INTERLUDE: THE ACCOUNT OF ALEISTER CROWLEY
I have not been a resident here for many months, I bought the house from the previous owner due to its suitability for a ritual I had in mind.
Life here could hardly be more different than it was during the last couple of years in London. You may know a little of my history but let me just say that, despite my age, my progression through the ranks of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn has been astonishingly swift. I was initiated into their ranks only two years ago and yet I am now, through both my own researches and the tutelage of the great Arnold Bennett, considered one of the foremost adepts in the country. In truth, gentlemen, the Order is not all it might be and its reputation owes as much to its strict onus on secrecy as it does to the Magickal skills gathered there. Nothing seems so important as a locked room, does it? We cannot help but imagine all manner of exciting things go on there.
Perhaps this caused unrest amongst my fellow members. Certainly there were those who complained of the close friendship I shared with Arnold and made claims that we were betraying the trust of the Order and dabbling in matters with which we had no business. What can I say? For all its high-handed proclamations, the Order is as predictable a group of nonentities as might be expected when any group of people attempts to set itself up as exclusive. I bear them no ill will you understand, quite the reverse, but it has become clear that they could not say the same of me.
Since retiring from London I had sought a life of peace here overlooking the Loch, I am a person quite at home in the countryside, and wished no more than to be accepted within the bosom of the community. Something I am glad to say I have achieved, albeit with a few false starts... Remind me to let you taste some of the local liquor left for me as a bribe to silence! There is a local still nearby which lives in fear of the excise men...
I spend most of my days on or near the Loch, fishing for salmon or merely taking in the air, it has a charm and quality you’ll not find in the smoky confines of London, sirs, I assure you. I have entertained guests – including a number of my fellow initiates – and sought no more than any man might wish: I sought peace.
But into this life my past associates have intruded. There is a small group of initiates who find themselves dissatisfied with the ambition of the Order. In this I might have been sympathetic but their hunger for power goes beyond the healthy acquisition of knowledge and the betterment of the self through Magick. They want to bring this whole country to its knees. They couldn’t succeed of course, they have neither the intelligence or the drive, but they certainly do possess enough knowledge to cause a great deal of damage. Damage that you have no doubt already witnessed.
Of course a number of us have spoken out, have insisted that the Order police itself and drive these idiots into the gutter where they belong. But unfortunately they are well connected in the organisation, in fact they have the ear of Mathers himself, one of our founders and the closest the Order comes to a leader. In fact it was Mathers who issued the last threat to me. One which I have contemptuously ignored.
It was during a Christmas party I hosted recently for a few friends – I know, I know, a man such as I should have no time for such Christian celebrations, but at its roots it’s pagan and I do so like gifts!
I hadn’t invited Mathers, but when he arrived I saw no reason to turn him away. He had once been a friend to me and I felt I owed him a great deal during my couple of years in the Order.
“Samuel,” I said, greeting him on the doorstep, “what a surprise.”
He was charming and the perfect guest as we enjoyed an aperitif before dinner. The guests were a solid mixture, a couple of locals, poor Laura of course – she was always so devoted to me – Hilary De Montfort and a young friend of his... I forget the name, though he may have been Greek, or perhaps Turkish... There were enough for a party but not too many for dinner.
I had hired a piper of course, I am always a man for the full ceremony, and all was going delightfully.
We sat down for dinner, Wilkinson had prepared a splendid menu and I had hopes that the evening may provide a reconciliation. But then we came to the dessert course.
It was as inoffensive as a sweet can be, a rhubarb syllabub, but as the diners began to eat, panic erupted around the table. The cream was bubbling as if it were hot mud; one gentleman, having already consumed a mouthful began to cry out in panic as it worked its magic on his insides. I believe he is now on the road to recovery, though that night he vomited so much blood we assumed he wouldn’t last until the next bells.
The sickly mess overflowed in its bowls and seeped into the tablecloth, burning the fabric and eating into the wood of the table itself. In the end the only way we could rid ourselves of the vile stuff was to carry the table out into the courtyard and burn it.
Throughout, Mathers had chuckled at his little game – for certainly it was down to him – only drawing me to one side as we stood on the lawn, listening to that hellish soup fizz and burn in the fire.
“A little humour,” he said, his voice as thin and crackling as the embers of the wooden table that smouldered in front of us, “but also a point to be made. You are a target, young man, you have made yourself one as surely as if you had painted a bullseye on your chest. There is nowhere you can hide, not here, not halfway around the world. Wherever you are we will come calling and we will end your interference.”
He held his hands out towards the fire to warm them. There was not enough fire in the world that could warm Samuel Mathers.
“It’s Christmas,” he said, “enjoy yourself, relax. But on the twentyseventh we come calling. You may think you can fight us, and perhaps you can, for a while, but be sure: we will kill you in the end. We will kill you so hard your soul never stops screaming.”
And with that he walked down the lawn towards the Loch, just strolled away as if out on an evening constitutional. I haven’t seen him since. But I have certainly felt him.
He was true to his word and the next few days passed without incident. The snow fell and I took to my skis, resolving that if I were to die before the year was out, I would at the least enjoy the little time I had left.
Then came the evening of the twenty-seventh and I confess my nerves were not at their best.
I had prepared as best I could, enacting a number of protective spells and visualisations. I had spent the morning walking the periphery of the estate, all thirty-six acres of it, and placing protective charms along the boundary. I had also, not blind to the efficacy of brute force as well as spiritual defences, planted a number of steel traps and tripwires. I doubted the attack, when it came, would be so direct as to be a group of Mathers’ acolytes marching through my gardens, but I was also only too aware that a Magickal attack is stronger when its practitioners are close by. I wished to prepare for anything.
At midnight, with still no overt sign of attack, I retired to my bedroom, reasoning that I could defend myself there as well as anywhere.
Eventually, sat up in an easy chair, the better part of a decanter of brandy inside me, I dozed off. For how long I cannot say, but when I awoke it was to the certainty that there was something outside my room that wished to gain entrance. There was a snuffling at the wood, such as a pig might make in its trough, nosing its way through its feed. Heavy claws, not the sharp weapons of a cat but rather the uneven, thick nails of a badger, scratched at the floorboards. They made a sound like a carpenter planing wood, the soft peel of layers, the squeal of splitting knots.
I began the Invocation of Attilus, a protection spell relied upon by many throughout the centuries. It is said that the spell places the man who casts it just a few moments ahead in time, where nobody can lay a finger on him as he is always just out of reach.
Certainly the atmosphere of the room became disturbed. The heavy grandfather clock that stands in the corridor outside my bedroom seemed to lose its rhythm, or perhaps it was me that was losing time with it, as the small area around me shifted its location in reality. The chair behind me began to warp, as if a pane of glass had been placed halfway through it to distort the view of its other half. The rug beneath my bare feet began to move, the strands of wool writhing like blades of grass in high wind.
Outside the door the creature roared. It was a roar that belied the size of it, it must have done, for it was so loud, so deep and terrifying that it couldn’t have come from a creature small enough to fit in the corridor. It was a roar that sounded as big as the thunder we get here in the mountains, the deep reverberation of gods as they move across the skies. It was a roar that made the door creak in its frame like the deck of a ship in a storm. I felt sure that nothing I could do would be powerful enough to defend me from such a beast.
And yet, even as the door fell inwards and a wave of darkness forced its way into my room, the barrier around me held strong. No matter how big this creature was, no matter how powerful, I wasn’t quite in the fold of reality that it prowled. I was just those few vital seconds ahead.
It reached out, a thick arm of pure shadow that bent and flexed against the distorting air around me. It hit the barrier as if it were made of solid glass, dissipating against its surface and widening like spilled wine soaking into the clean white linen of a tablecloth. It swirled all around me but could not gain access. I was safe. And I stayed that way until just before dawn when the darkness retreated from the cold white light of the thin, winter sun as it bounced off the snow outside my window.
I had survived the first night.
I went outside to survey the grounds and check the traps. All seemed undisturbed until, on the banks of the Loch, I came across the body of Old Jamie, a local character known for his poaching habits and capacity for rough liquor. He would drink no more, he had been ground into the earth as if run over by a freight train, parts of his body mashed so thin it was impossible not to think of his skin as a worn bag that kept the rest of him together.
The creature – for I can only imagine that is what it was – had taken a victim so as not to return to Hell empty handed. I should have felt remorse but I will be honest with you gentlemen, I was only too glad it hadn’t been me.
As I am sure you are aware, Magick is a complex art and a very movable one. The fear that lay ahead for me was that the spell that had saved my life was no longer of any use. Magickal combat is a game of development and a spell will only work once. When night fell I would, no doubt, face death again, but this time I would have to think of another way to avoid it.
The day brought more snow and the grounds gleamed so brightly with it, it was as if the gardens were glowing. I walked the boundary as I had the day before, more to clear my head than for any practical purpose. I was repeating a mantra I have often found useful for completely compartmentalising my thoughts. It is undeniable that the key to Magick is focus and that most failures to perform a spell or invocation are as a direct result of a cluttered mind.
I returned to the house to find the news that poor Hilary De Montfort had been killed during the night. There was no doubt in my mind on reading the initial reports that it was the work of Mathers and his followers. It was also alarming proof of the forces he had called upon to aid him in his desire for control and power. There is a huge division in the potency and pliability of the spirits and presences a man can conjure, but to vent something like the Breath of God, a force of divine retribution... To bring something so terrible into the world merely to use it as a weapon. The arrogance of that was something that astonished me... For Mathers to think this was something he could control...
Of course the other question was why he hadn’t used that power against me rather than the dark spirit he had cast. Wishing no ill will towards Hilary, killing him with so potent a conjuration was rather like swatting a fly with a plank of wood. Hilary’s skills were minor, he had little with which he could defend himself. In truth, were it not for his social position and his disarming enthusiasm, he wouldn’t even have been a member of the Order. Why then had Mathers killed him in the way he had? To send a message? To scare those who stood against him? But why not use that power against me? It was some hours before the answer occurred to me.
The conjuration of a force such as the Breath of God is something that cannot easily be achieved. It would take the focus and energy of several practitioners working in close harmony. I had no doubt that such an invocation would have taken its toll on Mathers, even when the force had been used for such a brief and relatively easy task as killing Hilary or the unfortunate Lord Ruthvney. If he had sent the force against me, not only would he have had to focus his energy across great distances, he would also have had a fight on his hands. I am not arrogant enough to suggest it is a fight he would not have won. I may be a great adept, but the Breath of God is something that I could not imagine facing alone. Still, it would have placed a great strain on him, something he would not have wanted in the earliest stages of his plans. Indeed, perhaps it would bode well for the attack to come? I felt sure I wouldn’t be facing him at his strongest.
Despite this hope I had no wish to expire through complacency and I spent the rest of the day in my temple, preparing myself both mentally and physically for the night ahead. I decided to make use of the piece of Bartholomew’s Chalk I had bought in India. It is said to be constructed with holy water as well as the powdered bones of a creature only found in one of the outer dimensions. Each piece costs a king’s ransom but what price can one put on survival?
Whether or not the ingredients were quite as advertised, the chalk was unquestionably potent. I had to use fire tongs to hold it and the lines it drew burned themselves into the wooden floorboards. Within the valleys of the shape I placed bowls filled with a solution composed of my own blood combined with that of a stillborn lamb, the innocence of the latter intended to cancel out the nefariousness of the former!
As the sky began to darken I stepped within the pentacle and began to recite the Glayven Principle, an incantation designed to purify the air immediately around the speaker.
It was some hours before I began to suspect something was amiss. The words of the Glayven Principle had been echoing back at me all the while. The acoustics in the room I have made my temple are particularly pleasing, and there is a lovely hypnotic reverberation that I find most beneficial when wishing to enter a trance state. It became clear, however, that the echo was stretching, becoming more and more delayed. At first I suspected that the attack was – as a counterpoint to my defence of the night before – on time itself. Perhaps Mathers wished to preternaturally age me, or even the reverse? I had heard of such rituals being used before but never seen them successfully practiced.
However, the attack was a lot simpler in nature. From the shadows that lingered at all sides of me, the echo began to clarify as a separate voice. I could hear footsteps, the slow and deliberate tread of a man with all the time in the world, circling me just beyond the reach of the candlelight.
“I hear you,” I called into the shadows. “Show yourself!”
“I am not someone you wish to look on,” came the voice, and it was the mirror of my own, just as the echo had been. “To look on me would invite madness.”
“It will take more than your voice to snap my mind,” I replied. “I am more resilient than you give me credit for.”
“Very well,” it replied and stepped into the light. The face, like the voice, was my own.
“Handsome fellow,” I joked – for sometimes it’s important to show bravery in the face of demons. “I can assure you that is a face I have no problem looking on.”
“We shall see,” it replied, stripping naked and sitting down opposite me, as close as the pentacle would allow.
“Now,” it said picking up a small blade from the pocket of its discarded jacket, “let us see how long I can make this last.”
And slowly it began to unmake itself, picking and peeling at the mirror-image of my body as I looked on. And I couldn’t help but look, as much as I tried to avert my gaze I found that I was paralysed, unable to do more than blink as the grotesque show played out for me. It was a business that took it hours, removing each piece of skin, carving each muscle, paring the flesh down unto the very bone itself. It left the head until last so that I was never able to forget whose body was being so corrupted. I watched my face scream itself hoarse until, eventually, it cut out the tongue and all that was left was the noise of animal retching as it whittled away at the little that was left.
By that time I felt closer to madness than ever before.
What was left of me – and I could no longer think of it as anything other than myself – a chattering collection of bones, placed the knife with its blade almost touching the wall of my pentacle. The inference was obvious: now it was my turn.
And despite every ounce of self-preservation in me, my hand slowly began to reach for the knife. I couldn’t control myself, it was as if a law of nature demanded I complete the butchery demanded. Fight as I did, my fingers kept moving towards the edge of the pentacle and the knife. I did the only thing I could think of, I began to choke myself, starving the brain of oxygen in the hope that I could pass out and, therefore, move beyond the spirit’s influence. My vision swam as I hyperventilated and then exhaled with my one loyal hand clamped over my mouth and nose. My head burst with pain and I toppled back to the floor, hitting my head with a sound blow as I did so, which no doubt helped my endeavour.
When I came back to consciousness the light was beginning to show through the window behind me and I managed not to look as the mirror image of my bones somehow managed to pull themselves together and walk out of the room. They made a sound like dominoes rattled in their sack.
My head ached, abominably, so I lay there a little while longer.
After Crowley finished speaking there were a few moments of silence while his tale was absorbed. Then he spoke once more, chilling words that caused the temperature in the room to drop even further:
“So,” he said, “all that remains is to wonder what excitement awaits us tonight!”