by Frater Achad Osher 583
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. –AL I:40.
In Aleister Crowley’s magickal fraternity known as the A.’.A.’. there are sacred manuscripts which are called The Holy Books. Some of these are considered to be Class A or documents which can not be changed in either the style of a letter or punctuation. Their message is beyond mortal criticism because they are the utterance of an Adept. Of course this doesn’t imply that we are forbidden to debate anything and everything regarding these manuscripts. It simply says that what is written, is written. Don’t change anything or minimize the significance of its content in light of how or why an Adept wrote it. It might be easier for some to consider these works as being inspired, rather than actually authored by Aleister Crowley, even though he did, in fact, write them.
To understand better what is implied by Class A, Crowley claims that he wrote these books “in a way which I can hardly know how to describe. They were not taken from dictation like The Book of the Law nor were they my own composition. I can not 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.” 1 This comment, written over fifteen years after he wrote the first Holy Book, is in direct conflict with how he originally claimed to have obtained them. For instance, in his December 1907 diaries he jots down a strange reference to the Holy Books, stating, “Looking back on the year, it seems one continuous ecstasy … I am able to do automatic writing at will.” 2 So, were these documents received through automatic writing or weren’t they? Or, better yet, why am I even bothering to bring up this discrepancy? The reason may not seem apparent to some but it is important to note that Crowley describes the method by which he obtained many of his early documents as being ‘automatic writing’. In fact, the very first time he ever mentioned how he received Liber AL vel Legis he called it “a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.” 3 Of course, he would later deny this by stating, “with regards to the writing of Liber Legis, Frater P. will only say that it is in no way automatic writing.” 4 He made this statement due to his assertion that he was conscious, not in a trance state and that he distinctly heard the voice of Aiwass, over his left shoulder, dictating Liber AL vel Legis from the corner of the room.
All this may sound well and good, but Crowley originally mentioned automatic writing so we need to examine a few facts about this method in order to see if actually fits with how he obtained the manuscript or not. As for the term itself, automatic writing was coined somewhere in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s around the time Crowley received Liber AL vel Legis. The first question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not a person like Crowley had to be in a trance state to receive a message through automatic writing? The answer is, no. Contrary to popular belief a person is not always in a deep trance or writing without any conscious awareness of their actions. Automatic writings can, in fact, be produced in the wakeful state, or rather in a semi-trance, as long as there is no interference from the conscious mind. At this point a person is fully conscious of any and all things which are going on around them but they must remain entirely passive. We then need to ask ourselves if Crowley’s personality and his magickal training allowed him to be a passive receiver. The answer, of course, is obviously yes.
It is also said that a person, if conscious, may even watch the flow of sentences but if they become too interested or anxious in what is being written it’s easy to become disconnected, words are often missed or left out and sentences could become unintelligible. We know this happened to Crowley in at least a few places during the ‘dictation’ where his conscious mind focused on what was being written or said by Aiwass. The next question to ask is whether or not a person like Crowley, once snapped back into reality can regain the momentum and continue on with automatic writing? Many mediums who have worked consciously will tell you that if they’ve became interrupted, either by themselves focusing on what has been written or by outside interference, they could regain where they left off. In other words, the moment doesn’t have to be lost or abruptly stopped. It all depends upon the individual and how ‘earthed-out’ they become.
Most importantly we need to ask ourselves, if Crowley heard Aiwass actually speaking, are voices part of automatic writing? Not always but anyone who has studied cases of automatic writing will tell you of stories upon stories where mediums have claimed to have heard, if not whispers and voices, then slight inaudible tonal sounds that seemingly emanate not from inside their heads but usually from someplace outside of their ear off to their left or right. This is not an unusual occurrence. Therefore, Crowley may actually have heard Aiwass while receiving Liber AL vel Legis.
Now, for the record, deep trance mediums often scribble strange notes, weird drawings or bizarre messages. These types of messages are almost always in a handwriting totally different than the medium would use in a conscious state and, in some cases, even in a foreign language. It is generally believed that these messages come directly from an entity who is guiding the hand of the medium but, in all honesty, most of what was achieved is simply unrecognizable scribbling. Yet, in some rare cases, profound words and documents have been known to be channeled and spewed forth at an alarming rate. On the other hand, mediums who are in a wakeful state, like Crowley, mimic their conscious writing but usually in a more flowing and fluid style rather than a tight structure. In acknowledging this we need to ask ourselves, does Liber Al vel Legis constitute a true example of automatic writing? The answer is obvious that it does. The handwriting of the manuscript is clearly that of a conscious Crowley, but comparing its style to his letters, diaries and other handwritten notes of the period it’s obvious that Liber AL vel Legis clearly shows a mediumistic quality. Still, all this haggling doesn’t address what was going through Crowley’s mind when he wrote about achieving many of his documents through automatic writing only later to deny such. Why the contradiction?
It must be remembered that when Crowley made the comments about automatic writing he had yet to iron out his own A.’.A.’. system or develop the concept of Class A documents as being something which comes ‘through’ an individual from their Higher Self, with no conscious interference. Years later, when he began developing his fraternity, he realized the apparent problems with what he scribbled about automatic writing, a term possibly acceptable earlier but not within the emerging magickal system he was planning. In other words, when automatic writing started carrying a negative stigma due to the scientific community attacking the credibility of mediums and exposing their techniques as fraudulent, Crowley may have felt the need to distance himself from the term. However, the fact remains that the technique by which many A.’.A.’. manuscripts were obtained, call it what you’d like, still resembles a form of automatic writing. In other words, one is acting as a channel for other entities or regurgitating the contents of one’s unconscious mind in relationship to the spiritual height in which one resides.
At this point we need to further examine the actual cover to Liber AL vel Legis where Crowley scribbled the original comment, “a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing.” Of course, the reader may simply wish to ask, “Cover?” To which I’d reply, certainly. Unfortunately it was never published during Crowley’s lifetime. It became separated from the actual manuscript. When this occurred can only be speculated as Crowley never recorded its existence or its disappearance.
We know that when Aleister Crowley began gathering articles to be included in the third volume of The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley, released in 1907, he intended to put Liber AL vel Legis and a few other pieces in an Appendix. He writes how he “attempted to publish Liber Legis and the 30th and 29th Aethyrs which he obtained in Mexico, with sceptical [sic] commentary.” 5 This would have been the first time it was published. Why he planned on publishing Liber AL vel Legis was not due to any deep love or admiration for the text but out of disgust for the manuscript and his aversion to its commandments. He described this period better when he wrote, “The Book of the Law annoyed me; I was still obsessed by the idea that secrecy was necessary to a magical document, that publication would destroy its importance. I determined, in a mood which I can only describe as a fit of ill temper, to publish The Book of the Law, and then get rid of it for ever.” 6 At the last minute Crowley had a change of heart and Liber AL vel Legis was not included in The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley. However, the original galley proofs of the Appendix have survived. This enables us to examine what he intended on publishing. They are dated September 24th, 1907.
In these original galley proofs, under the simple title of LIBER L VEL LEGIS, is a subtitle which states, “Given from the Mouth of Aiwass to the Ear of the Beast on April 8, 9, and 10, 1904.” 7 This comment is actually handwritten across the original cover of Liber AL vel Legis. Another comment from the original cover, which he planned on publishing in The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley, underneath the above subtitle, is a brief comment in parenthesis where he states, “This Ms (which came into my possession in July 1906) is a highly interesting example of genuine automatic writing. Though I am in no way responsible for any of these documents, except the verse translations of the stele inscription, I publish them among my works, because I believe that their intelligent study may be interesting and helpful.A.C.” I believe the automatic writing issue has already been laid to rest. However, what may not be immediately obvious to most is that this is contrary to what Crowley later claimed, that the original manuscript of Liber AL vel Legis had been lost shortly after returning to England from Cairo in 1904. He made this statement in The Equinox which was published in 1913. Here he tells his personal story in The Temple of Solomon the King describing the events around 1909. When discussing Liber AL vel Legis he writes, “I have not seen it for five years.” 8 There is an obvious discrepancy here. How could he have not seen the manuscript in five years, admitting that the “original has been lost” 9 , when he’s scribbling notes across the manuscript cover? Notes which are also typed out into the Appendix of The Collected Works in 1907?
To further the mystery, we know that Crowley claims he found the missing manuscript on June 28th of 1909. His tells us that while looking for skis in the loft at Boleskine he discovered the manuscript in a brown envelope. 10 Simple enough, but when reviewing what he wrote on the cover in 1907 he felt the need to ‘explain’ himself stating how the manuscript “came into my possession in July 1906.” Inside a bubble he writes, “i.e. I meant I would be its master from that date. A.C.” There is a line drawn from the bubble to the previous comment which he wanted to explain. He then dates this new note as October 1909. Obviously this tell us that the manuscript he found in 1909 was the same manuscript he used in 1907 when he was preparing the typescript for The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley because he scribbles on the same cover in order to annotate his previous comment. In other words, the cover was still attached to the manuscript of Liber AL vel Legis when he found it in the loft in 1909.
The real question to ponder is whether or not you believe Crowley when he said that the manuscript had been lost for five years. Some have speculated that he most likely misplaced it shortly after he pulled the Appendix from The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley in late 1907. This would imply that the manuscript had been lost for only about a year and half before he found it in 1909. But this, too, may be a quick and faulty conclusion which misses the obvious. Verse 47 in Chapter Three of Liber AL vel Legis states, “This book shall be translated into all tongues: but always with the original in the writing of the Beast.” In the unpublished Appendix Crowley has a footnote to this verse. Here he states, “The mysterious disappearance of the MS. rendered the whole work impossible, even had it been desirable.” 11 Crowley must be real prophetic. Here, in the Appendix [p.243] he tells us he’s lost the manusc ript who’s cover he’s annotating with comments which he’s including at the beginning of Appendix [p.231]. Are you confused yet?
Another question which must be examined is where Crowley claims, “i.e. I meant I would be its master from that date.” Here, a man whose grasp of the English language is unbelievably profound and insightful, tries to convince us that he meant something totally different than what he actually wrote. These two comments are like apples and oranges. The original statement, “which came into my possession in July 1906”, refers to a ‘something’ being found while the new comment about being its master implies Crowley’s actions of accepting that ‘something.’ Still, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. The date when he became the master of Liber AL vel Legis occurred on July 27th of 1906. This is when he completed his Abramelin Operation and obtained the Knowledge and Conversation of his Angel. Or, rather, he realized that Aiwass was his personal Holy Guardian Angel and he fully accepted The Book of the Law.
Some scholars have suggested that it was shortly after this date in Crowley’s life that one can draw a line between his old beliefs and the new ones which he began fostering within his fraternity, the A.’.A.’. Of course this is a possibility which Crowleyites (i.e. people who put Crowley on a pedestal) may not wish to acknowledge. But it does seem at times that Crowley himself was cultivating a growing mythos about the manuscript and Aiwass. I won’t go so far as to say that he was lying, but he definitely made many contradictory remarks. However, to simplify the matter, I believe we can put most of the conflicting statements into two categories. The first category are those comments which are found in his unpublished papers and diaries prior to 1909. The second category are those comments found in his published books after 1909. This was the real pivotal year, not 1906, and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize what this implies. Crowley did, in fact, create a mythos. So, in the end, the only “mysterious disappearance” 12 was not that of the original manuscript but the cover and the Appendix of Volume III of The Works of Aleister Crowley and all other documents which contradicted his later statements. The question which you, as the reader, should ask is threefold. First, do you think Crowley ever thought his earlier comments would surface? Second, do you think Crowley would stoop so low as to foster a mythos about Liber AL vel Legis? And, finally, does it matter?
If we were to play the Devil’s Advocate for the sake of a good argument, let’s say that maybe Aleister Crowley did lose the manuscript after returning to England from Cairo in 1904. We know that he left England in April of 1905 and did not return again until June 2nd of 1906. Obviously he couldn’t take everything with him and perhaps he had to leave many items behind at Boleskine, like the manuscript. Maybe, just maybe, the comment of how the manuscript “came into my possession in July 1906” refers to him finding it shortly upon his return to England. The comments he then makes three years later, about being its master, may have been another attempt to simply boost his growing mythos. However, he may also have realized that it was lame attempt and, being unable to erase his comments, the cover became ‘separated’ from the manuscript. All in all, who knows? It’s only speculation at this point.
Yes, dear reader, I know this article might appear at times like I’m attacking the beliefs or ideas which are considered sacred to some Crowleyites but, in fact, I am not. We are Thelemites, strong believers in the New Aeon. This article is not an attempt to debunk our most sacred manuscript, Liber AL vel Legis. It’s simply trying to address some of its phantoms or quirks and ask tough questions which, we admit, often have no answers. Our goal is simply to ask these questions and then possibly offer solutions, maybe not to all but at least to some of the perplexing problems with Liber AL vel Legis. We do not mean for this article to be a definitive study. It is simply intended to make you think. Why? Because there is so much ‘gospel’ being taunted by pseudo-authority figures that the average Thelemite rarely gets the opportunity to question whether the facts they’re being told are correct. We want to you to question everything and come to your own conclusions. Remember, as every true Probationer in the AA knows, “Mystery is the enemy of Truth.” 13
In conclusion, the most difficult question for you to address is whether or not you believe Liber AL vel Legis was dictated by an entity known as Aiwass or did Aleister Crowley channel it through a form of automatic writing, similar to how he would later produce other Class A documents. There are no conclusive answers because Crowley himself flip-flops as to whether Aiwass is a subjective or objective reality and, because of such, there are strong arguments for both cases. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. In the end, each of you must decide for yourself. Don’t worry what others think. If, after reading this article, you decide that Crowley did, in fact, channel or write the book do not consider this baneful. It is my belief that Aleister Crowley epitomized the pinnacle of Piscean magick in both theory and thought. It was inevitable that he saw into the future and by doing such he tried to understand the age of Aquarius. Just how he obtained Liber AL vel Legis, although a great debate, is actually quite immaterial. Many of its ideas are as relevant today as when they were first written. They still inspire generations to move forward. It is my honest belief that Aleister Edward Crowley was, without a shred of doubt, a true prophet of the New Aeon.
Love is the law, love under will. –AL I:57
1. Aleister Crowley, The Confessions of (London: Jonathan Cape Ltd 1969) p.559
2. Aleister Crowley, unpublished diaries dated December 15th 1907, p.199 Harry
Ransom Humanities Research Center, U. of Texas at Austin.
3. Handwritten Cover to the manuscript of Liber AL vel Legis, Harry Ransom Humanities
Research Center, U. of Texas at Austin
4. Aleister Crowley, The Equinox of the Gods, (London, Privately Published by the OTO
5. Aleister Crowley, The Temple of Solomon the King, The Equinox Volume I, Number
10 (NY, Samuel Weiser, Inc. 1978) p. 97.
6. The Confessions p.541.
7. Cover Ibid
8. The Equinox Vol.I, No.10, p. 97.
10. For further reference see The Equinox Vol.I, No.10, p.98 or The Confession p.596.
11. Upublished Appendix to The Collected Works of Aleister Crowley, Harry Ransom
Humanities Research Center, U. of Texas at Austin, p.243.
13. Aleister Crowley, Gems from the Equinox, edited by Israel Regardie (MN: Llewellyn
Publications 1974) p.1110.
This article was originally published in
Red Flame, A Thelemic Research Journal, No.8, Liber AL vel Legis
Copyright (C) Cornelius 2006