Episode 10 Extra: Who Aiwass
For the weeks in between episodes we look at the stories that for one reason or other didn’t make it into the show.
In last week’s episode, The Spaces that Linger, we journeyed to the grounds of Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. Although the house has long been the subject of dark intrigue, it is perhaps best known for its association with author and occultist Aleister Crowley.
The house had been selected by Crowley as the perfect place to conduct a magick ritual known as the Abramelin Operation. The operation is in principle a spell to make contact with one’s guardian angel, one that also requires calling forth the demons known as 12 Kings of Hell. The invocation required an ascetic concentration which was to last an obligatory six months. Failure to adhere to the correct time frame could, some believed, leave a gateway open for the demons to escape. Crowley is believed to have begun the ritual in Easter but famously left it incomplete.
Four years later, Crowley would finally make contact with his Guardian Angel, it was an event that would change his life forever and one that has established Crowley in legend far beyond any of his peers.
After breaking off the ritual, Crowley spent some time in Paris with his friend Samuel Mathers only for their relationship to ultimately turn sour. He returned to Scotland and became friendly with a young painter known as Gerald Kelly. Kelly would later be known as Sir Gerald Kelly, President of the Royal Academy.
After spending some time with Kelly at his family home in Strathpeffer, Scotland, Crowley met and became close to Gerald’s sister Rose Kelly – a widower, now betrothed unhappily to another man. In a characteristically impulsive gesture, Crowley suggested she marry him to ward off the unwanted suitor.
The pair eloped the following day, on August 12th 1903. Despite the apparent flippancy of the gesture, it would seem that Crowley, a man who had always been enthrall to his own heightened sense of sexuality, felt a growing magnetism between them. Reveling in the scandalous behavior, Crowley and Rose returned to Boleskine House before embarking on an extended honeymoon to Cairo and it is there that the story takes a peculiar turn.
After arriving in Cairo, in what had become a feature of Crowley’s life Aleister adopted the pseudonym Prince Choia Khan. The pair took up residence in an apartment which Crowley had had partially converted to mimic an Egyptian temple. They told all who cared to listen that they had been granted the rank of Prince and Princess by an unnamed Eastern Sultan.
At some point, Crowley attempted a ritual for the benefit of Rose who was by this point pregnant with Crowley’s first child. The operation, known as The Bornless Ritual, the preliminary invocation to the Ars Goetia, which in turn forms the first book of the infamous Lesser Key of Solomon. The book, also known as The Lemegeton, was compiled anonymously some time in the 17th century and is considered a primary text of demonology, with the Ars Goetia detailing no less then seventy-two demons for invocation.
It is not clear exactly what Crowley had intended with the ritual, though some suggest he had grown impatient with his new wife and had taken to teasing her with his magick obsession. However after a short bout of chanting Rose began acting strangely. She had fallen into some kind of trance and had started to mutter something: ‘They are waiting for you’ she said.
The irritated Crowley, who at this point, despite years of trying had never actually made contact with any of the spirits he tried to invoke, demanded to know who Rose was talking about. It was the ancient Egyptian god Horus, she replied. She told Crowley he had offended the god. An incredulous Crowley took Rose immediately to the nearby Bulaq museum, now known as the Egyptian museum of antiquities to identify the deity she claimed to be in communication with.
Arriving shortly after at the museum, Rose proceeded to lead Crowley past a number of holy and ancient Egyptian artifacts before final coming to a stop in front of an intricately decorated piece of wood known as a stele. More precisely it was the Stele of Revealing and dated from around 680 BC. Sure enough, the beautiful piece of funerary art, on the right hand side depicts a recently deceased priest making an offering to the falcon headed god, Ra-Harakhty, an amalgamation of the sun god Ra and Horus. Rose, at least to Crowley’s mind, seemed to be telling the truth.
Crowley was convinced further when he looked down to find the exhibition number of the artifact; the number was 666.
666 as many will know is equated with the number of the beast as depicted in the Book of Revelation. The number has latterly become synonymous with the antichrist and Satan and all their dark and evil connotations.
To Crowley however it meant something else.
It was Crowley’s mother who first labeled him the Beast, presumably in reaction to a young Crowley’s burgeoning rejection of the family’s puritanical beliefs. To Crowley it was a label that he would gleefully come to embrace. To some it was evidence of Crowley’s innate wickedness but for others it spoke of nothing more than his refusal to accept what he saw as the arbitrary labels and morals of the Christian faith.
The moniker served ultimately as a symbol of Crowley’s core belief, a belief that was soon to be articulated in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
Some time after returning to their Cairo apartment after the visit to the museum, Rose is believed to have instructed Crowley on how to communicate with Horus. On April 8th, 1904, Crowley commenced a new ritual now under the guidance of Rose. A short time later, he heard a voice that seemed to be coming from behind his shoulder.
Crowley later claimed the voice belonged to an entity known as Aiwass who presented itself as none other than Crowley’s own Guardian Angel. The same entity with which he had been trying to communicate with in Boleskine House.
Aiwass told Crowley that he was the messenger of Horus and instructed Aleister to be ready at 12 Noon everyday for the next three days in order to receive his word.
Sure enough, over the course of the next three days, Aiwass is believed to have returned to speak to Crowley who in turn wrote down every word that he received. When the three days were over, Crowley had before him the document that would become his true legacy. The book was titled Liber AL vel Legis, or, The Book of the Law,
Regardless of your belief, or its true provenance, the text is a fascinating document which sets out Crowley’s ideas for a brand new religion that he would later come to call Thelema, which is still followed and practiced today.
As the author Colin Wilson points out, there is nothing particularly original about the text, comparing it as he does to the far superior man and superman by George Bernard Shaw, as well as pointing out its clear indebtedness to the philosophy of Nietzsche, however it does suggest that Crowley was more than the ‘brainless charlatan’ his detractors would have him be.
Certainly for Crowley at least, the text was nothing less than the bible for his new religion. An attempt to obliterate the reigning monotheistic religions, and usher in a new epoch for man, one based on liberation, without restriction and one that above all implored people to follow their own path.
It is a philosophy perhaps best summed up by the book’s most famous line, ‘Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole of the Law.’
A basic idea that is often greatly misunderstood as the justification of selfish or immoral behaviour - a situation all the more ironic since what Crowley ultimately preached was the complete control of life for one self and not to have it defined by what other people might project onto it.
In the years that followed on from the Cairo trip it is fair to say that Crowley lived a fairly colourful life, the extent to which will not be done justice in the time we have here. Suffice to say there are plenty of books and documentaries out there for anyone interested in finding out more about his life. It is also fair to say that much of his life was shrouded in controversy and to many some of it will seem unpalatable, sadistic even - his voracious commitment to the practice of sex magic and the insanely chaotic attempt to form a Thelema community on the island of Sicily are just two aspects that come to mind.
But for me, it all comes back to the book of the law. Whether you believe Crowley was blessed with genuine magick powers or not, and there are many who do, there is something deeply profound at the heart of his belief that speaks to us all.
For Crowley, magick was really just an expression of the power of human will, that anybody in a sense could conduct magick provided they had a sufficient control of their own will.
In 2004 Karla Hoff, Lead Economist of the world bank and Priyanka Pandey of Pennsylvania University conducted an extraordinary experiment for the World Bank’s Development Report on Equity and Development.
Titled, Belief Systems and Durable Inequalities, An Experimental Investigation of Indian Caste, which took place in rural North India, the experiment asked 321 low caste and 321 high caste male junior high school students to perform a number of maze solving tasks under economic incentives.
What the examiners found was nothing short of remarkable.
When the individual’s caste was not publicly announced, there were no caste differences in performance. However, when the test subject was required to publicly announce their caste the number of mazes solved by low caste boys dropped by a dramatic 25%. In other words, when the lower caste individuals were freed from the stigma, or the label with which the surrounding environment and society had forced on them, they performed exactly the same as their higher caste peers.
It’s hard not to see this as a vindication of Crowley’s beliefs, a glaring example of how often people can be made to feel they can only be the thing that they have been told they can be.
At the risk of sounding glib, it is a reminder that, for me, no religion, political party, media outlet or social movement is the arbiter of what is and what isn’t right, a reminder that we should never be afraid to be who we want to be in spite of how we feel the world might want us to be.
Crowley’s ‘Do what thou wilt,’ is a cry to look beyond social convention and the narrow definitions with which others might attempt to define us, encouraging each of us to exercise our right to determine who we are or should be on our own terms.
If this series has been about anything in particular it is to question what the truth really is. That the truth, and in a sense the world can and will be manipulated. And I don't say this because I want to encourage this necessarily but rather to encourage people to remain vigilant, to question everything, and not just to believe what you are told. And above all to fight for your truth because whoever controls that story, controls you.
But I must stress, this is not a denigration of expertise or an attempt to encourage the scourge of anti-intellectualism that has been creeping into our society. If that latest report dismissing climate change is funded by a major petroleum conglomerate, you might want to think twice before quoting it to your friends. And when politicians start telling you to ignore the experts, it’s worth considering just who might have the strongest ulterior motive…
While writing this I was reminded of a speech made by sublime author David Foster Wallace, that I believe has parallels with some of what Crowley represented.
The speech which I urge everyone to seek out online is Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to students of Kenyon College, in Ohio in the United States.
His message reminds us to value the totally obvious every day, even in the smallest of ways. To try to see all perspectives and to exercise control over what we think about it.
It is a reminder that we have the power to choose what we pay attention to and that it is up to us to choose how we construct meaning from our experiences.
As Foster Wallace states:
If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention then you will know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot slow consumer hell type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars. Love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down, not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true, the only thing that is capital T true is that you get to decide how you’re going to see it – that is true freedom. You get to decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.
In short, you might say that true freedom is complete attention and awareness, for surely the alternative is unconsciousness.
And yet, there are of course some who believe that the unconscious is the true consciousness, but that is another story…
This episode concludes the first Season of Unexplained marking the final chapter in our present journey into the strange and mysterious.
I will be back later in the year with a brand new season, where I'll be attempting something a little more ambitious so please look out online for announcements about that.
I want to once again thank each and every one of you who has found the time to listen to the show, for rating and reviewing it and especially for all your incredible messages of support, thank you.
© Richard MacLean Smith
1. The Wickedest Man In The World, (dir. Rawles, N.), Diverse Productions broadcast on Channel 4 (2002), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt9WJy6_XZU
2. Wilson, C. (1988), The Occult, Grafton Books: UK
3. Crowley, A. (1969), The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, http://www.thelema.ca, http://www.thelema.ca/156/Confessions/confess.html
5. Crowley, A. (1904), Liber AL Vel Legis – The Book of the Law, http://hermetic.com/legis/ccxx/
6. Mastin, L. (2009), Famous Witches – Abramelin the Mage, witchcraftandwitches.com, http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/witches_abramelin.html
7. The Book of Abramelin Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Abramelin
8. Aleister Crowley Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleister_Crowley
9. Wallace, D., F., (2005), This is Water - Kenyon College Commencment Speech, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYGaXzJGVAQ
10. Hoff, K. & Pandey, P., (2004), Belief Systems and Durable Inequalities, An Experimental Investigation of Indian Caste, princeton.edu, http://www.princeton.edu/rpds/seminars/pdfs/hoff_indiancaste.pdf