Since 2012 I’ve been immersed in studies of Jewish mysticism and ceremonial magick. I absolutely love it. It’s a fascinating, endless stream of information and mastery. Maybe it’s because I’m a Scorpio and I just gravitate towards mysteries in general; it’s certainly a natural progression from being a white witch for 30 years… plus I love Led Zeppelin.
Anyway, because of my interests, many of my friends ask me lately – “who was Aleister Crowley?”
That’s a question that brings a multifaceted answer. There’s a lot of rumors and wild information out there that come from anxious minds with unsubstantiated stories. What I’ve personally found is that studying Magick isn’t evil, and neither was this guy (although William Butler Yeats did think he was nuts).
For the curious that want a straightforward, mostly neutral description of him, this article published yesterday is informative, and I want to share it:
“On this day in 1904: the ‘wickedest man in Britain’ completes his manuscript for a new religion”
“Edward Alexander Crowley was born on 12 October 1875 to a well-off family of Plymouth Brethren in Leamington Spa. He was a willful child, and his mother nicknamed him Therion, the Great Beast 666, from the Book of Revelation.
After school, Crowley went to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read natural sciences. He devoted little time on his studies, and excelled instead at chess and mountaineering. At 22, he decided all was worthless except magic and the occult. He changed his name to the Celtic-sounding Aleister, and spent his spare time writing poetry.
He left Cambridge with no degree and moved to London, where he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. There he met and fell out with the poet W B Yeats, who memorably described Crowley as “an unspeakably mad person”.
Armed with rituals from the Golden Dawn, Crowley moved to Boleskine House on Loch Ness, where he tried to work a summoning ritual for his guardian angel. His work was interrupted, and after a stint mountaineering and meditating in Mexico, he came to believe he was the reincarnation of the Elizabethan alchemist Edward Kelley, who had acted as a medium in the “spiritual conversations” of the polymath Dr John Dee.
In 1903, Crowley married Rose Edith Skerrett, and while on holiday with her in Cairo, started receiving dictation from a spirit named Aiwass. He wrote for an hour a day on 8, 9, and 10 April 1904, completing the manuscript’s three chapters in as many days.
The result was The Book of the Law, or Liber AL vel Legis, and it announced the end of the Christian era, and the start of the Æon of Horus. It is the central text in the practice of Thelema, whose guiding tenet is, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. Although Crowley was the first to formulate Thelema into a set of beliefs, the idea originated in Rabelais’ 1534 book, Gargantua, in which the eponymous monster built the anti-church Abbey of Thélème.
Over the coming decades, Crowley developed his experience of magic, the occult, drugs, and sexual liberation, earning a reputation as “the wickedest man in Britain”. He wrote poetry, articles, and books prolifically, but spent all his inheritance and earnings on his experimental lifestyle. He died, penniless, in Hastings on 1 December 1947.
Aside from his considerable literary output, Crowley’s most enduring legacies are the principles and rituals of Thelema – which are practised by various occult groups – and the mystical Crowley-Harris tarot deck, which he designed, and had painted by his friend and disciple Lady Frieda Harris, wife of the Liberal MP for Bethnal Green.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about witches. Not just because top ten lists of hot tv witches and sexy Halloween selfies currently swamp my social media feeds, but because my tables and shelves are currently so laden with herbs, plants, berries, phials and bottles that if an inquisitor of old were to enter, I’d find myself quickly tied to the stake. And while this worry seems remote, it’s a plain fact that women in third world countries are still hunted down, tortured and set aflame for the crime of witchcraft.
Sure, the witch is emerging from the world of taboo and shadows onto the world stage. Sure, she’s being touted as a feminist icon – a “powerful feminine model free from male influence or ownership”. But I’m not so sure. Because how can it be that the witch, once associated with everything transgressive and beyond the realm of normative society, is now so trendy and positively mainstream? Is it really a feminist step forward that W magazine declared Fall 2016, the season of the witch, replete with pouting models in gothic dresses, chains and black lace underwear?
And while many believe the witch of the middle ages was a spectre created by the church, I believe she was real. Yes, many put to death were just ordinary women who practiced folk magic, herbalism and midwifery, but many were powerful spiritual leaders of the indigenous, animist faith traditions of the old world – and their magic was earned through a lifetime of spiritual discipline spent in communion with nature.
And I worry her make-over into nubile fashion siren not only obscures this history, but her true relevance as a role model to us today. One that if resurrected, would be just as subversive and dangerous to the powers that be.
Today the witches tall black hat and burbling cauldron have become icons of Halloween kitsch, but they were once hallowed items of the holy women and priestesses, the healers and herbalists, the oracles and diviners of old Europe. Their conical hats and cauldrons date back to the 2nd Millennium BCE and were connected to the female shamans of the Indo-European peoples.
Tarim Mummies, 1800 BCE
Scythian Princess and her cauldron, 4th to 5th century BCE
Their cauldrons (as well as crystal balls and magical wands) were still being used thousands of years later by the “witte wieven” or wise women, the sibyls, seers, and female druids of Celtic, Anglo Saxon, and Norse traditions of the middle ages.
According to Max Dashu, author Witches and Pagans: Women in European Folk Religion, these “dream-readers, sooth-sayers, and herb-chanters, fire-gazers in Switzerland, or water-gazers in France and Spain”, practiced “all the elements of shamanism: chants, prophecy, healing, weather-making powers, and shapeshifting”. Legends tell of their sacred cauldrons in which “they simmered mysterious herbs to produce a drink of immortality and resurrection.”
These women were the guardians of the earth, the protectors of the sacred groves, lakes and springs, from which they derived their magical power. And until the middle ages they were highly respected, sought out and consulted for healing and divination by common folk, nobility and clergy alike.
But according to Barbara G. Walker , it was during the 14th century that the Catholic Church, during its relentless expansion and appropriation of sacred land, began to distinguish between witchcraft, perpetrated by women, and sorcery, a legitimate pursuit of men.
While books on sorcery were condoned well into the enlightenment, female witches in contrast were said to “magically injure crops, domestic animals, and people, and in general “outrage the Divine Majesty”. And thus their religious practices (as described by Dashu) of “sitting-out” on the land “gazing, listening, gathering wisdom” were extinguished by a priesthood that sought to bring nature, magic, women (not to mention their land and property) under male control.
These women did not go easily, or take usurpation of their holy sites and old ways lightly – it took the Church hundreds of years to hunt them down. And so it seems likely, at least to me, that the stereotype of vengeful witch, casting curses and blighting crop, was real, at least for the church. She must have been the original eco-feminist, fighting the patriarchy with one of most powerful tools at her disposal, magic. And the Church took it pretty seriously indeed.”
Read More here: https://gathervictoria.com/2016/10/23/reclaiming-the-radical-legacy-of-the-witch/
Many people come to Tarot readings in hopes of “fixing” their lives—obtaining information and guidance that will help them make the “right” decisions and no mistakes—guaranteeing perfection.
I subscribe to the BrainPickings blog featuring contemplative posts on creativity, literature and non-fiction. This week’s post has some applicable thoughts by George Saunders and Parker Palmer that show the narrowness of perfection.
George Saunders: “Although we’re animated by conflicting impulses and irrepressible moral imperfection, we can still live rich and beautiful lives.”
Parker Palmer, “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”
I ask you, as a Tarot reader, how can we help the querent “embrace brokenness”?
On the other hand, I sometimes hear from clients that a reading primarily showed them something they knew already. I ask them if they knew that what was shown was the most important thing to take into account in their situation—the…
It’s a VERY witchy night tonight. April 30th is a huge traditional celebration in many cultures throughout the world. It occurs six months from Halloween, and has the same flavor – but with a view of celebrating Spring.
Halloween is when the veil between our world and the spirit world is at it’s thinnest and it’s easy to see the returning spirits of the Mighty Dead. On Walpurgis Night the world’s are farthest apart.
Most cultures mark these ancient farming celebrations with fire, sex and odes to nature. Spring is about fertility – for ourselves, our animals and our fields. I view Walpurgis Night and Halloween as times to mark the ecstatic energy of life. That we are all here on this planet as part of it, and in tune with it. Celebrate. Face your fears and jump a fire.
The wildest, witchiest celebrations are in Germany (from what I’ve been told) and I would LOVE to see it someday. If you have any further information or images please share them in the comments below! Happy May Eve!
“Here’s what Century Guild has to say about Mucha:
By December 20, 1899, Alphonse Mucha had experienced four years as the most recognizable proponent of Art Nouveau graphics and the most celebrated illustrator in Paris. The massive output of the artist in his first four years in the advertising and decorative world earned much for Mucha’s publisher but very little for the artist himself.
As the end of the century grew near, Alphonse Mucha insisted upon the release of a deeply personal work, and printed 510 copies of what he for the remainder of his life considered his works-on-paper masterpiece, Le Pater.
Decidedly non-denominational, Mucha’s exploration features a female deity protecting humankind and a number of sophisticated occult themes across a series of images of mystical illustrations.
Unlike the advertising art that had dominated Mucha’s output since his “discovery” by Sarah Bernhardt in late 1894, Mucha described this series of images to a New York reporter as “the thing I have put my soul into.” (The Sun newspaper, 5 January, 1900)
Mucha’s previous artworks were lithographed on numerous mediums ranging from paper to silk, in multiple formats; Mucha’s publisher Champenois saw that Mucha was the most printed artist in Paris in the late 1890s. Mucha’s concern, understandably, was likely that the imagery of his spiritual work would be capitalized upon. By 1899, he had earned the right to demand that the Le Pater images would be produced in an edition of only 510 copies, and subsequently saw the plates destroyed- ensuring the work would never be reprinted for mass-market purposes.
The images from Le Pater are mentioned in numerous Mucha books as his masterpieces and are universally acknowledged alongside his massive Slav Epic paintings as his finest work. However, as a result of Mucha’s forced limitation of the publication of this masterwork, the rarity of the lithographs means that most books are limited to mentioning the images in the text and leaving the reader to wonder what these “lost masterpieces” might look like.
The original promotional materials for the Le Pater series name these artworks as of “rare interest and considerable importance”. Over 115 years later, the description continues to ring true.
If you’d like to see all these artworks in one book, captured in high resolution from the originals, please support our project and pre-order the book!
I don’t know how deeply David Bowie was in to Magick, but it’s clear in the 70’s he was immersed in it. I’ve read he was having drug and alcohol issues at the time, but I find this period of his life in Los Angeles very interesting nonetheless.
Like many people, Bowie had an enormous impact on my life and he’s one of my favorite artists. I was born in 1964 and I grew up listening to him. He has always been there in my life. I can’t remember any point in my life where I wasn’t listening to his music.
As a teenager I studied movement and I wanted to be a ballerina. When “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” came out in the early 80’s I was there at the Lumiere theater off Polk Street, watching the movie 50 times over. In my late 20’s I studied theater, movement, and world religions in San Francisco. Inspired by Bowie’s example, I became a guitarist and singer for my own rock persona – Bettie Black. I wrote and released my own music – always inspired by him. I find his exploration of magick personal and meaningful. I also study gnosticism and the Tree of Life from Jewish mystical traditions.
I’ve read many observations from various people, and I’ve come across some interesting insights! I thought I’d put them all here to share with interested folks.
“My overriding interest was in Kabbalah and Crowleyism. That whole dark and rather fearsome never-world of the wrong side of the brain.”
From “Bowie on Bowie” by Sean Egan
from Secret Sun Blog: “Apparently David Bowie, despite being heavily interested in the Occult and even referencing Crowley lyrically in the 1971 song Quicksand, was actually of the mind that AC was a fraud (from a 1997 interview in NME):
Q: “So were you involved in actual devil worship?”
A: “Not devil worship, no, it was pure, straightforward, old-fashioned magic.”
Q: “The Aleister Crowley variety?”
A: “No, I always thought Crowley was a charlatan. But there was a guy called [Arthur] Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called ‘Psychic Self-Defense‘. You had to run around the room getting bits of string and old crayons and draw funny things on the wall, and I took it all most seriously, ha ha ha ! I drew gateways into different dimensions, and I’m quite sure that, for myself, I really walked into other worlds. I drew things on walls and just walked through them, and saw what was on the other side!”
I really don’t know much about Waite, but in a bit of research (Wikipedia, so you know, take that as you may) came upon the info that Crowley apparently hated Waite and mocked him publically in his writing. Checked, and in Bowie’s list of favorite books, there are none by Crowley. The only Occult book listed is Transcendental Magic: Its Doctrine and Ritual by Elphias Levi.”
How a 1974 image reappeared in Bowie’s final music video.
Imagine getting the opportunity to hold a private photo session with David Bowie at the height of his stardom. We’re talking post “Ziggy Stardust” and “Aladdin Sane,” with “Pin Ups” and “Diamond Dogs” still on the horizon. Imagine you had an entire evening to play dress up with the iconic shapeshifter and capture the manifold personas he embodied so swiftly yet completely.
And suppose, over 40 years later, after the iconic artist’s death, you return to those photos you took so long ago and notice what seems to be a message. A message that reappears throughout his later works, culminating with the “Lazarus” video off his final album “Blackstar,” that perhaps illuminates the artist’s feelings about death and immortality.
This is what happened to photographer Steve Schapiro, who spent one fateful night in 1974 photographing Bowie in his Los Angeles studio. “From the moment Bowie arrived, we seemed to hit it off. Incredibly intelligent, calm, and filled with ideas,” Schapiro recalled in a statement. “He talked a lot about Aleister Crowley, whose esoteric writings he was heavily into at the time. When David heard that I had photographed Buster Keaton, one of his greatest heroes, we instantly became friends.”
The two collaborated on many striking images, each transforming Bowie into a distinct character, as unique and otherworldly as a mythical creature. Yet a particular ensemble, the one pictured above and featured on Bowie’s 1976 album “Station to Station,” holds special significance.
In the image, Bowie dons a navy blue striped body suit and, crouched on the floor, doodles diagrams of Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, a series of 10 spiritual emanations. Lyrics from the title track “Station to Station” echo the language of Kabbalist symbols and beliefs. “Here are we, one magical movement from Keter to Malkuth,” Bowie sings, with Keter (the Crown) and Malkuth (the Kingdom) being the first and last virtues on the Tree of Life.
In his last music video, “Lazarus,” from album “Blackstar” — regarded by many as a cryptic goodbye letter to his fans — Bowie whips out the exact jumpsuit worn in the 1974 image, visible around the two-minute mark. Just as Bowie doodled obsessively in the ‘70s photo shoot, in 2016 Bowie scribbles feverishly in a notebook, heightening in intensity until finally he appears to come to a conclusion, finishing his notes and talking away. (In Bowie style: backward.)
As Albin Wantier interprets in his introduction to Schapiro’s photography book: “He appears to have found the meaning he has been searching for. The connection between both images, 40 years apart, is stunning … He has resolved his enigma, and the curtain can fall at last.”
A close-up of the writing in Bowie’s notebook reveals a trail of symbols. Wantier analyzed these symbols in conjunction with some appearing on a vinyl edition of “Blackstar,” all of which resembled the doodles from the 1974 shoot. The “Blackstar” images, Wantier determined after checking with a friend, were part of a chemical formula depicting the various stages of the nuclear fusion, which leads to the formation of a sun. Or perhaps, a blackstar.
“In the ‘Lazarus’ video, Bowie resolves the enigma of life, which he had been endeavoring to do since 1976,” Wantier summarizes. “His life, which was indistinguishable from his work, led him to enact various characters of his own devising; his life was in itself a work of art. Now that he has finished, Bowie can close the book. However, the last chapter does not end with the artist’s passing — that would be too simple.”
While Bowie’s physical body is no longer with us, his creative energy has catalyzed to create a cosmic eruption, felt around the world, that can never be undone. “David Bowie is not the kind to just disappear just like that from our world,” Wantier writes. “The chemical symbols that accompany the ‘Blackstar’ release point where he’s going: an artistic nuclear fusion of two elements that creates enough energy to make a sun.”
While many acknowledged the poetry in Bowie’s final album, his requiem, and its tremendous impact as his final work of art on this earth, few pieced together the fact that the roots of “Blackstar” trace back to 1974, when a photographer and the world’s biggest rock star became fast friends and spent a single evening creating, contorting and doodling away. As Bowie’s producer Tony Visconti put it: “His death was not different from his life — a work of Art.”
See the image that started it all, as well as the many other never before published images captured that night, in Bowie. A preview of the book is featured below, with all photographs by Steve Schapiro and published by powerHouse Books.
David out of character. One of my favorite photos of David. I particularly like his hands in this shot. Los Angeles 1975. Photographs by Steve Schapiro, from Bowie, published by powerHouse Books
David with cigarette on a break from filming MFE in New Mexico 1975. This became a Rolling Stone cover and a popular image.
David relaxed at his house in Los Angeles, 1975. I particularly liked his hands in this photo.
David with goggles and bike. Los Angeles, 1974
Bowie holding a Buster Keaton book near his face, in his dressing room trailer on âThe Man Who Fell to Earth: set, New Mexico 1975. Buster Keaton was one of David Bowie’s heroes.
David took me by surprise when he came out in the red and white striped outfit during the 1974 photo shoot. It was different from what we expected he would be wearing, Los Angeles 1974.
David with Cher on TV show, Los Angeles, 1975.
In the makeup trailer for “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” Bowie puts in his cat eyes for a scene, New Mexico 1975.