Beside all these activities of my own, I came into a new world. My Operation of the Sacred Magick was not sterile. After returning from Morocco, the spirit came upon me and I wrote a number of books in a way which I hardly know how to describe. They were not taken from dictation like The Book of the Law nor were they my own composition. I cannot even call them automatic writing. I can only say that I was not wholly conscious at the time of what I was writing, and I felt that I had no right to "change" so much as the style of a letter. They were written with the utmost rapidity without pausing for thought for a single moment, and I have not presumed to revise them. Perhaps "Plenary inspiration" is the only adequate phrase, and this has become so discredited that people are loth to admit the possibility of such a thing.
The prose of these books, the chief of which are Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente, The Book of the Heart girt with the Serpent, and Libri vel Lapidis Lazuli, is wholly different from anything that I have written myself. It is characterized by a sustained sublimity of which I am totally incapable and it overrides all the intellectual objections which I should myself have raised. It does not admit the need to explain itself to anyone, even to me. I cannot doubt that these books are the work of an intelligence independent of my own. The former describes the relation of the adept with his Holy Guardian Angel; the latter is "The voluntary emancipation of a certain adept from his adeptship ... the birth words of a Master of the Temple."
Even this did not exhaust my creative energy. As in Cairo in 1902 I had started the "Lover's Alphabet", on the ground that the most primitive kind of lyrics or odes was in some way the most appealing and immortal, so I decided to write a series of hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the simplest possible style. I must not be thought exactly insincere, though I had certainly no shadow of belief in any of the Christian dogmas, least of all in this adaptation and conglomeration of Isis, Semele, Astarte, Cybele, Freya, and so many others; I simply tried to see the world through the eyes of a devout Catholic, very much as I had done with the decadent poet of White Stains, the Persian mystic of the Bagh-i-Muattar, and so on. I was, in fact, adopting another alias --- in the widest sense of the word.
I did not see why I should be confined to one life. How can one hope to understand the world if one persists in regarding it from the conning tower of one's own personality? One can increase one's knowledge and nature by
travelling and reading; but that does not tell one how things look to other people. It is all very well to visit St. Peter's and the Vatican, but what would be really interesting would be to know how they look to the Pope. The greatness of a poet consists, to a considerable extent, in his ability to see the world through another man's eyes; and my training in science is always suggesting to me that I should invent a technique for doing anything that I want to do. My technique for borrowing other people's spectacles was to put myself in the place altogether, either by actually adopting a suitable alias or by writing a book in their names. It is a common and legitimate literary device.
When in Holland in '97, I had written a Christmas hymn in which the Nativity was treated realistically. I now found that Christian piety had taken away the entire poetic beauty of Bethlehem by declaring that the Virgin suffered no pain. (It is really astonishing how these idiots managed to remove any touch of sublimity from this stupid story!) I therefore had to change "her bitter anguish hath sufficed" into "her joyful ardour hath sufficed", and otherwise degrade my poem to a blasphemous imbecility, in order to comply with the conventions of the Church. Apart from that, what I had written in a spirit not far removed from ribaldry was found wholly satisfactory.
I had written, in 1899, while staying with Mathers in Paris, a hymn to Isis to be used in the ceremonies of Isis worship which he was at that time proposing to revive in Paris. I changed the word "Sistron" to "cymbal" and the word "Isis" to "Mary". The hymn required no further alteration. I think that rather significant.
Once more, I made a translation of the Fatihah, the most sacred chapter of the Koran, I replaced the name of God by that of Mary, and once again found favour with the Vatican.
I quote a few isolated stanzas:
There was besides such creative work and the editorial work which Fuller and I had undertaken on behalf of the Order, the task of reconstituting it in its original purity. Under Mathers, the Grades had become meaningless; to be an adept had meant no more than to be a peer of the realm does in modern times. It was for me to sweep away all this nonsense, to re-establish the ordeals, in spirit and in truth. I was at first ignorant enough of Magick to imagine that this could be done by the simple process of replacing sham formalities by real ones. I proposed, for example, to test people's courage by putting them in actual contact with the four elements, and so on, as was apparently done in ancient Egypt; but experience soon taught me that an ordeal, however severe, is not much use in genuine initiation. A man can always more or less brace himself up to meet a situation when he knows that he is on his trial. A man might have a certificate of ability to swim half a mile; and yet be utterly unable, for a dozen different reasons, to save a friend from drowning when the need arose.
Of course it sounds totally impossible to administer ordeals of the real kind required, but I found by experience that I did not even have to give the matter a moment's thought. My magical self took complete charge of the business without wasting a moment or disturbing me. It may be through some act of my own, it may be entirely without my intention, that aspirants to the Order find themselves in circumstances where they are tested in the qualities necessary to their stage of initiation. There is thus no possibility of evading the intentions of the Order. It is not conducted consciously by any men soever, but by mysterious forces automatically set in motion by the force of the obligations themselves.
For example; the oath of a probationer apparently involves no difficulties of any sort; no penalties are stated or implied; the aspirant merely pledges himself "to perform the Great Work, which is to obtain the knowledge of the nature and powers of my own being". He is not required to reach any particular stage of knowledge by the end of his probation; he is free to choose such practices as appeal to him; and, provided that his record shows that he has devoted a reasonable proportion of his spare time to the Work, he is
unhesitatingly passed to the degree of neophyte. It sounds as if it were impossible for anyone to fail. Yet, actually only eight per cent. manage to get through the year of probation. The reason is that no sooner does a man make up his mind to enter the Path of the Wise than he rouses automatically the supreme hostility of every force, internal or external, in his sphere.
I further restored the original rule of the Order that its members should not know each other officially and have as little to do with teach other as possible. Theoretically, a member should know only his introducer and those whom he himself introduces. In the present conditions of society it is practically impossible to maintain this rule with absolute strictness, but I keep as near to the ideal as possible. I did relax the rule, to a certain extent, in 1910 --- it was the greatest mistake I had ever made, and the mischief done at that time has never been wholly repaired. Every month I live I am the more amazed at the praeterhuman wisdom and foresight of the Order. I have never known a mistake to be made; whereas my conscious posers are constantly at fault. If I had no other evidence of the authority of the people to whom I am pledged, it would be supplied by their wisdom.
It happened that at the funeral of Saladin, Fuller had met a youth named Neuburg, Victor Benjamin of that ilk, who was at Trinity College, Cambridge, and knew my work. Having to go to Cambridge one day on some business or other, I thought I would look the lad up. I was not sure of the name, and there were several similar "burgs" in the university register, but having drawn my bow at a venture, the first arrow struck the King of Israel between the harness at the very first shot. I use the words "King of Israel" advisedly, for Neuburg was certainly a most distinguished specimen of that race. He was a mass of nervous excitement, having reached the age of twenty-five without learning how to manage his affairs. He had been prevented from doing so, in fact, but all sorts of superstitions about the terrible danger of leading a normal wholesome life. The neuroses thus created had expressed themselves in a very feeble trickle of poetry and a very vehement gust of fads.
He was an agnostic, a vegetarian, a mystic, a Tolstoyan, and several other things all at once. He endevoured to express his spiritual state by wearing the green star of Esperanto, though he could not speak the language; by refusing to wear a hat, even in London, to wash, and to wear trousers. Whenever addressed, he wriggled convulsively, and his lips, which were three times too large for him, and had been put on hastily as an afterthought, emitted the most extraordinary laugh that had ever come my way; to these advantages he united those of being extraordinarily well read, over flowing with exquisitely subtle humour, and being one of the best natured people that ever trod this planet.
But from the first moment I saw him, I saw far more than this; I read an
altogether extraordinary capacity for Magick. We soon drifted into talking about the subject and I found that he already practised a good deal of spiritualism and clairvoyance. The former was his bane. The habit of making himself spiritually passive and inviting the entire spirit world to obsess him proved finally fatal to him. Despite all we could do to protect his aura, we found it impossible to stop the leak altogether, so that at any moment he was liable to become possessed of the devil. He soon learnt how to protect himself as soon as he recognized that he was being attacked; but the spirits became very cunning and were at pains to persuade him not to take the proper measures of protection. I believe, despite all this, that he would have succeeded eventually in mending his aura, but in the principal ordeal of the neophyte he was so seriously damaged that he was never the same man again. During the next few years I saw a great deal of him and his spiritual adventures will serve both as a diversion and warning on many a page to come.
Recognizing the possibilities of Neuburg, I decided to utilize them for the benefit of the Order, and of himself. The first task was to get rid, as far as possible, of his physical defects, which turned out to be very serious. One day during our walk through Spain, we came upon a waterfall, and, the weather being oppressively hot, we decided to take a dip. In this way I discovered that he was suffering from varicocele very badly indeed and as soon as we got to England I sent him to my doctor, who advised an operation, which was duly performed. He had also pyorrhea so badly that my dentist said that if he had delayed the visit three weeks he would not have had a tooth left in his head. Attention to these points, and to the physical cause of his neurosis, made a healthy man of him. One defect remained; and that was incurable, being a slight spinal curvature. The change in him was extraordinary. He lost all his nervousness; he became capable of enduring great physical fatigue, of concentrating mentally, and of dismissing the old fads which had obsessed him. Incidentally, by removing his inhibitions, I released the spring of his genius, and in the next few years he produced some of the finest poetry of which the English language can boast. He had an extraordinary delicacy of rhythm, an unrivalled sense of perception, a purity and intensity of passion second to none, and a remarkable command of the English language.
He possessed the magical gift of conveying an idea of tremendous
vividness and importance by means of words that are unintelligible to the intellect.
I go as Thunder that come but as a bird.
(And then the girl came as a bird, and he went as a worm --- but I anticipate.)
Neuburg was the moving spirit of one of those societies which are always springing up in universities. They never take root; because death comes to all alike at the end of three years, so to speak. People who stay up for a fourth year are Ancient Mariners, but lack the power to hold the wedding guest. Of course people overlap; but the generations follow each other so quickly and the spirit of youth is so impotent to stamp itself upon history, that it is a rare piece of luck when any of these clubs or societies live beyond seven years at the outside. Neuburg's society, the Pan society, did make its mark on the university; but that was not its fault. It was simply that he found people idiotic enough to make it invulnerable against the arrows of oblivion by dipping it into the Styx of persecution. Nothing could have been more helpful than the attitude of the Dean of Trinity, an idiot and inept. I have noticed that people who dislike me are invariable rendered so blind by malice that they give themselves away and make themselves ridiculous.
There is an institution at Cambridge called "Ciccu", Cambridge Intercollegiate Christian Union. It is a bestial thing, compact of hypocrisy and secret vice. Now my connection with the Pan Society was of the slightest. I have merely been invited to read parers, I think altogether three times, on mysticism or kindred subjects. Nothing more harmless can be imagined, but the Ciccu went out of its mind. I am compelled to remark at this point that one of the most disgraceful features of controversy in England is that the upholders of religion and morality, which are frequently not at all in question, instead of disputing with their opponents, assail them with the weapons of secret slander. "This man," they say, "wants to take a penny off the income tax. It is certain that he habitually breaks the Seventh Commandment." In this instance the Ciccu did not know or care what it was that I had read to the Pan society. They merely stated that I hypnotized the entire assembly and took a mean advantage of them. It did not matter to them that what I was supposed to have done is impossible in nature, at least to one of my very mediocre powers.
However, the Senior Dean of Trinity, the Rev. R. St. J. Parry, started to make trouble. I went to see him and asked him what accusations he had to make against me. He merely became confused, tried to bluster, would not commit himself, and finally said that he had given orders that I was not to be admitted to the precincts of the college. On the following morning I waited in the Great Court for him to come out of chapel and called him a liar to
his face in front of everybody. It then began to dawn upon him that he had no power to exclude me from Trinity, I being a life member of the college. He summoned the president, secretary and treasurer of the society, and threatened to send them down. But as it happened they none of them belonged to Trinity and he had no more power over them than he had over the Queen of Madagascar. He must have been a really exceptional fool, even for a don, not to have found out such essential facts before entering upon his campaign. He ultimately resorted to the meanest possible course of action. He did not dare to attack Neuburg, whose relations were wealthy Jews and might be relied upon to make every kind of trouble if he interfered with the hope of Israel; but he threatened a man named Norman Mudd, whose parents were poor and without influence, with the loss of his mathematical scholarship. Unfortunately again, Mudd was the mainstay of the hope of the college for the forthcoming Tripos, and Mudd himself had the heart of a lion. He dared the dean to do his damndest in the most uncompromising language. Once again the wretched creature had to draw in his horns. Only after I had left the battlefield to seek other victories did he succeed in bullying Mudd into resignation from the society by frightening his father. Mudd gave his promise to have no more to do with it --- and promptly broke it. The Pan society won all along the line.
The victory was all the more signal in that an imitation society called the Heretics, who had been trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds like the Rationalist Press Association, had melted away into the thinnest kind of mist at the first intimation from the authorities that their exceedingly mild programme of half-baked infidelity was displeasing to the powers that were. The whole incident was trivial in its way, but it taught me an important lesson of policy. The more upright and uncompromising one is, the safer one is from attack. One's enemies will resort to the most despicable subterfuges, but they will not have the courage to come into the open and they will in one way or another fall into the pit which they dig. It is true that one can apparently be damaged by secret slander, when the enemy become foolhardy by open misrepresentation, but if one is working in the eternal one may be sure that they harm no one but themselves. Suppose, for example, that I attack Lloyd George by saying that he had undergone seven years' penal servitude for burglary, and suppose Lloyd George treats me with the contempt I deserve. Well, at the moment there may be a few people silly enough to believe such nonsense, and to think that his allowing the statement to go unchallenged makes it probable that there is some truth in it. But consider what the biographers will say? They will discover that Lloyd George's time was fully accounted for without the penal servitude, and they will simply wonder what spirit of insanity possessed me to make so ridiculous a mis-statement. They will have
no difficulty in understanding that he, preoccupied with affairs of state, could not be bothered to leave his work to chastise me.
Another consideration arises in this connection. It is always difficult to discover who has really said what about one, and even if one succeeds it is not always the best policy to refute the falsehoods. If people were attacking one by merely falsifying or exaggerating actual incidents, defence would be possible; but when people are bound merely by the limits of their vile imaginations, it is not easy to keep pace with them. What is the use of Lloyd George proving that he did not undergo penal servitude for burglary if I can retort, "Perhaps not, but you were hanged for sheep stealing!" To defend oneself against the accusations of a knave is to seek justice from the verdict of fools. If one's work and one's reputation depends on the opinion of people at the moment, it is, of course, necessary to meet them on their own ground. At every election the most ridiculous falsehoods about the candidates are sedulously circulated at the last moment; if possible, too late to allow time for refutation. The election may doubtless depend on such infected activities.
But when one is working in the eye of God, when one cares nothing for the opinion of men, either at the moment or at any other time; when one has surrendered for ever one's personal interests and become lost in one's work, it is merely waste of time and derogatory to one's dignity to pay attention to irrelevant interruptions about one's individual affairs. One keeps one's powder and shot for people who attack one's work itself. And even this is often useless. The Buddha told his disciples not to combat error. If it had only seven heads like the Lennean hydra it might be possible to sterilize the necks after each operation sufficiently long to finish the job before they grow again. But modern hydras have not this pitiful paucity of talking machines. Hardly a month passes but I hear some new and perfectly fantastic yarn about myself, sometimes flattering, sometimes the reverse, but nearly always entirely baseless, and, as often as not, bearing internal evidence of its absurdity. I have been sufficiently amused to wish to make a collection of these legends, but I find that my memory refuses to record rubbish of this kind. It insists on having some peg whereon to hang its old clothes.
I am not sure whether it was Henry Maudsley who shows that the mind develops not by accretion but by co-ordination. It seems that there is a certain number of pigeon-holes, if I may use the metaphor, in which isolated facts may be stored, and that this number is strictly limited. The efficiency of the arrangement may doubtless be increased by practice and the use of mnemonics, but sooner or later one comes to the end. A man of forty who has devoted every moment of his time to acquiring knowledge finds almost certainly that he has no more pigeon-holes available, and that therefore he cannot acquire any new knowledge except by forgetting some of the old.
This, by the way, shows the tremendous importance of selective study. One of the few gleams of intelligence shown in the works of Conan Doyle is where Sherlock Holmes is ignorant that the earth goes round the sun and, on being told, says that he will at once try to forget it. The case chosen exhibits the chooser as imbecile, for elementary astronomy is certainly important to the detective. But the general idea is sound.
It is today implicitly admitted by all advanced thinkers in every science that the reason is no more than an exceedingly imperfect instrument whose methods are entirely empirical, whose terms lack precision, and whose theses cancel each other out. I might claim a good deal of credit for having written out, as far back as 1902, a reasonably complete demonstration of this conclusion whose premisses were not stated by the official leaders of thought till long afterwards. Yet the theory of initiation on which European adepts base their systems (derived, possibly, from the Egyptians and Chaldeans by way of the gnostics, Pythagoras and the neoplatonists), that of Lao tzu in China, and that of the Vedantists in India, alike imply something of the sort. My claim to originality is confined to the nature of my proof, which I drew from facts of a similar order to those which have finally driven modern science and mathematics to their present position; whereas the ancients, as far as we know, based their thesis on an intuitive perception of the incompetence of reason and on their experience of the results of illumination.
I devoted a great deal of time to various essays demonstrative of the general truth above set forth1 and to this practical problem. I took all the mystical and magical practices of all religions all over the world, and those of the secret teachers and associations to which I had access. I have little hesitation in saying that I have not omitted any practice of importance. I stripped these methods of all their dogmatic top-hamper, all their racial and climatic limitations, and all the complications which had been introduced in the course of time or through the idiosyncrasies of their inventors. I further freed them from the weight of the promised rewards which were supposed to follow on their performance. I wrote down the result in the simplest and most dignified prose at my command, clarifying the instructions by separating them into sections.
I guided myself by the principle that the object of any useful practice soever must necessarily be to get rid of some limitation. Thus the real object of Asana is evidently to release the body from the pain which is its normal characteristic; that of Mantra Yoga to smooth the choppy sea of thought by inducing its movement to take the form of rhythmical billows. In this way I set forth the initiated teaching of all ages and all arts in a uniform and consistent body of writing, being careful nowhere to imply any theory soever.
In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist.
It has not been possible to construct this book on a basis of pure scepticism. This matters less, as the practice leads to scepticism, and it may be through it.
This work extended over a number of years, but the fundamental principles were laid down at this time. It is just to say that the publication of these instructions completely revolutionized occult training. It may not seem so very important on the surface to have adhered to the point of view without altering the practice, but in reality the difference is vital. For instance, there is a book, "Liber Jugorum", in which the student takes an oath to exclude a certain thought, word or act, for a given period, and on every occasion of forgetfulness to cut himself on the wrist with a razor.