Aleister Crowley’s “White Stains”

16 July 2011

Aleister Crowley - The Big Book of Weirdos

Aleister Crowley in "The Big Book of Weirdos"

Readers will likely be familiar with Aleister Crowley, the notorious English occultist, bisexual libertine, recreational drug user, founder of the Thelemic religion, leader of the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), and all-around scary wicked person. Those familiar with Crowley strictly through his esoteric writings, however, may be interested to know that one the “Great Beast’s” first forays into publishing consisted of a perverse little volume of erotic poetry entitled White Stains.

It was issued in Amsterdam in 1898 by Leonard Smithers; a leading publisher of English pornography, but also of controversial literature. His clients included Aubrey Beardsley, Arthur Symons, and Oscar Wilde. White Stains was published in a print run of one hundred copies which, according to rumors in the book world, Crowley is said to have white-stained himself. Most of these were destroyed in 1924 by British Customs; the surviving first editions currently sell for around $4,000 – $10,000.

The authorship of White Stains was attributed to George Archibald Bishop, a “neuropath of the second empire;” Bishop being the family name of Crowley’s hated, fundamentalist uncle. A lyrical exploration of every sexual taboo from bestiality to pederasty to necrophilia, Crowley conceived it as a literary response to Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis. “The thesis of von Krafft-Ebing’s book was that sexual aberrations were the result of physiological disease,” says an essayist at lashtal.com, but Crowley…

“…was of the opinion that any such aberration were psychological in nature and turned to artistic expression to make his point. Crowley states [in his 1989 Confessions] “I therefore invented a poet who went wrong, who began with normal innocent enthusiasms, and gradually developed various vices. He ends by being stricken with disease and madness, culminating in murder. In his poems he describes his downfall, always explaining the psychology of each act.”

True to form, Crowley saw fit to invoke the blessing of the Virgin Mary in the prefatory sonnet to this work. Let’s look at some excerpts.

In “Necrophilia,” Crowley elegises the luxury of flesh decaying and bowels torn:

 

Necropohilia

Void of the ecstasies of Art
It were in life to have lain by thee,
And felt thy kisses rain on me,
And the hot beating of thy heart,

When thy warm sweat should leave me cold,
And my worn soul find out no bliss
In the obscenities I kiss,
And the things shameful that I hold.

My nostrils sniff the luxury
Of flesh decaying, bowels torn
Of festive worms, like Venus, born
Of entrails foaming like the sea.

Yea, thou art dead. Thy buttocks now
Are swan-soft, and thou sweatest not;
And hast a strange desire begot
In me, to lick thy bloody brow;

To gnaw thy hollow cheeks, and pull
Thy lustful tongue from out its sheath;
To wallow in the bowels of death,
And rip thy belly, and fill full

My hands with all putridities;
To chew thy dainty testicles;
To revel with the worms in Hell’s
Delight in such obscenities;

To pour within thine heart the seed
Mingled with poisonous discharge
From a swollen gland, inflamed and large
With gonorrhoea’s delicious breed;

To probe thy belly, and to drink
The godless fluids, and the pool
Of rank putrescence from the stool
Thy hanged corpse gave, whose luscious stink

Excites these songs sublime. The rod
Gains new desire; dive, howl, cling, suck,
Rave, shreik, and chew; excite the fuck,
Hold me, I come! I’m dead! My God!

 

“To My First-Born” celebrates wholesome pride of a father-to-be:

 

To My First-Born

At last a father! In Mathilde’s womb
The poison quickens, and the tare-seeds shoot;
On my old upas-tree a bastard fruit
Is grafted. One more generation’s doom
Fixes its fangs. Crime’s flame, disease’s gloom,
Are thy birth-dower. Another prostitute
Predestined, born man, damned to grow a brute!
Another travels tainted to the tomb!

My sin, my madness, in thy blood are set,
A vile imperishable coronet,
To hound thee into hell! God spits at thee
The curse thy parents earned. Revenge be thine!
Kiss Lust, kill Truth, and worship at Sin’s shrine.
And foul His face with dung — thy infamy!

 

And finally, “Suggested Additiona Stanzas for ‘a Ballad of Burdens’” was a PSA, of sorts:

 

Suggested Additional Stanzas
for ‘A Ballad of Burdens’

The burden of caught clap. How sore it is!
A burden of sad shameful suffering,
The bitter bastard of a bloody kiss,
The Parthian arrow poisoned from Love’s sling!
Lo, sweet Lord Christ, thou knowest how sore a thing
Is a cock crooked and consumed of fire
Shooting out venomous sap that hath a sting!
This is the end of every man’s desire.

The burden of bought boys. Behold, dear Lord,
How plump their buttocks be, lift up Thine eyes,
See how their cocks stand at an amorous word,
How their lips suck out life until love dies,
See, Lord, Thou knowest, how wearily one lies
Cursing the lusts that fail, the deeds that tire;
Shrunk is San Cresce to a sorry size.
This is the end of every man’s desire.

 

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

 

Sources

Crowley, Aleister. White Stains. 1898.

Norton, Rictor. A History of Homoerotica: Aleister Crowley’s White Stains. 1977.

Nuhad418. White Stains: Pornographic Occult Poetry as Shadow Confrontation and Cathartic Liberation. 2005.

Symonds, John. Introduction to the 1973 edition of White Stains. 1973.

Wikipedia: Aleister Crowley, White Stains.

 

 

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17 Comments to “Aleister Crowley’s “White Stains””

  1. Charming fellow. I think the thing that always annoyed me the most about Crowley was that he tried so hard to be bad. He was, in a word, a poseur. (I believe he was a genuinely awful poet, however.)

    • I agree. He was pretty clearly making an effort to shock people, but I’m willing to forgive him for it because the environment he was rebelling against could be so moralistic and tyrannical. Even if what he was doing was juvenile or histrionic, it did a service by pushing the boundaries that constrained free expression, religious belief, etc.

      • How exactly is he trying to shock people, he was clearly expressing his Sexual desires, its only you who find it shocking for if you into the same thing he was into, this wouldn’t be shocking at all

  2. I found myself nodding in agreement to both of your comments. Good points made by each.

    I always enjoy reading about the “other side” of Victoriana. So much more was going on back then. People definitely didn’t live the genteel, prim, prudish lives they were depicted as leading in so many English novels of the time.

  3. Crowley thought he was in the process of giving both to a new age in which the moral strictures of the past would be swept away. While heavy handed some of his less controversial poetry has some nice turns.

  4. You people know nothing about Crowley.

  5. Crowley was NOT a poseur.

    His writings represent some of the foremost work in Satanist teachings. He was a pioneer intellectually and ritualistically.

    He did not worship Satan for kicks alone, this was an evil man, in the truest sense of the word.

    This is the kind of person who would drug himself up and go and meditate into the pyramids of Giza until a demon appeared to him. The ritual he would do the night before would involve the horrific death ritual of a young blonde blue eyed pre adolescent boy.

    If you think Satanism is just something weird “poseurs” write about then you have no idea how institutionalized it is. It has only grown since…

    • Have you ever read any Crowley? He never killed a child. That we know of.
      The misunderstanding about that was his reference to sacrificing children, which was his way of saying “perforrming masturbation”. If you are a male,
      I’m guessing you’ve “sacrificed” a few children in your time as well. Crowley himself said “there is no devil”. So how is he a Satanist?

      • Anonkid doesn’t read Crowley. Anonkid reads the books and websites of Fundie Christian conspiracy theorists and Right Wing Provocateurs. Crowley figures in predominately in their “Satanic Panic” beliefs.

    • I don’t think he was evil. I think he and Satan are pretty nice fellows with whom one might hang out and do some recreational activities ;) He was flawed, yes, but so is everyone. And what’s so wrong with being a poseur? Dionysos is the Lord of Masks, and they are most holy. It’s totally fun. And killing kids gets no one anywhere. It’s much more fun to have tea parties with them and their dolls and such.

  6. Michael Strmiska

    Very amusing. I actually found something useful for my college teaching in the poem “To My First Born.” Wonderful phrase, “one more generation’s doom fixes its fangs,” which will provide me with great comfort on those days when I look around the classroom and see no great hope for the future in the apathetic faces of my students. I will now be able to mutter under my breath, perhaps loud enough for one or two students to hear, “one more generation’s doom fixes its fangs…” Bravo, Mr. Crowley!

  7. I used the banishing rituals in Magick to clean up some personal problems. The rituals were quite effective.

    OTOH Crowley came to me in a dream once and pissed on me. I’m not sure if I should spank him or thank him.

    • *laughs* I guess that’s the trade-off you have to accept when you dabble in the dark arts.

  8. Crowley’s sexual and homoerotic poetry was some of the earliest of such work to come out of England, where he faced the possibility of hard labor for his sexual orientation. As you note, most of this printing was destroyed by British customs. For people who have never faced such risks to call him a poseur is ridiculous, not to mention revealing of their own pretentions.

    • That’s a good point. Sometimes it’s hard for modern readers to appreciate just how punitive and intolerant Crowley’s society really was.

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