Every Man and Every Woman is a Star!
It is this line from Aleister Crowley’s “Book of the Law”, which gruntles me the most. Perhaps this is because he is declaring the freedom, value and divinity of every Human being that has ever lived on this Earth. These are dangerous thoughts, even in our modern times and people are still being killed due to these beliefs. Yet, the origin, of this idea, is actually to be located in ancient Greece, among those people who claimed that no one had the political right to govern over another. By this, of course, I mean the early Anarchists. At this point, perhaps, we need to ask, what Anarchy actually is?
One possible answer is given in a poem by the Russian poet of the Yiddish language David Edelstat entitled “That Is Anarchy”, where he dreams:
A world where no one shall govern over another’s labour and toil
Every heart and mind shall be free
That is anarchy!
A world where freedom will bring fortune for all
The weak, the strong, the ‘he’, the ‘she’
Where “yours” and “mine” will oppress none
That is anarchy!
Indeed, the word “anarchy” is taken from the ancient Greek term “anarchia”, which translates as “without a ruler”. Moreover, by origin it is a positive concept, upholding that human beings are naturally good and that it is inherited society which is poisonous. In other words, this statement by Crowley is one of the most powerful calls to freedom that has ever been written; a statement telling us that future generations must discover a higher principle inside themselves.
Before I go any further, I need to share with you that I am a committed Humanist from Azerbaijan, with the firm belief that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and that Crowley was one of the few thinkers in Edwardian England championing this position. Certainly, his writings extol a radical philosophy of Freedom encompassing political theories and attitudes, arguing that the state is unnecessary, often harmful and usually undesirable. Crowley favoured instead, a free and open society where individuality is upheld as an ultimate ethic. Moreover, this type of individualist anarchism, finds strange echoes in the classics of world literature. In the rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam, for example, the poet tends to focus on personal liberty and the joys of this material world. As Omar writes:
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
At this point, it is important to note that individualist anarchism refers to several traditions of thought within the general movement that emphasizes the individual and his or her will over any kind of external forces such as customs and ideologies. Also, egoist anarchism is not a single thought system, but refers to a group of libertarian theories that sometimes are in conflict with each other. Nevertheless, influences on relatively recent anarchist literature include the clearly Pythagorean works of the great French thinker François Rabelais, the English political theoretician William Godwin, not to mention, Theodor Reuss and, surprisingly, Walt Whitman, who is known to have said, “The shallow consider liberty a release from all law, from every constraint. The wise see in it, on the contrary, the potent Law of Laws”. As is obvious from this sentence, rather like Crowley, Whitman believed that all external institutions simply represented tyranny and that every Human Being is born to be free.
This instantly brings to mind other famous revisionist statements by Crowley, including the unsettling lines “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under Will”. In this, he is defying all boundaries and borders in an attempt to uphold the primacy of love; he is instructing those who read his corpus that a free will remains the most powerful gift that anyone can give to themselves. Some critics have been repulsed by these views and have argued that chaos will reign if they are ever taken seriously. However, such commentators are merely demonstrating their lack of faith in humanity itself. At the end of the day, people are either good at heart or wicked to the core. Sentiments expressed by every oppressed people across the globe and given a unique voice by the Turkish poet Naime Erlachin, who wrote in her work entitled “Anarchist poems”:
Bu sular fazla derin
Ne balık olmaktı amaç
Ne balıkçı ağlarıyla deniz örtmek
Bu sular fazla dalgalı
Bir o yana savruluyor tekne, bir bu yana
Buz dağı çarpsa da öleceğiz
Sular kudursa da
Ölelim o halde!
Denizi size verdim gitti
Ölümcül esrarlı denizi
Dağlar benim olsun yeter
Düşlerini çalmıyorlar orda adamın
Düş bağışlanmıyor ki çalınsın!
Yamaçta yankılanan her sedanın anlamı var
Çünkü dönüyor insana
Bulutla öpüşürken dağda
Tanrılar varsın ateş yaksın
Insan tipiye teslim, insan soğuğa
Deniz çok fırtına, deniz çok dalga
Içinde bir olta ve balıklar
Iyi bak! hepsi orada
Dağ yollara düşmez
Yol dağlara düşer bugün!
Or as it translates in English:
These waters are very deep
My aim was neither to be a fish
Nor the fishing net which covers the sea
These waters are very wavy
Throwing the ship from side to side
We will die if either an iceberg strikes
Or the waters become rabid
Let’s die then!
I gave the sea, to you
The mortal, mysterious sea
It’s enough; let the mountains be mine
They do not steal the dreams of the people there
Dreams are not donated, they should be stolen!
There are meanings to each echo on the slope
Because it goes
Because it returns to a man
While kissing clouds on the mountain
Let Gods, fire burn
But Man capitulated to the blizzard; Man to the cold
The sea is very stormy, the sea is very wavy
A hook in it, and fish
Look at it well! Alls there!
A mountain will not pass to pathways,
A pathway will pass to mountains, today!
As we can hear, she is sounding a clarion call to freedom. Furthermore, her powerful images almost seem to shake her readers into a greater sense of wakefulness; a strategy adopted by Crowley for most of his life.
Clearly, for the mage Aleister Crowley, the powers of light would never ask any human being to bow before them. According to this revolutionary thinker, moral slavery was as far away from these spirits as the stars are from the Earth. All of which raises the question of what it means to be both religious and human. But, there is the problem. Perhaps it is not possible to have a religion and full human freedom. After all, religions tend to cause more harm than good. What is more, organised religions have been the greatest instruments for intolerance, warfare and ignorance; a fact neither lost to Crowley nor the Theosophist Helena Blavatsky, when she wrote that there was “No Religion Higher Than Truth”. Perhaps that is also why, Anarchists claim that the powerful as well as the rich have always used religion to control and frighten their own people.
I would like to conclude my talk this evening by referring to another famous poet, anarchist and mystic William Blake, who, some have said, was the magical ancestor of the “Great Beast” himself. By this comment, critics probably have in mind sentiments of Blake’s such as “Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion”, along with his notorious poem, the Everlasting Gospel which describes the Messiah as one of history’s ultimate rebels. As we may read:
If he had been Antichrist, Creeping Jesus,
He’d have done anything to please us:
Gone sneaking into the Synagogues
And not used the Elders and Priests like Dogs,
But humble as a Lamb or an Ass,
Obey himself to Caiaphas.
God wants not man to humble himself
Crowley, therefore, remains a man, who can truly “Gruntle” our society by his belief that human beings must conquer their limitations. That’s why at the end I wish to repeat again:
Every Man and Every Woman is a Star!
(A talk delivered to the “Gruntlers” at the Poetry Cafe on 11th January 2010)