The Curmudgeon


Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Beast

A foolish article in the Observer shows once more that, even with the greatest research tool in the history of mankind at his disposal, the great British journalist cannot dispense with his traditional recourse to smirking sensationalism and schoolboy inaccuracy. The subject of the article is Aleister Crowley, admittedly a flamboyant figure and not a man over-addicted to letting the truth take the place of a good scandal. But in referring to him, without the least hint of scepticism, as a "satanist" who, with his "devil-worshipping followers", offered "sacrifices to Satan" and engaged in "debauched rituals", it appears that the Observer's intrepid reporter has copied and pasted accounts from contemporary scandal sheets rather than done anything worthy of the holy name of reportage. In fact, Crowley was a far more interesting figure than the Wheatleyesque bogeyman conjured up by Paul Kelbie and the romantics of Boleskine Bay. He had a genuine and sizeable religious talent, which he seems to have pursued with a good deal of honesty and dedication (and self-publicity and crankery). He was an accomplished mountaineer and, when not blowing raspberries at the establishment or indulging his not inconsiderable ego, a talented writer. I have not read much of his voluminous output: a book on yoga, which may have been Book Four and was written with great verve and surprising clarity; the novel Moonchild, which is enjoyable enough if one can forgive the incessant showing off; and Crowley on Christ, a superb demolition of one of George Bernard Shaw's sillier essays, the preface to Androcles and the Lion. A Crowley-like character is among the major figures in one of Colin Wilson's better novels, Man Without a Shadow (also known, regrettably, as The Sex Diary of Gerard Sorme and The Sex Diary of a Metaphysician), and there is a biography, Do What Thou Wilt, by Lawrence Sutin, who also wrote a life of Philip K Dick.


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