Episode 3 - DREAMERS of DECADENCE!


          It was upon my fourth day out of New York harbor that I encountered the wickedest man in the world.

          I had taken a copy of Lord Lytton's romance, "The Coming Race", alternately contemplating the vast (and rather dirty) Atlantic and dipping into the mysteries of Lytton's "vril" forces that "wash even memory out of the tablets of the brain" when a bulky shadow intruded, cast by a formidable Britisher in tweeds who appeared in his middle thirties. Actually Crowley was much nearer my own age but his thinning hair, at which he often slapped in fits of vain resentment, seemed to add at least a decade to his countenance. Finally, of course, he shaved it all off - which rather enhanced his appearance... although, in a recent photograph provided me by a friend in London, our Beast looks as alarmingly like the matinee comedian W. C. Fields, just as Winnetou resembled Chaplin, or the other way round. But, as a creature of Revelations, he rode proudly in those days... and upon horses of many colors... a few lines of doggerel composed, after Melisande, go:

"The World for a Whore, the Sky for a Harlot...

All Life at Your Door, For a Virgin in Scarlet!"

          "Ssi! my American friend!" were the first words Crowley spoke, and I must have appeared quite naive for… in the first place… I thought to wonder if I had ever met the man before and, in the second, to contemplate whether some unsavoury proposition was about to be made.  At that time, it was generally thought that hissing sounds, common to Mediterranean peoples, were a sort of cipher, an invitation to vice... at the least…

          "Beg pardon?" I must have said, something like that, and I do recall Crowley's expression distinctly sharpening.

          "My mistake. I see that you have not arrived at such point in your readings as to where the young colonial is brought to the hall of tall women and automatons, where Aph-lin and Zee paralyze his mind to learn the secret of loathesome humankind and their Koom-Posh..."

          Obviously I had not. "The... what?" I struggled.

          "Koom-Posh! A word that might be interpreted as government, by and for mobs as, for example, in your city of Washington."

          Well! then, as now, I was a patriot... though not, I think, a chauvinist, so I must have seemed one of those bumpkins who rose in their defense of country against deTocqueville and other European slanderers. "I do not know of which mob you speak, but we are governed by President McKinley." This I said in all confidence although the election was still three weeks distant... the perennial Bryan having been once more nominated by those men of the uncouth West, the conclusion seemed mere formality.

          "And we by a Queen and a Parliament," Crowley remarked, "not to leave out the churches. Always the churches..." he added, in a darker tone.

          I did not know whether to offer my hand closed or open; I have since learned that such ambiguity is common to those who’ve encountered Aleister Crowley. Still, his remarks upon religion intrigued me... at University I attended chapel and, of course, we our a pew at St. John's... but, to all effect, the recitations of ministers had seemed as dank as the Atlantic sea and its sky.

          So I lay down Bulwer-Lytton's novel... which I had acquired, of course, after the recommendation of J. P. Morgan on the thoroughly useful principle that, when one wishes to emulate successful people, one does so by absorbing the same sort of literature they imbibe. Today I find that I can walk into a meeting with a volume of Twain or Plotinus under my arm and, within days, the junior agents shall be observed carrying Huckleberry Finns and Romans... whether they actually open these books, let alone begin to read them, is quite another matter.

          "Is that so? Are you, then, an unbeliever, possibly a Freemason?" I recollect having inquired.

          Crowley had a way of straightening his neck as if to imply something had offended him; a poorly-prepared sauce, perhaps, or an Archbishop. "I, sir," he said, at this, "am a theorist and practitioner of evil."

          Figuring that there must be something to a fellow who could speak so plainly of such matters, I decided to extend an open hand. "This doesn't fill you with abhorrence?" he added.

          "Of course not!"

          "It should." Crowley rewarded me with one of his most demonic glares - but took my hand, helping me from my deck chair. "In any event, I shall not ruin for you the denouement of Lord Lytton's masterpiece. He is, after all, a sort of prophet to us... those whom the misinformed and deluded call evildoers."

          And Crowley flashed a sequence of hand signals towards me... near enough those of the Wolves that I was able to respond, at which a puzzled frown crossed the brow of the renowned Satanist.

          "Are you not a Wolf?" I asked... "I am..."

          "Is that so? My teacher in Mexico explained such things to me but I have not had the pleasure of... Mister..."

          "Cameron. Arthur Cameron of New York."

          "And I am Aleister Crowley, a wanderer... citizen of the world...

          "But you must be from some place?" I persisted...

          Crowley frowned, seeming to deliberate, "Scotland!" he then declared - quite abruptly and with audible hollowness of sincere sentiments. "I am of the party of liberty and a modest meddler in affairs of the worlds. And you..."

          I believe I shrugged, as young persons who know everything often do. "Only a student," I deigned admit.

          "Then what you need are reliable teachers," the Beast said, quite recovered. "You have made a good start in Lord Lytton and, now, you have me! Will you be my guest for dinner?"

          What alternative could I have had… despite a certain insinuation in the Beast’s invitation as implied that I could be the entrée, rather than a common gourmand!  I had previously dined with a Chicago butcher, some government fellows the evening previously, Washingtonians of course, and... our first night out... found myself at a table of solicitous but incomprehensible Mediterraneanards... Spaniards or Italians by their language. Crowley had a conspicuously situated table... and his other guests were three pale young persons whose severe black garb contrasted with the gaudy silk shirt, bow tie and rings the Satanist had donned for dinner-hour.

          "Dreamers..." Crowley introduced, "here is an American, Arthur Cameron; one of the initiates, a Wolf... is that so?"

          I replied that I did not care to advertise the matter... one never knows what skull might be lurking round. Of course that was just the sort of answer to cause my stock to rise sharply in Crowley's esteem... real Hermeticists don't go round advertising their status. "But anyway," I assured his grim trio, "I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

          "Here are Axel and Melisande..." waxed our Beast, "they were born with other names, but no matter; tonight we dine with the dreamers of decadence. And this other young man is... Henry!"

          Not so pale as the others, Henry struggled with the enormous menu; beseeching the waiter with wide, liquid eyes and the broad yet clipped tones of the midwest... Ohio perhaps, or Indiana...

          "I rather thought I would attempt the fish. It is of the sea, after all… the water which comprises so much of the human body, to which we are destined to return..."

          "Splendid!" Crowley commanded the waiter's attention. "And therefore I, sir, shall commence with oysters, raw, then the medallions of veal with baby asparagus, the Greek salad… and bring several bottles of claret but, first, Scots whiskey for all."

          That waiter was good... he wrote like a demon and inclined towards me. "Sir?"

          "Roast beef..." I determined, "rare, and a salad..."

          Melisande was the next to order. "I do not feel well this evening. Only consomme, please."

          But Axel outshone all in epicurean disdain...

          "Watercress!" he declared haughtily.

          The waiter stepped back, puzzled, calculating the implications on his gratuity. Axel dismissed him with a limp wave. Half an hour later, ruins of our meal piling up on my own plate and Henry's... a catastrophic Antietam spilling over Crowley’s... he sat stolidly with the same expression of disdain over his untouched fodder as the Beast slurped down a leaning spoonful of sorbet, gulped brandy and grinned.

          "Lord Lytton, whom our American friend only now has the pleasure of discovering, was one of those unseen grandmasters of English Masonry; also an agent of intelligence in the Queen's service as was founded by Dr. Dee and continued by Cagliostro, one of my former incarnations."

          "You have had a good many incarnations..." Henry dared, "Eliphas Levi...

          "Who died at the instant of my conception," Crowley pointed out. I must have appeared puzzled because the bad man turned to me, ran a hand petulantly across his thinning hair, and then explained... "A mage of the Parisian school where Ma... where my spiritual advisor in Europe, carries on. But not so many... only Pope Alexander besides. Mine is a young but vigorous soul," he winked.

          I replied something to the effect that quality trumps quantity, as much in matters reincarnatory as among other dry goods, but added that I thought it "strange you should have a cleric in your background, so to speak... I'm not wholly up on all of that Hinduism, those women Besant and Blavatsky, but it seems, well... strange," I found myself repeating.

          "Alexander the Sixth was a bad Pope," Crowley acknowledged, "a very bad Pope though, as I understand him, a fine man. I owe my capacities to Alexander. Love is the law, however love under will. Sirrah!"

          He had summoned the waiter, withdrawing a hundred pound note from his billfold and the worthy fellow threw up his hands...

          "Sir, I cannot make change for such a sum!"

          "Allow me." Axel appeared to revive from his reveries long enough to pass several lesser bills across the table; the waiter clicked his heels and departed. "Of what consequence is money, with the lamp of existence so soon to be extinguished forever?"

          "Oh!" Crowley said with the same insouciance of manner as if he had forgotten his keys... "I have not told you; these three young persons do not intend to disembark at Liverpool..."

          "An abominable cesspool," Henry shuddered, "the abomination of desolation from whence no wholesome thing shall ever emerge..."

          "At least not by their own motivation," Crowley corrected himself, "for, on our final night of crossing, they each shall take their lives with the aid of a potion I am preparing."

          And with the carefree sense of one who has, perhaps, made a remark on the weather, death's envoy invited us all into the billiards parlor. I'd already suspected, in his demeanor, something of the character of a professional, so I lowered the stakes... not surprisingly the Decadents declined the offer to compete. I rather thought Axel, especially, lacked even strength to lift a cue. Crowley did, in fact, prove something of a master... balls caromed into their brothers, banking sets by twos and threes... the Mage ordered more brandies Axel paid for, grinned through his cigar... and talked incessantly upon his favorite subject, himself!

          "The Swamis and Yogis of Serendip Bennett arranged for me to meet had wondrous tales, but I rather preferred hunting crocodiles and tigers. And the excursion to Thibet... we reached twenty-two thousand feet but, since our guides ran off, I had to descend and, thereafter, proceeded to Don Jesus in Mexico by way of Japan.

          He sent another ball towards its mesh grave as Axel and Henry stifled yawns.

          "I would like to throw myself off a mountain summit," Melisande observed. "But the effort consumed in getting there would be quite beyond my constitution, and I would perish in the snows, like... like..."

          Whatever reference she'd intended had slithered through her mind, like a sardine through tuna nets. "Soon enough, my heart," Axel sighed; Henry fairly writhed with jealous affections.

          Crowley, completing his clearing of the green table, declared billiards amusement of a common sort... "golf, however, there is a game for men! When I take you to my estate in Scotland we shall have a go round the links of Inverness. Golf is the revenge of Stewarts against the Crown and all her exiles, and I have an obligation of karma to repay. My Illuminist predecessor, Cagliostro, combined against the Jesuits and Presbyters both," Crowley let on, as he collected and racked balls, "...I cannot fault his religious sensibilities, but the consequences for Scotland were grave."

          "I thought you said that you... he... doubled for Jacobites in Paris..." said Henry.

          "Against the Tsars? Of course!" Crowley lay his cigar upon the table's edge to break the rack... another ball tumbled into its grave. "Who wouldn't combine against Russians?"

          "I think Russians rather romantic," Melisande rhapsodized. "All that cold! One could throw off all clothing and walk naked out into the snows, and there attain the Azur..."

          "It would ruin your complexion, dearest," Axel punctured the dream with a laconic squint. "Mister Crowley's way, that is best."

          "Death does deliver all of us from larval thinking, Papus told me. He is a learned magician of Paris, a disciple of Levi who, although jealous and very justly so, shared with me his insect philosophy of Synarchism. All races in their procession have had visible and secret masters... Elizabeth her Doctor Dee and Bacon and the lesser but useful propagandist Shakespeare; Weishaupt and Lafayette and St. Germain their Gilles de Rais and cloddish Bonapartes... even American illuminists have expression in the works of Poe if one but looks beyond the surface of that sea..."

          "Resignedly beneath the sea," Axel recited, "the melancholy waters lie."  Marinetti would have mercilessly ridiculed the young man's declamatory passion... or lack of it... I do not regret that such encounter never took place. It would have contained all of the drama of a spider encountering a shoe.

          "You see," Henry told me, "it is that their parents oppose them which dictates that we take our lives."

          "But you?"

          "Hell, rising from its thousand thrones shall do them reverence," Henry replied, then shyly appending his own sentiments, "It has always been my only pleasure to serve..."

          "As a seneschal, a retainer!" Crowley dispatched another ball and lifted his cigar, blowing out smoke and mysteries. "One finds clues all over Egypt, as in the myths of Greece and Rome through Dante and Israel also... all being a striving towards that task which is paramount..."

          "Which is?" I felt obligated to inquire.

          "The reconstruction of the Temple!" He sank the last two balls and waved the cue in a sporting fashion, allowing that I should try a round. As I began to gather loose balls, Henry stepped forward.

          "I have heard of that! There were Initiates in France..."

          "Jacques deMolay," Crowley allowed, "among some others. Debased and framed by enemies in Rome and in Versailles, their order went underground. Cagliostro learned their secrets through Franz Mesmer but suffered a bodily offense no less grievous than Wagner's Klingsor - the akashic memory of which still haunts my vital nature. I've a compulsion never to resist passions nor opportunities... for, even today, one knows not what swift sword will descend, and life or potency be lost."

          "Well that is all black magic to those of us who inhabit the eternal dream," Axel said, in a rather scolding manner which another, not so near his end, might not have dared employ against the Beast. "I rather prefer love as the law, and death as the mother of life."

          Yet, in spite of such sentiments weighing over the parlor and the table, I succeeded in breaking the set, even coaxing one of the balls into a pocket so as to survive the round.

          "Well I did feel that way a decade back," Crowley admitted. "Black magic, our judaic heritage, holds all life is suffering... better realized, of course, by inflicting pain upon others as Inquisitors will. From the black, one proceeds to its opposite, white magic, whose law is that existence which is joy. Your basic Rabelais... your tantric variations of the Hindu...”

          "Blavatsky!" I replied and, as if that name were charmed, potted my target.

          "Well she is not without heirs," Crowley reminded me. "I shall prepare, for you, a letter of introduction to Herr Hartmann, who runs a sanatorium near Salzburg… should your coming endeavors prove injurious to mental health… and, also, the Continental theosophists. He's a learned doctor... well, a coroner..."

          I heard Henry shuffle, then Axel affected a yawn which... had I been a more experienced gamesman, I could have blamed for my missed shot.

          "Too bad," Crowley grinned, "...a coroner, yes, as also Dr. Westcott, one of the founders of our curious society in London."

          "Will he take charge of us in Liverpool?" asked Melisande. "That one who is initiated should be he who gains custody over my mortal remains... this excites me. In a modest way..." she added, noting Axel's disdain as he declined my offer of the cue.

          Crowley seized it up. "I do not know how far his authority extends, but you may be sure that the brotherhood of European coroners is as far flung as is that of any secret society."

          And he began sinking balls, one after another with a smirk, continuing...

          "Westcott, one Dr. Woodford... now deceased but a colleague of a Scotsman intimate with Bulwer-Lytton... and MacGregor Mathers translated a manuscript of ancient origin that revealed many secrets lost since deMolay." Ball after ball tumbled into the abyss with uncanny speed. "History no longer crawls on its belly but advances upon the new century like an express train, or this vessel."

          "A terrible destiny we shall escape..." Henry said.

          "To stand against the sun and deny dawn," Axel added with unwonted smugness, turning to his beloved... "altius resurgre spero, Gemmatus!"

          Now I should have held my tongue and avoided certain humiliations that would follow, but I could not tolerate being left in the dark in those days, so I asked the Dreamer to repeat himself, in English...

          "Why it is from Villiers... I thought all people who mattered knew Villiers... it is the dying oath that Axel swears to Princess Sara. A common translation would be 'Ever higher I aspire, bejewelled one!' but such would be empty for it is in the occult gemetraia of letters that the hero enclosed the secret of his name..."

          "That's what Dreamers would do in the more chivalrous times of which Villiers wrote," Henry thought to add.

          The billiards parlor had a fine porthole through which one could command a view of the black, ravenous Atlantic and Axel... now that I knew this to be pseudonymous, I wondered what his real name was; Clarence or Algernon perhaps, I never found out... turned his back upon us all, gazing out through the glass out into the pagan evening. "All falls away... gold and Christian wood, power and love, finally life itself... we show in our fight against Nature that we are worthy of death. The sun... stars... moon... the world mourning our genius lost..."

          "Half my soul, its weaker half, desires comfort in its exit..." Henry said to Crowley, "the other seeks a stern, painful ordeal so as to heighten the ecstacy of final release..."

          "As you will, so shall your servant humbly distill. I am a poisoner of consummate capacity..." Crowley smiled, "that is my Gregorian legacy. Have no fear... or fear, if you will, doing as thou wilt is the law of the law."

          And then Henry was moved to exclaim what I learned... much later... to be the last words of Villiers. "Azrael... O! death... those who are about to live salute thee!"

          "He plagiarizes of course..." Axel said, turning from the window and vista of the sea.

          "But well. Cameron?" Crowley asked "have you read Villiers in the original French?

          "No, sir... nor even in translation. Baudelaire and Mallarme, defenders of beauty but... I have heard of the man... he was rich, I think, or poor, very poor..."

          "Both. When Villiers declared his candidacy for the Kingdom of Greece, three decades ago," Axel said, "he had a fine apartment in Neuilly and collected relics of the Inquisition. Reduced to a pauper by this noble but fruitless quest, he composed the opera from whence I take my name on napkins in cafes..."

          I had not thought the fellow capable of putting more than a half dozen words together, so I could suffer with him... in a coarse, American way, of course, as Melisande interrupted with words spoken or written by someone else.

          "I therefore, silently shut the glass door, resolved never to contract any commerce again..."

          "Except that he became rich once more," Henry advised me, "just before he died... after the gnostic journey of Paul through the ten heavens with his child-guide..."

          "Children are monsters..." Melisande recoiled. "Lord Lytton was absolutely right about the ferals of the Aph-Lin... such nation as sends boys out to conquer at the age of oh... ten, let us say, no older than twelve... shall possess the world. I, consequently, die ignorant of childbirth and so, in virgin ecstasy as Poe, Baudelaire..."

          Aleister Crowley could no longer contain his glee.

          "In ecstasy! Well I have a tale for you, Dreamers and... when that's done... my potion! But first, a cognac which Axel's purse shall provide... is money not irrelevant to one already dead?"

          The tall young Dreamer assented, if hesitantly.

          "Splendid! To the bar... and to Death! my babes of the abyss!"

          And Henry seconded him with a rousing but queerly hollow cheer.

          "To Death!"  


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