home esoterica Original binnallofamerica.com Audio the United States of Esoterica merchandise contact

A.M. Murphy
Contact A.M. Murphy
A.M. Murphy's website
Not Always So ... Archive

Not Always So


Big Brother and Soror Mystica

I once made the acquaintance of a very venerable personage - in fact, one might easily call him a saint. I stalked round him for three whole days, but never a mortal failing did I find in him. My feeling of inferiority grew ominous, and I was beginning to think seriously of how I might better myself. Then, on the fourth day, his wife came to consult me.... Well, nothing of the sort has ever happened to me since. But this I did learn: that any man who becomes one with his persona can cheerfully let all disturbances manifest themselves through his wife without her noticing it, though she pays for her self-sacrifice with a bad neurosis. - Carl Gustav Jung

What is the use of being a woman if you have not got an intuition, an instinct enabling you to distinguish between the genuine and the sham? - Aleister Crowley

Magician Aleister Crowley. Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. These men were the two greatest esoteric minds of the twentieth century, and whether most contemporary occultists realize it or not (and many don't) anyone doing esoteric work today walks along paths cleared by these two august gentlemen. And gentlemen they were.

Crowley was born into money. A natural performance artist long before anyone thought up the term, Crowley was always flamboyant. A famous photo shows him wearing a triangular hat that appears to be made of papier-mache. Later in life, his body emaciated by decades of heroin use, he posed in dramatic silhouette, one claw raking the air like Nosferatu. But flamboyance is itself a kind of upper-class privilege, and only the bravest of us regular folk grab at it for ourselves.

Carl Jung had a more modest upbringing than Crowley did, and his status as a respected doctor was clearly important to him. People meeting Jung for the first time were often surprised to see that the noted mystic dressed more like an accountant, usually in an impeccable suit. Though Jung was relaxed in analytic sessions, outwardly he was the image of a doctor and responsible citizen, and may have been one of the first doctors to jet around on the weekends in the symbol of modern "success," a little red sports car.

Behind closed doors, both Jung and Crowley had unorthodox personal lives, as many great men do, especially when it came to sex. This is almost to be expected; as Frank Zappa once pointed out, "without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible." But like Picasso, another Great Man of the twentieth century, Crowley and Jung used the multiple women in their lives as raw material for their own individual versions of the Great Work.

Both Crowley and Jung possessed significant psychic abilities of their own. Crowley channeled what he considered his most important work, Liber Al (or The Book of the Law) by himself, but this was not his normal process. More typically, he used his various girlfriends and female lovers as his mediums and, if they were not natural psychics, he augmented their abilities using drugs, alcohol, ritual, or just abusive treatment. Crowley's so-called Scarlet Women were not usually magicians themselves or even "conscious" psychics; Crowley would often have to throw the I Ching just to figure out what they were babbling about. But it worked for him.

Sadly, most of Crowley's Scarlet Women did not fare well after he was through with them. Most turned to drink, prostitution, or the asylum.* By venturing unprepared into such deep waters, the Scarlet Women risked the total destruction of their psyches. It is unlikely that most of them were versed enough in occultism to fully understand the danger, but Crowley would have. To Aleister Crowley, who had never been a family man, the destruction of his Scarlet Women was only a means to a greater end. As he famously chided one female student, "I am afraid you have still got the idea that the Great Work is a tea-party."

A tea-party it was not. The Great Work was a journey that, in Crowley's view, one had to do more or less alone. Perhaps Crowley saw his girlfriends as the mysterious prima materia (literally, "first matter") of the alchemists, that supposedly-common-but-never-outright-named "stone" that is the first ingredient in the Great Work. It is from the prima materia that one creates the Philosopher's Stone, which has the power to transmute lead into gold -- or, to strip away the metaphor, to turn the ordinary man into an enlightened being. The prima materia itself doesn't achieve the enlightenment, of course; it is just a tool to help the process along. Crowley saw his Scarlet Women, then, as rather like unrefined mirrors to be polished.

On the other hand, Jung believed that the prima materia was not a physical stone, but the unconscious mind of the human being. Though Jung explored his own unconscious to a great degree, he learned the most from analyzing his female patients.** Jung wrote, "One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious." He aimed to accomplish the Great Work by pulling out all the demons that dwelt in the uncharted depths of his female patients' minds; Crowley was doing much the same thing when he attempted to conjure dozens of demonic beings on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland.

It's crucial to note that, in contrast to the Scarlet Women, Jung's muses tended to improve under his care. Jung enjoyed the mutually beneficial therapeutic relationships so much that he popularized the term soror mystica (meaning, roughly, "sister in the Work"). For the first time, alchemy was not practiced on one's own in jealously guarded secrecy, but could be shared and worked upon by two people.

It's easy to appreciate the beauty of the female physical form, even for those not sexually inclined in that direction, but what is it about the women's unconscious minds that so tempted the razor-sharp intellects of Crowley and Jung? Women may have been mysterious to them, and Jung's mentor Freud did famously wonder what it was that women really wanted, but the female gender was also widely perceived as a lower life form unworthy of much serious attention.*** Even the relatively egalitarian Jung was not exactly one to think outside the box when it came to political matters; he is still widely criticized by many contemporary scholars for his perceived lack of anti-Nazi zeal.

These two men must have seen something uniquely powerful but latent in the female psyche, something so enticing that they attempted to reach in and make use of it themselves. Did they see a window to another world, or perhaps some kind of Pandora's box? Whatever waits inside the female mind, perhaps its power cannot be truly activated until a woman comes along who can fully grasp it herself. Maybe it's time that she leads the way.

* There is no full historical record of what became of Crowley's female lovers, not even anything approaching a complete list of names. This ambiguity, and a certain facial resemblance between the two, has led to an amusing (and doubtless apocryphal) Internet myth that Crowley is the illegitimate father of former First Lady Barbara Bush.

** His wife and long-term mistress (both of whom also practiced as psychoanalysts) were the real discoverers of many of the insights that Jung is best known for, such as the concept of the anima and animus.

*** Readers who doubt this are encouraged to consider the lack of contemporary medical research into certain portions of the female anatomy.