Aleister Crowley, Francois Rabelais and the Herb of Thelema
CANNABIS CULTURE – Aleister Crowley is a well known 19th-20th century magician, Francois Rabelais was a 16th century monk, remembered largely for his well known work of satire Gargantua and Pantagruel, what could these two and cannabis have in common?
Possibly the most intriguing renaissance figure involved with the history of cannabis was the 16th century Monk, Alchemist and Bachelor of Medicine, Francois Rabelais, (1494-1553). Rabelais is best known for his hilarious epic adventure Gargantua and Pantagruel. A bold and bawdy satirical tale of two Giants, Gargantua, and his son Pantagruel, the book is equal parts philosophy, sex and fart jokes, slapstick humour, along with outright heresy and a generous a dash of arcane knowledge. As one biographer noted “His large book is a giant-jest uttered by a giant-intellect” (Cochrane, 1843). His mockeries of so much that the church deemed holy “led eminent critics to regard Rabelais as a Papefigue, one who gives the Pope the finger” (Marshall/Zegura 2004). The 19th century literary critic Alphonse de Lamartine was less kind and saw Rabelais as a “poisonous, fetid mushroom born in the dunghill of the medieval cloister, the defrocked monks pig who regaled himself in his dirty sty and loved to spatter his dregs on the face, manners and language of his age” (de Lamartine, 1856). During Rabelais’ own lifetime, his books were condemned by the religious academics of the Sorbonne for their unorthodox philosophy and by the Roman Catholic church for their mockery of certain aspects of the faith.
Gargantua and Pantagruel is of pertinent interest to this article, for the book’s well known cryptic references to cannabis under the name Pantagruelion, as well as for its philosophical influence it has held on later occultists, and cannabis experimenters, particularly Aleister Crowley.
Gargantua and Pantagruel
Rabelais‘ Gargantua and Pantagruel, contained 3 chapters with hidden references to cannabis under the name “pantagruelion”. Hemp was already utilized in Europe at that time, and Rabelais own father was a hemp farmer and a winemaker. Aanthropologist Vera Rubin has noted: “Hashish may have been introduced by returning Crusaders, between the 11th and 13th centuries. Although the precise source and various uses of cannabis during this period are matters of historical conjecture, the Crusaders route may account for Rabelais familiarity with the various properties of cannabis fictionalized as ‘the plant Pantagruelion.’ …Rabelais the physician appears to have recognized the only recently reported analgesic and anti-bacterial qualities of cannabis” (Rubin, 1975).
However, Rabelais the alchemist, recognized much more in this plant, and it is also worth noting that the monumental, Rabelais Encyclopedia, with good reasoning, refers to the herb pantagruelion as “mood-enhancing hashish (cannabis sativa), and the ‘philosopher’s stone’…” (Rigolot/Zegura, 2004). See my own Liber 420, which was dedicated to Rabelais, for a more complete understanding of the role of both Rabelais and the identification of Pantagruelion and its connection to alchemy, which can not be understated, with references to cannabis occurring in the works of alchemists such as Zosimos (3rd-4th century), Avicenna (980-1030) and Paracelsus (1493-1541) .
Crowley and The Book of the Law
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a British poet, Mountain Climber, as well as Magician who incorporated cannabis and other drugs into his magical work. Mostly for his associations with Magick, (a spelling he used to differentiate his occult practices from those of the parlour magician and magic shows) Crowley has continued rise in popularity decades after his lifetime. “….some of his finest writing deals with penetrating analyses of ether and hashish as aids to meditation, and as chemical devices to catapult the psyche headlong into the mystical experience. He contended, among other things, that if the Neophyte could taste the glory of the ineffability of his goals by means of an introductory dose of hashish, he would then be willing to embark upon a life-long program of self-discipline to make the divine intrinsic part of his being.” (Regardie, 1970)
These two figures have a very deep connection. In 1904 Crowley claimed to have received a channeled work, The Book of the Law, from an entity known as Aiwass. The Book of the Law signalled the dawning of a new age, the “Aeon of Horus”, which followed the proceeding Aeons of Isis and Osiris, which by the way were the names of the first two lodges of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which Crowley had formerly been a member of, before leaving to form his own group and publishing some of the Orders secret teachings in a well known scandal. It has been established that Crowley began his experimentation with drugs under the tutelage of Golden Dawn magicians Alan Bennett and George Cecil Jones. Other prominent members are known to have written about and used cannabis and other drugs for magick as well, such as Golden Dawn co-founder Wynn Westcott and the poet magician William Butler Yeats. Pivotal to The Book of the Law, is the term “Thelema” which Crowley felt summarized his philosophy and the Law of Thelema, “Do what thou wilt”. However, centuries prior, in Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel, there is an Abbey of Thelema, and the motto ‘Do what Thou Wilt’, hung over the entrance to the Abbey.
Do What Thou Wilt; because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us. (Rabelais, 1532)
Some have seen this as calling into question Crowley’s ‘reception’ of The Book of the Law. As a member of the quasi masonic secret society that Crowley was the Grandmaster of during his life, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), Bill Heidrick, has noted in the 1995 Thelemic Lodge Calendar, of this situation, in his article on the connections between Crowley and Rabelais: “It’s widely known that Rabelais said ‘Do what thou wilt’, used Thelema and employed an Abbey of Thelema in his Gargantua and Pantagruel four centuries before Liber AL [The Book of the Law]. The old Hell Fire Clubs continued that tradition through variation into the late 18th century. For some, this becomes a question of Crowley faking it. For others, it is more a matter of observing a gradual development of Thelema through the half millennium preceding the Aeon of Horus. In any event, Crowley was equipped to ‘hear’ the word when Aiwass communicated” (Heidrick, 1995).
Crowley himself acknowledged Rabelais’ influence on this in an incomplete and unpublished in his lifetime essay, ‘The Antecedents of Thelema’ (1926);
IT HAS BEEN remarked by some critics of the Law of Thelema that the words “Do what thou wilt” are not original with the Master Therion: or, rather, with Aiwass, who uttered to the scribe Ankh-f-n-khonsu, the priest of the princes, The Book of the Law.
This is true enough, in its own way: we have, firstly, the word of St. Augustine: “Love, and do what thou wilt.”
This is however, as the context shows, by no means what is meant by The Book of the Law. St. Augustine’s thesis is that if the heart be full of Love, one cannot go wrong. It is, so to say, a rider upon the theorem of St. Paul’s thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
Far more important is the Word of Rabelais, Fais ce que veulx [Fr. “Do what thou wilt”]. The sublime Doctor does indeed intend, so far as he goes, to set forth in essence the Law of Thelema, very much as it is understood by the Master Therion himself.
The implications of the context are significant.
Our Master makes the foundation of the Abbey of Thelema the quite definite climax of his history of Gargantua; he describes his ideal of Society. Thus he was certainly occupied with the idea of a new Aeon, and he saw, albeit perhaps dimly, that Fais ce que veulx was the required Magical Formula. (Crolwey, 1926)
Crowley felt that Rabelais’ work not only foreshadowed the coming of The Book of the Law, and the dawning of the Aeon of Horus, he believed the renaissance French author even predicted his own arrival as its Prophet! Crowley asks himself if Rabelais was “aware of the prophetic fire of his immortal book?” in predicting his own Book of the Law, and then answers his own question: “He has fortunately left us in no doubt upon this point… he indicates the Master Therion by name! The very last verse of his oracle runs thus”:
O qu’est a reverer
Cil qui en fin pourra perseverer!
[How praiseworthy he]
[Who shall have perserved even unto the end!]
He who is able to endure unto the end, he insists, is to be blessed with worship. And what is this I will endure unto the end but PERDURABO, the magical motto at his first initiation of the Master Therion?” (Crolwey, 1926)
Perdurabo, (Latin: “I Will endure to the end”) being one of a number of Crowley’s magical titles.
Another way that Rabelais influenced Crowley was in the use of cannabis. Crowley uses an anagram, Alcofribas Nasier, to open an esoteric essay on hashish, De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico, ‘The Most Holy Grass of the Arabs’, that he wrote in 1918, for Liber Alpeh, and which he would reprint in his classic book on the Tarot, The Book of Thoth, which Crowley composed in 1944. Crowley ends Liber Aleph, and proceeds De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico, in The Book of Thoth, with the statement: “I cry aloud my Word, as it was given unto Man by thine Uncle Alcofribas Nasier, the oracle of the Bottle of BACBUC. And this Word is TRINC” (Crowley 1944).
Alcofribas Nasier, is a well known anagram for Francois Rabelais, that Rabelais himself used at times to avoid persecution for his heretical writing. The Bottle of the Bacbuc was the source of the Grail like quest parodied in Pantagruel, and “Trinc” is what was written on the Bottle, which served as an oracle for those who drank from it. In Rabelais et les secrets du Pantagruel, ‘Rabelais and the Secrets of the Pantagruel” Henri Probst-Biraben compares the language used by the priestess Bacbuc, “the Noble Pontiff of the Divine Bottle” to that of the “Adepts” and in the invitation “‘Trinc’ coming from the Divine Bottle. She invites indeed Panurge and His Companions to partake to the Path of Divine Knowledge, as did All the Philosophers and Wise Men of Antiquity… The Outcome of the Symbolic Voyages and Trial Which They Accomplish in the Unground Temple isn’t of materialistic Wine Drinking but of the Spiritual Wine which the Sufis talk of” (Probst-Biraben, 1949). In this regard it should be noted that hashish infused wines was a well known combination in the esoteric circles of the Islamic world. Probst-Biraben went on to suggest that the secret language used in Rabelais work, indicated a lineage with “Christians Hermeticists…, the Templars, the Operating Companions, the Rose-Cross, [and]the Spiritual Alchemists” (Probst-Biraben, 1949).
The Herb Pantagruelion
Appearing at the end of the Tiers Livre, [is]the pantagruelion… It represents the wisdom of the sage Pantagruel and symbolizes the quest for self-knowledge. The chapters dedicated to the description of pantagruelion give, in the tradition of Renaisance writers, an encyclopedic sketch of botany and herbal lore. Rabelais carefully develops the external characteristics of the herb through a detailed description of its various parts and its size. he tells how and when it should be prepared. He then enumerates the several methods known for naming plants in antiquity. For example some were named for their discoverer, as mercuriale for mercury. Others retain the names of their native regions, and still others designate the powers of effects they have. Then, turning again to the pantagruelion, Rabelais shows that these ancient methods of naming plants are precedents for giving it the name of Pantagruel…. The pantagruelion … is a is a symbolic manifestation of Pantagruel, certainly not in external appearance, but in its intrinsic virtue. It not only has great medicinal value, but as hemp from which rope is made, it also serves as a means to the navigational discovery of new lands and knowledge. An agent for milling bread, it equally provides a source of spiritual food… (Masters, 1969)
In reference to pantagruelion’s identification with Hemp, Arthur Chappelle noted that “since a store of hemp was necessary for a long voyage, the meaning is simple and clear. Nevertheless the close association with Pantagruel, the explanation that all civilized arts were derived from Pantagruelion’s miraculous powers, and the striking allusions to burnings, seems to foreshadow quite another meaning, one deliberately abstruse and important” (Chappelle, 1924).
The discussion of pantagruelion and its manifold uses comes about when, Friar John, Panurge and others, join the giant Pantagruel on a Ocean quest. The Quest itself was inspired by the fears of Pantagruel’s cherished companion, the rogue and clown Panurge, who was gravely concerned that he might be made a cuckhold if he marries, and he wishes to seek out an answer from the Oracle of the Holy Bottle, which was located in far off India. In the lists of provisions for the voyage is a store of both raw and confected pantagruelion, the favoured herb of the said giant. As The Rabelais Encyclopedia has noted of this event:
As the companions prepare to the sea and visit the the Oracle of the Holy Bottle, Pantagruel takes on board a large supply of a mysterious product called Pantagreulion, which the narrator… describes a textile plant… with numerous manufactured applications (clothes, rope, sails, etc.). At the same time, Pantagruelion takes on many other forms, including … mood-enhancing hashish (cannabis sativa), and the “philosopher’s stone”… More enigmatically, its many virtues are supposed to bring humans together and make them conquer the universe. (Rigolot/Zegura, 2004).
In Rabelais, Pantagruelion and Utopia (2009) Stewart Pelto has noted this event also makes the philosophy of the Abbey Thelema, nomadic, creating a sort of travelling Temporary Autonomous Zone, through which its message can spread:
Rabelais weaves an illicit thread of intoxication through the fabric of his praise for its industrial applications. Even as he plainly raises his appreciation for canvas sails to a utopian level, Rabelais discreetly instructs his fellow citizens in the science of cannabis: its botanical identification, how to ignite the flowers, a likely side effect, and above all the wine-like nature of the intoxication. He surreptitiously spreads his message of cannabis intoxication through the art of steganography, extending the intoxicating utopia of Thélème to all those who will take a cannabis intoxication trip on the Thalamège. (Pelto, 2009)
Stewart Pelto makes an important point in noting that the name of the lead ship of the fleet, ‘Thalamege’, is a development of the term ‘Thelema’. Through this “…Rabelais transforms his vision of human happiness from a wine-based abbey into a cannabis-based fleet of ships…” (Pelto, 2009). Further, the celebration of intoxication associated with the Abbey of Thelema, is indicated by each sail of the fleet of ships being emblazoned with the image of some sort of drinking vessel. “All the ships that set sail are decorated with symbols of drunkenness in the form of heraldic devices: a bottle, a goblet, a pitcher (amphora), a wooden jug, a glass, a cup, a vase, a wine basket, a wine barrel (Rabelais describes each ship’s device in detail)” (Bahktin, 1965/1884). As Stewart Pelto has noted, these “heraldic devices are placed onto sails of cannabis… These ships of cannabis are designed to expand the wine-inspired message of the abbey to a global scale” (Pelto, 2009). Thus with “the abbey of Thélème now rendered mobile, Rabelais is free to extend his model of peaceful intoxication…”(Pelto, 2009).
Further indicating the use of pantagruelion above and beyond the industrial and even medicinal qualities of cannabis, Rabelais has Pantagruel, the giant hero of his tale, who shared his name with the said herb, load “confected” pantagruelion, along with dried green herbage for a voyage: “amongst other things, it was observed how he caused to be fraught and loaded with an herb of his called Pantagruelion, not only of the green and raw sort of it, but of the confected also, and of that which was notably well befitted for present use after the fashion of conserves.” As one 19th century author noted, this “pantagruelion herb so-greenish and crude that when confected and prepared, was to be none other than hashish” (Bedot, 1860).
Rabelais refers to ‘confected’ pantagruelion, that it is “befitted for present use after the fashion of conserves.” ‘Conserves’ are made with dried fruits and nuts and are cooked. They have a very thick and chunky texture, and Conserves made with pantagruelion of course bring to mind the fore mentioned medieval Mid Eastern delicacies, like dawamesk, the Islamic confection made with hashish, honey and pistachios, and the Moroccan ma’jun, made with honey, ginger, nuts, raisins and other spices, as well as Turkish delight, which was often prepared with hashish. Ingested cannabis in such preparations was more the normal means of using it, as the influence of the pipe smoking via tobacco, had not taken hold as a means of cannabis ingestion yet. Considering the influx of Islamic literature and products of the time, it seems likely there was an awareness of such preparations among the more occult minded, of Europe.
Stewart Pelto suggests Rabelais would have been familiar with confected forms of hashish through its mention in the popular medieval manuscript attributed too al-Hassan al-Wazzan, a Moslem figure who was captured by a Christian pirate and given as a gift to Pope Leo X. Prior to both Rabelais and the account of al-Wazzan, there were other Arabic influenced references that have been widely recognized as identifying hashish in European literature, such as The Decameron (1353), as well, Rabelais also briefly mentions Marco Polo (1254-1324), and thus indicates a familiarity with the tale of the ‘old man of then mountain’ and the obvious associations it brings up with hashish, and thus revealing more evidence of his knowledge of the Arabic world. As well, Rabelais refers to the originally Arabic text, the Picatrix, which contains its own references to hashish incense.
Rabelais, rejected alchemical seekers of material gold, but embraced spagyric alchemy, and even identified his use of herbal infusions in alcoholic preparations. Rabelais also made a curious reference to both a herbal alchemical infusion known as a quintessence and the Holy Grail, which is parodied in the story of Gargantua and Pantagruel in a letter to a friend, telling his companion who will be coming for a visit, that there is “good wine… which is being saved here for your coming, like the Holy Grail, and a second, true quintessence” (Rabelais, to Antoine Hullot, March 1, 1542). The reference to the “true quintessence, a term used in Pantagruel, again brings to mind alchemical formulas and the various quintessences and arcanums that were prepared with cannabis and other substances in this prime period. Rabelais also gives himself the his title, the “Abstractor of Quintessence” in Pantagruel. Clearly there was a lot of experimentation at this time, in regards to herbs for infusion into this medieval alchemical elixir. That Rabelais could have infused cannabis in such a preparation, due to his title, ‘extractor of the quintessence’ seems quite likely.
Rabelais would clearly have been aware of other such preparations, such as Cardano’s cannabis infused aqua ardens M.A. Screech makes a convincing case that Rabelais drew heavily upon Cardano’s work in his composition of The Third Book of Pantagruel, in his essay ‘Girolamo Cardano’s De Sapienta and the Tiers Livre de Pantagruel’. After a convincing comparison of the parallels of the two texts, (mostly regarding Rabelais ridicule of various divination techniques in the Herr Trippa episode mentioned earlier), Screech notes that “…Cardano was not an obscure author. Anyone who had read him would have recognized the general area of learning that Rabelais comedy was acting upon” (Screech, 1963). It has also been suggested that Cardano,may have been the basis for the satirized alchemist like figure Thaumaste (Fraser, 1971), who we shall look at later in this chapter. Cardano as well, has entries that have been identified as descriptions of hashish by translators.
References to the Quintessence also appear in the works of Ramón Lull (1232–1315), who Rabelais was familiar with and, whom like Agrippa he poked fun at in Gargantua’s letter to his Son Pantagruel, referring to him under the name R. Lullius. As noted in Chapter 11 Lull’s own writings on the subject, Der secretis naturae sive quinta essential (On the secrets of nature or the fifth essence) are thought to have been largely borrowed from the works of an unnamed Jewish alchemist, and possibly not ever penned at all by Lull, just falsely attributed too him.
Clearly, Rabelais was familiar with the alchemical art of tincturing, and making quintessences. It is title of the Extractor of the Quintessence, that best identifies Rabelais potential use of a cannabis infused elixir, and like a cannabis infused arcanum, he infused his own work with cannabis by hiding it in there as the mythical herb pantagruelion. As Rabelais described his beloved cannabis, veiled from the profane as pantagruelion: “in this Pantagruelion have I found so much efficacy and energy, so much completeness and excellency, so much exquisiteness and rarity, and so many admirable effects and operations of a transcendent nature that if the worth and virtue therof had been known, when those trees, by the relation of the prophet, made election of a wooden king, to rule and govern over them, it without all doubt would have carried away from all the rest the plurality of votes and suffrages” (Rabelais, 1532).
Crowley would certainly have also been aware of the association of the herb pantagruelion with cannabis via Richard Burton’s A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, (1885), which he read as a student at Cambridge. Undoubtedly he would have noted Burton’s comment identifying Pantagruelion with hashish, as well as his brief but educated overview of the drug’s history. As well, Crowley was known to have acquired and read many classics in this period of his life, and it in this same period that he would have read the works of Rabelais.
…Hashish al haráfísh” = rascals’ grass, i.e. the herb Pantagruelion…. various preparations of the drug are sold at an especial bazar in Cairo. See the “powder of marvellous virtue” in Boccaccio, iii., 8; and iv., 10. Of these intoxicants, properly so termed, I shall have something to say in a future page.”
“The use of Bhang doubtless dates from the dawn of civilisation,… the Persians adopted the drink as an ecstatic, and about our thirteenth century Egypt, which began the practice, introduced a number of preparations to be noticed in the course of The Nights.” (Burton, 1885) (emphasis added) ]
In The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography, the Rabelais enthusiast, Crowley wrote: “the final secret is in the bottle inscribed TRINC.”(Crowley, 1969). In Crowley’s view, a Magus’ philosophy could be summarized in a single word, for him and his law of ‘Do what Thou Wilt’ it was ‘Thelema’ and Crowley is here suggesting that for Rabelais, the summary was in the word ‘Trinc’. In his 1923 Diary notes, for an essay on Rabelais that was never published, Crowley recorded, “Pantagruelion=Elixir or stone: (y) TRINC=ecstasy conferring omnipotence” (Crowley, 1996). It is likely he saw this substance as something relating to hashish. Crowley, also made the following interesting comments to Norman Mudd in 1925, “Pantagruelion. Necessity for Abbey [of Thelema]… Pantagruelion is the material basis of the magical energies, the substance into which you can put any magical energy you desire and will cause the desired result to appear in matter” (Crowley, 1925). It seems clear that Crowley connected this with cannabis.
Although others have failed to acknowledge the role of hashish and peyote in the reception of Liber VII, Crolwey did leave some indications and a sort of tribute to Rabelais. In Liber VII, The Book of Lapis Lazuli, at the height of his cannabis induced voyages into the psychic realm and quite obviously indicative of his inspiration source, Crowley recorded ‘’I am Gargantuan great; yon galaxy is but the smoke-ring of mine incense, Burn Thou Strange Herbs, O God!’’ The reference to Gargantuan here can be seen as a tribute to Rabelais, and his first book Gargantua, as the term still in use, is derived from the name of the main character in Rabelais’ classic, the giant Gargantua. In fact Crowley uses this term again in a direct reference to both cannabis’ and mescaline’s ability to make one laugh at oneself in his later Little Essays Towards Truth; ’
…such drugs as Cannabis indica and Anhalonium Lewinii, which do actually ‘loosen the girders of the soul which give her breathing,’ cause immediate laughter as one of their most characteristic effects:
Oh the huge contempt for the limiting self which springs from the sense of Gargantuan disproportion perceived in this Laughter! Truly it slays, with jolliest cannibal revels, that sour black-coated missionary the serious Ego, and plumps him into the pot. Te-he!–the Voice of Civilization—The Messenger of the white Man’s God–bubble, bubble, bubble! Throw in another handful of sage, brother! And the sweet-smelling smoke rises and veils with exquisite shy seduction the shameless bodies of the Stars!(Crowley 1939)
The line about throwing on another handful of sage is reminiscent of a 1910 account recored in Crowley’s unpublished Diary notes. Crolwey’s diary notes described a London rooftop experiment, that included Victor Neuberg, Charles Stansfeld Jones and Leila Waddell, all of whom would become important figures in the life of the Beast, where “Dried tops [of]Cannabis Indica [were]thrown on glowing prepared charcoal” for the group to inhale. This event must have taken place in what would have been a very smokey room, as eventually Crowley “opened the window for fresh air”. Indicating that mescaline containing extracts were also used around this same period, as Everitt (2016) has noted, the diary recorded, Neuburg sees colours “different to anhalonium” [mescaline].
A 1939 poem dedicated to the artist Bob Chanler, published in Temperance makes Crowley’s reverence in regards to Rabelais and the ceremonial use of drugs, crystal clear:
Oh let us bathe and crown our hair
And drink untempered wine!
Let ever greater cups ensnare
Our souls in traps divine.
Soon calms the season of love’s rage,
And joy grows short of breath;
Birth shoots a shaft, weighed down by age,
That strikes the target, death.
Then come, thou golden goblet brimmed
With lust! Though all be vain,
There’s hope for us, the lion-limbed,
In hashish and cocaine.
Though death should hale us by the scruff
Of neck to’s mouldy portal,
To-night let us get drunk enough
To know we are immortal!
I would suggest that the term lion-limbed, is a reference to pantagruelion, as the body has five limbs (penta), and the “golden goblet”, here an allusion to the Grail, parodied in the story of Pantagruel, as the ‘Holy Bottle’. The poem starts off with a reference to Alcofribas Nasier, which, as noted earlier is an anagram for Francois Rabelais. As noted in The Book of Thoth, Crowley opened his piece on hashish, De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico, with an anagram for Francois Rabelais and this same word “Trinc”. The opening paragraph of this esoteric essay on the herb, gives some indication of Crowley’s own knowledge of cannabis in the first paragraph of the piece:
Recall, O my Son the Fable of the Hebrews, which they brought from the city Babylon, how Nebuchadenezzar the great king, being afflicted in Spirit, did depart from among men for seven years space, eating grass as doth an Ox.” Now this Ox is the letter Aleph, and is that Atu of Thoth whose number is Zero, and whose Name is Maat, Truth or Maut, the Vulture, the All-Mother, being an image of our lady Nuit, but also it is called the Fool, who is Parsifal “der reine Thor”, and so refereth to him that walketh in the way of the Tao… he is in unity with his own secret nature……….
Here in a few brief words, Crowley gives us a taste of his knowledge and beliefs about his beloved hemp. Notably, Crowley refers to the Egyptian Goddess Maat, whose devotees were reputed to have partaken of a sacramental drink, “the liquor of Maat” that was “comparable to the Hindu’s Soma or its Persian counterpart Haoma” (Smith, 1952). Maat, as noted was an image of Nuit, the Egyptian Goddess of the sky, and she is profiled in the first of the three chapters of Crowley’s Book of the Law, where we read “if under the night stars in the desert thou presently burnest mine incense before me, invoking me with a pure heart, and the Serpent flame therein, thou shalt come a little to lie in my bosom”(A.L. 1.61). We can be sure this is a reference to cannabis, as Crowley saw the Egyptian incense of the Pharaoh’s ‘Kyfi’ (kyphi) as a preparation of hashish and made it clear this was instrumental in performing magick. As well Crowley begins the essay with a reference to Biblical indications of hemp use by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and the eating of grass. As we now know cannabis was used in the Near Eastern “sacred rites”, in which all kings took part in. The “Beast” further sees the Biblical analogy to the Ox in the story, as being a cabalistic reference to the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet Aleph, which in fact is symbolic of an Ox and whose number is zero, a number Crowley equated with the fool card, and it is under this card’s designation that De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico, appears under in The Book of Thoth. In some Masonic Lodges, this card is given to the new initiate starting out on the path. Crowley further relates the cannabis initiate to Parsifal, the hero who restores the the Grail, a story which Pantagruel and the quest for the Holy bottle directly parodies, and which also plays an important symbolic role for the OTO as can be seen by the references to the story in the Gnostic Mass, an influence largely attributed to Wagner’s opera Parsifal, which has been claimed to have been created under the inspiration of Hashish! In this regard it is important to remember that Theodore Reuss, who founded the OTO, was a performer in Parsifal and had known Wagner since his youth.
Besides the reference in regards to the Holy Bottle, Rabelais uses the term “Trinc” again, or rather the related french word “trinque”, which is used as a ‘toast”, in ‘The Discourse of the Drinkers’ and the passage really does seem to emphasize the lineage of certain esoteric groups, and again throws light on Rabelais’ own use of this term:
I drink no more than a sponge. I drink like a Templar knight. And I, tanquam sponsus. [bridegroom]And I, sicut terra sine aqua. [like a land without water]
….Pour out all in the name of Lucifer, fill here, you, fill and fill (peascods on you) till it be full. My tongue peels. Lans trinque; to thee, countryman, I drink to thee, good fellow, comrade to thee, lusty, lively! Ha, la, la, that was drunk to some purpose, and bravely gulped over. O lachryma Christi, it is of the best grape! I’faith, pure Greek, Greek! O the fine white wine! upon my conscience, it is a kind of taffetas wine,—hin, hin, it is of one ear, well wrought, and of good wool. Courage, comrade, up thy heart, billy! We will not be beasted at this bout, for I have got one trick. Ex hoc in hoc. There is no enchantment nor charm there, every one of you hath seen it. My ‘prenticeship is out, I am a free man at this trade. I am prester mast (Prestre mace, maistre passe.), Prish, Brum! I should say, master past. O the drinkers, those that are a-dry, O poor thirsty souls! Good page, my friend, fill me here some, and crown the wine, I pray thee. Like a cardinal! Natura abhorret vacuum. Would you say that a fly could drink in this? This is after the fashion of Switzerland. Clear off, neat, supernaculum! Come, therefore, blades, to this divine liquor and celestial juice, swill it over heartily, and spare not! It is a decoction of nectar and ambrosia. (Rabelais, 1532)
In this revealing passage, Rabelais makes a direct reference to the Templar Knights, and the idea that this order was somehow a group of drunkards, does not seem to fit with what we know about them historically. However, it is intriguing in relation to what we have seen about infused wines, and claims that the Templars had an infused preparation known as the “elixir of Jerusalem”, a title for a cannabis infusion that would fit with the sort of “divine liquor and celestial juice” Rabelais referred to. In this last point, we can see an indication of Crolwey’s 1923 Diary note, “Pantagruelion=Elixir or stone: (y) TRINC=ecstasy conferring omnipotence” as well as his view that just as his own philosophy of “Do What Thou Wilt” could be summed up in the Word “Thelema” Rabelais’ secrets of pantagruelion could be summed up in the term “Trinc”: “the final secret is in the bottle inscribed TRINC.”(Crowley, 1969)
In correspondence with the 32* Masonic Brother P.D. Newman, who has also written about psychoactive elixirs in Masonic related rites, I asked him about Rabelais statement “My ‘prenticeship is out, I am a free man at this trade. I am prester mast (Prestre mace, maistre passe.), Prish, Brum! I should say, master past”. Newman responded “As indicated in Samuel Pritchard’s Masonry Dissected (1730), ‘Enter’d ‘Prentice’ is the term which was once used by the fraternity to designate the first degree of Freemasonry, Entered Apprentice. ‘Past Master,’ on the other hand, describes one who has in the past acted in the capacity of Master of a Lodge or ‘Worshipful Master’” (Newman, 2017). The reference to “free man” here as well, may refer to Rabelais as a non working Mason, in a working Masonic Lodge, as up until the 17th century, when Masonry made the transition from Operative to Speculative, non Masonry workers were not allowed into the order. We know that cannabis infused wines were known in French masonic circles by this time, through the 13th century Masonic Lodge book of Villard de Honnecourt, who like the Templars spent time in the Holy Land, and he returned with a book full of not only new insights into the building art of masonry, but with a full page recipe for a cannabis infused wine. Besides discussing the cannabis references, Liber 420 takes a deep look at the many masonic associations that have been claimed for Rabelais’ works.
Clearly, Rabelais played a major role in Crowley’s occult philosophy. In Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass,(1915) Rabelais is depicted as a saint, and in the Beast’s classic ‘Magick in Theory and Practice’,(1912-13) he wrote “The Works of Francois Rabelais. Invaluable for Wisdom”. As with his chosen word “Thelema” and its Law “Do What Thou Wilt” , clearly Crowley saw cannabis as a continuation of the practices and philosophy of the 16th century Monk, Francois Rabelais. Moreover, as I have discussed in Liber 420, both knowledge of Rabelais in this context, and the use of psychoactive sacraments by certain masonic related groups, proceeded Crowley himself. Moreover, there is evidence that this had been in practice for some centuries dating back to Rabelais and further.
That cannabis was used as an initiatory substance in such contexts by Crowley, is clear, as Crowley ended De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico with the comment that, “a man must first be an Initiate, and established in our Law, before he may use this method”. Comments indicating he knew more than he was letting on in writing about it, and this echoed from his 1909 essay Psychology of Hashish: “In order to keep the paper within limits”, he wrote, it would be necessary to keep the article to a scientific nature and use information that was already quite available to the public at large ‘…lest the austerity of such a Goddess be profaned by the least vestige of adornment” (Crowley 1909). Crowley is likely here referring to codes of initiation in one of the occult organizations to which he belonged, and this again is also apparent by the veiled nature of his text in De Herbo Sanctisimo Aribico . As well, this comment indicates Crowley’s belief, stated earlier that drugs alone will not enable the devotee to reach the mystical goal, but also vigorous psychological preparation and study are needed.
As discussed in Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult, We can be near certain that in the 19th century, some forms of the Rose Croix, Memphis-Misraïm, and Scottish rites branches of freemasonry, which were claimed to have descended from rites of the Templar knights centuries earlier, there was a drink was partaken of in certain rituals under various names such as ‘the bitter cup’, and it seems likely that at least some forms of this contained drugs. In reference to the Rose Croix degree of the Scottish rites, Charles Nicoullaud recorded in his L’initiation dans les sociétés secrètes: l’initiation maçonnique: “The Rose+Croix [degree]is to the ordinary Master [Mason degree] what a man who is intoxicated on hashish must be to the vulgar drinker who has recreated himself only with the red blood of the vine” (Nicoullaud, 1913). A statement he borrowed from Jules Doinel, founder of Église Gnostique, and an import an figure in the 19th century occult world. Although Doiniel later rejected Masonry and joined the Church during the era of the Taxil Hoax, he was at one time a keen associate of Papus and other key figures of the French Occult scene. In regards to the hashish he identified in association with the Rose Croix degree, he himself wrote:
One feels proud and triumphant to be Knight of the Rosicrucian. A kind of unexpected prestige surrounds the new title. The degree becomes dear and precious. There is in these capitular meetings a bad and intense joy, which one never experiences, in the big blue boxes. One is distinguished from others, selected, chosen, elected and set apart. One experiences a kind of minute veneration for the rank. We understand the importance of this same grade that gives us, in law, if not in fact, an enormous superiority over the Masters. Strangely enough, all psychological work is done in the transformed self . The Rose-Croix is at the ordinary mason, what the man who has a drunkenness of hashish must be the vulgar drinker who has only been rediscovered with the red blood of the vine. There is also the proud joy of desecration, sacrilege designed, if not depth, of the association of the thinking man to the thought of the King of Angels guilty of identification with Him, of participation in His science, of communion with His Word. There is also the influence of His spiritual Presence . I firmly believe, by an often made experience that Lucifer lectures to Chapter meetings, rarely a manifest presence… (Doinel, 1895)
John Yarker, was a English freemason, who was a big influence on both Crowley and the OTO, and who became the Grand Hierophant of the Memphis-Misraïm. In 1902, in a 1885 letter to fellow Mason Francis George Irwin, displaying the letter-head ‘Ancient and Primitive Rites of Masonry’ wrote the following glowing account of the mystical experience he had received under the influence of cannabis:
“My brother brought me from India some Ganja — what the Turks call Eska and the Syrians Hasheesh. Smoked in a cigarette (as I used it) the Indians call it Bhang. It put me into a peculiar dreaming state and I felt myself at one with the Infinite Mind and whatever subject I thought of passed from the particular to the general. If I thought upon the relation existing between Man and Woman, I beheld myself a portion of the Masculine energy of nature… When I thought of any particular subject it seemed to become one with the Universal Mind, and I felt that at that instant I was one with all the rest of Creation that was thinking the same idea… I thought of the origin of evil, I saw bubbles propelled from the one great source, coming into accidental collision, or as departed entities becoming antagonistic. So it was the vegetable and mineral creations, the essence of these seemed to spring from the one eternal source.”
“….It is quite impossible to describe. in writing, the extraordinary nature of this state, but I mentioned it to a Student of the Occult, who has resided in India, and he told me that a Yoga had told him that he used it for the purpose of obtaining Union with the Infinite, and that whilst taking it he willed the purpose that he desired. (Yarker, 1885)
John Yarker (1833-1913)
In fact many of the figures recorded as historical influences on the OTO can be connected with cannabis, such as Dr. Paschal Beverly Randolph, The Brotherhood of Luxor, Papus, and other influences, so it is clear that this sort of ritual use of drugs, did not originate with Crowley. The french occult scene was particularly infused with hashish, and as noted in Liber 420, at least 12 editions of the Martinsit/Masonic journal, L’Initiation, of which Papus was the director of, contained articles on the use of hashish, and this included references to Rabelais and pantagruelion in this context.
The association with the use of cannabis, opium and other drugs in such Masonic rituals, led to the infamous Leo Taxil scandal and claims of Satanic rites in Freemasonry, and initiations with cannabis infused wines! In this context A. E. Waite, a magician of the Golden Dawn referred specifically to the cannabis infused wine claimed to have been used as ‘the drink of rare old Rabelais’ (Waite, 1887). This scandal led to a direct decline of such practices, and drove any that survived to be more clandestine.
Crowley himself claimed to have undergone such an initiation prior joining the OTO in Chapter XV of Energized Enthusiasm (1913), Crowley describes taking part in a form of the Rose Croix rite in which the High priest “poured out the wine from the flask”:
The High Priestess gave it to the girl attendant, who bore it to all present. This was no ordinary wine. It has been said of vodki that it looks like water and tastes like fire. With this wine the reverse is the case. It was of a rich fiery gold in which flames of light danced and shook, but its taste was limpid and pure like fresh spring water. No sooner had I drunk of it, however, that I began to tremble. It was a most astonishing sensation; I can imagine a man feel thus as he awaits his executioner, when he has passed through fear, and is all excitement.
I looked down my stall, and saw that each was similarly affected. During the libation the High Priestess sang a hymn, again in Greek. This time I recognized the words; they were those of an ancient Ode to Aphrodite… (Crowley, 1913)
Crowley states shortly after: “I became suddenly aware that my body had lost both weight and tactile sensibility. My consciousness seemed to be situated no longer in my body. I ‘mistook myself,’ if I may use the phrase, for one of the stars in the canopy” (1913). One is reminded here of the Crowleyian maxim “Every man and Woman is a Star”. We can be sure that Crowley is referring to the effects of more than just ritual here, and is identifying the use of a psychoactive substance, a note in Crowley’s personal copy of Energized Enthusiasm makes this clear “Anhalonium Lewinnii. The physiologically standardised preparation (Parke, Davies and Co) of Cannabis Indica is also excellent if the administration be in expert hands.”
Anhalonium Lewinnii was the then botanical name for Lophophora williamsi, the peyote cactus. Around the time Energized Enthusiasm was written, Crowley conducted a number of experiments on himself and various volunteers with this drug, intending to write up and publish the results as Liber CMXXXIV, The Cactus in Equinox volume III. The writeup was never finished and the notes were destroyed by H.M. Customs as part of a batch of seized Crowley material. [A Note on Theurgy]
As Patrick Everitt, who has done a great deal to reveal Crowley’s ritual use of peyote, has noted: “This suggests that peyote was Crowley’s preferred substance for generating energized enthusiasm, although hashish was also ‘excellent’ if properly administered” (Everitt, 2016). In this context, I would suggest that Crowley is clearly indicating that the use of peyote in such rituals, came through him, and that earlier use in such Rose Croix initiations utilized a hashish infusion, and possibly other known drugs such as opium. We can be sure that a form of peyote was not used in the Rose Croix initiation that Crowley described, if it took place, as he himself claimed he had introduced such use of it to Europe. Another interesting point about Crowley’s alleged Rose Croix initiation is that he refers to the High Priest’s use of the term “Thelema”, which would indicate the use of this Rabelian term outside of his own circle.
As well, in Secret Rituals of the O.T.O., Francis King notes of the Templar degrees and the bitter cup of that quasi Masonic order: “In the O.T.O. ‘31’ normally indicated laudanum [an opium based tincture], at the time the rituals were composed a perfectly legal substance to use, but any bitter drug could be substituted” (King, 1973). Christopher Partridge, has suggested that Crowley used 31, as a code for mescaline, and this is something I have heard from other OTO members. “Because the initials of the drug, ‘A’ and ‘L,’ correspond to Hebrew letters א) aleph) and ל) lamedh), in accordance with gematria Crowley assigned it the number 31: א=1” (Partridge, 2018). Although use of mescaline in this context, may have been inserted by Crowley later, and replaced the laudanum, or possibly other concoction of hashish, of earlier rituals, the point was it was a psychoactive substance of some kind. Such use was clearly causing a lot of scandal for the O.T.O., a 1922 article in the Detroit Times, makes clear the role of hashish in this regard: “Drugs and their indulgence play an important part in the ritual of the O.T.O., especially ‘hashish’ the exotic drug of the Orient”
This entheogenic initiatory role of drugs in the OTO was recently revisited in a number of scenes in the fictionalized mini-series Strange Angel about OTO initiate Jack Parsons, (1914-1952). That Parsons was experimenting with drugs at this time, is illustrated by a poem he published in 1943 in the OTO’s Oriflamme, which seems to echo similar themes to Crowley’s 1939 poem ‘Trinc’:
I hight Don Quixote, I live on peyote,
marijuana, morphine and cocaine,
I never know sadness but only a madness
that burns at the heart and the brain.
I see each charwoman, ecstatic, inhuman,
angelic, demonic, divine.
Each wagon a dragon, each beer mug a flagon
that brims with ambrosial wine.
Martin Starr’s The Unknown God, also make it clear, that drugs were in use in the early Canadian and American branches of the OTO in to the late 40s at least, as well,not only being used at lodges, he also refers to cannabis being grown by at least one prominent member, and this led to legal problems in that time period as well.
Current OTO literature on the subject records that the “original ritual specified blood and laudanum. The use of either of these substances is [now]against O.T.O regulations for very sound reasons of medical and legal liability. See O.T.O Safety Memorandum, appendix. Bitter substances that work well include Angostura bitters, Fernet Branca, or a mixture of vodka and powdered myrrh”.
Covert use and suppressed history…
Confounding things further, even before drugs were prohibited, Crowley himself made clear attempts to hide his personal use of cannabis while he was alive. For instance, it was only after the publication of his 1906 diaries that his use of hashish to achieve the state of ‘Samadhi’ was identified. This was a very important point in his journey to realization, and something he publicly made reference to, while leaving out his use of hashish. As a result, this important factor is overlooked. As Lawrence Sutin (who can take a lot of credit for bringing this aspect of history behind Crowley’s samadhi experience to light) noted in Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley Crowley struggled for years on whether his experiences with hashish in 1906, constituted a genuine method of spiritual attainment. As Sutin has expressed.
…Crowley—for all his training in yoga—found it difficult to separate the experience of Samadhi from the influence of hashish…. Crowley adopted the fatalistic teachings of… Ananda Metteyya: One’s attainment is predestined by karma—the turning wheel of existence. Crowley, who believed his own place o have been most fortunate, thus relegated hashish to a tangential role in his attainment of Samadhi… Crowley argued that he could spur attainment of Adonai (a designation for his Holy guardian Angel) through hashish “and the truth of it would have been 5 per cent. drug and 95 per cent. magic; but nobody would have believed me….”[Crowley, 1909, John St. John] He feared public reaction to his use of hashish in this context. (Sutin, 2014)
This fear may have resulted in the somewhat veiled references to hashish in some of Crowley’s later writings. However, this concern was clearly not enough to end his use of cannabis and other substances in ritual magic, but perhaps enough to veil it from the uninitiated.
Unfortunately this has led to this aspect of Crowley’s work often being downplayed or overlooked. Richard Kaczynski’s Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (2002) probably the most thorough Crowley biography to date, by the most respected of Thelemite historians, does not refer to the use of hashish, when identifying Crowley’s achievement of Samadhi, recording only of the date that “He expereinced Shivadarshana, the vision of Shiva. He entered the trance of samadhi, union with the Godhead” (Kacynski, 2002). Crowley’s diary entries from this date, however, make the use of hashish very clear:
Hashish 10. p.m. acting — taken at 8. Many very strange illusions of sight, sense of proportion, locality, illusions of muscular distortion, the pen actually writing good legible English, but appearing to do so only as of two counterpoises. (Hours to write that sentence — and this) None of the illusions seriously interfere with small fine coordinated movements. I think of a word and forget it before I can write it down. This happens by lapses: a question of attention held and released. (Crowley, Oct. 9, 1906)
Despite the lack of entries from later that night, we can be sure he found success with this method, as the next day he recorded. “I am still drunk with Samadhi all day.” (Crowley, October 10, 1906). In his essay The Pyschology of Hashish, Crolwey even notes that certain “Yogis employed hashish… to obtain Samadhi, that oneness with the Universe, or with Nothingness…” (Crowley, 1909). When I questioned Kaczynski about this, “Hey Richard, loving the book, but just wondering, when you write about Crowley’s October 9th, 1906 account of achieving samadhi, why did you leave out the hashish?” he responded:
You had previously asked why I didn’t say more about the role of drugs in Crowley’s magick. One piece of it is that I think people have overplayed the role in negative ways (eg., “he was a lifelong heroin addict,” which is untrue), and I may have been unintentionally downplaying that angle, though I don’t think I shied away from his experimentation. Also, while the work of people like you and Patrick Everitt have explored questions that haven’t been asked before, I also feel like some of it is speculative and needs to be researched a little more conclusively. (Kaczynski, personal correspondence, 2018).
To be clear, the role of hashish in Crowley’s experience of Samadhi, specifically, is in no conceivable way ‘speculative’ and it is a historical fact. Kaczynski, whom I have a great deal of respect for as an occult historian, has written on addiction as well as worked at the Addiction Research Institute at Wayne Statue University’s School of Medicine, and I can’t help wondering if his experiences working in this realm may have influenced his regard for the use of ‘drugs’ to some extent. He noted to me that his focus has been more “on how Crowley’s thinking about drugs and addiction differed from how his contemporaries thought about and treated it, how it compared to more modern approaches to treatment, and dispelling some myths around Crowley’s drug use” (Kaczynski, personal correspondence, 2019). In this regard it should be noted that Crowley suffered addiction issues with both cocaine, as well as heroin, which he had been prescribed for asthma, he wrote about his own personal struggles and his novel Diary of a Drug Fiend, deals at length with addiction as well. It should also be noted, that on occasion Kaczynski does address Crowley’s experimentation with cannabis and peyote, and he has in no way avoided the subject entirely, and he has written an article for High Times magazine, addressing some of the misconceptions about his addiction to heroin while acknowledging Crowley’s pioneering explorations with other psychoactive substances. I just see this use of it in Crowley’s own experience of Samadhi being chemically induced is something that was relevant enough to have been noted in his biography, and leaving it out is a fine example of how the history of this plant gets buried.
This is far from the only place, modern writers on Crowley have left out this sort of information. As Patrick Everitt has noted, even Crowley’s own student, Israel Regardie, in his classic Roll Away The Stone: An Introduction to Aleister Crowley’s Essays on the Psychology of Hashish (1968) which discusses hashish at length, does not connect them to the 1907 Holy books , which were the product of their use, noting that “Perhaps Regardie had never read the un-redacted diaries” that revealed that?
More surprising is the fact that when Marcelo Ramos Motta (1931 – 1987) published the 1906 and 1907 diaries with his own annotations in 1981, he made no comment relating the reception of Liber 7 to the considerable quantity of hashish ingested mere hours earlier. Similarly, in his preface to the Holy Books written in 1982, Hymenaeus Alpha [Grady Louis McMurtry] (1918 – 1985) makes no reference to hashish during his analysis of the reception of Liber 7 , despite the fact that he even quotes the diary entry of 30 October 1907. McMurtry simply states that ‘all of these Holy Books were penned during high trance’… Clearly some of Crowley’s followers… passed over the obvious hashish connection in silence” (Everitt, 2016).
As Martin Starr has noted, Motta, actually gave the police testimony against his OTO brother Louis Culling, who had supplied him with some of the Cannabis Indica he had grown. It should be noted the modern OTO has decidedly moved away from such organized practices and the use of drugs, after a number of legal investigations and scandals in the 70s and 80s. As Tom Lyttle, the late editor of Psychedelic Monographs and Essays, commented on his former involvement with the OTO:
“I still know people in that trip, but I lost interest a long time ago… The head of the lodge I was involved with was a cocaine dealer and has since served several prison terms. A lot of spiritual juvenile delinquents basically.” There is a more strict observance to pure, non-drug practices as of 1993…that incudes getting a drug element OUT.” (From an interview in Crash Collisions, 1993.)
This current fraternal prohibition stands in the face of Crowley’s own philosophy and endorsements of the ritual use of such substances, and perhaps even in the origins of Thelema itself.
Was Crowley High when he was delivered The Book of the Law and his word Thelema?
Undeniably, the most important of all of Crowley’s esoteric writings is his short and mysterious Book of the Law, aka Liber AL. Crowley produced the book in Cairo during 1904, well he was travelling with his first wife, Rose. He claimed the text was channeled by an unseen entity known as Aiwass… however I think a case could be made that both Crowley and his wife, Rose, who aided in the transmission, were likely stoned out of their gourds during the process of this magical operation! A theme that other researcher’s, such as Patrick Everitt have also expressed. “Hashish was probably used during the actual writing of Liber Legis [The Book of the Law], as it was later used to facilitate the writing of Liber 7 [The Book of Lapis Lazuli]” (Everitt, 2016). As Timothy Wyllie has also noted of the events surrounding the reception of the Book of the Law:
After Crowley had experienced some intriguing synchronicities following a magical rite invoking Thoth, for which he was doubtless well stocked with excellent hashish, he came to believe he was hearing the disembodied voice of his “Holy Guardian Angel,” Aiwass. He spent the next few days taking dictation from Aiwass, and from this emerged his most seminal work, The Book of the Law. (Wyllie, 2014)
Such a scenario has also been proposed by George Pendle in Strange Angel:
Crowley married his first wife, Rose Kelly, in 1903. He dubbed her his Scarlet Woman, a term he used for women who acted as his spiritual mediums. Rose travelled with him to Cairo in 1904… Once there, Rose fell into a hashish-induced trance and announced to Crowley that Horus—the falcon-headed god of ancient Egyptian mythology—was waiting for him. rose told him that he was to go to the temple he had constructed in their Cairo apartment for his magic rituals. Crowley obeyed his wife’s commands and, according to his own account, in the temple he heard a man’s voice begin to speak from over his shoulder. Crowley wrote down every word the voice said, and by the time it had finished speaking, he had written what he entitled The Book of the Law. (Pendle, 2006)
Crowley claimed that Liber Al, i.e. The Book of the Law, signalled the dawning of a new age, the “Aeon of Horus”, and Pivotal from The Book of the Law, is the term “Thelema” which Crowley felt summarized his philosophy and law of Thelema, “Do what thou wilt”. Whether this altered state inspired his poetic sub-conscious or opened him up a spiritual channel to a messenger of Egyptian deities remains an open question. However, the latter requires the belief that Aiwass took time off his duties as messenger of the Egyptian gods during the 16th century to familiarize himself with the works of the mortal Francois Rabelais (1494-1553), from whence these terms originate and where Crowley himself learned them. As noted earlier, in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, there is an Abbey of Thelema, and the Law of Thelema was ‘Do what Thou Wilt’, a motto which hung over the entrance to the Abbey. Like cannabis, the role of Rabelais in Crowley’s conception and philosophy of Thelema, is often downplayed, for instance the most authoritative biography, Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley, has but a few extremely brief entries on Rabelais. Likewise with Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley which uses its own brief mention to play the connection down, whilst using Rabelais motto as a title! But as we can see here, this is a core aspect of Crowley’s own philosophy that he himself acknowledged and paid tribute to.
The terms Thelema and “Do What Thou Wilt” in The Book of the Law may even be indications that pantagruelion was at play in the ecstasy of Trinc, when Crowley composed it, which would be fitting as Crowley himself claimed Alcofrabias Nasier had predicted both book and prophet! As The Book of the Law itself records “I am the Snake that giveth Knowledge & Delight and bright glory and stir the hearts of men with drunkeness. To worship me take wine and strange drugs whereof I will tell my prophet, & be drunk thereof !”(II:22). The idea that such divine intoxication may have inspired The Book of the Law, can not go without question, as Crowley himself noted in his 1909 scientific essay on hashish, preceding the entheogenic theories on the origins of religion of R. Gordon Wasson, Terrence Mckenna, Carl Ruck, myself and others by more than half a century, the Beast went so far as to speculate that “this ceremonial intoxication constitutes the supreme ritual of all religions.”
Crowley’s philosophy of ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ was summarized in ‘Thelema,’ a motto and word borrowed from the alchemist monk Rabelais, whom the Beast says summarized his own philosophy of cannabis induced entheogenic inspiration in the single word ‘Trinc’.
Some of the above material appeared in Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal Herbs and the Occult , and other parts while be appearing in the forthcoming Aleister Crowley and the Herb Dangerous (2020 release date).