(early 1980’s) On Crowley the Critic

NOTE: Written in the early 1980s e.v., this essay survives as four pages of typescript with the author’s handwritten corrections and additions. It was intended for the original Magickal Link, and although it was not used in this form (and never received a final editorial polish), several of its stories and some of its phrases were recycled into other essays which Grady prepared for the Link over the following couple of years. At the end this piece trails off into glosses upon a letter from Crowley which is quoted throughout, but which was not preserved with the essay. Copies of his poems to which Grady refers (“Normandie in June” and “The Cynic“) were appended to the typescript.

On Crowley the Critic
by Hymenaeus Alpha 777

Having the opportunity to submit one’s poetry to Aleister Crowley for his critique was a unique experience. It could also be rather painful.

When I hit Beach Blue in Normandy — that was on the right (Cotetin Peninsula); Beach Red (Omaha) was on the left — on D+11 I was walking about three feet off the ground on the astral. You wouldn’t believe the high you can get from a rush like that. I won’t go into it here, but it was one hell of a show. I do mean in the theatrical sense. One result was my poem, “Normandie in June.”

One hazard of such a physical (adrenal) high is that you can’t keep it up forever. Sooner or later you have to come down. With the breakout I pulled the first convoy of deuce-and-a-halfs (two and one-half ton GMC trucks) loaded with 500-pounders out of Strip Three, Normandy. We headed east through the red brick rubble that had been St Lo before our bombers hit it, and swing north for Chartres. (The French pronounce it “Shart!” You can pronounce it any way you want to. Even today Americans drive the French up the wall calling Rheimes “Rheems!“) The Germans were fighting a desperate delaying action, and some of the things we rolled through were pretty grim. One of my personal nightmares is that line of Sherman tanks we passed on the left. The first thing I noticed was the odd way they were parked. Nose down in the ditch. That is not like us. The second thing was that funny rusty orange color they had painted the turrets. Then it hit me. Oh my god, oh no! Some American tank commander had ordered a “by the left flank” at just the wrong moment. He was trying to cut off the German retreat, but they were covering. The German army was hurt and it was retreating, but it was for god damned sure still the German army, and they weren’t going to give an inch without making us pay. In blood. As the American tanks had peeled off to the left there had been a line of Panzergrenaderen lying there in their slit trenches under the trees. “Mit kalte blut” and steady fingers on the triggers of their Panzerfausts. (Stupid us — we had given away the secret of the Bazooka in the North African campaign. Naturally the Germans had picked it up and copied it. Old Heinie may have lost a couple of wars, but there is damn sure nothing wrong with his brights.) As the American tanks had wheeled left off the road “by the numbers” there had been a lance of fire in the guts of each, and twenty American tank crews had gone up in flaming agony. The rusty color was the way the turrets had oxidized in the rain. I damn near threw up.

We came barrelling onto Chartres airfield in the rain past a shot-down B-17. Poor bastards; they had named it “Bad Penny.” Bad Penny “always turns up.” In case you think primitive magick is absent from modern warfare, I’ve got news for you. There ain’t no atheists in fox holes. And there is nothing worse than incoming artillery. That’s when you grab the dirt. And pray. What you are saying mostly is, “Oh my god, oh no!” It won’t do you much good. But you’ve got to say something or shit your pants — as you might just do.

I set up our Ammunition Supply Point in what had been the German bomb dump. It was a little more than depressing, wondering how many of our aircrew had been shot down trying to hit that airfield when it had been a Luftwaffe base. You could see where the lines of bomb craters came marching right up to the edge of the field, and had stopped just short. The reason was more than a little obvious. The great cathedral of Chartres, like some monstrous and antique battleship riding the seas of time, loomed just behind us. Our bombadiers had been trying desperately to take out that airbase but miss the cathedral, and too many times they had dropped short and died trying.

Anyway, sometime around here, and for whatever reasons, I hit that old downer trip. Not too surprising, after the fantastic high of Normandie. The result was “The Cynic.” I didn’t particularly like it. In fact, I damn near threw it away. Glad I didn’t. If I had, we would not have this particular letter from Crowley. So. I sent it, along with “Normandie in June,” to A. C. The result we can see here in his letter to me of November 13, 1944. (Probably the reason the date is not “e.v.” is because the letter had been typed commercially.)

“As I expected, my judgment about your poems is probably the exact opposite of yours. The one into which you put so much hard work I just don’t like. The hard work is apparent. The “Normandy in June” is not so bad; but it is not really a poem. There is no ecstasy in it, or coming out of it. It seems to me to be just a straightforward description of things observed. But for “The Cynic” I have nothing but unqualified praise. As you say, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and I am absolutely convinced that all first-class poetry is just exactly that. I said so in the Preface to the “City of God.” And again, in the last paragraph, “. . . (as in the case of poetry) this business” — i.e. Magick — “depends entirely on the spontaneous outflow of the spirit.”

This letter also gives us other fascinating insights into Crowley’s view of his own character. “What we have always lacked has been the real fantastic. I could never be anything of the sort myself. At the back of me is an extraordinarily powerful strain of conventional behavior. I have done a few mad things in my time; but it has always been based upon calculation, and (as in the case of poetry) this business depends entirely on the spontaneous outflow of the spirit.”

He mentions money. It is practically impossible to find a letter from him in those days in which he doesn’t. The “new book” he refers to was Magick Without Tears, from which I was supposed to derive an income. Naturally I have never received a cent. Jack would be Jack Parsons. Smith would be Wilfred Smith (reference is to Liber 132). The “three bound volumes of typescript” on astrology were perhaps never stolen at all. Evangeline Adams had worked with him for awhile, and one line of speculation is that when she came home she simply brought her notebooks with her. These were published as books posthumously by her friends and without her editing, which perhaps accounts for certain passages which could only have been written by an English male.

His suggestion that I take the Grand Tour of France while I was at the same time fighting a real live shooting war is so typical of Crowley. I don’t think he was trying to be funny. He was just being Crowley. He lived in a world of the impossible, and saw no reason why others shouldn’t. “La Gauloise” was his “Song for the Fighting French.” He wanted me to get it published during the war in France. At the end of a series of most unlikely events I handed a copy to Charles Munch, the noted French maestro, on a cold and wintry day in Paris, with the power off and the snow looking like thick frost on the ground, in the winter of ’44-’45 e.v. Naturally nothing ever came of it, but, for whatever karma is worth, I had fulfilled the commission from my Prophet and made the contact. As best I could. Under some rather impossible circumstances. To quote Crowley (second paragraph of the letter reproduced here), “It is very extraordinary the way things happen.”

Or, as it is written in the Gospel According to Our Mighty What’s-His-Face:

I shot a poem into the air
It fell to earth in Picadilly Circus.

93, HA

Note: Originally published in Thelema Lodge Calendar, December 2003