by Vincent St. Clare
I enjoy “rambling” on comparisons and parallels between various thinkers; in particular I like to compare Aleister Crowley to his contemporaries, and compare their respective ideas—though I’ve never put these comparisons (and correlations) into text before now. In this essay I intend to do just those things, and if it seems like this writing contains no formal structure or direction, it is just because I set out to write it without a definitive conclusion in mind. Rather, I’d like to simply draw parallels between Crowley’s ideas and those of other mystics, magicians, esotericists, or philosophers. (The discussion will hopefully provide some erudition.)
This essay is not exhaustive: there are many more associations that one might find through study and even direct experience. Yet hopefully this will make for a good primer, of sorts.
I am here mainly interested in contrasting the differences and exploring the similarities that exist between Crowley and Italian thinker Julius Evola; however, I would like to draw your attention to some “outliers” as well. Let’s begin in old times.
Iamblichus, Neoplatonism, and Theurgy
Iamblichus of Chalcis, one of the most important Neoplatonist philosophers, advocated a practice known as theurgy, the invocation of a deity or divine agent in order to elevate the individual’s spiritual status.
Neoplatonism as a philosophy, one with roots in classical antiquity, lends much of itself to Western esotericism in general, and the development of magic and the occult through the Renaissance (during which time it experienced a revival) and even beyond.
Theurgy is related to the concepts of magical invocation and evocation—and especially invocation—different means of “bringing down” or “bringing forth” a deity, the divine, or in certain cases other (presumably spiritual or “paranormal”) entities or forces. (Into oneself and external to or before oneself, respectively.)
Theurgy was the primary means by which the soul could return to the one source of reality, according to Iamblichus. In doing so, the individual would become one with that One. (The One (Τὸ Ἕν, to hen), or what may be called the Monad, is the ineffable source of all things, according to Neoplatonic philosophy.)
This self-deification is known as henosis in Neoplatonism. A similar idea is that of apotheosis, which can mean elevation to the status of godhood or the perfection of a thing or individual.
Evola and Crowley: the Absolute Individual, Inventing God, and Saving the World
These ideas can easily be associated with one of 20th century philosopher and esotericist Julius Evola’s conceptualizations, that of the “absolute individual.”
For Evola, individuals invent the ultimate God within themselves, and in becoming what he called the “absolute individual”—the individual who has reached the least constrained point of liberty and power—a person essentially attains the status of godhood. This absolute individual naturally exists in a state beyond rational description, the greatness they have attained so strikingly different from the attainments of normal life that it is ineffable. Furthermore, becoming the absolute individual entails realizing a state of immortality, a condition in which one is essentially “in control of everything,” according to the 2018 article “Deification as a Core Theme in Julius Evola’s Esoteric Works,” a work by Hans Thomas Haki published in Correspondences: Journal for the Study of Esotericism.
Evola wrote of the state:
“The body of the absolute individual is the universe.”
This being exists independently of external forces, and by inventing God within themselves provides the “one way to [actually] prove God exists,” Evola stated. Thus the human being, in attaining the condition, becomes a sort of ultimate pantheistic deity in and of themselves. Evola wrote:
“… the Ego must understand that everything that seems to have a reality independent of it is nothing but an illusion, caused by its own deficiency.”
For Evola, God does not exist outside of our ability to create that being within ourselves and thus encapsulate it within ourselves.
Evola was a key member of the Ur Group (Gruppo di Ur), an Italian magical working group which aimed to realize for its members great, and perhaps absolute, magical power. He called his personal brand of magical or esoteric philosophy “magical idealism.”
While attaining absolute individuality is, for Evola, an individual effort undertaken for the sake of personal liberation or transformation, he also noted that the process of self-deification could be used to aid the world, in some sense:
“And therefore the individual has only one imperative: BE, become GOD, and in so doing, make the world be, SAVE the world.”
This reminds one of the concept of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism: a being who not only works for their own enlightenment, but for the liberation of all other beings. However, Evola’s notion of what constitutes “saving,” when compared to the salvific goal of the bodhisattva, may differ.
One may make a comparison between Evola’s notion of self-deification in the absolute individual and the ideal of the enlightened individual as expressed by British occultist and spiritual leader Aleister Crowley.
For Crowley, the goal of the person is to discover and accomplish their true will, what is essentially the greatest possible expression of their potential as well as both their purpose in life and their will, drives, or actions when they are aligned with the course of nature.
Crowley saw apotheosis as a necessary part of this development: after the process he termed “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel,” (based on phrases found in the medieval grimoire The Book of Abramelin), one may go on to discover and accomplish one’s true will. One may attain the state of Knowledge and Conversation by invoking the Holy Guardian Angel, a term for what may be conceived of as the “higher self” or “inner genius.” Crowley wrote:
“The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or, in the language of Mysticism, Union with God.”
Furthermore, referring again to Iamblichus, one may consider the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel the ultimate form of theurgy. Confer here Evola’s concept of inventing (or perhaps formulating) God within ourselves.
Crowley: IAO and VIAOV
Crowley, like Evola, makes some mention of the idea of “saving” the world through the process of spiritual attainment. In order to understand Crowley’s idea of becoming a redemptive figure, one must understand two magical formulae: IAO and VIAOV.
IAO is a term for a Gnostic godform as well as an abbreviation utilized as a magical formula. One important way of interpreting it as a formula, for Crowley, is to refer to the individual letters as designations of Egyptian deities and their presumed functions as symbolic aspects of the workings of nature: “I” may refer to Isis, the generative force of producing nature through birth; “A” may refer to Apophis (or Apep), the serpent which destroys or “ruins” creation in death; and “O” may refer to Osiris, the deity who is born again after death. Thus we have birth, death, and resurrection. In this way the formula of IAO can represent both reincarnation as well as the death of the individual ego (ahamkara, or the “I-making” faculty in Hindu philosophy) and the rebirth of the individual into a greater form of self. According to Crowley, it also represents a process of spiritual development and education.
Crowley modified this formula by adding a “v” (in this context the Hebrew letter vau) at each end. (He also spelled the formula “FIAOF.”)
Crowley called VIAOV the “proper hieroglyph of the Ritual of Self-Initiation in this Aeon of Horus,” and added of one who embodies this formula, “Thus, he is Man made God, exalted, eager; he has come consciously to his full stature, and so is ready to set out on his journey to redeem the world.”
The two vaus, one at each end of the formula, essentially make the formula circular.
Crowley noted: “He [the individual who encapsulates the formula] therefore becomes apparently the man that he was at the beginning; he lives the life of a man; indeed, he is wholly man. But his initiation has made him master of the Event by giving him the understanding that whatever happens to him is the execution of this true will.”
Evola and Crowley: Magick and Mysticism
As I indicated, making a human into God, as Crowley envisioned it, inevitably involves the Knowledge and Conversation of the Angel. One might call this Angel various names, or find it is represented by various exalted states or beings, yet ultimately the Angel is a kind of “Other” intimately related to the individual and the center of their being.
The concept of the Holy Guardian Angel as a sacred Other or second, higher nature of a person (not that that is the only interpretation possible for what the Holy Guardian Angel is or represents) reminds one of Evola’s take on the differences between the paths of magic[k] and mysticism:
Evola, in his essay “Three Ways” (a contribution to the Ur Group’s Introduction to Magic, Vol. I: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus, written under the pseudonym Abraxas), notes three different methods of attaining spiritual consciousness. Of the three methods, the second and third correspond to magick and mysticism, or what Evola called the Dry Way and the Humid Way, respectively.
For Evola, both methods involve conceiving of oneself as a “dual being,” or, rather, two distinct yet intimately related beings. The difference between the two lies in which part of the divided being or consciousness one considers the Other and how one approaches that Other.
Through mysticism, or the Humid Way, one exalts the higher Other above oneself, and then yearns for it through love, devotion, propitiation, or some cognate practice, ultimately aimed at unification with the higher aspect.
“In the mystical method, the mind creates an “other” that still remains “other”,” Evola wrote. However, he noted that through this method “The Self is not transformed.” This seems to imply that the self retains its normal function until unification is actually achieved. (Though perhaps consciousness would undergo various transformations along the way.)
Evola felt that the Humid Way involved attaining a “unitive state” in which one’s spiritual center “drowns” in the Other, a realization of ecstasy and “the Ultimate Good.” (Consider this in relation to the summum bonum (which roughly translates to the exact phrase “the ultimate good”) of the Gnostic Mass, which Crowley wrote the liturgy for.)
On the other hand, in the Dry Way, or magick, one conceives of one’s experienced self as the higher Other, and then attempts to return to the spiritual center (and perhaps base self), what Evola called the “seat of the Center,” in unification.
Evola, in his essay “The Second Preparation of the Hermetic Caduceus” (also written as Abraxas), wrote that all magical realizations result from an “active, dry, fixed principle” acting “sympathetically on a passive, humid, and volatile principle.” This fixation of the volatile is a long-time theme and process important to the work of alchemy and involves the bringing together of two opposing principles. (This according to Sean Martin in his work Alchemy and Alchemists.) We may imagine, in psycho-spiritual terms, that these opposing principles could be, for instance (and just to use one example), one’s conscious personality and the unintegrated, unconscious forces which affect it.
Additionally, the work of fixing the volatile—in some sense making stable that which is dynamic—as well as the inverse work of volatilizing the fixed—giving rise to change in stability—may very well be related to the idea of solve et coagula, or to “dissolve and combine,” another term important in alchemy. Crowley wrote in his De Lege Libellum:
“Understanding that Stability is Change, and Change Stability, that Being is Becoming, and Becoming Being, is the Key to the Golden Palace of this Law.”
Further Exploration of Evola, Magick, and Mysticism
Evola also explained much of his fundamental view of the method of magick in an essay that forms a section of Introduction to Magic, Vol. I: “Knowledge of the Waters.” (This written, yet again, under the authorship of Abraxas—all entries by Evola in the three volumes of Introduction to Magic were written under this pseudonym.)
In the essay Evola wrote, “The life of all beings, without exception, is ruled by a primordial force deep inside them. The nature of this force is craving…” This seems to echo the Buddhist notion that tanha, or “craving,” is a driving force in the existence of all life-forms. However, while in Buddhism tanha is a detriment, for Evola this primal craving can be utilized in order to fuel self-realization.
As he wrote: “The Wise spoke of it [this force] as a wonder and as a terror. They called it: Universal and Living Fire, ύλη (matter), Green Dragon, Quintessence, First Substance, Great Magical Agent. The principle of their “GREAT WORK”, since the Magistery of Creation and the Magistery with which man realizes himself according to the Royal Arts are one and the same.
“This Matter of ours is neither an abstraction of profane philosophy nor a myth or a fairy tale, but a living and powerful reality, the spirit and the vitality of the Earth and of Life.”
Evola stated, in the essay, that during times of extreme stress or pain one may experience an altered state of consciousness in which this fundamental force becomes apparent:
“It reveals itself, for example, at all times of sudden danger.
“It may be a speeding car rushing towards you, when you walk absentmindedly; or the opening of a yawning crevice in the earth under your feet; a flameless burning coal, or an electrified object that you have touched inadvertently.”
Evola went on to note that this force is neither Self nor will, nor is it consciousness. For Evola, this force precedes those qualities. He wrote:
“When you experience hunger, terror, sensual thirst, panic, and spasm – there you will encounter this thing again, as something violent, dark, and untamed. And if such intimations allow you to feel it, you will gradually be able to experience it as the invisible background of your whole waking life.”
Evola went on to reveal that this force is what controls the individual, and that this realization is imperative for those approaching magick: “Reader, since you have approached the “Science of the Magi,” you must be strong enough for this truth: you are not the life in you. You do not exist. There is nothing that you can call “mine”. You do not own life: it is Life that owns you. You endure it. It is pure illusion that the phantasm of a “Self” is able to live forever, following the decay of the body. Can’t you see that the relation with this body is essential for your “Self,” and that any illness, trauma, or accident has a precise influence on all of its faculties, no matter how “spiritual” or “superior” they may be?
“And now, detach yourself from your own self and cross the threshold, as you feel the rhythmic sensation of analogy, deeper and deeper into the dark recesses of the force that sustains your body.”
Evola called this force “the waters,” and its realization “knowledge of the waters.” He also referred to these waters as Humidum Radicale (“radical humanity”), and noted that they have been called “earthly Venus.”
As he wrote, “They have also been referred to as the “earthly Venus”, as female and cosmic matrix (▽ in Hinduism is the symbol of Shakti and of the yoni), or as “Original Snake” (because of the serpentine path ♒, which is the astrological equivalent to ▽). It is the elementary demiurgic power, God’s “Magic”, the primordial substance that was precipitated when God said “Let there be Light!””
All this being said, Evola finally gets to the point in stating that the manipulation and utilization of this life-force is the very method of magick:
“Since everything is at the mercy of this force and exists though this force, know that he who learns to master it completely will be able to dominate through all of nature: fire, earth, air, and water, life and death, the powers of heaven and hell, because this force encompasses them all.
“And now, since you wished to learn about it, realize that the “Science of the Magi” wills this and disdains anything that is not this.”
Crowley: Magick and Mysticism
Crowley championed the dual paths of magick and mysticism, but unlike Evola, did not regard them as inversions of each other in terms of one’s view of the Other. They are, for Crowley, different approaches to that Other, which in reality may be the superlative form of the self.
One might even call this a “true self,” or tru-er self, on par with the atman of Hinduism or the “buddha-nature” (potentially a term for several different phenomena in Buddhist thought, but here indicating the inherent nature of transcendental reality within every individual, as the term is utilized by certain Zen or Chan Buddhist thinkers, masters, or teachers) of Buddhism. Crowley himself stated, in his The Temple of Solomon the King, that “Buddhists call him [the Holy Guardian Angel] Adi-Buddha,” claiming to borrow that idea from H. P. Blavatsky.
This Other, in Crowley’s case the Holy Guardian Angel, is something to be sought after, indeed. However, it being God, there being “no god but man” (as is written in Liber AL vel Legis, the spiritual text Crowley received in 1904, also known as The Book of the Law), and the individual being “the Ultimate God” in and of themselves (Crowley wrote in one of his commentaries on AL that “every man and every woman is not only part of God, but the Ultimate God.”), one is, in a sense, already themselves the Angel, and the Absolute existence. Thus, while one may conceive of the Holy Guardian Angel as something “out there” to be achieved, it may more aptly be said that the Other has always been within and a part of the self, merely waiting to be realized or truly “remembered.”
As Crowley wrote in his Liber ABA:
“The main idea is that the Infinite, the Absolute, God, the Over-soul, or whatever you may prefer to call it, is always present; but veiled or masked by the thoughts of the mind, just as one cannot hear a heart-beat in a noisy city.”
Adherents to Advaita Vedanta, a mystical philosophy born out of Hindu thought, might say that not perceiving oneself as the Ultimate God is a result of the duality of mind, or dvaitabhava.
The differences between magick and mysticism, for Crowley, are, in one sense, differences in approaches with regards to the development and control of the mind.
As Crowley wrote in Magick Without Tears, “To train the mind to move with the maximum speed and energy, with the utmost possible accuracy in the chosen direction, and with the minimum of disturbance or friction. That is Magick. To stop the mind altogether. That is Yoga.” (Crowley considered yoga to be an important component of mysticism, to the point that, in his philosophy, there is significant overlap between the two. Even the “Mysticism” section of his Liber ABA is essentially devoted to yoga and its stages. (Samyama.))
Crowley believed that magick could be represented by the numerical formulae of 0 = 2. (Zero becoming or being two.) One may argue that this represents at least several things, including the ontological notion of nothing manifesting itself, and thus deriving (a primal) duality from itself—the nature of existence being a generative function—the idea that the incomprehensible or non-dual Absolute presents itself as a pair or pairs of opposites; or that magick functions by manifesting things from a unity. (The “things” being differentiations or divisions branching off from that unity.)
As magick is encapsulated by 0 = 2, one might say that mysticism (in Crowley’s parlance) can be symbolized by the inversion of the formula, 2 = 0. This can represent the manifest (or the mind) returning to stillness, silence, and the unity of nullity, namely in samadhi.
Crowley gave alternative but mathematically similar formulae for magick and mysticism in his “The Dangers of Mysticism,” wherein he described the formula of magick as 1 + (-1) = 0, and that of mysticism 1 – 1 = 0.
The “magical theory,” according to Crowley, is that “the first departure from the Infinite must be equilibrated and so corrected.” The magician’s purpose is, for Crowley, at least in part to dispel Maya, the primal illusion masking true reality. Crowley wrote:
“Now the formula of the mystic is much simpler. He is like a grain of salt cast into the sea; the process of dissolution is obviously easier than the shock of worlds which the magician contemplates.”
Whether one prefers Crowley’s or Evola’s takes on magic and mysticism, the similarity between the two lies in the fact that, for both paths, as propounded by both men, there is a meaningful approach and method to experiencing the transcendent.
Evola on Crowley and More
One may compare Crowley’s view of how true will is achieved with the necessity for “unconditioned self-determination” as advocated by Evola in his theory of magical idealism. Evola called this determination the “fundamental principle of this doctrine,” and similarly Crowley advocated for strict self-discipline in pursuing the true will. (Cf. Magick Without Tears.)
Evola briefly commented on Crowley and his methods in a contribution to Introduction to Magic, Vol. III: Realizations of the Absolute Individual entitled “Magical Perspectives, According to Aleister Crowley.” In the essay he quoted from Crowley’s Liber Aleph, by implication having found the work useful. Evola considered Crowley a premier teacher of the “left-hand path” and Satanic in his style of magic and philosophy. (However, it is debatable whether Thelema (the system Crowley founded) as a left-hand path movement, or as Satanic. The opinions of various Thelemites (adherents to Thelema) vary on this topic.) He considered Crowley’s work “tantric,” as Crowley utilized drugs and sex magic in his workings, transgressive practices when compared to normative spiritual exercises.
Similarly, Evola himself advocated for the power of tantrism, and was particularly interested in the idea of kundalini and its awakening, as well as pranayama, as we read of in his work The Yoga of Power. Crowley also took up an interest in kundalini, and the idea or effect may be referred to in Crowley’s liber Liber HHH. In Crowley’s Liber O pranayama, or yogic breathwork (specifically the practice of nadi-shodhana) is advocated.
The notion that the absolute individual is one who has garnered unconstrained liberty also bears a parallel to Crowley’s statement that “The whole and sole object of all true magical and mystical training is to become free from every kind of limitation.” (Cf. Little Essays Toward Truth.)
Crowley and Evola on Facing the “Negative”
Crowley suggested a practice by which one would intentionally think in a positive way about things which one would normally regard as anathema to one’s tendencies and customs. He suggested creating a second personality, which, for instance, would enjoy meat while the normal personality at the same time would be a staunch vegetarian.
By this method one would naturally be able to confront or experience what one normally considers repulsive or objectionable or frightening.
This method is a part of Crowley’s Liber Jugorum, which advocates for placing a “yoke” one oneself, to “Thus bind oneself” so that one “shalt be for ever free/” In Jugorum, Crowley also suggests cutting one’s arm with a razor every time one fails to maintain a certain state related to speech, action, or thought.
In Magick, Book 4, Liber ABA, Crowley wrote:
“The Magician should devise for himself a definite technique for destroying “evil.” The essence of such a practice will consist in training the mind and the body to confront things which case fear, pain, disgust, shame and the like. He must learn to endure them, then to become indifferent to them, then to analyze them until they give pleasure and instruction, and finally to appreciate them for their own sake, as aspects of Truth.”
Evola understood the power of allowing oneself to experience what one would normally consider unpleasant in order to liberate oneself spiritually: He wrote in “The Second Preparation of the Hermetic Caduceus”:
“Do violence to oneself. Do not do what you like, but what costs you: on principle, always take the path of greatest resistance.”
Evola suggested that one should “dispassionately inflict an extreme physical pain” on oneself, that one should “endure it for a number of minutes” and “stand up to it,” and then as a result “grow stronger,” and by this strengthening gain the “power to silence it [the pain].”
Evola analogized the experience of doing “violence to oneself” by stating that “in order to “dissolve” a “metal” it is necessary to make it red-hot and then immerse it in water…” He stated that this is essentially to “excite, exasperate an instinct, an impulse, a desire, and then, abruptly, when its fulfillment is at hand, suspend it.”
Crowley, Evola, and Other Mystics
To digress a bit: true will is essentially alignment with the mundane will with the will of “God” or the All (whatever one might consider that Absolute), thus achieving the inner or hidden will. Evola’s absolute individual goes forth, or wills, with unconstrained liberty to do that will in becoming God oneself. Both ideas are similar to the teachings of Meister Eckhart, a medieval Catholic mystic, one of whose essential ideas is that, in aligning one’s will with the will of God, one may attain union with that God.
Yet the essential feature of mysticism (of whatever religious or spiritual persuasion) seems to be that it is a process whereby one comes into contact with a transcendental reality of some kind, and so it is not surprising that Eckhart, steeped in the contemplative tradition as he was, viewed it as possible to unite with the Absolute.
Evola himself was interested in the ideas of Meister Eckhart, ideas which were introduced to him by futurist Giovanni Papini.
Another mystic, as well as a traditionalist philosopher and metaphysician, Rene Guenon, paralleled one of Evola’s most significant ideas, and one which Evola was deeply serious about: that the “crisis of the modern world” is, to a great degree, a lack of the embrace of traditional spirituality. Guenon similarly viewed the world of his time as having become spiritually bankrupt, and he was the founder of what is known as the traditionalist school of perennial philosophy. (This traditionalist school views all religions as bearing a perennially-arising spiritual core.) Guenon wrote:
“The malaise of the modern world lies in its relentless denial of the metaphysical realm.”
While Evola and Guenon disagreed on a number of points, they both essentially saw modernity as a period of time lacking a notion of the sacred, and viewed this as a problem.
Evola viewed his doctrine of magical idealism, if followed out, as a means to put individuals into contact with “Spirit,” which he equated with tradition.
Crowley wasn’t one to really knock modernity per se—he viewed the time in which he lived, namely the period after his reception of Liber AL, to be one in which the Aeon of Horus (essentially the new zeitgeist he proclaimed) would unfold—yet he saw a return to embracing the sacred as essential for the ultimate actualization of the individual. The realization of the Holy Guardian Angel is, according to Crowley, humanity’s essential spiritual work, and he believed that only by attaining Knowledge and Conversation could a person really experience the intimate depths of spiritual consciousness.
Despite Crowley’s emphasis on the sacred, Guenon saw in Crowley a certain charlatanism or representation of counter-initiation. (This according to Marco Pasi in his work Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics.) Evola seemed to view Crowley with a less unfavorable attitude. Yet ultimately both Evola and Guenon appear to have been curious about Crowley and his work, as is evident from the fact that both exchanged letters on the topic of the man.
Crowley, Evola, the Sun, and Christianity
The Sun figures into both Crowley and Evola’s spiritual views.
Crowley and Evola maintained different approaches to solar spirituality, or Sun-focused mystical doctrines, although the fact of their foci is itself a similarity.
Crowley saw the Sun as a major focal point of his system, and attributed to it many symbolic spiritual associations, even recommending a practice of Sun adoration (Liber Resh) in Liber Aleph.
Crowley stated, in his Confessions, “The object of this practice is firstly to remind the aspirant at regular intervals of the Great Work; secondly, to bring him into conscious personal relations with the centre of our system; and thirdly, for advanced students, to make actual magical contact with the spiritual energy of the Sun and thus to draw actual force from him.”
Crowley noted that by performing Resh, one “dost affirm thy place in nature and her Harmonies.”
He also wrote, “Particularly useful against the fear of death is the punctual and vigorous performance of Liber Resh. Meditate on the sun in each station: his continuous and even way: the endless circle.”
This “endless circle” is the cycle of the sun moving over and under the horizon and then returning in the day it produces, only to repeat the cycle continuously. Crowley associated the return of the Sun from under the horizon, and the fact that it is constantly radiating light and heat, with his belief that individual life or consciousness may be eternal in some fashion.
Crowley wrote in his The Heart of the Master that Horus, or perhaps more specifically the Horus of Thelema—known as Heru-ra-ha, “Horus-Sun-flesh,” a composite deity consisting of the child god of silence Harpocrates, or Hoor-paar-kraat, the passive aspect of Heru, and the third speaker of Liber AL, Ra-Hoor-Khuit (the active aspect of Heru)—is:
“…The crowned and conquering child, who dieth not, nor is reborn, but goeth radiant ever upon His Way. Even so goeth the Sun: for as it is now known that night is but the shadow of the Earth, so Death is but the shadow of the Body, that veileth his Light from its bearer.”
Here are my thoughts on this passage: the association of Horus—of whom Ra-Hoor-Khuit is “the visible object of worship” for Thelemites—with the Sun is also an association of Horus with the spiritual Sun within ourselves, or our consciousnesses. We being microcosms of the universal macrocosm represented by the primary deities or neteru of Liber AL, we are ourselves subject to existing eternally in some sense or another, just as Horus is an eternally-existing being, force or principle. (Whether this idea translates into literal, being-to-being reincarnation, or another form of eternalization, is obviously up to the individual to determine. Crowley himself stated different things about a potential afterlife in various places, seeming to have been unsure about the topic or having changed in his mind over time; however, he most consistently seems to have believed in reincarnation of a kind.)
Crowley spoke of the Sun as being associated with the sephira—a node on the Tree of Life, itself a “map” utilized in the Qabalah—of Tiphereth. Indeed, the Sun is the “planet” long-associated with Tiphereth. He also associated the Sun with Ra-Hoor-Khuit directly, and called Ra-Hoor, in this context, the expression of the “supreme soul,” Hadit. Crowley wrote in a comment on a verse from Liber AL:
“Hadit calls himself the Star, the Star being the Unit of the Macrocosm; and the Snake, the Snake being the symbol of Going or Love, the Dwarf-Soul, the Spermatozoon of all Life, as one may phrase it. The Sun, etc., are the external manifestations or Vestures of this Soul, as a Man is the Garment of an actual Spermatozoon, the Tree sprung of that Seed, with power to multiply and to perpetuate that particular Nature, though without necessary consciousness of what is happening.”
That all being said, we have, on the other hand, the view of Evola: Evola viewed the Sun and those cultures that worshiped it, or a paternal figure typified by it, as heroic, virile, patriarchal, and masculine in nature, representative of a higher or transcendent spirituality when compared to “lunar” and feminine systems of matriarchy or goddess-worship. (Regarding the differences between mother goddess-worship and father god-worship, compare Crowley’s views regarding the Aeons of Isis and Osiris, respectively.) He associated patriarchal solar cults and all the superiority he presumed was a part of such traditions with Nordic, or “Hyperborean” peoples. (Which he believed to consist, at times, of both Greeks and Romans, among others, due in part to a presumed migration of Germanic peoples into the Mediterranean.)
According to Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke in his work Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity, Evola “traced the progress of Northern-Atlantic spirituality among the ancient Aryans of India and Iran, commenting that in India the term arya was a synonym for dvija, meaning “twice-born” or “regenerated.””
Goodrick-Clarke noted that, according to Evola, the solar spirituality of India diminished with the introduction and flourishing of contemplative practices, while in Iran “heroic spirituality” led to the worship of Ahura Mazda.
Evola was critical of Christianity for what he presumed is its lunar nature: “Evola regarded the advent of Christianity as a process of unprecedented decline,” wrote Goodrick-Clarke. Evola saw Christianity as a system which appealed to a “plebian”, rather than patrician, mentality.
“The spread of Christianity marked a shift away from the masculine to the feminine, from the solar to the tellurian, from [the] martial aristocratic values [of the Roman empire prior to the introduction of Christianity] to mystical plebeian sentiment.”
So Evola believed, according to Goodrick-Clarke. According to Goodrick-Clarke, Evola felt that values of pagan Germanic peoples represented solar spirituality “against the feminizing Church,” and he believed that “Chivalry upheld the hero over the saint, the conqueror over the martyr.”
Crowley himself was critical of Christianity: in The Vision and the Voice Crowley reported his vision of a lamb, representing Christ or Christianity, who claimed to be a figure who “shall deceive the very elect.”
Elsewhere in the work it is written, “And Satan is worshiped by men under the name of Jesus…”
Crowley referred to himself, especially in his prophetic role as the scribe of Liber AL and prophet of the New Aeon (the Aeon of Horus), as The Beast 666 or To Mega Therion—Τὸ Μεγα Θηρίον, from the Greek, meaning “The Great Beast” (of the biblical Book of Revelation)—in staunch opposition to Christianity.
I should note here, returning for a moment to the topic of the Sun, that Crowley stated that “The ‘Beast 666’ only means ‘sunlight.’ You can call me ‘little sunshine’”
Crowley saw the New Aeon of the child as one which would supersede the previous Aeon of Osiris, the aeon of the father, typified by the “reign” of dying gods, and especially Christianity. In the New Aeon, Osiris—who is basically comparable, or often associated, with Christ—is overthrown by Horus.
Crowley once wrote, “One would go mad if one took the Bible seriously; but to take it seriously one must be already mad.”
In The Book of the Law it is written:
“With my Hawk’s head I [Ra-Hoor-Khuit] peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.”Liber AL III:51
In a subsequent verse in Liber AL it is written:
“Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be utterly despised among you!”Liber AL III:55
Crowley decried what he saw as the absurdity of Christianity’s notion of sin:
“The Christian conception of sin as the will of the natural man, the ‘Old Adam,’ is the basis of all internal conflict — of moral insanity.”
Crowley went so far as to state, “The Christians to the Lions!” three times in his comment on a verse found in Liber AL.
Crowley and Evola: Socio-Politics
Regardless of similarities between the ideas advocated by Crowley and Evola, few that I’ve mentioned, there are also certain differences between the two and the concepts they propounded. (Yet still with smaller similarities remaining between the lines.)
This is a difficult part of the essay to address, in that it shows that, whatever wisdom either man can offer us, both Crowley and Evola can be said to have been bigoted in their own ways. (Especially by contemporary standards.) However, a key difference lies in the emphasis each man placed on his rather contemptible views, in whether such ideas should be embedded in their respective philosophies or remain as passing comments or personal allegiances.
That being said, Crowley did not make his bigoted statements a key feature of his teachings—rather, he made these comments at various places in his writings, but did not hold that Thelema should be a sexist or racist or chauvanistic system.
So it is with race: while both Crowley and Evola made racist statements at various points in their lives, Crowley’s views on race were at least omitted from Thelema itself. (Ultimately Crowley’s views on race are not entirely surprising (though that’s not to say justified) given that they were shared by many of his Victorian contemporaries.) On the other hand, Evola explicitly codified racism into his ideology.
Crowley noted in his writings, at times, the noble and admirable qualities of various races, ethnicities, and nationalities. (One might argue this is still a form of racism, however, in that it directly stereotypes various races or ethnicities.) He preached, as part of his advocacy of The Book of the Law, that “every man and every woman is a star.” (A unique point of view and experience which is divine and (co-) supreme in its essence.) Liber AL contains this very phrase, and it is a core doctrine of Crowley’s system.
As Pasi noted, “For all that Crowley may have had some idiosyncrasies in this regard, it appears that he more or less consistently endeavored to keep these personal attitudes separated from the universal value of his religious message. It should therefore be emphasized that, even if it is not too difficult to find sexist or racist statements in Crowley’s writings, there does not seem to be an intrinsic anti-Semitic or racist component in Thelema.”
Evola, on the other hand, wrote a book on race, Synthesis on the Doctrine of Race, in which he wrote of and advocated for “spiritual racism.” Evola held the view that there is a superior Aryan-Roman race, and he spoke of “inferior non-European races.”
Evola’s view of Jews, at least at one point, was that they are “… the carriers of… a spirit [that] corresponded to the ‘worst’ and ‘most decadent’ features of modernity: democracy, egalitarianism and materialism.”
Though Evola was not an explicit supporter of fascism—he preferred to regard himself as a “radical traditionalist”—his views can be considered fascist-adjacent, and today Evola is regarded as one of the main inspirations for and influences behind neo-fascism. Additionally, Evola was potentially a member of the Nazi Waffen-SS’s intelligence agency, the Sicherheitsdienst, according to certain autobiographical allusions.
Crowley, however (although critical of democracy and egalitarianism), was known to be generally anti-fascist in his views (though some state that he was fascinated, to a certain extent, by various totalitarian regimes): he called the idea “ferocious fascism” and stated that governance based on the Law of Thelema would be best for humankind. Additionally, he participated in anti-fascist rallies alongside his acquaintance Nancy Cunard.
Sometime around 1936, three years before World War II broke out and five years before the Holocaust began, Crowley asked his friend, German-American journalist and magazine editor George Sylvester Viereck, to recommend The Book of the Law to Adolph Hitler (Viereck had been able to meet with Hitler several times previously), who was already the chancellor of Germany at the time. According to Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin, Crowley may have been trying to provide political influence to Thelema or himself by getting Liber AL into the hands of a powerful leader like Hitler. Arthur O’Keefe, writing for PopMatters in 2021, questioned whether or not Crowley was attempting to provide the book to Hitler so that Thelema could influence Nazism or the direction it was taking at the time. O’Keefe wrote:
“Was Crowley hoping Thelema could mitigate the effects of Nazism and avert war? Or was it, as Sutin implies, simply opportunism? Whatever the case, nothing came of this attempt, and from the start of World War II (1939-1945), Crowley supported the British war effort in earnest, his dealings with Viereck at an end.”
Indeed, in an article on magick as used by some of the conflicting powers enmeshed in World War II, a writer for Reuters stated that Crowley was firmly on the “on the allied side.”
So, can we really say, as at least a few have claimed, that Crowley was like Evola in that he may have supported fascist or quasi-fascist ideas? As Pasi wrote:
“Certainly, there is a substantial difference between those who have discovered their True Will and those who remain “asleep”, not knowing their existential trajectory; but this is true for all doctrines of an initiatic or gnostic type, to which Thelema obviously appears to be related. Surely, the motto “Do what thou wilt” can be more easily interpreted by Thelemites today as the basis of an anarchist or libertarian doctrine than of a totalitarian one.”
Pasi also stated:
“Certain aspects of the Thelemic religious message, as Crowley himself presented them, seem to be in agreement with certain aspects of an elitist and, occasionally, totalitarian ideology;” however, he went on to state that “these aspects were not peculiar either to Crowley or, for example, to Nazism; rather, they pervaded to a certain degree English intellectual circles, especially progressive ones before the First World War. The implications of social Darwinism, for example, were discussed not only in radical political circles but also, and primarily, in scientific ones, and were even considered respectable enough before the horrors of Nazism led to a universal, uncompromising condemnation of these ideas.”
In 1922, Crowley called himself a “Jeffersonian democrat,” and in 1945, in a letter to Jack Parsons, he wrote that his Liber OZ was the basis for his politics, and promoted individualism. At various times Crowley described himself as a High Tory. (Representing a type of conservatism.) In Magick Without Tears he openly advocated for an “aristocratic revolution.”
Cunard stated that Crowley expressed consistent anger at the persecution of Jews during his time. (Although Crowley had written negatively about Jews in at least one place, and was said to have used anti-Semitic slurs against his student and lover Victor Neuburg.)
Evola believed in conspiracies regarding Jews propounded by the anti-semitic text The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
The ethics Crowley propounded stresses our duty to one another and the world as a whole (cf. Crowley’s “Duty”), as well as non-interference with other people’s wills. Obviously, this is incompatible with the very structure of fascism. Additionally, Thelema emphasizes the inherent uniqueness, individuality, freedom, and divinity of women, whereas Evola believed women should follow traditional gender roles and should be subservient to men. (Cf. Evola’s Eros and the Mysteries of Love: The Metaphysics of Sex and Revolt Against The Modern World.)
I’ll note, however, that Crowley made fairly misogynistic statements in certain writings, such as his commentaries on Liber AL.
Pasi wrote, as I showed above, that certain aspects of Crowley’s religious message occasionally tended toward an agreement with totalitarianism; however, I haven’t been able to find evidence of such a tendency myself, and rather, I have found Crowley essentially advocating for something entirely outside the realm of totalitarianism. Crowley wrote:
“The absolute rule of the state shall be a function of the absolute liberty of each individual will.”
The Gold and the Dross
Clearly, despite the similarities we can glean from making a comparison between Crowley and Evola, there are still certain differences. That being said, in spite of the general contemptibility of Evola’s views on race and politics and social issues, he does provide us with certain, potentially useful magical and mystical wisdom. Like with many authors and teachers, we must separate the gold from the dross. We must even do so with Crowley—given that he wrote prejudiced and odious things in various parts of his material—and many Thelemites attempt to do just that. It can be difficult to “separate the art from the artist,” but it is worth it if we intend to live respectably while also studying certain forms of spirituality.
In any case, I would recommend both Crowley and Evola’s writings to anyone interested in magick and mysticism, as well as esoteric philosophy. Both men possessed wisdom regarding these topics, sometimes invaluable in content.
Other articles by Vincent St. Clare:
- Learning The Joy Of Existence In Thelema
- The Multiplicity Of Thelemas
- There’s Nothing Special About Meditation
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Thelemic Union is open to all articles that are relevant to Thelema in some way. Send your submissions to thelemic[dot]union[at]gmail[dot]com
8 thoughts on “Crowley and Evola: Comparisons and Parallels”
93. Thank you for publishing my essay. 93 93/93.
I believe I should clarify something, as this is getting some negative attention on Facebook, including accusations that this essay is in support of fascism in the Thelemasphere.
Nowhere did I indicate that I support Evola’s political or social views. In fact I denounced them quite explicitly. I tried to make clear that we can find value in Evola’s mystical and magical wisdom without assenting to his contemptible views on race, political systems, and so forth.
I myself am essentially a leftist. That doesn’t mean that when I read Evola’s works I don’t find some intriguing ideas.
Hope this clears some things up.
Christian Hartman freaking out again?
As someone who knows Evola far too well, growing up in the still-very-fascist Italy, this article presented a great and balance analysis.
More reading, less hot takes.
Maybe no more hot takes and algorithm-chasing as a whole.
A very thorough, well-written article on a somewhat esoteric subject!
I will say without pride that to confuse in practice the evola’s grotesque absolute individual with the true will wont aim to love beyond abasement of the godself by a sad pyroclastic egotistic bomb.
Whoah, that was an amazing read, very well written and philosophically intriguing.
As an Italian I want to thank you for this terrific essay. Not only you proved to have a deep knowledge of both philosophical systems(i.e., magick and Evola’s humid/dry ways) but you also been able to separate Evola reactionary views on modern life and his esoteric work.