An Open Epistle
on the Birth of the A.'.A.'.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. - AL I:40
"... there are many that swim, and find no boats.
Be it thy task to aid them."
"Happy is the movement
that has no history!"
Aleister Crowley on the A.'.A.'.
The Equinox Vol.I No.3 pg.1
I have some trepidation writing about the A.'.A.'. because I know I’m going to offend someone, somewhere, who believes that they know the whole Truth about our noble Order. I do not know why so many individuals, especially outsiders, blindly believe whatever they’ve read as if it were the gospel. As for myself, I strongly believe in my oaths which state that mystery is the enemy of Truth and I am torn between simply quoting Aleister Crowley’s literature which fosters a myth about our organization, its beginning and early history, or being truthful and examining with harshness its reality. For starters, it’s no secret, although Crowley tried very hard to bring initiates into the Order, most members during his lifetime fell by the wayside and only a small handful ever practiced his teachings. One of the founding members of the Order, Frater Per Ardua Ad Astra (J. F. C. Fuller 1878-1966), said it best when he wrote – “the A.'.A.'. never existed outside Crowley’s imagination.” Was this the bitterness of an old friend or just honesty? Or is the truth found somewhere in the middle? To properly understand our Order we must examine some of the facts regarding the life of Aleister Edward Crowley. He was born on October 12th in the year 1875. In his youth he found himself being transferred from one school to another, until he and his mother finally settled in London. In 1894 he attended King’s College where he developed a strong interest in mountain climbing. In October of the following year he left King’s College at Cambridge. It was during one of his vacations to climb the Alps in Switzerland where he met a gentleman named Julian L. Baker. It seems that both shared a strong interest in magic and alchemy. In time Baker introduced him to George Cecil Jones who, in turn, would introduce the young Crowley to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A little over a month after Crowley turned twenty three, on November 18th 1898, he received initiation into the First or Outer Order of this fraternity at the Isis-Urania Temple in London. He took the magical motto of Perdurabo for his Neophyte (0=0) degree, which literally means I will endure till the end. The initiatory structure of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was based primarily upon the ancient Qabalistic Tree of Life. In the first Order, after the Neophyte degree, the initiate began working the lowers spheres of the Tree from Malkuth-10 (Zelator 1=10) upward to Netzach-7 (Philosophus 4=7). Over the next few years Crowley’s life became intensely complicated. Magic had become his everything and he progressed rapidly through the early degrees, but problems were on the horizon. In his introductory History Lection of the A.'.A.'. titled Liber LXI vel CAVSAE, Crowley attempted to explain this period by stating – “We must pass over the unhappy juggleries which characterized the next period. It has throughout proved impossible to elucidate the complex facts. We content ourselves, then, with observing that the death of one of his two colleagues, and the weakness of the other, secured to S.R.M.D. the sole authority.” What Crowley is telling us is that, of the original three founding members of the Order, Dr. William R. Woodman died in 1891, Dr. William Wynn Westcott discreetly resigned which left only Samuel Liddell MacGregor-Mathers (Deo Duce Comite Ferro) in control. The ‘unhappy juggleries’ of this period became further complicated when MacGregor-Mathers and his wife left London and moved to Paris. From there they both found it exceedingly difficult to control the Isis-Urania Temple. To make a long story short, in Mather’s absence certain London Adepts decided to depose him as Head of the Golden Dawn and attempted to create their own link with the Secret Chiefs. Crowley believed that these people failed miserably, writing, “The rituals were elaborated, though scholarly enough, into verbose and pretentious nonsense: the knowledge proved worthless, even where it was correct: for it is in vain that pearls, be they never so clear and precious, are given to the swine. The ordeals were turned into contempt, it being impossible for anyone to fail therein. Unsuitable candidates were admitted for no better reason than that of their worldly prosperity. In short, the Order failed to initiate.” Further difficulties soon arose when those now in charge refused to initiate Crowley into the inner or Second Order properly known as Rosae Rubeae et Auriae Crucis which means ‘The Ruby Rose and the Golden Cross.’ Like the previous Order, it worked off certain spheres on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. The Second Order encompassed Tiphereth-6 (Adeptus Minor 5=6), Geburah-5 (Adeptus Major 6=5) and Chesed-4 (Adeptus Exemptus 7=4). In disgust Crowley left London for Paris and, under the guidance of S. L. MacGregor Mathers, he was given initiation on January 23rd 1900 into the Second Order. His new motto was Parzival. One of the major requirements for an Adeptus Minor working out of Tiphereth was to swear at their initiation to seek their Higher Genius, or Augoeides. They were not required to know their Holy Guardian Angel at this point, but to only acknowledge an aspiration to pursue his guidance. This quest would dominate Crowley’s life over the next few years. After Crowley left Mathers in Paris and returned to London all hell broke loose. The story gets even more complicated depending upon who is spinning the tale. One fact is certain; on March 25th 1900 he received a letter from Mrs. E. A. (Dorothea) Hunter, known as Soror Dea Data, stating that the London Second Order of the Golden Dawn did not recognize his initiation in Paris. It was a difficult period for Crowley in regards to his magic and spirituality, the end result being that he left London and embarked in traveling worldwide. He describes this period in Liber Causae as he, “was driven of the Spirit into the Wilderness, where he abode for six years, studying by the light of reason the sacred books and secret systems of initiation of all countries and ages.” The first leg of his venture into the wilderness took him by ship from London to New York then to Mexico. He continued traveling widely over the next few years to such places in the Far East as Ceylon and India. He also headed to Egypt and France, finally arriving back in Scotland where he owned an estate called Boleskine. In July of 1903 Crowley traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland to visit his old friend, the artist Gerald Kelly. It was here that he met his first wife, Gerald’s sister Rose Edith Kelly. Although they became instantly infatuated with each other, Rose was already engaged to another man whom she didn’t love. To alleviate this tragic situation they acted impulsively by eloping and getting married on August 12th 1903 at Dingwall, Scotland. Yes, some might consider it a drastic solution to Rose’s engagement problem. Shortly afterwards the newly married couple embarked for Egypt, posing as the Prince and Princess Chioa Khan. The following year is probably the most important in Crowley’s entire life. It deserves a much more lengthy explanation than a mere paragraph because the events which occurred affected the rest of Crowley’s life. Basically, on three successive days in April of 1904, he ‘received’ The Book of the Law, eventually titled Liber AL vel Legis. This new Holy Book was dictated by Aiwass, an invisible entity who claimed to be the minister of Hoor-Paar-Kraat and a messenger from the forces ruling the planet during the Aeon of Aquarius. The new decree given to mankind was “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” It seemed that Christianity was dead and a new era of ‘Crowleyanity’ was at hand, an idea which obviously appealed immensely to Aleister Crowley. When Crowley returned to London he was deeply inspired with these revelations of a new age dawning. He was often seen in local cafes spewing forth the laws of his new religion to anyone who would give him an ear. He particularly enjoyed the atmosphere around the Café Royal, which was considered the center of literary and artistic life in London. It is believed that he first entered the Café around 1897, shortly after leaving Cambridge, and, like many creative people of that period, he fell in love with the restaurant. Now, after returning from Cairo, he was often seen in the Domino Room, a section of the Café Royal frequented by such dignitaries as Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton and Jacob Epstein to name but a few. Many of these individuals record fascinating tales of Crowley’s verbal rants in regards to his new law—“Do what thou wilt” and the death of Christianity. Their stories are interesting, funny and often portray a unique image of the Great Beast in his early Thelemic years. In April of 1905 Crowley was tempted to leave England again for a chance to climb Kangchenjunga or K2. Unfortunately this climb would end in tragedy with the summit never being reached. Crowley then traveled around India, first staying in Calcutta before moving on to Burma with his wife and daughter who had recently joined him. While he was in Kandy, Burma he looked up his old friend Allan Bennett whom he had first met while they both were members of the Golden Dawn. During the winter of 1905-6 Aleister Crowley, his wife Rose and their child headed for China, where he pondered his fate, and his future and wondered what the purpose was behind his incarnation. He was tormented. He felt he was put on Earth for something, but what? He came to realize “the purpose of his life formulated in these words, The Obtaining of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” (The Equinox of the Gods, p.58) He commenced to complete the mystical undertaking known as the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage in the hope of discovering his Holy Guardian Angel. In some respects he succeeded. He recognized and accepted the fact that Aiwass was none other than his own personal Holy Guardian Angel. This would be a turning point in Crowley’s life. His walk across China had lasted about four months. On March 22nd 1906 he arrived at the port of Hai Phong, in French Indo-China which is now in North Vietnam. Here he said farewell to Rose and child, sending them home to Scotland. As for himself, Crowley headed to Shanghai to visit with an old flame named Elaine Simpson. He arrived on April 6th. During his visit he performed various invocations of his Guardian Angel. His diaries plainly show that Aiwass communicated remarkable visions to Crowley; especially on April 20th & 21st. However, when he publishes his diaries of this period in The Equinox Volume I, Number 8 he omits all the visions and the words of Aiwass. This has often puzzled some historians who do not realize that Crowley came to believe that this entire period was but a morbid dream, an ordeal which should be ignored. He writes, “Decided to reject results of 20th and 21st, and go on as if they had never happened.” (Eq.I:8 pg.21) Why he rejected them is never adequately explained. On April 21st he left Shanghai, boarding the Empress of India ocean liner bound for Vancouver, Canada from which he took a train to New York. During his travels he was constantly, almost daily, invoking his angel. Six years from whence he “was driven of the Spirit into the Wilderness,” Crowley returned to Liverpool. He arrived on June 2, 1906. Once in England, Crowley contacted George Cecil Jones, Frater D.D.S. 7=4 who was his original sponsor and mentor in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. As he put it in Liber Cavsae, he –“laid his achievements humbly at the feet of a certain adept D.D.S.” He told Jones all his accomplishments of the previous six years which culminated with him obtaining the knowledge and conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel. Jones, whom it was believed had the authority to do so, “welcomed him brotherly and admitted his title to the grade which he had so hardly won.” In other words, Jones acknowledged that Crowley was, in fact, acting as 7=4 or Adeptus Exemptus. Aleister Crowley’s diaries on July 29th 1906 give us the very first indication that he was considering the formation of a new Order. He writes, “D.D.S. and P. discuss a new O, D.D.S. wants Authority.” This marked the beginning or birth of the A.'.A.'.. However, Jones was not sure if they had the authorization to do such. He wanted an official sanction to come from a higher authority other than themselves. He wanted the Secret Chiefs, whom had earlier guided the Golden Dawn, to give their approval. In the meantime, until such an authority was given, they both agreed that they should go ahead and try to put together a new system of teachings. This is referred to in Liber Cavsae wherein Crowley writes – “Thereupon these two adepts conferred together, saying: May it not be written that the tribulations shall be shortened? Wherefore they resolved to establish a new Order which should be free from the errors and deceits of the former one.” It is no secret that Liber AL vel Legis commands that all the rituals of the previous Aeon were to be abrogated, or cast out; which, of course, implies the rituals of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. These, as Crowley pointed out, had been elaborated into verbose and pretentious nonsense with their ordeals turned into contempt and it being impossible for any initiate to fail therein. Crowley was obviously elated that his sacred volume foretold that the responsibility of disseminating its message was to fall upon him in order to prepare new formulas. He and Jones immersed themselves in this quest. They wanted to achieve where everyone in the Golden Dawn had failed, in short, to simply initiate their candidates. The next important event regarding our Order is mentioned in Crowley’s Confessions. Here he writes, “D.D.S. came to see me: we celebrated the Autumnal Equinox (Sept. 22nd 1906) and reconstructed the old Neophyte Ritual of the GD, eliminating all unnecessary features and quintessentializing the magical formulae” (p.532) He further makes mention of this period in The Equinox I:8, September: “24-30 During this period Frater P. was preparing, under the guidance of D.D.S., a certain ritual of initiation. This was to combine the Eastern and the Western methods.” (p.35) Crowley notes that on September 30th, “Concluded a draft of Sun in Aries by Mercury.” The ritual was called Liber DCLXXI vel Troa. Crowley attempted this ritual, only in part and recorded in his diaries, “Tested new R. and behold it was v.g.” or very good. (Oct.9th 1906) However, the new initiation ritual would undergo numerous changes and additions, none of which have survived in copy. The only known copy of the manuscript of Liber DCLXXI vel Troa is found at Syracuse University in New York State. The copy in Syracuse is the final form which was typed out in 1908. On the title page, under Liber DCLXXI vel Troa, is scribbled “a versified Ritual for the Feast of the Equinox.” On the first page Crowley gives a brief historical perspective which is worth quoting in full: The Spelling of the Name of Adonai by the Ritual of the Pyramid being the form of Initiation to the Grade of Neophyte in the M______ of I______ (Ritual issued to appointed Officers, who must pass the test of efficiency). O.M. a 7=4 of the G.'.O.'. having been permitted on the 9th October 1906 to perceive the vision of I A did duly write out for the third time this ritual following, it having been in its crude form of assistance to him in obtaining the chrism aforesaid. The skeleton of this ritual was laid down (adapted from the 0=0 of G.'.D.'.) by G.H. Fra. D.D.S. on (Libra) nox (Libra) preceding, written out in sketch by G.H. Fra. O.M. on 30th Sept, and revised by him on 7th Oct. and other dates. The final draft was submitted by O.M. to D.D.S.; and together did they consult, making slight alterations. This present printed ritual has received the Imprimatur of P.N. V.V.V.V.V. 8=3 Magister Templi on (Libra) nox (Libra) 1908.” *
* Editor’s Note: M______ of I______ = Mysteries of Initiation. Obviously GO is a typo, referring to
Golden Dawn, or G.'.D.'.. And P.N. before Crowley’s motto of V.V.V.V.V. stands for Pater Noster.
Crowley gives further references to the formation of his new Order cryptically in a piece titled The Electric Silence. In this piece he refers to himself as a ship builder of an Ark trying to save humanity. “This then endured for a space; and with his aid I began ship-building. “For” (said he) “there are many that swim, and find no boats. Be it thy task to aid them.” Of my journey to the House he spake nothing. But in the shipbuilding came the fair man my brother to my help; and one evening as we sate at meat he said: May it please you to enter the House; for there is prepared for you a goodly bedchamber. But I would not at that time; for I was ashamed, being unclothed; not understanding that in the House robes are provided by him that is appointed to provide them. Thus we laboured, and built many fair shallops upon the model of that wherein we sailed.” This piece is often overlooked by A.'.A.'. scholars but it is an important piece none-the-less. It points out that, by their own admittance, Crowley & Jones were creating an organization along the lines as they understood initiation to be, or along similar lines laid out in the Golden Dawn. Although they were doing such without having authority or guidance from the Secret Chiefs, it implies that the ‘ship-builder’ was offered entrance into the House but he felt unworthy. This refers to an event which occurred on December 10th 1906. It marked an important milestone in the establishment or birth of the A.'.A.'.. In his diaries Aleister Crowley notes – “Jones says Ou Me is 8=3. I say Mollie Lee rhymes with both. This purifies and consecrates me, so that I feel ‘I am the master’ quite genuine - without scruple or difference. No personality.” Ou Me is a reference to Crowley’s 7=4 motto or Ou Mh (The NOT). If you do not realize the significance of Crowley’s entry then in his Confessions he made it clearer when he wrote, “In the month of December the Secret Chiefs formally invited me, through G.R. Frater D.D.S., to take my place officially in the Third Order.” (p.533) It must be remembered that no member of the original Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn ever achieved higher than an Adeptus Exemptus 7=4 or beyond the sphere of Chesed on the Tree of Life. It is no secret that they all failed to make the link with the Secret Chiefs above the Abyss. In some ways they were restricted by the Old Aeonic belief that these final three spheres on the Tree of Life were of such an exalted nature that only those not ‘in the flesh’ could ever attain them. The idea of becoming one of these Secret Chiefs while still in one’s mortal shell had not dawned on many of them. All this changed when Aleister Crowley became a Magister Templi 8=3. He now resided in the Third Order. He had become one of the Secret Chiefs. He took the motto Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vici (By the power of Truth, I, in my lifetime, have conquered the Universe). This single event gave Crowley the authority that he and Jones had earlier sought. Many individuals do not understand the full implications, however, in One Star in Sight it states that members of the Third Order – “are each entitled to found Orders dependent on themselves on the lines of the R. C. and G. D. orders, to cover types of emancipation and illumination not contemplated by the original (or main) system. All such orders must, however, be constituted in harmony with the A.'.A.'. as regards the essential principles.” In other words, here Aleister Crowley acknowledges the source of his own authority which enabled him to begin the First and Second Orders of his A.'.A.'.. Many do not grasp the nature of the Inner School or Third Order wherein the Holy of Holies resides. Many assume that by taking initiation into a legitimate branch of Crowley’s A.'.A.'. that they have entered this Order. They have not. They have merely entered one of many outer vehicles which disseminate portions of its Wisdom as a means of guiding humanity forward toward spiritual self-realization. According to magickal tradition, the Qabalistic Tree of Life is divided into three mystery schools. The First and the Second Orders of the A.'.A.'. are respectively called the G.'.D.'. and the R.'.C.'.. These Orders are what Crowley and Jones founded in 1906 when they determined to create a new Order. The Inner School or Third Order known as S.'.S.'. always existed. Aleister Crowley did not create this. In other words, when Aleister Crowley entered into the Third Order, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn had already fallen into disgrace. Initiations had failed. There were no Outer Schools. Crowley realized that he had to establish such in order to have a vehicle to disseminate his teachings. Thus he created what we commonly term ‘the A.'.A.'.’ The difficulty which aspirants often have is their inability to distinguish when Crowley is talking about the First, the Second or the Third Orders. In truth, he is never quite clear on this matter. Part of the problem deals with the name itself and the interpretation of the meaning behind the sacred letters of A.'.A.'.. According to Crowley, the over-all structure of his new Order as depicted upon the Tree of Life is known as the Astron Argon. It is a Greek phrase meaning ‘Silver Star’. It is the structure whose center is Tiphereth, our personal Sun or Star. When an initiate joins the A.'.A.'. they are joining the Astron Argon but not its Inner School. The easiest way to understand the difference is to realize that Astron Argon when written in Greek has a numerical value of 451. It is the same value as the Greek words Konx Om Pax which literally means ‘Light in Extension,’ the gift of our Star. Confusion arises because the Third Order of the Astron Argon is called the S.'.S.'. which many have interpreted to mean ‘Silver Star.’ Indirectly it does, however, Astron Agron is not the true meaning behind the letters A.'.A.'. of the Inner School. This is secret. The next important period in A.'.A.'. history occurred in 1907. During this year Aleister Crowley wrote many documents which came to be called the Holy Books. Some of these are considered to be Class A or documents which cannot be changed in either the style of a letter or punctuation. Their message is considered to be the utterance of an Adept. It might be easier for some to consider these works as being inspired, rather than actually authored by Aleister Crowley, even though he did, in fact, write them. In October of 1908 Crowley began the magickal workings described in John St. John (The Equinox I:1). This working is quite remarkable and in itself warrants an entire chapter but, for the purpose of this article, I only wish to point out one critical thing. Although he typed out the final form of Liber DCLXXI vel Troa it would be short lived. While meditating in ‘The Hanged Man’ position within his sacred pyramid, Crowley asks his Holy Guardian Angel for guidance and on October 4th 1908 he acknowledges – “I now sit down to meditate on this new ritual.” He then gives a short, brief outline of this new ritual in John St. John. What it entails is taking Liber DCLXXI vel Troa and modifying it yet again into a truer A.'.A.'. ritual; seeing that it was very much an Old Aeonic ritual in that it required a candidate to be taken through the ritual by two other individuals, a Hegemon and a Hiereus. But by 1908 Crowley had realized that there can be no ‘group rituals’ in the Order which included the initiation rituals themselves, so he abandoned Liber DCLXXI vel Troa along with other earlier group rituals he had designed and modified the initiation to be just between the candidate and his Angel. This new ritual became known as Liber Pyramidos, Liber vel DCLXXI or 671. On the actual typed copy of Liber Pyramidos it states that “This is the actual MS 671 referred to in John St. John.” Underneath this, in parentheses, is written “John St. John is the diary of a magical retirement undertaken by A.C. in Paris in 1908 and published in Vol. I Number 1 of The Equinox.)”
This brings us up to a convenient stopping place.
Written in the City of Berkeley, California
Thursday July 3rd 2014 e.v.
Sun in Cancer, Moon in Virgo.
Editor's Note: There are some branches of our Noble Order which disagree with our beliefs regarding Liber DCLXXI vel Troa. They put their candidates through this Temple Ritual simply because it has remained unpublished and it gives them mysterious powers over their candidates. Although I have heard their arguments, I am not convinced in their assumptions that Liber Pyramidos is merely a personal ritual Crowley created for a magical retirement in order to assume the grade of Adeptus Major. Be that as it may, we feel that other branches are entitled to their opinion as we are to ours.
All in all, the early history of the Order is webbed in contradictions. Depending upon whom you're reading, the story changes considerably. What we wanted you to realize is that Aleister Crowley and George Cecil Jones created the First and Second Orders, plain and simple. These Orders are not, as some would have you believe, an ancient fraternity which has been around for centuries even though its own paperwork implies otherwise. Yes, the principles are as old as the hills and its aspirations very noble but, in truth, it is simply a modern rendition on old themes. The first major question which needs to be addressed by yourself is whether or not these two individuals had the authority to create an Order? We believe, in all honesty, that they did. However, thanks to modern technology, more and more 'outsiders' are beginning to question the phantoms of our Order's history due to the availability of information which Aleister Crowley could never have foreseen being accessible. We can not stay in Crowley's frame of mind regarding our fraternity forever. Let's put it into perspective. When Crowley was born, Alexander Graham Bell had not yet invented the telephone. Cars and airplanes were but a dream. Mystery Schools could still keep secrets. We can not ignore that advancements made by mankind are moving rather rapidly. Computers, the Internet and paper shufflers in general are making it almost impossible to contain secrets. We do not consider this wrong, baneful or a mistake of the Gods. We have no intention to challenge the Gods as to how they should disseminate information. However, we are acknowledging the need to face the phantoms of our plane, the times are simply changing and we are not quite sure of the implications. Our branch of the A.'.A.'. feels strongly that we must embrace the inevitable and realize that the New Aeon is young and still in its infant stage. We can not cling to the old beliefs forever. We must constantly reflect upon outward changes in society as being stability. In other words, it seems that the methods whereby humanity embraces self realization are radically mutating. If we do not reflect upon the strides which humanity is making in the outer world, we'll be left by the side of the road as a spiritual path. Mystery Schools, in the Old Aeonic sense, are dead, simply because Mystery is the enemy of Truth.
Love is the law, love under will. - AL I:57