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Do What Thou Wilt: The Terminus of Rock Rebellion Part 1

(This is Part 1 of a brief article I wrote, other parts will follow soon)

(c) 2016 Hans Utter

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“Do your own thing,” “It’s my life and I’ll do what I want,” and “Do what thou wilt so mete it be” echo throughout the annuals of rock history. What is the origin of this seemingly innocuous philosophy? What does it present, under the garb of self-empowerment and freedom? In order to clearly frame these questions, it is necessary to examine the origins of this philosophy, from medieval novelist Rabelais, Sabbatai Zevi, Hassan-i-Sabbah to the Hellfire Club, Aleister Crowley and a plethora of rock icons. At its core, this philosophy offers individuals a model for interacting with the world that can leave a trail of ruined lives and widespread cultural decay.

The introduction of Aleister Crowley (1875-1941) and his philosophy to a mass audience was spearheaded by two seminal figures in the counterculture—John Lennon and Tim Leary. Appearing twice on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), Crowley’s unmistakable pate and menacing gaze revealed the occultic predilection of rock, something that had been relatively obscured to the general public. While increasingly shrill voices in the Christian right and anti-communist crusaders such as the John Birch Society repeatedly sounded the alarm regarding the destructive and culturally transformative influence of rock, the vast majority of the pubic viewed the antics and ethics of rock stars with amusement or full acceptance and celebration. It is important to the note positive valancing of this troubled and amoral man presented under the banner of “Peace and Love” to the willfully ignorant masses, offering the path of rebellion against social norms as the direct path to liberation of both individuals and society. Since that time, this mantra, “do your own thing,” has been promoted in hundreds of songs, interviews, and in accompanying literature and merchandise produced and promoted by the music industry. From Kenneth Anger’s films and his association with the Rolling Stones, to Ozzy Osborne’s plaintive invocation of Crowley’s white horse, the ethos of the Black Magician is wrapped in the banner of “cool” and the philosophy of self-empowerment.

Certainly, the morals of Christianity seemed both hypocritical and a central component in the oppressive machinery of late-20th century industrial capitalist societies. Variants of a bohemian lifestyle have been practiced on the margins of society for centuries, offering a life-philosophy of sexual indulgence and escape from the mind-numbing constraints of the office and factory. John Lennon’s famous claim that “The Beatles are more popular than Jesus,” and the Leary’s contention that Christianity must be destroyed to bring about the psychedelic revolution represented an exoteric expression of the often esoteric and occult war on Christianity and the traditional value system of Western culture that can be traced back at least a thousand years. Johann Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830) expressed this as one of the central aims of the Illuminati, which he founded in 1776. His underground network successfully recruited highly placed members of the nobility and society, ostensibly working for the admirable goals of freedom, justice, and moral development. Just as the hippie revolution and communism have been presented as largely benign, so to the Illuminati and its founder. Dr. Tony Page contends that,

Weishaupt’s plan was to educate Illuminnati followers in the highest levels of humanity and morality (basing his teachings on the supremacy of Reason, allied with the spirit of the Golden Rule of not doing to others what one would not wish done to oneself), so that if Illuminati alumni subsequently attained positions of significance and power (such as in the fields of education and politics), they could exert a benevolent and uplifting influence upon society at large. His project was Utopian and naively optimistic, and he himself was certainly not without flaws of character – but neither he nor his plan was evil or violent in and of themselves. It is one of the deplorable and tragic ironies of history that a man who tried to inculcate virtue, philanthropy, social justice and morality has become one of the great hate-figures of 21st-century ‘conspiracy’ thinking. (Page: 1)

Is this truly the case? Have I as a former adherent of critical theory and social revolution been captured by the paranoia of ‘conspiracy culture’? I would respond that simply by observing the moral decay, perpetual war, and cultural degradation that surrounds us one could conclude that the subterranean influence of secret societies and pop-culture has been an important contributor to the fragmented and unhealthy modern cultural ecology.

Under the cloak of darkness and ornamented with rapturous slogans, the systematic acceptance of incremental cultural transformation has resulted in a real triumph for Crowley’s endeavors. The breakdown of the family unit, the marginalization and/or co-option of mainline Christianity, and the degeneration of individuals into a regressive and animalistic state are the fruits of this poison tree. Like a communion ceremony, every evening the media presents the chalice of amoral hedonism often accompanied by increasingly blatantly occult imagery, and the mass mind, consciously or unconsciously, moves inexorably towards a spiritual transformation. This rebellion, this freedom, is a false messiah. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll is merely one ingredient in this magical potion, albeit one of the most visibly potent. The social structures that once offered security for the family unit and children are fading into obscurity on a daily basis. We walk on the killing fields, and unlike the decaying corpses in Cambodia, the victims are the heritage of civilization and minds and spirits of generations. These corpses are not as apparent as the victims of the many revolutions that mark the 20th century, but the stench of decay is no less real. Countless musicians and fans have fallen prey to drug overdose, debased sexual practices, and a voluntary abjection of their own agency by following the “do what thou wilt” doctrine. A simple question: someone who lives for the next high, their mind and senses dulled by thundering music, who must increasingly ‘up the dose’ to get sexual satisfaction, who is no longer able to contribute constructively to the world, are they free? I would offer that without discipline and conscious effort, there is no true freedom, and the path of sensory indulgence is one of slavery to an ever more oppressive master.

Hassan-e-Sabbah

The antinomian religious practices of Hassan-i-Sabbah and Sabbatai Zevi have a certain thrilling quality, and reverberate down the centuries to the present. When Hassan-i-Sabbah shocked his followers with his proclamation that “The chains of the law have been broken” in his mountain top citadel Alumat he declared “the end of history.” This end of history is a central thesis in the dialectical evolutionary paradigm of both Communism and modern capitalism (e.g. Francis Fukuyama[1]), but a materialistic fog obscures the true import of this statement. Sabbah broke the holy fast of Ramadan, and offered wine to his followers, declaring “Nothing is real, Everything is permitted.” Sabbah is most famous for the legendary Assassins (derived from hashishans) who infiltrated various political organizations and terrorized the Middle East through their program of highly calculated assassinations. The initiates would be drugged with hashish, and then awake to a veritable paradise where beautiful women pleasured them and wine and intoxicants flowed freely. Sabbah convinced his followers that they had been taken to paradise, and many were willing to sacrifice their lives to attain it again. Sabbah heresy went against the core values of Islam, but could be philosophically supported under the rubric Ismali beliefs by proffering that time itself had ended, and since we live in a post-qiyamat (day of judgement) era that strict codes of Islam were no longer necessary. In fact, the breaking of these codes was required. [2]

Known as the “The Old Man of the Mountain,” Sabbah remained sequestered in his mountain citadel for thirty-five years—yet he was able to coordinate a highly skilled network of deep cover operatives who could remain undiscovered for years. His assassins often held sensitive positions: that of a trusted advisor, servant, or official, occulting their true allegiances until they received word. Then, in public, the victim would be stabbed, as the assassin awaited their fate without fear. This quality of total brazenness and the public nature of the assassinations created a mystical aura around Hassan-i-Sabbah, and served to generate fear and foreboding in both ruling elites and the general population. He exhorted his followers to deceive others as to their true faith, and this practice known as batin (hidden) allowed for actions that would be considered blasphemes by mainstream Islam. His adeptness at employing public spectacles served to amplify his power by creating a general sense of foreboding and insecurity. Sabbah served as an inspiration for many intelligence agencies, including the CIA, and at the same time seemed to employ some mysterious mode of mind control on his agents, as they conducted their work with total impunity and fearlessness. It is here that we can discern the roots of the interweaving of occult practices and intelligence services.

Sabbatai Zevi took this experiential philosophy a step further when he was declared by Phillip of Gaza to be the messiah in 1666. Zevi was a highly volatile individual, most probably suffering from manic depression, but he was able to gather thousands of followers among near Eastern Jews, and became a major political force until the end of his life. Jacob Frank later declared himself to be the reincarnation of Zevi, and promoted this philosophy to a new generation. The Sabbatians or Zevites were notorious for their extreme antinomian practices, which included orgies, incest, and possibly human sacrifices. Analogous to Hassan-i-Sabbah, he presented a millenarian outlook, but with a clear utilitarian core. Zevi, as the messiah, proclaimed that in order to heal the world, to bring about the ascendancy of spirit over matter, and usher in a new paradisaical golden age, one must indulge in every imaginal vice and evil, and by committing these acts, they would reset the cosmic balance and transform the very laws of time and space. Zevi and his followers were notorious during their time because of their ritualized orgies and the promotion of (often non-consensual) incest in the immediate family. Eventually, he converted to Islam, and was joined by many of his followers, who were enjoined to keep their real beliefs and practices secret.

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Sabbatai Zevi

Both of these religious leaders gave free reign to self-indulgence as a transformative practice, and it is not difficult to find strong correspondences between their philosophy and that of Crowley, Leary, and the rock gods. Crowley was probably the central vector for the injection of this philosophy into the mainstream, and one can find direct echoes in films such as “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, and many others. Crowley grew up in a strictly religious family. After his father died he began a systematic exploration of black magic, an array of psycho-spiritual practices, drugs, antinomian sexual practices, and what can only be termed psychopathic behavior. While one can find justification for the “do what thou wilt” philosophy especially during the cultural turmoil of the ‘60’s, and discern variants of it within the literary output of the Beats, Henry Miller, and artistic milieu of fin de cycle Vienna, the elevation of the debased and pathetic Crowley into the pantheon of mass culture icons in the 1960’s is a clear indication that other processes were underfoot. Why not celebrate Henry Miller, whose controversial autobiographical novels Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn offered a template for rebellion against societal constraints, celebrated individual sexual freedom, and presented withering social critiques? Why embrace the “Beast 666” who attempted to summon Satan in the most powerful black magic ritual known (Jimmy Page later purchased the home where this was conducted), who watched his climbing partners die before his eyes and didn’t lift a finger, who destroyed the lives of his followers, wives and concubines, leaving a trail of suicide, insanity, and total degradation in his wake? Why indeed. Should a man, now clearly confirmed to have been an MI6 agent,[3] who pushed his followers into increasing degradation and insanity during his time at his Abbey of Thelema, forcing them to chant under the influence of massive doses of drugs to stare at his pornographic murals, engage in bestiality, and other debased practices that left them mentally shattered, be presented to the youth of the world as role model?

Jimmy Page with Crowley

The influence of popular artists like John Lennon and Jimmy Page cannot be overstated, at least for their throngs of devoted followers. Especially considering Lennon and Leary’s “philosophy of peace and love,” the choice of Crowley is rather strange. In the Tibetan tradition, to name one example of many, certain spiritual practitioners engaged in radical sexual behavior, at the same time presenting an enlightened philosophy. The importance of Crowley is underscored in his connections with Scientology, Jack Parsons, Samuel Untermeyer, and other major figures in politics, science, and the arts. One must ask then, was Lennon simply a deluded simpleton, who took a cartoon sketch biography of Crowley as gospel, or can the undercurrents of something far more menacing be revealed? As any four-year child yells passionately “I want it,” “I want to do it,” so to have generations of America’s youth embraced a hedonistic lifestyle with great abandon. The reasons for the embrace of Crowley are not to be found in the “if it feels good do it” ethos, but in Crowley’s esoteric practices and stated goal of transforming the world to bring about the New Aeon and usher in the reign of Horus. [4]

Crowley’s life is certainly a template for total rebellion against all ethical and spiritual values. He embraced the cutting edge of drugs, sex, and magickal[5] practices, and at the same time produced many volumes of esoteric prose, poetry, several plays, traveled the world, and founded an influential esoteric school, the OTO. By his early twenties he had indulged a wide array of sexual practices, positing that his fulfilling his sexual urges were a rebellion against the Church and a celebration of his “extreme bodily enjoyment” (Lachman: 42-53)[6]. In 1898 he joined the Golden Dawn, and also published his first work of pornographic poetry, White Stains. This work glorified extreme sexual practices such as bestiality, necrophilia, coprophagia (eating excrement) and urophagia (56). Crowley was an athletic, confident, and charismatic individual, often turning his charms on an array of women some of whom ended up insane, dead, or ruined for life after their dalliances with him. In 1909 he embarked on one of his most spectacular occult adventures in the Algerian desert with his hapless disciple Victor Neuburg, a promising poet and recent Cambridge graduate who was hopelessly in love with Crowley.

[1] Francis Fukuyama (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. Free Press.

[2] The Ismali philosophy is highly complex, for a deeper understanding see Cyclical Time and Ismali Gnosis by Henry Corbin.

[3] See Secret Agent 666, Richard Spence.

[4] In Crowley’s cosmology there are three aeons, which follow each in succession; (1) The Aeon of Isis, (2) The Aeon of Osiris, and (3) The Aeon of Horus.

[5] Magick is used by Crowley to distinguish between stage magic or artifice and real changes enacted on the space-time continuum by Will.

[6] Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World. Gary Lachman. Tracher, 2014.