Past & Present

by Doreen Valiente

A Review by G.M.Kelly

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


The following review originally appeared in The Newaeon Newsletter, Volume VI, Number 2, published in May of 1989 E.V.  It was reported in the October 5th, 1999 E.V. edition of The New York Times that Ms. Doreen Valiente "died in Brighton, England, on Sept. 1" at the age of 77.  The two-column obituary by Mr. Douglas Martin was entitled "Chief evangelist of white witchcraft" and it began by saying that Ms. Valiente was "a self-proclaimed witch who in the mid-1950s wrote part of the liturgy now used by witches around the world".  I have trouble with newspaper reporters referring to Witches, Thelemites and the like as "self-proclaimed".  I wonder, for instance, if the author of this obit is a self-proclaimed Christian or atheist, or is he simply a Christian, an atheist, or whatever else one might be?  There is a certain uncalled for attitude of assumed superiority in the writings of most newspaper reporters when writing about someone who just happens not to be a member of one of the so-called "mainstream religions", an attitude which seems to present the individual as "Man, just another one of those whacky weirdos!"  It is rude and offensive.  Of course, knowing newspaper reporters as I do from my four-year stint with the now defunct major newspaper, The Pittsburgh Press, I suspect that when they finally decide to stop using that phrase, "self-proclaimed", it will be when they are writing about complete charlatans and real "whacky weirdos", giving them the benefit of the doubt, the respect and credibility that they so often today deny genuine Pagans and Magicians.  I don't think Ms. Valiente was particularly whacky or weird, and whatever her beginnings in the Craft may have been, I believe that after 77 years of devotion to the Old Religion and the books she has written on the subject, whatever their faults may be, helping with the resurgence and "legitimatization" of Wicca, she has earned the respect to simply be called "a Witch".

The reviews of the late Ms. Valiente's books in the Castle of the Silver Star are in no way intended to show disrespect for the woman and her contribution to the Pagan/Wiccan community.  In fact, out of respect for this woman these reviews are being presented essentially exactly as they were originally published, for I think the most disrespectful way one may "speak of the dead" is with lies and insincerity.  Death alone does not make one a "saint" and wipe away a lifetime of errors, and it is a true sign of honour to "speak of the dead" with honesty, expressing one's personal or professional opinion with sincerity rather than hypocrisy.  I for one do not wish to be remembered after my death as something other than what I was, my mistakes, my humanity, forgotten, for then I will not be remembered at all.

St Martin's Press Inc.
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
1973 E.V.

And oldie but a ... well ... sort of goodie.  Since the book is still around and well-read and it mentions Crowley, I think it is necessary that a few words be said about it.

First let me begin upon a positive note ['cause you know damn well where this one's going!].  It is not a bad book.  Alphabetically listing subjects, Ms. Valiente explains many things in her book such as the Wiccan sabbats, the pentagram, famous curses, and so forth.  Perhaps I could find fault with some of the things she has written about these and other subjects, but we will leave that up to Wiccan critics - if there are any out there critical and yet objective enough to do the job correctly.  Mind you, I love the Craft and "some of my best friends are" Wiccans, but far too many of them are either too tolerant and passive, or far too harshly critical of others with a witchier-than-thou attitude.

This being a Thelemic publication and I being a Thelemite [or is that "me"?], we shall only deal here with what Ms. Valiente has written that pertains directly to that theme.

"Their [Witches] morality can be summed up in one sentence, 'Do what you will, so long as it harms none.' ... This bears some resemblance to Aleister Crowley's law for the New Aeon:  'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law [sic]. ..." Here and elsewhere the author proves herself to be a true [?] Wiccan of the sixties and seventies, complete with Crowleyphobia.  The fact of the matter is, the "Do what you will" or "Do what thou wilt" part of the Wiccan Rede probably originated with A.C. during the time that he, wanting to see the resurrection, if you will, of the Craft and all Pagan religions, helped Gerald B. Gardner bring it back to life.  No doubt, this has always been the philosophy of the Craft, but that precise wording is probably thanks to Crowley, and in Gardnerian rituals one may find many resemblances to the earlier works of Aleister Crowley, such as the Hymn to Pan as well as The Book of the Law.  Problem is that either out of ignorance or laziness a lot of Wiccans, especially those who came to the Craft in the sixties and early seventies, violently oppose the facts regarding Crowley's connection to the reemergence of Witchcraft because he seems like such a horrible person to them, to superficially judge by such works as John Symonds' The Great Beast, and it seems far too difficult to continually defend Crowley while also defending the Craft, and it rather takes something away from the enchantment of the Craft and its ancestry when one has to face the fact that a good deal of today's rituals, although rooted in ancient practices, go back no further than the 1930s.  Come on.  Be a Witch.  Show some guts.  Face the facts.  If it makes your fight a little tougher then fight a little harder to defend yourself.  Enough of the whitewashing, the absurd and provably idiotic denials, as well as the ton of little white lies.  Eventually it will all backfire on you.  Be brave.  Be strong!

Let's cut straight to the section under CROWLEY, ALEISTER:

"Aleister Crowley earns a place in this book, not because he was a witch, but because he was not!"  And so the entry begins.  That says a lot about Ms. Valiente's infantile and unbalanced attitude right away.  No.  Crowley was not a Witch.  He never claimed to be.  In fact, it was not until he and Gardner got together that he even had a notion that the Craft was still alive - and even then there was not much of it left, and what there was of it was buried deeply underground, so to speak.  However, if not for Gardner and Crowley, the Craft would not have all that it has today and be as widespread as it is.  Instead of cursing the name of Aleister Crowley, each and every Wiccan on the face of Mother Earth should say a kind word each time his name is uttered.

"Crowley was rather afraid of witchcraft, judging from some of the references to it in his works.  This was probably because he recognized the strong feminine influence in witchcraft; and Crowley distrusted and professed to despise women.  There was a pronounced homosexual bias in his nature, and his deepest and most significant relationships were with men."

Now there's a loaded quotation!  This may take a while, so relax.

Aleister Crowley climbed the highest, most dangerous mountains in the world, and traveled to places, during uncivilized times that most of us would hot have ventured within a continent's distance of.  He experimented perhaps with every known hallucinogenic and drug of his time, with every form of sex and sex magick that he could conceive of, and he always encountered foes head on, dealing with Theosophists, Qabalists, Masons, and others, as well as the most hard-nosed and hard-headed of all, the fanatic [pseudo] Christians of his day.  And Ms. Valiente, in her ego-centric arrogance and self-conceit, thinks that Crowley was afraid of a small group of people dancing around a bonfire naked?  Get real.  The references to the Craft that she is alluding to she no doubt read without objectivity and without taking into consideration the conditions and circumstances of the times in which Crowley used the term "witchcraft" - small w.  At that time it seemed that the Craft had been completely destroyed by the Spanish Inquisition.  The few covens that still existed and maintained a healthy semblance to their ancestral Way were very secretive - very much underground.  Remember, the laws against Witchcraft were not repealed until nineteen-bloody-fifty-one!  Furthermore, Crowley had no real contact with representatives of the Craft until his latter years and probably not until he met, became friends and worked with Gerald B. Gardner.  Before this his only contact with Witchcraft had been through the traditional anti-Craft literature and such writers as the Rev. Montague Summers and Crowley's friend William Seabrook, and such as these certainly did not view the Craft as we-who-now-know-better view it!

One of the references in Crowley's works that Ms. Valiente may be alluding to a local Wiccan High Priestess [far more objective and unbiassed than most] brought to my attention with a touch of resentment, asking for clarification.  The passage is to be found in Liber 777, in reference to Atu XVIII, The Moon of the tarot, and it is:

"The Dogs baying the Moon, with the accompanying assumption of witchcraft and all that type of phenomena which we associate with the treacherous semi-darkness of the waning moon, are shown in some version of the trumps by artists who did not understand the deeper symbolism of Kephra and Anubis."

To conclude from this, for instance, that Crowley hated or feared the Craft merely illustrates how quick to judge and how superficial some people are - not to mention how poor their reading skills are.  Clearly he is not saying that Witchcraft [and note the small w to indicate more a term than a proper name] is treacherous, but merely that we have come to associate such things with Witchcraft over the centuries, this because of the propaganda of the early Catholic Church and the sloppiness of those writers who have written of the Craft of the Wise.  Furthermore, he is here more concerned with the waning aspect of the moon, or more accurately, the Hecate aspect - this being the only aspect of the tripartite Goddess that anti-wiccan detractors would even consider when the Goddess and not their Devil was continually mentioned.  Crowley was not speaking of the Craft, of Witchcraft as we know it, for at the time of this writing he had no idea that there were any surviving covens, and he viewed the Old Religion as something long dead and nothing more than the subject of histories and antique studies.

As for the rest:  poppycock!  Crowley distrusted women no more than he distrusted men, and "judging from some of the" incidents in his life, he trusted everyone, men and women, far too much, often trusting in people to be more honest and intelligent than they generally prove to be.

One third of The Book of the Law is devoted to the Star Goddess Nuit and the references to women therein prove that Crowley adored women, especially strong women "girt with a sword", which also implies intelligent women.  Whether Crowley wrote The Book or merely acted as the scribe for Aiwass matters not in the least here since Aiwass was his Holy Guardian Angel or True Self [the Supraconscious Self/Mind].  Furthermore, his plethora of poems very often praise womanhood and the various aspects of the Goddess.  He also, in his writings, often speaks highly, fondly and lovingly of the many women in his life.  One of my favourite poems is Synthesis, to be found in Volume I of The Collected Works:

Many, so many, were ye to make one Womanhood -
A thing of fire and flesh, of wine and glory and blood,
In whose rose-orient texture a golden light is spun,
A gossamer scheme of love, as water in the sun
Flecked by wonderful bars, most delicatedly crossed,
Worked into wedded beauties, flickering, never lost -
That is the spirit of love, incarnate in your flesh!

Does this sound like Crowley hated and despised women!  Of course Crowley said some unflattering things about women from time to time.  [What man doesn't?  What woman doesn't!] Occasionally a particular woman would fail to live up to her Womanhood and he would be naturally disappointed ... especially because he loved Womanhood so much as to sometimes make his expectations too high.  Often he teased, he was a terrific leg-puller, and he not only teased women, but also men, and frequently he made jokes about himself and his own failings ... and I doubt Mrs. Valiente would think that Crowley despised himself!

Aleister Crowley loved women.  In fact, he loved life, humanity and the world, and whenever one loves passionately, that which one loves is bound to disappoint one from time to time, and ones disappointment is apt to be as passionate as ones love.

As for the crack about his "pronounced homosexual bias" and his "deepest and most significant relationships" being "with men":  it has accurately been pointed out by true experts in the field of sexual research that there really is no homo- or heterosexuality.  In fact, as we are all originally conceived in the womb with the possibility of physically developing either as a male or female, we are all in essence bisexual.  Homosexuality and heterosexuality are merely extremes on the wide arc of bisexuality.  Each of us are both homosexual and heterosexual, if you will, to one degree or another.  A man's man, and I use that phrase in the old sense, is merely a person who is more heterosexual than homosexual - his tendencies are to think and act in a primarily heterosexual manner; his sexual attractions are focussed upon the "opposite sex".  Yet there is within him a degree, however slight, of homosexual tendency which may manifest itself as the necessary-night-out-with-the-boys syndrome.  Such a tendency, however, does not make him a homosexual.  In fact, a few experimental homosexual liasons, however much enjoyed, in a heterosexual's lifetime does not make that person a homosexual.  The same holds true for women.  The same holds true for homosexuals.

Crowley did not possess "a pronounced homosexual bias".  Most of his relationships throughout his life, the vast majority of them, were with women, and several of these were obviously very significant relationships ... his first wife, Rose Kelly, is a good example, as well as Leila Waddell and Mary d'Este Sturges to name but a few.  Men, however, do tend to bond strongly with other men [I suppose the term "male bonding" came about a bit late in Ms. Valiente's life], just as women tend to develop extremely strong bonds with one or more women in their lifetime.  It is natural.  One generally cannot talk freely about women with women, or if you are a women, about men with men.  Ego tends to get in the way, the female as well as the male ego.

Crowley did explore his natural human homosexual tendencies, which we all possess to one degree or another, but his sexual relationships with other men one can easily count, and quickly at that, while his relationships with women are almost too many to count.  And it is obvious when one really studies Crowley and his works that for the most part his homosexual adventures, if you will, were experiments in sex magick, many of which failed because of "anxiety", as he put it.  The anxiety was primarily due to the fact that, although he experimented with homosexuality, although he no doubt enjoyed homosexual relationships from time to time [close your eyes next time - male or female, the feeling is essentially the same], he was not what one would call a true homosexual.  That is to say, he possessed homosexual tendencies, as we all do, and perhaps to a greater, more pronounced degree than many or even most so-called heterosexuals, but they were not strong enough to move him over that arc so that homosexual would become an apt term to employ in referring to his sexuality.  Imagine an arc-like degree meter with homosexual marked on one end and heterosexual on the other.  Pretend that we hook this up to Aleister Crowley ... to any body part you think most appropriate ... then turn on the current.  The little red pointer ... I am referring to our imaginary sexuality meter, not to one of Crowley's body parts ... would no doubt bob somewhere between heterosexual and the highest or mid-point, but not quite rest in that position, pointing straight up.

In some ways some of Crowley's most significant relationships were with men.  Some of my most significant relationships are with men ... but I haven't gone to bed with any of them nor have I ever had any desire to!  It would be a shame if Ms. Valiente never had significant relationships with other women, and if she has, does that make her a lesbian?

The rest of the entry is not really bad, or inaccurate, although there are some small inaccuracies, and the overall attitude is a little bit snide, and very unflattering to Ms. Valiente, but all in all, especially considering the information regarding modern Wicca, it is a book well worth having, if a bit superficial in many ways.

If we were giving it the pentagram rating, one being the worst and five the best, I would give An ABC of Witchcraft two and a half pentagrams.

Love is the law, love under will.