The Great Beast and the Great War: Aleister Crowley in WW1
I am fascinated by some of the famous magicians from history. I’d written before about Dr.John Dee, I also wanted to talk a little about Aleister Crowley and his role in World War One (a topic of interest currently because of my work on The Wasted Land) If you are new to Crowley, he was a self-styled magician and called himself ‘the beast’ and was famous for being tagged as ‘the wickedest man’ alive and also coined the phrase ‘Do what thou wilt shall be whole of the law‘.
Crowley spent the period of the war in America and thought that his magic scrying work had predicted the war. At first he had offered his services to British intelligence as a secret agent and when they refused his help, he turned to the German side instead. He did propaganda work for the Germans from the US, but claimed it was a double-bluff, doing work so patently bad for the German cause, it actually hindered them. A sort of early version of Poe’s Law. Here is how Crowley decribed his first major propaganda stunt where read a speech in support of Irish independence from the British empire and to destoy his passport:
balderdash I wrote for The Fatherland must be the stark treason that the Germans were stupid enough to think it was.
A person in my position is liable to see Sherlock Homes in the most beefwitted policeman. I did not feel that I was advancing in the confidence of the Germans. I got no secrets worth reporting to London, and I was not at all sure whether the cut of my clothes had not outweighed the eloquence of my conversation. I thought I would do something more public. I wrote a long parody on the Declaration of Independence and applied it to Ireland.
I invited a young lady violinist who has some Irish blood in her, behind the more evident stigmata of the ornithorhyncus and the wombat. Adding to our number about four other debauched persons on the verge of delirium tremens, we went out in a motor boat before dawn on the third of July to the rejected statue of Commerce for the Suez Canal, which Americans fondly suppose to be Liberty Enlightening The World.
There I read my Declaration of Independence. I threw an old envelope into the bay, pretending that it was my British passport. We hoisted the Irish flag. The violinist played the “Wearing of the Green”. The crews of the interned German ships cheered us all the way up the Hudson, probably because they estimated the degree of our intoxication with scientific precision. Finally, we went to Jack’s for breakfast, and home to sleep it off. The New York Times gave us three columns and Viereck was distinctly friendly.
Over in England there was consternation. I cannot think what had happened to their sense of humour. To pretend to take it seriously was natural enough in New York, where everybody is afraid of the Irish, not knowing what they may do next. But London was having bombs dropped on it. …