During 1925–26 Crowley settled north of Tunis in La Marsya, and Aumont became his secretary. Crowley had recently issued his “Mediterranean Manifesto” and was then mounting his quixotic “World Teacher” campaign to promote himself as the alternative to Annie Besant’s designated “World Teacher,” Jiddu Krishnamurti. Unlike most of Crowley’s supporters, Aumont could write; he was a journalist by profession. He produced both pro-Crowley and anti-Krishnamurti propaganda in this period.
In the period the Aumont essays were written, roughly 1923–27, Crowley was having difficulty having his own writing accepted for publication due to the press scandals in John Bull and The Sunday Express. His contributions to The English Review from the early 1920s were pseudonymous. Clearly, it was thought that articles extolling Crowley’s positive virtues and explaining his doctrines would have more credibility coming from someone other than himself.
Several essays credited to Aumont survive in typescript (catalog citations are to the Yorke Collection, Warburg Institute):
- “Aleister Crowley: A Brief Introduction to His Works (NS 18/37/e).”
- “The Secret Conference” (NS 94/24, published in The Heart of the Master and Other Papers (1992), pp. 1–10).
- “The Method of Thelema” (NS 94/4), published in The Revival of Magick and Other Essays (1998), pp. 176-83.
- “The Three Schools of Magick” (OS F1/6 and NS 94/5), published in Magick without Tears (1954), pp. 28–45; (1973), pp. 64–90.
- “Le Nouveau Messie” (OS F1/7 and NS 94/25).
- “The Black Messiah” (NS 91/12).
Another contemporary essay may also be by Aumont; “The Master Therion: A Biographical Note” (NS 18/13, published in The Equinox III(10) (1986), pp. 13–18, and in The Heart of the Master and Other Papers (1992), pp. 11–21). Its title and voice suggest that Crowley was not the author.
No essays attributed to Aumont appear in the detailed catalog of the Crowley archive recovered from the Germer estate in 1975, although there was a Crowley/Germer file for Aumont that could have included typescripts; this file was lost in the 1978 burglary of the storage unit housing these papers. Detailed surviving catalogs of the OTO Archives by the Germers, and the later catalog by Phyllis Seckler, show that some papers from the Crowley-Germer archives survive today due to Grady McMurtry, Phyllis Seckler or Helen Parsons Smith having removed them before the second robbery of 1978. All three were senior members and IX° OTO trustees, and all exercised borrowing privileges to varying degrees. We can thank them for the survival of some material that would otherwise have been lost, “checked out” at the time of the final robbery. In The Unknown God (2003), p. 165, Martin P. Starr cites a typescript of Aumont’s essay “The Black Messiah” in the W.T. Smith papers. This copy is one of only two known (the other copy is cited above and discussed below). It probably had been Crowley’s copy from the old archive’s Aumont file, and probably only survived by being innocently out on loan to Smith’s widow Helen.
Some of the Aumont essays have passages written in a style similar to Crowley’s; all incorporate his ideas to varying degrees, and a few do so to such a marked degree that they have doctrinal standing. Several early students and editors, including Israel Regardie, Gerald Yorke, Martin P. Starr and myself, have tended to assume that the Aumont essays had been ghost-written by Crowley. I have published several of them as such, as cited above. My assumption had always been that Crowley attributed their authorship to Aumont in order to give the appearance that someone was writing about him; also, perhaps, he was trying to get around the “embargo” on publishing his work that he believed to be in effect after the negative newspaper coverage of 1922–23. This opinion was naturally reinforced by the fact that some surviving typescripts have edits and corrections in Crowley’s hand, though others show edits by someone else, presumably Aumont.
In 1928 Thelema Verlag in Leipzig published “The Three Schools of Magick” as Die Drei Schulen der Magie, credited “von Gérard Aumont” on its title page. There was no reason for this particular essay to come out under the name of someone other than Crowley, as Thelema Verlag was run by Thelemites. More notably, the essay is not about Crowley, as such. He later included it as three chapters in Magick without Tears, writing to his correspondent in that series of letters: “Here is the first section of M. Gérard Aumont’s promised essay; it was originally called ‘The Three Schools of Magick’”; he added that “A few amendments—very few—have been necessitated by the passage of time.” Crowley then amended the opening and closing of its three parts, but made a point of signaling his edits—not something he would have bothered to do had he originally written them. He also firmly dated its writing to 1924 e.v., and took care to preserve Aumont’s authorship credit. It was probably the widespread presumption that Crowley wrote “The Three Schools of Magick”—by far the best known work attributed to Aumont—that led Israel Regardie and other students to assume that he also wrote the other Aumont essays. In his preface to his abridged edition of Magick without Tears (1973), pp. xiii–xiv, Regardie was very definite, and given his personal history, he seemingly had the best basis for an authoritative opinion. He wrote:
“I met Gerard Aumont in late 1928. He was at that time a French journalist who lived and worked in Tunisia, though he came up every now and again to meet with Crowley. The entire content of this long essay bears entirely too many distinguishing features of Crowley himself for it to have been penned by anyone other than Crowley. It would appear that Crowley was quite willing to have written essays, etc., and where convenient to use either a pseudonym or to let another party take full credit for the writing. I state categorically that Aumont was incapable of writing this particular essay. Every phrase, most turns of expression, the very egocentricity of the point of view, the penetrating comprehension of Magick and history, are all Crowley’s work and none other. If one has studied the numerous works of Crowley and absorbed the uniqueness of his particular viewpoint, the hand of the master himself will be recognized.”
With all respect for Regardie, I find that he had little basis for making such an assessment of Aumont. He was only 21 when they met, had not been studying Crowley for very long, and did not speak French; there is also no indication that he had read any of Aumont’s other writings. Regardie had many opportunities to ask Crowley whether he, or Aumont, really wrote the essays credited to Aumont, but sadly, it is clear that he never did so.
Gerald Yorke was more cautious, qualifying his attribution of “The Black Messiah” to Crowley in his note to the Warburg typescript:
“Almost certainly by A.C. He was trying to replace the Theosophical Society’s intention for Krishnamurti becoming the second coming of Christ as the Star in the East. A.C. was trying to be recognized as the Star in the West. Krishnamurti however walked out from the Theosophists renouncing the role which they wanted him to play.”
Martin P. Starr, in The Unknown God (2003), p. 165, was more definite, noting that Crowley was “Writing under the name of a Tunisian disciple, Gérard Aumont.”
I have come to accept Aumont’s authorship of these essays, although I allow that some of them were almost certainly written from notes of interviews and discussions with Crowley. I also think that Crowley edited the final form of those essays intended for publication in English, probably working from Aumont’s rough English translation of his original French, to judge from some of the surviving working drafts discussed below. Aumont’s published journalism shows that he was a capable writer, even in his twenties, and there are stylistic features in the essays that are decidedly unlike Crowley; some of the similarities mentioned by Regardie may have been due to imitation. As a professional journalist, it seems improbable that Aumont would readily acquiesce in lending his name to a half-dozen or more works that he didn’t write. And there was no need for subterfuge—Crowley never had difficulty inventing pseudonyms; he famously used dozens of them. It is otherwise almost unheard of for Crowley to write under the name of a living colleague. The only other instance that comes readily to mind is some short fiction on Russian themes credited to Marie Lavroff; these were probably true collaborations. Finally, there is Crowley’s later handling of the Aumont contribution to Magick without Tears: he persisted in crediting the “The Three Schools of Magick” to Aumont some twenty years after it was written.
There is no proof that Crowley wrote any of the Aumont essays, and in the case of “Le Nouveau Messie” and “The Black Messiah,” there is overwhelming evidence that he did not. The deciding factor was that two of the essays were originally written in French, which I consider prima facie proof of Aumont’s authorship. One, “Le Nouveau Messie,” only survives in French, while another, “The Black Messiah,” survives in what is clearly a rough English first-draft translation from a now-lost French original. A few quotations from the typescript of “The Black Messiah” will illustrate this:
“But some times there occur events which seem almost like mysterious providential warnings, and they will indeed be doomed if they do not find sufficient wisdom to use these to put themselves upon their guard. A superficial view is to blame the war for this state of things. Those who have gone more deeply into the question uphold the view that the danger has been latent for long, and that the war merely served to bring conditions to the verge of crisis, to put a spark to the train of powder.”
Crowley never wrote this badly. Another passage strongly suggests that the author was French:
“When Punjabi Sipahis talk among themselves of France, they tell of its infinite charm, and boast that when the time is ripe they will go over and take possession of those fertile plains, and live in that delightful climate. I will not make the reader’s blood boil with indignation by hinting at the fouler designs implied.”
Most tellingly, there is an almost laughable passage that preserves clumsy translation artifacts:
“They have put up a bluff which makes the wise guy shake his head in sorrow.”
While the language shows that this could not have been Crowley’s work, the essay’s crude style and overtly prejudiced substance—which I will not reproduce here as I find it offensive—is also wrong for Crowley, who left a very large body of writing for textual comparison. Notably, the pejorative usage “negroid” recurs in another Aumont essay, “The Three Schools of Magick.” Crowley published a few unfortunate remarks, but the sort of crude racial bias found in “The Black Messiah” would have been a complete outlier for him; I cannot reconcile the views expressed in that essay with all I know of Crowley’s actual thinking. However, the sorts of racist attitudes expressed, and the ready willingness to express them, were not unusual for someone with Aumont’s background. Such attitudes were common in the French colonies where he was born and raised.
In Aumont’s defense, it should be noted that he was very young—in his early twenties—when he wrote “The Black Messiah.” I have not found anything comparably detrimental in his published writings that I have traced. Also, there no evidence that he became a fascist, Vichy collaborator or Nazi sympathizer—and he would have had ample opportunity to do so, especially during the 1942–43 German occupation of Tunisia. On the contrary, Aumont and his wife concealed a Jewish friend from the Nazis—the orientalist painter Alexandre Roubtzoff (d. 1949), whose career he had helped launch in 1922 with an article in Dépêche Tunisienne. Aumont profiled Roubtzoff again as late as 1938 in the magazine Tunisie, at a time when it took real courage to do so.
Aumont died in Tunis, age 73, on December 27, 1975. With assistance from Phanes X° of the Grand Lodge of Italy, and the sympathetic cooperation of Aumont’s family, OTO recently purchased a full assignment of Aumont’s literary copyrights. Our ownership of his rights will allow us to republish Magick without Tears with a joint author’s credit to Aumont, properly recognizing the three chapters he contributed to the book for the first time. It will also give our legal department basis for inhibiting the online dissemination of disinformation about Crowley pertaining to Aumont and his unfortunate essay “The Black Messiah” (which remains in worldwide copyright through at least the end of 2045). This will give OTO basis for legally countering recent attempts by far-right political extremists to co-opt Crowley — a unjustifiably cynical exercise that should make any right-thinking wise guy shake his head in sorrow.
Ordo Templi Orientis
[this was initially posted at: http://www.oto.org/news0418.html]