Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis: An introduction

“We are the Poets! We are the chil­dren of the wood and stream, of mist and moun­tain, of sun and wind! We are the Greeks! and to us the rites of Eleu­sis should open the doors of heaven, and we shall enter in and see God face to face. Under the stars will I go forth, my broth­ers, and drink of that lus­tral dew: I will return, my broth­ers, when I have seen God face to face and read within those eter­nal eyes the secret that shall make you free. Then will I choose you and test you and instruct you in the Mys­ter­ies of Eleu­sis, oh ye brave hearts, and cool eyes, and trem­bling lips! I will put a live coal upon your lips, and flow­ers upon your eyes, and a sword in your hearts, and ye also shall see God face to face. Thus shall we give back its youth to the world, for like tongues of triple flame we shall look upon the Great Deep — Hail unto the Lords of the groves of Eleusis!”

Aleis­ter Crow­ley in “Eleusis”

In order to induce this reli­gious ecstasy in its high­est form Crow­ley pro­poses to hold a series of reli­gious ser­vices; seven in num­ber. These ser­vices are to be held at Caxon Hall, West­min­ster, and will be con­ducted by Aleis­ter Crow­ley him­self, assisted by other Neo­phytes of the A.A., the mys­ti­cal soci­ety ( not the com­mon group now using these same letters)

The seven ser­vices will be typ­i­cal of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man, and each one will be ded­i­cated to the Planet that rules its par­tic­u­lar age. For exam­ple, Sat­urn “the lean and slip­pered pan­taloon,” or sad old age. Jupiter the solemn and por­ten­tous jus­tice, the seri­ous and serene man who has arrived and con­trols. Mars the sol­dier, full of energy and life, vig­or­ous and for­mi­da­ble. Sol the man who has still some­thing of his youth left, and is gay betimes and seri­ous betimes, the man who loves and the man who works. Venus explains itself in Shakespeare’s words “the lover with a woe­ful bal­lad.” Mer­cury the school­boy, happy, care­less and gay, mis­chie­vous and full of ani­mal life. Luna the age of child­hood and inno­cence, unsmirched and white as the planet herself.

Each will have its own rit­ual, arranged for the pur­pose of illus­trat­ing the par­tic­u­lar deity to which it is devoted; each rit­ual will be both poetic and musi­cal. Verses of the great poets appro­pri­ate to the planet and all that the planet rep­re­sents will be recited, and the ideas sug­gested to the spec­ta­tors will be trans­lated into inspired music by a accom­plished vio­lin player. There will fur­ther be mys­ti­cal dances by a bril­liant young poet who thus draws down the holy influence.

We put the mind of the spec­ta­tor in tune with the pure idea of aus­ter­ity and melan­choly which we call Sat­urn, or the idea of force and fire which we call Mars, or with the idea of nature and love which we call Venus, and so for the oth­ers. If he becomes iden­ti­fied with this one idea the union is one of ecsta­tic bliss, and its only imper­fec­tion is due to the fact that the idea in ques­tion, what­ever it may be, is only par­tial. Ecstasy is there­fore pro­gres­sive. Grad­u­ally the adept unites him­self with holier and higher ideas until he becomes one with the Uni­verse. To him there is no more Death; time and space are anni­hi­lated; noth­ing is, save the intense rap­ture that knows no change for ever.

Let us add a short analy­sis of the present series of rites; they may be taken as illus­trat­ing Human­ity, its fate both good and evil. Man, unable to solve the rid­dle of exis­tence, takes coun­cil of Sat­urn, extreme old age. Such answer as he can get is the one word despair.

Is there more hope in the dig­nity and wis­dom of Jupiter? No; for the noble senior lacks the vigour of Mars the war­rior. Coun­sel is in vain with­out the deter­mi­na­tion to carry it out. Mars, invoked, is indeed capa­ble of vic­tory: but he has already lost the con­trolled wis­dom of age; in the moment of con­quest he wastes the fruits of it, in the arms of luxury.

It is through this weak­ness that the per­fected man, the sun is of dual nature, and his evil twin slays him in his glory. So the tri­umphant Lord of Heaven, the beloved of Apollo and the Muses is brought down into the dust, and who shall mourn him but his Mother Nature, Venus, the lady of love and sor­row? Well is it if she bears within her the secret of resurrection!

But even Venus owes all her charm to the swift mes­sen­ger of the Gods, Mer­cury, the joy­ous and ambigu­ous boy whose tricks first scan­dal­ize and then delight Olym­pus. But Mer­cury, too, is found want­ing. Not in him alone is the secret cure for all the woe of the human race. Swift as ever, he passes, and gives place to the youngest of the Gods, to the vir­ginal Moon.

Behold her, Madonna-like, throned and crowned, veiled, silent, await­ing the promise of the future. She is Isis and Mary, Istar and Bha­vani, Artemis and Diana. But Artemis is still bar­ren of hope until the spirit of the Infi­nite All, Great Pan, tears asun­der the veil and dis­plays the hope of human­ity, the Crowned Child of the Future. All this is sym­bol­ized in the holy rites which we have recov­ered from the dark­ness of his­tory, and now in the full­ness of time dis­close that the world may be redeemed.

For the cor­rupt­ible shall put on incor­rupt­ibil­ity, the mor­tal shall put on immor­tal­ity; my adepts shall walk crowned in the Gar­dens of the World, enjoy­ing the breeze and the sun­light, pluck­ing the roses and fill­ing their mouths with ripe grapes. They shall dance in the moon­light before Diony­sus, and delight under the stars with Aphrodite; yet they shall also dwell beyond all these things in the unchanged Heaven– Here and Now

Reprinted from “The Sketch” of 24th August 1910

“Work­ing on tra­di­tion, just as Wag­ner did when he took the old Norse Saga for his world drama, we find Sat­urn as a Black, Melan­choly God, the devourer of his chil­dren. Ideas of Night, Death, Black Helle­bore, Lead, Cypress, Tombs, Deadly Night-shade. All these things have a nec­es­sary con­nec­tion with Sat­urn in the mind of any­one who has read the clas­sics. The first con­di­tion of this rite is, then, to make the tem­ple a kind of sym­bolic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the sphere of Sat­urn. So the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Sat­urn wears the Black Robe. The time is declared to be mid­night (though, as a mat­ter of fact, it is only twenty min­utes past eight — this is an ordi­nary the­atri­cal con­ven­tion, and the masons will think of cer­tain analo­gies in their own “Orgies”). If the Brethren are fed, it is “on the corpses of their chil­dren” as Sat­urn fed on his. If they drink, it is “Poppy-heads infused in blood” — sym­bols of sleep and death. Sat­urn fur­ther rep­re­sents the earth, the plane of mat­ter, human­ity bounded by old age and death, human­ity blindly grop­ing after illu­mi­na­tion and fail­ing to get it.”

Aleis­ter Crow­ley in “The Rites of Eleu­sis. Their Ori­gin and Meaning”

This atten­tion to occult and tra­di­tional sym­bol­ism was car­ried through by Crow­ley into the design and set­ting of the stage itself. Even the posi­tion of the char­ac­ters at the open­ing of each Rite was, in con­junc­tion with the props, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of some piece of occult sym­bol­ism which Crow­ley felt to be appro­pri­ate. Thus the open­ing scene in The Rite of Sat­urn pre­sented a cab­bal­is­tic dia­gram, that of Jupiter the “Wheel of For­tune of the Tarot”, Mars an astro­log­i­cal plan, and so on.

It was the com­pe­tence of the soloists that really car­ried the Rites, and accounted largely for what­ever mod­est suc­cess they enjoyed. Leila Wad­dell with her vio­lin, Crow­ley with his recita­tions, and (Vic­tor) Neuburg with his dance, each seemed to cap­ture some of that ecstasy of which Crow­ley spoke, and if any of it was trans­mit­ted to the audi­ence it was through their enthu­si­asm. Vic­tor Neuburg with his wild dance was, by pop­u­lar con­sent, the most impres­sive of the per­form­ers. Untrained in any form of dance as such, Neuburg had either devel­oped the per­for­mance spon­ta­neously, or more likely evolved it from his obser­va­tions of tribal “trance dances”.

The com­pe­tence of its soloists was not, how­ever, enough to make a suc­cess of the Rites. Already weak­ened by inad­e­quate finan­cial back­ing and haste of prepa­ra­tion, they were crushed alto­gether under the weight of hos­tile crit­i­cism. Rather then mak­ing a profit for the A.A., as Crow­ley had intended, the per­for­mances prob­a­bly scarcely cov­ered costs.

What is cer­tain is that the Rites of Eleu­sis Stand as a (largely for­got­ten) land­mark in the his­to­ries of both the occult and the the­atre. Half a cen­tury before the “exper­i­men­tal the­atre” of the six­ties and the sev­en­ties, Crow­ley and his small band were pio­neer­ing a form of the­atre with tran­scen­den­tal manip­u­la­tions and a level of audi­ence involve­ment until then undreamed of. “Ahead of its time” The Rites of Eleu­sis accord­ingly suf­fered the usual fate of the boldly experimental.

Quotes from Keith Rich­mond in “The Rites of Eleusis”

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