Remembering Aleister Crowley by Kenneth Grant, more or less, is published by Skoob Books Publishing Ltd., 11a-17 Sicilian Avenue, Southhampton Row, London, WC1A 2QH, 1991 E.V.. It is hardbound, £24.99, around $50 in the U.S., and has 66 numbered pages with photographs and reproductions of letters from Aleister Crowley.
Skoob is threatening ... er ... I mean promising to republish all of the Grant books that longer established publishers have been wise enough to forget about. The worth of any book by Kenneth Grant, one of the worst perverters of Thelema and the teachings of Aleister Crowley, is dubious at best, as reviews of Grant's books in The Newaeon Newsletter have shown. This book, however, may be the exception that proves the rule ... but not necessarily only for the reason Grant would probably think.
It is a rather slender book for the price and one may question the fairness of that as well as the motives of the author and the publisher, yet it is interesting in that it presents letters Grant received from Crowley along with commentary and related information. Of course, the source is always suspect, but I couldn't help thinking that in some weird fashion Grant began the book trying to make amends and even to confess his transgressions. However, it also seems to me that as he went on with the book his ego-dominated, qliphothically-held personality got the better of him and that old Kenneth Grant every true Thelemite has come to dislike came out.
Throughout the book it becomes apparent that Grant has, as had the late Grady McMurtry, grossly exaggerated his contact with Crowley in his last days on earth, leading students to believe that he learned a great deal directly from the Master Therion when, in fact, for the most part he wasted his precious time with the great man. Reading it, as I have read McMurtry's accounts, I couldn't help but think that Crowley's landlord, butcher and tobacconist probably had far more discussions on Magick and Thelema with Crowley, of a deeper nature, with greater benefit, than had Kenneth Grant. Since Crowley's death, fellows like Grant and McMurtry have continually dropped the name of the Beast and capitalized upon their brief and for the most part superficial contact with him. Yet as brothers, friends and students, during A.C.'s life they served him poorly.
I find many parallels between McMurtry and Grant, in their relations with Crowley, their actions afterwards and so on. Both, for instance, served in the military. McMurtry flew above the fighting during WWII and one wonders just how illustrious his military career really was, while Grant tells us on page v:
"My main interest was (and still is) in Oriental Mysticism. When I volunteered for the army, at the age of eighteen, it was with the expectation of being sent to India where I had hopes of finding a guru. But the gods decided otherwise. Within eighteen months of joining, my health broke down and I was discharged."
No further explanation was given and one wonders if Grant discovered he would not be given the opportunity to find an Oriental guru and so decided to find a way out of the army. As I read the above what came to my mind was this: "Despise also all cowards; professional soldiers who dare not fight, but play: all fools despise!" (CCXX III.57) But it is a moot point.
Also obvious when reading this book, as it is when looking into Crowley's relationship with McMurtry and others during his last days, is that A.C. had great hopes for Grant, desperately wanted someone to carry on his work after he was gone, but he was again disappointed with the young man we now know of as the head of what I must call the Typhonian pseudo-o.t.o..
An interesting parallel between McMurtry and Grant is the matter of their magical names. While Crowley played with the proper spelling and thus numeration of Grant's name, McMurtry virtually asked for it when he begged A.C. to choose his magical name for him. This must have irked the old Beast as the choice of ones magical name is a very important and personal matter, and that choice should reflect an individual's understanding of himself and his purpose in life as well as he knows them at any given time in his magical career. Crowley, the master of the pun, practical and inside joke, bestowed upon the late McMurtry the "magical name" of Hymenaeus Alpha, 776 + 1 [Alpha], giving it the numeration of 777. This name and the meaningless title of "Caliph" were tricks Crowley played upon McMurtry that the original head of the Caliphate pseudo-o.t.o. never seemed to catch on to, and too complex to discuss here. However, it is worth noting that 777 is also the numeration of the Greek word "stauros", the st taken as a single letter, Stau, equal to Digamma, 6. [Thus: 6 + 1 + 400 + 100 + 70 + 200.] A similar numerological trick involved Grant's "magical name" of Aossic [or Aossick as A.C. sometimes spelled it], in Hebrew according to Crowley: Ayin, Shin, Yod, Kaph, thus 70 + 300 + 10 + 20 or 400. Now 400 is the numeration of the Hebrew letter Tau, a letter Crowley used in his diaries to represent the "fundament", and the meaning of the word Tau, like stauros, is "cross", the Cross of Suffering being to Crowley the symbol of the natural adversaries of Thelema. It seems likely to me that when Crowley spelled Grant's name, Aossic, he was indicating that he thought that the then young man was an "ass" and the "cross he had to bear", just as he came to think of McMurtry as the "cross he had to bear". And who knows, perhaps Crowley, fully understanding the natural way of things, the curse of his grade and so forth, realized that these men, Grady McMurtry and Kenneth Grant, would one day "double cross" him. If we accept Crowley as Logos and in his last days Ipsissimus [a fully integrated being] - and I do - it is easy to accept the idea that behind the façade of an old man, almost penniless and in ill health, there was a great man whose powers of perception were far greater than anyone has so far realized.
For the most part this book speaks well of Crowley; for instance:
"Crowley appeared embarrassed when anyone referred to him, in his presence, by any of the honorifics which he freely lavished on himself - in print."
This indicates sincere modesty on A.C.'s part, which blows away the accusations that he was a mad egotist, a falsehood promoted mostly by John Symonds [talk about hypocritical backstabbers!], and that Crowley never took too seriously those masonic degrees and such, which anyone who carefully reads The Confessions of Aleister Crowley should discern. [Above quotation from page 6.]
Regarding Crowley's being an "addict":
"The complications which Crowley found too fearful to contemplate concerned his need for medicaments which he was taking against his severe bouts of asthma. His health was deteriorating rapidly and when I finally went to stay with him many of my services consisted in getting doctors and chemists to supply substances which they were far from eager to dispense. These included veronal, heroin, ethyl oxide, and cocaine. The state of Crowley's health necessitated such massive doses that one doctor in Hastings hinted to me in confidence that he feared that his patient was a drug addict! Nevertheless, despite his poor physical condition, Crowley never lost his mental elasticity and alertness." [Page 18]
Crowley, in his old age, was suffering from more than asthma, mostly because of his world travels, climbing expeditions, and so forth, and due to his years of experimentation with drugs as a means of opening up the mind to spiritual experience, his tolerance to the effects of drugs had become incredible. What would have killed a normal man probably had very little effect upon Crowley in his latter days, and did very little to ease his physical suffering, yet to make his last days as productive as possible he would have wanted to lessen his distractions as much as possible, counter the debilitation of old age and illness, and while the use, distinct from abuse, of certain drugs would have assisted in this he was surely annoyed that he had to rely upon any substance outside of himself ... not an addiction, but surely he must have felt that his body's need for drugs was just as bad as an addiction. He was a proud man, a hardy man, and a man who would not have liked the idea of leaning on a crutch ... even if, metaphorically, both of his legs had been lopped off.
Crowley and financial dealings [page 27]:
"I would like to place on record that as far as my own monetary dealings with him were concerned, he unfailingly honoured the debts which he incurred."
And on page 59:
"Crowley had had contact - for he was curiously mercurial for one engrossed in occult pursuits - I am astonished by his patience. He was always prepared to give me his complete attention when it came to matters of magical instruction; and he was prepared to listen as well as to explain."
As I have indicated, Remembering Aleister Crowley is as much about the author as the subject, and one can learn quite a bit about Grant and Crowley's assessment of him if one reads this slim volume carefully.
Page v: "Despite my dismal failure to satisfy the Master's unremitting demands, this period was for me richly rewarding. Personal association with Crowley was a profound initiation if one could dive beneath the surface and seize the luminous prize. I was sometimes able to do this; but I was unable ever to acquire a practical approach to mundane affairs, a lack which so exasperated Crowley."
A.C.'s "demands" did not seem all that demanding to me while reading these letters, and I couldn't help but to chuckle at the thought of young Grant finding his desired Oriental guru to discover just how demanding a guru can be. By comparison, Crowley would have been a picnic! And one might say that it was Grant's impractical approach to mundane affairs [discipline, et al] which eventually led him astray.
Page 7, letter from A.C. to Grant dated Dec. 18, 1944 E.V.:
"The A.·.A.·. is for personal initiation; O.T.O. is for groups, & not nearly as important."
Page 9, A.C. to Grant, Dec. 23, 1944 E.V.:
"The A.·.A.·. & O.T.O. are quite asynartete [literally, "disconnected; not connected; separate and apart" - K], save that the latter body has accepted the Law of Thelema. 'One Star in Sight' tells all about A.·.A.·. & the typescripts I sent you (didn't I?) all about O.T.O. I can't understand your confusing them."
Yet Grant, McMurtry, and others continued to confuse them and failed to understand the nature of the A.·.A.·..
Page 11, A.C. addressing his Dec. 30, 1944 E.V. letter to "Mr. Grant", offering him the position of secretary:
"You would learn a lot & fit yourself for an official position in the Order in say 10 or 15 years' time."
Ten or fifteen years must have seemed like an eternity to a young, impatient chap!
Page 31, A.C. to Grant, March 4, 1945 E.V.:
"Will you buy for me, or sell or lend to me, my 'Collected Works'. If unavailable, Orpheus would have to do. If lent, you shall have it back as soon as I have the extracts I need typed out."
For those of you, like me, who weep and gnash your teeth over not having everything Crowley wrote, keep in mind that Crowley suffered in the same way. A very sad state of affairs. Had I been in Grant's postion - and I am sure I understand Grant's poverty at the time - I would have done whatever it took to obtain for the Master a copy of his work to give to him as a gift. So what did Grant do anyway? One wonders.
Page 38, A.C. to Grant, June 1, 1945 E.V.:
"... you must learn to be systematic & accurate & unambituous. ... you ought to be clear that all your dodgings & shuffling & funking won't work."
This last in regards to magical training and work with the qabalah and gematria. Grant commented on page 39:
"My 'mock' qabalah is perfectly legitimate. It is known in some circles as the 'theosophical' qabalah, the word theosophical being used in its etymological sense and having no connection with the Society of that name. Ouspensky alludes to the Theosophical Qabalah in connection with the 17th century mystic, Gichtel, author of the Theosophia Practica. The system has been widely used ever since."
Of course we do not know how Grant responded to Crowley at the time as Grant's letters or copies of them have not survived ... or so Grant tells us. However, looking over Grant's qabalistic work in his earlier books, which make it clear that he is even incapable of simple addition, one can understand well what A.C. was talking about, coming to the conclusion that Kenneth Grant should have taken the Master's advice.
Page 40, A.C. to Grant, June 21, 1945 E.V., after thanking him for his letter received Wednesday:
"But none this A.M. I asked you for a daily report. All these trifles are tests, & you fail at every one. You insisted on having the Examination paper. You make no attempt to answer it."
Grant's comment in the book on page 41:
"I was beginning to realize that Crowley's demands were unending. As Austin Spare frequently observed: 'Enough is too much!'"
Appropriate for Grant to quote Spare, whose work fascinates Grant and who restricted himself to masturbation, giving up women entirely, shutting himself up in a tower of ego - one failed magician quoting another.
Page 42, A.C. to Grant, July 9, 1945 E.V.:
"What you do not grasp is the purpose of my remarks. When I say I want a daily record of your activities on my behalf it is not because I am impatient or I need them, it is because I am trying to get you into maintaining the discipline of the Order. It is natural for you to think 'Well, I did nothing yesterday; I have nothing to report, so I need not do it'. That is simply missing the point. I am trying you in half a dozen different ways, because the great fault that you have and one which will ultimately make it impossible for you even to pretend to carry out the great work is just that you cannot force yourself to be regular, punctual, accurate, and until you make it an absolute habit to exercise these virtues how do you think you are going to get on? (sic) when it is a question of pranayama or of work like the sacred magick of Abramelin?" Also: "You really are a joke. You write 'please excuse this speedy note but I will have to devote this afternoon to packing your copies of The Heart of the Master'. Why should it take more than 5 minutes at the outside to pack 6 copies of a small book?"
On page 49 Grant wrote:
"David Curwen [to whom Grant dedicated this book] was first mentioned in Crowley's diaries on 2.9.1944. When I met him, shortly before Crowley's death, he was a member of the IX° O.T.O. His passion for alchemy was all-consuming; so much so that he had nearly died after imbibing liquid gold. His knowledge of Tantra was considerable. It was through Curwen that I received, eventually, full initiation into a highly recondite formula of the tantric vama marg."
Proving to be an awful student, Grant accepted as his "guru" a man absolutely stupid enough to consume liquid gold. Think about that!
Page 51: "In a letter to Curwen dated 22nd January 1946, he wrote: 'By the way it might interest you to meet some of the very young generation. I should perhaps have mentioned the man in my previous letter ... G.Kenneth Grant. ... He is a very strange though decidedly interesting man, and I should very much value your opinion of him. Do you think in particular that he can ever develop into a responsible leader. ..."
This was probably as much a test of Curwen as it was Grant.
Page 58, A.C. to Grant, Feb. 15, 1945 E.V.:
"This is a terrible defect in your outlook on life; you cannot be content with the simplicity of reality and fact; you have to go off into a pipe-dream."
And years later Grant would write about "the otherside" of the Tree of Life, his so-called Tunnels of Set, etc., looking to a star in the heavens, Sothis, Sirius, instead of that true One Star in Sight that can only be perceived by looking within oneself.
Remembering Aleister Crowley is a must for any student of Crowley and Thelema, although I hate to see a single penny go to Grant for capitalizing upon A.C. and his work. I was given a photocopy of the book - thanks again, Keith! - and only wish that the photographs had copied more clearly. Not only does the book provide the student with some valuable insights into the last years of Aleister Crowley, but it also provides more information about Kenneth Grant and how he went wrong than he probably consciously intended to publish. However, the value of most of Grant's work is extremely dubious, and there is much therein that is more likely to mislead the student than anything else. This is the one book you may want to obtain - however you obtain it, so long as you do not break the law.