Waite and Crowley: BFF

December 6, 2008


What follows is mental masturbation devoid spiritual value. Proceed at your own risk.

Waite Vs Crowley is the Nintendo Vs Sega rivalry of the magickal world. It’s the most well-known, most participated in debate, and a classic that will never die. Even today, these two men both being dead for over a half-century, one only has to spend a bit of time on the Internet to see Waite fans talking smack about Crowley, and Crowley fans talking smack about Waite. These men have become opposing icons of the magickal world, the wise old school occultist vs the sexy bad boy of magick. Unfortunately its all a lie.

Let’s begin by deconstructing the two reasons why these men would have a rivalry to begin with (and we’ll get to the rest later on). The first reason being, and the least complicated of the two, that they were possessed of two very different views on spirituality and magick. These two western ceremonial magicians who were both greatly influenced by the Golden Dawn and the works of Eliphas Levi, who were both well read literary men, and who both valued tarot enough to create their own decks (with some surprising similarities). I could go on, but all I get are similarities. One of the major differences listed is the fact that Crowley published secret information where as Waite believed in keeping it secret. But Waite published secret information when it pleased him to do so (the strength-justice switch of the Golden Dawn for example), where as Crowley created secret information for the eyes of the highest levels of the OTO only (and the OTO still practices this secrecy today). Furthermore the written works of both men are definitely valuable works created by adepts, and neither one, being at the level they were, could truthfully deny the value of the other’s work. Ultimately one can only surmise that these two men were not possessed of very different views on spirituality and magick, in fact they had strikingly similar views on spirituality and magick.

Secondly there’s the belief that this mutual hatred stems from the fact that Waite was part of one of several factions within the Golden Dawn that wished to change its direction, where as Crowley was a loyalist to Mathers, and that Crowley had played a central role in the ultimate demise of the Golden Dawn, something Waite wouldn’t forgive him for.

Let’s start with the idea that Crowley was a loyalist to Mathers. This is generally gathered from Crowley’s own statements about his history with the Golden Dawn, however this history has been disputed by some, particularly that Crowley achieved the 5=6 adept grade, which Crowley claimed was bestowed upon him personally by Mathers in a secret ceremony. There is evidence that Crowley received the 5=6 material from a friend, and that he never surpassed 4=7. Crowley’s own accounts also show that he felt that Mathers and the Golden Dawn had cheated him out of his money, that the secret information was not what was neither secret nor what he was initially promised, and he had a very bitter and public rivalry with Mathers until the later’s death, both publishing the secret Golden Dawn material developed by Mathers and publicly claiming Mathers had engaged in psionic vampirism against him. Although Waite was definitely opposed to Mathers in the end, Crowley seems to be in the same boat with him. Shortly after the original Golden Dawn resolved both men went on to form their own splinter groups, Crowley forming the A.A. and Waite taking over the Isis-Urania temple. Loyalists to Mathers were men like Edward Berridge and J.W. Innes-Brodie who were part of the reconstructed Alpha et Omega, not Crowley who seems to have jumped ship with most everyone else.

As for Crowley being a central figure in the dissolution of the Golden Dawn, I’m sure Crowley liked what this “fact” did for his rep, but ultimately there isn’t much support for this idea either. The Golden Dawn lasted for fourteen years, a very long time for a group of its type, and in that time it had grown to several hundred members with several different temples, all with their own leaders. The group had become large and bloated, the two remaining of the three founding members were at odds with each other, they had been disowned by their German superiors, and their leader had relocated to Paris while the bulk of the organization was in England and being led by others. Factions were forming against Mathers, and that the group had to change was inevitable prior to Crowley joining (which occurred very late in the Golden Dawn’s life-cycle).

Even if Crowley was responsible for the death of the Golden Dawn though, this isn’t something that should have bothered Waite one bit. He was, after all, one of the folks that wanted to change the current direction of the group. Ultimately the dissolution of the Golden Dawn ended with Waite wrestling complete control over Isis-Urania, the group’s original temple, from Brodie-Innes, which Waite held for over a decade before he ran it into the ground on his own.

So if the two didn’t have a reason to fight, what would they get out of a rivalry. To begin to answer that, one has to look at how traditionally, and to a large part even today, magickal information is gathered. When someone is reading a book concerning ceremonial magick, sometimes other books or magicians are named. For instance when Waite references Papus and the Tarot of the Bohemians in the PKT. The reader is then aware of another author or book to look for, and in this way the author recommends other books to the reader by pointing them out. It isn’t coincidence that nearly every book listed in the bibliography to Waite’s extraordinarily popular PKT are considered important and influential books on tarot, even if he did kind of pan them.

The problem is, there’s no such thing as bad press. Although a book Waite says is devoid any value obviously won’t send as many seekers as one he highly praises, he’ll still send more people towards it than if he outright refuses to mention it. So if you know what you’re doing, as Waite did, you never mention a name or book title of someone you despise. We actually see this with Paul Foster Case, a former Alpha et Omega member and anti-enochian magician that actually did dislike Crowley and his works. When Case goes off on Crowley, which he does, he never mentions him by name. If you’re familiar with Crowley already, you’ll probably get everything Case is trying to say, and maybe be deterred from him. If you’re not familiar with Crowley though, you’ll have no idea what Case is talking about, and so he isn’t leading you to him.

Waite and Crowley, however, were both very willing to specifically name the other. And their insults only go to grow each others reputations in a positive way. Every time Waite talks about Crowley he paints him as the magickal rebel, the guy who will let loose the great secrets without requiring years of dedication and the guy that will give away the powerful and, let’s face it, sexy magick that other people guard. Meanwhile Crowley paints Waite as an old school occultist that won’t give up on antiquated traditions, but this of course makes Waite out to be a wise old man with access to powerful information that he’s guarding.

Notice how both men also refrain from ever delivering a killing blow. Waite could have done tremendous damage to Crowley’s organizations had he simply shouted about the sexual practices, particularly homosexuality, present in Crowley’s system, something that would have been clearly discernible by examining just Crowley’s published works. Waite meanwhile was a notorious plagiarizer, and although Crowley may not have known about more obscure sources like the Sola-Busca tarot or the Book of Days, he definitely knew about some of the sources, like Waite lifting the design of the devil card from Levi. Had Crowley exposed Waite, he would have seriously knocked down Waite’s credibility and perceived value.

Also keep in mind both men were notorious liars. Many of the facts Crowley claims to have happened in his life are easily disproven with historical evidence. Meanwhile Waite outright lies at times, such as his belief that there was no connection between Kabbala and tarot (this when his own tarot deck has definite Kabbalistic influences). Neither man could really be trusted, and both are probably amused to no end that they managed to trick so many people for so long with a made up rivalry that did nothing but benefit both men.

Some Card Interpretations (Rider-Waite)

March 24, 2008

I originally posted these card interpretations in the comments section of the now defunct trolltopia blog, and they mostly refer to the Rider-Waite variation of the card. For a while the blog author did a one card reading every day and then gave an interpretation. These were my responses.

2 of Swords


Ew! Card interpetations! Fun! Can I play!

Let’s see, two of swords. Element of air in the number two, which is the number of purity. It rests on the pillar of mercy because a true purity is completely itself and can never be changed or corrupted, causing stagnation (an attribute of mercy, not balance or severity).

And air is representative of the mental side of things, so we have a purity of knowledge, thought, reason, and even imagination.

The two of swords is both knowledge and reason in the abstract and how it applies to physical reality and practical use. It doesn’t bridge the gap between useless, though highly intellectual, information and ideas and useful though more mundane ideas, rather that gap never exists for the two of swords, and all information is at once completely useful and highly intellegent.

Looking at the lady, she’s blindfolded for the same reason that justice is blindfolded. She’s a purity of reason and knowledge, unswayed by any bias or emotion. As discussed earlier, a true purity can never be changed or corrupted.

The swords crossed against her chest are readied for both attack and defense. Her reason will go out and strike down anything illogical, and at the same time it protects her from any falls knowledge. Air is the lesser of the two aggressive elements, but still an aggressive element. Although air isn’t trying to completely consume everything into it like fire, it’s still going to attempt to strike down opposition.

If you were just doing a one card reading on yourself, I’d say the interpetation would be that you’re a great thinker and concerned with logic, but like any Vulcan perhaps you put too much emphasis on the logical and reasonable side of things and not enough on other aspects of life, such as pursuing your passions or giving into your emotional urges every so often.

3 of Swords


Waite’s imagery of the swords was fairly negative in its nature, and unfortunately very few of his imitators ever really understood his deck to begin with (if they did, they wouldn’t of had to copy), and so the swords have ended up being viewed as a negative suit, when in reality they are no more negative than any other.

The three of swords is a good example. It is a the first taint on the mental aspect of things brought about by knowledge of itself.

The card itself typically has a negative imagery. It is a card of self-awareness, a card of knowledge, and the idea that ignorance, now lost, is bliss. It is a direct reference to the fall of man in Genesis. Man’s life was perfect, then he gained an awareness of self by eating from the tree of knowledge, and then everything turned to shit.

But that’s just one side of the card. By eating from the tree of knowledge man became as smart as god, as powerful as god. The three of swords is a card of enlightenment, of epiphanies, of creative inspiration, of self-revelation, of self-awareness, and it’s also the card of the brutal, harsh, cruel, and painful truths.

A law of the universe is there can never be a gain without a loss. This idea is more fully explored in the Hanged Man. In the three of swords, we learn that sometimes in order to gain enlightenment we have to give up something, we have to be hurt.

You will never know pain until you feel it. You’ll never know what it’s like to lose someone you love until it happens.

Someone who knows only of complete and perfect happiness will never be enlightened, because they know naught of everything else.

Someone who is enlightened will never again know complete and perfect happiness, having been exposed to everything else their perfect happiness will never be complete.

So it’s a choice between enlightenment and the bliss of ignorance, but once you eat of the fruit you can never again return to the garden.

I think Pleasentville made a good argument for the choice of enlightenment.

2 of Wands


Ah, there’s a three of wands down there too. I’ll have to do that one next. They have a nice contrast in Waite’s deck. (BTW, you never did say if it was okay that I was doing this on your blog. I just think it’s fun, and I’m assuming it’s okay because you haven’t deleted my posts yet).

Like the two of swords, we once again have a purity, but this time it’s a purity of fire, not air, passion, not reason. And we see this with the flower plaque in the lower left hand corner, red and white flowers crossed (possibly roses, or a rose and a tulip maybe, the design makes it hard to make out the exact flowers). Nevertheless red flowers represent non-platonic love and lust, where as white represents purity.

And our character is a purity of his passions. He stands upon a castle, and literaly holds the world in his right hand, and yet even with all of this he still looks out over the horizen, his hand upon his staff ready for the next conquest. He is absolute desire, and he revels in the ecstasy of desire. On the surface this seems like a sad card, a man who will never be satisfied with what he has, who toils to gain something only to lose interest and move on to the next thing, forever stuck in this cycle.

But with a deeper understanding the card becomes much happier like the rest of the twos. The man is not simply dissatisfied with everything he has, rather he is ever evolving, and every growth he achieves as a person is to him only the stepping stone to the next stage, and he is forever consumed in his journey, never believing he’s grown enough and stopping.

At the same time though, and as opposed to the character of the following card, he truly understands the ecstasy of desire. He is completely content in a state of desire, and he knows that it isn’t the achievement itself but rather the achieving that is really important. It’s the journey, not the destination, that matters. He doesn’t ever need to achieve true completion to find true contentment, he is as content now as he can ever be in a frenzy of desire.

3 of Wands


I’m going to have to disagree with the guy looking well to do. The guy in the two of staffs, he’s well to do, decked out in nice clothes and a cape. But this guy, the garment he’s wearing isn’t even a real garment, it’s at least three different garments sewn together, the yellow in the top left, the checkerboard stripe, and the rest as red. And none of it matches his sleeve, which may be an undergarment or another something sewn on. And to top it off the man has a band on his head, he can’t even afford a proper hat.

I’m going into this because I wanted to contrast this with the two. Both characters are looking out into the horizon, but this one is poorly dressed and standing atop a small empty mound, whereas the other fellow was well dressed and standing atop a castle. And yet both stare out into the horizon, waiting for their ships to come in as you put it.

Whereas the two represents I Am and the purity of being, the three represents I Know I Am and the corruption of purity, the first corruption occurring through a knowledge of the existence of self.

Translated into the idea of passion, when it realizes its existence it becomes want and desire. Here we have a poor man, a man who wants, looking at the horizon with a staff in hand, ready for conquest.

Where as the man in the two finds happiness in his conquests, the man in the three sees conquest as a means to his happiness. For him it is the destination, not the journey, that truly matters.

The card itself is fairly sad in its energy. The man will never really know happiness. He’s one of those types who thinks happiness is gained by finally achieving what he wants to achieve, and he spends his life in pursuit of that and typically dies sad and still trying to reach his completion.

Career paths are a good way to look at this idea. There are certain people who get into a certain profession, and take certain jobs, because they believe that it will eventually lead to them making a descent income and getting the things that they want (cars, houses, money for children, ect.). Then there are those people who enter into a profession because they have a natural calling towards it, they feel a certain drive and passion in doing the work. Every step in this path (raises, promotions, moving to a better company) isn’t a movement towards getting to that spot where they’ll finally be rewarded with the financial lifestyle they want, but rather it’s a step towards making them better at their chosen profession. And they aren’t putting in their time for that eventual reward, rather being able to make a living doing the work is the reward.

And now ask yourself, which is the better professional? Which would you rather have working under you? Which would you rather be in your own life?

As for these two professionals, the former is the man from the three of staffs, and the later is the man from the two of staffs.

Knight of Cups


Let’s see, Knight of Cups, which corresponds to the airy part of the element of water.

Air is the mental element. It corresponds to thought, ideas, knowledge, logic, reason, and imagination. It’s also the lesser aggressive element.

Water meanwhile corresponds to emotion, love, relationships, sex, and is the greater passive element.

The knight of cups is actually at an advantage being the airy part of water. He is able to take the positive elements of water and control them, since he’s an active side of a passive element. And unlike the fiery side it’s a very reasoned and calculated control.

The Knight of Cups could, under the best of circumstances, be a zen master, completely in control of his emotions and able to will them to whatever he wants them to be.

In most cases though he’s probably just a guy who’s really good at keeping himself under control. He never flies off the handle and he never breaks down crying, and although he may laugh at times he’s never ROFLHFAO. Most people probably see him as a bit stoic and emotionless.

Then again, in a more negative sense, he could be like Mr Prufrock, over anylzing every emotion until, finally, measuring out his life in coffee spoons he never acts on his emotion and ultimatly fails to do anything of consequence.

As for a personal interpetation for you, I think, and with regards to yesterday’s card, the reading would be that you’re putting too much thought into things and not taking enough action. It’s good to be in control of your emotions and passions, but sometimes you have to act on them and make rash decisions, otherwise you’ll never get anywhere. Sometimes it’s best to just grab the girl, stick your tongue down her throat, and then lift her with one hand onto the bed before making mad passionate love to her. Sure, you’ll most likely get a hernia from this, but if you sit around contemplating that for two long she’s going to end up with that sleazy best friend of yours (we all know your life is basically an eighties sitcom, there’s no sense in trying to hide that now :).

Ace of Coins


The aces are so simplified and abstract they’re the hardest card to put into words. But they are the seeds of what’s to come, and here with the pentacles we have the seeds of the element of Earth, or the material world (and as such material gain).

As with all of the aces, we have the object being presented by a hand in the clouds, the hand of God, because as per Christian beliefs all things begin with God creating them and placing them into the world.

More interesting in the symbolism is what lies below the hand. Here we have the Garden of Eden, the first material created on Earth, and we have a path running towards the gateway of Eden, and through it lies the mountains.

At the same time, looking at the ace of swords, the seeds of knowledge, we have the barren mountains instead of Eden, and knowledge being what exiled man from the garden and into the harsh and barren world outside.

At the same time, the ace of pentacles is the spiritual aspect of the element of earth. Spirit is the original and all encompassing element, the divine, a part of the all or the source.

If we look at Judeo-Christian philosophies, Eastern philosophies, and even the pagan philosophies they tend to side with the idea that the material aspect of things and wanting material gain is a bad thing, or at the very least not a good thing, and is at the exact opposite of spirituality. Passion can be spiritual (as with art for example), emotion can be spiritual (love, compassion, ect.), and reason can be spiritual (the idea of the enlightened master or the scribing monk), but material gain is never spiritual. You can’t take it with you into the next life. Temptation needs to be removed. The truly spiritual man is a poor man and has evolved beyond a need for money. The material plane is the antithesis to the spiritual plane.

And yet the ace of pentacles tells us that all of this is untrue, and that’s it’s secret. Spirit is all encompassing, it exists in everything, even at the material level. Your spiritual path in this lifetime may very well involve the aquisition and enjoyment of wealth, and there is nothing unspiritual about doing that.

More disturbing is the man who claims enlightenment and yet turns away from the material plane of being. He is a man who has completely dismissed one spiritual aspect of this lifetime, and at the same time one has to wonder why he is incarnate if his path does not involve being a part of physical being.