Aleister Crowley and The Summer of Love (BBC)

The BBC Four television channel has started to broadcast a new series: The Summer of Love: How the Hippies Changed the World. Unsurprisingly, Aleister Crowley features in the first episode:

The first episode looks at how ideas, music and lifestyles from Asia, Europe and the American Left became entwined in California. It traces the roots of the hippies back to a 19th-century German sect of wandering naturalists called Lebensreform who brought their freethinking ideas about nature to California after the Second World War. There they merged with a growing interest in Eastern mystical concepts of human nature imported to America by maverick British thinkers like Aleister Crowley and Aldous Huxley. Add to this mix a wonder drug first developed by the CIA called LSD and a wave of student activists and anti-war protestors agitating for revolution and you have the astonishing story how these forces came together to give birth to the Summer of Love in San Francisco, 1967.

Two people speak about Crowley in this episode. Tim Cumming (poet) and Gary Lachman (writer). Cumming’s contribution is interesting and broadly positive; Lachman’s is populist and, frankly, feeble. Perhaps his interview was unfairly edited by the BBC?

PRESENTER: If the naturists looked back to Germany, the Truth Seekers were inspired by one of the maddest, baddest Englishmen of the 20th century. Aleister Crowley was an early prophet of Eastern mysticism.

TIM CUMMING: Crowley was one of the pioneers of introducing yoga to the West, and at the time, it was seen as rather devilish, very alien, and he used it in his own magical Western rituals in the bedroom and elsewhere. I mean, he was homosexual, he was bisexual, he was promiscuous. Crowley’s sexual ideas and sexual politics underlays the whole idea and the politics of free love. By the 1920s, Aleister Crowley had earned the title The World’s Most Evil Man.

GARY LACHMAN: He dedicated his life to Satan and the Devil, and he did it to the hilt, he just, er … basically transgressed against every notion of conventional behaviour or morality or ethics.

TC: He put on magical rituals. Lights, incense, drumming, violins, poetry.There was a punch bowl passed around, it was called the loving cup, it was a mixture of fruit juices,
drops of opium and mescaline. This is a line that runs directly through in all the Be-Ins and happenings of 1967.

GL: And the essence of it became this catchphrase: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. And it’s more or less a kind of command to break all the rules, to go beyond all the boundaries. Crowley became a kind of icon. He was picked up, like, in the rock and roll world.

TC: In 1967, he appears on the cover of Sergeant Pepper and it’s John Lennon, I think, who put him there, cos in an interview many years later, he said, “Well, the whole point of the Beatles was to do what “you want, to take your own responsibility – that’s why we put him on the cover.”

PRESENTER: But it was another Englishman on the Sergeant Pepper cover that would bring Crowley’s mix of the East and drugs to the West Coast of America. The upper-class writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley. Crowley and Huxley met in 1930 in Berlin.

TC: Crowley in his diaries records fabulous dinners with Huxley and it was said that he introduced the writer to peyote, to mescaline.

To view the whole episode (probably UK only):

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