Aleister Crowley and the I Ching

I was researching Emile Coue, a French ‘New Thought’ expert of the inter-war years, yesterday and remembered that I had first read about him on a skiing trip to Canada in the mid 70’s. The book was a madhouse collection of stray information called The People’s Almanac and I was consumed with it when I wasn’t on the slopes (my cousins will testify to this, I think, because I entertained them each night — I thought I was entertaining them, at least — with trivia and bizarre historical facts and figures from the text). It’s available online here; the Coue article is on page 561 and his most famous book, Self-Mastery Through Conscious Auto-Suggestion, can be downloaded here.

On page 562, though, was something much more interesting: a short piece on Aleister Crowley and his obsession with the Yi King, what is now referred to as the I Ching or The Book of Changes. More after the jump!

From The People’s Almanac (1975):

One of Aleister Crowley’s most absorbing literary legacies is a little book, now extremely rare, called The Yi King, “A new translation of the Book of Changes” by The Master Therion. Of course, The Master Therion was Crowley himself, and his Yi King is what today is known as the I-Ching. Crowley also published a limited edition of this in London in 1909, when he was 34, and at the time he called it Liber Trigrammaton, “The Book of the Trigrams of the permutations of the Tao with the Yin and the Yan.”

Crowley not only translated and wrote his version of the I-Ching, but he passionately believed in its predictions. Throughout his life, he practiced what he preached in the Book of Changes. John Symonds cites countless occasions when the master consulted his I-Ching. Two examples:

Crowley wanted to establish an occult center. “Where should they go to do the Great Work? The Yi King, that ancient Chinese book of oracles, was consulted. Should they go to Algeria, or the Italian lakes? How about Spain? Naples or Sicily? The answer of the hexagram was indecisive….

On the 1st of March, 1920, at half past 5 in the afternoon, he again consulted the Chinese oracle. Where should he start the Great Work? For nothing but the universal acceptance of the Law of Thelema as the sole and sufficient basis of conduct could save the world. He must found a community, the archetype of all future communities, whose only code of convention will be the one law of Do what thou wilt.

Shall I spend April and June in or near Marseilles?

Fire of Water. No.

Capri? Earth of Air. No.

Cefalu? Earth of Lingam. This couldn’t be better.

The Chinese oracle had spoken and Crowley made a very emphatic note in his diary that it was solely on this answer from the Yi King hexagram that he went to Cefalu [a fishing village on the northern shore of Sicily].”

In 1923, the dictator Mussolini ordered Crowley expelled from Sicily. “This was a stab in the back indeed. Was his life’s work ruined? He must consult the Yi King. What course should he adopt? … The Chinese sticks were laid out on the table. What was the general symbol for the present situation? Hexagram XLVII. Constraint. And what was the best course of action to adopt? Prepare to move. Be steady. Prepare to reconstruct. Seek relief from friends. Accept substantial assistance. Turn the situation to advantage by increasing sympathizers. ‘There should be an unexpectedly large number of such ready to help us.’

Should they make a direct protest to the Minister of the Interior/ If so, what should they say? The Chinese oracle was unfailing. Thwan. Yes. They should state their case systematically. Press the matter. Beware of divided counsels. Retire in order to advance. Refute all falsehoods about themselves. Make it clear that they represent a widespread and important movement.

Should they make an appeal to their national Ambassadors in Rome? Yes, but don’t expect much result.

Meanwhile where should The Best go? The Oracle told him to cross the water. Africa would be very favorable. What part of Africa? The coast or some well-watered spot, but isolated, difficult of access, and where there is indifference to public affairs.”

And so, following the advice of his Yi King, Crowley moved to a suburb of Tunis.

Rowling-Galbraith went to no little effort to weave Crowley into Troubled Blood; his astrological chart was a match in many respects with one of the suspects, the officer in charge of the investigation quoted him frequently and consulted a tarot card deck of his inspiration, and he is mentioned by Creed in the final confrontation in Belmarsh with Strike. Creed actually physically resembles the older Crowley.

This emphasis is easily understood in light of Crowley’s creed, namely, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law …. Every man and every woman is a star …. The only sin is restriction.” This psychopathology is the backdrop to the Bamborough disappearance, especially with respect to The Demon of Paradise Park.

Rowling has revealed that all the epigraphs of Running Grave will come from the I Ching. Should we expect a Crowley-esque figure that makes his or her decisions by casting stalks? Or will there be a religious cult figure at the Norfolk Commune who abuses women in sexual rites? From the Almanac piece again:

He hated Christianity, and founded his own religion. He believed in “the worship of the sun and of man’s organ of creation, and of sexual union as the highest form of religious consecration.” He founded the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily, and with his women followers practiced pagan and sexual rites. In Italy and France, he performed black magic masses and conducted sexual orgies, and for this activity he was expelled from both countries.

His followers considered him the Messiah. … Crowley was into drugs, ultimately on heroin. His first two wives wound up in insane asylums. Of his dozens of mistresses, five committed suicide.

Used copies of Crowley’s Yi King, reprinted editions published in the early 70’s, can be had on Amazon for $1000 or $1750. Its inaccessibility is one more reason to hope that Crowley will not be making another appearance in the Strike series, though the timing of these reprinted versions of his book is apt for its use by the Norfolk Commune leader or by Jeff Whittaker, another occult consumed character (he was not yet in Strike’s ‘family’ at the time of his stay in Norfolk as a child, but he may play a role in Strike 7 in which his Crowley characteristics, at least with regard to consulting the oracle and to women, show themselves).

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