So Crowley, lots of books written about him, biographies, lots of them done already, so not really much to say that hasn’t been said, though having said that, I can think of a few things that to my mind could still be explored, but that’s another story. John Moore managed to come up with a few new angles, lets start there. John Moore died a year or so back, so I thought I’d talk to his son Alistair about John’s research.
I asked Alistair to firsttell me a little about himself, as I know people enjoy the personal touch, well I do anyway. Was he perhaps named after Crowley?
I’m John’s younger son (I have an older brother, Simon). I’m a freelance analyst and also a writer myself – I had a novel (The Release, Candy Jar Books) published in 2018. I grew up in London and studied Russian at Exeter University. As for being named after Crowley – people often ask, but my parents both assured me I wasn’t – my mother wanted to call me Alexander but finally they decided upon Alistair, the Scottish variant.
We are talking about your father whose untimely death robbed us of a chance to talk to him about his interesting books about Crowley. Before we get into would you like to share some personal reflections about your father.
With John being an intellectual I grew up surrounded by thousands of books. He introduced me to literature at a young age, so I read many of the Russian greats – Turgenev, Bulgakov, Dostoevsky. One of my favourite novels is Sanine, by a little-known writer called Artzibashev – my dad bought me an original hardback of this, I think dating back to when it was published in the early 20th century. Even Russian friends haven’t heard of the book or the writer, but it’s a fantastic novel, similar in some ways to Lermontov’s Hero of Our Time, with an antihero theme. John didn’t have any Russian ancestry btw, he was just a real fan of the literature.
Being exposed to all this led to me studying Russian, and definitely influenced me in my own path to becoming a writer. Dostoevsky was one of John’s favourite writers, and his favourite novel of Dostoevksy’s was The Devils. John was a philosopher, so he especially enjoyed novels dense with philosophical ideas, common with Dostoevsky.
John was a good father, perhaps not a typical dad, but then he wasn’t a typical person either. He could never have endured a life working in an office. Philosophy and ideas were central to his life, so it was inevitable I’d absorb these influences growing up, and I’m grateful for that. He left quite a legacy with his own writing, in print and online, much of which I am discovering now. His writing is packed with ideas, this is very apparent even in the accessible format of the graphic books on Crowley and Bulwer-Lytton.
We weren’t ready to lose him, and he certainly wasn’t ready to go – there was much more he wanted to do, to write, experience and live. I’m grateful I was able to play a part in the production of his two graphic books Crowley: A Beginners Guide and more recently Bulwer-Lytton:Occult Personality, helping get these ideas and visions of his into print – with your help, of course.
Tell us more about John and his interest in philosophy. One of his books is Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master so I’m guessing from this that he had some professional interest in the world of ideas, tell us something about that.
Definitely – philosophy was his world. As I mentioned he especially enjoyed philosophical novelists like Dostoevsky, and the world of ideas in general. His favourite philosopher was Nietzsche. He was a member of the Nietzsche Society and read several papers at their international conferences. In 2011, he published his own book on Nietzsche calledNietzsche – An Interpretation, which contains 10 of these papers. For many years he also ran and moderated an online Nietzsche discussion forum. He also admired Schopenhauer. One project he sadly never got to complete was a compendium of what he felt were the most significant philosophers, named A Trip Around Philosophy.
More specifically he was obviously interested in Crowley – do you know anything about how he got into that, was he a magician?
I don’t know too much about how and when he first got into Crowley, but he was an admirer of Crowley’s writings and personal philosophy, which as I understand it is tied into certain ideas like Nietzsche’s revolving around free will. To an extent I think it’s fair to say he subscribed to the creed of ‘Do What Thou Wilt’. As for being a practitioner – no, despite his interest in the occult and ideas relating to it, his interest and involvement there was intellectual only.
John’s Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master was his first book on the topic. How did this title come about ?
While a lot has been written about Crowley, I think John’s contributions to the field have been original. The reason for the title A Modern Master was that he felt Crowley’s ideas, rather than being only of their time, have relevance today in the modern age, perhaps more than ever. That’s one aim of the book – to explain how Crowley’s ideas are linked to modernity and current thought.
As for pitching previously – although he got very positive feedback both from Fontana for this book, and from Icon (graphic guide publishers) for Crowley: A Beginners Guide I know one barrier was that Crowley was seen as a bit of a risky subject, perhaps too controversial or unsavoury for some readers. John talks about the book in this video from 2009.
Can you summarise the book in a nutshell?
An argument for Crowley’s importance in the modern age, a defense of what has been criticised as the more contemptible side of Crowley’s character, an exploration of some of his creative achievements, and an attempt to render his ideas more accessible.
What do you think is the book’s essence ?
Without doubt John was one of Crowley’s biggest fans. While I’m sure he didn’t agree with everything Crowley said or did, he always felt Crowley deserved more recognition for his ideas and writings, so I think in large part the book is a defense of Crowley and his work.
Turning to John’s sequel to Aleister Crowley: A Modern Master, was Crowley: A Beginners Guide – very unusually in graphic book format, how did this project come about?
I believe the idea was originally suggested by a friend of John’s, a Sikh he worked with back in the eighties, who thought an illustrated graphic guide along the lines of Icon Books’ popular ‘Introducing’ series based on Crowley, could do well. It took John some time to get round to it, but when he got started on the text, I introduced him to John Higgins, an illustrator acquaintance of mine. John Higgins produced a great number of original ink drawings for the book, which I then combined with John’s text and some free-for-use imagery to produce formatted illustrated pages ready for publication by Mandrake.
It was an immensely fun project to work on, and I’m very proud of what we all created – a lovely little graphic guide filled with very entertaining artwork to accompany all the ideas inside it.
The format is unusual , why did he choose this, perhaps as an antidote to the normal heaviness of its topic?
Mainly accessibility. As you say there is a density of ideas there, but John wanted to open them up to as wide an audience as possible. That’s not to say it’s dumbed down – not at all. Although some Crowleyites might bristle at the ‘Beginners’ part of the title, it’s packed with content and exploration of his key ideas, influences and legacy. It just happens to be in a very novel and entertaining format. Beginners Guide has the potential to reach a wider audience than Modern Master, something like a primer.
John also wrote in similar format abook on Bulwer Lytton: Occult Personality – very unusual but neglected topic. There is a Crowley connection, I think I’m right that his esoteric novel Zanoni, made it onto Crowley’s reading list for all aspiring students of magick. But what’s the story behind this?
John admired Bulwer-Lytton’s writing, feeling it was unfairly derided (I was myself surprised to hear that at one point, he was the best-known novelist in the English-speaking world). Again, with this book John aimed to explore and bring to a wider audience Bulwer-Lytton’s key role in esotericism, philosophy, and key cultural movements in the Victoria era, as well as showing the relevance of much of these ideas today. He talks about the book and the ideas in it here (filmed around late summer 2018 at the Canonbury pub in Islington).
The format of the book is similar to Beginners Guide, a graphic introduction. It contains a lot of artwork by John Higgins and another artist named Paul Campbell, a friend of my brother Simon.
John was already ill when he started work on this, so there was a little more urgency to the project. Happily he lived to see and enjoy the book’s publication.
Again, he opted for a very unusual, unique format – what do you think about that? Something I’ve noticed, I wonder if the magical people who mostly read this kind of stuff, are they open to this kind of graphic approach – they can be a bit serious, perhaps too much so?
I can’t claim to know these magical people well enough to know how serious they are, or they might feel about the approach! However, as with Crowley: A Beginners Guide I’d say that despite the format, designed to be accessible as well as original and entertaining, both books are packed with ideas and pretty rigorous explorations of both men and their ideas.
Even though I have no special interest in the occult or esotericism myself, I find Bulwer-Lytton: Occult Personality really educational, especially in regard to the Victorian era – religion, philosophy, antiquity, artistic movements and so on. It’s a bit like a springboard, making you want to go off and explore these topics in more depth.
As for humour, I think done properly it works well in these contexts as long as you don’t trivialise the subjects, and I think both the graphic guides get this balance right. A world without humour would be a depressing place indeed!
Thanks, you’ve been great, anything else you would like to add that you think I should have asked but forgot?
The last thing John published was this selection of his own poetry, 100 Poems, the earliest of which I think he wrote when he was 15. I recorded this interview with him talking about the book in April 2019, a couple of months before he died. Getting this collection out was important to him, and I know he’d be happy for it to get a mention here.
For me, the story of Aleister Crowley’s moment of truth in Cairo 1904 is one of the most interesting in a lifetime graced by perhaps a half dozen such experiences. 1904 was the pivotal year in Crowley’s career, he was 29 years old and therefore well into what is popularly known as the “Saturn Return”. Difficult as it is to believe, Crowley had more or less given up on magick at this point in his life and concentrated on having a good time with what remained of his inheritance. I think we can surmise that he was disillusioned by his experiences as an unwanted member of the famous Victorian occult society we know as the Golden Dawn. Like any hierarchical organisation, internal reveries often blow things apart and in this case, the conflicts had ended in litigation and even, so it is said, deadly magical battles. Its autocratic master Samuel Liddell Macgregor-Mathers said to be overwhelmed by megalomania, locked in conflict with other former friends but also wannabe masters and mistresses. Crowley, still a relatively young upstart, had taken his chances with the boss. Significantly he had cut short his magical retreat in Scotland, for which he had obviously made lavish preparations – this was the famous Abramelin practice.
In the version he was following, the practice began on Jewish Passover and continued for six months. From a more recent and complete published version, we now know this should actually be 18months. In the 15th century, Abraham began his retreat at Easter (Jewish Passover) itself a very important ancient feast connected with demons and angels of death. These myths make use of doorways of one kind or another, the ancient Hebrews supposedly inscribing magick signs on their lintels, a signal for the angel of death to pass over the house.
It terminated on the old feast of Tabernacles or “Booths”. The modern interpretation tells us this was originally a reminder of the temporary dwellings used by the early Hebrews during their flight from Egypt.
Crowley’s short gambit with the Golden Dawn did not go well and he was either expelled or left the sanctuary under a cloud. As for The Book of Abramelin, the magical moment had passed and there was no point in returning to his house at Boleskine until the following Easter. So Crowley travelled to Mexico and as often happens, did not return for several years. When he did he was again distracted by his future wife Rose Kelly.
He eloped with and married Rose Kelly. It was for her patrician family, an unsuitable match, though he was a former family friend. Perhaps to escape the bad family vibe, they set out together on a world tour as a honeymoon. Their cruise ship arrived in Alexandra, a short hop from Cairo, where they planned some sightseeing in the fascinating metropolis. They no doubt took in the sites and the nightlife. Crowley, who already knew the city, having visited a few years earlier, paying a little baksheesh to the local family for special access to the pyramids at night, where in the King’s chamber, he was able to show off some of his old tricks, with a handy copy of the Goetia, which has a preliminary invocation taken from ancient Egyptian magical papyri.
The results cannot fail to have impressed Rose Kelly, who later, back in their lavish hotel room, no doubt having imbibed perhaps a little too much of the local Omar Khayyam vintage, fell into a light trance and said: “They are waiting for you”. I’m paraphrasing really, more accurate accounts are available I’m sure. Some say Crowley had prepared for all this on his visit a few years earlier, why else did he have the right magical books to hand. But key perhaps is that is was Passover in Cairo, the full moon and exactly the right time to restart another Egyptian originated ritual, that of Abramelin, who according to his medieval account, was a supreme ritual of the adepts in Upper Egypt, which he got after his failed quest through Europe in search of illumination.
Already experienced with the Abramelin system, Crowley seems to have used it to put himself in touch with his guardian daemon – Aiwass, an entity which some say was his own psyche. There is a famous photograph of Crowley posed with a magick book, a pentagram emblazoned on the front cover. What’s in the book, nothing other than his complete collection of magick squares neatly drawn during his preparation for the Abramelin practice!
The name of his angel lends itself to a bit of wordplay. Aiwass or “I Was” does indeed have a split personality, dictating a book that proposes entirely contradictory solutions to humanity’s problems viz “The Law of the Jungle” versus “AL True Ism”?
Snoo Wilson takes up the story some years later when Crowley, now reconciled with his revelation in Cairo, makes an attempt to found an alternative community, dedicated to the tenets dictated to him by those Egyptian spirits in Cairo. It was a brave attempt that eventually foundered due to its own internal conflicts, and the events outside the communards control, such as the rise of a fascist government in Italy, which was hostile to such alternative lifestyles. The Sicilian locals apparently had come to enjoy the presence of their purple priest and his followers.
Snoo Wilson who carved out a successful career as a playwright specialising in the tricky genre of black comedy used all his talents on the Crowley story. The result was a successful stage play which is novelised as “I, Crowley, almost the last confession of the beast 666”. These days, Crowley people are not noted for their sense of humour and not everyone is able to see the funny side of some of our pretensions. Which is odd, given how fond Crowley himself was of a good joke or an extended tongue in cheek romp. I’m pretty sure he would have enjoyed Snoo’s retelling of the end of the commune as much as anyone should. Remembering that one must first entertain before getting too serious. In the end, “I, Crowley” does all that, though it starts with a refutation of the accusation common in my hometown, that Crowley killed much loved Oxford student Raoul Loveday with a magick spell. Arthur Calder Marshall wrote that a hit squad was even sent from the Student Union to avenge the crime that never happened. The whole story is set out in this great act of what Snoo once called the “lesser form of magick” although he was again being ironic, there is nothing lesser about writing a good novel.
Part II of this essay is about Aleister Crowley: A Beginner’s Guide …
There are many books on how to do magick, but not so many with stories about actually doing it and what happens. NakedTantra lays bare the inner states of the two brave souls involved in this extended magical work.
An experiment, two people, two countries, one mind, experimenting in tantra meta-magick, cosmic astral travel to the land of no boundaries, looking for the doors of perception.
Of necessity the contents of this grimoire might be considered erotic. And, with that thought in mind, it might also be that the reader is occasionally aroused by our story as it progresses. Some might find this an unwanted intrusion, into what is otherwise an exploration of a magical world. Others we surmise, will take this in good part, accepting that, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. To those who do not share these sensibilities, and are unmoved by what you are about to read, we offer our sincerest apologies.
Mogg Morgan talks to MIRYAMDEVI & MINANATH, pseudonymous authors of NAKEDTANTRA
About The Authors
These are not their real-world names but neither are they false, they emerged in the dialogue. In real life, they both have experience in eastern and western magical styles.
You obviously have chosen to write under names other than those of your birth, which is not uncommon in magical publishing. The story of how you came by your writerly names is told in the book so I won’t spoil the surprise now. Even so, can you introduce yourself and say a little about what you do, your aims and objectives with your writing?
Minanath: When I first met Miryamdevi she called herself a simple “cowgirl”, which immediately brought to mind the Gopi-maidens who trail after Krishna. But then I discovered she really likes Tom Robbins who wrote Even Cowgirls get the Blues. So there’s something in that, but also, what she says about growing up on a farm; she has a certain earthiness and salt of the earth strength.
Another thing that came up when we got into working with the archetype Babalon – who we, or could be Miryamdevi, worked out, is not some rare breed but is in every woman, Miryamdevi is in a very real sense: “Everywoman”.
My name Minanath literally means (lord of) fish, and it seemed appropriate somehow. It is the name of a Hindu magician/mystic from old times. Also known as Matsyendra, Macchendra, and others. His biography can be seen as mythic or real, depending on who you read. I like the version that he worked in the sea, probably as a fisherman, a fairly taboo or lowly profession in India. But somehow he had a revelation and put together much of the spiritual system we know as Tantra. Perhaps it was because of his humble status people applied the story of his getting the wisdom from a secret scroll, written by the god Shiva, and hidden in the belly of one of the fish he caught. Sometimes it is he who ends up in the fish. But sometimes I just think he learned stuff from people he met on the harbour, maybe mariners from distant lands, like Egypt and Greece.
Anyway, my name Minanath is a reference to that guy who lived a long time ago, not thousands of years but long enough. I think magical tantra started or reemerged in India at the same time when things were getting difficult for magicians in Egypt, with the rise of Christianity. To put it romantically, when the light of knowledge was being extinguished in Egypt and the Near East, the torch passed over to India.
Miryamdevi: Miriam (מִרְיָם Mir-yām) is described in the Hebrew Bible as the daughter of Amram and Jochebed and the sister of Moses and Aaron. She was a prophetess and first appears in the Book of Exodus.
It is all in the name actually, the name Miryam suggest the strong connection she had with the sea and water (Yam in Hebrew means sea and the very obvious Mer-Mir). In the Jewish tradition and culture, The Tambourine is widely associated with Miryam and her love for music. Within the circle of Jewish midwifery especially the Israeli ones, Miryam and her mom Jochbed were the first midwives of the Israelites. I relate to all of this as I was born near the sea, I love music and I’m a doula.
The name Miryam is very popular in my family but although all the Miryams’ are very strong women, most of them had very difficult and unhappy lives. When Minanath said that I have to choose a magickal name it didn’t take long for me to understand that I have the chance to take the name Miryam and turn it into a healing name that will heal a long ancestral line of ‘broken Miryams’. Miryam became MiryamDevi and as soon as I started to use it I felt the healing has begun.
Without giving too much away, are you able to say a little more about your family background, ie past and current – ie are you married, children, work – people like a little bit of personal stuff if you ok to share?
I was born in Israel and grew up on the family farm. My dad was a horse breeder so we had lots of horses, I love horses, I love all animals. In my early twenties, I moved to the UK. After my husband died I moved back to Israel. No children. When Mina and I met I was living in Israel. I’m an aromatherapist and a doula.
I always lived in the UK originally from Wales. Divorced with no children. I work in the world of books, selling and occasionally writing them.
Naked Tantra is rather a striking title – can you say that a bit more about that, what does it signify?
The word Naked in this particular connotation – NakedTantra, signifies the naked truth of our practices. NakedTantra is a very intimate and personal book that reveals some secrets about ourselves and the way we do things. When Mina came out with the name NakedTantra I thought it is the perfect name for the book which reveals so much about us. It feels like we are standing naked in front of the reader.
Miryamdevi said it really, although of course, in the first part of the book there is an account of Miryamdevi’s initiation, which like mine a few years back, and like many initiations, requires some nudity as an act of love and trust. There is a fair amount of nakedness in our book. But mostly really it’s what for us is the naked truth – revealing things as we see them. It may not be true for everyone but it is true for us. Perhaps like those energy bars that have no additives, that’s us, pure and honest, as much as it is possible for anyone to remove the mask and record what they did.
Well, that’s the Naked aspect covered. Can you explain something about the Tantrik aspect of the story? Most of our readers will have a general idea of what it means but I think, as there are so many misconceptions, it would be good if you could say what exactly you mean in this context?
Tantra, yes, a massive subject to talk about… The way I see it, it’s all about cycles within cycles, relationships, the balance between physicality and spirituality, SivaSakti and Lingam-Yoni, Yoni-Lingam, Lingam-Lingam, Yoni-Yoni, whatever.. you cannot do all this without some Serpent Power. I think Mina is the person to ask about Tantra for a clearer answer 🙂
What Miryam said is really good. Miryam always has a very down to earth way of expressing things, hopefully, you noticed that in the book. But technically, Tantra is a South Asian, Indian subcontinental esoteric tradition. Like the term Yoga, I think you could translate Tantra with the western term magic, but not everyone will agree and we probably need to argue that more.
In the book Naked Tantra, you list many songs and poems, some of which you wrote or translated yourselves. Are music and poetry very special to you, can you say a little bit about that, why it is so special?
I love music. Music is a big part of my life and there’s always something playing in the background especially when I cook or clean the house, I’ll have the radio on and will sing along and dance to my favourite tunes. I also make lots of playlists. I have playlists that will suit any mood at any time and any day, I’ve got a good ear for mixing tunes and songs and fancy myself as a secret DJ. Music helps me write. It took me ages to write chapter one, I knew what I wanted to say but the words didn’t come out. One day I was listening to the Ganesha mantra and immediately I knew what to write, so I sat down and wrote chapter one. If you read that chapter you’ll see that there are few mantras which are linked to each other, each mantra was like a key that when played the words just came out flowingly without stopping. Poetry is also very special, when Mina and I met we were living in different countries and as we both like to write as much as we like to talk we found ourselves corresponding on a daily basis via emails. Sometimes situations in life can be very lyrical and when I sit down to write about it the words flow out of me in a lyrical rhythm, a poem of sorts some may say. Separation, longing and Karessa can turn one into an enthusiastic poet.
Miryamdevi is the DJ. I like her style. I think we are a little part of a long tradition of mystics such as the troubadours, the Tamil Siddhas, the Bauls etc. Sometimes called courtly love, where the frisson created between two lovers, who are often separated, either by societal rules or physical distance and then their inner fantasies, their emotional energy is sublimated and channelled into poetry and storytelling. So one way or another we did a lot of writing, we still do. We do our magic, as described in the book, and we dream and write, and write and dream. We just hope our readers will enjoy the things we say, be entertained. As they say, first entertain, then educate.
Is the journey in your book, the kind of rituals you describe, would that be for everyone, a beginner or is it only for the expert?
The journey is for anyone that resonates with our story, and the way we practice and dream.
Aleister Crowley, who turned up in our narrative, wrote or channelled “The Law is for All.” So yes, it’s for all. His magick was quite complex but also simple. Some like to talk about elites and special secrets they have, but it’s all out there already really. If it was all so secret we wouldn’t be writing a book about it, and in the tradition, there are thousands of old tantric texts in libraries, why did they write them if not to be read? I suppose the only qualification is the ability to read, understand, dream, do, and become.
What do you think other explorers of this genre would make your work? There are a lot of books already out there, what is it you think you bring to the table that is new?
As I said earlier, the book is about very personal and intimate work. Some might like it and some won’t. Some might say that we lifted the veil of Isis too far … for those, I’ll say “perhaps, but there again, she gives us life”.
Well, we’re not too sure about that. We hope they are entertained. I hope, if there is any shock, it will be of recognition. Some will perhaps question that what we have written, whether we are entitled to say it and whether what we experienced is appropriate. Almost every book these days seems to have to dismiss the connection between western sexual magick and the obscure secrets of real tantra, to dismiss other magicians’ ideas as new age. But then, in the end, these same people will carry on writing about tantra much as we do. So I think we are on the safe ground really, we can argue our corner. And in the end, does it matter? We are part of the same international community of magic that existed in India and Egypt in the past and is with us now. Mystical traditions cannot really be judged, or if they can, it is only by the results, ie pragmatically. Success is becoming.
Ps: I have to say that in the work, Miryamdevi really has, in my opinion, revealed some amazing insights into Jewish magick, something I’ve not seen anywhere before. Or put it this way, although Miryamdevi always denies any formal knowledge of Kabbalah, it just seems to be in her blood, to flow from her naturally. Which is what she says in the book at one moment – women just naturally receive and know these things. I don’t know if this is all women but definitely her.
That’s a lot of questions – can you try and summarise, in a nutshell, the enduring message of this book?
Follow your dreams.
Magic is complex but also simple. It is sometimes said that the gods created the world as a game, remembering how to play, that’s the thing.
Naked Tantra ends on a bit of a cliff-edge – without giving too much away, can you say what happened next in terms of what you are working on now?
Well, it seemed like the right place to stop, although the narrative obviously continues somehow and there are obviously some difficult moments ahead. The story comes to a natural climax, in more ways than one, when we break through our self imposed purdah and come together at a place of obvious power. What happens on the other side of the cliff-edge, that’s in part down to the readers.
What are we doing now? More experiments in the hyperreal – a ritual year and surprise surprise, some angelic conversations, though something very common although at the same time, ignored. It’s the old old story, people look for complexity when what they really need is staring them in the face.