Here is a book that will appeal equally to lovers of occult fiction and serious students of the supernatural.
Aleister Crowley, who was born in 1875, has become a legend as ‘The Evilest Man of his Generation’. And he certainly enjoyed being thought so, although in this tale of the creation of a type of homunculus his principle character appears to be on the side of ‘good’ rather than ‘evil’.
The book needs no introduction from me because it already contains a long and excellent one by Kenneth Grant about Crowley, and many footnotes concerning his friends and the names of the real people from whom the characters in the book were drawn. It is these particulars that will interest readers who make a study of the occult.
I will therefore confine myself to what I knew of Crowley personally. Before writing my first book with a black magic background – The Devil Rides Out – I decided to learn all I could from the best-known occultists in London at that time, 1935. Among several introductions I secured was one to Crowley from a friend of mine who later became an M.P. and one of the most distinguished leaders of the Labour Party. Crowley then came several times to dinner with my wife and I.
I found him charming to talk to and a most gifted intellectual. He gave me much useful information and, later, an inscribed copy of his famous book Magick in Theory and Practice, on the title page of which he had pasted a small photograph of himself surrounded by the figures 666 – the number of the Beast.
He made no attempt whatever to draw me into any occult circle and, I may add, I have always refused invitations to participate in any magical ceremony, because I regard it as definitely dangerous to become involved in such practices.
In due course I met again the friend who had given me the introduction and he asked me what I thought of Crowley.
I replied, ‘I found him fascinating to talk to, but I don’t believe that he could harm a rabbit.’
‘Ah,’ said my friend, ‘not now, perhaps. But he had real power before that terrible affair in Paris.’
‘What was that?’ I asked; and this is what my friend told me:
‘After Crowley left the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily he settled in Paris and formed a coven there. I was one of his disciples and another of them owned a small hotel on the Left Bank. Crowley was very anxious to attempt to raise Pan. So the chap who owned the hotel got rid of his few lodgers and gave the whole of his staff the weekend off. Then, in the evening, the thirteen of us assembled there.
‘The place had a big attic. We removed everything from it and swept it so that it was completely empty and clean. Crowley and his principal disciple, known as MacAleister (son of Aleister), put on their ritual vestments and went up to it. The Master then ordered us to go downstairs and said that, whatever noises or cries we might hear, none of us were to come up there. Under no circumstances were any of us to enter the room until morning.
‘Downstairs a cold buffet had been set out with plenty of liquor. The eleven of us spent the night there. It was pretty grim. Very grim indeed when in the small hours we heard thumping and screams coming for a few minutes from the attic. But none of us dared to disobey the Master and go up. We just sat around feeling very cold and miserable. Not getting drunk but becoming stale tight through the long hours of frightening silence until the morning.
‘Soon after dawn we went upstairs. To our knocks on the attic door there was no reply. It was locked so we broke it in. MacAleister was dead from a heart attack, Crowley was a naked, gibbering idiot crouched in one corner. He was taken to a French lunatic asylum and it was four months before they thought him sufficiently sane again to be let out.’
On the back endpaper of the book he gave me Crowley had written the magical formula for raising Pan. The book is an interesting collector’s piece but I’ve never made use of the formula. It is an old saying that ‘curiosity killed the cat’ but I feel there are less unpleasant ways to die or to lose one’s sanity.