—religions were the dominant force in the west.
In the east, however, women—and female representations of godhead— are more common. In India, goddesses are of supreme importance especially among specific sects that worship Kali, Durga, Shakti, etc. In China, among the Daoists and the Buddhists, Quan Yin is an extremely important goddess and believed to be the Chinese version of the Indian Avalokitesvara, the (male) God of Compassion. Even in predominantly Muslim Indonesia, the goddesses Sri, Lara Kidul, and Durga are still important and still reverenced.59
Thelemic documents, including the Book of the Law and the Gnostic Mass, reveal the desire to reinstate awareness of the feminine aspect of divinity. Conscious that this is an antinomian position to take, the feminine aspect that is most identified and cherished is that of the Whore of Babylon, perhaps the most transgressive female image in all of Christendom.
As Gail Corrington Streete has discussed at some length60 the Whore of Babylon (porne megale) is but one iteration of the “foreign woman” of the Bible, the seducer of Israel who tries to tempt men away from the True Faith. But the “foreign woman” is also the Queen of Sheba, who tempted Solomon himself with the worship of foreign gods; she is Jezebel; and so many other strong yet strange women in the Bible who represent not only “woman” in general but ideas related to foreign-ness, to the alien, and the Other. Like Set, Babalon is a foreign deity. Set may represent ideas of masculine or male chaos where Babalon represents the feminine or female aspect of chaos. They are the Yang and Yin, respectively, of every antinomian and unorthodox belief and practice.
But there is another possible motive for this idealization of the Whore of Babylon and it may rest in the sexual mysteries themselves, the ones that Crowley learned from the OTO of Karl Kellner and Theodor Reuss, which placed an emphasis on the mingling of both male and female sexual excretions. This “sex magic” at the heart of the OTO mysteries is what has been elaborated upon at great length by Kenneth Grant and it forms the initiatic process of the Typhonian Current. In this context, a “whore” is a sexually-promiscuous woman, a woman who has sex for money or other favors, and as such is a threat to other women because of the implied devaluation of sexual intimacy between husband and wife: the characterization of sexuality as a biological function that can be bought and sold like food or water or manual labor rather than as the seal of an emotional and spiritual contract. The whore exists outside of the community of married men and women, of householders, and of upholders of the government, the church, and even of consensus reality. The relationship with a prostitute is a secret relationship; few men boast of going to prostitutes or of having any sort of relationship with them outside of the sex act. In fact, the more established a man is—the more respected in his community, his government, his religion, his business—the less likely he is to admit to such a relationship in the public forum. He may go to great lengths to conceal it, to keep it secret, hidden, and entirely personal. It is, in a sense, an “esoteric” or “occult” relationship.
In the Book of Revelation, the Whore of Babylon represents not only the ultimate Prostitute and sexually active Woman, but also signifies an enemy of the Church. It is in this dual role that she is important to Thelema; for even as sexual mores have changed considerably since the Victorian era when Crowley was a youth, Church and the State are still viable targets for a religion of liberation and freedom.
There is one more aspect to the Whore of Babylon that must be considered, and that is her stated origin: Babylon. The implication is clear: a connection, however tenuous, not to Egypt but to Sumer, Akkad and Babylon itself. The Whore of Babalon (to use Crowley’s spelling based on his rendering of the name to satisfy a gematria of his own) is thereby a link to the most ancient of the known western religions, the one that is the focus of Grant’s work and one that is referenced by Crowley, Parsons, and other Thelemic authors and personalities, and enshrined in the Schlangekraft recension of the Necronomicon: the Sumerian tradition.
While Crowley’s fixation on the Beast and the Whore of the Christian Bible may have been motivated originally by a desire to be a “bad boy” and outrage the adults around him, the adolescent fantasy of transgression became enshrined in a doctrine. The Whore was lifted out of its Biblical context and re-imagined as “the Mother of us all” and as a Mesopotamian deity (as was Aiwass). It should be acknowledged, however, that this theme of transgression applies not only to the Christianity of the Book of Revelation, but—because of the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians—to Judaism as well. Crowley’s alleged anti-Semitism has been the subject of several investigations and we won’t belabor the point here. It may be sufficient to state that Crowley’s philosophy was deliberately provocative and anti-establishment in nature to the extent that he ridiculed most human institutions and therefore treated most people with contempt if they were not converts to his new faith. This might not have been the result of deep feelings of genuine racism, sexism, etc. but was rather what one would expect of someone who set himself up as the Prophet of a new Age, much in the same way that Moses and his followers rained death on their enemies, or the Church in its many inquisitorial purges and crusades, or the anti-Semitic remarks that can be found in the Qur’an and the military actions that took place against non-Muslims during the Prophet’s life and those of subsequent caliphates. This is not to say one should enshrine these ill-advised declarations as statements of doctrinal authority, however. They need interpreting; yet a key point of contention in this case is that no one is supposed to interpret Crowley’s writings but Crowley himself.61
This is one of the inherent contradictions in Thelema, for while Crowley insisted that he be the arbiter of all things Thelemic, his slogan was quite different: “Our method is science, our aim is religion.” The “our” is understood not as the editorial or Papal first person plural, but as encompassing all Thelemites. If the scientific method is indeed the cornerstone of Crowley’s occult praxis, then it behooves Thelemites to undertake independent experimentation and discovery.
This is precisely what the late Kenneth Grant set out to do, and in the process he made some interesting and possibly crucial discoveries. Among these was the value of different sets of god-forms from different cultures, in particular those with which Crowley himself was not as familiar. While his incorporation of genuine Tantric and Afro-Caribbean data makes his
writings worthwhile for anyone interested in what an expansion of Crowley’s basic themes would look like—and in particular Crowley’s magic—it is Grant’s willingness to look beyond religion and spiritual techniques to other sources of information that place this British occultist upon an entirely different plateau. If Crowley was committed to having his philosophy embraced by the masses—and used every means at his disposal to ensure this, including public performances of his rites, publishing occult novels, and attempting to influence famous celebrities—then Grant’s discovery of Thelemic themes in the fictional writing of Howard Phillips Lovecraft should have been welcomed by Crowley’s followers enthusiastically, especially as Lovecraft’s imagined cultus reflects so deeply Crowley’s own revealed religion.
In 1907, Crowley was writing some of the works that became seminal to the doctrines of Thelema, known as The Holy Books. These include Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente, and other works written between October 30 and November 1 of that year, and Liber Arcanorum and Liber Carcerorum, written between December 5th and 14th that same year. Lovecraft would have had no knowledge of this, as he was only a seventeen-year old recluse living at home on Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island, dreaming of the stars. Instead, he later would write of an orgiastic ritual taking place that year in the bayous outside New Orleans, Louisiana, and on the very same day that Crowley was writing the books enumerated above.
The story Lovecraft wrote is entitled “The Call of Cthulhu” and is arguably his most famous work. He wrote the story in 1926, in late August or early September, but placed the action in New Orleans in 1907 and later in Providence in 1925. How is this relevant?
Lovecraft’s placement of the orgiastic ritual in honor of the high priest of the Great Old Ones, Cthulhu, and the discovery of a statue of Cthulhu by the New Orleans police on Halloween, 1907 coincides precisely with Crowley’s fevered writing of his own gothic prose. In the Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, for instance, Crowley writes the word “Tutulu” for the first time. He claims not to know what this word means, or where it came from. As the name of Lovecraft’s fictional alien god can be pronounced “Kutulu,” it seems more than coincidental, as Kenneth Grant himself noted.
However, this is only the tip of an eldritch iceberg.
In Crowley’s Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente—or “The Book of the Heart Girt with a Serpent”—there are numerous references to the “Abyss of the Great Deep,” to Typhon, Python, and the appearance of an “old gnarled fish” with tentacles … all descriptions that match Lovecraft’s imagined Cthulhu perfectly. Not approximately, but perfectly. Crowley’s volume was written on November 1, 1907. The ritual for Cthulhu in New Orleans took place on the same day, month and year.
Here are the relevant passages:
From Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli:
- By the burning of the incense was the Word revealed, and by the distant drug.
- O meal and honey and oil! O beautiful flag of the moon, that she hangs out in the centre of bliss!
- These loosen the swathings of the corpse; these unbind the feet of Osiris, so that the flaming God may rage through the firmament with his fantastic spear.
- But of pure black marble is the sorry statue, and the changeless pain of the eyes is bitter to the blind.
- We understand the rapture of that shaken marble, torn by the throes of the crowned child, the golden rod of the golden God.
- We know why all is hidden in the stone, within the coffin, within the mighty sepulchre, and we too answer Olalám! Imál! Tutúlu! as it is written in the ancient book.
- Three words of that book are as life to a new æon; no god has read the whole.
- But thou and I, O God, have written it page by page.62
And in Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente:
Then was the Adept glad, and lifted his arm. Lo! an earthquake, and plague, and terror on the earth!63
Behold! the Abyss of the Great Deep. Therein is a mighty dolphin, lashing his sides with the force of the waves.64
Thou art Sebek the crocodile against Asar; thou art Mati, the Slayer in the Deep. Thou art Typhon, the Wrath of the Elements, O Thou who transcendest the Forces in their Concourse and Cohesion, in their Death and their Disruption. Thou art Python, the terrible serpent about the end of all things!65
I trembled at Thy coming, O my God, for Thy messenger was more terrible than the Death-star. On the threshold stood the fulminant figure of Evil, the Horror of emptiness, with his ghastly eyes like
poisonous wells. He stood, and the chamber was corrupt; the air stank. He was an old and gnarled fish more hideous than the shells of Abaddon. He enveloped me with his demon tentacles; yea, the eight fears took hold upon me.66
Compare with relevant passages from Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu”:
Above these apparent hieroglyphics was a figure of evident pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cyclopean architectural background.67
The figure, which was finally passed slowly from man to man for close and careful study, was between seven and eight inches in height, and of exquisitely artistic workmanship. It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters. The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way down toward the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the backs of huge fore paws which clasped the croucher’s elevated knees. The aspect of the whole was abnormally life-like, and the more subtly fearful because its source was so totally unknown. Its vast, awesome, and
incalculable age was umistakable; yet not one link did it shew with any known type of art belonging to civilisation’s youth—or indeed to any other time. Totally separate and apart, its very material was a mystery; for the soapy, greenish-black stone with its golden or iridescent flecks and striations resembled nothing familiar to geology or mineralogy. The characters along the base were equally baffling; and no member present, despite a representation of half the world’s expert learning in this field, could form the least notion of even their remotest linguistic kinship.
In Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Crowley refers to several of the images with which Lovecraft would be consumed in his stories, but especially in “The Call of Cthulhu.” Here we have a buried god that is awakened from a stone, in a coffin, in a sepulchre, and mysterious words written in an ancient book, including Tutulu. And “of pure black marble is the sorry statue” resonates with the black stone on which the statue of Cthulhu squats.
In Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente we have an expansion of this theme, beginning with an earthquake (Lovecraft’s story is centered around an actual earthquake that took place in 1925), and extending to an Abyss of the Great Deep, the Slayer in the Deep, a Death-star, and the “fulminant figure of Evil” (a stinking, fish-like creature with tentacles). This figure is a messenger of the Gods and, indeed, Cthulhu is not only a god itself but a high priest of the Great Old Ones who will return to earth when “the stars are right.” A more paranoid observer than your author may wonder if the statement in Liber AL—“Every man and every woman is a star”—is a decoding of the famous Lovecraft quotation “when the stars are right.” It would imply that when the followers of Thelema (the “stars”) are powerful enough, or numerous enough, then the Great Old Ones will return.