A Reevaluation of the Literary Works of Edward Alexander [Aleister] Crowley
Serra, Charles Nicholas
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For the last fifty years the poetry and prose of Edward Alexander [Aleister]Crowley (1875-1947) has been systematically ignored by scholars and critics on the narrow grounds that it deals with the occult sciences, is pornographic, or simply because detractors did not agree with Crowley's personal philosophy or life. Since the mid 1970's, however, academics have become increasingly interested in the mystical and occult content of William Butler Yeats's poetry, praising it for the same characteristics which have always been labeled "defects" in Crowley's work. Section One, "Yeats and the Golden Dawn," describes the formative matrix to which both men belonged, and to a certain extent their relations with each other as members of an esoteric fraternity. It comes as no surprise that the magical system of the Golden Dawn shaped the poetry of both; however, one finds that the mystical content is much more pronounced in Crowley's poetry as typified in six pieces from this period of his life. Among these also is one which has traditionally been considered a detraction due to its "pornographic" content. A close examination is given to the topics of sex and mysticism as Crowley perceived them. Section Two, "Augoeides, Maturity and Mysticism," explores and analyzes how Crowley advanced on his own after the original Golden Dawn split into various schismatic subgroups, again as typified by six works of poetry and prose. Though the emphasis is on Crowley's maturation as both a poet and an adept, so that the thread of symbolism from the Golden Dawn forms a basis for comparison, other experimental pieces which are of only marginal magical significance are considered in order to portray the breadth of his interests. Section Three, "Literary Decline, the War Years," focuses on the work which Crowley did at the end of his life, and how he was influenced by the trend of world events to write in "popular" forms. It further traces the germ of the Golden Dawn magical system through the permutations of Crowley's own "magickal" belief, and gives a picture of the poet as he was at the end of his life. My thesis suggests, quite simply, that Crowley was a poet whose work demands a critical reappraisal, If modern critics still used the mores of Victorian culture as a yardstick to judge the "worth" of a piece of writing, then perhaps this would not be necessary. That this measure is not still in use is evidenced by the recent trends in Yeats scholarship. This being the case, it is obvious that Crowley's writings should be given more than a passing glance. The question of which of the two is better is immaterial to the discussion; if one applies a new standard, as has been done with Yeats and his occult interests, then all who fit under its aegis deserve like treatment.
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