Saturday, October 20, 2007

Sybarite among the Shadows (The Story)

by Richard McNeff

“He bridges the gap between Oscar Wilde and Hitler…”
Cyril Connoly

BERLIN. The yellow stars daubed on shop windows in the Jewish Quarter, overshadowed by the monstrous towers the Nazis called architecture – totems of the thousand-year Reich. Such a millenarian atmosphere suited Crowley, fresh, if that is the word, from a reinvigorating interlude of sex magic with a woman half his age in Lisbon. Like a gratified parent, he still doted on the “German Crusade”, as he called it. In turn, the authorities tolerated his existence. Names he had been invoking for years were on the lips of high-ranking SS officers: Ahriman, Horus, and Moloch – many deities were abroad that year. Besides, his relationship with the Nazis stretched back to the early days of the Party’s formation. Yet they did not like the relationship to be too defined. Already theirs was a hidden doctrine, a sect of intrigue and the esoteric, of ritual and symbol, posing as the modern. A few years later, his eyes opened, the OTO suppressed in Germany, Crowley would describe them with contempt as the Black Brothers. Indeed, they were worshippers of the left hand, the perverted spirit – but in secret only. To the ostensible world, they presented themselves as the final cultists of the empirical. Crowley to them was something of a buffoon: an actor in a shadow play of rich widows and cocaine who shared their interests but not their intent. The Wanderer of the Waste was comfortable with this arrangement. He loved outrage and extravagance; while for them, purpose was enough.

Aleister Crowley

Crowley had first met Aldous Huxley in this same Berlin at the start of the decade and had painted his portrait in the belief that he was rich. This time Huxley was in the city as an observer of the strange monster Germany was becoming. Like many witnesses, he was both repulsed and fascinated by the dark rhythym that beat in the pulse of that nation. To describe their relationship as friendship would be to miss the point. Crowley was doubtless fascinating – notorious as the Great Beast in his own country and much of Europe, a brilliant conversationalist and something of an enigma, whereas Huxley was a myopic intellectual. Yet Crowley attracted him, just as thirty years before he had intrigued the dry and peevish Somerset Maugham in Paris. He almost existed for the straying eye of the novelist who hunted those chapters of exhibition life did not afford. Yet now Crowley fades, his rotundity, absurd and menacing, is blurred – a glaring headline of Edwardian sin.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,
Love is the Law, Love under Will.”

So I utter his Law in my own defence, that simplification filched from Rabelais, supposedly dictated in the mirage of a Cairo night by his guardian angel Aiwass. I think of him shortly after the war shambling through that seedy Hastings boarding house sated with the Law: a figure of pathos in his threadbare dressing gown nursing his habits and remorse, an aged minotaur, sybarite among the shadows, in the fading of his Aeon, more Fool than Prospero.

Already in the Thirties psychotropic agents fascinated Huxley. Albert Hoffman, synthesizer of LSD, had yet to sway on his bicycle after the mysterious chemical seeped through his pores, yet there existed an abundance of literature concerning its predecessors: Havelock Ellis’s experiments with mescaline or those of William James with psylocibin. Moreover, Berlin, at that time, still nursing is Weimar hangover, was the epicentre of drugs in Europe. Both Hitler and Goering used amphetamine and cocaine, and the SS administered many narcotics in their initiation ceremony, the Ritual of the Stifling Air, which closely resembled the Black Mass. Indeed, one of the biggest contributors to the formation of the Nazi Party, and so the Second World War, may have been the diet of methedrine, a super strength amphetamine, and Nietzsche fed to German soldiers in the trenches - both pills of the former and copies of Also Sprach Zarathrustra were standard army issue. An oversimplification, perhaps, yet the first chemical history of our epoch remains to be written.
Thus it was that Huxley came to Crowley for his first taste of mescaline. The latter took the drug irregularly, without pretensions, purely as an exercise in that hedonistic spirituality he practised. Huxley, on the other hand, nursed a genuine mystical longing that had surprisingly blossomed in a soul as rooted in reason as his own. There was a confusion of aims, a perennial ambiguity about their enterprise. I, Victor B. Neuburg, poet and sodomite, sorcerer’s apprentice, veteran of Bou Saada and the Paris Workings, was the arbiter.

They had spent the afternoon in our less than opulent rented quarters discussing Karma. Crowley was talking:

‘To me it exists solely as a paradox. It is true I have seen retribution visit others on many occasions, especially those foolish enough to cross me as they have learnt to their cost. There does seem to be a sense of balance in the machinery. Nevertheless, this process is unending. It acts in everything and so to allow it an iota of acknowledgement is absurd.’

‘We reap what we sow, Aleister,’ Huxley countered, ‘not in a moral sense, at least only haphazardly moral. Nemesis is something like gravitation, inevitable yet indifferent. If, for example, you sow self-stultification by an excessive interest in money, you will engineer a grotesque humiliation.’

‘In what sense? How can you possibly accuse the rich of humiliation? Surely they’re the last people to fall victim to that particular failing.’

‘I was coming to that. By self-stultification I don’t just mean money. I mean anything that clouds the spirit. Over-indulgence in alcohol, food or sex are more examples of things that wreck our purpose. However, because these things reduce you to a sub-human condition, you will not be aware the humiliation is humiliation, so to speak. There is your explanation of why Nemesis sometimes seems to reward. What she brings is humiliation only in the absolute sense, for the ideal and complete human being, or at any rate, for the nearly complete. For the sub-human it may seem a triumph, a consummation, a fulfilment of the heart’s desire.’

‘Moral,’ concluded Crowley,’ live sub-humanely and Nemesis may bring you happiness. Well, if you will excuse me, my dear Aldous, I will proceed to self-stultify. Victor, if you don’t mind: Pandora’s box!’

I rose and went to the cabinet and took out his medicine. Four phials lay in the ivory box. I selected the one containing Burmese heroin and another crammed with Bolivian cocaine. Carefully I mixed the powders on a silver tray, crushing the dirty khaki coloured heroin and adding about five times as much cocaine. I passed Crowley a silver spoon that, with surprising dexterity, he used to scoop up some of the powder, which he then deftly inhaled, first through the right and then the left nostril.

‘Won’t you join us for cocktails?’ Crowley invited. ‘This combination certainly beats Pimm’s.”

Disapproval etched itself into the lines on Huxley’s drawn austere face.
Observing this, Crowley commented: ‘I’m afraid if you keep the devil’s company then you must see his works. Imagine you’re with Falstaff, you know, “gentlemen of the shade, minions of the Moon”.’

‘But this is such waste,’ declared Huxley, ‘the ultimate form of self-stultification. What’s more I’m sure it’s a conscious assault on the soul, an immense dereliction.’
‘It depends,’ Crowley replied. ‘Drugs are magick and have always been used as such. The soma of the Vedas, the nepenthe of Homer, the henbane and belladonna of the witches all point to the fact. I am sure for the nomal man, whom I happily call the sub-human, they are invariably detrimental. However, in no way do I consider myself ordinary. To me drugs are the litmus test of capacity. I know the wraith-like effects of cocaine, that long corridor of shadow where the soul is wasted and profaned. And heroin! The cushioned daze of the opiated night. But it is because I have supped large on both such joys and sorrows that I consider myself more than human.’
‘Have you not read Baudelaire’s intimate journals? Isherwood, who is staying near here, has just translated them. I’ve never come across such desperation, such remorse for a lifetime given over to false ideals – hashish and all the other indulgences that besotted the Decadents.’

‘But that is it exactly!’ Crowley, excited by the drugs, sputtered. ‘Baudelaire gloried in his fall, his self-imposed damnation. Besides, he did write some damn fine stuff, and wasn’t that born precisely out of those feelings of failure and hysteria he cultivated with his drug taking, his black bitch, his guilt? You see, Aldous, as long as we are active we are saved. All energy is eternal delight provided we use it. To take a drug is to permit a daemon to enter the sanctum of thought and action. If we give voice to this captured spirit then we enforce, rather than profane, and so exorcise the very spirit that possesses us.’

Aldous Huxley
He got up and went over to the sideboard. It was growing dark outside and his obesity threw a giant shadow across the wall. I suppose, in tribute to the spirit of the times, I should comment on the stamp of stormtroopers’ boots from the street below. But in truth I only heard the low growl of traffic and the occasional voice. Crowley came back and gave Huxley a piece of paper. ‘Read!’ he simply said.

I have that paper before me now. In the last decade, it has become yellowed and brittle round the edges. It is one of many of his papers that I still keep: bills, incantations, the occasional doodle or letter. Like me they survive in obscurity, unknown to both his followers and biographers. I shall transcribe it here.

“From the tower enchantment and the sweet hypnosis of lost time, my dreamseed spill their valediction across known worlds. I tell the cartographers, who call my map invisible, that space is frozen in the habit of their fictions. Their cities are my seed, their houses, wives and toil are fantastic shadows of solidity. I see only waves, brilliant, aural cartoons containing one centimetre of gross matter. Let the radiant language now spill forth. I sing the chisel and the blade, the hammer and the scales, and all melodies of craft. The Work ferments inside my battery of cells. My voltage is a million watts.

“Alchemy is patient. It sits in stillness. Like Tao it recognises the divinity of hazard, the vigour of the useless – accident is merely the collision of two meanings. So in me the dross solidifies. I have stopped asking if I have a story as there are no stories now, only decipherable collisions. In me, the opaque furniture of the random is condensed and drained into rich ore. My veins are heavy with dark coal nurturing diamonds. I am the redking, the bronzed phoenix upon the wheel of flame. I have traversed the river of ordeal and was crowned by elementals. Now shall the paradox of prisms blaze onto papyrus my heart’s bold voice.

“Airborne visions tingle. Coming from rich flight, the dreamer’s wingspan – almost prosaic this whirlwind. Lost continents, contours, cartographers, and me, my maiden voyage is crystal and a glass. Truly it is the scheming polarity of vision this placing on a glass, a pane that mirrors to the heart’s dereliction, the soul’s migration. I sweep the city. This is the holy liquid of metropolis, fashioned in the image of its metal bowels. This is the Fall of Ushers, the corruption of sense. Tell me the sex of electricity, of coils, sockets, plugs. Once the planet gave the deity of gender to the thunder in the hills. Only man creates the sexless. My mind is snow vapour; airwaves flow freely like the magic carpet on Sinbad’s voyage. I am standing in Mexico. I have the stature of the ancients, the children of Lilith, twenty-three feet tall. I strut the sunflower Van Gogh sand, eaten by cacti, while the arcane sun explodes above. I eat the sun. I am the debris of the stars. Solar storms flare from my pores and launch a billion sun borne seeds, the first shudder running through me forever. In the fever of mirage, in hallucination, I seek to touch the brimming fare of yellow; peyote, datura, mescaline. Behind needles sharpened by white light, fantastic buds map shades of an oasis.”

Huxley read the piece carefully but seemed unimpressed.. His exact words I cannot recall, only that they were polite and vague. Myself, I am fond of the passage and as I am fond of all visionary otherworldly things. Doubtless, to Huxley the words were another demonstration of the Beast’s eccentricity, like the whole pantheon of dark, forgotten gods that sprang so glibly to his lips.

‘When the wind of the wings of madness comes,’ Huxley said, ‘I hope you will be spared!’

His purpose in coming that evening was to take mescaline. They had discussed the subject at length – Huxley referring to Havelock Ellis, Crowley to the Vedas. ‘Come then,’ said the Beast as dusk fell. First, we smoked hashish from the hookah, its effect lightening the atmosphere considerably. Huxley lost most of the caustic self-possession that clung to him like a limpet to a rock. He was almost merry. Crowley’s mind still maintained the intense superficial clarity that cocaine induces, and heroin and hashish only partially placate. He teased our guest as if he were a mischievous child. Huxley’s intellect was running wild. He talked scathingly of England and the English, expressing opinions that delighted Crowley. They discussed Gurdjieff then Yeats and his Vision, and this time it was Crowley’s turn to be scathing. Huxley even launched into a lecture on Tao exercises, which Crowley brought to an abrupt halt by asking if one-hand clap was not a form of masturbationary syphilis. We all laughed uproariously, like schoolboys over a dirty joke. Meanwhile, I had administered the mescaline.

‘You know Hitler has taken this stuff,’ Crowley observed. ‘I heard it from a reliable friend in the OTO.’

‘OTO?’ Huxley was perplexed.

‘Ordo Templi Orientis. My local branch, you might say. Their connections with the Nazis are nobody’s business. They almost founded the Party, or at least subverted it. Do you know that two of their top men personally trained Hitler? Before he was a stuttering Austrian oaf, a shoddy bohemian with dirty nails, and a pervert to boot. They coached him in oratory and rhetoric, and under the influence of the drug that will shortly, my dear Aldous, set your eyes on fire, gave him his daemon.’

Crowley’s tone contained a certain malice – a hint to our absolute realist of the irrational and dark forces he might encounter.

‘Then,’ declared Huxley, ‘all the dispersed romanticism that in its waning found expression in the esoteric, in secret cults, has made its kingdom here; fascism is, after all, the triumph of decadence, the final madness of bohemia.’

‘So that Bartzabel may have his Day, precisely,’ Crowley replied.

Later a vast smile spread across Huxley’s formerly dry features, now radiant, illuminated, his eyes indeed tinged with fire. In what region of enchantment he walked, I do not know. Whether beneath the icy domes of Kubla Khan or in some long vanished field of his childhood, fragrant with wood smoke, he did not say. And what music flowed inside him, whether the Abyssinian maid soothed him with her dulcimer or the highest octaves of the stars astonished his ears, was also secret. Whatever is discovered at such moments belongs inviolably to the inner life of the traveller. Even if he should wish to convey it, he would probably find the few words that pertain to this province of experience unforthcoming. We have no maps for the mescal voyage of the psyche.

For me, it was a night of colours – yellow phantoms emanating from the street lamps below; silver flashes of rain tangoing on the windowsill; deep cobalt of the sky - an airless backdrop to the unflinching stars; a violet gauze of cloud over the white moon, and all the world’s allure gathered in a rainbow.

At one point Crowley produced some Tarot cards, prototypes of the pack of Thoth that Lady Frieda Harris had just embarked on in Marylebone. The figures seemed to move - the Lovers entwining themselves on the matrix, the Empress breaking into her impenetrable smile, the Prince of Wands tightening the reigns of the chimera he rode. All these vital creatures, through our intent, in the steely point of time called Berlin, living out the correspondence of their ageless dance. Like a pharaoh long ago, we parted the curtain and glimpsed the peerless geometry of the stars.
At another point Crowley quoted from the Book of the Law.

“I am the snake that giveth knowledge and delight and bright glory and stir the hearts of men with drunkeness. To worship me take wine and strange drugs, whereof I will tell my prophet and be drunk thereof! They shall not harm ye at all.”

‘A trifle perilous, don’t you think?’ Huxley murmured.

‘Of course,’ Crowley agreed, always lucid at such moments, 'if you read it carelessly and acted on it rashly it might well lead to trouble. But the words “to worship me” are all important. They mean that things like cocaine, mescaline and alcohol may be and should be used for the purpose of worshipping, that is, entering into communion with the Snake, which is the genius that lies at the core of every star. For every man and woman is a star. The taking of a drug should be a carefully thought out and religious act. Experience alone can teach you the right conditions in which the act is legitimate; in other words, when it can assist you to do your will.’

Huxley left shortly afterwards. He walked through a Berlin he had never seen before, where cylinders of fire in the cold dawn air dazzled his senses, and the splashing rain became cartwheels of light spinning across the pavement. He had entered a hitherto unknown continent and now, like an illuminated Columbus, was intent on discovery. I remained with the good Master Therion, his bulk shifting in reverie on the Turkish couch.

Many years stretch between then and now. Long ago my two protagonists were dust, fallen to the bottom of the hourglass. Huxley on his deathbed: two hundred micrograms of LSD-25; the luminous smile of his chemical exit. Crowley in that rambling Hastings boarding house: a vast spider with a heroin itch, regurgitating the entrapments of the past. Many years: a war; the accelerated madness of an epoch; the dawning of the age of Thelema. To me long slow years of remorse, when I turned from the gender he had so skilfully taught me and from the vision that witnessed me abandoned in the desert: the pallid brow, stiff horns, the foul rapture that attends that angel to we in league with him through time and eternity.
His sub-contractors.

Victor Neuburg
Author’s Note: The above story, which appears in a slightly re-edited form, was originally published in International Times in 1977 and subsequently featured in the first Rapid Eye compendium in the Eighties. The inspiration for the story was a passage in Francis King’s Ritual Magic in England referring to how Crowley introduced Huxley to mescaline in pre-war Berlin. I was intrigued by two such incongruous types sharing so singular an experience. In turn, and inadvertently, the story inspired conspiracy theorists surfacing, for example, in Micheal Howard’s The Occult Conspiracy. Anyone interested in the bizarre consequences of its appearance in Russia in 1997 should see the account given in “Thelema in Russia” on Pan’s Asylum Camp, the website of the Russian OTO – . Marking the outset of my interest in the relationship between Crowley and Neuburg, the story is the kernel of the book of the same title, which appeared in 2004: Sybarite among the Shadows (Mandrake of Oxford ISBN-1869928-822)


Anonymous Bogartte said...

Greetings, very interesting point of view, with regards to your subjects. Liked the one on Conroy Maddox (way back when.) Informative as well.

J. Karl Bogartte

12:59 PM  

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