From the O.T.O. Newsletter, Berkeley, California Vol. I, #4 Spring Equinox, An. LXXIII e.n. March 1978, pgs. 15-18.
One of the mysteries of Thelema is why Aleister Crowley should choose me to be his Caliph. Perhaps it is because I am a poet. As the greatest poet of the English language, Aleister Crowley would appreciate that. It was indeed my privilege to submit my poetry to Aleister Crowley for his critique. How many times in an incarnation would you have a chance to do that? It was not an unmixed blessing. Sometimes his judgments could be severe. Getting a stinging letter from Aleister Crowley, especially when he had rejected your favorite poem and praised one you had thought was just off-hand, could be a sobering experience.
Or if could have been Karma. The great men of the time in the Thelemic government were otherwise occupied. Jack Parsons was too great a genius; to this day, the only member of the OTO to have a crater on the Moon named for him. Wilfred Smith was too old for the armed forces, and besides, as Lodge Master of Agape Lodge, in much too responsible a position to go galavanting around. Somehow, that left only me. There is a saving grace in being Parcival, the stupid soldier. War may be bad for your health, but you damn sure see a lot of sunrises and sunsets.
Anyway, I offloaded the troopship at Grenock, Scotland, on my birthday, Oct. 18, 1943. (It is a curious fact that three of the heaviest people in Thelema…Crowley, Jack Parsons and myself….are all Librans) …went thru the interminable processing…spent time in Liverpool…came barreling down the road from Bath to London in a jeep over Salisbury heath…stopped at Stonehenge under a leaden sky racing East at about 30 miles an hour about thirty feet off the ground…there was absolutely no one there…it was the most prehistoric thing you can imagine…and found 93 Jermyn Street (which is spelled “Jermyn” but, British style, is pronounced “GERman”) which is just off Picadilly Circus in London. I walked up to the door and pounded on it. The gentleman who opened it you can see on the other side of this gave me the original of this photograph.
He said; “Yes?” and I said, “I am Lieutenant McMurtry.” “Well, come in dear chap!” was the response. Naturally I was in uniform. You can see here what I looked like at the time. Don’t tell me that you do not believe it. Looking at these photographs, I do not believe it either. As Shirine, my Lady has said, “How could a Company Commander in the Invasion of Normandy have also been an associate of Aleister Crowley in London in the ‘40’s?” My answer was that of a little Japanese prostitute who had just been balled by this American GI, and they are sitting there smoking a cigarette. He says to her, “How did a nice girl like you get mixed up in a lousy racket like this?” She came back with, “Oh, just lucky I guess!” I think you have to have done time in the Orient to appreciate that. …but this is an Oriental Order. It says so right in the title.
People have asked me what it was like to know Aleister Crowley. The answer is; “It depends.” The Aleister Crowley I knew, ie, the gentleman who opened the door at 93 Jermyn St. in London in Oct. of 1943 was a person capable of meeting you at any level you could meet him. He was at the height of his powers. I mean psychically and mentally. Of course he wasn’t climbing mountains any more. Unfortunately, I was a dumb kid from Oklahoma and completely incapable of taking advantage of my situation. On top of that, I was heavily involved in the War. I was a Company Commander of a unit destined for the invasion of the Continent. We did not know it would be Normandy. Fortunately, neither did Hitler. He thought we were coming into Calais. That is why he withheld the armored units from Rommel until it was too late. By the time we were established on the beach-head there was no way he could stop us. Some time I must tell you about good old Ernie…but, anyway…
I wasn’t so dumb that I couldn’t think. I was stationed up at Bury St. Edmunds at the time. That is up at Bury Anglia, the “Land of the Angels.”—because they had blond hair and blue eyes. They were the Vikings who would come up the water ways ravaging and raping as they came. We were surrounded by B-17 bases. It was fantastic. In the early morning dawn you would hear the thunder as they were revving up. Then you would see them start taking off. A B-17 loaded with bomb is as heavy as a pregnant goose. They would come swinging around, with their bottoms painted light grey and their tops dark green. The rising sun would glint off their undersides. Once in a while you would hear this fantastic explosion. War time explosive ordnance was not all that good, and sometimes the vibrations from the propellers would set off a bomb load. The funny thing was, that the next bomber would take off right through the flailing debris. Then they would swing higher and higher, forming up by section and echelon and division until finally they formed up into a vast aerial armada. Whoever was in command would give the word, and they would all take off into the East, trailing contrails (England is very damp). It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I was writing the poem Pangenetor at the time. The part that wasn’t beautiful when they would return home at night. The B-17’s came back thundering in low. You could see empty spaces where the Messerschmits and the Folkswolfs and the flack had gotten to them. That one was gone, and that one was gone. One would show two red very pistol shots out of the left waist gun position, meaning “wounded aboard!” One thing was for sure. They never broke their formation. This is something that the American soldier learned in the Civil War, “Never break discipline!” It is the one thing that will get you thru when all else fails.
Once in a while I could turn the Company over to my 2nd in Command and grab the Company jeep to go barreling into London. That was like driving onto a battlefield. I mean a real battlefield. It was the time of the second “Baby Blitz” on London.
I would sit down with Crowley at 93 Jermyn Street, playing chess with him, drinking brandy and smoking perique. The black-out blinds would be on the windows. We could hear the German bombers upstairs with their motors revving up and down. The British anti-aircraft over in Trafalger Square would be blasting away, making sheet lightning in the night.
One night we sitting there, and after a while he excused himself to disappear into the kitchen. He went to make tea. We sometimes forget, but Crowley was a Britisher. He drank tea, not coffee. Immediately after he left the room…there I was, big eyes all over the place. How many times in an incarnation would you have the chance to check out Aleister Crowley’s personal library? Down at my right was a sort of turntable full of books. I took a look and flashed on one of them. The covers were obviously artificial. They were Crowley’s paintings. That was unusual. So I picked it up and sat down to look. There were two paintings. One was of a light visaged Oriental sage obviously doing a guru trip in the Himalayas. The other was a dark image showing a small temple in what seemed to be an Oriental setting. I didn’t get it. It was too dark. Unfortunately, at that point, Crowley came in with the tea tray, saw me looking at it, and asked me what I thought. Stupid me, I told him “Not much!” Whereupon he stood over me and gave me a finger wagging lecture. The substance of which was that I was an ignoramus who wouldn’t ever appreciate a good painting if I saw one! IT was one of the only two times he every got really pissed at me. Unfortunately, he was right, but at the time I really didn’t appreciate it all that much. There is a sequel.
When we finally brought down the Superior Court Order in the State of California saying that Crowley’s library be law belonged to me as the representative of O.T.O.., I found the volume. This time I opened it. It was absolutely priceless. It is the original Legge edition of the I Ching., with Crowley’s notes and comments on Legge’s mentality, all over it in Crowley’s own handwriting. (Editors note: See issue #3 for an example of a page from this volume.) In other words, being around Aleister Crowley was like being around a very hot fire. You were lucky if you didn’t come off scorched.
On the other hand, he could be a very beautiful human being. As I have said, how many times in an incarnation would you have a chance to ask Aleister Crowley questions? So I thought about it. Yes, I was young. Yes, I was stupid. But, I could really think. One thing I thought was: “You know, on occasion this guy has really blown it.” So one night we were sitting at 93 Jermyn Street. Maybe two games of chess have been played. My uniform blouse was unbuttoned—“Big John the First Lieutenant” relaxing. I had a brandy snifter in my left hand (Crowley was civilizing this “American Barbarian.”). My perique pipe was in my right hand. I took all my courage in both hands. I knew that he was my friend, but I never forgot (Old Oriental Maxim) that this was the Great Wild Beast of the Aeon sitting across from me. I said, “Well, you know, there have been times when you have done things that didn’t turn out the way you expected.” He looked up at me with a twinkle in his eye. He knew exactly what I was thinking, that he could very easily kick my ass out into the street and tell me never to come back. Instead, what he said was, “Well, you have to do what seems right at the time!” and made his next move on the chess board. I heaved a big sigh of relief, and we went on with the evening. I think that that is also one reason why he designated me to be his Caliph to come. He admired courage. He didn’t want any weak sisters around. If a guy had the guts to stand up and “beard the Lion in his den,’–and I had done just that–then there was some hope that that guy might make it.
I wish to thank Jerri Judd for making this page possible.