By Aleister Crowley

Chapter LVII: Beings I have Seen with my Physical Eye

Cara Soror,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Well do you know my lifelong rule never to make any assertion that cannot be verified, or at least supported by corroborative evidence, on any subject pertaining to Magick.

When, therefore, you express curiosity as to how much of the normally super-sensible world has been revealed to my senses, and especially that of sight, you must take my answer as "without prejudice," "e. and o.e.", "under the rose," and "in a Pickwickian sense."  If you choose to call me a lunatic and/or a liar, I shall accept the verdict with mine accustomed imperturbability.  Whether what I am about to tell you is "true" or not doesn't matter, as in any case it proves nothing in particular.  What does matter is to accept nothing whatever from the "Astral Plane" without the most conclusive and irrefragable internal evidence.

That is enough for the caveat part of it; now I plunge direct into the autobiographical.

I begin with my childhood.  There is one incident, not quite relevant in this place, but yet of such supreme significance that I dare not omit it.  I must have been about 6 years old.  I was capering round my father during a walk through the meadows.  He pointed out a bunch of nettles in the corner of the field, close to the gate (I an see it quite clearly to-day!) and told me that if I touched them they would sting.  Some word, gesture, or expression of mine caused him to add: Would you rather be told, or learn by experience?  I replied, instantly: I would rather learn by experience.  Suiting the action to the word, I dashed forward, plunged in the clump, and learnt.

This incident is the key to the puzzle of my character. But, as a child, what did I see?  I cannot think of any one person who subsequently devoted his life to Magick who has not at least one early experience of seeing angels, or fairies, or something of the sort.  But A.C.?  Nary a one.  I was brought up on the Bible, a literalist, fundamentalist—all that a Plymouth Brother could wish.  It never occurred to me to doubt a word of what I was told.  Perhaps the Wolf's Tail of an healthy scepticism gleamed pale at the age of 10, when I asked my form master how it was that Christ managed to be dead for three days and three nights between Friday night and Sunday morning.  He said that he did not know, and (to a further question) that no one had ever explained it.  This merely filled me with ambition to be the great exegetist who had explained it.  I never thought of doubting the story.

Well, all this time, and then through puberty, despite my romantic bent, my absorption in the gramarye of Sir Walter Scott, my imaginative life as one of his heroes, and the rest of it.  I never had even a moment's illusion that anything of the sort had ever happened to me.  I went through all the motions; I haunted all the places where such things are reputed likely to happen, but nothing did happen.

There is one exception, and one only.

It was in 1896, at Arolla in the Pennine Alps.  I took my cousin, Gregor Grant, a fine climber but with little experience beyond scrambles, and in poor physical condition, for the second (first guideless) ascent of the N.N.E. ridge of Mont Collon, a long and exacting climb of more than average difficulty.  I had to help him with the rope for most of the climb.  This made us late.  I dashed for the quickest way down, a short but very steep ridge with one decidedly bad patch, to the great snowfield at the head of the valley.  At the bottom of the last pitch a scree-strewn slope, easy going, led to the snows.  We took off the rope, and I sat down to coil it and light a pipe, while he wandered down.  By this time I was as tired as 14 dogs, each one more tired than all the rest put together; what I call "silly tired."  I took a chance (for nightfall was near) on resting 5 or 10 minutes.  Restored, I sprang to my feet, threw the coiled rope over my shoulder, and started to run down.  But I was too tired to run; I slackened off.

Then, to my amazement, I saw of the slopes below me, two little fellows hopping playfully about on the scree.  (A moment while I remind you that all my romance was Celtic; I had never ever read Teutonic myths and fables.) But these little men were exactly the traditional gnome of German fold-tales; the Heinzelmänner that one sees sometimes on German beer-mugs (I have never drunk beer in my life) and in friezes on the walls of a Conditorei.

I hailed them cheerfully—at first I thought they were some of the local nobility and gentry of a type I had not yet encountered; but they took no notice, just went on playing about.  They were still at it when I reached my cousin, sheltering behind some boulders at the foot of the slope; and I saw no more of them.

I saw them as plainly as I ever saw anything; there was nothing ghostly or semi-transparent about them.

A curious point is that I attached no significance to this.  I asked my cousin if he had seen them; he said no.

My mind accepted the incident as simply as if I had seen Chamois.  Yet even to-day when I have seen lots and lots of things more wonderful, this incident stands out as the simplest and clearest of all my experiences.  I give myself full marks!

"Why?"  Isn't it obvious?  It means that I am not the semi-hysterical type who takes wish-phantasms for facts.  When I started seriously to study and practise Magick in the Autumn of '98 e.v., I wished and wished with all my might; but I never got anything out of it.  With the exception above recorded, my first experiences were the direct result of intense magical effort on the traditional lines; there was no accident about it; when I evoked N to visible appearance, I got N and nobody else.  But even so, there isn't much to splash!

The first definitely physical sight was due to the "evocation to visible appearance" of the Goetia demon Buer by myself and V.H. Frater "Volo Noscere."1  (Our object was to prolong the life, in imminent danger, of V.H. Frater Iehi Aour—Allan Bennett—Bhikkhu Ananda Metteya—and was successful; he lived another 20 odd years.  And odd years they were!)

I was wide awake, keyed up, keenly observant at the time.

The temple was approximately 16 feet by 8, and 12 high.  A small "double- cube" altar of acacia was in the centre of a circle; outside this was a triangle in which it was proposed to get the demon to appear.  The room was thick with the smoke of incense, some that of Abramelin, but mostly, in a special censer in the triangle, Dittany of Crete (we decided to use this, as H.P.B. once said that its magical virtue was greater than that of any other herb).

As the ceremony proceeded, we were aware that the smoke was not uniform in thickness throughout the room, but tended to be almost opaquely dense in some parts of it, all but clear in others. This effect was much more definite than could possibly be explained by draughts, of by our own movements.  Presently it gathered itself together still more completely, until it was roughly as if a column of smoke were rising from the tri- angle, leaving the rest of the room practically clear.

Finally, at the climax of the ritual—we had got as far as the "stronger and more potent conjuration"—we both saw, vaguely enough, but yet beyond doubt, parts of a quite definite figure.  In particular, there was a helmet suggesting Athene (or horror!  Brittania!), part of a tunic or chlamys, and very solid footgear.  (I thought of "the well-greaved Greeks.")  Now this was very far from satisfactory; it corres- ponded in no wise with the appearance of Buer which the Goetia had led us to expect.  Worse, this was as far as it went; no doubt, seeing it at all had disturbed our concentration.  (This is where training in Yoga would have helped our Magick.)  From that point it was all a wash-out.  We could not get back the enthusiasm necessary to persist.  We called it a day, did the banishings, closed the temple, and went to bed with our tails between our legs.

(And yet, from a saner point of view, the Operation had been a shining success.  "Miraculous" things began to happen; in one way and another the gates opened for Allan to migrate to less asthmatic climes; and the object of our work was amply attained.)

I give prominence to this phenomenon because what we saw, little and unsatisfactory as it was, appeared to our normal physical sight.  I learned later that there is a kind of sight half-way between that and the astral.  In a "regular" astral vision one sees better when the eyes are shut; with this intermediate instrument, to close them would be as completely annihilating as if the vision were an ordinary object of sight.

It seems, too, as if I had picked up something of the sort as an aftereffect of the Evocation of Buer—a Mercurial demon; for phenomena of one sort or another were simple showered on me from this moment, pari passu with my constantly improving technique in regular "astral visions."  Sometimes I was quite blind, as compared with Frater V.N.; for when the circles was broken one nightùsee the whole story in my Autohagiography—he saw and identified dozens and scores of Abramelin demons as they marched widdershins around my library, while all I saw of them was a procession of "half-formed faces" moving shadowy through the dimly-lit room.

When it was a matter of the sense of touch, it was far otherwise; I got it good and hearty—but that is not the subject of this letter. I find all this excessively tedious; I resent having to write about it at all; I wonder whether I am breaking some beastly by-law; in fact, I shall ask you to be content with Buer as far as details go; I never saw anything of importance with purely physical sight with anything like the clarity of my adventure on Mont Collon.

Yes, as I think it over, that by-law is to thank.  This Spring I saw very plainly, on four separate occasions, various beings of another order than ours.  I was ass enough to tell one or two pupils about it...

And I've never been able to see any more.  This, however, it is a positive duty to tell you.  One can acquire the power of seeing, with this kind of sight that is neither wholly normal nor wholly astral, all the natural inhabitants of the various places that one reaches in one's travels; one can make intimate contact with individual "elementals" as closely as one can with human beings or animals, although the relation is rarely continuous or permanent.

The conditions of such intercourse are complex: (a) one must have the necessary degree of initiation, magical efficiency, and natural ability; (b) one must be at the time in the appropriate magical state, or mood; (c) both parties must desire to make the contact, or else one must be lawfully the superior, a master and slave relationship, (d) the magical conditions at the time must be suitable and propitious; e.g., one would not make love to a salamandrine during a sandstorm.  Of course, like all operations, any such efforts must be justified by their consoance with one's True Will.

On this note I end this abortive letter.

Love is the law, love under will.

Yours fraternally,


1: Lat., "I want to know."  George Cecil Jones.

© Ordo Templi Orientis.  Original key entry by W.E. Heidrick for O.T.O.  HTML coding by Frater T.S. for Nu Isis Working Group.

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