|Absinthe Books X - Aleister Crowley and the Green Goddess
|"What is there in absinthe that makes it a separate cult? ... Even in ruin and in degradation it remains a thing
apart: its victims wear a ghastly aureole all their own, and in their peculiar hell yet gloat with a sinister perversion
of pride that they are not as other men." -- Aleister Crowley
In 1918, Aleister Crowley, the British occultist and so-called "wickedest man in the world," composed a lyrical essay on
absinthe and aesthetics titled "Absinthe - The Green Goddess". He wrote his essay (according to legend, while waiting for a
female companion) in the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans. "Art is the soul of life," he proclaimed, "and the Old Absinthe
House is the heart and soul of the old quarter of New Orleans."
|The opening lines of the poem "L'absinthe" from "The Green Goddess" in Crowley's hand, with
his characteristic phallic A on the word "Apollon".
|A brief biography of Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley was without doubt one of the most influential occult
practitioners of the 20th century. Born in Warwickshire in 1875, he soon
rebelled against the strict Christian-fundamentalist upbringing of his Plymouth
Brethren family. In 1898 he left Cambridge University without taking a
degree, and in the same year published his first book of poetry. It was also
the year in which he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a group
given to the practice of ceremonial magic whose membership included W.B.
Yeats and a number of other well known literary and artistic figures.
In the years that followed Crowley travelled extensively, wrote and published
a large number of poems and some plays, and resigned from the then
strife-torn Golden Dawn. In 1904 whilst holidaying in Cairo, he and his wife
Rose performed a magical ritual which culminated in the reception, by
dictation from a 'praeter-human intelligence' of a document called The Book
of the Law. In short this document announced the commencement of a 'new
aeon,' for which Crowley was to be the prophet. By his own account
Crowley initially rejected The Book of the Law and its implications, but was
eventually won over, and devoted himself to the spread of its teachings.
|The Book of the Law expresses the philosophy of Thelema - thelema being the Greek word for 'will.' The actual meaning of
this is expanded upon in a number of passages, finding its simplest expression in the command 'Do what thou wilt shall be
the whole of the law.' Crowley made a distinction between the "True Will" - described as a unique, inspired purpose that lies
within every individual - and the "conscious will" - ordinary human desires and whims which may in fact run contrary to
one's True Will. To act in accord with your True Will is to find the way of life that is compatible with your innermost nature
and live it to the full.
Crowley revised many of the magical teachings of the Golden Dawn in line with the doctrines of The Book of the Law, and
took them as the basis for his own occult group, the A..A.., whose physical organisation he commenced in 1907. In 1912 he
assumed leadership of the British branch of a German fringe-Masonic group, the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.: Order of
Eastern Templars), which he also infused with his own beliefs and theories.
After spending the war-years in America, Crowley returned to Europe, eventually finding his way to Cefalu in Sicily, where
he founded his 'Abbey of Thelema.' This was visited by a small number of converts from throughout the world, including
Frank Bennett, then head of the O.T.O. in Australia.
By this time Crowley's unorthodox beliefs and activities - which included the use of sex and drugs in occult ritual - had been
the subject of considerable hostile and sensational comment in the press, and as a consequence he was expelled from Italy in
1923. After wandering, often near-destitute, from country to country for a number of years, he returned to more or less
permanent residence in England in 1929. He continued to attract a small number of followers to his magic and 'law of
Thelema,' and it was they who generally underwrote the costs of his often lavish publications. During the Second World
War he moved to a boarding house in Hastings, and it was there that he died in 1947.
Throughout his life Crowley wrote prodigiously, publishing well over 100 books and pamphlets. Although best known now
for his occult writings, Crowley considered himself to be a great poet - once commenting (not entirely with tongue in cheek)
- what a strange coincidence it was that the county of his birth, "should have given England her two greatest poets - for one
must not forget Shakespeare." Perhaps appropriately, both Crowley's first and last published works were volumes of poetry.
|Click on the thumbnails to view enlarged images.
|The printed text of the Green Goddess
essay, showing the placement of the poem.
Click on the thumbnail to enlarge.
|The Green Goddess essay was originally to have been included in the February 1918 issue of The International (New York), pages
47-51. The magazine never published that issue, and an editorial notice the following month simply extends all subscriptions for
an extra month, without explanation. After typesetting, and final correction of page-proofs by the author (from which the piece has
been edited for subsequent published versions), the whole issue was withdrawn. Most likely compliance with the new war-time
sedition laws proved daunting for editor George Sylvester Viereck, who had been openly propagandizing for sympathy with
Germany since 1914. When US soldiers were at last sent in large numbers to Europe at the beginning of 1918, the Congress
suspended many freedoms of expression, and Viereck passed on the actual editorial management of The International to Aleister
Crowley for the last few months before a completely new editorial team assumed control in April of that year.
Here is an English translation of "La Legende de l'Absinthe," the French sonnet quoted in full by Crowley in the essay (and which,
the manuscript draft conclusively proves he himself authored anonymously).
The Legend of Absinthe
Apollo, who mourned at Hyacinthe's demise,
Refused to concede this victory to Death.
Much better that the soul, adept in transformation,
Had to find a holy alchemy for beauty.
Thus with his celestial hand he drained and crushed
The subtlest harvest of the garden goddess,
The broken bodies of the herbs yielding a golden essence
From which we measure out our first drop -- of Absinthe!
In lowly hovels and in glittering courts,
Alone, in pairs, drink up this potion of desire!
For it is sorcery -- as one might say --
When the pale opal wine ends all misery,
Opens beauty's most intimate sanctuary --
- Bewitches my heart, and exalts my soul in ecstasy!
|Scans (from a photostat copy) of another manuscript of the Green Goddess essay, now
in the possession of Jimmy Page, the Led Zeppelin guitarist and a noted Crowley
aficionado. The right hand scan shows the blank space Crowley left to insert his poem.
Click on the images to enlarge.
|Although the Green Goddess essay is by far his best known work amongst absintheurs, it is not the only reference to the drink
in Crowley's writings. Here is an extract from his short story in the Simon Iff series "Suffer the Little Children", originally
published in 1917:
"The wind was somewhat taken out of his sails by the appearance of Simon Iff at dinner in full evening dress. He had ordered
the meal, moreover: oysters, clear green turtle, pompano en papillote, mallard duck au sang with coeur de palmier salad,
bavaroise au chocolat, and a savoury invented by himself consisting of Toast Melba spread with mushrooms, anchovies, olives
and pimento made into a paste. This was covered with bay-leaves, on which was spread a mixture of caviar, raw onions,
ginseng, and Bombay Duck, sprinkled lightly with powdered hashish."
"The wine list was equally elaborate. Cocktails consisting of two teasepoonfuls of liqueur brandy, one of Curacoa, and one of
laudanum preceded the repast. With the oysters he caused Chablis to be served, with the soup Tokay, with the fish Chateau
Yquem. The duck was accompanied by Mumm Cordon Rouge 1904. The sweet was enriched by a marvelous sauce with a
basis of Creme de Cacao, and the savoury fortified with an astonishingly fine Burgundy of incomparable body and bouquet.
The coffee was Turkish, prepared by Simon himself at the table, and perfected by the addition of an aromatic consisting of
essential oil of cedar-wood and ambergris."
"The liqueurs were Green Chartreuse of the original shipping, a particular Absinthe from a private still belonging to a friend of
Simon Iff living in Switzerland among the crags of Jura, and an introuvable Metternich brandy. With the nuts came Château
Margaux, Port, and a Madeira dating from William the Fourth."
This text, contains what must be the earliest known reference to clandestine Swiss absinthe, and adds weight to the belief that
it was manufactured continuously, from before the ban until the present day.
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