasi (2012). after all quite a well-known personality in history. What distinguishes Crowley from earlier occultists is the range of techniques that he employed with regard to magical practice. reference Marco Pasi. IV. The present study will use the following for references: Lawrence Sutin (2000) Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley (New York: St. Martin’s Press). especially occultism. as I mentioned previously. Coincidentally. Crowley serves as a good example. and Richard Kaczynski (2002) Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (Temple: New Falcon Publications).

are replete in his approach to “magick. This developmental period of Crowley’s life begins with his entrance into Trinity College in Cambridge in 1895. This organization would serve as the primary vehicle by which Crowley would promulgate his newly established religion of Thelema. He is also responsible for bringing awareness of Buddhism to the Western world. Crowley eventually assumed complete authority over this fringe Masonic fraternal order after Reuss’ death in 1923.46 It is also possible that Crowley met anthropologist James Frazer.45 It was in this environment that he was exposed to many intellectual circles.49 This period of his magical education would impact him greatly. the academic world made a great impact on his way of thinking. It was here that he met his magical teacher. but I would like to point out three significant instances which highlight the development of his methodology. discussed thoroughly in Asprem (2013). he studied literature and gained a classical education in philosophy. and influence his writings for the remainder of his life. 1887-1923 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul). whose work The Gold Bough made a significant impact on his interpretation of magic. Crowley was taught rituals that were instructed even into the Second Order grades. 46 This is a significant organization with regard to the problem of disenchantment. one of which was the Society for Psychical Research. 54-55. Crowley’s earliest developments in occultism were formed during his association with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn48 beginning in 1898.” Next. Under his tutelage. his development as a magician beginning from 1895 up to the year 1912.” research master’s thesis. 49 Kaczynski (2002). 131. 45 Pasi (2012). Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics (Bristol: Acumen Publishing Limited. Bennett was a highly respected and even feared member of the Golden Dawn due to his knowledge of ceremonial magic. 47 Pasi. (2012). both aspects that. Although he only spent three years there. 50 Ibid. as we will see.47 In short.43 The complexity of Crowley’s life cannot be examined in any depth here. 44 Kaczynski (2002). 53. 2014). Allan Bennett. 47-68.. University of Amsterdam. and never achieved a formal degree. 48 A general history of the organization can be found in Ellic Howe (1972) The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order. It was here that he was most likely exposed to a fertile intellectual environment of free-thinking and rationalism. Crowley’s connection to the SPR is discussed in Aprem (2008). 30. Crowley’s exposure to the scientific community and the intellectual environment in academia would instill a disposition towards rationalism and skepticism. 292-319. and science. Crow (2009) “The White Knight in the Yellow Robe: Allan Bennett’s Search for Truth. See Pasi.50 In return for Crowley’s hospitality in providing him living arrangements. 25-27. see John L.44 Here. and his understanding of ceremonial magic grew Marco Pasi notes that there are two distinct periods in Crowley’s magical career. 43 . For a biographical account of Bennett. and from 1912 on when he met with Theodore Reuss and was subsequently given authority in the Ordo Templi Orientis. mathematics.Embodied Occultism 10 Thelema. Bennett would instruct Crowley in the Golden Dawn’s system of ceremonial magic.

51 Later. pranayama (breathing). and a schism arose questioning Mathers’ leadership. and Crowley would continue advancing through the grades of the Golden Dawn. Crowley set out for travels in Mexico. (1909 and 1913). 85. Thoroughly upset by his experience with the political quagmire in the Golden Dawn. The Aim of Religion. particularly (1997). The Yoga-Sutra of Patañjali (Boston: Shambala Publications. The last instance of Crowley’s methodological development took place shortly after the schism.. whose motto was. 55 See Chip Hartranft (trans. 53 Ibid.Embodied Occultism 11 exponentially fast. 2nd ed. This is described as a state in which subject and object are unified. Crowley would also befriend the head of the order. The Soldier and the Hunchback. Sutin (2000). Oscar Eckenstein in January of 1901. 57 Asprem (2008). in his essay entitled.C. when he visited Paris. “The Method of Science. The two men would practice the techniques of Raja Yoga as outlined in the sutras of Patañjali. leading the practitioner finally into a profound state called samadhi. the A∴A∴.) (2003). 52 .” Crowley would term this methodlogy as “Scientific Illuminism. 54 Discussions on this topic are replete through A. 56 This publication signaled the proclamation of the existence of Crowley’s magical teaching order.). This dispute ended in Mathers’ expulsion in 1900. Inc.57 For instance.53 It was Eckenstein that taught Crowley techniques of visualization and mental concentration. dhyana (meditation). 70.’s works. 15-44 and Aleister Crowley (1991) Eight Lectures on Yoga. he emphasizes the importance of adopting a skeptical attitude while addressing the limitations to 51 Kaczynski (2002).52 It was also during this time that tensions grew within the order. and subsequently the Golden Dawn ceased to exist in its original form. The “Scientific Illuminism” that Crowley advocated in The Equinox was an attempt to make occultism a scientific endeavor. Magick: Liber ABA. and manta (vocal repetition). where he would meet his mountaineering mentor. This would be later understood by Crowley as Raja Yoga. published in 1909.54 Crowley would continue with these exercises upon his arrival in Ceylon in August of 1901. and all dualistic perception is annihilated.” See Aleister Crowley. 52-53.55 Such practices included mastery of the body in asana (posture). The two would form a close friendship. a) Scientific Illuminism: The Epistemological Legitimization These practices were systematized and outlined in The Equinox. (Scottsdale: New Falcon Publications). Samuel MacGregor Mathers.56 It is here that we can begin analyzing Crowley’s unique approach to occultism. meeting his friend Allan Bennett. this would continue in exercises to master the mind in dharana (concentration).

Yoga. Asprem claims that.” or the “Book of Exercises.” and that “immediate experiences can be misleading. mental and emotional states. John. The one balances the other. “Liber CLXV: A Master of the Temple. Ibid. his purpose in asking the question but the expression of his slackness and stupidity.” 113. After all. in “Liber E.Embodied Occultism 12 extreme rationalism. This is not a normal diary. For Crowley. and that a scientific epistemology must go beyond such personal experiences. The exercises suggested range from practices in clairvoyance. The mind should ultimately arrive at the conclusion that any idea in relation to its opposite creates a logical fallacy. ‘What does it matter?’ I picture the false sceptic [sic] as a dude or popinjay. a detailed explanation is given on how the magical diary is to be written. his muscles limp.. I care nothing for the vulgar brawling of these two varlets of my mind!”59 Skepticism then.” “the precise procedure of the operation or experiment must be recorded so that it may be replicated and tested by others.”62 Asprem’s argument is noteworthy with regard to Crowley’s attempt at making his system scientific. and physical conditions are to be recorded as experiments.”58 Crowley’s point in this essay is to show the constructiveness of skepticism in leading the inquirer to self-discovery. 124. Liber O vel Crowley (1909).”60 Here. “I picture the true sceptic [sic] as a man eager and alert. Also in Crowley (1997). Egil Asprem argues that “Liber Exercitiorum” is intended to expel any vagueness in what he considers to be the case in the general appeal to personal experience.61 The duration of practice. rather its style should be written in a manner of rigidly and concisely documented scientific experimentation. time of day. arriving at the non-dualistic state of samadhi: “So that after all I keep my scepticism [sic] intact—and I keep my Samadhi intact. yawning. however a pitfall to circular logic in extreme cases. and testing one’s physical limitations.” The Equinox III:1 (Detroit: universal Publishing Company). his hands tense with effort as he asks. 60 In The Equinox I:1(1909).” The Equinox I:1 (special supplement) and in Aleister Crowley (1919). “The Soldier and the Hunchback. 62 Asprem (2008). 25-36. thus the realization that logical thinking is inevitably circular should push the mind through a mystical threshold. weather conditions. 129-170. There is. 604-612. 58 59 . Another example of Crowley’s scientific approach can be illustrated in “Liber E Exercitiorum. Crowley writes. his instructional document entitled. with dull eyes. 61 Examples of a well-written diary according to Crowley is in “John St. his deep eyes glittering like sharp swords. skepticism is only a logical means to a mystical end. must be balanced with an inspired sense of enthusiasm towards magical practice. 152.

but a new cosmology. Ibid. 65 See for instance Pasi (2013).67 This text was considered by Crowley to establish.”68 Crowley came to regard the tenets of The Book of the Law to be of paramount importance. 24. certain results will follow. we may look at the aforementioned practices outlined in The Equinox as one stage of thought in his intellectual and spiritual development. ‘Every man and every woman is a star. 604. This being said.. “[b]y doing certain things. “not merely a new religion.. it is appropriate to briefly discuss the metaphysical framework of his religion of Thelema. and not to rely upon any other person or persons. John Symonds and Kenneth Grant (eds.” Passage 6 in part I of “Liber E” states.65 Indeed. 66 Ibid. Crowley wrote in an introduction.66 The foundation to his religion of Thelema comes from the inspired text known as The Book of the Law written in 1904. refer to Kaczynski (2002).”64 This seems to imply that the scientific approach that Crowley advocates in occult practice is a means to an experiential end. “He must rely entirely upon himself. 25. experience is a principle element in Crowley’s philosophy. a new ethics. an aggregate of such experiences.’ that is. 613. and credit nothing whatever but that which lies within his own knowledge and experience.”63 However.Embodied Occultism 13 Manus et Saggitæ stated. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography. Asprem’s assumption may be brought into question in the following passages of “Liber E. Crowley’s ideas went through continuous evolution throughout his life. 67 For details on these events. 98-105. In order to put Crowley’s methodological approach towards occultism into perspective. Marco Pasi illustrates that after 1912. 68 Aleister Crowley (1989). Crowley would spend the remainder of his life answering to his calling as a prophet of a new religion. 612. In a later publication of The Book of the Law. As we will see in the next section. “The experimenter is encouraged to use his own intelligence. 398.” Furthermore in passage 7 of part VII. . b) Ontological Significance: Thelema and the Embodied Experience of Illumination Recent scholarship on Crowley has noted the difficulty in nailing down his thought into a completely coherent whole. however distinguished. constantly changing with each 63 64 See Appendix (1997). a new philosophy. as an aspiring student.) (London: Arkana). even among ourselves. “Every event is a uniting of some one monad with one of the experiences possible to it.

54. The Scientific Solution to the Problem of Government written in 1937.” The amount of references that are given to “experience” in his commentaries to The Book of the Law are too numerous to discuss here. How is Crowley’s occultism embodied? This question may be answered in looking at some of the techniques Crowley was known to have employed. or “True Will. broaden the perspective of our star.” The beginning exercises in Yoga require the student to master asana (posture). L. Crowley writes. and that therefore it enters into combinations in which its true Nature is for awhile disguised. so far from concentrating attention on the body.). absolute. can add to its omnipotence. In a commentary on this verse. even from itself. This is described in Eight Lectures on Yoga. (Temple: New Falcon). which are outlined in the previously explored text. Since he quotes in it from his essay. Wilkinson and Hymenaeus Beta (eds. this is most likely from the privately published edition in London by the O. but violent exercise. That is to say: you are going to become conscious of your body in ways of which you are not conscious if you are engaged in some absorbing mental pursuit. …each “star” is the Centre of the Universe to itself. that experience remains as a core element to the philosophy of Thelema. building awareness of subtle movements of the physical body.) (Scottsdale: New Falcon Publications).Embodied Occultism 14 fresh event. Now it is necessary. As we will see. The Law is for All:The Authorized Popular Commentary on Liber Al vel Legis sub figura CCXX: The Book of the Law. Eight Lecture on Yoga (rev.71 69 From the Introduction to The Book of the Law written later by Crowley.T. bodily experience.”69 The reference to likening the human being to a star comes directly from The Book of the Law. in order to hold a position. and that a “star” simple.. new comment on AL I:3. 1938. . to pay attention to it. original. one must sit motionless for extended periods of time. or even in some purely physical activity. ed. that its one way to do this is to gain experience. experience in this regard is that of lived. Suffice it to say. the aim of this worldly existence we call life is to gain experience.O. 70 Aleister Crowley (2002). Let us first consider the aforementioned practices of Yoga. which affects him or her either consciously or subconsciously. such as running. and discover our true purpose. omniscience and omnipresence without ceasing to be itself. It sounds paradoxical at first sight. takes it away. so too does an individual have their own true and unique purpose. “Liber E. 71 Aleister Crowley (1991).70 Thelema asserts the individual as the fundamental unit of society. Just as a star has a its own course throughout the universe. In this practice. According to Crowley.

The practices in Yoga mentioned above are inhibitory techniques aimed at bringing about exalted states of consciousness. vol. I. the practice of pranayama (breath) is recommended next. 109-139. he describes how music. the body is said to suddenly perspire heavily. Its history and how it has directly influenced the Western understanding of Tantra has been discussed in Hugh Urban (2011). such as the use of sex and drugs.. the wine affords a general stimulus of its animal nature. 9 (London: Various Publishers). Energized Enthusiasm.77 Crowley assumed authority of the Ordo Templi Orientis after the Ibid.” in Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism (New York: Fordham University Press). 73 72 . “The Yoga of Sex: Tantra. and become intensely rigid. It is no secret that Crowley also employed excitatory methods as well.Embodied Occultism 15 Upon mastering this. began as a fringe Masonic organization that used much of the sexual elements of Indian Tantra to expound a form of sexual magic.T. Before drawing conclusions.72 The practices of asana and pranayama clearly demonstrate an embodied element to Crowley’s methodology. The Equinox. or as he calls it enthusiasm: By the use of the three methods in one the whole being of man may thus be stimulated. 74 In Crowley (1913). derives directly from the propagation of spiritual sexuality in the Ordo Templi Orientis. and there is scholarship to support this. Like asana. 17-46. For example. Indeed. sex.76 however it may be of interest to know that connections have been made between Crowley and the general understanding of sexual spirituality in Western culture. and the body can be found in Fuller (2008). and alcohol are used as a means to generate divine genius. Magic and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism (Berkeley: University of California Press).O. sex. and the sexexcitement elevates the moral nature of the man by its close analogy with the highest ecstasy. no. always for him to make the final transmutation. 99-130. 75 See Hugh Urban (2006) Magia Sexualis: Sex. the student eventually becomes more aware of their body through the control of breath. The music will create a general harmony of the brain.74 The application of sexual magic was of particular importance to Crowley. however. It remains.75 The link to sex and embodied spirituality should be obvious to the reader.73 In his essay entitled. Orientalism. the popular literature that emphasizes the sexual elements of Indian Tantra and floods the New Age section of one’s local bookstore. and Sex Magic in the Ordo Templi Orientis. 77 O. it is worth mentioning one final aspect regarding Crowley’s embodied occultism. 401-443. 59. Crowley notes that intense practice in this produces very noticeable physiological results. leading it in its own paths. 76 The connection to religion. See Kaczynski (2002) and Sutin (2000).

78 This organization would serve as the primary vehicle for promulgating his religion of Thelema. Despite this. numbering over 3. and the Paranormal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). The modernist occult.000 members.” in Hidden Intercourse: Eros and Sexuality in the History of Western Esotericism (New York: Fordham University Press). Alternative religiosities are characterized by people wanting to experience religion directly. and what has been thoroughly argued by Egil Asprem. Superhero Comics. Crowley has served as a good example for reasons which should now be clear to the reader. Conclusion and Suggestions for Further Discussion Throughout this study.” As Olav Hammer has pointed out. Again. we have explored topics that provide some insight into the nature of disenchantment and its connection with contemporary religiosity. 78 The history of sexual magic in the O.T.”80 There is yet another question that remains and is intended for a broader audience. and Sex Magic in the Ordo Templi Orientis. individually. “the guy just never goes away. 461. 79 Kaczynski (2002). a more fundamental aspect to occultism which continues today even into 21st-century spirituality is that of personal experience. This is particularly the case in Aleister Crowley’s “Scientific Illuminism. Since the century of Enlightenment. 401-443. religion in society has persisted. and (b) it aimed at achieving an embodied experience of spirituality that is fundamentally individualistic and therefore reflective of the Western experience? This of course would require further research. Orientalism. is discussed in Hugh Urban (2011). for example is characterized by attempts to reconcile religious and scientific thought. albeit has changed in form. and its membership continues to grow today. As I have discussed in this essay. scientific rationalism has undoubtedly changed the way in which we view the world. but it may explain in more depth why. and in ways which they are informed through their embodied state of being. Could it be that Crowley’s influence on Western esotericism and alternative spirituality in the 20th-century is so significant because (a) his scientific methodology holds a general appeal to the disenchanted Western mind. This feature illustrates an ontological significance to contemporary esotericism.O.Embodied Occultism 16 death of Theodore Reuss in 1923. as religious studies scholar Jeffery Kripal has noted.79 V. Mutants & Mystics: Science Fiction. This brings me to the first question I would like to raise. which concerns Crowley specifically. 17. this may be understood as a legitimizing strategy in effort to gain epistemological ground in a disenchanted world. “The Yoga of Sex: Tantra. Yet. 80 Jeffery Kripal (2011). .

.Embodied Occultism 17 disenchantment has presented an epistemological problem in esoteric discourse. have made attempts to legitimize their claims in a number of ways. is disenchantment. could this bring into question the very nature of disenchantment as it exist today? In other words. Various esoteric spokespersons. be it through tradition. science. or placing priority on experience. Crowley only being one of many. If contemporary religiosity is characterized by the precedence of embodied religious experience as I have argued here. or for that matter re-enchantment an attitude or disposition toward one’s being-in-the-world? Answering this will require more research on religion in society and how it is affected through embodied experience. This may provide some understanding into the way religion operates and functions in contemporary society.

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