|John Martin - Satan presiding at the Infernal Council; 1823. Wikimedia file, Public Domain|
Subtitled: Crowley, Was He Satanistic, or Not?
I have a group on Facebook; it's a demonolatry and magick group. Sometimes discussions get lively, and the other day was one such occasion. The discussion concerned whether or not Aleister Crowley was a Satanist (please read on for an outline of said discussion). At one point it was clear that proof, or at least information from someone who had seen proof, was needed to make sense of our predicament. Looking such matters up online, nothing ever changes--the World Wide Web remains the misinformation highway to be sure. Some offer quotes as proof, but often with faulty context or no reference.
Thus the most logical thing was done, I turned to Bill Heidrick. No one knows more about what Crowley said and how he thought, than Bill. It's exciting to hear Bill's response to a query, because he considers topics from all angles; and his sense of humor at times, really tickles the funny bone. He relates to Crowley related concepts so well, he may alternately offer simple responses and very complex ones. In this instance he really laid the facts out clearly.
By the way, I was more than a tad bit amused at the irony of the fact that Satan in the image above, bears a slight resemblance to Crowley in a younger day. It adds a delicious undertone to this piece.
Email Subject Line: Re: Was Crowley really a Satanist?
This paragraph is Bill quoting my query to him: "Sorry about the dramatic email title, Bill. I have a Facebook group, and there's a lively conversation. People are sharing quotes attributed to Crowley in support of each side of a discussion, but no one can provide proof. The discussion is, some say Crowley was a Satanist and that he even identified himself as such. Others say he was obviously not a Satanist, some say he did not identify as such. I know that above all, you'd know. My stance is that Crowley probably did not consider himself that, but at times may have said it for shock value. Don't know though."
Bill's Response to my query: "Since both 'Satan' and 'THE DEVIL' are fictional personifications of a variety of a great many different things, there is no way to prove anyone is or is not a Satanist or a Devil worshiper, except by their own utterances. In his autobiography, Crowley mentions that he was one or the other of those in his early 20's, chiefly as an act of rebellion and rejection of his childhood religion. He also says he got over it and no longer believed in either of those.
Many Christian denominations consider other "Christians" to be Satanists or Devil worshipers. Heretics and others have been burned at the stake, pressed to death, drownd, hung and otherwise tortured to death for this delusional characterization. As an accusation, it's simply a hate crime or a joke in bad taste. There are literary forms of "Satanism", often based on Milton's characterization in Paradise Lost of the rebellion of Satan -- those usually equate it with a dramatization of rejection of the notion of "savior" and the dignity of self effort, works, not faith. "Heresy", after all, derives from a Greek word that amounts to "having one's own opinion".
I could go on for pages or a book with this. Suffice it to say that even the Bible does not agree on what "Satan" is -- the Old Testament uses the Hebrew Word "Satan" not as a name but as an office with the meaning "Accuser". In the Old Testament, Satan is Jehovah's loyal servant and official prosecutor of "sinners", who uses entrapment. In the New Testament, especially in translations, Satan is something else [two basic examples provided by the editor, here and here], but the very notion of the Christian Devil came late to the religion.
Crowley explicitly stated in Magick in Theory and Practice that, since some people would not believe him when he said there was no such critter, he might as well declare himself a Satanist -- and then went on with that irony. He amused himself with poetry and even analysis of names in Liber Samekh along those lines -- the latter probably to shock Frank Bennett for whom he wrote that commentary in the Liber.
There are Churches of Satan, the Temple of Set and others who sometimes use a literary or media related mythos, but that's their privilege and right to enjoy as suits their ways. For that matter, religions often use words and names for a variety of reasons to express their beliefs on multiple levels. Holy stores for children and adults who benefit by them often use divine names from particular pantheons. More abstract notions of deity or even an essential beyond personification of ultimate being can and do co-exist in religions that employ teaching and devotional stories about spirits behaving in human ways. Parables have literal meanings, metaphoric meanings and particular hidden meanings for those who have understanding in another way. When such stories are parsed by others not brought up in the system that created them, even the literal meanings can be missed. So it is with Crowley and others like him. Over-bold use of irony and analogy can result in scizmatic divisions faster than a preposition on the divine nature of Christ or another about the spiritual quality manifesting in a gnostic mass. The former divided the Roman Catholic Church from its parent, the Greek Orthodoxy; while the latter in variations between two Crowley publications of Liber XV resulted in a lively debate spanning years.
This argument cannot reach a conclusion, since everybody uses different definitions and modes for Satan and Devil.
There are also criminals and insane persons who use this fantasy as an excuse for murder. Crowley was not one of those."
Mr. Heidrick allows me to post the above quote on the conditions that it is stated: he approves the very minor formatting edits made (to be more fluid with the platform), and that he cannot respond to blog comments.