The Beast was rarely lacking in creativeness; and in the spring of 1917, he turned out in rapid succession essays, and short stories about a detective called ‘Simon Iff’. He ascribed his creative ability at this time to the stimulating effect of the old quarter of New Orleans where he was living. ‘I wrote day and night continuously — poems, essays and short stories.’ He also tried his hand at a longish novel called The Net or The Butterfly Net, the butterfly being the ancient Chinese symbol for the soul, the net, the means of catching the butterfly.
It is the story of the making of a homunculus, a little man or manikin, usually represented in alchemical treatises in a retort or bottle. Crowley changed the name of The Butterfly Net to Moonchild. A ‘moon child’ is the encapsulation in a human body of a ‘lunar intelligence’.1 The planetary scheme or chain as used in occultism refers to spiritual forces in man, forces which are typified by the celestial planets, ‘the moon’ in the magical operation described in Moonchild, not an actual spirit from the moon.
Crowley was a man of unusual abilities, but he was incapable of writing a novel. Moonchild is unreadable; the story is lost, then found, then lost again amid the verbiage; it is peppered with clichés and purple passages, such as “. . But — I — can’t — go.” The last words dripped out icily from the frozen waters of her soul’; it is autobiographical, and therefore the members of the Golden Dawn, their names thinly disguised, are treated with calumny. He wrote a better description of the making of a homunculus in ‘De Homunculo Epistola’, which is part of the secret teaching of the IX° O.T.O.:
Let the man and woman copulate continuously (but especially at times astrologically favourable to the working) and that in a ceremonial manner in a prepared temple, whose particular arrangement and decoration is also suitable to the work. And let them will ardently and constantly the success of the work denying all other desires. Thus proceed until impregnation results. Now let the woman be withdrawn and carried away to a place prepared. And this place should be a great desert; for in such do rarely wander any human souls seeking incarnation. Further let a great circle be drawn and consecrated to the sphere of the work; and let banishing formulae of the Sephiroth, and especially of Kether, be done often, even unto five or seven times on every day. Outside which great circle let the woman never go . . .
It is too long to quote in full. During the pregnancy the extraterrestrial forces are invoked into the circle (the whole house) in which the woman is. After the first three months, the embryo quickens with the influx of the spirit, in the case of the operation in Moonchild, a lunar spirit. In plain English, the homunculus is a kind of familiar spirit which will do the bidding of the magician who has created it; in the case of the novel called Moonchild, ‘Cyril Grey’, i.e. Aleister Crowley who is described thus:
The jaw was square, the planes of the face curiously flat. The mouth was small, a poppy-petal of vermilion, intensely sensuous. The nose was small and rounded, but fine, and the life of the face seemed concentrated in the nostrils. The eyes were tiny and oblique, with strange brows of defiance. A small tuft of irrepressible hair upon the forehead started up like a lone pine tree on the slope of a mountain; for with this exception, the man was entirely bald; or, rather, clean-shaven, for the scalp was grey. The skull was extraordinarily narrow and long.
The portrait, although not pleasant, is an idealized one. Crowley adds this sartorial touch:
In fashionable London he had worn a claret-coloured suit, an enormous grey butterfly tie hiding a soft silk collar. In bohemian Paris his costume was diabolically clerical in its formality. A frock coat, tightly buttoned to the body, fell to the knees; its cut was as severe as it was distinguished; the trousers were of sober grey. A big black four-in-hand tie was fastened about a tall uncompromising collar by a cabochon sapphire so dark as to be hardly noticeable. A rimless monocle was fixed in his right eye.
This was Aleister Crowley, the dandy, of earlier days.
One entry in his journal for 6 May 1917 rises above the clouds of incense:
Had news of my mother’s death. Two nights before news had dreamed that she was dead, with a feeling of extreme distress. The same happened two nights before I had news of my father’s death. I had often dreamed my mother had died, but never with that helpless, lonely feeling.
[End of chapter]2