By Aleister Crowley

Chapter LXXVIII: Sore Spots

Cara Soror,

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

Three in one and one in three—it's the Athanasian Creed in the Black Mass—eh!  What's that you say?  Oh, quite right, quite, quite right of you to remind me.  "Definition first!"

A "sore spot" is one which reacts abnormally and violently, however gently you touch it; more, all the other bits of you give a painful jerk, however disconnected they may seem.  Still more, the entire System undergoes a spasm of apprehension; and the total result is that the mental as well as the physical system is quite unable to grasp the situation with any accuracy, and the whole man is temporarily engulphed in what is naturally not far from a condition of insanity.

(Now, Athanasius! It's all right; the lady has gone away to think it over.)

In—shall I say "Anglo-Saxondom," or "Teutonic breeds," or "bourgeoisie," so as to include some of the French whom when they are good are very good indeed, but when they are bad, they are horrid?—the presiding God/Gods of this Trinity is/are: 1. Sex, 2. Religion, 3. "Drugs;" and the greatest of these is Sex, actually the main root of which the other two are tough and twisted stems, each with its peculiar species of poisonous flowers, sometimes superficially so attractive that their nastiness passes for Beauty.

I shall leave it to the psychoanalysts to demonstrate the reduction to Sex, merely remarking that though I agree with their analysis as far as it goes, I do not allow it to stop where they do.

For us, Sex is the first unconscious manifestation of Chiah, the Creative Energy; and although (like everything else) it is shown both on the spiritual and the physical planes, its most important forth-showing is on the "Magical" plane, because it actually produces phenomena which partake of all these.  It is the True Will on the creative plane: "By Wisdom formed He the worlds."  So soon as its thaumaturgy is accomplished, it is, through Binah, understood as the Logos.  Thus in Sex we find every one of the primary Correspondences of Chokmah.  Being thus ineffable and sacrosanct, it is (plainly enough) peculiarly liable to profanation.  Being profaned, it is naturally more unspeakably nasty than any other of the "Mysteries."  You will find a good deal on this subject implied in Artemis Iota, attached to another of my letters to you.

Before tackling "Sore Spots" seriously, there is after all, one point which should be made clear as to this Trinitarian simplification.

One of the most interesting and fruitful periods of my life was when I was involved in research as to the meaning of Sankhara: "tendencies" may be, indeed is, a good enough translation, but it leaves one very much as deeply in the dark as before.  You remember—I hope!—that Sankhara lies between Vinnanam, Pure Consciousness, and Sanna, Perception.  For instance, an electric fan in motion: a house-fly "tends" to see the vanes as we do when they are still, we "tend" to see a diaphanous blur.

Then, in delirium tremens, why do we tend to see pink rats rather than begonias or gazelles?

We tend to see the myriad flashing colours of the humming bird; the bird itself does not; it has no apparatus of colour-sense; to him all appears a neutral tint, varying only in degrees of brightness.

Such were some of the fundamental facts that directed the course of my research, whose results you may read in "The Psychology of Hashish", by Oliver Haddo in The Equinox, Vol. I, No. 2.  The general basis of this Essay is Sankhara; it shows how very striking are the analogies between, (1) the results obtained by Mystics—this includes the Ecstasy of Sexual Feeling, as you may read in pretty nearly all of them, from St. Augustine to St. Teresa and the Nun Gertrude.  The stages recounted by the Buddha in his psychological analyses correspond with almost incredible accuracy.  (2) The phenomena observed by those who use opium, hashish, and some other "drugs" (3) The phenomena of various forms of insanity.

The facts of this research are infuriating to the religious mystic; and the fact of its main conclusion is liable to drive him into so delirious a frenzy of rage as to make one reach for one's notebook—one more typical extreme case!

Now of course very few religious persons know that they are mystics—already it annoys them to suggest it!—but, whether the lady doth protest too much, or too little, the fact is that they are.  There is no true rational meaning in religion.  Consider the Athanasian Creed itself!

Observe that the rationalist dare not yield a millionth of a millimetre.

"First cut the Liquefaction, what comes next
But Fichte's clever cut at God himself? . . .
The first step, I am master not to take:"

says Bishop Blougram, and is pinned to the cork labelled "St. Januarius"!

This dilemma, consciously or subconsciously, is well rooted in the minds of everybody who takes Life, in any one of its forms, seriously. He feels the touch of the rapier, however shrewdly or cautiously wielded. The salute itself is more than enough; he feels already the thrust to his vitals.

I remember sailing happily in to breakfast at Camberwell Vicarage, and saying cheerfully, in absolute good faith: "A fine morning, Mr. Kelly!" I was astounded at the reply.  The dear old gentleman—and he really was one of the best!—half choked, then gobbled at me like a turkey!  "You're a very insolent young man!"  Poor, tiny Aleister!  How was I to know that his son had driven it well home that the hallmark of English stupidity was that the only safe topic of conversation was the weather.  And so my greeting was instantly construed as a deliberate insult!

A typical example of the irrationality of the reactions of a sufferer!

Now, from this schoolboy level, let us rise and put the case a little more strongly.  Let us quit the shallows of social backchat for the gloomy and horrific abysses of a murder trial!

To every man and woman that has not seen Sex as it is, faced it, mastered it—you will find elsewhere in these letters sufficient on this matter—it is his secret guilt.  Imagine, then, how at any reference however remote, the "sinner" quails, his inmost mystery laid bare, his evil conscience holding up a tarnished mirror to his deformed and hideous face!" Often enough, he does not mind gross jests which admit complicity on the part of the other; but any allusion to the Truth, and his soul shrieks: I am found out!" Then apoplectic Fear puts on the mask of Indignation and Disgust.

As for a serious discussion of anything concerned therewith, why, every word is a new rasping tear.  The mind takes refuge in irrational and irrelevant outbursts of feigned rage and horror.

In the case of religion, the consciousness of guilt extended to cover everything from "playin' chuch-farden on the bless‚d tombstones" to "the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost."  Against this vague and monstrous bogey, religion is the only safeguard, and therefore to suggest the unsoundness of the guarantee is to strike at the roots of all security.  It is like hinting to some besotted and uxorious oldster, that his young wife may be unfaithful.  It is the poison that Iago dripped so skillfully into the long hairy ear of the dull Moor.  So he reacts irrationally—every bush conceals a bear—nay, more likely a Boojum,1 or a Bunyip,2 or some other creature of fear-spurred Imagination!  "Monstrum informe, ingens, horrendum."3  Note well the "informe."

And because the guarantee is unsound (and must be, or where would be the point of "Faith"?) reassurance is in the nature of things impossible.  Like the demented rider in The Erl-King, the chase goes ever wilder and wilder, until he plunges at the end into the bottomless bog of madness and destruction.

I wonder how many lunatics there are in the "bughouse" to-day—in the times of "evangelical revival" the number was fantastic—who got there through fear that they had somehow committed the aforesaid "blasphemy against the Holy Ghost."  The unknown again.  The Bible does not tell us that it is; only that it is unpardonable. Nor Grace, nor Faith, nor predestination avail in the least; for all you know, you may have committed it.  Reassurance is impossible; no ceinture de chastetée‚ avails to avert this danger.

Again with drugs, it is the unknown which is the horrific factor.  Most people get their information on the subject from the yellowest of yellow newspapers, magazines and novels.  So darkly deep is their ignorance that that do not know what the word means—like us so often, yes?

Wide sections of the U.S.A. are scared of tea and coffee. They blench when you point out that bicarbonate of soda is a drug just as much as cocaine; at the same time they literally shovel in the really dangerous Aspirin, to say nothing of the thousand Patent Medicines blared at them from every radio—as if the Press were not enough to poison the whole population!  Blank-eyed, they gasp when they learn that of all classes, the first place among "drug addicts" is that of the doctor.

But the crisis in which fear becomes phobia is the unreasoning aversion, the shuddering of panic, above all, the passionate refusal to learn anything about "drugs," to analyse the conditions, still less to face them; and the spasmodic invention of imaginary terrors, as if the real dangers were not enough to serve as a warning.

Now why?  Surely because in the sub-conscious lies an instinct that in these obscure medicines indeed lies the key of some forbidden sanctuary.  There is a fascination as irrational and therefore as strong, as the fear.  Here is the point at which they link up with sex and religion.  Oh, how well nigh almighty is the urgency to him who reads those few great writers who understood the subject from experience: de Quincey, Ludlow, Poe and Baudelaire: into whom burn the pointed parallels between their adventures and those of all the mystics, East and West!

The worst of this correspondence-form is that you are always asking simple elementary questions which require half a dozen treatises to answer: so, take this, with my blessing!

Love is the law, love under will.

Yours fraternally,


P.S.  One further reflection.  With all these "sore spots" is closely linked the idea of cruelty.  I need not touch upon the relation of cruelty to sex; the theme has been worn threadbare.  But in religion, note the Bottomless Pit and the Eternal Flame; in Buddhism, the eighteen hot and eighteen cold Hells, with many another beneath.  Hindu eschatology has countless Hells; even pedestrian, precise Islam, and the calculating Qabalists, each boast of Seven.  Again with drugs as with insanity, we are confronted constantly with nameless terrors; the idea of formlessness, of infinity pervades them alike.  Consider the man who takes every chance gesture of a stranger in the street as a secret sign passed from one of his persecutors to another; consider those who refuse food because of the mysterious conspiracy to poison them.

All sanity, which is all Science, is founded upon Limit.  We must be able to cut off, to define, to measure.  Naturally, then, their opposites, Insanity and Religion, have for their prime characteristic, the Indefinable, Incomprehensible, Immeasurable.

The healing virtue of these words is this: examine the sore spot, analyse it, probe it; then disinfection and the Vis Medicatrix Naturae, complete the cure.

I had just finished this when in comes your very pertinent "Supplementary"" Postcard.  "Doesn't hypocrisy fit in here, somehow?"  Indeed it does, my child!

Corresponding to, and the poison bacillus of, that centre of infection, is a Trinity of pure Evil, the total abnegation of Thelema. Well known to the psycho-analyst: the name thereof Shame—Guilt—Fear.  The Anglo-Saxon or bourgeois mentality is soaked therein; and his remedy so far from our exploratory-disinfection method, is to hide the gan- grened mass with dirty poultices. He has always a text of Scripture or some other authority to paint his foulest acts in glowing colours; and if he wants a glass of beer, he hates the stuff, but —doctor's orders, my boy, doctor's orders.—

There is really nothing new to be said about hypocrisy; it has been analysed, exposed, lashed by every great Artist; quite without effect. It gets worse as the socialistic idea thrives, as the individual leans ever harder on the moral support of the herd.*

* Here is a most pertinent story from I Write as I Please by my old friend, Walter Duranty.  It shows how the sentimental point of view blinds its addicts to the most obvious facts.

"My friend Freddy Lyon . . . told me a story . . . of the Volga Famine.  Some A.R.A. 'higher-ups' from New York were making a tour of inspection . . . Among them was a worthy but sentimental citizen who gushed about the unhappy Russians and the poor little starving children and what a privilege it was for Mr. Lyon to be doing this noble work for humanity and so on and so forth until Lyon said he was ready to choke him . . . After lunch the visitors suggested they would like to visit the cemetary.  It was, said Freddy, a horrid sight, nude, dead bodies piled up ten high like faggots, because the population was so destitute that every stitch of clothing was needed for the living.  The visitors were sickened by what they saw, and even the gushing one was silent as they walked back to the cemetery gate.  Suddenly he caught Freddy by the arm.  'Look there!' he said, 'Is not that something to restore our faith in the goodness of God in the midst of all these horrors?'  He pointed to a big woolly dog lying asleep on a grave with his head between his paws, and continued impressively.  'Faithful unto death and beyond.  I have often heard of a dog refusing to be comforted when his master died, lying desolate on his grave, but I never thought to see such a thing my- self.'  That was too much for Freddy Lyon.  'Yes,' he said cruelly, 'but look at the dog's paws and muzzle'—they were stiff with clotted blood—'he's not mourning his master, he's sleeping off a meal.'

'At which point,' Lyon concluded his story with gusto, 'that talkative guy did the opposite of sleeping off his lunch in a very thorough manner, and there wasn't another peep out of him until we put him on the train.'"

P.S. Here is a very different set of reactions.  I do not quite know why I am putting it in; is it some sub-conscious attraction of my own?  Anyhow, here it is; call it


Time: a fine Sunday evening in June, just one and twenty years ago. Place: Paris, just off the Place des Tertres, overlooking the city. A large and lovely studio, panelled in oak. Strange: it was completely bare, and so far as one could see, it had no door. The skylights, mind- ful, were carefully screened with broidered stuff. A gallery, some ten feet from the floor, ran round one corner. Here was a buffet loaded with priceless wines and liquors of all sorts—except the "soft"—and excellent variety of all cold "snack" refreshments.  One gained it by a staircase from the lower floor.

By the buffet, the old butler: oh, for a painter to portray his Weariness of Evil Wisdom!

Our host led us to the gallery; "we ate and drank and saw" not God also, but the lady responsible for the heavy tread upon the stairs.  A woman of the Halles Centrales, in her early forties; coarse, brutal, ugly, robust, square-set, curiously radiant with some magnetic form of energy.

I cannot describe her clothes—for lack of material.  She greeted us all round with a sort of surly good humour.  The butler took a pot of very far-gone Roquefort cheese, and smeared her all over.  She drank to us, and clumped away downstairs.  She came out into the studio from under the gallery, braced herself and shook her mop of hair as if about to wrestle, waved to us and waited.

A minute later a small trap at the far end of the studio was smartly pulled up; in rushed a hundred starving rats.  There was a moment's hesitation; but the smell of the cheese was too much, and they rushed her.  She caught one in both hands, bit through its spine, and flung it aside.

Softly repeating to myself passages from The Revenge by the late Alfred Lord Tennyson, of which the scene most powerfully reminded me.  "Rat after rat, for half an hour, flung back as fast as it came."  Their courage wilted; the hunted became the huntress; I thought of Artemis as I sang softly to myself, "When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces."4  But she pursued; snapped the last spine, and flung it into the gallery with a yell of triumph.

It was not so easy a victory as I have perhaps described it, once she slipped in the slime and came down with a thud; and at the end blood spurted from innumerable bites.

The whole scene was too much for most of the men; they literally howled liked famished wolves, and shook the balustrade until it creaked and groaned.  Presently one slipped over, let himself lightly to the floor and charged.  Others followed.  All had their heart's desire.  I was reminded of Swinburn's Laus Veneris,

"I let mine eyes have all their will of thee
I seal myself upon thee with my might."

As for the women, the ferocious glitter of their eyes was almost terrifying.  One of them, true, would have joined the happy warriors below; but the butler roughly pulled her back, saying in a shocked voice, "Madame est normale."  (I enjoyed that!)  Others consoled themselves by capturing those males who were too timid to risk the jump.

I swallowed a last glass of champagne, and then "je filai a l'Anglais."

Summary: a pleasant time was had by all.

Note for political economists: the woman took 10,000 francs (at about 125 to the £); she took three weeks in hospital and three weeks' holiday between the shows.  She was, or had been, the mistress of a Minister with "peuple" ideas, though he was an aristocrat of very old vintage; and he helped her to have her daughters brought up in one of the most exclusive convents in France.


Kenneth Grant, who was doing secretarial work for Crowley around the time some of the letters in Magick Without Tears were written, later printed in his Remembering Aleister Crowley (London: Skoob, 1991) some material originally intended for this letter which he had written down in a notebook and then misplaced:

Motto for "Sore Spots"

"Il n'appartient vraiment qu'aux races dégradées
D'avoir lâchment peur des faits et des idées."

"Appelez bien plûtot sur ce qui vous effraie
Le jour qui rétablit la proportion vraie
Et dépouille l'object, à lui-mê,e réduit,
De l'aspect colossal que lui prêtait la nuit."

Ponsard.  Charlotte Corday.  Prologue.

Insert in "Sore Spots."

Here is a case in point from recent experience.  In my play "The Three Wishes" one of the characters is a rich selfish woman who has exhausted every source of vicious pleasure.  In here abject despair her last resource is addiction to morphine.

I gave the play to an actor, a man of the highest intelligence and the broadest views on life; he said that I could not hope to get a play licensed if it dealt with drugs, unless as a warning against their abuse—which is exactly what the play imports.  The mere mention of morphine had so disturbed his judgement that he failed to realize that fact.

He interpreted her abject wail, the cynical cry of a damned soul, as a defiant assertion of compensation for her disappointments in all else.

The mere mention!  There is not a line in the whole play to support any advocacy or excuse for her suicidal habit.

1: See The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll — T.S.

2: "According to Australian aboriginal folk-lore, a man-eating bellowing monster who drags his victims down to the bottom of the lake or swamp that he inhabits.  It is also used to mean an 'impostor'." (Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, s.v. "Bunyip")

3: Lat., "a formless, huge, fearful monster."

4: Swinburne, Atalanta in Calydon.

© 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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