“Our method,” Crowley wrote, “is science; our aim is religion.”27 The translations of the “Book of the Dead” by E. A. Wallis Budge (1895) and others only fueled this particular fire. Thus, while Crowley was a magician in the style of both Cagliostro and Joseph Smith, and claimed Masonic titles and lineages as did both of those men, he had the benefit of access to genuine information about Egypt and Egyptian religious beliefs and practices. He was, in a sense, their apotheosis. He created a new religion— as did Smith—and a new occult order, as did Cagliostro.
Of course, it did not begin and end with Egypt alone. Along the way, Crowley incorporated much Asian religion into his new cult and was advised—specifically in the Book of the Law—to include Afro-Caribbean rites and practices as well.28 This New Aeon was to be all-inclusive and global in intellectual and spiritual reach. Is this one reason why a young Englishman on his honeymoon in Cairo was selected for this revelation and its new scripture, and not a native Egyptian?
An aspect of the Crowleyan Aeon of Horus that has not been the focus of much attention is the fact that Crowley’s scripture and its associated ideas are essentially pagan, if by “pagan” we mean polytheist and even animist. The brunt of the attack of the Book of the Law against other religions is concentrated on two of the three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity and Islam. Both Jesus and Mohammad are singled out for blinding. Mary “inviolate” (by which we understand the mother of Jesus) is to be torn on a wheel. The flesh of Hindus, Buddhists, “Mongol and Din,” are to be torn out, but oddly not of their gods. (One imagines a list of all the Hindu gods to be blinded would have taken too many pages.) Crowley assumes “Mongol” to represent Confucianism,29 and “Din” by an even longer
stretch to represent Judaism. His “New Commentary” to the Book of the Law is explicit in his admiration for Islam as a manly religion, devoid of what he sees as the cringing, craven quality of a religion—Christianity— that is based on accepting the sacrifice of someone else for one’s sins. But the blinding of Mohammad is as necessary as that of Jesus because both prophets had the wrong “perspective.” He further claims that Hinduism “metaphysically and mystically comprehensive enough to assure itself the possession of much truth, is in practice almost as superstitious and false as Christianity, a faith of slaves, liars and dastards. The same remarks apply roughly to Buddhism.” Thus two important points are made: Hinduism and Buddhism both possess “much truth,” but their practices are corrupt. This enables Crowley to retain Hindu and Buddhist rituals, techniques, and terminology within his Thelemic framework—essentially looting a burning building. His general respect for Islam enabled him to refer in correspondence to his successors as “Caliph,” a term—from the Arabic khalifah—that represents the successors to the Prophet. Indeed, the initiation rituals of the OTO in the lower degrees use an Arab framework from the Crusader era as the template for the rites, much the way the Golden Dawn used an Egyptian temple motif. Thus, the Book of the Law seems to reserve its strongest opprobrium for Christianity: the religion in which Crowley was raised and which he despised for most of his life.
Another potential conflict arises, though, when one considers that the organization at the forefront of Thelema is the Ordo Templi Orientis, or Order of the Eastern Temple, an order identifying itself with the Knights Templar. The Templars were, of course, a Roman Catholic religious and military organization devoted to the capture of the Holy Land from Islamic control. One might think that this represents some accommodation with Christianity in a Thelemic context, but one would be mistaken. For the mythology of the Knights Templar characterizes it as a secret society with mystical elements that found itself opposed to mainstream Christianity and which, indeed, was suppressed by the Catholic Church in the fourteenth century, its famous Grand Master—Jacques de Molay—burned at the stake on false charges of heresy. Thus, identifying with the Templars does not make one a Christian in any normative sense of the word, and this would have appealed to Crowley as well as the libel associated with the Templars, that they engaged in deviant sexual practices as well as idol-worship. Crowley took as his Order name the word Baphomet, which was
supposedly the name of the (non-Christian) idol that the Templars worshipped. While much scholarship recently has thrown many of these assumptions about the Order into serious doubt, the association of Templarism with the mysterious Orient of the Saracens, as well as with sexual mysticism, is the idea with which Thelema most closely identifies.
Since the Aeon of Horus is focused on individual responsibility and freedom—where “Every man and every woman is a star”—it stands to reason that its greatest foe would be Christianity, at least the Christianity as understood by Crowley himself, a faith of “slaves, liars and dastards.” Indeed, as the “Beast 666” Crowley set himself in firm opposition to the organized Church by identifying with its Apocalyptic enemy and claiming as his bride the Whore of Babylon (in Crowley’s numerology renamed “Babalon”). The anti-Christianity of Crowley is obsessive, and one wonders why he even bothered. The Book of the Law has an Egyptian framework and motif; it was received in Cairo, during sessions surrounded by the cry of the muezzin from the minarets of the city’s fabled mosques. Why bother bringing up Christianity at all, much less incorporating some of its elements into the Thelemic gestalt? Because, to Crowley’s way of thinking, Christianity represented the old and now discredited Aeon of Osiris par excellence. For such a well-traveled and intelligent man, it seems odd that he would think that way considering that most of the world
—especially the world he traveled in, Asia and the Middle East—was not Christian and never had been Christian. How was the Aeon of Osiris represented in China, for instance? Or in India?
This may seem like nit-picking to some, but it goes to the heart of an important point, one that forms the essence of the Grant-Lovecraft theme that we will take up shortly. Crowley’s interpretation of the Book of the Law could be described as—if not Eurocentric then—Occident-centric. It focuses almost exclusively on western ideas about religion and spirituality, and especially on resisting any form of Christianity. It is a kind of spiritual colonialism: the ransacking of Asian religions and practices for anything of value to a system that is almost wholly focused on defeating a western obsession with sin, restriction, and the cupidity of its priests. It is quite similar to the anxiety some in the west feel over the prophecies of Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar, signalling the End of Days and an Armageddon-like final conflict. There is no such sense of this in the East. There is no such anxiety there. Their calendars are different, their religious
context entirely dissimilar, their fear of an Anti-Christ non-existent. The end of the world that the west fears so much may be just that: the end of the western world as we know it, but not of “the world” … not the “whole enchilada.”
For the Aeon of Horus to be an Aeon for all it needs to respond to all, to the anxieties of all and to the desperation of all. It has to make as much sense in Beijing as in Boston, in Jakarta as in Jersey City, in Tokyo as in Tunbridge Wells. In Chennai as in Chicago.
The importance of the Kenneth Grant material, therefore, lies in his attempt to create a more global character for Thelema by incorporating as much Afro-Caribbean and Asian elements in far more detail and with much greater insight than was available in the Crowley writings. In some cases, this meant taking the work of former Crowley colleagues and initiates far more seriously than had been done previously. It also meant that Grant would delve into the darker aspects of Thelema and of what Thelema was insinuating: that at the heart of the cultus was an acknowledgement of humanity’s more sinister roots, roots that went back to pre-Dynastic Egypt and even further, to the oldest civilization for which we have any texts at all: Sumer. Crowley’s writings assumed that his readers already had a strong background in comparative religion, the rituals of the Golden Dawn, and the Kabbalah. In fact, today we have far greater access to this material than Crowley did. We have the ability to develop the basic themes of Thelema in much greater depth and with a wider scope. Grant was the first proponent of Thelema to recognize this, and while many Thelemites find his writings either obscure, or heretical, or both, his research and his dedication cannot be denied.
One of Grant’s fixations concerns one of Crowley’s most famous disciples and critics. While Crowley believed himself to be the prophet of this new, post-patriarchal Age, the Aeon of Horus, one of his followers went on to proclaim yet another Aeon, one that began only forty-four years after the start of the Aeon of Horus.
This was Charles Stansfeld Jones (1886-1950)—known as Frater Achad
—and his Aeon was proclaimed the Aeon of Maat or sometimes Ma-Ion. At first glance, this would seem to be an inconsistency if not an impossibility. How could a new Aeon begin when the last one—Crowley’s Aeon of Horus—had hardly begun? Yet, as we will soon discover, this concept does have precedents.
As mentioned, Jones was one of Crowley’s most important disciples and followers, a man who Crowley once claimed was his “magical son,” but who nevertheless broke with Crowley on several points of doctrine and who became a convert to Roman Catholicism, thus abandoning Thelema entirely.
According to Jones—known under a variety of occult names and mottoes but most famously as Frater Achad (“achad” being the Hebrew word for “one”)—a new Aeon began on April 2, 1948 which he called the Aeon of Maat. This would be an era of peace and love, a kind of counterpoint to Crowley’s Aeon of Horus which is characterized as the era of the Crowned and Conquering Child, a somewhat more warlike image.
Achad’s Aeon of Maat was named after the Egyptian goddess of the Balance. The weight of the human heart after death was measured against a single feather of Maat’s headress. If the heart weighed more than the feather, the soul was doomed to an unpleasant afterlife. Thus, Maat symbolized Justice as well as Equilibrium. One could say with some justification that Maat was a more likely icon of the “Age of Aquarius” than a warlike Horus, but that depends on how one views an implacable force of Justice!
The problem with the Maat proposal is that one does not know with any certainty how long a Crowleyan Aeon is supposed to last. If one takes the traditional Western view, an Aeon is roughly equivalent to an astrological Age which corresponds to the length of time it takes for the Sun’s passage through the vernal equinoctial point in one of the zodiacal signs, a process known to astronomers as the precession of the equinoxes. The precession of the equinoxes takes a total of 25,800 years; thus, the length of time of each Age—corresponding to one of the 12 zodiacal signs—is about 2,150 years. This idea that the Age corresponds to the equinoctial point is reflected in many Thelemic writings and rituals, such as the title of Crowley’s own occult magazine, The Equinox, and his commentary on Liber AL, The Equinox of the Gods.
However, Crowley postulated that the Aeon of Horus began in 1904— the year he received the Book of the Law. The problem with this date is that it is not consistent with the scientific calculation of some astronomers
regarding the Age of Aquarius. They declare it will not actually begin until about 2600 CE. On the other hand, many astrologers and occultists believe otherwise—proposing start dates ranging from the fifteenth century CE to a thousand years from now. In this cluttered field, Crowley’s “Aeon of Horus” is only one among many contenders for the title of “current Age” and as such is perhaps just as valid as any other.
But how long does a Crowleyan Aeon last?
This is also a contentious area, for Crowley himself was not clear or consistent in his calculations. While he seemed inclined to accept the standard precessional length of time of 2,000 to 2,150 years he was not committed to it. How could he be, when a 1904 start date was inconsistent with both astronomical and astrological literature? In his various writings he admitted the possibility that an Aeon could be measured in as little as a hundred years or as many as thousands of years, stipulating that the experience of Time by the gods was not identical to human conceptions.30 Thus, when Frater Achad proclaimed the Aeon of Maat as beginning only forty-four years after the beginning of the (presumably 2,150 year long) Aeon of Horus, there theoretically was some wiggle-room for insisting on such a shortened “Aeon.” Crowley’s adoption of the precessional idea of the Aeons or Ages seems pro forma, as if he accepted the 2,150 year “age” as a given rather than basing it on any specific revelation or calculation on his part, the way he accepted the matriarchal-patriarchal sequence long since abandoned by scholars. It is obvious to even the most cursory examination that two thousand years prior to 1904—i.e. the year 96 BCE— could not have been the beginning of the patriarchal Age of Osiris. The worship of Osiris had predated this period by thousands of years; further, the two thousand years prior to 96 BCE could by no stretch of the imagination be considered a matriarchal age.31
This was not Achad’s only creative adjustment to the Kabbalistic system embraced by Crowley. He also went on to redesign the Tree of Life and to assign different variables to the spheres and to the paths on the Tree that connect the spheres. This type of tinkering could have important and far- reaching consequences for those brought up under the Golden Dawn, A A and OTO systems for it rendered all sorts of symbolic language inoperative and inoperable.
The Tree of Life is the primary template for the magical system that came out of the Golden Dawn. The initiatory degrees are based on the
spheres of the Tree, and the corresponding instructions in magic, kabbalah, astrology, Tarot, etc are all related to the paths that connect the spheres. Thus, any re-arranging of this scheme would be anathema and would possibly question the occult attainments (or at least their analysis and interpretation) of those who had already passed through the degree system to any extent. This would include Crowley himself, of course. Achad was aware of this problem, and mentioned it briefly in the Preface to his The Egyptian Revival.