The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook
By Sandy Robertson

A Review by G.M.Kelly

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

W. Foulsham & Company Limited
Yeovil Road
Slough, Berkshire, SL1 4JH
1988 E.V.

This is a nice little book to have in one's library, especially if one has an interest in A.C. I suppose.  Like a scrapbook, it contains a good number of photographs, black and white, at least a few of which have never before been published.  A few rare poems like the Hymn to Terminus, that only the most avid collectors of rare Crowleyana such as myself are familiar with, are to be found in this 128 page book.  The entire text of The "Rosicrucian" Scandal by Leo Vincey [A.C.] as well as that of a Simon Iff story, Big Game, have been published here.  And the text ... well ... the text...

Basically the information printed in this book about Aleister Crowley and some of the people and things that have been influenced by Crowley's writings is ... well ... pretty basic; light and not unpleasantly superficial.  As I have said, it is a nice little book.  Nothing heavy.  Nothing earth shattering.  Yet well worth having.

Unfortunately the book is marred by the fact that there is a forward on page 7 by Colin Wilson, but if you gloss over this single page and do not pay too much attention to it you may fail to notice the fault.

Robertson's view of Crowley is sometimes slightly faulted by superficiality and perhaps a lack of subjectivity, seeing A.C. and his life from the viewpoint of his own life, desires and peculiarities.  For instance, Robertson wrote of young Alick, "He coupled lustily with friends of both sexes (including H C J Pollitt, a gay friend of Beardsley's)..."  While I am certainly not saying that A.C. never experimented with or practiced homosexuality, the evidence seems to indicate that while he had a kind of schoolboy crush on this feminine female impersonator with long blond hair, the relationship with Pollitt never became intimate - which is probably a shame, in a way, all things considered.  Robertson, however, to judge from his photograph on the dust jacket and some of the other things he has written, probably wished too much that they had been intimate because if he had been in A.C.'s shoes that is the way it would have worked out.  I am certainly not judging lifestyle and sexual preference here, but merely pointing out how the lifestyle and preferences of an author colour and shade his perception, throwing objectivity at least a little out of kilter and so cause inaccuracies to manifest themselves.

And of course there are technical misquotes such as "Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law" - only the D and the final L should be capitalized - but Robertson almost made up for this by following it with

"misinterpreted by many as a license to go wild and indulge one's whims, failing to see the real meaning was that one should discover one's true will." [Italics mine.]

Again, superficial, but it is better than not explaining at all or as many others enjoy doing, misinterpreting the Law of Thelema as a license to pursue ego-gratification at any expense.

Robertson is one of the few people who have swept away the old story that Raoul Loveday, while staying at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu, died from drinking cat's blood during a ceremony conducted by A.C., which naturally lays the blame at Crowley's feet.  Robertson wrote,

"When a young undergraduate named Raoul Loveday died from drinking impure water at the Abbey, his wife went home and sold her story to the Sunday Express."

Later in life Betty May, Raoul's widow, set the record straight in her small autobiography Tiger-Woman: My Story [originally published in 1929 E.V.; republished in 1972 E.V. by Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.], explaining that Crowley was not at fault, but just the opposite!  Raoul died from drinking impure water, not at the abbey, but somewhere along a thirteen mile route between the abbey and a monastery that he and Betty May had visited.  It was Crowley who had warned them not to drink the water, and so it was not A.C.'s fault in any way, shape or form that Raoul died.  He died because he failed to heed Crowley's warning.

Robertson also makes another good point shortly after mentioning the Loveday incident.  An oft repeated tale to "prove" how despicable Crowley supposedly was is that he was so awful that even the dictator Benito Mussolini could not stomach him and so had A.C. kicked out of Sicily.  I myself have often pointed out that Crowley was considered the head of not one, but two "secret societies", the A.°.A.°. and the O.T.O., and had ties to various Masonic bodies.  When a dictator takes control of a country, one of the first things he must naturally do to protect himself and his regime is to disband organizations that possibly pose a threat by subversively acting to undermine his control.  The very nature of a "secret society" makes it suspect in the eyes of a dictator.  Crowley had not been booted out of Sicily because he was so awful even Mussolini could not stomach him.  Study a biography or history of Mussolini and he will probably emerge in your mind as more of a "beast" than Crowley was!  No.  Crowley was kicked out of the country as a simple matter of course.  It was the natural thing for a dictator to do and A.C. certainly was not the only person told to leave - but he was one of the luckier ones as some were forced to leave the entire planet in a very permanent manner!  Anyway, Robertson wrote,

"At the same time came the ascent of the Mussolini regime, with its hatred of all secret societies except its own, and The Beast was expelled from Sicily."

Some of Robertson's errors [as superficial as everything else really] are matters of contradiction.  Speaking of Crowley's last days he wrote,

"still mentally sharp but hopelessly addicted to enormous shots of heroin."

Long time heroin addicts, especially in their latter years, when they are in their sixties and seventies, if they are lucky enough to make it that far, are anything but mentally sharp.  And Crowley proved that his wit and intellect were as sharp as ever by designing the Thoth tarot deck and supervising the artistically temperamental Lady Freida Harris in their execution.  He also put together Magick Without Tears, wrote The Book of Thoth, and accomplished other projects in his last years, all of which are fantastic works on the various subjects dealt with.  Certainly they are not the product of an aging drug fiend.

The problem most people seem to have when viewing such things as Crowley's use of heroin during the last years of his life is that they cannot see the difference between use and abuse.  Partly this is because they know or have seen many people who cannot use drugs without eventually coming to abuse them.  In part this is because they are judging one person's strengths by their own weaknesses.  In Crowley's case, heroin was the only drug that he had carefully experimented with that he had, for a time, become addicted to.  This did not happen when he was actually experimenting with it, for he had learned a great deal about the pharmacological aspects of the drug from Allan Bennett before actually experimenting.  The addiction developed after a doctor had prescribed a certain amount, over a certain period of time, for an ailment.  Don't forget that it was not until the latter part of the 1900s that legal restrictions on drug usage came into being with strength.  At any rate, in his later years Crowley suffered from numerous physical ailments due to his travels over long decades, his mountain climbing expeditions, such being very hard on the human body, and simply because he was old.  Because he had built up his tolerance to drugs over the years, common, what we might call over-the-counter drugs, would have had no effect in relieving the various discomforts Crowley would have experienced.  Therefore, he needed something strong to fight the various illnesses and pains of old age, and so he used an old acquaintance that had once, for a brief time, enslaved him, from which he later freed himself and mastered.  When A.C. spoke of his "addiction" to heroin during those last years, he was not speaking of addiction as we think of it, but merely expressing his annoyance over the fact that his body had succumbed to the ravages of time and that while a master of the highest degree his physical body forced him to seek something exterior from himself to keep the pain from distracting him from his Work.  I suppose that one could say that during his latter years, Crowley was addicted to heroin in somewhat the same way someone today may be addicted to television - and when all is said and done, the latter addiction is probably the worst!

All in all, however, Robertson's book is a nice little volume to have, if a bit superficial and a bit in error and misleading, and while I cannot highly recommend it, I certainly would not advise one not to buy it.

Love is the law, love under will.

Originally published in The Newaeon Newsletter, Volume VI, Number 2, May 1989 E.V.