Circa 1975 E.V. I was on my first Great Magical Retirement and undergoing the ordeals and initiation into the grade that would take me beyond the Veil of Paroketh. I had retired to the place where I was raised - Mt. Nebo. It was during this G.M.R. that, among many realizations, I discovered that this rural area in Pennsylvania was a very fitting place for me to have been raised, a place I returned to for two retirements that marked my passage beyond the Veil and a later Crossing. Of course it was fairly well known that it was upon another Mt. Nebo in the Old Testament that Moses viewed the Promise Land. However, what I realized during this G.M.R., learning something of Assyrio-Babalonian mythology for the first time, is that a place so named indicated a mountain on which Nebo or Nabu was worshipped and Nebo was the God of Magick and Writing. How fitting. How appropriate. How magical. For you see, from at least the age of nine, perhaps since an even earlier age, I have been intensely interested in both magick and writing and my interest has only increased with time and age. Coincidence? Syncronicity? Fate? Whatever the reason, Mt. Nebo and what I came to dub the Mt. Nebo Hermitage offered what served for me as an abbey.
During that first G.M.R. a certain lady that I had had an affair with sometime earlier - a lovely lady with long, straight brown hair and the largest, roundest and most incredibly firm breasts imaginable, visually a living incarnation of a Hindu statue, but a lady unfortunately less than desirable in character - tracked me down. She appeared at my hermitage bearing a book which she intended to use like a carrot on a stick to dangle before a jackass. Yes ... I was the jackass. At least, I was supposed to be. The book was a copy of John Symonds' The Magic of Aleister Crowley, published in 1958 E.V. by Frederick Muller Ltd., London, and it had been long out of print. I had never before even seen a copy, so I was eager to get my hot little hands on it and mentally devour it, despite Symonds' well-earned reputation for being less than objective and accurate. The flowering of wisdom may come even from such dung as this.
She dangled the book before me. Sure, a tumble in the sheets would have been a pleasant change, having spent most of my days in solitary communion with nature, study, research, magical and mystical practices, and for the first time seriously attempting to write something of worth and hone my writing skills. Still, she was a sensuous land I had visited before and I had no desire to return, for this was no perfect paradise. She offered an adventure past that could never again be relived with the same relish as before. And she was a nut. What to do? She solved the problem for me. The lady, her name is Linda, asked me to read the tarot cards for her once she found out that I was reading the cards for everyone at any time at the drop of a hat to refine yet another skill. I proceeded to read the cards for her, and to consult the I Ching, in painful, tedious, verbose detail, telling her the truth rather than what she really wanted to hear. I employed my god-given gift of verbosity and my often annoying attention to detail to put her into a deep trance. That is to say, Linda grew so bored she fell asleep.
I know, and so are you, so what does all this have to do with the Abbey of Thelema? Well, I'll tell you.
While dear Linda slept, I took up her book, sat on the floor in a half-lotus posture and read it from cover to cover, finishing it by sunrise. I ate the carrot while she who would master and control me slept. And it was tasty. Oh, to be sure, being the work of John Symonds it left a lot to be desired and a sour taste remained in my mouth, but it still provided me with some intellectual nutrition I needed at the time and one small part of the book especially fascinated me.
In The Magic of Aleister Crowley, between pages 23 and 25, Symonds, who pretended to befriend A.C. and then after the death of the Master stabbed him in the back with lies and twisted truths for the sake of two sensational books and even less noble reasons, related a discussion he had had with Crowley shortly before the old Beast's death on the first of December of 1947 Era Vulgari.
"Soon we were talking about a Thelemic community or centre. I gathered that, in the past, Crowley had founded a magical Order called the A.·.A.·., and a rather successful community of Thelemites at Cefalu in Sicily. He now wanted to start one in England. ...
"'What do you think of Cornwall?' he asked.
"'I think Cornwall is ideal,' I replied. 'There is already a colony of artists there.'"
Cornwall! This was the very first time I had heard that Crowley considered a second attempt at making the idea of an abbey work. As we all know, his first attempt in Sicily, by the usual standards, was something less than "successful". And his idea of this second abbey's location positively floored me.
When I was very young I fantasized about living in a black stone mansion in Cornwall, England. As I grew older and became more seriously interested in magick and all things esoteric, the fantasy mansion became a temple. After first reading The Confessions of Aleister Crowley the temple became an abbey. Then Linda brought me the book. The truly amazing thing about this for me is that I had fantasized about a place I had never been to, that in my family I was hardly likely to have even heard of, and without, to the best of my knowledge, ever seeing pictures or maps of the countryside, I knew well the lay of the land. It was as if Crowley had left the world of matter, leaving behind a plan he had not lived long enough to carry out, a plan that I picked up while coming into the world. Perhaps we even passed one another somewhere between this world and the other and he personally delivered his plan into my hands. Whatever the case may be, I still intend to carry out that plan one day.
But what of that first Abbey of Thelema? So far the only real Abbey of Thelema - not a sham occultist's rented house, a grandiose name used by a pseudo-thelemite to impress others, nor an abbey of paper and so many words. What became of the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, and could it ever be restored and rededicated to the Great Work? I think now, sadly, that the answer is no.
A number of people in the occult community consider filmmaker Kenneth Anger to be a Thelemite. In my opinion he is not. He is more a satanist than a Thelemite, and I think even that only as a gauche attempt to get attention and for similarly less than sincere reasons. And as a filmmaker ... well ... I frankly do not see the genius in his rubbish, nor much Thelema. Be that as it may, a good many people are under the impression that Anger restored the old Abbey of Thelema. He did not. So far as I can tell, he only wiped some of the whitewash off of the walls and photographed a handful of the paintings that Crowley had covered those walls with - then he left. And every Thelemite, would-be Thelemite and pseudo-thelemite abandoned Thelema's first and so far only true abbey.
Today? It is heartbreaking.
Although I would love to own and live in Boleskine House in Scotland, I am at least happy to know that the property is being well maintained and enjoyed, and not profaned by being in the hands of charlatans and pseudo-thelemites. The old Abbey of Thelema, however, is another story entirely.
Not so very long ago an associate of mine visited Cefalu and managed to get entrance into the building that was once Therion's abbey. He photographed it and as best as he could, shared his adventure with me. Originally I could only reproduce the photographs he gave me in an unsatisfactory black and white form. However, here for the first time I can share some of those photographs with you in full colour and detail. You may wish to compare these to the photo of the abbey facing page 736 of The Confessions of Aleister Crowley [Hill and Wang, 1969 E.V.] and those between pages 88 and 89 of The Magical World of Aleister Crowley by Francis King [Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1978 E.V.]. In the latter book there is a picture of the side of the abbey with the Great Rock that Crowley loved to climb in the background. Open country stretches out between the building and the mountain - open country that is today filled with houses or small villas. "Civilization" now smothers the original Abbey of Thelema, nearly crushing it from all sides out of existence.
Cefalu has become a prosperous resort town and the area surrounding the old abbey is now densely populated. There are houses around the abbey within easy stone's throw. The ground has been built up behind the building so that it fairly presses against the back wall, and a road now runs behind the structure, its surface about level with the roof of the villa.
My associate and friend, Frater Paulos 247, for whom we must all thank for his photographs and dedication, spoke with the people who live around what was once the Abbey of Thelema. He is a very likable chap that the Sicilians took to right off. I think he said a Frenchman owned the building then, it was for sale, I forget the asking price, but whatever it was, it was apparently too high for most people. Going through the decrepit, tumbling down structure, surrounded by wild, unkept growth, my brother discovered amongst the rat droppings and cobwebs, under the dust of ages [or so it seemed] many old newspapers, none of them more recent than the mid-seventies.
What was once the Abbey of Thelema had long been used as a house, and within there were still many pieces of abandoned furniture in various stages of disrepair.
And what of the paintings by Crowley that adorned every wall? What of the "Japanese Devil-boy Insulting Visitors", "Faithful on the Gallows", "Chinese Demon", "The Scarlet Woman", "The Sea-Coast of Tibet", "Monastery in the Caucasus", "The Long-Legged Lesbians"? What of the paintings entitled the "Dancing Girls", the "Tahitian Girl and her Eurasian Lover", "Temple at Sunset", "A Girl in a Garden", "Satan trembles when he sees the Weakest Saint upon her Knees" and many more? Gone. All gone. Little remains. We will never see the painting of "The Beast Robed as a Major Adept" by the hand of the Beast himself in that primitive, strikingly colourful and startling style of his. What little that remains is very badly damaged, and most of that my friend had to unveil by stripping the walls of its old, waterstained, tattered wallpaper. Not only have the walls been covered with wallpaper, but they have been painted, painted again, and painted yet again.
Take for instance the northeast wall. According to a paper allegedly written by Crowley entitled "The Paintings in the Chamber of Horrors at Cefalu", this was mostly adorned by a painting he entitled "Hell - La Nature Malade". It is now lost. Painted over. Restoration by even experts would probably be impossible now. Yet, a little remains. Chipped, flaking and damaged, a dark yellow band runs along the wall, low, parallel with the floor, and on it, written in blue, there is an inscription, lines taken from Crowley's poem "Leah Sublime":
"Stab your demonic[al]/Smile to my brain!/Soak me in Cognac/Cunt and Cocaine!"
followed by Aleister's characteristically phallic "A". This, however, had been further damaged by someone who objected to the use of that "bad" old four-letter word. As my Brother-in-Thelema said, "Someone had kicked the cunt out of it".
Below this still remains what Crowley described as
"Four degenerates between Christian and Jew at Prayer. Men worship only their own weaknesses personified. 'Hell' is based upon false intellectual and moral consciousness."
Another bit of a painting that remains, again low on the wall, is that of a woman with "red" hair reclining, eyes closed.
There is also, again low on the wall, rising up from the floor to perhaps only twelve inches, a design in red that looks something like an upright five-pointed star without the V-cut between the "legs" and with a large disk covering the spirit-point. On this, painted in white or some light colour is, in the circle, "93", "Aiwaz" in Hebrew characters between the 9 and the 3, written from top to bottom, as well as "To Mega Therion" in Greek below this, "666" below that, "AL" and "LA" in Hebrew on the air and water arms, "Thelema" in Greek capitals below the number of the Beast, then "TERRA", something I cannot read, "DEDIT", I think, and something else obscure. Above the red disk or circle a black foot with red-painted toenails can be seen.
Yet, for the most part, all that was once the Abbey of Thelema, the embodiment of Crowley's hopes and dreams which went so wrong for him and which was lost to him forever when fascist dictator Benito Mussolini sent him and his associates out of Sicily. All of this is gone. Gone forever.
Gee. One wonders. If gangs like the Caliphate pseudo-o.t.o. are so great and wonderful, why did they not save and restore the Abbey of Thelema? After all, we have so few relics and "holy" places to make a pilgrimage to. But of course we know why the decline of the old abbey was ignored. And Kenneth Anger proved his lack of sincerity by using the abbey and then casting it aside.
Now it is lost forever.
Even if it were possible to restore the Abbey of Thelema, being surrounded by so much "civilization" it would not be worth it. It could never be used as an abbey again. Maybe as a museum ... but ... ah well...
Just looking at the photographs of the interior can make a man cry. It would be better if the small house were empty because the abandoned furniture serves to make it look even more deserted and forlorn. So much junk left behind, unwanted, uncared for.
The remains of the Abbey of Thelema say to me: Because there are so few true Thelemites in the world today who are aware of themselves, because there are so many charlatans, crackpots and faddists, pretending to be Thelemites while not sincerely dedicated to Thelema, not practicing Thelema, because of this all that remains of the embodiment of Crowley's dream, of our beloved Thelema, could be a symbol of our future - of the future of Thelema.
Could be. Yet it need not necessarily be so. The fate of Thelema is up to me ... and you. It is up to all of us.
Will we abandon Thelema, let it be perverted and ruined for profane purpose until it too is a crumbling wreck of what it once was and could have been, infested and filthy? A thing to be used by those who pretend to be Thelemites and then carelessly cast aside once the pseudo-thelemites have satisfied their petty personal desires?
How I wish that black stone mansion in Cornwall, at Land's End, were possible today. But of course there is always tomorrow. Well ... almost always...
From time to time those photographs not here presented may appear, one or two at a time, on the Castle's ever changing art page. However, if you are interested in obaining copies of these photographs you are encouraged to contact Frater Paulos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Frater Keallach 93/676