August 26, 2012

Aleister Crowley's New Hampshire Vacation

School will be starting up again soon, and I wonder if kids are still asked to write essays about what they did on their summer vacations. I suppose most kids write about similar things: trips to the beach, playing Little League, family vacations, etc.

I wonder if any kids write about practicing ritual magic? That's what Aleister Crowley did on his summer vacation to New Hampshire in 1916.

Aleister Crowley has a very sinister reputation, which he actively cultivated, but I don't think it is entirely deserved. Crowley was born into a well-off British family in 1875, and even as a very young child he questioned his parent's devotion to fundamentalist Christianity, which resulted in his mother calling him "the Beast." The name stuck, and when he was an adult he called himself the Great Beast 666 to signify his opposition to Christianity.

However, Crowley was not a Satanist. While he was attending college in Cambridge he became a bisexual libertine, and also became interested in occultism and ritual magic. After college he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn, an order of ritual magicians in England that included notable members like W.B. Yeats, Bram Stoker, and Sax Rohmer.

The Golden Dawn eventually splintered apart due to conflicts between members, and Crowley founded his own magical order called the Argentum Astrum after he had been contacted by a divine being called Aiwass while he was living in Cairo. Crowley felt that he had come in contact with the Godhead itself, and was able to converse directly with the Holy Guardian Angel that guided his life. It's not entirely clear if he thought this angel was an external being or part of his deep subconscious.

Before his death in 1947, Crowley founded even more magical orders and lodges, went through a string of male and female lovers, preached about the end of Christianity, and became addicted to a lot of drugs. Crowley felt there was no such thing as bad publicity, and reveled in being called the Wickedest Man in the World by the British press. Even in death he generated controversy. The physician who was attending Crowley died exactly one day after Crowley did, and the press claimed the magician had put a curse on the doctor.

With such a busy life, you can see why Crowley might want an occasional vacation, and in 1916 after leaving New York City he spent the summer on the shores of New Hampshire's Lake Pasquaney. In his book The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, he describes what he did on his summer vacation. He did not play Little League.

Before leaving New York, he drank a special potion to restore his youthful vigor. The effects didn't kick in until he reached New Hampshire, where he found himself unable to focus on any intellectual work and instead chopped down an enormous tree to build a wharf for his canoe. He claims that "Passers-by spread the story of the hermit with superhuman strength, and people came from all parts to gaze upon the miracle."

After the effects of this potion (which sounds like some type of amphetamine to me) faded away, Crowley decided to clear his mind of the remnants of his parents' Christianity by ritually crucifying a toad.
The result was immediately apparent. A girl of the village, three miles away, asked me to employ her as my secretary. I had had no intention of doing any literary work; but as soon as I set eyes on her I recognized that she had been sent for a purpose, for she exactly resembled the aforesaid toad. I therefore engaged her to come out every morning and take dictation.
While in New Hampshire, Crowley also had a vision of the universe, which he called the Star Sponge Vision.
 I lost consciousness of everything but a universal space in which were innumerable bright points, and I realized this as a physical representation of the universe, in what I may call its essential structure. I exclaimed, "Nothingness with twinkles!" I concentrated upon this vision, with the result that the void space which had been the principal element of it diminished in importance; space appeared to be ablaze, yet the radiant points were not confused, and I thereupon completed my sentence with the exclamation, "but what twinkles!"

I guess Crowley overall had an eventful summer vacation in New Hampshire - he even had a ball of lightning follow him into his cottage during a thunderstorm, which he wrote about in a letter to the New York Times. However, there is one small catch to the stories he told about his vacation: there's no such place as Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire. (Thanks to Joseph Citro and Diane Fould's Curious New England for pointing that out.)

The cottage where Crowley vacationed.

 Well, according to the site Atlas Obscura and a book called The New England Grimpendium by J.W. Ocker, Crowley actually spent his vacation in Hebron, New Hampshire in a cottage on the shores of Lake Newfound. The cottage (photo above) was owned by Evangeline Adams, a well-known astrologer in the early 20th century. Adams and Crowley collaborated on several books together, but eventually had a falling out over who should get authorial credit.

Evangeline Adams

Crowley only has bad things to say about Adams in his Confessions, so maybe this is what motivated him to invent Lake Pasquaney. He clearly enjoyed his time at her cottage, but perhaps didn't want to give her any credit for loaning it to him. Crowley also enjoyed creating an air of mystery around himself, so that was probably part of the decision as well.

One more interesting vacation tidbit. Hebron is very close to where Betty and Barney Hill were abducted by UFOs, and Crowley once had an encounter with an entity named Lam that looked much like the aliens who abducted the Hill. This site has some speculation about connections between the two. Read at the risk of your own sanity.


Michael J. Curtiss said...

Pasquaney is one of the original names of Newfound Lake.

Adept Luke said...

Correct. This lake was widely known as Pasquaney Lake (along with possibly other Native American names) prior to 1900. So I think this fact explains the naming by Crowley (rather than some attempt to be mysterious or to shield himself should the owner of the cottage sue).

Peter Muise said...

Hi Michael and Adept Luke! Thanks for clarifying about Lake Pasquaney. Do you know what it was called in 1916 when he stayed there?

Interestingly, someone from Hebron emailed me directly a few years ago and suggested that other strange things had happened near Newfound Lake, including mob hits and occasional body parts washing ashore. I can't verify those stories myself but they do add to the mystique.

Paul said...

There is a 1910 published book available at that identifies the lake both ways, more prominently as Pasquaney, and parenthetically as Newfound:

Thus, both names were in use within a few years of Crowley's visit.