Episode 5 - "MAGICK!"


          A hansom from the station deposited Crowley and I, with our luggage, before a town house in Chancery Lane - an edifice of sober appearance within sight of the formidable Royal Courts. The mage, revitalized, cupped his hands over his mouth and cried out...


          A curious fellow opened the door... naked to the waist save for tattoos and what first I thought to be garters but, drawing nearer the fellow, observed to be snakes... at least four, maybe five of the beasts, crawling placidly across his painted torso. Alan Bennett, for this was the name given by Crowley to the one variously described as houseboy, teacher, a performer upon the stage of life, grasped a bag in either hand, nodding as if my presence was expected, that Crowley was in the habit of bringing strange young men into that household.

          The magician's flat had many rooms, some of which I never did enter in such time as I passed there. The parlor was given over to hunting trophies and curiosities that Crowley pointed out with a careless gesture here and there... a smaller sitting room contained his Oriental artifacts. Yet another had been divided in twain as temples of light and darkness with two great mirrors (one black, the other white) standing back to back, forming a divide but also... as it seemed... a bridge between different, even alien worlds. There were also a number of suites, one which was provided to me, others belonging to Bennett and Crowley, still others securely locked but, largest of all, was a room wholly reconstituted as a sort of theatre with stage, curtain, proscenium and lighting apparatus visible, intimating occasional magickal performances.

          "This... this is all quite marvelous," I stammered. "It must have cost you a fortune.

          "My father's fortune actually. Used to run a brewery before mother made him give it up. Which reminds me... Bennett!"

          The serpentine man, having divested his slithering burden brought bottle, glasses and siphon.

          "Now," Crowley said, after wetting his throat, "this is Bennett, Cabalist and Theosophist, who has learned many wonderful things in the East which he will share with you if you will. And this, this..." he looked down into his glass as if having lost his train of thought, " Arthur Cameron, American... how may I say, a young man with no distinction as yet, but plenty of promise.

          "Ohh..." Bennett said, slippery and slithery fellow as he was. Instinctively I did not trust him, although any unkindness he would show was merely a reflection of Crowley's, as if bounced off through either mirror in the temple of light and darkness.

          "I discovered Cameron communing with Bulwer-Lytton aboard the Hamburg and knew we were destined to be acquainted..."

          "Lord Lytton is a frequent visitor to this house," Bennett averred with a perfect sincerity.

          "Isn't the fellow dead?" I asked. "What Mr. Crowley meant... I was reading one of the gentleman's books, that is all.

          "Death does not hinder illumined souls. For all we know, Lord Lytton may be observing us this very moment from the astral plane."

          "Here, Cameron," Crowley said, "you will see the beginnings of occult controversy... it depends on one's interpretation of Madame Blavatsky and the degree of credulity one has in Annie Besant and those of her school. I rather believe Lytton has reincarnated. Probably on the continent, since I have already taken the spirit of Levi. This is another point of doctrine upon which Bennett and I contend; whether Lytton reached the degree of Magister as opposed to that higher of Magus - which rank is bestowed only by Secret Chiefs. I think them more parsimonious in handing out such boons... once only every few centuries, you know... even Levi and Cagliostro became fastened to the eighth level." And he signed as if the weight of the immortals and those struggling to join their company lay upon his back. "It is my calling to resume their labors and, eventually, to rend this veil..."

          "And what veil is that?" I asked.

          "Forgive Perdurabo," Bennett declared. "His mind tends to race ahead of other people's conceptualizations...

          Enraged, Crowley hurled his glass into the fireplace. "Who gave you the authority to use my Hermetic name?"

          "Why... another young man, Lord Lytton..." Bennett reasoned, "...isn't it obvious?"

          "The only thing obvious is that I shall lock you in a box with your own vipers if you ever exceed your authority again!" I had, of course, no notion of the nature of Bennett's crime - but the severity of such punishment was obvious by the way his skin blanched under all those tattoos. The serpent that in light may seem torpid, tame, placidly coiling about one's limbs with only fuzzy curiosity reverts, in darkness, to its true nature.

          "Fix me another drink... then go to your room," ordered Perdurabo, or Crowley... I resolved at once not to bring the matter up unless prompted... "practice your Six Exercises of Magnetic Penitence until dawn and do not speak to Cameron again until I give permission."

          Bennett seemed on the precipice of revolt but then turned and departed, having refilled another glass whose contents Crowley emptied in a single, angry gulp.

          "The quality of help one finds in London these days... I foresee Britain losing the rest of her Empire if this keeps up! Which..." he appended thoughtfully, "...might not be all that bad a thing..."

          "I say... I don't quite understand the terms used but you did seem rather harsh on that man..."

          "Not half of what he deserved. In the Society of which he and I are members... of equal rank, at present, if you may believe!" Crowley added " does not use carelessly the mystic name of another Adept. Perhaps he assumed I'd initiated you myself, aboard ship... there is some unfortunate tradition of leniency about... but he should know better; I do not take on even Neophytes without an exhaustive course of instruction."

          Crowley pondered his empty glass with such opportune concentration that I half-believe, even now, that the incident had been staged, perhaps via one of those gestures theatrical magicians are apt to use in lieu of spoken commands.

          "Don't suppose you would be interested in the secrets of the universe," he ventured, "...that is with all your worldly studies to consider... banking is it? Or science? Bennett is a chemist, you know... you can see where that leads! I invoke Great Pan, poor Bennett can't look past the spirits of old, musty alchemists with their pungent vapors..."

          A hideous scream of "EHIEH!" emanated from a distant room and even Crowley winced.

          "Well I wouldn't begin until January's term next century..." I said before I could restrain myself, laughing weakly. "Suppose we've all grown tired of that! But is this course of instruction one I could learn in two months?

          "Two months!" Crowley seemed genuinely offended, but I suppose it could all have been a part in some larger role he was playing... several years after, one of those literary men on the fringe of things caricatured him quite unflatteringly as a mountebank. He would write better books after, Waugh it could have been, or Maugham? One of those British fellows whose name sounds like a complaint; full of bile, to whom a figure as Aleister Crowley must have been a target impossible to ignore... though I am not aware of any such writer ever being taken up to Boleskine.

          When one grows older the roiling, contradicting passions of youth rather coalesce into regrets, then bitterness which strives against a sort of genial indifference that must have origin in the decay of brains. For the sake of others, however my carelessness may infuriate them from time to time, I hope the latter takes place before the former... too many of my generation squander their last years in bitter dialogues with dead or absent enemies, making nuisances of themselves. A few, so feared that power is not wrenched from their hands, become dangerous men... almost as dangerous, though in an different manner, as Winnetou.

          Anyway, I do not know towards which of those tendencies Crowley has inclined... I have my suspicions but it is so hard to confirm anything about such a player of parts. That first eve in Chancery Lane he was the soul of wounded dignity and genius... "I have rejected novices who flailed against the rituals for two years..." he despaired (or perhaps boasted) "...but a dedicated fellow, a committed man, why he could glean the wherewithal in two weeks! Are you... committed?"

          "I like to think so! If anything," I confessed, "some of the troubles of my life have stemmed from an overabundance of dedication."

          "Hmm! Well sit down, loosen your tie... here's a fresh drink. Suspend dedication... open your mind to conjecture instead; if you must know, our Society did not start with deMolay but traces its lineage further back through Hiram the Builder, the true architect of Solomon's temple... Solomon only paid for it you know, rather as Rothschilds do... back to the prophet Enoch."

          There was more, much more, but the parlor on Chancery Lane had begun to blur, swirl... dissolving into Crowley's fireplace. I paid more attention then, quite probably, but recitations of names frankly put me in mind of those pages of the Bible every boy of my class used to endure... what we called the "begats"; such disrespect no doubt earning a seat in Hell for those few who have not long since cemented their eternal destiny by adult crimes of infinitely more perverse intensity.

          (Or if the Hindus and Theosophists are right, our whole generation of Ares and Pinocchio shall find themselves hurled downwards on the evolutionary scale... to beasts or birds, and not even graceful swans or proud falcons but shabby pigeons, such as those I have seen congregate around Vartanian in his long, wasting years.)

          What I do remember of that night is Crowley's discrimination of that magick, as we came to know it, "...magick always spelled with a "k" appended to distinguish it from the cheap trickery of the Maskelynes and other commercial conjurors... at any rate this is our beautiful Enochian magickal architecture..."

          At some point I must have excused or extricated myself, for I clearly recall my first morning in London... unusually bright, with neither smoke nor fog. I struggled to keep up with Crowley's seven-league strides as we threaded a path through London streets on which motor vehicles were still a rarity. Horse carriages there were, plenty of these... and their leavings... and rabbit sellers, muffin men (just like those in the rhymes Mother told me when I was very, very young) also organ grinders with monkeys chattering their entreaties and chimneysweeps swaggering past as if the soot that begrimed their clothes and faces was finest Alaskan gold dust. A flower lady peeked out at passing gentlemen behind her bundle, appealing meekly, but Crowley heard nothing of the street... he was on a mission of tutelage and I the object of his occult ministries.

          "Now... recite the Middle Pillar exercise!"

          "Got it!" In fact I had quite taken to the dialectic of call and response, since the night of skull and dagger I had quite abandoned learning, and at that time had no more to fear than that I would enter Cambridge... such had been my intent... as a mental athlete intellectually soft, out of shape.

          "I visualize a black pillar of severity on my right, the white pillar of mercy on my left. Drawing them together in my mind I imagine the light flowing out of my spine as they fuse into a miller piddle... gee! that was wrong..."

          Crowley slapped his forehead but not without the presence to do a nimble dance around a pile of fresh manure.

          "Cameron! Have I not failed to emphasize the vitality of correct pronunciation in ritual? The Middle Pillar's beneficent - but what of the invocations of advanced rank? When I began the Abra-Melin rituals I acquired from my protector in Paris, all my inexperience could muster were shadowy demon forms, half-materialized creatures... headless bodies, bodiless heads!

          "That must have been inconvenient!" I sympathized.

          "Not to mention how the demons must have felt... to be hauled out of their warm abode in Hell to manifest without a foot or missing several ribs... there are still so many of those poor apparitions lurking spitefully round my flat, in fact, unable to be properly sent back... that's why I bought the Scottish property.

          This was provocation enough for us to stop before a novelty cart whose vendor fancied himself a Tennyson of sorbets or Verlaine of vanilla cream. "Hokey-pokey, penny a lump... That's the stuff... to make you jump!"

          "Have you Italian?" Crowley pressed...

          "Lemon and youngerberry, all the time..."

          "Two limes. Cameron, pay the fellow... I seem to be lacking change..." Crowley admitted. I had only American coin... the fellow refused my penny but took a nickel; I resolved then to see a money changer at the first opportunity and to educate myself upon the wiles and wherefores of exchange.

          Sucking on bitter ice in its paper cups, we passed a curious front and Crowley pointed upwards. Surmounted by stone maidens with bare breasts supporting a banner proclaiming "England's House of Mystery", its entrance lay morning-dark between a chemist's and homeopathic clinic.

          "That is Egyptian Hall, where the magician Maskelyne holds sway... a magician without the magickal "k"... one of those cheap tricksters who deny the Howling and Yellow Path. Well, his illusions are good for an hour's entertainment... though I could stage a spectacle that would whiten the hair of his clientele if I chose! Bah... it's a hopeless thing, Maskelyne's customers are the sort who believe Pekin Boxers wear gloves as the Marquis of Queensbury advised.... unpleasant chap... he's the one who had Oscar Wilde hauled off to jail."

          "The writer?" I asked, for I had read the "Ballad of Reading Gaol" at University, and heard something of "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" from fellow Wolves but Father, of course, would not allow it in the house.

          "Used to be," Crowley sniffed. "I've heard he's just another old drunk in Paris now. All those sorts end up in Paris, or else Italy. But here is the way to Watkins'."

          Watkins' Booksellers was... and remains, unless one of Winnetou's shells has taken it... a meeting place for seekers of the curious in life. The proprietor's a friendly chap... his father was rather less so, scrutinizing us rather severely behind his spectacles.

          "Mr. Crowley..." he said icily, "I had heard you were in Mexico."

          "And I was... a land of marvels and of opportunity."

          "May I presume its opportunities now enable you to make at least some payment on your account?" the elder Watkins countered.

          "Ah... but I am not the customer this go-round. Here is Mr. Cameron from New York, a young man in search of education."

          "There is no better teacher than Aleister Crowley, sir," Watkins informed me drily "...if one seeks a certain sort of knowledge..."

          "See?" Crowley thumped me on the back. "I am famous the whole world over. Now, Watkins... Arthur here needs the basics; Plotinus, a Qabala, the Hermes Trismegisuis, Levi's 'Work of Splendors'..."

          "You cannot dictate that from memory?" Watkins smirked.

          "And the Isis of Madame Blavatsky," Crowley answered, scowling.

          "I also have a new Besant... and a translation of Rabelais," the bookseller suggested.

          "Mr. Watkins considers himself a comedian... one of those who never cracks a smile himself. Such persons are dangerous... Watkins, does Miss Besant still make the sign of the Beast with Bernard Shaw?"

          "Oh no... that is quite over with. Each has gone on to what you mountaineers would call higher plateaus? Yes! but have you paid your respects to Sir Gerald... Massey's here in, I believe, the Celtic section... will you be paying cash, young man?"

          "Yes..." I answered, "in dollars if you will..."

          Crowley had wandered down an aisle of old books, inspecting a volume now and again as we negotiated.

          "Dollars I'll accept, at the rate of six to one pound sterling," Watkins offered... somewhat less than what the banks gave, I would soon discover. "I hope you people take better care of your currency, there are times that American money seems about to go the way of the Polish...

          "These notes are redeemable in gold!" I felt honoured to reply.

          "And so, we trust, ever shall be."

          While I had my wallet out, I caught Crowley squinting at something of interest in a book he'd sampled. The Beast looked round - seeing that I was observant, though not Watkins - slid it into his trousers with a wink. Continuing onwards, he turned a corner and I saw no more of him but evidently he'd encountered the Egyptologist, Massey... a man who would soon show himself to be of a quite befuddled mien, with wild, white hair.

          "So!" Crowley's voice resounded, "...a knight of the garter at last!"

          "Yes... well, inevitably..." I heard Massey dither, "that I, oh I owe it all to Haysus. Sun god of Celts as Kris was Hindu sun royalty... Brits all, though of course Atlantean..."

          "Just the statement to rouse Auld Vic's juices," Crowley boomed. "Yoni soit que mal y pense... isn't that so? Old dog!"

          Even Watkins had paused over his money counting, for gossip is as much currency among occult societies as in the theatre, or Wall Street - for that matter.

          "Well sir... the Queen, I really... it's all Constantine, you know and not the Jews, they're just Assyrians that's all with, you know... (after, Crowley informed me that the fellow made quite a repulsive chopping motion against his groin) ...the Phrygian vice. So you have been to Mexico... did you find its pyramids satisfactory."

          "As high as those of Egypt, although narrower. And... the Red Indians thereabouts, brownfellows more aptly, say the gods made those big old stones fly through the air to lift them up in a day and a night in obedience to flutes they'd play..."

          "Well that is what the Archdruid of Wales told me about Troy," Massey reminisced, "it was twenty... twenty six years ago, twenty seven? Lytton was Grandmaster then... Pannish, not Spanish if you ask me... though a French initiate has other words for that. But who is this young fellow?"

          I, having gathered up my purchases, now allowed myself to be seen.

          "Cameron, this is Sir Gerald, the Queen's Egyptologist. Massey, this is Arthur Cameron of New York."

          "An emigre! But of old blood, it would appear..."

          The Egyptologist was staring me down like a piece of meat... I pondered quickly whether his nature was vicious, then realized it could be nothing of that sort.

          "Depends," I said. "Most of my ancestors were English, Scots or Irish... it's not quite the issue in New York as here, I am learning..."

          "Never trust the Irish," Massey warned. "Pretenders! The Tuath de Danaan is pure Egyptian... tuaut is a gate, rather more of the underworldish sort, than one finds to a church. Not a Jew in the lot no matter what this fellow will tell you..." and he inclined towards me, whispering slyly through fantastically rotted teeth... "thinks he's the Devil, Crowley, come forth out of the tribe of Dan. Most illogical!"

          Crowley guided me towards the egress... to use that word Mr. Barnum has made notorious. "You see, one never know who one will encounter at Watkins'. Old fool!" he added once we were out the door.

          So there we stood - I with my burden of purchases, Crowley with his loot under his belt. A trio of starved-looking buskers with lampblackened faces approached, breaking into dance and song... quite unsolicited... Crowley shrugged, I dropped a small coin in the hat to placate them but, as we departed, queer things began happening. A dog began to bark, then others... horses reared as Crowley passed, the cabmen swearing...

          The minstrels took to their heels...

          "It's starting again," the magickian warned. "Hurry!"

          No hansom would accept us... somehow we made it back to Chancery Lane. Dogs had lunged at us, garbage cans toppled, a gaslight exploded and, once, Crowley's waistcoat began smoking until he removed it and beat out the flames against a stoop. Inside, he fled to the mirror room and I waited in the parlor, glancing through my purchases until the Beast... joined by a subdued Bennett... emerged. We passed a dismal evening munching cold mutton and staring at the fire. A brandy bottle on the table within the reach of the magickian was drained, if not savoured. Crowley smoked and coughed... I stared at the flames, blinking at half-perceived shades that seemed attempting to breach my periphery of vision.

          "Tomorrow I shall take you to Dr. Westcott... a fool, but innocent... ein parse val as Continentals put it. Now the pot really has been set to boiling... it's the doing of those blackguards out west."

          "Sir?" I answered...

          "The Isis Uranians. A rival temple... sort of, the matter is very, very complex. Westcott's in charge of them but not really... when you've met him you'll know he's quite incapable of controlling anything. It is the others...

          "And they are..."

          "Creatures you Americans should be familiar with, given your Salem and all that," Crowley murmured. "Witches! Women of dark design... I do not mean whores, the something of a harlot Blake says... I support all of that. Wholly. These are unholy women and undamned..."

          Bennett caressed one of his snakes that had emerged from the cushions; I blinked, took solace in the cognac...

          "But if you are the Beast," I said, "then they are..."

          Crowley's capacity for drink was quite prodigious but on this night his voice slurred... his senses dulled. "Oh I know," he said with a wave, "all that mumble and jumble... but this is different, once you've been initiated you will understand. There is wisdom and then... witchery, that's all..."

          Bennett raised a glass tube, perhaps a foot in length and an inch in diameter. The snake mounted it, swiveling its head towards him and Bennett kissed its darting tongue.

          "No witch ever born may not suffer my Rod of Correction!"

          Sleep was, that evening, an ordeal. I tossed and turned... half waking, half asleep... twisted and ruined demons whimpered in agony, drifting through dreams. Advertising posters touting soaps, powders and ointments peeled from their walls to wrap me as if in Egyptian fetters; a chair, enchanted, loomed before me spitting fiery sparks...

          I woke, paced, took up Levi and threw it off as the words melted in my grip, resorted to the Romans until dawn. A fine breakfast had been set before Crowley and I by Bennett, naked to the waist again to show off his magnificent tattoos - some of the common sailors' wench and daggery, others clearly of Oriental mastery. Crowley buttering a scone, contemplated the day.

          "It is perhaps a breach of confidence... no, Bennett, you shall not speak... but Arthur here has made such progress I think he is entitled to just the bare bones of our society's history."

          And the magician raised his tea to toast a skeleton mounted at the end of the table... into whose ribs small birds had been hammered to, as Crowley explained, disperse the witches' spell.  


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