Clear all

Crowley, the Golden Dawn, & British Intelligence  


Michael Staley
MANIO - it's all in the egg
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3879
29/03/2017 6:05 pm  

Yesterday I was browsing the Wikipedia page for Crowley. In the section on Crowley's time with the Golden Dawn, I noted the following:

Biographers Richard Spence and Tobias Churton have suggested that Crowley joined the Order under the command of the British secret services to monitor the activities of Mathers, who was known to be a Carlist.

Is anyone here aware of any evidence to support such speculation?

William Thirteen
Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 1088
29/03/2017 9:02 pm  

Mick, surely you aren't suggesting that a lack of evidence should be a barrier to extravagant speculation? We now live a post-fact world doncha know...


Michael Staley
MANIO - it's all in the egg
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3879
30/03/2017 10:15 pm  

I'm primarily interested in finding out what the basis was for such a suggestion. I read Spence's book Secret Agent 666 many years ago, and could see little basis on which the edifice of suggestion rested. Hence my interest in what the basis might be for the suggestion that Crowley joined the Golden Dawn so that British Intelligence could keep an eye on Mathers. On the face of it, Crowley's membership of the Golden Dawn was an expression of a burgeoning interest in the occult; that is the most straightforward explanation.

William Thirteen
Joined: 9 years ago
Posts: 1088
31/03/2017 12:18 am  

Crowley’s membership of the Golden Dawn was an expression of a burgeoning interest in the occult; that is the most straightforward explanation.

indeed, that's what THEY want us to believe...

Joined: 10 years ago
Posts: 131
31/03/2017 2:31 pm  

Yes, because we know that many esoteric organizations of the past have had political agendas as well.
In the 'Shakespeare in love' documentary Amundsen mentioned the Rosicrucians as Illuminatis in the sense that the tried to cultivate the British people. I've also watched videos of free mason rites where the candidates have sworn to work in the name of science. Then we have the political scandal in Italy where P2 was involved. Another aspect which makes it pragmatic for a person to use Golden Dawn as a group, as a mean for political ends, could be GD's network. So it's not that far fetched. But without evidence...

Michael Staley
MANIO - it's all in the egg
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3879
31/03/2017 4:24 pm  

I understand what you say, Karlir, and in some cases that's true. In this particular case, British Intelligence are supposed to have been interested in Mathers because he was thought to be a "Carlist".

Carlism was defined as "a traditionalist and legitimist political movement in Spain seeking the establishment of a separate line of the Bourbon dynasty on the Spanish throne". Whilst this might have been of some interest to Spanish Intelligence, I don't know why Mathers and/or his wife were thought to have an interest in this, or why it was considered by British Intelligence to be enough of a threat to merit surveillance. That apart, as a reputable biographer of Crowley, Churton presumably has some grounds for suggesting that Crowley infiltrated the Golden Dawn as an agent of British Intelligence; that being the case, I'm curious to learn what those grounds are.

Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 2399
02/04/2017 5:46 am  

The link between Crowley and Carlism is certainly genuine:

Scott, Burns and my cousin Gregor had made me a romantic Jacobite. I regarded the Houses of Hanover and Coburg as German usurpers; and I wished to place "MaryIII and IV" on the throne. I was a bigoted legitimist. I actually joined a conspiracy on behalf of Don Carlos, obtained a commission to work a machine gun, took pains to make myself a first-class rifle shot and studied drill, tactics and strategy. [emphasis added] However, when the time came for the invasion of Spain, Don Carlos got cold feet. The conspiracy was disclosed; and Lord Ashburnham's yacht, which was running the arms, fell into the hands of the Spanish navy.Confessions, Ch.13, p. 121


I obtained the honour of knighthood [footnote: "There is a great deal more to this story; but I may not tell it --- yet."] from one of Don Carlos' lieutenants. It is part of the legitimist theory that the sovereign had abrogated to himself the monopoly of conferring spurs, while on the other hand a woman could not confer knighthood. All Victorian creations are invalid. Confessions, Ch.14, p. 123

Perhaps the footnote is AC hinting at spying, or perhaps just trying to make himself sound important.

Kaczynski says the above incident "would not be Crowley's only contact with Legitimism. Mathers was also a Jacobite [emphasis added] [...] Indeed, Lowenna contends it was Mathers's preoccupation with Legitimist politics in France that took his focus away from the Gd and ultimately led to the London temple uprising." (Perdurabo, Ch. 5, p. 117).

Spence in Secret Agent 666 claims Mathers was somehow involved in the abortive Spanish invasion (p. 26), and says AC's involvement was as a spy for British intelligence. Of course, Spence says similar things about much of AC's life, and as Michael Staley points out, offers scant foundations of documentation for his claims.

I haven't read either Spence or Churton, so perhaps someone who can say what they may say about Mathers' Legitimism as AC's "real" reason for joining the GD.

i believe Michael has this right also: AC wanted to contact the Secret Chiefs, and thought Mathers/the GD had a conduit to them. Certainly, AC was a chronic and habitual liar and fabulist, but his claimed hunger for occult secrets sure comes across as genuine.

Joined: 8 years ago
Posts: 5
25/10/2018 9:33 pm  

Michael Staley quotes Wikipedia as saying

Biographers Richard Spence and Tobias Churton have suggested that Crowley joined the Order under the command of the British secret services to monitor the activities of Mathers, who was known to be a Carlist.

Staley asks, "Is anyone here aware of any evidence to support such speculation?"

He gives support for the speculation, yes, which is different from direct proof.

Spence does provide hard evidence that Crowley was working for British intelligence in America (hence the title of his scholarly article, "Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley and British Intelligence in America, 1914-1918;" link below:)

When that article became a book (Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult) the speculations Spence made about other activities outside of the U.S. increased since suddenly the scope of the work was much larger. The discussion you're asking about comes in the first chapter, where Spence is introducing Crowley and in effect trying to frame what follows in the context of Crowley's later activities (the ones where Spence is able to point to direct U.S. and British files, though the British files have inconveniently been destroyed). So yes, the entire bit about Corley monitoring Mathers as an intelligence assignment because Mathers was a Carlist is speculation, though not speculation that seems terribly far-fetched.

Also, in that early period (before World War I), its sometimes hard to say what is "official" intelligence work and what is something some wealthy person takes upon himself to do, and to hire others to do. (Actually different journals on espionage have run quite a few articles on this in the past 20 years or so-- what constituted a "gentleman spy" in the laye 1890s, for instance?)

Spence focuses in on Bertram Ashburnham, the fifth Earl of Ashburnham, whose "large estate in Wales included, among other amenities, its own military training ground. Ashburnham revived the moribund Jacobite cause in 1886 by forming, or re-forming, the Society of the Order of the White Rose (SOWR),
which became the main public face of British Legitimism" (p. 24). Ashburnham then secluded himself in Paris. Ashburnham then "dabbled in plots against various governments, including Spain’s, Portugal’s, and probably Britain’s. Crowley first met Mathers in Paris in May 1899" (p. 25).

For Ashburnham and Mathers, Jacobitism was a deadly serious business. Regime
change, by armed rebellion if necessary, was their aim. They complained that Queen
Victoria and her Saxe-Coburg-Gotha line were German usurpers, though their
candidate was hardly any less foreign. That dubious honor fell to Maria Theresa
Henrietta Dorothea de Austria-Este-Modena, daughter of the Duke of Modena and
wife of Ludwig, Regent (later King Ludwig III) of Bavaria. By the late 1890s, however,
British Legitimists had begun to shift their hopes to her son, Prince Rupprecht, or
Robert as they imagined him on the thrones of England and Scotland. Coincidentally
or not, Ashburnham, MacGregor Mathers, and friends were buying arms in Bavaria.31
(Recall the Golden Dawn’s claim to be a branch of a German secret society.)

If you wonder about that 31st footnote: Spence is citing Confessions. Part of how much one wants to follow the speculation depends upon how much you want to trust Crowley. In any case, Spence suggests other connections then points to activities of Mathers, Crowley and others in Spain in 1902:

Crowley associated with two other outspoken proponents of Jacobitism and Celtic
nationalism. The first, Louis C. R. Duncombe-Jewell, a.k.a. Ludovic Cameron, had
also been born into the Plymouth Brethren but, following Ashburnham’s example,
jumped ship for Roman Catholicism. He was a sometime reporter for the Daily Mail
who dreamed of raising a “Celtic Empire” that would embrace Scotland, Ireland,
Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany. The Beast described him as a “passionate Jacobite” but
claimed to find his political schemes “rather childish.”34 Even so, the two were chummy;
Duncombe-Jewell later stayed with Crowley in Scotland and was a witness at his 1903
wedding. Duncombe-Jewell also was up to his neck in such Legitimist intrigues as
“carrying out delicate and not always safe missions” in Germany and elsewhere.35
Much the same could be said for Henry Jenner, the so-called “Bard of Cornwall.”
Crowley’s connection with him seems to have been indirect, through Duncombe-Jewell
and probably Ashburnham.36 Jenner served as “Chancellor” of Ashburnham’s Order of the White Rose. He also was the Jacobite movement’s chief “cryptographer” and the
man handling secrets negotiations in Bavaria and elsewhere.37 Crowley thus insinuated
himself into a group of active international conspirators with seditious intentions.

Ashburnham and his fellow schemers saw themselves as part of a bigger Legitimist
movement in Europe. They championed the claim of Don Miguel to the throne of
Portugal and in France dreamed of restoring a Bourbon monarchy. The great hope of
Legitimism, however, was another Bourbon, Don Carlos of Spain, the only claimant
with a real chance of seizing power. The nineteenth-century uprisings of his partisans,
the Carlists, plunged Spain into three episodes of bloody civil war. A fresh opportunity
for Don Carlos II seemed to arrive in 1899. The weak government in Madrid was
reeling from the recent, humiliating defeat by the United States. The northern
provinces, the Carlist heartland, seethed with unrest. Carlos’ supporters, domestic and
foreign, pressed him to unfurl his banner and launch a new insurrection.

Ashburnham, MacGregor Mathers, Duncombe-Jewell, and Jenner were all
embroiled in this Spanish adventure. So was Crowley. Ashburnham lent his estate for
the training of British volunteers. Our man later recounted how in the service of Don
Carlos he “obtained a commission to work a machine-gun, took pains to make myself
a first class rifle shot, and studied drill, tactics and strategy.”38 The crucial moment came
in summer 1899. In Madrid, the government moved to ratify the peace treaty with the
United States. The disgruntled ex-commander of the Spanish forces in Cuba, General
Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau, talked of a coup d’état while secretly negotiating with the
Carlists.39 At the same time, Ashburnham loaded his personal yacht, the Firefly, with
Gras rifles purchased in Germany and dispatched it to Spain under the command
of a White Rose stalwart, Royal Navy Lieutenant Vincent John English.40 On 15 July,
however, on the last leg of its third gun-running trip, the Firefly ran into trouble in the
French port of Arcachon. An alerted Spanish consul demanded that French customs
seize the vessel. As Crowley put it, the “conspiracy was disclosed.”41 Listed among the
crew of the Firefly was a “C. Alexander,” an early example of Crowley’s many aliases.42
The fiasco ended the uprising, although Carlist rumblings continued well into 1902.

Thirty years later, the Beast remained oddly reticent about his Spanish escapade,
offering only that “there is a great deal more to this story; but I cannot tell it—yet.”43

If you're interested in what those footnotes are from:

34 CAC, 361, 368. [Confessions of Aleister Crowley]
35 Lowena, 68. [Sharron Lowena, “Noscitur A Sociis: Jenner, Duncombe-Jewell and Their
Milieu,” in Philip Payton (ed.), Cornish Studies 12 (Exeter: Univ. of Exeter Press,
36 Paul Newman, The Tregerthen Horror: Aleister Crowley, D. H. Lawrence & Peter
Warlock in Cornwall (Lulu/Abraxas, 2005), 12.
37 Lowena, 68.
38 CAC, 121.
39 The New York Times [hereafter NYT] (27 July 1899).
40 “The Carlists of Today,” Pall Mall Gazette (10 Oct. 1901), 1–2 and (19 Oct.), 4;
(23 Oct.), 11.
41 CAC, 121.
42 Lowena, 68, citing Firefly pay list, 26 Aug. 1899, in the Ashburnham Carlist
Papers, Lewes.
43 CAC, 123, n.1.

Michael Staley
MANIO - it's all in the egg
Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3879
26/10/2018 11:09 am  


He gives support for the speculation, yes, which is different from direct proof.

I read Spence's book many years ago, when it first appeared. I thought it a finely-spun web of speculation with very little evidence. I found unlikely Spence's suggestion that Crowley chose the locations of his Magical Retirements in order to aid his spying, or that he chose Cefalu because it enabled him to keep an eye on the comings and goings of shipping. When taken together with my query which you highlight, what it amounts to is the suggestion that Crowley's interests in the occult were a cover for his spying activities. So far as I recall from reading the book, Spence even suggests that Yorke was Crowley's handler.

Crowley's body of work is impressive in terms both of scope and of depth. His interest in the occult was undoubtedly genuine, and was the main driving force in his life.

Joined: 14 years ago
Posts: 346
22/01/2019 8:50 pm  

This Carlist conspiracy account is fascinating though, thanks for sharing this. Just noting that there is a reference (source unsure) that he became editor of The International supposedly to bring disrepute to the German cause and on behalf of British intelligence. While I think it is possible Crowley knew who the MI6 recruiters were as a student in Cambridge, he doesn't seem to have been a particularly useful or loved agent and how much of his secret agent stories is fiction designed to enhance his reputation is up to the reader.

Force and Fire is not metaphorical. In Prophetes Veritas Venit.

Joined: 12 years ago
Posts: 4092
23/01/2019 1:34 am  

rl: ... supposedly to bring disrepute to the German cause and on behalf of British intelligence.

Well, AC himself said that the "isrepute to the German cause" was what he did ... he didn't mention and British agency.