CROWLEY-PAN AND THE ABBEY OF THELEMA

WHO WAS ALEISTER CROWLEY? WHAT WAS HE? MAGICIAN, ALPINIST, EXPLORER. POET, NOVELIST, PAINTER. JOURNALIST, SPY, HUNTER. ALL OF THIS AND MORE. WE COULD GO ON LISTING MORE AND MORE OCCUPATIONS WITHOUT GIVING AWAY THE IDEA OF WHO CROWLEY WAS.

 

HE WAS SOMEBODY WHO SPENT HIS LIFE EXPERIMENTING WITH ALL THE POSSIBILITIES PROVIDED BY BEING A MAN, AND THE RESULT IS A COLOURFUL PICTURE SPRINKLED WITH COUNTLESS SHADES. IF WE TAKE A STEP BACK, AND WATCH IT MOVE, WE MAY SEE ALL THE COLOURS MERGE AND UNITE IN A UNIQUE WHITE SURFACE. THE “ONE” IS WHAT CROWLEY TRIED ENDLESSLY TO ACHIEVE, THE TOTAL UNITY OF MAN WITH WHAT IS BEYOND THE MAN HIMSELF.

HIS HYMN TO ANCIENT GREEK GOD PAN (PAN MEANS “EVERYTHING”) IS THE PERFECT EXAMPLE OF HIS QUEST FOR UNITY, ANIMATED BY MAGICKAL FORCES AND SEXUAL POWERS.

Photo by TDSFNK

HYMN TO PAN

 

Thrill with lissome lust of the light,

O man! My man!

Come careering out of the night

Of Pan! Io Pan!

Io Pan! Io Pan! Come over the sea

From Sicily and from Arcady!

Roaming as Bacchus, with fauns and pards

And nymphs and satyrs for thy guards,

On a milk-white ass, come over the sea

To me, to me,

Come with Apollo in bridal dress

(Shepherdess and pythoness)

Come with Artemis, silken shod,

And wash thy white thigh, beautiful God,

In the moon of the woods, on the marble mount,

The dimpled dawn of the amber fount!

Dip the purple of passionate prayer

In the crimson shrine, the scarlet snare,

The soul that startles in eyes of blue

To watch thy wantonness weeping through

The tangled grove, the gnarled bole

Of the living tree that is spirit and soul

And body and brain — come over the sea,

(Io Pan! Io Pan!)

Devil or god, to me, to me,

My man! my man!

Come with trumpets sounding shrill

Over the hill!

Come with drums low muttering

From the spring!

Come with flute and come with pipe!

Am I not ripe?

I, who wait and writhe and wrestle

With air that hath no boughs to nestle

My body, weary of empty clasp,

Strong as a lion and sharp as an asp —

Come, O come!

I am numb

With the lonely lust of devildom.

Thrust the sword through the galling fetter,

All-devourer, all-begetter;

Give me the sign of the Open Eye,

And the token erect of thorny thigh,

And the word of madness and mystery,

O Pan! Io Pan!

Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan Pan! Pan,

I am a man:

Do as thou wilt, as a great god can,

O Pan! Io Pan!

Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! I am awake

In the grip of the snake.

The eagle slashes with beak and claw;

The gods withdraw:

The great beasts come, Io Pan! I am borne

To death on the horn

Of the Unicorn.

I am Pan! Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan!

I am thy mate, I am thy man,

Goat of thy flock, I am gold, I am god,

Flesh to thy bone, flower to thy rod.

With hoofs of steel I race on the rocks

Through solstice stubborn to equinox.

And I rave; and I rape and I rip and I rend

Everlasting, world without end,

Mannikin, maiden, Maenad, man,

In the might of Pan.

Io Pan! Io Pan Pan! Pan! Io Pan!

 

In the text (sixth line) there is an explicit reference to Sicily, the land were Crowley had decided to establish his own Abbey: a place where everybody could contribute to the realization of the “Great Work”, i.e. the manifestation of their True Will. The small village of Cefalù (Cephaleum), in the northern part of the island was the selected site and this is where Crowley moved in 1920. After an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a loan from a local bank in order to build the temple he wanted, Crowley consoled himself by renting a villa in the hills that dominated the small town. The name “Thelema” was borrowed from the French author Francois Rabelais (1494-1553) who in his work “Gargantua and Pantagruel” described a place where people could live according to their own free will and pleasure. Crowley and his acolytes established themselves there with this intent and devoted themselves to the practice of the great Thelemic rules: “Do what Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and “Love is the Law, Love under Will”. The building consisted of a big central room, surrounded by five smaller ones. The main room became the temple, on the floor was painted the circle with the sacred names of God and in the middle stood the altar with the sacred instruments.

Crowley, as the Temple Master, oversaw the functions and practices: these activities included daily salutations to Ra-Hoor-Khuit (the God of the new eon), meditation and conversations with the Guardian Angel. Along with these typical magickal actions, extreme Dionysiac orgies and rites of sexual magick also took place. In to Crowley’s view, sex was the strongest ground in which magickal forces operate and every sexual act, if consciously driven, was a magical ceremony that could help in the realization of one’s True Will.

 

People from all over the world came for a stay at the Abbey. Some spent just a few days there and left, disappointed by the modest living and unhygienic conditions; others, strong enough to go beyond such practical problems, spent months there and left completely renewed and changed (as did Australian Alan Bennett, who, after getting acquainted with his subconscious during his sojourn at the Abbey, spent the rest of his life spreading the word of Thelema).

But during that period Crowley was also undergoing some hard times due to his increasing addiction to drugs, especially heroin and cocaine (that were initially prescribed to him as medication). To fight his habit he devoted himself to many other activities, such as climbing the surrounding hills, taking long walks and baths in the crimson sea at sunset and, above all, writing poems and painting. He had developed a big interest and admiration for the French painter Paul Gauguin and he knew that he had painted all the walls of his house. This idea seemed brilliant to Crowley, who started doing the same thing inside the Abbey, making the walls flourish with the splendour of his visions. Although partially covered, some of those paintings can still be seen inside the Abbey ruin, especially the ones of the “Chambre des Cauchemars” (Room of Nightmares), the room of Crowley himself which were described by Coil in the song “The Sea Priestess” from the album “Astral Disaster”.

 

Still fighting against his addiction and following the death of the daughter of one of his women, (Popueé, daughter of Leah Hirsigh, alias the Scarlet Woman) Crowley left Cefalù for a while and spent some time in Paris and London. Here he wrote the famous novel “Diary of a Drug Fiend” which tells the tale of two lovers who are saved from their heroin addiction by a powerful magician who came from far away, and in which are present some explicit references to the Abbey of Thelema. Crowley gained new celebrity due to the scandals provoked by this work and more people wished to visit his Italian Abbey. Among these people should be mentioned Raoul Loveday (alias Frater Aud) in whom Crowley recognized the magickal son he had been looking for for years. Loveday and his wife Betty joined the Abbey on the 26th of November 1922 and, from what can be read from Loveday’s diary, he was really enthusiastic about having joined the Beast on the Mediterranean Sea and becoming a Magus under his direction. Unfortunately, Loveday soon got ill and, as the Beast had foreseen, died on the 16th of February 1923. Crowley saluted him with the monologue of the “Young Giovanni” from his poem “The Ship”. The day after Frater Aud’s death, the Beast himself fell prey to a strong fever which affected him for three weeks. Before going back to England, Loveday’s widow denounced as obscene the activities of the Abbey, to the police of Palermo and to the English consul of Rome. Once in England she kept on slandering Crowley in the newspaper “Sunday Express”.

 

Crowley slowly recovered from his illness and accepted new disciples in the Abbey. Professor Norman Mudd, who had got acquainted with Crowley many years earlier at Trinity College and at the time was a Maths professor at the University of Bloemfontein (South Africa) and two ex-colleagues of the tdeceased Loveday who wanted to know more about the death of their friend. But on the 23rd of April 1923 Crowley received, through the police of Palermo, an order from the Italian Ministry of Internal Affairs in which he was asked to leave Italian Land immediately. It’s not clear if this was the result of the compliance of Betty Loveday with the consul or if it was due to the takeover of Benito Mussolini and the installation of the fascist regime, which shortly afterwards banned all kinds of associations except the Fascist Party. Anyway, Crowley left Cefalù on the 1st of May and went to Tunisia, from where he later begun an unquiet and long period of pilgrimage in different countries, mostly due to a persecution of the Thelemites by other governments that followed the example of Italy. He never returned to the Abbey, which, in its last days, was run by Norman Mudd. Nowadays the Abbey lies in almost a completely ruined state: part of the roof has been crushed and only the Room of Nightmares is accessible and in acceptable condition. Some years ago the entire property was on sale (at a very high price) and at present it’s not known if anyone has actually bought it. But, if someone did, we would hope that they would try to preserve, in the best possible way, the traces of its glorious past.

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