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Various: Aleister Crowley and Feminism

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.magick.tantra,talk.religion.misc,talk.religion.newage,alt.pagan,alt.feminism
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Various: Aleister Crowley and Feminism
Date: 9 Jul 1997 17:08:19 -0700

~From: maat@IO.COM (C.L.K.)

Hi All, 93,

Here's my two cents, kidz!

I've spent the last year doing a fairly in-depth
analysis of all the A.C. writing I can get my hands
on (considerable amounts, I'm afraid) in terms of his
references to men, Man, women, Woman, masculine/ity,
feminine/ity, the Divine Masculine, and the Divine 

Here's what I conclude (and I'm still in the middle of

I think that I can state with confidence that A.C. had
a very specific idea about the natural and intended roles
of incarnate human men and women, and that he saw their natural 
roles, arenas, and most importantly, abilities, to be very

He believed that women were circumscribed in their ability to
do many things _specifically _because _of _their _gender.

Furthermore, he had an elaborate metaphysical 
explanation/justification for this view,
which is clearly stated in the unpublished (yet, available
from me for the cost of the xerox and mailing - it's over 30
pages long, btw) epic poem, MOTHERLOVE. 

Given that you accept
this (and I've got a metric ton of documentation - including
his various descriptions as "exceptions" -indicating that this
is a 'rule' - of women who fell outside these
parameters - one example: Roddie Minor, and her "mind like a
man's"), we can move on to my next conclusion:

Within the parameters that he fully believed were the 'natural
limitations' of an incarnate female (I keep using this phrase so
as to be clear that he's not talking about an abstraction) 
- he preached for the complete
freedom of Woman, and women. So, if you believe that your highest
aspiration as a human is to do your 'frontal duty' and
have children, or, if you want complete freedom to exercise your
sexual nature, then A.C. is/was your man. What's more, he pledges
you the protection your naturally delicate condition clearly
requires you to seek.

If you want to know where Ruess was at with woman's proper
role, look no further than that gem from 1910, _What We Instruct
and Intend_. It's available in the current Scarlet Letter with
commentary on this very subject, among others. 

While I agree that both Crowley and Reuss were unusual (compared to
the _majority _opinion of their time) in their recognition of the
Divine Feminine, and its obvious place above the abyss - I do not
think this stands as evidence of their feminism, even as judged by
the standards of their own time and cultural placement. History is
a funny thing. In two hundred years, people may well describe the
time we live in as repressed and sexually conservative - and in
some ways, they will be correct, and in some ways they won't, will
they?  How easy it is to make a sort of blanket, two dimensional
mind pic of "The Victorian Era" that characterizes all "Victorians"
as sexually repressed, classist, socially irresponsible folk, and
how wrong that is. Look's reallllly interesting....

I was born in 1959. I was influenced more by the political/media
representation/peer beliefs of the '60s and '70s  than that of the
'50s - and I continue to change and be affected because my sensorium
is still receiving information and I'm in a much more informed position
to evaluate it than when I was 10. 

A.C. was born in 1875. Queen Victoria died, ya know....even heard of
the Gay '90s - even spent a day reading about the Fin De Siecle (sp?)?
Consider the fact that women did not get the vote in the USA until many of you who proclaim Crowley a 'feminist' by the
'standards of his culture and time' know what he thought (and wrote,
and said publicly) about that? An interesting research topic....

I hasten to add that I do not (and neither does the contemporary
feminist recontructive model to which I subscribe) think that it
is appropriate to villify someone, based on contemporary standards,
for behaviors evidenced in the past. A.C. was certainly not alone
in his beliefs about the "natural sphere" of women. But to call him
a 'feminist', is by definition, incorrect.

(Sidenote to the persons that stated that the formula of 
"The father, the son, and the Holy Ghost" were not a trinity
that A.C. made use of in the Gnostic Mass. Go look again. 
Pay attention to the parts that are not written in English.
Translate them.)

I have a lot of respect for Aleister Crowley, and continue to
learn a great deal from my studies. I have been accused of both
a)having a knee-jerk reaction to him, because I am a feminist,
and b)doing research with an eye to providing fuel/defensive for a 
thesis that I formed from an uninformed posion. 

I don't believe either of these things are true. I got involved with
Thelema because I met a group of men and women who shined an inordinate
amount of light. I stayed involved because I read the Holy Books. Much
like Buddhism, I believe that Thelema is a religion/philosophy who's
source texts suggest balance - "Every man and every woman is a star" -
but who's prophets, teachers, and interpreters have been limited by
their own particular misapprehensions. The best book I have ever read
on this subject is 

Buddhism After Patriarchy
by Rita Gross, published by SUNY Press.

I recommend it absolutely to anyone who wants to study these issues.
I found, amazingly, that you can substitute the
word "Thelema" for the word "Buddhism", and many, 
many things that seem
very odd begin to make sense.

93 93/93

   "Feu vers qui se souleve une vierge de sang
    Sous les especes d'or d/un sein reconnaisant!" 
                              - Paul Valery


~From: Tim Maroney 

>> Sorry, but he was. Crowley was exactly that misogynistic. He believed 
>> that, as I recently quoted him, "man is the guardian of the Life of God; 
>> woman but a temporary expedient; a shrine indeed for the God, but not the 
>> God."

>     Fine.  He also wrote: "Woman!  Thou drawest us upward and onward for
>ever; and every woman is one among women, of Woman; one star of Her
>[Nuit's] stars."  and also: "...not only art thou Woman, sworn to a
>purpose not thine own; thou art thyself a star, and in thyself a purpose
>to thyself."  So which set of quotes shall we take as canon?

They're all equally "canonical." The question is not what was canon but 
what was Crowley's attitude toward women: a biographical question rather 
than a theological one. You can find a few passages in his writing that 
seem to come from some sort of pro-female sentiment. If you quote almost 
any of them in full, though, you find them disfigured with misogyny. Take 
a look, for instance, at his comment on III:55 in "The Law is for All", a 
stirring tribute to the power of woman, which contains amongst all its 
pomp and purple this phrase: "we ask no more than to supply our strength 
to Her, whose natural weakness else were prey to the world's pressure."

If one were simply to quote another sentence from the same passage, as 
you have done in your out-of-context quotes -- say, "We respect women in 
the self of Her own nature" -- then one would get only part of the 
picture. The fact is Crowley's view of women was constantly tinged with 
loathing and disrespect, even when he tried to summon his poetic talent 
to prove otherwise.

And of course, while one can find almost no passages in praise of woman 
that are not disfigured, one can find any number of plainly misogynist 
and insulting passages which do not contain any equal and opposite streak 
of respect. Nor could one find a single ritual which has a yonic focus, 
although one can find many with a phallic focus. In Crowley one does find 
two conflicting impulses about woman, but there is no real question of 
which view holds the upper hand.

>     I think Crowley's psychology is clear.  He adored, worshipped, and
>respected Woman in the general, while having a simply awful time in his
>abilities to deal with them as individuals.

We seem to agree that a dichotomy in his thinking is evident, but I do 
not draw the line where you do. Crowley was awful to "Woman in the 
general" very often, as for instance when he refers to life as being "as 
ugly and necessary as the female body" in chapter 35 of The Book of Lies. 
He is also sometimes very favorable in his treatment of his female 
lovers, as of course with Laylah in the same book, or a variety of women 
from his Confessions. Rather than being kind to the general and rude to 
the particular, instead he is kind and rude to the general and particular 
alike, on an oscillating cycle that spends most of its time in rudeness 
-- and even more than that, most of the time he is barely concerned with 
woman or women at all.

>But that hardly makes him a
>misogynist to the degree of, say, the Ayatollahs of Iran, or the Taliban
>of Afghanistan, or the Orthodox monks of Mt. Athos. 

I don't see much difference. Most men who are oppressing women claim they 
are actually exalting them. There are many standard rationales. Perhaps, 
as Crowley says, their natural weakness needs protection; perhaps the 
natural holiness of women requires they they be ritually kept apart. 
Whatever the rationale, putting women on a pedestal is not a feminist 

>> His sexual trinity was all-male, reflecting the Christian trinity 
>> (as opposed to the Thelemic trinity),

>     What are you referring to here?  I'm unaware of a doctrine of a
>"sexual trinity" in Crowleyan Thelema...only a "sexual duo" of Babalon and
>the Beast, and the Trinity of Nuit, Hadit and RHK/HPK, which encompasses
>more than just sexuality, and is not "all-male."

It's all in black and white in manuscripts of Crowley's that were 
published by Francis King. You can also read in Chapter 0 of MTP that 
"Considerations of the Christian Trinity are of a nature suited only to 
Initiates of the IX* of O.T.O., as they enclose the final secret of all 
practical Magick." The sex magic of O.T.O. was derived from 
quasi-Christian Gnostic groups of the nineteenth century who had a 
spermatic interpretation of the Christian trinity. There was a 
controversy with other Gnostic groups that chanmged the trinity to 
father-Mother-Son; Crowley weighed in emphatically on the side of 
Father-Son-Holy Ghost and referred to those who tried to give the Mother 
an equal role as "blind mouths that gape poison."

>> and this is what he encoded into 
>> his symbolic sexual rite, the Gnostic Mass, in which the Priestess is 
>> treated as simply a part of the shrine in which the unique holiness of 
>> the sperm achieves fruition. The Mass actually revolves around the 
>> Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, with the Mother as a bit player or even a 
>> prop -- treated with respect and consecration, like any other bit of 
>> altar furniture.

>     Hmmmm...let's see here.  Said "furniture" raises the Priest from the
>tomb, is placed upon the "summit of the earth" by the priest, is adored as
>Nuit, the "circle of stars whereof our Father is but the younger brother,
>marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space, before whom Time is
>ashamed."  Now, you may address your altar furniture in such a way,

Yes, except for the opening, when her job is to bring the Priest to a 
state of symbolic tumescence, the Priestess is treated as a consecrated 
instrument no different from any other. The words with which she is 
addressed would be appropriate for invoking into any other prop.

>but it
>seems to me the Priestess is rather more than a mere appendage or
>afterthought.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Granted that in essence, the
>mass is indeed phallocentric, but it (and Crowleyan Thelemic magick in
>general) is hardly as unbalanced as you are implying.

I'm not sure what we're arguing about if you're agreeing with me that the 
Mass is centered around the phallus rather than putting the lingam and 
yoni on the same level.

>Certainly Crowley's
>Gnostic Mass is much more balanced between male and female principles, and
>principals, than the Roman Catholic equivalent, or some non-Thelemic
>"Gnostic" masses I have witnessed or read the texts of.

Roman Catholicism is a red herring here. I've worked with two other 
Gnostic groups; one was Father-Mother-Child and the other was led by a 
woman who didn't make any kind of sexual polarity the point of her ritual 
or sermon. I'd characterize them both as more balanced.

>> Crowley's unique error. In this as in so many things he was following the 
>> fashion of his times. The idea of the yoni as equal to the phallus was 
>> simply not found in many books from the period,

>     Except perhaps in Liber Cheth and Liber Stellae Rubeae, though one
>can find equal symbolic treatment of the Female and Male principles in
>Liber Samekh, the Star Sapphire, the version of the Tarot represented in
>the Book of Thoth (the only Tarot I know up to that point that was not
>skewed 75-25 percent male-female in the suits), and implicitly and
>explicitly in Liber AL vel Legis.  All written (or channelled, if you
>will) by one Aleister Crowley!

We must have very different copies of those books if you think that any 
of them represent some sort of gender balance. Liber Cheth is written as 
an instruction to male practitioners, without any word to women, even 
though its primary symbol is the cup or yoni. Liber A'ash, which closely 
follows Cheth in the Equinox, is all about the phallus, but instead of 
being for female practitioners, is again written to a male. Liber Stellae 
Rubeae is all written as the part of the "master", in which the woman has 
no part except as the "altar"; this "altar" is merely acted upon by the 
master, whose exaltation forms the central part of the rite. Liber Samekh 
is all about formulating a giant astral penis and identifying oneself 
with it. The Star Sapphire is all written from the perspective of a male 
adept -- the Rood or lingam is mentioned as a primary need while the Rose 
or yoni is mentioned only parenthetically, and the climactic point of the 
ritual is characterized by two male figures of a particularly phallic 
nature, Set and Baphomet, rather than, say, Babalon and Nephthys. 
Crowley's Tarot is too big to analyze in detail here; we'd need to look 
not only at the court cards but at the twenty-two trumps. I don't agree 
that Liber AL was necessarily written or channeled by Crowley, but in any 
case, it has two books devoted to gods and one to a goddess, which would 
be an interesting interpretation of "equal symbolic treatment".

Trying to find some trend towards including women as full or equal 
partners in these writings would be hopeless. In fact they do quite the 

>> While Koenig as always does everything possible to discredit his own 
>> writing by constantly introducing insulting personal judgments and 
>> failing to distinguish between his own opinion and supported matters of 
>> historical fact, nonetheless he is quite correct on the narrow issue of 
>> the centricity of sperm and the Eucharistic significance of the 
>> consumption of sperm in the sex magic that became O.T.O.

>      And here I thought it was menstrual blood that constituted one of
>major factors in the Gnostic Eucharist of the OTO.  Obviously a clever
>blind.  Had me fooled.

More your own imagination than a blind, since it's never been presented 
as an especially important factor. Note in the commentary in "The Law is 
for All" to III:24 that not a single word goes to this "major factor" 
(though you can certainly find plenty about the rulership of the phallus 
in the comment right before it.) He did use menstrual blood in Stellae 
Rubeae, which as has been noted is entirely about the master, and not 
about the "altar." I'd place your idea right along Kenneth Grant's 
insistence that Crowleyan sexual magic revolves around the "kalas" or 
vaginal fluids of the woman, even though Crowley never mentioned anything 
of the kind.

>And as for the other aspects of the Sexual Gnosis
>of the Crowleyan and post-Crowleyan OTO, just what *were* those poor
>female initiates supposed to do, being unable to generate any semen for
>Eucharistic purposes?

We wouldn't know. Crowley never bothered to write much of anything about 
how women should practice his sexual magic. It's almost all from a male 
perspective. "Certain secret formulae of this Mass are taught to the 
Priest in his ordination," but there aren't any for the Priestess, whose 
role is mostly just to sit back and be consecrated by the Priest's mighty 

>Are the substance and the symbol identical, as
>Koenig would have us believe, so that women are unable to be admitted to
>the Sovereign Sanctuary, due to their "biological deficiency?" ;-)

I'm not really dealing with metaphysical questions of this sort, just 
noting Crowley's consistent phallocentricity and the implicit and 
explicit scorn for women that was part and parcel of it. For me the idea 
of a "sovereign sanctuary" does not have much to do with anything. I 
would consider it just another in-group. Crowley did admit women to this 
group, but I do not find any evidence in his writing that he thought they 
were equal partners in the magic, as opposed to initiated facilitators of 
the primarily male formula.

Tim Maroney

~From: Tim Maroney 

>>You can find a few passages in his writing that 

>>seem to come from some sort of pro-female sentiment. If you quote almost 
>>any of them in full, though, you find them disfigured with misogyny.

>Are we discussing Crowley as an individual or Crowley as a product of his
>contemporary culture and family?  A.C. was in advance of his fellows in
>appreciation of the rights and independence of women, in my opinion.

Have you read any suffrage literature from Crowley's time? Feminism was 
just as much of an issue from the late 19th century through the 1920's as 
it is now, perhaps more so. Many men and women of the time were quite 
dedicated to it, which is why the times saw large changes like the grant 
of the right to vote to women in the USA. Thelema's mother tradition, 
Theosophy, made a great deal of gender rights and respect for women, 
including it in the three objects of the Theosophical Society. Crowley 
had every opportunity to learn from all these people and he deliberately 
turned away. More than that, his insulting statements about women went 
far beyond cultural norms.

The standard excuse for Crowley's misogyny, that he was a child of his 
times, is based in the historical error of thinking feminism only 
introduced itself into the Western mainstream in the mid-20th-century. In 
fact it has been coming and going in waves since the "Vindication of the 
Rights of Woman." Crowley's main working life fell right in the middle of 
one of the major upswellings and his atitude went against the social 
current, not with it.

>>Crowley weighed in emphatically on the side of 
>>Father-Son-Holy Ghost and referred to those who tried to give the Mother 
>>an equal role as "blind mouths that gape poison."

>Given the clear use of male-female triads and quatrads in Crowley's works,
>you are apparently selecting one example to obscure the general with the
>specific.  Consider that he means something particular here.

Yes, what he meant in particular was that in the IX* sexual formula, 
which he considered paramount over all other magical formulae in any 
sphere, the role of the woman is simply to be a temporary vessel for the 
holy semen, of o great importance in herself. I am aware of the use of 
the NHK trinity and the YHVH quaternity in his work as well, but when he 
got around to writing down his ideas about the ultimate formula, they did 
not enter in, and the role of the woman was actively disparaged, as were 
its advocates. The Gnostic Mass is something of a fusion of the NHK 
trinity and the Christian trinity, but the already observed inferior 
position of the Priestess, who receives no secret formulae and who is 
only part of the Priest, also makes it clear how he was primarily 

>>Yes, except for the opening, when her job is to bring the Priest to a 
>>state of symbolic tumescence, the Priestess is treated as a consecrated 
>>instrument no different from any other. The words with which she is 
>>addressed would be appropriate for invoking into any other prop.

>For Crowley, as a male, this is the role he knew.

Poor Crowley, then. I wouldn't come back to a lover who reminded me of a 
piece of furniture. If this is your experience of sex then I would 
recommend that you get out more. For Crowley, though, as in Stellae 
Rubeae, the woman was only the "altar" on which the "master" was exalted.

>Let a woman write
>another mass.  Are you criticizing Crowley for not being a female?  Isn't
>that as bad as criticizing any woman for not being a Victorian Male --
>which perhaps was something of Crowley's difficulty in this very area.

This is a straw man. I am criticizing Crowley for being a misogynist, not 
for being male. Why would a man tend to see his female lovers as mere 
functionaries at his own exaltation, if he had any respect for them at 

>>>> [Koenig is] correct on the narrow issue of 
>>>> the centricity of sperm and the Eucharistic significance of the 
>>>> consumption of sperm in the sex magic that became O.T.O.

>I can't play with Koenig's nonsense on this issue over much, without
>blowing my oaths.  However, I can and do observe that Koenig has somehow
>managed to take an unusual variant related to the secret of the OTO VIIIth
>degree, confused it with a misconstruance of the XIth degree and labeled it
>as IXth degree!

Are you referring to other writings by Koenig in your analysis? That's a 
lot to find in the statement quoted here, which was just "These modern 
Gnostics (and their sheep) were sperm-eaters. They assigned this to the 
Holy Logos; and, at least Reuss and Crowley, did not like women." It 
doesn't say anything about what goes with what degree. I wouldn't know 
about Reuss, but Crowley certainly was a sperm-eater, did identify the 
emission of sperm with the Logos, did not consider female fluids as being 
of equal importance to male, and was by character a misogynist.

>I can say with certainty that this centricity and
>Eucharistic definition is not something that exists in the upper triad of
>OTO at all.

I can say with certainty that it exists in Crowley's many hints toward 
the subject and in the materials published by Francis King as documents 
of that triad. I believe you must be using some narrow definition of 
"Eucharistic" that is tailored to exclude the upper triad practices, as 
well as using some late reinterpretation of Crowley that tries to excuse 
away his ideas about the centricity of sperm.

>It glances at an incompleteness of something utterly other.
>One might as well insist that a matzos is part of a yeast cult because it
>has the same flower one might find in different form in a loaf of
>Wonderbread. :-)

If what you mean is that the sperm is not central in itself, but only a 
symbol of something higher, this is not in line with my readings of 
Crowley; the sperm to Crowley was literally the vehicle of the essential 
self, as described in the Book of Lies, and the other symbols refer to 
it, rather than it referring to them.

>>I'd place your idea right along Kenneth Grant's 
>>insistence that Crowleyan sexual magic revolves around the "kalas" or 
>>vaginal fluids of the woman, even though Crowley never mentioned anything 
>>of the kind.

>Better read more Crowley, especially on oblique references to vaginal
>fluids.  MTP hints, Amrita hints more.  There are explicits, but not in
>works intended for publication.

Maybe you should read more Grant. (Not that I'd wish that on anyone!) 
There is a detailed doctrine of the centrality of the kalas there which 
is derived from independent sources in Tantra and has no resemblance to 
anything in Crowley. Vaginal fluid does play a small part in Crowley's 
sexual system but is not invested with the same significance as sperm, 
any more than the checkered floor is the main point of the Gnostic Mass. 
It's a trapping. I cited the main published source in which menstrual 
blood plays a significant role, Stellae Rubaeae, which on reading still 
turns out to be entirely androcentric. Mentrual blood is also noted in 
the recipe for Cakes of Light in Liber AL (the authorship of which is 
still unknown) but when writing his main comment on AL, Crowley did not 
consider this issue to be worth a mention. There's sure no problem 
finding lots of pro-phallic commentary there, though.

>>Crowley did admit women to this 
>>group, but I do not find any evidence in his writing that he thought they 
>>were equal partners in the magic, as opposed to initiated facilitators of 
>>the primarily male formula.

>Not true without exception, but Crowley did have limits, of a man as a man
>in a male dominant culture.  So there is manure about our Western roots, is
>that a reason to assume the whole thing is such or bound never to bloom?

No, which is why I wrote in this thread: "The question is how we today 
can rise above the misogynist error of our spiritual ancestors while 
continuing to derive benefit from the symbols and practices of our flawed 
but still precious tradition." Read first, _then_ type.

>I do not see a difficiency in the Ladies of Thelema or that they only hold
>High Tea and accomodate the Gentlemen.

I do not see a deficiency in the women who refuse to have much to do with 
Crowley because of his obvious hatred of women, and I would like to see 
their reasonable concerns laid to rest by a spirit of reform in the Order.

>As a male, are you not falling into
>the same trap that Crowley fought, however unsuccessfully?  Let the Sisters
>among us unfold their mysteries.  It presumes for the Brothers to do it for
>them.  However much he swung on the famous gate, Crowley was a brother in
>body, not a sister.

The idea of separate mysteries for men and women is itself sexist, though 
not necessarily misogynist; still, there are good reasons to be 
suspicious of any "separate but equal" arrangement, since the urge to 
separate usually involves some disdain. I don't see that sex is all that 
different for men and women. I both penetrate and envelop and so do most 
women I've been with. So did Crowley. Let both men and women comment on 
these matters freely.

Gender difference is also a red herring in this context. Crowley hardly 
refrained from telling women what to do; most of his passages on women in 
"The Law is for All" consist of patronizing instructions telling women 
how to become real Thelemites so they can join the men. Your idea -- that 
Crowley refrained from discussing the female part in sex magic because 
his respect for women made him humble enough to realize that he couldn't 
understand female experience -- is totally at odds with his character, 
and is merely an excuse for the fact that his ostensibly egalitarian 
tradition is actually sexist. Perhaps it is even an excuse he made 
himself on rare occasions, but his ordinary disdain for women and his 
explicit statement of their unimportance in sexual magic let us know 
where his real feelings lay.

Again, the question is how we remove this disfigurement and let the 
beauty and power of the rest of his tradition shine forth in good 
conscience. Making weak excuses for the flaw or trying to pretend it 
doesn't exist are steps in the wrong direction.

Tim Maroney

     (emailed replies may be posted)  -------  join the AMT syncretism!!!
   see  ----------        call: 408/2-666-SLUG!!
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Lucky Mojo Magic Spells Archives: love spells, money spells, luck spells, protection spells, etc.
      Free Love Spell Archive: love spells, attraction spells, sex magick, romance spells, and lust spells
      Free Money Spell Archive: money spells, prosperity spells, and wealth spells for job and business
      Free Protection Spell Archive: protection spells against witchcraft, jinxes, hexes, and the evil eye
      Free Gambling Luck Spell Archive: lucky gambling spells for the lottery, casinos, and races