McMurtry (1918 – 1985)
On Knowing Aleister Crowley Personally
From the O.T.O. Newsletter, Berkeley, California, Vol. III, #7 11, 1979 1980.
Bill Heidrick has asked me to tell you what it was like to be under the Magickal Instruction of Aleister Crowley personally. Unfortunately this is impossible, much as I would personally like to accommodate him... and you.
After all, if one cannot discuss the Secret of the IXth Degree (with its well-known secret ingredient) except under Seal, how much less can one get into the doctrine of the Golden Pyramid of Atlantis?
(What has been published by A. C. himself can be discussed if you want some idea, take a look at the Crown of The Fool in the Thoth Tarot deck and remember the ancient adage: The Universe is held in the Mind of God. Add the ideas of computer programming, the tanmantras and what people really mean when they say they are maintaining.)
What are the real words signified by A.'. A.'.? How does one charge a set of Abramelin squares written in Enochian? And Why? And why you shouldnt!
The mystery of the Virgin Man reflect on your biblical Woman clothed with the Sun and reread your Kabbalah Denudata, the Twelve Stars for her Crown being the twelve cranial nerves of the cerebellum in the activated Psychic Body.
Why should the ancient curse be, May Choronzon burn the back of your neck! Ill give you a clue: the Visudha Chakra, or Daath in the activated Psychic Body.
Or the nature of the Boat of the Sun.
It is impossible to discuss these things, except under Seal, of course, because of:
I would not care to have the karma of a Lou Culling who published certain (inaccurate) books on sex Magick. That is like handing a lighted stick of dynamite to a child for a fire cracker, or throwing acid tabs to teenagers like sugar cubes to piss-ants. The only thing I can think of worse from a Thelemic point of view is telepathic hypnosis.
You will notice that Crowley was never so irresponsible.
It has occurred to me that I am one of the few people left alive who knew Aleister Crowley at the last three places he lived: 93 Jermyn Street; The Bell Inn, Aston Clinton, Bucks, north of London; and Netherwood, the Ridge, Hastings.
So lets meet Aleister Crowley.
As I said in a previous rap (Vol. I, #4 of the O.T.O. Newsletter), 93 Jermyn Street is just off Picadilly Circus in London. As best memory serves, it is the bottom flat of a several story apartment house facing North. This is what the interior looked like:
A is the door leading in off the street. B was a large window that lighted the place very well during the day, but at night had a black black-out shade on it so that no light could be seen by the German bombers we could hear patrolling overhead. C was the chess table. D and F were two comfortable chairs facing the table. I always sat in D and Crowley always sat in F. G was the round turn-table full of books down at my right where I picked up the I Ching book with the Crowley paintings for covers. H was the two-tiered open bookcase on the North wall over under the window. The letter H itself is about where I found the volume of Abramelin squares. It was on the top shelf. I signifies four framed line drawings in typical Crowley style that I can only describe as being mildly erotic. They were certainly not obscene. Unfortunately the only one I can remember with any clarity was the one on the left. It featured a young lady looking down with great delight at what looked like an overgrown bush, with Crowley in oriental garb looking over her right shoulder, and the caption read something to the effect about how wonderful it was to know this young woman because she has the worlds largest cunt! Unfortunately these drawings did not survive to be shipped to Germer after Crowleys death. I can only presume that they were ripped off.
I met Lady Frieda here, and also Dr. Louis Wilkinson. It is my impression that he was a medical doctor, but as a British author he wrote under the name of Louis Marlowe.
I cant tell you what the kitchen and bedroom looked like, as I was never in either of them, but the bedroom looked pleasant and sunny enough from the living room. It is the place where a German bomb blew in the back windows one night, and, as Crowley said, if he had been home at the time he would have been killed.
Crowley had an idea that he could divine a persons character rather quickly by the way he played chess. A right side opening (usually Kings Pawn) meant a fast, slashing, rather reckless attack. A left side opening (usually Queens Pawn, unless one is going in for Hyper-Modern theory where anything is possible) meant a slow, leisurely, intellectual game and person. I tend to the right side, myself. Apparently Crowley liked that. Anyway, after about the third meeting, he said, You are obviously IXth Degree material, and handed me the papers.
It was here he told me about my chess game, as he put it a story he loved to tell. It was a blind-fold game (one in which the player does not see the board). Anyway, he went to bed with the lady of his choice at the time, while his chess opponent sat at the board within easy talking distance, but where Crowley couldnt see it. The idea was to see if Crowley could achieve climax and call Mate! at the same time. As he said with great delight, I did it!
It was also here that I asked him for help with my Motto (see previous O.T.O. Newsletter), and that the incident of the British school-boys happened. I am so used to reading freak-out accounts about how Crowley was supposedly such a bad-ass, that I was a little taken aback recently to read an article in which someone was trying to make him out a kindly old gentleman. Well, he certainly could be kind enough, if it struck him that way, but so far as I could tell he remained irascible to the end.
Anyway, it is a habit in England for school-boys to go around in small groups at Xmas time and sing carols at your front door, and, as has been said, they will not go away until they are paid! Well, they did that time. Go away, that is, without being paid. We were sitting there at 93 Jermyn Street playing chess and rapping one wintry afternoon just before Xmas of 43 e.v. when we heard this raucous noise at the door. Crowley said, I wonder what that is, in some annoyance, and went and opened the door. Here were four English school-boys bawling away. Crowley flew into a temper, slammed the door, and came storming back into the room raging, TO THE LIONS WITH THEM! TO THE LIONS WITH THEM!
Of course if they had been singing Oh little house of Boleskine, as someone was at a recent Crowleymas party, he might have felt differently.
Of course, it was here at Jermyn Street that Crowley gave me his (typically Crowley) view of the people of the Mediterranean. All those people can think of is fucking! is the way he put it his own succinct way.
It was also here that we took off one day for lunch at some posh London restaurant. I had gotten into town in the morning, amazingly enough, or maybe I had spent the night (being a red blooded American boy) with one of the whores from Picadilly Circus (wars are fought on the unexpended virility of young men... personally, I never found any shortage of young women to help them get rid of their problem), and he decided to celebrate by treating me to a fine lunch. It was in a hotel, the Savoy, as I recall, but dont hold me to it; I remember that the doorman wore his British Army combat ribbons on his doormans uniform.
With the barrage balloons flying and all that, wartime London could be a rather exciting place. Sometime I must tell you about the Red Berets of Ord Wingates Burma Drop, and the British Officer Club circuit. But anyway...
I got the idea that winning the Victoria Cross was a high recommendation for retiring as a doorman for a posh London hotel, but then it was wartime England. Crowley was wearing a knickered tweed suit he had specially ordered and tailored and was so proud of... he loved to show you how efficient it was... all those little pockets and things. It came complete with gravy stains, which can still be seen in photos as late as 45 e.v. from Hastings. Very important in shortage plagued war-time England, but it was very unusual looking.
Anyway, as we were walking into the lobby, I was walking on the right, a rather beefy looking Englishman coming out of the Restaurant took one look at him and burst into laughter. I flushed and half turned to my left with something in mind about doing something about it (You cant laugh at my prophet that way!), but then I noticed that Crowley was laughing and talking and paying it no never-mind, and I suddenly flashed that it would make a rather silly headline the next day BERSERK AMERICAN OFFICER ASSAULTS PEACEFUL BRITISH CITIZEN AT POSH HOTEL! so I simmered down and we walked on into the dining room.
The reason this incident sticks in my mind is because of something that happened on the way. We had taken one of those big red double-decker buses and were sitting on the bottom level on the left about half-way. We were sitting there talking, when suddenly Crowley glanced up to the left, said Pardon me a moment, closed his eyes, made some mystic passes with the fingers of his right hand, and mumbled something unintelligible. Unintelligible to me, anyway. It wasnt until later that I figured out that he had been doing the noon Liber Resh. The thing that is so striking is that he was so quiet about it. To hear some people talk you would think that he would have rushed up to the top deck and shouted it from the housetops to all of Greater London. There may have been times where he did, but he didnt do it that day.
As I mentioned in my last rap, 93 Jermyn Street is just off Picadilly Circus in London. A circus is a rund-a-boot (round-about), i.e. a circle where traffic flows in and out. Picadilly Circus has traditionally had a statue of Eros (Cupid) on the island in the center (taken down during the war, of course). They couldnt take down Nelsons Monument in Trafalgar Square, so they sandbagged it.
Anyway, and for whatever reason, it was the habit at that time (43 44 e.v.) for all of the young ladies of London who wanted to fuck for fun and profit to come down and blanket the walls while the various clientele (mostly American soldiers) considered the prospects. The comments one heard while passing could be rather startling. I remember being jolted out of my satori one evening by some broad yelling Get your hand off my cunt! during a particular point when they were negotiating as to who was to sleep with whom and where and how much for the night. We had a saying in the American army, If you put a roof over Picadilly Circus, you would have the biggest whorehouse in the world. Whether Crowley ever made use of the local availability I have no idea, but it did set a certain tone.
Speaking of sex, the question has arisen as to whether Crowley ever made any homosexual advances to me. The answer is no. (For a confirmatory opinion, see The Eye in the Triangle by Dr. Israel Regardie, p. 16.) The Aleister Crowley I knew had the greatest respect for the right of an individual to manifest their Will without interference. The only time the subject ever came up was by accident and a joke. One day he was telling me about how he had been at a party the previous evening. From his description I got the idea that the people who attended were mostly of the artist / bohemian persuasion, but elderly, because, as he said, despite their age they were all jumping about as spry as crickets. Whereupon I made some inane comment to the effect that I would have liked to have been there. His reply was rather devastating. He said, and I quote, Oh, you would just have gotten yourself buggered. Considering my physical strength at the time that does seem unlikely, but anyway...
It was also here at 93 Jermyn Street that a German bomb landed in his back yard, blowing glass from the window all over his bed, and as he said to me at the time, If I had been home, I would have been killed. This shook his nerve a bit. He, along with Lady Frieda and many another Britisher, were determined that the German bombing would not drive them out of London the old British bulldog spirit.
As to whether any of this on Crowleys part had to do with any remorse over his pro-German activities in the U.S. during War One, I cannot say. So far as I am concerned, he was just being the typical Britisher he had always been. Crowley was in the tradition of the radical conservative. On the one hand there is nothing more radical than Thelema. On the other hand he was a monarchist. He could never forgive Edward VIII for having abdicated his throne to marry a commoner. After all, the office of the Royal Consort had been approved in European royalty for centuries.
Speaking as an old combat trooper, I can report with great authenticity that being next to a bomb going off will do something to you. What it does mostly is make your nerves a lot more frangible. So if sometimes my hand shakes a little and maybe I drink more than is good for me, believe me I have reasons. When the Chinese hit the Kumwha Ridges with a human wave that went on for a solid week in October of 52 e.v., and I was ammo supply on the Central Front, Korea... but that is another Grady story... Back to Crowley.
As a result of the German bombing he decide he needed more quiet. Cant say I blame him. I thought it was dumb enough to stay in London to begin with, but I didnt tell him that. So he looked around and decide to move to the Bell Inn at Ashton Clinton, Bucks County (I think that means Buckingham).
There is a whole history of England written in the county names. The painted counties. Yes, I saw it once when I was running east on a highway over in the West country those perfect patches of agriculture, each in its own color... (Essex means the East Saxons, Wessex means the West Saxons, Sussex means the South Saxons, Northumberland means the pits. That is Robin Hood country.) ...about 30 miles north of London. Of course, London goes on forever.
The Bell Inn is an authentic country inn. It still has the courtyard where the stagecoaches stopped to load and unload. I was still up in East Anglia at Bury St. Edmunds at the time. Now England is built very much like Italy or Korea when it comes to roads. All roads lead to... London, Rome or Seoul, as the case may be. To cut across country is a problem. Add to that the fact that the British had taken down all road signs in case of a German invasion, which was not at all unlikely. But I had a very beautiful, red Morocco bound quarto sized map book, so I never really had any problems negotiating the terrain. (From a recent film, The Eagle Has Landed, it is quite obvious that the Germans had just as good road maps, so why did the British take down the road signs? Well, you are at war you have to do something even if only to keep up your morale.)
I fogged my way across country... wondering at the convoys of British trucks that did not have front wheel drive... sure enough, they bogged down in the mud of Italy while those American GMC deuce and a halfs went plowing sturdily through... bugged the hell out of the British newspaper correspondents at the time... and those colorful Royal Corps of Signals on their messengers motorcycles with their funny helmets and fantastic yellow gloves with the long gauntlets to cover their wrists.
I really did not have all that much trouble in finding Ashton Clinton, not at all like that time in Korea when I wanted to drive from Chouchon over to the Western Front without bothering to drive all the way into Seoul. Found myself on a washed-out road on a mountain pass, up to the fan belt in a flooding stream without a bridge and when a squad of Koreans burst out of the cane in full camouflaged combat regalia, I damned near shit my pants while grabbing for my carbine in the back of the jeep. Turned out they were just ROK troops on maneuvers, but for a horrible second I didnt know that.
Well, anyway, back to Crowley, like I said. Naturally I was in uniform. Not only was there a war on, but I had taken the morning off from my duties as Company Commander to grab the Company jeep and go over and see Crowley. I walked in to the desk (on the right; the dining room is on the left as you walk in) and asked the clerk how I could find Mr. Crowley. He said, Oh, right up those stairs (on the right), down the corridor to the left, and its room number so and so (which I have forgotten). So I go pounding up the stairs with me combat boots on, found the door (on the right), and pounded on it. I heard some unintelligible sound, so I pounded again. This time I heard a voice saying very distinctly, Who is it? Since I was talking to a piece of wood, the door, and there seemed to be some problem of communication, I said very loudly, LIEUTENANT McMURTRY. The door opened and there was Crowley. He took one look at me and said, Oh, there you are, dear chap. Come right on in. Then he paused, looked puzzled for a second, and said, Thats strange. When I was taking the I Ching this morning it said that I would be meeting a military man.
I walked in, and he said, Pardon me a minute. He was in progress of taking an oracle from the I Ching. It was the one time I saw him using his I Ching sticks (which I was able to recover from the library after the court order decreeing that his library belonged to the O.T.O. under my conservatorship). The blank side is the male (Yang, energy) side. The divided side (looks like red nail polish to me) is the female (Yin, receptive) side. By my ruler they are less than an 8th of an inch in thickness, but slightly more than a 16th thick. They either were mahogany or teak or stained dark to look so. Each stick has a Yang side and a Yin side. The way Crowley used them was to shuffle them (with his eyes closed then take them one at a time and, holing each one upright with his right forefinger (eyes still closed), get a signal and lay it down either right or left. First stick down is the bottom line. You can also get moving lines this way. If one of the sticks wants to move when you lay it down, just shove it right or left as indicated. Personally I like this method of taking the Oracle. It gives you a chance for your Angel to communicate directly through your fingertip. Of course, one must always be wary of lying and malicious spirits.
I forget exactly what we talked about, but I do remember that it was a happy reunion and a heart warming experience. Crowley could be a wonderful person when he wanted to be. As for the irascible side of his nature, I personally do not think he could have brought down The Book of The Law unless he had been authentically THE GREAT WILD BEAST OF THE AEON.
I met him once more, Xmas of 1944 e.v., but more of that next time... and Hastings.
As I said in my last rap, I would see Crowley one more time at Bell Inn at Ashton Clinton. At the time it seemed all very accidental. Looking back, it seems all very karmic. But anyway...
What happened was that, having survived the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of Northern France, we were up in Belgium preparing for the assault on the Rhine. This was where the incident of the eighty 500 pounders occurred.
One day I read in the Stars and Stripes, our Army newspaper, that they were offering a course in Explosive Ordnance in England to any Ammunition Supply Officer who didin’t know his ass from his elbow. Since I had gone to Quartermaster O.C.S. (Officer Candidate School) and had never even seen Aberdeen Proving Ground, two things hit me at once: (1) It would be interesting to find out something about what I was doing, and (2) Crowley was in England. It was a long chance, but there was always just that possibility.
So I find myself piling into a British plane up in Brussels Airport so antique that it had two pilots, but only room for four passengers. We started taking off down the runway under the usual cloud cover, as I thought at the time... it is always raining in Northern France and Belgium... stupid me, how was I to know that this was the fog blanket into which Glenn Miller would disappear flying east to France at the same time... and under which von Runstedt would launch the Ardennes Offensive (the Battle of the Bulge to you history buffs)... things like that I would find out later.
At the time what I noticed was that neither pilot was looking down the runway in front of us, as pilots normally do on a take-off, but that the one on the left was looking to the left, and the one on the right was looking to the right. This did seem unusual, so I did the same. That was when I grabbed my seat and hung on for dear life. This twin-engined crate was so ancient that the tachometers were on the engine nacelles, and what the two pilots were trying to do was to keep the two engines turning at the same speed so we wouldnt ground -loop and wind up a fiery pile of junk.
But we finally lifted off, cleared the cloud cover, and started pocketing along toward England at about 60 miles an hour, maybe 6000 feet off the ground, under a brilliant sun and looking down on a pure unbroken carpet of white that went on... and on... and me twisting my head round to see if some stray line of ME-109s would come rolling in for a little target practice like that day in Normandy... but then I had been on the ground and could duck... a little hard to duck at 6000 feet... and on... At 60 miles an hour it takes a while to fly from Brussels to London.
Finally there was the blue of the English Channel... and the White Cliffs... and we landed at Croydon and by truck and bus and trolley and train up to Leicester (which we pronounce lei-CES-ter and the British pronounce LES-ter).
First they introduced us to the ka-VET (which seemed to be the British way of pronouncing the French word for cavity). A kavet was where a bomb had exploded underground, but had not broken the surface, leaving a thin layer of soil that would not support you if you stepped on it. Which meant that you would be dead by the time you scrambled out due to the toxic gases left by the explosion. Kavets were definitely to be avoided. Check.
Then we met Herman, good old Herman. Herman was about the size and shape of a great white shark, had a funny ring welded to his nose to retard his depth of penetration on impact, was painted a sort of off-navy gray-blue, and weighed 1000 pounds. Herman was what the British called a block-buster. Also Herman was a man of mystery. Yes, Herman had many mysteries. The mystery was in the fuse. Herman could think.
Now we Americans are very straightforward kind of people. A little mindless, maybe, but certainly straightforward, and our technology reflects. Our bombs were fused mechanically fore and aft. As she went in, if the firing pin in the nose fuse didnt function, it didnt matter because this neat little metal rod in the tail fuse would come slamming forward and she would blow anyway. But suppose she lands on her side, says Uncle Heinie? So they devised a whole new technology of electrically fused bombs. By flipping a complicated set of toggles the German pilot could give Herman any number of options. He could explode on impact. He could be set to go off as a time-bomb hours later (very important in wartorn London. A UXB [UneXploded Bomb] found near a subway or power station could shut down a goodly part of London.) Or he could just lie there and think about it indefinitely while these curious little electrical charges went percolating through these rheostats and other circuit devices, waiting for the vibration of the jackhammers from the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) squad (there is an awful lot of concrete in London) to break that final circuit and set him off.
Obviously the British had a problem. They had to get him out of there, but how? Solution #1: defuse him on the spot. The fuse was at about the center of the bomb on one side, and secured by these funny looking little locking rings. Unlock the rings, lift out the fuse, and away with old Herman. Unfortunately Uncle Fritzi had thought of that too, and had all these happy little anti-withdrawal devices so that as you lifted the fuse out he would blow anyway. Scratch Solution #1. Also the guy who was working on the fuse with the telephone around his neck, I am now moving ring #2 to the left... and then this god-awful explosion.
Finally the British had lost so many EOD experts that they resorted to the only real practical solution, and that was to hoist Herman out with a crane, put him onto a sandbagged truck (for all the good that would do), and take him out with sirens screaming to some god-forsaken place and blow him on the spot.
Yes, Herman was definitely bad news. So was Betty. Bouncing Betty, they called her. The Germans had this empty casing about the size of Herman (painted yellow) that would crack open about half-way down and spew the countryside with grenades retarded in their descent by these cute little beanies... a sort of four-bladed parachute. Once Betty had bounced, she would lie there with this timing device about the size and shape of a quarter, and ridged on the edge like a regular coin, waiting for any vibration to make that little gear move that one more notch and then all of a sudden there you are looking like a funny kind of shish-kabob.
This was all very interesting, and fun in its own kind of way, but terribly academic, until the world exploded. I came down to breakfast one morning to find the Stars & Stripes on my table, headlines all over the place, and a may full of spear-heads supposedly depicting German armored divisions all pointing directly at where I left my Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Company at Brugelette, about 30 miles south of Brussels. What to do? Well, schools over, back to London, back to the Continent, back to the War. Only to have the desk sergeant tell me, Lieutenant, we cant even drop paratroopers into Bastogne. How in the hell are we going to fly you back to the Continent?
So, my hunch paid off. But first things first. Grab one of those funny spare London taxis with the open front-end that can turn on a dime and score a bottle of black-market Scotch for an exorbitant price. Then scrounge up a couple of cigars from some place and off to Bell Inn at Aston Clinton.
That may have been where I met Kenneth Grant, because I definitely remember meeting him at the Bell Inn. We rapped about many things, but the only thing he said that really stuck in my mind was his last sentence, which was, You really must come back for Xmas. It is going to be the traditional English Xmas dinner complete with flaming plum pudding! After all, the Bell Inn is a traditional English country Inn.
And so back to London and check in with Air Transport and, No, Lieutenant, all flights are cancelled for today, but be sure to be here at 8 oclock in the morning.
It was about this time I met those Canadian girls and got introduced to the British Officer Club Circuit (which is quite different from the regular street pub) and a few days of living it up goes by... and then it is Xmas, and time to visit Crowley up at Aston Clinton.
But hold! Enter the villain. The British Railway drivers (we call the guys who man the throttles on railroad engines engineers) had had it up to the ears, and decided to pull a one day strike. They were not being unpatriotic, but you must understand that they had been fighting the war since Hitler had invaded Poland and the British were a tired people. So the railway employees just told the government flat, For one bloody night, Gov, in all the years of this bloody war, we are going to have Xmas dinner with our families at home.
Personally I approved, but it damn sure left me up a bloody creek, because how was I to get back to London by 8 oclock the next morning? On the other hand, who could miss having Xmas dinner with Aleister Crowley? So I said, To hell with it, Im going. After all, I had been risking my life on a daily basis ever since Normandy. Why should I worry about a reprimand?
So by taxi up to Paddington Station, that great, gloomy, sooty cathedral to Victorian bad taste where you take the trains going north, and off at Aston Clinton station.
Everything looked normal. Gates open, lights on. Looked cheerful enough. Even serving that awful slop they call tea in British railway stations in war-time England. Thats why they filled the glass half full with watered milk, so you could gag down the stuff. At least it was hot and warmed your tummy on a cold night. Maybe everything would be all right.
So off cheerfully to the Bell Inn and Crowley and we toasted the Yuletide with brandy and it was time to go down to dinner and all those suett things that only a Saxon stomach can take, and sure enough the flaming plum pudding. Then back upstairs for more talk and brandy and the cigars and a wonderful time and around midnight it is time to say goodbye and I walk back down to the station in the fog that had come up. It looked like a tomb Lights out, gates locked, and not a person in sight. What in the hell am I going to do?
Ah. Brilliant inspiration! What is the one place in town that is going to be open all night? The police station, of course. Not hard to find. It was the only house in town that had its lights on. So I walked in and explained my problem to the Desk Sergeant. He was sympathetic, but said, Not a chance. With the heavy ground fog not even the lorries are running. (English country winters are subject to what we would call a Yule fog, and a lorry is what they call a truck.) Then he brightened and said, But theres a bobby on a wheel (motor cycle) coming through in a few minutes going down to the next town toward London. Maybe you can hop a ride with him! So I find myself on the back end of a motor bike blasting along through the fog freezing my end off down to the next station. And again to the next station.
What happened after that is a blur. All I remember for sure is waking up standing in the open back end of a milk truck running into the outskirts of London in a cloudy dawn trying to find some place where I can catch a tram. I made it to the Air Transport Office at just exactly 8 oclock only to be told, Sorry, Lieutenant, all flights are cancelled for today. But be sure to be here at 8 oclock tomorrow morning!
It is really remarkable what some people would go through just to have lunch with Aleister Crowley, but personally I wouldnt have missed it for anything.