ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
to ignore those features which were disturbing to Westerners. For instance, while Hinduism is rich in goddess cults, women are still highly repressed in orthodox Hindu society. Blavatsky emphasized the importance of goddesses, but tended to ignore ancient Indian customs such as sati, the obligation of widows to throw themselves on the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands. Blavatsky, who flourished during the late nineteenth century, sought the “true” religion underlying or beyond all specific religions, and believed that she had found it in Buddhism/Hinduism as revealed to her by immortal masters whom she called “adepts,” and whom she supposedly contacted when she visited Tibet as a young woman. Whether or not she ever traveled to Tibet, many modern occultists hold that she did, and furthermore, that she communed with her adepts while she was in New York or in Madras, India. There is a very strong Gnostic component in Blavatsky’s doctrines and also in that of other occultists such as Aleister Crowley, Gerard d’Encausse, and the founder of modern occultism, Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Constans). All essentially subscribe to the same idea as that advanced by Blavatsky, that there is a universal religion which underlies the world religions, basic truths shared by all. Indeed, in large measure, Blavatsky and other occultists were largely responsible for the interest in world religions which led to the emergence of the study of religion as an academic discipline.
Aleister Crowley and Do What Thou Wilt
Crowley, the son of a brewer who produced Crowley’s Ales, grew up in an evangelical household: his father was a member of the Plymouth Brethren. By the time he was eleven, he detested Christianity. He discovered the Satan myth about that time, and became a Satanist. What he had liked best in the Bible readings to which he was continually subjected were the references in the Book of Revelations to “The Beast whose number is 666,” also the Scarlet Woman. His mother called him “666,” and he cheerfully adopted this name and became known by it the rest of his life. He was educated at Malvern and Tonbridge public schools and Trinity College, Cambridge. During this time, he began writing poetry. Soon after receiving his degree, he discovered the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult society that attracted many notables during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
At the time, there were around a hundred members of this secret order, belonging to several lodges in Great Britain. Their doctrines were Hermetic and Kabbalistic, and they practised ceremonial magic which sometimes involved drugs and sex. The Golden Dawn was closely akin to Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy, and shared the same basic tenets. They claimed that their constitution was revealed to them by the same “adepts” or “mahatmas” who had disclosed themselves to her. The leader of the Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell Mathers, claimed to have met these adepts one night in Bois de Boulogne, Paris.
Crowley joined in 1898, and took the name “Perdurabo,” meaning “I Will Endure to the End.” He was then living in a flat in London, posing as a Russian nobleman, Count Svareff. He apparently had an independent income and was able to devote himself to his writing, some of which was pornographic, such as his anonymously published White Stains (1898).