Crowley was notorious for his penned practical pranks, from discussing sex magick in terms of diabolical child sacrifice to potentially discussing psychedelic drug use under the cloak of sex magick. Crowley was a master of the art of obscurum per obscurius; of ‘explaining the obscure by means of the more obscure.’ While we know from his diaries that he certainly was wont to engage in magick of the sexual variety, it is our suspicion that, in at least some instances, when Crowley was outwardly explaining sex magick in his books, he may well have actually been discussing the occult use of Amanita muscaria mushrooms, which, would be in perfect keeping with his modus operandi.
Sex magick is a sort of Western Tantra whereby practitioners believe they enter into heightened states of consciousness or acquire powers via various sexual acts, including but not limited to the ritual consumption of semen and menstrual blood. This latter method takes center stage in Liber XV, better known as the Gnostic Mass, the “only truly Official Ritual” of Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae, the ecclesiastical branch of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. (Sabazius) Crowley was not the first self-proclaimed Gnostic to engage in said behavior. Saint Augustine accused even Mani and the Manicheans of consuming communion wafers that were covered in menses and splattered with semen. However, this imagery is not unique to the various Gnostic sects. Indeed, according to a private communication from Kagyu lay lama Mike Crowley, the Tantric system known as Vajrayana Buddhism has been employing this symbolism for centuries, in order to secretly indicate to initiates the A. muscaria mushroom, also known as the fly agaric. The menses allegedly alludes to the brilliant red pileus, the splattered semen to the white remnants of the universal veil that mottle the top. And, as Ruck, Hoffman, and Celdran point out in their book Mushrooms, Myth, and Mithras, Mani and the Manicheans were also accused of venerating a certain “red mushroom.”
In addition to sex, Crowley was known to incorporate a number of methods into his magick, chief among them being the use of drugs. For example, Liber CMXXXIV vel The Cactus records a number of magical experiments conducted by Crowley using the mescaline-rich Anhalonium lewenii (reclassified as Lophophora williamsii) cactus, aka peyote. However, aside from depicting a specimen in his painting May Morn that was published in Equinox Vol. III No. 1, we have been unable to locate any reference he himself directly made to the A. muscaria mushroom. This is itself an oddity. For, like Lewis Carroll before him, Crowley would have no doubt been familiar with Mordecai Cooke’s 1860 book The Seven Sisters of Sleep. Cooke’s book details the seven most popular narcotic plants of the Victorian era. As one would expect from a perfectionist drug enthusiast such as Crowley, all of the drugs named by Cooke have been carefully allotted to the Vegetable Drugs column of Crowley’s Liber 777 – all save one: the Amanita muscaria mushroom. Another oddity is the curious attribution of Elixir Vitae to path one in the Vegetable Drugs column. Most of Crowley’s acolytes are prone to interpret Elixir Vitae as being a veiled allusion to sexual fluids. But sexual fluids are anything but vegetable in nature. For all of its tidiness, the careless attribution of sexual fluids to a column titled Vegetable Drugs would seem to this author wholly inconsistent for a text as symmetrical and rounded as is Liber 777.
It is also likely that Crowley encountered a reference to A. muscaria mushrooms in the writings of Sir Richard Frances Burton, who was named by Crowley an official saint of the Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae. In a footnote to his 1862 work The Look of the West 1860: Across the Plains to California, Burton states that “there is actually [a] kind of cactus called by the whites ‘whiskey-root,’ and by the Indian ‘peioke’ [i.e. peyote] used like the intoxicating mushroom of Siberia [i.e. A. muscaria].” Furthermore, Paracelsus, another Crowley-named saint of the Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae, too makes reference to an “agaric” mushroom which, in response to line from Rebelias, he contrasts with a certain “manna.” For, at least twice Rebelias potentially alludes to the fly agaric mushroom as “the good agaric.” Note that Rebelais is thought to be the ultimate source for Aleister Crowley’s Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt.” It is therefore exceedingly unlikely that the mushroom could have escaped Crowley’s attention.
Also of interest is the account of Anthony Stansfeld Jones, the adopted son of Charles Stansfeld Jones, aka Frater Achad, the “magical son” of Aleister Crowley, regarding Frater Achad’s obsessive preoccupation with a “poisonous” mushroom, which he spent untold hours searching for in the wooded area behind his home. Was Achad in search of A. muscaria? According to Kenneth Grant, Achad was at one point even found wandering around a certain Canadian city in an apparently inebriated and psychotic state, circling a fountain and performing magical rituals while wearing nothing but a raincoat. This episode actually landed Achad in a mental institution for a short time. The entire scenario reads like the Amanita-induced psychotic break suffered by the girlfriend of Michael Kermit Riggs, aka Bhagavan Das, as recounted in his autobiography It’s Here Now, Are You? She too found herself in a psyche ward. Was Achad high on Amanitas?
In 1995, in his book Strange Fruit, Clark Heinrich speculated that the famed Elixir Vitae of the Alchemists was the Soma-like psychoactive juice pressed from mature, dried and reconstituted A. muscaria mushroom caps. If Heinrich is correct, then it stands to reason that knowledge of the entheogenic properties of A. muscaria mushrooms could have survived well into Crowley’s day. Might he have been aware of them? Is the Elixir Vitae entry in Liber 777 an allusion to A. muscaria? Were any other of Crowley’s references to sexual fluids fungal suggestions? It is at present nearly impossible to say. But, until we read in Mike Crowley’s work that references to semen and menstrual blood are commonly employed in Tantric Buddhist empowerments as allusions to the A. muscaria mushroom, we had never questioned Aleister Crowley’s use of that same imagery within the context of his own Western Tantra.
Why Crowley should keep secret a powerful and well-known psychoactive drug, especially after speaking so open and plainly about so many others, e.g., hashish, peyote, belladonna, cocaine, opium, etc. etc., is the next question. Perhaps it was due to an oath of secrecy. The only safe thing we can say at this point is that obligations of secrecy never stopped Aleister Crowley from writing before.
|Aleister and Amanitas||2023||P.D. Newman||23-Jan-18 15:20|
|Re: Aleister and Amanitas||779||michael seabrook||23-Jan-18 22:31|