R.A. WILSON ON MAGICK & CROWLEY – The Horrible Secrets of the Wicked Aleister Crowley

Another gem from the Berkeley Barb!  In this article, published in the October 21-27, 1977 edition, Robert Anton Wilson discusses his understanding of Crowley’s sex magick system at the time, which at minimum is an entertaining read – enjoy!

For those of you who don’t know the Berkeley Barb was an underground newspaper that ran from 1965 thru 1980.  It regularly featured articles by Wilson, Alan Watts, Timothy Leary, Isaac Bonewits (and many others);  because of their personal interest in Thelema Crowley is commonly mentioned throughout the series.

Their entire archive is available on-line with color high scan images throughout, free to download here



One day in 1970, I had lunch with Alan Watts and his lovely wife, Jano.

Toward the end of the lunch, Alan asked me about my current writing projects, and I told him a little about Illuminatus, happening to mention the Eye in the Triangle, which is said to be the symbol of the Illuminati.

‘That reminds me,” Alan said. ‘The best book I’ve read in years is called The Eye in the Triangle. It’s about Aleister Crowley.” He went on to recommend the book highly.

All I then knew about Aleister Crowley was vague and unfavorable. He was said to be a Satanist, a Black Magician, a sadist, a nut, a heroin addict and a sexual degenerate of monstrous proportions. I had somehow or other also heard that Crowley had climbed higher on Chogo Ri than any other mountaineer in history and had set several other climbing records, and that intrigued me. Few junkies have the stamina for such exertions, and one wondered a bit if some of Aleister’s infamous reputation was exaggerated.

The Skeptic bought The Eye in the Triangle, which was by Dr. Israel Regardie, Crowley’s secretary in the 1920s and now a Reichian psychologist in Los Angeles. Dr. Regardie emphasized the link between Crowley’s Tantric magick (Crowley’s spelling) and Reich’s bio-energetic psychology, and the Skeptic assumed therefore that the “astral” energies used in Crowleyan magick were the same phenomenon as the “orgone energy” used in Reichian therapy. I’d soon plowed my way through all of Crowley’s books still in print and began a correspondence with Dr. Regardie.

I also began experimenting with the methods of magick training given in Crowley’s books. Many of these exercises were frankly borrowed from Hatha Yoga, in which I already had some experience; some were similar to the methods of tribal shamans, such as Don Juan Matus, whose training of the anthropologist, Carlos Castaneda, is full of Crowleyan techniques; others came from Tibetan and Indian Tantra, the art of turning sexual ecstasy into mystic mind-expansion.

Crowley never refers to these Tantric practices directly in his books, but only obliquely via codes, puns, metathesis, acrostics, obscure symbolism and every manner of indirection. I first began to understand this, as mentioned earlier, while reading Chapter 69 of The Book of Lies, which is called ‘The Way to Succeed — and The Way to Suck Eggs/’ As is usual with Crowley, the chapter number is related to the subject (usually Cabalistically, but in this case via sexual slang). The title is a typical Crowleyan pun (the way to suck seed. . .). The chapter describes the descent of the dove on Pentecost — called ‘The Gift of Tongues” (!) by Christian theologians — but can also be read as a description of Crowley and his mistress (called Laylah in the text) engaged in mutual oral sex. Crowley was actually saying that oral sex could be a method of meditation.

Once one got the message, further browsing soon showed that countless other chapters were describing other sex acts as forms of meditation. The same technique appears again and again in almost all of Crowley’s books.

(Although I obtained this knowledge by intuition, you don’t have to take my word for it. Louis Culling, a disciple of Crowley, has described the Crowleyan methods of Tantra without codes or ambiguity in A Manual of Sex Magick, Llewellyn Books, St. Paul, 1972.)

The idea behind Tantric sacramental sex (or sex-magick, as it is also called) is that postponing normal orgasm by various postures, meditations, incantations, and especially prayers, enables one to produce eventually a new kind of orgasm — the polyphase orgasm, Leary has called it. “The Ascent of the Serpent” is the traditional Hindu metaphor for this neurological explosion. The experience is much like nitrous oxide in that it seems to condense an LSD trip into a few minutes, and like prolonged Hatha Yoga in that it seems to produce a permanent change in neuro-physiology. In Leary’s terminology, this Tantric mutation gives you a fifth neurological circuit, where most humans have only four, and it can also launch you onward toward even higher circuits.

Marijuana, of course, also puts you on the fifth circuit — right-brain rapture — but only temporarily. It was one of Crowley’s secret teachings, only passed on verbally to promising students, that the combination marijuana plus tantra was the key to rapid mutation into a permanent Rapture Circuit.

It occurred to me that I finally had the secret of the Illuminati. They were not the fantasy of right-wing paranoids. ‘The Illuminati” was one of the names of an underground mystical movement using sexual yoga in the Western world. The veils of obscurity and mystery around such figures as Giordano Bruno, John Dee, Cagliostro, the original Rosicrucian’s (17th century), Crowley himself, and various other key figures in the “conspiracy,” had nothing to do with politics or plots to take over the world. It was a screen to protect them from persecution by the Holy Inquisition in earlier centuries and from puritanical policemen in our time.

This historical pattern of persecution and cover-up has confused the transmission considerably. Some of the groups called ‘The Illuminati” at one time or another have not had this particular secret in their mind-programming syllabus. Some groups not called ‘The Illuminati” have had it, to confuse matters further (e.g., the Brothers and Sisters of the Free Spirit, to which Hieronymus Bosch belonged and which greatly influenced his paintings, had the secret, as did some but not all of the Rosicrucian and Freemasonic orders). I have done what I could to clear up the historical picture in another book.

The Crowleyan system, very briefly, is a synthesis of three elements:

  1. Western occultism. The secret “illuminated” teaching out of 19th century Rosicrucianism, possibly going back through Renaissance magick societies, medieval witchcraft, the Knights Templar, European Sufis, etc., to Gnosticism, and thence back possibly to the Eleusinian Mysteries and Egyptian cults. Basically, as Crowley says, this method consists of dangerous “physiological experiments” — using ritual, sometimes drugs, sometimes sex, to jolt the nervous system into “higher” functioning (new neurological circuits).
  2. Eastern yoga, including meditation plus physical exercises to make meditation easier and more natural. Another system of activating higher circuits.
  3. Modern scientific method. Crowley taught total skepticism about all results obtained, the keeping of careful objective records of each “experiment,” and detached philosophical analysis after each stage of increased awareness.

It is this synthesis of Eastern and Western occult traditions with modern scientific method that is probably Crowley’s major achievement. His notorious anti-Christian philosophy — a blend of Nietzscheao Supermanism and anarcho fascist Darwinism — is quite distinct from his methodology. Whether you like that philosophy or not (and the Libertarian does not), you can still use the methodology of research Crowley devised.

Robert Anton Wilson


Frater Orpheus

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