It is important to note that there are two beasts mentioned in Revelations. The first comes out of the sea—the abyss—and the second from out of the earth. They are each empowered by the Dragon, to whom they evidently owe their allegiance. Thus, there is some confusion in Thelemic circles as to just what Beast Crowley was referring to, and why. Of course, he favored the 666 designation, making him the Beast of the Earth, known to readers of the Bible as the “False Prophet.”
Crowley would adopt the number as his own, and offer pages of Kabbalistic-style analysis of its meaning. He was able to show that the Greek term To Mega Therion or “the Great Beast” added up to 666 when using Greek numerology, or gematria.52 Gematria is a system of numerology in which letters (of the Greek or Hebrew alphabet) equal numbers. When a word has the same numerical value as another word, then a relationship between them both is assumed to the extent that one word may clarify or justify the other. (This fascination with gematria has bedeviled Thelema for much of its existence to date; it became a focus of Frater Achad’s symbol system and, later, of Kenneth Grant’s analysis of Thelema which would take gematria to near ridiculous lengths. The idea that the Bible contains coded information is central to Kabbalistic exegesis as well as more recent textual analysis such as The Bible Code and its heirs. It is by no means unique to Thelema.)
The fact that there are two Beasts in Revelation, plus one Dragon, begs the question: could there be, or have there been, other contenders in Thelema for these available designations? Was there a human Beast of the Abyss? More importantly, perhaps, was there a physical/biological Dragon in a Thelemic context? The answers to both of these questions has to be a somewhat qualified “no.” Crowley was not taking the entire text of Revelation as a blueprint for his own religion, but only that section of it that he believed seemed to refer to himself. But one has to wonder if Crowley ever considered that there might be another human manifestation from Revelation. This will lead us to the example of Jack Parsons, who famously identified himself with the Anti-Christ, and we will look at that in another chapter.
Why Crowley would identify himself with the Devil is an important point and one which will lead us directly to the concept of the Dark Lord. For Crowley, the Devil is something more ancient and more respectable than the caricature we come across in normative Christian imagery. The Devil represents everything the Church wants to suppress, and this includes most especially expressions of human sexuality.
Crowley’s view of Satanism and Devil-worship would have been colored by the Continental obsession with the Black Mass. This ritual famously blasphemes the Catholic Mass, but in order to do so makes use of sexual elements. Thus, a woman is used in place of the altar; coitus is performed on the woman in place of the transubstantiation of the bread and
wine.53 These are all the scandalous aspects of the Black Mass as it was popularly understood through such vehicles as J. K. Huysmann’s best- selling novel, Là-Bas or “Down There.” In this context, sexuality is transgressive. It is used to attack the Church at its most delicate and important point: the sacrifice of the Mass itself, the central ritual of the faith that is normally celebrated by celibate priests. Crowley would take up this theme in his own Catholic-inspired Gnostic Mass in which the sexual elements are once again represented, albeit in a more sedate way than in the rapacious rituals of the nineteenth-century French esthetes.54
To Crowley, the restrictive attitudes of the Church were themselves sinful. As it is written in the Book of the Law: “The word of Sin is Restriction” (AL I:41). This is a subtle play on words, for the exact meaning of the term “religion” is derived from the Latin religio, itself probably derived from the verb ligare which means “to bind” (as in the modern English ligature). The meaning of the sentence to a Thelemite is clear: it is religion that is sinful, religion that “binds.” Such restriction is anathema to a doctrine whose central affirmation of faith is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Thus Crowley, by identifying with the great enemy of the Church—the Beast 666—is aligning himself with the enemy of restriction, and therefore with the free expression of all forms of human sexuality: the ultimate example of sin and an important target of the Abrahamic religions. This is emphasized by the rest of the verse quoted above:
The word of Sin is Restriction. O man! refuse not thy wife, if she will! O lover, if thou wilt, depart! There is no bond55 that can unite the divided but love: all else is a curse. Accurséd! Accurséd be it to the aeons! Hell. (AL I:41)
This emphasis on love rather than law as the touchstone for human relationships is one element of Thelema that sets it apart from mainstream religion. When love goes, according to the verse, then so should the lover. This dissociates the act of love from legal considerations, whether of religion or of secular government. It is most especially—given the context
—an attack on the sacrament of matrimony and on religiously-sanctioned marriage. If marriage is subtracted from the equation, what is left? Either pure eros—sexuality as a form of human relationship—or something even deeper: a relationship based not only on sexuality popularly understood,
but on emotional attraction and attachment the way many adolescents experience it—without a legal or a religious context, something approaching Jungian ideas of archetypes or Freudian ideas of repressed erotic feelings for one’s parent. As Crowley himself is known to have had both male and female lovers, married and unmarried, this seems consistent with his worldview. But it is inconsistent with the mainstream religions of his time, and he would be moved to see in the Beast a force of resistance against the strictures of the establishment, of the status quo, because he perceived them as obstacles to a fuller knowledge of the Self. It is this tension between the Self and Community (particularly in the sphere of sexuality and human relationships) that is the focal point of Thelema, at least as understood by some of its most prominent apologists such as Kenneth Grant. It is also the point at which Lovecraft balks, pointing to the transgressive magician and sorcerer as the cause of the community’s vulnerability to forces from Outside.
By identifying himself—in a positive way—with the Beast, Crowley was performing a kind of self-therapy. He was taking the suppressed and repressed elements of a personality that had been molded by a normative and restrictive Christian sect and liberating them by means of re- characterizing them as positive values and not negative impulses.56 It was perhaps more important for Crowley to self-identify this way than it was for his followers, for whom the Beast of the Book of Revelation might have less powerful (even confusing) associations. It marked his independence from Christian—and hence English—society and its expectations of conformity. It was dramatic, certainly, especially for the time. But was there more substance to the image than that?
To answer that question we must visit another powerful image of the Book of Revelation, the Whore of Babylon.
This personality is as complex and mysterious as the Beast. It is obviously a coded reference that made a lot of sense at the time, and in the millenia since the Book of Revelation was written there have been numerous attempts to analyze and identify the Whore in contemporary contexts. Where Crowley was concerned, the Whore of Babylon could only be a reference to his Consort, of whom he had quite a series that he called “Scarlet Women.”
In the Book of Revelation the Whore of Babylon is referred to as “Babylon the Great, Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth”
(Revelations 17:3-6). Babylon was a reference to the alien culture that had crushed the Israelites and destroyed Solomon’s Temple, and which thus became a code word for the Roman Empire that was the object of scorn of the writer of Revelations. Like Rome, Babylon was viewed as an “evil empire” bent on destroying God’s people. At the time the Book of Revelation was being written—about the first century CE—the land of Israel was under Roman domination. Both Christians (at the time little more than a Jewish sect) and Jews were being persecuted as a result of their refusal to obey the edicts of Emperor Domitian, who demanded that everyone in his empire worship him as a god … or be executed.
The Whore of Babylon is depicted as wearing purple and scarlet robes, and holding a golden cup filled with “the abominations and filthiness of her fornication.” She sat on a scarlet beast with seven heads and ten horns, and was drunk on the blood of saints and martyrs. (Purple was the color of Roman royalty and was forbidden to the average citizen, so its inclusion here is instructive.)
Crowley incorporated this personality—one is hard-pressed to refer to her as a god, at least not in her Biblical persona—into his religion as the personification of the female principle of the universe, as Shakti: the female partner to the Beast, who represents the male principle, or Shiva. The cup of “abominations” is an analogue of the commingled male and female essences that are known as amrita in the East. And, just as in Revelation the Beast was subordinate to the Dragon, in Crowley’s theological structure the Beast is subordinate to other powers.
In order to clarify these admittedly bizarre relationships it is worthwhile to have recourse to the Thelemic Creed as offered in the liturgy of the Gnostic Mass, written by Crowley:
I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD; and in one Star in the company of Stars of whose fire we are created, and to which we shall return; and in one Father of Life, Mystery of Mystery, in His name CHAOS, the sole viceregent of the Sun upon Earth; and in one Air the nourisher of all that breathes.
And I believe in one Earth, the Mother of us all, and in one Womb wherein all men are begotten, and wherein they shall rest, Mystery of Mystery, in Her name BABALON.
And I believe in the Serpent and the Lion, Mystery of Mystery, in His name BAPHOMET.
And I believe in one Gnostic and Catholic Church of Light, Life, Love and Liberty, the Word of whose Law is THELEMA.
And I believe in the communion of Saints.
And, forasmuch as meat and drink are transmuted in us daily into spiritual substance, I believe in the Miracle of the Mass.
And I confess one Baptism of Wisdom whereby we accomplish the Miracle of Incarnation.
And I confess my life one, individual, and eternal that was, and is, and is to come.
AUMGN, AUMGN, AUMGN.
Readers who were brought up Roman Catholic—like the present author
—may be forgiven if they recognize what seems to be a travesty of the Apostles’ Creed of their youth. The basic formula is the same:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.
In both versions—Thelemic and Roman Catholic—the emphasis in the first lines is on a profession of faith in a creator God, termed a Father. That this is different from the “ineffable LORD” in the Thelemic Creed seems clear from the text. Here, the Father is the “Father of Life,” and is the vice- regent of the Sun on earth. And, somewhat disconcertingly perhaps, his name is CHAOS. Chaos was, indeed, one of the appelations of the Egyptian god Set and he is referred to as such in the Greek magical papyri.57 A god with the name Chaos would not be a reference to Osiris, or Horus, or Thoth, or Ra or any of the other more popular deities. Chaos is associated, in Egypt and in the Near and Middle East of the period (first century CE at the latest), with Set and with Set-Typhon. And the Star to which the Creed refers could only be—for Grant and the Typhonians—the Pole Star with its seven circumpolar attendants the Big Dipper (or, as it was known in Egypt, the “Thigh of Set”). The very important statement concerning “one Star in the company of Stars of whose fire we are created, and to which we shall return,” implies the extra-terrestrial origins of humanity and by extension its ultimate destination. This “Star” has been identified as the Sun, of whom the Father is the sole vice-regent, but I believe this is a blind (as were the seven “planets” in Mithraism58) for the “real” Sun, which is the immortal Pole Star, a sun that never rises or sets but which sits unmoving directly overhead.
The name CHAOS has been interpreted to mean Air and Gas. The first statement of the Thelemic Creed ends with “Air, the nourisher of all that breathes” and is thus connected with CHAOS, the Star, and the Father.
The very next doctrinal statement in the Creed identifies BABALON as “the Mother of us all” and as the Earth itself. We therefore have the Sky and the Earth—Air and Earth—CHAOS and BABALON as the first divinities enumerated in the Creed. This is followed by BAPHOMET, which was Crowley’s name in the OTO.
Thus, we have two Ur-gods—CHAOS and BABALON—followed by the name of the Prophet of the New Aeon, BAPHOMET or Crowley himself. This requires us to look more closely at BABALON since Crowley was fixated on her and on what she represented, clarifying that
his succession of (female) magical partners—the Scarlet Women—were but avatars of Babalon.
The three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—do not elevate the female principle to the level of divinity. For that reason they are often referred to as “patriarchal” religions. From the previous chapter, we remember that Crowley—like some of the anthropologists of his day—believed that the patriarchal era was preceded by a matriarchal one. While this theory has largely been disproved on the basis of archaeological and other evidence, it nonetheless remains a strong concept among those professing a New Age worldview. One is tempted to imagine what the world would look like if matriarchal—as opposed to patriarchal