The Scarlet Letter
Volume V, Number 2 | December 1998
Column: The Included Middle
Facts & Phallacies
By Tim Maroney
is generally agreed that Aleister Crowleys approach to sex magick, and
in fact to his religious tradition as a whole, was phallic. He
described it in this way repeatedly and enthusiastically. This might lead us
to wonder whether Crowley was sexist, and whether he considered the male sex
organs superior to the female, and by extension, the male superior to the female
There has been surprisingly little discussion of this important issue in O.T.O.
publications. Recently the Outer Head of the Order, Hymenæus Beta, printed
his Address to the Womens Conference 1 in the international newsletter. This Address touched
on a broad range of issues related to Crowleys gender attitudes, but
it raised more questions than it settled.
According to the Address, Crowleys phallicism does not exclude women,
because phallus is a gender-neutral term. We are told that Crowley
was using a woman-inclusive meaning of phallus derived from psychology. Crowley
read his Freud and Jung very thoroughly. He didnt use capital P Phallus
without assuming that his readers knew what was meant. Unfortunately few today
do. He was referring to the psychoanalytic stage of full genital organization,
which is the third of a series. The first state is infantile, undifferentiated,
and of course generally chaste. The second stage is narcissistic, usually corresponding
to adolescence, and masturbatory. In the third, the phallic as they chose to
call it, the individual psychology is so organized as to integrate the psyche
with the genital consciousness and its associated instincts, and is then prepared
to enter the world, to have intercourse.
Freuds psychosexual theory of development differs.
The phallic stage in the Freudian model actually is one of the infantile stages,
occurs before the age of five (rather than after adolescence), is specifically phallic in
the sense of the male generative organ (rather than gender-neutral), and occurs
years before the final stage of development, which is called genital (a
gender-neutral term). In Freuds model, first comes the oral stage, characterized
by sucking, biting and swallowing. Second is the anal stage, characterized
by toilet training. Third is the phallic stage, about the end of the third
or fourth year, characterized by playful self-stimulation, and the formation
of the Oedipal complex. During the phallic stage of development comes penis
envy. In this infamous theory, Freud claimed that the natural course
of development is stymied during the phallic stage in girls, and that they
blame their mothers for their lack of a phallus. Then the fourth stage, from
about five until adolescence, is called the latency period, and finally during
adolescence the fifth, genital stage sets in, characterized by
preparation for marriage.2
It is questionable that Crowley read Freud in depth. His scattered references
to Freud touch repeatedly on a few broad themes in no great detail. Crowley
refers to the primacy of the sex instinct, to the Oedipus complex, and to the
unconscious as a source of dreams and phantasms, and little else.
As for Jung, most of his work was unavailable in English until late in Crowleys
life or after his death. Crowley did read the first English translation of Wandlungen
und Symbole der Libido 3. This book deals extensively
with phallic symbolism and the libido, and Crowley refers to it in his commentaries
to The Book of the Law 4. Judging by its solar-phallic
content, this book may have been a significant influence on Crowleys
thought and his reformation of the O.T.O. However, the book condemns Freuds
theory, and refers to the phallus in its traditional male sense.
Jung uses the gender-neutral term libido to indicate psychic energy 5 in
both men and women, but phallus to refer to the male organ and
its symbols. A number of symbols of female genitalia are discussed, but none
are called phallic.
If Crowley had a gender-neutral interpretation of phallus, he did
not get it from Freud, whose use of the word was gender-specific. Nor could
this usage derive from Jung, who was no adherent of Freuds psychosexual
theory, and who also used phallus in a gender-specific sense. Scholarly
English 6 and Greek 7 dictionaries
contain no gender-neutral usage of phallus from ancient times to
the present. It would be anomalous to ascribe this unique usage to Crowley,
who from all indications used the word in its traditional sense. If there is
any evidence to establish this peculiar reading, it was not presented in the
An interesting view appears in a book found in the curriculum of Crowleys
occult order A.·.A.·. 8, Richard Payne
Knights A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus 9.
Knight applies the now obsolete method of syncretistic comparativism to a variety
of phallic and vulvar deities in an attempt to demonstrate that they all express
the Neo-Platonic legend of an original hermaphroditic creator God who split
into two halves, one male and one female. He alternates in apparent confusion
between asserting that the genders of deities are interchangeable since they
all symbolize the original creator, and that male deities represent the active
generative power of God while female deities represent the passive
generative power of earth. He is more consistent in holding that the
differentiated organs of generation represent the gender-specific
powers. Since he does not use the word phallus, Knight could not
have been the source of the purported usage in Crowley.
There are, however, elements of Knights original hermaphroditism in Crowley,
as in Chapter 35 of The Book of Lies, Venus of Milo, which
after condemning the female body as ugly states, the Lingam
and the Yoni are but diverse developments of One Organ. In the comment
to the chapter, though, Crowley is careful to refute any appearance of egalitarianism.
Placing the female in a distinctly inferior position, he writes, the
female body becomes beautiful in so far as it approximates to the male. The
female is to be regarded as having been separated from the male, in order to
reproduce the male in a superior form. His lukewarm, androcentric redaction
of Knights original hermaphroditism does not suggest that the word phallus had
a gender-neutral meaning to Crowley, or that either Crowley or Knight regarded
the two sets of genitals as interchangeable or equivalent.
gender-neutral phallicism is hard to see in Crowleys work. There
is no reference to any woman as in natural possession of a phallus, and
he did not believe that women were equal partners with men in sex. In outer
writings his explanation of sex magick revolves around the relationship
between father and son, and in the human quintessence within the semen. 10 Sometimes
a mother and daughter are paired with the father and son; often the father
and son stand alone; never are the mother and daughter discussed independently.
In The Star Sapphire sex magick ritual 11, the
woman appears only in a bracketed note, and is treated as a tool of the
magician, not his partner. The same formula is discernible in the Gnostic
Mass, on which more below. In Liber Aleph Crowley writes that pre-eminent
in all sex magick is the Formula of the Serpent with the Head of
the Lion, the semen, and all this Magick is wrought by the
Radiance and Creative Force thereof. 12 To
Crowley the magick is in the man. The woman is a necessary, respected and
even consecrated tool of this formula but she is not the source of magick.
She is only a magick mirror for the manifestation of the God.
The Address tells us that a matriarchal theory of history expressed by Marija
Gimbutas has caught on in academic circles. In fact, though, the consensus
view of Gimbutas in her academic field, archæology, rejects her conclusions
about a peaceful prepatriarchal society in prehistory. Where the theory has
caught on is in the popular mind, because of her popular books on the subject
(and those of Riane Eisler 13), but not in archæology,
where it is controversial at best, and more often simply ignored. The model
boasts a few scattered advocates in disciplines such as classics and gender
studies, but it enjoys only tepid support in any academic field.
Gimbutas does not describe her theory as matriarchal. On the contrary,
she posits an egalitarian matrilineal society, not a matriarchy. The
world of myth was not polarized into male and female... Both principles were
manifest side by side. The male divinity in the shape of a young man or male
animal appears to affirm and strengthen the forces of the creative and active
female. Neither is subordinate to the other; by complementing one another,
their power is doubled. 14 She refers to the
culture of the period as a balanced, nonpatriarchal and nonmatriarchal social
system. 15 Matriarchy is a feature of Crowleys Æon
of Isis 16 but not of Gimbutas gylanic prehistory.
The Addresss account of Gimbutas says that about 1000 to 500 BCE, 2,500
to 3,000 years ago different from Crowleys 2,000 to 2,500 years
[i.e., 500 to 1 BCE], but close enough she found that an influx of warlike
and nomadic Indoeuropean tribes who characteristically worshipped a sky-god
moved in and took over. Actually, though, Gimbutass theory of Kurganization
concerns events of 5,500 to 6,000 years ago, in the vicinity of 4000 to 3500
BCE, a difference of three millennia from Crowleys dates.
Dating discrepancies between Marija
Aleister Crowley and the Women's Conference Address
Crowleys idea of the Æon of Isis was untenable
even in the light of the ancient history available in his time. An Æon
is supposed to last around two millennia, with flexibility in the start date
of roughly 500 years. This puts Crowleys Æon of Isis around 3000
to 2000 BCE for its start, and around 500 to 1 BCE for its end. In Across
the Gulf 17 he placed its end during the life
of his previous prophetic incarnation, Ankh-f-n-Khonsu, in the 26th dynasty
of Egypt. This period extends well into written history, and the records and
remains of Middle Eastern and European cultures at the time indicate patriarchal
political systems. It is hard to see how anyone could think the first 25 Egyptian
dynasties were matriarchal. The latest possible date for the end
of the hypothetical prepatriarchal period is around 3000 BCE, an Æon
before Crowleys date for the end of the Æon of Isis. In proposing
that this period was a matriarchal age, Crowley demonstrated that, as he admitted
elsewhere, history was never his subject: he showed intense repugnance
to history. 18 He knew the classical authors and myths, but not the
history of the ancient world.
The Address is an example of normal occult history, true to the tradition of
Levi, Blavatsky, Crowley, and generations of Templar Freemasons.
Rather than examining speculative models of history skeptically, it uses mistaken
accounts of mainstream sources to bolster those speculations.
One of the most contentious issues in current Thelemic discussion is the subject
of gender roles in the Gnostic Mass, the central ritual of the O.T.O. Among
the questions that are often asked are these. Why do most of the lines, and
most of the action, fall to the Priest, with the Priestess relegated to a role
that seems secondary? Why is the Lance so much more prominent than the Cup?
Why can official O.T.O. Masses feature only men as Priests and only women as
Priestesses? Why are all the saints men?
The Address was insulting toward those who believe that Crowley wrote his sexism
into the Mass. Ive heard the Mass criticized as sexist, and frankly
think that stupid. Who, when the Mass was first introduced into North America
during World War I, was worshipping the goddess? Especially in the context
of religious ceremony of Western origin? Who understood the divinity of the
feminine at all?
The alternative spirituality movement out of which Thelema arose was replete
with female deities, and with female leaders acting as mediators to the divine.
The Golden Dawn often named its temples after goddesses, and had so many female
members that A. E. Waite and other conservative men felt threatened and tried
to limit the leadership to Masons. Spiritualism and Theosophy were led by women.
P. B. Randolph and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor treated women as equal
partners with men in sex and sex magic, unlike the male-centered O.T.O. Thomas
Lake Harris sexual mysticism had a great deal to do with his contact
with enlightened female spirits. More than a century earlier, Richard Payne
Knight had dealt enthusiastically with the erotic rites of various goddesses
in his influential book. Crowley himself said that there existed at the time
female-led communities of witches (although he criticized them for refusing
to have sex with men, or as he preferred to say, denying to the Holy
Spirit the right to indwell His Temple). 19 Even
in the mainstream, Catholicisms cult of Mary was in full force. The answer
to the question is: Within occultism, nearly everyone was working with the
divinity of the feminine in Western ceremonies, except Masons and even
there, at the progressive edge of esoteric Masonry and Co-Masonry. To represent
the Gnostic Mass as an advance in gender relations, merely for presenting a
sacred female, would be unhistorical.
of a female figure who is treated with deference does not mean that a religious
tradition is not sexist. The example of Mary demonstrates this; her prominence
hardly makes Catholicism a haven for womens rights. If a ritual indicates
that a female character should naturally be subjugated to a man or reduced
to stereotypical feminine attributes, then her treatment is sexist
no matter how high she is placed atop the pedestal (or sat upon the altar).
The practice of staving off an accusation of sexism or racism by pointing to
the presence of a member of the oppressed group is known as tokenism. Is
the Priestess being tokenized? We will need to look at her role. Is she presented
as naturally subjugated to the Priest? Is she viewed through a veil of stereotype?
In the opening the two partners seem roughly equivalent. The Priestess dedicates
more time and effort to raising the Priest to his role than he does to raise
her to hers, but she really opens the ritual. The ceremony of the Introit belongs
to the Prietess, even though it mostly goes to her raising of the Priest. In
the central formula, though, the Priest is paramount, performing the critical
points VI through VIII nearly solo while the silent, naked Priestess acts only
to present this or that tool for his favor, authorize him to reveal her nakedness,
and utter with him the word of orgasm once he is ready to shed his sacred blood.
As written this seems to be a formula of phallocentricity. The male is the
center of the sexual act and woman his functionary, as in other Crowley writings
on sex magick.
The Address acknowledges that in the Mass the male has the largely active
role and the female is passive. In the future there will be an alternative
ritual in which the female takes the more active role and the male the
more passive. This seems to be a curious approach to sex. Ordinarily
one partner is not active and the other passive. 20 Both
are active; an unresponsive partner is disliked by all genders and persuasions.
It is hard to understand why the O.T.O. would seek to enshrine this odd formula
of activity and passivity in its rituals, except in the context of Crowleys
Victorian-era view of sex as a male activity done to women.
If the ritual requires one active officer and one passive officer, rather than
an active male and a passive female officer, what need is there for a new ritual?
Why not just perform a Mass by the script, with women free to assume the role
of the active partner and men free to assume the passive? It is current O.T.O.
policy that the Priest must be played by a man and the Priestess by a woman.
Does the leadership of the Order assert as policy that there are natural and
proper roles for men and women?
Holding out hope of a future, perhaps not soon, in which these
questionable roles are reversed in a new ritual produced by a woman where
there is still a particular part for the woman and a particular part for the
man, does not address concerns about the status of Thelemic women here and
now, or about gender stereotyping, or about heterocentrism.
The Gnostic Mass raises another issue, which is the list of saints, all of
whom are men. The Address explains that the Saints are paternal, but
this is intentional. It is a list of the small handful of men and man-gods
who, in the opinion of the author of the Mass, understood the divinity of woman. No
citation of the author, Crowley, to this effect was provided. The short biographies
of the saints presented by the O.T.O. 21 rarely even
touch on this theme, and its hard to see how they could, short of contrivance.
What do Hermes, Moses, Priapus, Merlin, François Rabelais, Elias Ashmole,
Friedrich Nietzsche, or most of the other Gnostic saints have to do with understanding
the divinity of woman?
The script of the Mass introduces the saints in a way that makes the intent
of the author clear. They were not chosen for their respect for female divinity they
were chosen as the champions of the phallus. Addressing the Lord of Life
and Joy, that art the might of man that is, the phallus Crowley
describes the saints as the servants of this Lord, those that did of
old adore thee and manifest thy glory unto men. Women and goddesses are
not mentioned, and need not apply. From his description, we could reasonably
infer that Crowley wrote an all-male saints list because he believed that the
guardians of phallic magick through history had been men.
We are told that the Order is actively researching female saints; they
do not however belong in Liber XV, that is, the Gnostic Mass,
the central ritual of the O.T.O. No reason is given, and it does not seem that
this addition would deface the Mass. Without disrupting the ritual structure,
the Saints passage of the Collects could be directed to both Lord
and Lady, and male and female saints listed together.
One of the best-known issues in feminism concerns gender role stereotypes.
The traditional social gender ideal holds that there are natural roles for
men and women to play in society; and specifically, that men are suited to
political, economic, intellectual, and labor roles, while women are relegated
to roles such as mother, sex object, domestic, and vessel of a kind of instinctive
natural goodness, as opposed to masculine virtue. Much of feminism has revolved
around freeing women, and more recently men, from the artificial restrictions
on their wills imposed by these roles, and informed people today are suspicious
of casual assertions about the natural role of either gender. There may in
fact be inherent psychological differences but the subject requires caution.
The Address repeatedly postulates gender roles harmonious with traditional
stereotypes. For example, it refers to women and the particular powers
and aptitudes that you possess. It implies that men cannot understand
women, saying of these female powers and aptitudes that these were questions
that Crowley, as a man, could not introspect. 22 With
respect to the whore-goddess Babalon, women have a particular, natural
and intuitive understanding of her nature, and women have always
had a more direct and immediate understanding of sexual mysteries than men. The
Address postulates separate male and female domains of understanding, and the
female domain is intuitive and sexual. If some women are unhappy being limited
to a feminine mode of knowing, their concerns are not addressed.
The Address says that male and female sexual response are radically different....
We [men] usually think of sex as something we do out there in the
macrocosm, whereas for women it is something that literally occurs inside of
you, inside your ego-boundaries, within your microcosm, coming in from without. This
statement ascribes feelings to men in general, but as a man, I do not find
this to be an accurate description of my perspective. I think of sex as something
I do with someone, in which we are both equally immersed, and which
is just as much a challenge to my ego-boundaries as my partners. I do
not think of it as something I do out there, as if
I were acting on a passive, receiving object.
What is it for a woman that is coming in from without?
There seems to be a familiar confusion between sex and a phallus here. A penis
may enter a vagina, but sex does not enter a woman from a man. Sex is already
in both partners equally, and each brings what they have to the other.
It is curious that the Address presents heterosexual roles
and phallic-vaginal sex as psychologically paradigmatic. How does this analysis
apply to men, gay or straight, who are accustomed to sex that literally
occurs inside their bodies? How does it apply to women who make love
in ways that do not involve penetration (or envelopment)? Even if we were to
accept the idea that sex involving a penis and a vagina makes one partner passive
and the other active, what makes this particular form of sex a prototype for
the perspectives of all members of each gender and persuasion?
Concerning the roles proper to the different genders, we are told that the
women of Thelema have much to transmit themselves concerning the two traditionally
passive weapons [cup and disk], that they are connected to a source. I dont
think that this will come through the media appropriate to the other weapons,
such as writing and talking. I think it will come through inculcating a culture
of love and understanding and responsible action.... An example explains
how women will make this contribution: I have learned most of what I
know of magick... from women I have loved. My first great initiatrix did not
consciously try to teach anything, and was in fact entirely unconscious of
what she had to transmit. She just knew what to do I say knew in
that special feminine sense of that attribute of Binah called Intelligence not
the mimicry and language of the Ruach.
(The Address uses technical language drawn from the Qabalah. Binah is the third
sphere of the Tree of Life, symbolized by the Great Mother or Primordial Sea,
which is represented in the human psyche by intuition. Its Intelligence is
not what we normally think of as intelligent; that is, it is neither
rational nor verbal. Normal intelligence resides in the Ruach, a lower part
of the psyche. Above the feminine intuition of Binah is the masculine will
This statement reflects a traditional stereotype of women: they have little
to contribute with their writing and talking, but much to give
of their intuition and their wombs. It is difficult to estimate the chilling
effect this statement might have on female members who wish to participate
with their intellects rather than their genitalia.
The emergence of gender issues into public discourse within the O.T.O. is a
sign of progress. While much discussion has gone on behind closed doors or
in the spoken word, until the Address was published there was no serious discussion
of these issues in the public record. Gender issues are community issues and
it is only in public deliberation that change occurs in the community.
Gender studies are intellectually challenging. In any society, gender roles
are pillars of the underlying and largely unconscious matrix of assumptions
about social righteousness, which the ancient Egyptians called Maat.
These roles are so deeply ingrained from infancy on that they are often difficult
or impossible to understand from within. For this reason, the field demands
careful and critical attention. Researchers in the field need to be familiar
with established methodologies and paradigms, whether they accept them or not,
and they need to pay careful attention to the methodological and historical
errors of the past. With proper caution, the field can be very rewarding.
In the popular imagination, the sexist (like the racist) is a mythical beast,
easily recognized but now rarely seen. Leaving the popular mind and taking
a few steps down the feminist path, the beast appears everywhere, and self-righteousness
becomes ones bosom companion. The budding feminist is secure in the knowledge
of personal superiority to the sexist rabble. Just a few steps farther, though,
the student comes across a mirror set in the path. The cherished critique wraps
around, and we realize that the beast is just as much a part of ourselves as
it is part of any other. We are all raised sexist and we all bear assumptions
that we may never be able to fully transcend. The path is longer than any of
Because of this I feel no hesitation in saying that Aleister Crowley was a
sexist, any more than I would hesitate to say that I am a sexist, or any other
person. The questions in each case revolve around how sexism manifests in the
particular case and what can be done to improve the situation. For me, I do
less than I could but more than I might. Crowley is dead and I will leave it
to spiritualists to help him. I am more concerned with the here and now. Crowley
has left us with a legacy colored by his sexism. We can only improve the situation
by facing up to these problems and trying to solve them, not by waving them
Thanks to reviewers Renée Rosen, Donald H. Frew,
and others. All errors are the responsibility of the author.
Magical Link, Fall
1997 e.v., pp. 8-10.
2 Sigmund Freud, Infantile Sexuality, Basic
Writings of Sigmund Freud (Modern Library).
3 Transformations and Symbols of the Libido,
later shortened to Symbols of Transformation. An English translation was
published in 1916 under the title Psychology of the Unconscious.
4 The Law is for All (Tempe, AZ: New
Falcon, 1996), p. 147.
5 Symbols of Transformation (Princeton:
Bollingen, 1967), p. 135. Jung differs with Freud on the interpretation
of libido, extending it to psychic energy which
is not necessarily sexual, although it may be.
6 Oxford English Dictionary, second
edition, entries phallic and phallus.
7 Liddell-Scott Greek Lexicon, entry phallos.
8 Magick (York Beach, Maine: Samuel
Weiser, Inc, 1994), p. 453.
9 Published in 1786. (It is rumored that the
publishers were the Friars of Medmenham.)
10 The Book of Lies (New York: Samuel
Weiser, Inc., 1978), p. 46, Dewdrops.
11 Ibid., pp. 82-3.
12 Liber Aleph: The Book of Wisdom or Folly (Level
Press, 1972?), p. 91, De Formula Lunæ.
13 The Chalice and the Blade (San Francisco:
Harper & Row, 1987), and others.
14 The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe,
7000-3500 B.C. (University of California Press, 1982), p. 237.
15 The Language of the Goddess (HarperSanFrancisco,
1991) p. xx. Emphasis added.
16 Magick (York Beach, Maine: Samuel
Weiser, 1994), p. 164.
17 The Equinox, vol. I, no. VII (March
1912), pp. 293-354.
18 The Equinox of the Gods (O.T.O.,
1936), p. 44. Crowley is writing of himself in the third person, or J.
F. C. Fuller is writing authorized biography.
19 Magick , op. cit., pp. 158-9.
20 The complex issue of willed power exchange
is beside the point, as it would be difficult to interpret the Mass as
an SM ritual.
21 Tau Apiryon (Sabazius X°) and Soror
Helena, Red Flame #2: Mystery of Mystery (Berkeley: O.T.O., 1995),
22 Crowley would have differed on this point,
asserting that his natural hermaphroditism empowered him to
understand women from within, as in his Confessions (London: Arkana
Books, 1979, p. 45): The principal effect [of hermaphroditism] has
been to enable him to understand the psychology of women, to look at any
theory with comprehensive and impartial eyes, and to endow him with maternal
instincts on spiritual planes. He has thus been able to beat the women
he has met at their own game and emerge from the battle of sex triumphant
to Vol. V, No. 2 Cover