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The essay in this file is a work in progress. This text version is intended for free distribution but I would prefer that it not be altered and that authorship is properly attributed. The essay and various associated items have been located on the internet at http://www.duaut.net and I hope to maintain that in the medium term, at least. There are many resources to which I have not had access including copies of unpublished journals. I would like to make a comprehensive list of all of Crowley’s writings on Stélé 666 and to put it on a webpage so I would appreciate being told of an any items that I have not mentioned in the Kiblah chapter. My email address is: email@example.com.
Colin S. McLeod
July 22nd, 2002 e.v.
A Note on the Comment
Striving to live righteously, in accordance with the Law, presents many challenges; not the least being that of trying to understand the Comment on the Book of the Law. My view is that the Book, as a sacred text, contains more than just words or ideas: so it is like a set of Russian dolls which may be opened and the secret contents successively discovered. Therefore, what is content to one is container to another. However, I do not wish to offend, unnecessarily, adherents at any point on the path, or make the following material inaccessible by reason of Comment-inspired shunning, so I shall, in the following exposition of various issues relating to the Stélé of Revealing, refrain from discussing the contents of the Book in the sense that I will observe a strict and literal interpretation of the words “discuss” and “contents”.
I do feel free to discuss the Comment itself, and the contents of the Comment, and the contents of any of the other received texts. I may also allude to the contents of the Book. Indeed, I will on occasion even quote from the Book; but in general I shall avoid any sort of direct comment upon the text. However, be warned that, as this material might be described as the fruits of the study of the Book, it might offend some adherents and might be construed as an invitation to the unwary to indulge in like activity. I would not like to be shunned on that basis so, please, if you do not wish to be exposed to such material, do not proceed. Moreover: if you are ignorant of the Book of the Law altogether you might wish to obtain a copy to arrive at a view on these issues before proceeding, or not proceeding, to study the contents of this exposition.
It is also my view that the prohibition of study issued in the Comment should be interpreted in the context of the authority of the person in whose name it is written (who is there given the title of “The priest of the princes”) and in the context of how one stands, personally, to that particular authority; as opposed to, or in conjunction with, though not as identical with, the authority of one or other of the gods of the Book of the Law. It is quite conceivable, to me at least, that the Comment is not for all, even while accepting that the only authority for interpretation of the Law is the appeal to the writings of the priest of the princes. It is not for nothing, I believe, that the Comment is the only one of the inspired texts which is written explicitly in the name of Ankh-f-n-khonsu. That is not to say that one should encourage the many, for whom, I believe, it is for, to disregard it.
Finally, while I can well understand the reluctance of many Thelemites to engage in public discussion, I, for my sins, have decided to take to the field. I hope to encourage the study of the history of the Stélé of Revealing and the Cairo events in general and, to that end, make available resources which have, hitherto, been difficult to obtain. I hereby present some of the results of my research in the hope that it will be of use to observers of the Law world-wide.
Colin S. McLeod
Spring Hill, Queensland.
The Secret Temple
The Victorious City
“It is the dawn of the æon.
The æons of cursing are passed away.
Force and fire,
strength and sight,
these are for the servants
of the Star and the Snake.”
The Vision and the Voice, 26th Æthyr.
Egypt before the Great War was notionally still a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire; however in practice, but as a matter of policy not in principle, it was a colony of the British Empire. This diplomatically-sophisticated arrangement became known as the Veiled Protectorate; and the de facto governor in 1904, Lord Cromer (of the Baring family of bankers), was officially only an ambassador, though one who gloried in the Penzancian title of English Minister-Plenipotentiary. Cromer was a very successful governor, in colonial terms, and the period became the Egyptian Belle Époque, so favourable was it for the French, British and Italian colonial communities. Egypt had not been ruled by Egyptians since before the Ptolemies and would not be again until the British were thrown out some fifty years later. The British were but one, distinguished principally by being the last, in a long line of foreign regimes and dynasties.
Cairo in Edwardian Egypt was a city of around a quarter of a million people and had assumed an important place in the Empire both strategically and socially. Strategically, it was important as the centre of command for the Suez Canal (which was held to be crucial for access to the Asian, Australasian and East African colonies) and also in the North African strategic situation (for instance for access to Sudan, which Great Britain also occupied). The British Empire was the undisputed great power of the time and Cairo was one of Britain’s most important, if not the most important, overseas centres of command. Despite declared intentions to leave, the British found Egypt too important to them to do so and this was a significant element in producing the war in Europe and the Middle East.
Socially, during the northern winter months, it was a haven for European royalty and notables. Also, British naval and army officers, civilian officials and so on, from India and the other Eastern and African colonies, would come to Cairo to be met by young ladies, from the home country, looking for suitable husbands. The leading ladies of British society in Cairo would do battle to hold the most important dinners, and dinners and dances at the grand hotels like Shepheard’s, the Continental and the Savoy were a staple of what was known as “the season”. It was into this cauldron of British Imperial society that the recently-married poet Aleister Crowley and his wife Rose arrived in the season of 1903 – 1904, in early February, having passed through early in the season, in November, on their honeymoon tour to Ceylon.
Rose was herself a veteran of military and colonial society having done a tour of duty in South Africa with her previous husband, a Major; and she was pregnant with her first child. They stayed at Helwan, a resort town south of Cairo, and took a flat in Cairo in mid-March. The story of what followed has been repeated ad nauseam by supporters and critics alike but the common failing of almost all of these is that they rely almost entirely upon Crowley’s account, repeating the details with bland insouciance, not bothering to research even the context, let alone the facts, of the incident. The only other witness (according to Crowley’s account) was Rose and, so far as is known, she left no account. Indeed, there has hitherto never been published one skerrick of independent evidence that they were even in Cairo. It is curious, considering the vehemence, longevity and volume of the propaganda against him, that there has not been a greater number of critics who simply dismiss the whole story, not just the supernatural elements of it, as fantasy or fraud. It is a recognised feature of the psychology of the believer in religious revelation to not question the foundation myth of their religion but why the many critics have failed to more closely examine the account is rather more obscure.
For the faithful, a lack of evidence is no obstacle to faith in the prophetic texts themselves; and one might well imagine that even if one was standing in that Cairo flat, with an early Kodak or Leica, watching all that transpired, one would be little the wiser as to what, if anything, had occurred; and one would still have no real proof of Crowley’s claims. But one would, at least, know who was there and that the book produced was extant then. Thelemites only have Crowley’s word for it. One is forced to wonder if, real proof being so difficult, there follows an intrinsic disdain for historical props. Nevertheless Crowley did feel a responsibility towards recording his version of events and did so in several texts, culminating in “The Equinox of the Gods” some thirty years after the events. But even in an account produced only about five years after the fact (“The Temple of Solomon the King”, upon which much of the later book was based) he bemoaned his loss of memory of many important details, and even his inability to interpret many of the details of his own journal from the time. However there was one detail he would not have forgotten and claimed to have not: the museum at the centre of the events of his story.
The Stélé of Revealing
“Curse them! Curse them! Curse them!”
Liber El, III, 50.
Central to the story is the inspired discovery, by Rose, in an Egyptian museum, of a stélé, a funerary object similar to a grave stone; except, in this case, one made of wood. Being made of wood was unusual, though fairly common for the region and period it was made. It was more unusual that the reverse was also painted. The stélé was that of a priest of the martial god Mentu, one Ankh-f-n-khonsu from Thebes (the present-day Luxor). It was thought to be of the 26th dynasty but is now variously attributed (the chronology debate being what it is; and the third intermediate period, as its known, being one of turmoil and confusion) to dynasties as early as the 23rd. It had been discovered, very probably, inside Hatshepsut’s temple in Deir el Bahari, in the necropolis west of Luxor, in a cache of sarcophagi of priests of Mentu found in 1858. It is very likely that Crowley was informed of this, as he spoke about the stélé to several museum men who would have known, but he never wrote about it; at least not in any publicly-available text.
The sarcophagi of Ankh-f-n-khonsu, and the box-like wooden shrine they would originally have been in, were amongst those items found in that cache by the great pioneering French archaeologist Auguste Mariette, or one of his excavating gangs at least, in 1858, soon after he was given the founding directorship of the Antiquities Service earlier that same year. He had previously been commissioned, in 1854, to found a museum in Boulaq after his sensational discovery of the Serapeum in Memphis. The Mentu priests’ sarcophagi were found in one or both of the two small shrines in either side of the temple, having been placed there in ancient times to protect them from thieves. However, the excavation was not formally documented and I have yet to find a record of which it was, if either. The standard catalogue of objects in the museum, from the founding of the Antiquities Service, was the Journal d’Entrée where objects were given an entry number as they were received by the museum; but often items were overlooked and the stélé did not receive one until the 1920’s. Meanwhile, it was given a variety of other catalogue numbers. Despite the common belief, based on Crowley’s account, it was not item 666 in the original Boulaq museum catalogue. It did not, so far as I have been able to ascertain, receive this number until the collection was moved to Gizeh.
It was, however, recorded (on the card numbered 666, which still accompanies the stélé in the Egyptian Museum, in its display case) that the stélé was from Gournah. That was the village at the entrance of the Deir el Bahari valley (since relocated away from the necropolis) so it is clear it was found in that district. It is likely that the mummy of Ankh-f-n-khonsu was still in the sarcophagus when it was discovered but was unwrapped and dumped there in the valley of Deir el Bahari. Immediate disposal of the mummy, after searching it for valuables, was standard practice in those rough-and-ready early days of Egyptian archaeology. There was originally, presumably, a tomb of Ankh-f-n-khonsu in the necropolis. Others of priests of the period have survived but his has not. The 1858 cache was the first of several found in Deir el Bahari, one in particular much more famous; but also including another one of priests of Mentu, excavated, thankfully, after archaeology had developed into a science.
The Boulaq Museum
“Deem not too eagerly to catch the promises;
fear not to undergo the curses.
Ye, even ye, know not this meaning all.”
Liber El, III, 16.
The artefacts from the cache were shipped north to the Boulaq museum, a building which had been a postal and shipping office, on the eastern bank of the Nile south of the town of Boulaq. Boulaq served as the port for Cairo. It was three miles north of old Cairo (the Roman Babylon), and a mile from the main city of Cairo which was built, originally above the flood plain, to the East. The name of Boulaq is said to have been derived from the French “Beau Lac”. It possibly referred to a lake once formed by that branch of the Nile. Alternatively, there was a well-known, indeed notorious, lake inland on the flood plain, upon which recreational boating was popular in the flood season, up until the mid-nineteenth century. The three towns were quite distinct at that time but in the rapid expansion of Cairo, first under Isma’il Pasha and then under the British occupation from 1882, the towns eventually merged. The Boulaq building was considered only a temporary home for the rapidly-growing collection. It was too small, was flooded in 1878, and also had fire-prone sheds containing undisplayed objects outside the museum proper. Mariette soldiered on with what he had and the museum became quite famous, often being asked to supply displays for worlds’ fairs and exhibition.
A now little-known feature of his career, though one which contributed to his fame at the time, was that he invented the story upon which Verdi’s Aida was based. Aida was commissioned for the 1870 opening of the Suez Canal but was not finished in time. Instead, it debuted in the new Opera House in Cairo in 1871 and was a tremendous success, going on to become a staple of opera houses around the world through to the present day. The “Alta cagion v’aduna” piece in it, with its “Ritorna vincitor!” (Return Victorious!) chorus, has been described as one of the finest calls-to-arms ever written – indeed as “war personified”.
Mariette died in Cairo in 1881 and in 1889 the museum was transferred to a palace near the town of Gizeh on the western bank of the Nile, opposite old Cairo. The museum was formally opened in the January of 1890. As with many details of the history of the museum, this date is often given incorrectly, even by the Egyptian Museum itself. The building had been one of Isma’il Pasha’s palaces and, though also not purpose-built and also considered fire-prone, it was much larger and served as home to the museum until a new purpose-built museum was constructed back on the east bank of the Nile. The new museum building had its foundation stone laid on April 1st, 1897 in a district which was, and is, known as “Kasr el-Nil” (meaning castle, or fort, on the Nile). It was on the periphery of the European district and faced south to the Kasr el-Aly palace across the Kasr el-Nil barracks parade-ground. The latter is now Midan el-Tahrir (Liberation Square), the central square of Cairo, and across the midan now stands the Mogamaa, a bureaucratic monolith. The barracks by the Nile has been replaced, in part, by the Hilton Hotel. The transfer of the collection, under director Gaston Maspero, began in December 1901 and was completed in July 1902. The museum was formally opened on November 15th, 1902. There it remains, with its neo-classical facade, and massive but disorderly collection, as a veritable temple of ancient Egyptian religions; though there are now plans for a further museum – to be built in the desert west of Cairo.
It is a curious feature of Crowley’s accounts of events that he persisted, throughout his life, in calling the museum in which Rose led him to the stélé the Boulaq museum; or even the “museum at Bulaq” (in “The Equinox of the Gods”). The new museum was then, as it still is, known as the Egyptian Museum or as the Cairo Museum. However, he wrote of it, what very little he did write of it, as if there was no potential for confusion. The usual view, of the few students who have realised that there was a problem, is that the museum was generally known by that name since the days of the famous museum at Boulaq. This might have been the case; though, in much reading of the contemporary literature, in English at least, I have not seen one single instance of that term in reference to the new museum (other than in Crowley’s accounts). However, it might still have been the informal name which was not often used in writing. It is also possible it was a term with some greater currency in French; which Crowley, as a French speaker, adopted.
Another suggestion has been that as the new museum was in the Boulaq district the title was again appropriate. However it was not in Boulaq. Though it was not far from the location of the original Boulaq museum, there was the clear geographical boundary of the Ismailiyeh Canal (filled in around 1908), albeit only a few hundred yards to the north, separating it from the suburb of Boulaq. However, as it was closer to the built-up area of Boulaq than it was to the built-up centre of Cairo, it might have been thought of, informally, as being in Boulaq. Indeed, there is some contemporary evidence for this. In the Egyptian Gazette of Thursday, March 17th, 1904, in an article about Mariette on the occasion of the unveiling of a statue of the great man in the grounds of the museum, there is this: “The founding of the old Boulac museum, which was transferred to Ghizeh, and retransferred but a short time ago to Boulac, was due to the marvellous energy and perseverance of F. Auguste Ferdinand Mariette.” It being the only English-language daily newspaper in Egypt at that time, it is quite possible that Crowley read that and it is quite possible he continued for the rest of his life with the impression that the museum was in Boulaq. Alternatively, it is possible that he was not even aware that there had been earlier museums or, if he had been, that he was not aware that the old Boulaq museum had been on a different site – and that that was all there was to it. Certainly his account of the museum tallies, by and large, with the actual museum. He wrote that he had dinner with a “Brugsch-Bey” of the museum, to talk about the stélé, and there was an Emile Brugsch who was actually a conservator at the museum (“Bey” being a title; one lower than that of “Pasha” which he was later awarded). Brugsch had been responsible for the recovery of the famous Deir el-Bahari cache, that of the royal mummies. Also Crowley’s description of the museum as having two floors fits. However, he was always very vague with the physical description; which is surprising for a writer of his experience writing about something which had been so important to him. Again, this may have been because it never occurred to him that there was any mystery to it and he thought that anyone who was interested could simply investigate it for themselves.
However, there is another possibility. Crowley was not above subtle dissemblement in The Equinox of the Gods – for instance in a passage describing his own morality – and there was, still, in 1904, another “Boulaq” museum. The Gizeh museum building was still in the possession of the Antiquities Service and was, indeed, the residence of Maspero and other museum staff. It was in the grounds of a zoological garden (the old palace’s garden) which was about halfway between Gizeh and the locality of Bulak el-Dakhrur. Furthermore, to cross the Nile to the Gizeh museum building one would cross by the island of Boulaq. Crowley, had he the need, could have rowed a royal barge around that lot.
The Gizeh museum also had two floors and, when the collection was still located there, the stélé was, according to the museum catalogue, located on the upper floor. Certainly, the heavy items had been transferred in 1902 (railway spurs having been laid in for the purpose). However, a dissenting author, one Percy F. Martin in “Egypt – Old & New” still refers to “the Gizeh Museum” as if it still existed – in 1923. He wrote of how Egyptology fared during the Great War, and how the English of Egyptians had been polluted by the vernacular of Australian “tommies”, so it was definitely a post-war account and not the publishing of an earlier draft. He wrote: “It is always possible to get away from the noise and bustle, the dust and heat of Cairo’s crowded thoroughfares and retire to the grateful coolness and comparative solitude of the Gizeh Museum – with few but the watchful, though never intrusive, custodians to interfere; to ruminate undisturbed over the past glories of wonderful, mysterious old Egypt.”
Martin continues as if he had seen it personally: “To the real Egyptologist the rooms of the Palace of Gizeh, unsuitable as the building admittedly is for the adequate display of priceless relics… possess a power of attraction unmatched in any other land of interest or diversion.” He goes on: “These remains of once-superb statues and colossal monuments, designed and carved with a patience and skill unexcelled by human hands, dust these thousand of years!” Whether Martin was writing from first-hand knowledge of Cairo, or whether he cadged together a book from secondary sources, I don’t know. He wouldn’t have been the last to confuse the locations of the various museums but he certainly writes as if the Gizeh building was still open, at least to Egyptologists, and the possibility should be considered – at least for Thelemites to reflect upon how careless they have been with their history. However, the reference to “colossal monuments” would cast considerable doubt on his description, as the very large items were all, almost certainly, removed in 1902.
As it happens, one my grandfathers was one of those Australian soldiers in Cairo during that war and, in fact, he spent a short while in a Boulaq hospital as a result of his service. Defending the Imperial privilege of English gentlemen was probably not foremost in his mind at the time but he certainly contributed to the British continuing in Egypt for another few decades. Unfortunately, he was not noted for an interest in Egyptology and he didn’t leave me a report on the disposition of Cairo museums. Crowley described Australians as being a primitive race so perhaps that explains it. Whether Crowley would now be of the opinion that that has changed one can only speculate. Many Englishmen – and women – have yet to recover from their imperial conceits but one thing has certainly changed and that is that the British Empire has now vanished. The mummy of Lord Cromer does not litter a Cairo museum but the British have joined the ranks of the past rulers of Egypt.
The Ill-Ordered House
“Let thy lips blister with my words!
Are they not meteors in thy brain?
Back, back from the face of the accursed one,
who am I; back into the night of my father,
into the silence; for all that ye deem right is left,
forward is backward, upward is downward.
I am the great god adored of the holy ones.
Yet am I the accursed one,
child of the elements and not their father.”
The Vision and the Voice, 26th Æthyr.
The consideration of the possibility of an alternative museum is not a trivial exercise. Indeed, the belief in “the Boulaq museum” having been a museum prior to the present museum was the almost-entirely unchallenged, orthodox, view for many years. As I have noted, most reciters of the story evoke a mythical Boulaq museum without a second thought as to what museum that actually was, where it was, what it looked like, if it still exists or even whether it ever actually existed in the first place. Supporters and critics alike have preferred with this, as with other topics in their occult ghetto, to inhabit an intellectual netherworld of mythic reality, maintaining a cosy arena for their arguments, one uncontaminated by fact.
But of those who have given some consideration to the identification of the museum a simple error long prevailed. The Symonds and Grant edition of the Autohagiography (1969) has been the source of much of this mischief with a footnote to Chapter 49 saying of “the Boulak Museum” that it “is no longer in existence; its antiquities are now in the National Museum, Cairo.” This managed to introduce yet a further museum into the confusion as there is a separate National Museum, one devoted to the post-Islamic period. It is not the Egyptian Museum which is devoted to pre-Islamic antiquities. Symonds repeated this footnote about a notional Boulaq museum in “The King of the Shadow Realm” (1989, p 65) and this idea of the stélé having been moved to its present location since Crowley saw it in “the Boulaq” has been repeated more recently by authorities who ought to have known better. Even the largest of the O.T.O. claimants, the eight-hundred pound gorilla of the ape orders, so to speak, in their generally quite admirable history of Crowley’s career (the Editor’s Introduction to Magick; 2nd ed., 1997, p xxxviii) follows the convention of blithely referring to “the Bulaq Museum” with no further particulars – as if everyone knows where it is, was, or might be. However, the prize for prevarication must go to that old war-horse of the Crowley-mocking cottage industry: Colin Wilson. Having made a career over the last thirty years of ever more refined dismissals of Crowley, in virtually every one of the many books on esoteric subjects he has written, he adroitly avoids the Boulaq issue altogether in his recent “The Devil’s Party” (2000) by writing that Crowley saw the stélé “in the museum next door”. He knows a thing or two does our Mr. Wilson.
It is only through internet discussion in recent years that the situation has been clarified somewhat but even today anyone investigating the matter would find the extensive literature on Crowley a quite useless guide – and it is still not an uncommon occurrence for curious individuals to have to resort to internet discussion groups to ask plaintively: Where was the Boulaq Museum?: Does it still exist? It is more than passing strange that the location of the museum which was so crucial to the one event which Crowley said late in his life was the only thing which made his life worth living, the event which was the foundation of his considerable reputation, has been so obscure. Those visiting the Egyptian Museum and finding 1902 written on the facade and seeing the stélé on display inside, as many Thelemites and others with an interest in the story have done, have naturally concluded that that museum was Crowley’s “Boulaq” – but there was still no documentary evidence. Even when I wrote the previous exposition of the history of the museums it was still not definitively demonstrated that the Egyptian Museum was actually the museum Crowley referred to as the one where Rose led him to the stélé of Ankh-f-n-khonsu.
However, as a result of having posted the first version of this essay, a critical piece of evidence came to light in December, 2000. A critic of Crowley by the name of Jess Karlin was so peeved at having his contention that the whole Cairo story was a fabrication disproved that he did some further research regarding his particular assertion that the stélé did not even bear the famous catalogue number (and that therefore Crowley’s word had been brought to nought). It is not surprising he had formed that view as item 666 in the 1903 English translation of Maspero’s “Guide to the Cairo Museum”, which he had consulted, refers to an entirely different stela. Also, Ankh-f-n-khonsu is not listed in the quite comprehensive index. That would indeed have one wonder, as it had had me wonder, if Crowley did see the stélé of Ankh-f-n-khonsu bearing that number in that museum in 1904. Furthermore, there was no documentary evidence in any of the Crowley literature which could contradict his bald denial regarding the number; again, a striking omission, though it was well known that a label, bearing the number, appears in published modern photographs, supplied by the Egyptian Museum, of the reverse of their stélé. It was also fairly well known that the stélé in the museum cabinet still has with it a card identifying it with that number. However, my posting of the scan of the 1897 French Loret catalogue entry did demonstrate that the stélé did actually bear the number in that era and that sent the critic back to the 1903 Quibell translation – where he had a stroke of luck. Looking for a similar entry to that in the French edition, he reported in a newsgroup posting, he proved himself wrong by finding the stélé listed on page 302 with the catalogue number 666. It was listed over a hundred pages from the regular item 666, and not amongst listings of other stelae. It is listed as being in Room F, Case K, a case listed as containing funeral statues and statuettes. It says that the case was on the east wall of the room. That room was on the eastern side of the south-facing museum. It is the first documentary evidence that the stélé was there in the Egyptian Museum before 1904 and that therefore that that museum was actually the fabled “Boulaq” museum. The entry, in a description of the contents of that case, reads thus: “Lastly, (nº 666) a stela of painted wood written on both sides and bearing the name Ankhufnikhonsu, priest of Montu.” Room F was upstairs.
The confusion of the index numbers was due, apparently, to the French and English Guides using different sets of numbers. As an “Important Notice” in the start of the 1903 Guide says: “The red numbers are the present English edition; the black numbers refer to the French edition and will be removed when it is sold out.” The stélé was numbered 666 in the 1897 French guide to the Gizeh Museum but, apparently, such was the disorder of the collection at that time, its number in the French catalogue nevertheless appeared as the stélé’s number in the English Guide. Considering a criticism of the accuracy of this Guide in a letter to the editor of the Egyptian Morning News in late 1904, one should use some caution in relying upon the Guide for the location. The author of the letter calls the guide “quite useless for the purpose of identifying the objects in the museum” and commends the museum for continuing to sell stock of an out-of-date provisory guide. In the early years the museum was plagued by a leaking roof and there was extensive renovatory work and, presumably, much rearrangement of the upstairs displays. However, I have since obtained later editions of the Guide, published after 1904, and the same entry appears so it does seem probable that the location given was accurate.
“Therefore whoso worshippeth thee is accursed.
He shall be brayed in a mortar and the powder
thereof cast to the winds, that the birds of the air
may eat thereof and die;
and he shall be dissolved in strong acid
and the elixir poured into the sea,
that the fishes of the sea may breathe thereof and die.
And he shall be mingled with dung
and spread upon the earth,
so that the herbs of the earth
may feed thereof and die;
and he shall be burnt utterly with fire,
and the ashes thereof shall calcine
the children of flame,
that even in hell may be found
an overflowing lamentation.”
The Vision and the Voice, 26th Æthyr.
Considering how important it was to him, it is remarkable how little Crowley wrote about the Stélé of Revealing and the associated issues. I will, in this chapter, quote a selection of what little he did write. The problem of the injunctions of the Comment here arises. Naturally, Crowley didn’t observe them himself before the Comment was received; but he also didn’t refrain from discussion, in a number of his writings published in his lifetime, after it was received, either. There has been a belief that he was, as the scribe and prophet, somehow peculiarly exempt from them. That is something I do not accept. One should note that Ankh-f-n-khonsu did not himself, in the Comment, indulge in discussion of the contents of Liber El. I also draw a distinction between the discussion of the “contents”, meaning discussion of particular details, and the discussion of the “content”, as in general discussion of whether the Book of the Law does or does not uphold a particular proposition. My reading of the Comment allows the latter; but I suggest that one should be careful and cautious with this, as the line between the discussion of the content and the discussion of the contents might well be a fine one.
Moreover, the Comment commands only the shunning of the discusser; not that the discussion is itself forbidden. Crowley not being about, this is not a practical problem. My view is that the shunning, being qualified as the type one would apply to a “centre of pestilence”, is a practical method of spiritual hygiene; so a pragmatic approach is appropriate. Quarantine is one such method of shunning. The word is derived from the Italian for “forty”, referring to the number of days suspect animals were confined. Similarly, I am quite prepared to cease shunning those who, for an appropriate period of time, exhibit no further signs of the foolishness of which their discussion was a suspicious symptom.
The practical problem here is whether the discussion of a discussion of the contents itself constitutes discussion of the contents and whether one might thereby be liable to being shunned. This is, of course, something which should be addressed each to himself. I will here quote and discuss various passages of Crowley’s writings which might very well be classified as containing passages of discussion of the contents but I will not myself discuss those elements of them which I hold to be of the contents. This definition is itself a difficulty as the discussion of topics that might or might not be addressed in Liber El might be held to be not a discussion of the contents as the topic discussed has an independent existence outside of the Book. For instance, if the definite article is used in the Book, as one might imagine it would be, not even having read it, would an etymological discussion of it constitute a discussion of the contents? A truly-insane pedant might say so. Wisdom needs to be applied to such judgements. Of course, the foolish will take any such flexibility as license or as proof of the futility of shunning. I will simply say to them: Begone. May you keep the fleas of your bedmates the dogs of reason to yourselves.
Before the reception of the Comment which Crowley decided was the authentic one, he wrote two Commentaries on the Book of the Law in which he discussed many points he thought relevant to the Law of Thelema. The first, the “Old Comment” was written before the Great War and the second, more-substantial, one, the “New Comment”, was written after it, around the period of 1919-1921. Some of this commentary, such as his confession of being, in effect, a Luddite, already seems merely silly to many Thelemites. However, even that anti-technologism was not such a rare attitude in Victorian times, and not even when Crowley wrote it. There were a variety of credible reasons; not the least being horror at the way workers were abused in factories before the era of labour and safety reform in Western countries, through to the take-over of the political process by industrial interests. One might recall that even the British-educated Gandhi had an affection for basket weaving; though many Indians now blame that doctrine for retarding the industrial development of their country for a generation. The residents of Bhopal, amongst many others in the world, might still demur, in the light of bitter experience. Nevertheless, one might still ask oneself what is truly Thelemic and what, of Crowley’s views, was merely a remnant of his Plymouth Brethren upbringing, his public school education, and the High Tory affectations he, as the son of a mere non-conformist brewer, adopted during his time at Cambridge.
However, I am interested here principally in what he has to say about matters concerning Stélé 666. In the Old Comment he wrote of a temple which was, apparently, already in existence. However, he wrote in this passage, as in every other such reference to it throughout his life, so far as I am aware, with either vagueness or ambiguity so as to be never quite explicit regarding where this temple actually was, exactly. He wrote: “That temple; it was arranged as an octagon; its length double its breadth; entrances on all four quarters of temple; enormous mirrors covering six of the eight walls (there were no mirrors in the East and West or in the western halves of the South and North sides). There were an altar and two obelisks in the temple; a lamp above the altar; and other furniture.” This is apparently a description of an actual physical “temple” and this has been widely assumed to have been the one at Boleskine which he constructed before 1904, as he describes in the Autohagiography, and he allows readers to assume it was this temple, here as in other comments, without stating it explicitly. One should note, however, that even such apparently-explicit statements are held by some commentators to not refer to physical locations but to various types of metaphysical constructions.
He continues, in the same passage: ” “It shall not fade,” etc. It has not hitherto been practicable to carry out this command.” ” Again, Crowley finds refuge in vagueness; as to the subject of his comment, in this case. Writing in the “New Comment”, he continues: “The language is here so obvious and so inane that one is bound to suspect a deeper sense. It sounds as bad as “the last winking Virgin” or St. Januarius.” The first reference is to a line in a Browning poem, “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”:
“I pine among my million imbeciles
(You think) aware some dozen men of sense
Eye me and know me, whether I believe
In the last winking virgin as I vow
And am a fool, or disbelieve in her,
And am a knave.”
The “last winking virgin” mocked a belief in the supposedly-miraculous movement of the eyes in some paintings of the Madonna in European churches. This phrase seems to have had some currency in the latter part of the nineteenth century in the debate between rationalism and faith. St. Januarius was another famous example of Catholick claims of miracle-working. He was a 4th century martyr beheaded in Naples and a vial of what is supposedly his blood is held in the Naples Cathedral. The substance in the vial is usually solid but liquifies, mysteriously, a number of times a year, sometimes spontaneously, but often in response to the fervent prayers of women particularly designated for the job. The Encyclopaedia Britannica attests that the phenomena “has been tested frequently and seems genuine”. Whether miraculous or an exotic chemical reaction, as has been suggested (mere thermal effects having been ruled out), it is still an impressive-enough phenomena for there to be two popular festivals a year centered on it and for St. Januarius to be the city’s patron. Apparently, Crowley found this sort of popular miracle-working inane unless there was some deeper sense; either to the idea of a miracle or to the actual fact of one.
In the Old Comment he continues: ” ‘Abstruction’. It was thought that this meant to combine abstraction and construction, i.e. the preparation of a replica, which was done. Of course, the original is in “locked glass.” ” He here neglects to state explicitly where that might actually be, however, though he allows the educated reader to assume that he is referring to the locked glass case in the Egyptian museum where Rose found the stélé. In the New Comment: “The Victorious City is of course Cairo (Al-Kahira, the victorious), and the ill-ordered house is the Museum at Bulak.” He might have used the formal name of the museum to prevent confusion but he is at least explicit in referring to the museum at (or near, at least) Boulaq. Crowley continues in the New Comment with a long account, written immediately after the fact in 1921, of how he discovered that the proper name of the stélé was simply Stélé 666 – just as it was at the museum.
“I asked myself for the thousandth time what the Stele could claim with literal strictness as “its name”. I scribbled the word CTHAH and added it up. The result is 546, when CT counts as 500, or 52, when CT is 6, a frequent usage, as in CTAYPOS, whose number is thus 777. Idly enough, my tired pen subtracted 52 from 718. I started up like a Magician who, conjuring Satan in vain till Faith’s lamp sputters, and Hope’s cloak is threadbare, gropes, heavily leaning on the staff of Love, blinking and droning along – and suddenly sees Him! I did the sum over, this time with my pen like a panther. Too good to be true! I added my figures; yes, 718 past denial. I checked my value of Stele; 52, and no error. Then only I let myself yield to the storm of delight and wonder that rushed up from the Hand of Him that is throned in the Abyss of my Being; and I wrote in my Magical Record the Triumph for which I have warred for over seventeen years
CYHAH 6 6 6
No fitter name could be found, that was sure … And then came a flash to confirm me, to chase the last cloud of criticism; the actual name of the Stele, its ordinary name, the only name it ever had until it was called the “Stele of Revealing”, in the Book of the Law, itself, “its name” in the catalogue of the Museum at Boulak, was just this: “Stele 666″. ”
In fact, its listing in the Guide To The Cairo Museum, was just this: “( nº 666) a stela”; but Crowley’s memory was, understandably, not exact regarding his stay in Cairo. He also remembered the name of the only English daily there as the “Egyptian News” when it was actually the “Egyptian Gazette”. However, that reference to the “catalogue” does suggest he had actually seen that entry in the 1903 edition of the Guide. He continues, in the New Comment: “With regard to the Old Comment, I did indeed find an image of the kind implied. But there seems no special importance in this. I am inclined to see some deeper significance in this passage.” He continues regarding several more cases of what were apparently events, involving artefacts, regarding which he did not feel inclined to divulge anything beyond the vaguest acknowledgement of something having occurred. In the Old Comment: “This first charge was accomplished; but nothing resulted of a sufficiently striking nature to record.” In the New Comment: “There is now such an altar as described; and the due rites are performed daily thereupon.” The latter was in Year 16 – some five years after Boleskine House had been sold. He didn’t, apparently, feel the need to answer the rather obvious question that then arises. Nor, curiously, is this a question which has been much addressed by Thelemites subsequently.
Continuing with the New Comment: “Taking the “holy place” to be Boleskine House, it has already been subjected to a sort of destruction. It was presented by me to the O.T.O. and sold in order to obtain funds for the publication of The Equinox Volume III.” Here he is little better than equivocal about the status of Boleskine House. In the Old Comment he continued with his habit of vagueness: “This shall be done as soon as possible.” This is followed by the New Comment’s “It is being done now.” What?! Where?! Evidently, he decided not to reveal that publicly. Nevertheless, the presumption persists, whatever the occult truth of the matter, that Crowley himself believed that Boleskine House, or the locality at least, did have a special status in Thelema. This is largely because he was more explicit in a number of other publications. In Liber V vel Reguli, for instance, he wrote: “Let the Magician, robed and armed as he may deem to be fit, turn his face towards Boleskine, that is the House of The Beast 666.” Indeed, it had been his house. In Liber XV he wrote of Boleskine as the “magical East”, as he called it, for another ritual practice. “In the East, that is, in the direction of Boleskine, which is situated on the South-Eastern shore of Loch Ness in Scotland, two miles east of Foyers, is a shrine or High Altar.” This is the first sentence of that ritual instruction and is in a section entitled: “Of the Furnishings of the Temple.” The shrine or High Altar is, then, apparently, that of the temple one is to construct for the mass. Alternatively, one might wonder if in the midst of the darkness of his vagueness glimmers the light of ambiguity and it is to be read as: “In the direction of Boleskine is a shrine.”
In Magick Without Tears, Letter 23, he also referred to this magical East in giving instructions to a student about how to set up a temple: “Remember that your “East”, your Kiblah, is Boleskine House, which is as near as possible due North from Plymouth. Find North by the shadow of a vertical rod at noon, or by the Pole-Star. Work out the angle as usual. The Stele of Revealing may be just on the N. Wall to make your “East”.” Evidently, this student was in England. In Liber Samekh he also gives ritual instructions involving the kiblah: “He is to travel astrally around the Circle, making the appropriate pentagrams, sigils and signs. His direction is widdershins. He thus makes three curves, each covering three fourths of the Circle. He should give the Sign of the Enterer on passing the kiblah, or Direction of Boleskine. This picks up the Force naturally radiating from that point (1), and projects it in the direction of the path of the Magician.” The footnote there, is, apparently, Crowley’s. It reads: “This is an assumption based on Liber Legis II: 78 and III: 34.
In what seems to be the plainest statement regarding the stélé, in the Autohagiography (Chapter 50), he wrote this: “When Rose and I first arrived at Boleskine, we had made a sort of sporadic effort to carry out some of the injunctions of Aiwass. We had arranged before leaving Egypt for the ‘abstruction’ of the Stele of Revealing. I did not understand the word or the context, and contented myself with having a replica made by one of the artists attached to the museum.” Writing about the defining event in his life, he tosses off this one isolated paragraph as the only published account of what he did, immediately after the Reception of the Law, regarding the “abstruction” which he apparently believed it was his responsibility to effect. To quote the New Comment again, the language is here so obvious and so inane that one is bound to suspect a deeper sense. Reading the paragraph critically, therefore, the reader may discern that, whether intended or not, it allows the reading that they did actually “abstruct” the stélé. This not in the ersatz sense he then casually proffers, but in the real sense. But what is that? Without a body of citations (which might yet exist, for instance in 16th or 17th century English or medieval Latin) one is forced to rely on the construction of the word. That cannot be definitive but one credible meaning is simply to read it as ab-struct, to take out of a structure. However, the reader is led to believe that he means “abstruct” in the sense he says, in the Old Comment, “it was thought” it meant. Be that as it may have been, for however long, the statement regarding the replica here is not strictly associated with the plain statement that they did, indeed, abstruct the stélé. It might be meant simply to seem so, by semantic slight of hand. Furthermore, there is a sequence in the statement; one which would raise the suspicions of those trained in Qabalistic symbolism. To say that he did not “understand” the “word” uses two bywords he was very familiar with, those of sephira next to each other in their sequence. That statement could thereby be read as saying that he was not then even a Magister Templi. “Context” is not so standard in attribution but can be attributed to Kether making that a sequence of the three supernals, which is quite coincidental if nothing else. And if Kether is the context, the content is what he was contented with; and that might then have been to make a replica of the truth. He was attached to the museum, in a sense, and, by this reading, he certainly was an artist.
That, however, is mere conjecture. If he did buy the stélé from the accommodating Brugsch and did arrange for it to be sent back to Britain, what did he then do with it? And what proof is there? Examination of the stélé presently in the museum would settle the matter; and it would surprise no-one familiar with the state of the museum if it was found to be a replica. Short of that, the photographic evidence can be examined. There were two photographs, the obverse and reverse, of the stélé published in the Equinox in 1912. The photos in the reproduction editions of that Equinox is clearly of a replica though I have not yet seen an original edition. There is also the “Magus” photograph, where Crowley poses with various magical implements including the stélé or its replica. The photograph, in its published condition, is virtually useless for comparison purposes but the stélé in it does seem to be of a considerably more dull aspect than one would expect of a modern replica. Also, there appears to be a light patch across the kilt of the priest that is not a feature discernable in any photograph of either a replica or the stélé in the museum and not something one would expect to be reproduced in a replica. Unfortunately, though I did have the good fortune to find two old-aeon photographs of the stélé, I have not been able to locate one of the obverse of it. It being unusual that the reverse was painted seems to be the reason that it was the visually less-interesting reverse that was photographed in those two photographs. However, Brugsch did run a photographic shop in the museum to provide universities and visitors with photographs of museum items and it is quite possible that more old photographs of it do survive in a university archive somewhere.