…my magickal child… who queefed out of my psychic vagina
    at an unguarded moment…[who] flopped from my left auditory
    meatus like a menstrual clot with incipient toothbrush

His mind wanders, logically enough, to Esoteric Hitlerism, the foetal religion
presently aborning in Chile. He would like to drop by Santiago and have a chat,
perhaps to “glean some intelligence from the gauchos.”

But it’s too late. No more time for the transoceanic jaunts that have varied his long
life and kept boredom at bay. The Great Beast 666 happens to be on his death bed.
Chapter One is over, and he dies.

Chapter Two begins as follows:

    So, let’s sort this out, shall we?

In those seven words you have the essence of this particular historical figure:
unkillable inquisitiveness, unshakable aplomb in the sort of psychic circumstances
that drove so many of his apprentices and fellow magi insane. Of Crowley’s many
fictionalizations, this novel gets best into his head. Erudite, prideful, lascivious,
funniest man of his time, and the mightiest spiritual spelunker–he speaks and
shouts from these pages as clearly as he did in his
Autohagiography, which is
paradoxical, given the irreal setting of
Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia.

Now that his mortal coil has been shuffled off, Crowley doesn’t know quite what to
expect. He has mastered the world’s ancient funerary texts as thoroughly as anyone
who ever lived, but fundamental questions remain. Will he be privileged to climb
the sevenfold heavens promised by the Gnostics? Will his eyes be offered a
luminous series of Tibetan liminalities, clear and smoke-colored?

Apparently not.

    Something else materializes and looms up, rather more
    architectural. It appears the Egyptians came closer than
    anyone to getting it right.

Crowley’s ghost has been deposited in the Hall of the Divine Kings, as described in
the Nilotic Book of the Dead. Of course, our hubristic Baphomet assumes that he’s
about to be greeted as a peer by the immortal gods, “the soles of whose sandals are
higher than ten thousand obelisks stacked end-to-end.”

But, no, they brush him off like a midge. He’s expected to supplicate like any run-of-
the-mill dead person, to have his demerit counterpoised in the balance against a
feather. Godhood denied, our high adept has been doomed to reenter the tedious
cycle of rebirth. Injured pride, disappointed expectations, the prospect of boredom–
these have never sat well with Thelema’s Prophet-Seer-Revelator. He’s about to
start behaving badly. (A signal for us to stand well back and shield our eyes and

If he must return to the rigmarole of existence, it will be on his own terms.
Exercising his prerogative as a magus of the highest accomplishment, Aleister
Crowley will pick and choose his next carcass. He cold-shoulders the Divine Kings
and calls forth Baubo, the headless Greek comedienne-demoness. Her job is to
whisper filthy jokes to the peregrinating monad, to get it into a “meaty mood” before
it gets stuffed, yet again, among female intestines.

His fans and devotees will recall that Aleister Crowley’s speech was famously
impedimented. Like a certain other bald, pudgy celebrity who will remain semi-
nameless, he made his “R” sound like “W.” (A tied tongue is one of the natal indices
of a buddha, as he proudly points out more than once.) Is it any wonder that a key
phoneme of the magickal evocation should go mispronounced?

He accidentally summons a being who, in David Aronson’s accompanying
illustration, looks familiar enough–but evidently not to Crowley. Considering
himself to be laying eyes on the genuine Baubo for the first time, he enlists her
embryogenetic assistance. Happy to cooperate, this pseudo-Baubo zips him into his
new carcass (by no means the one he would have chosen) and sucks him into the
inferno where he is doomed to wander for the rest of the pagination. At no point
does Crowley realize the true identity of the Virgil he has conjured.

How is such misrecognition possible? In the life that just ended, didn’t our
protagonist ever stumble, perhaps in a heroin stupor, through the door of a cinema
in Soho, or Bombay, or Cairo, or New Orleans, and be subjected to an animated
short subject featuring this baby-talking canary? How can we, the mere uninitiate,
see what the great Seer can’t?

Think of all the things Aleister Crowley has ogled that would have scorched our
exoteric orbits. In the Algerian Sahara he braved the Abyss and achieved full
conversance with his Guardian Angel. In Egypt he personally received the evangel of
the New Harpocratic Aeon in which we presently live and die. And yet, plopped like
a newborn into Tom Bradley’s latest novel, the poor soul can only stare in
unfocused puzzlement at his new self. He squints at the “series of obese white slugs
writhing jointlessly on the ends of [his] arms.” Nick Patterson’s illustration, on the
opposite page, plainly shows no slugs, but just funny fingers fitted out with the sort
of white gloves that come standard issue in Looney Tunes Land.

It’s 1947, before the onset of television and Saturday morning kiddy-narcotizing
hour. Cartoons are still made to be shown between feature movies in theaters, to
audiences that include grownups. The art is done by hand, and full orchestral music
is composed for each moment. In other words, the Mega Therion is sent into Merry
Melodies Hell when it’s still worthy of receiving the magnificent likes of him.

As befits a neonate, Crowley’s senses don’t work well. For some chapters he must
“proceed from a skewed seat of sensation” and “grope along with a tactility hardly
worthy of the name.” But, thanks to the graphic perspicuity of Bradley’s illustrators,
we the readers suffer no such handicap. As our ears listen to the protagonist
narrating his myopic descent into the underworld, our eyes are privileged to enjoy a
gnosis beyond his ken. We’re given a wordless wisdom unavailable to “the most
gargantuan magus of post-Renaissance times.”

Here is revealed the fascinating and unprecedented relation of word to image in this
book. Tom Bradley has long been known for repeatedly performing, at will, almost
offhandedly, a task one would have thought impossible, perhaps
magickal, in these
latter jaded days: the invention of new genres. Andrei Codrescu hailed his quasi-
nonfiction opus
Fission Among the Fanatics as “the first appearance of a genre so
strange we are turning away from naming it…” In the field of meta-scholarship, the
late Carol Novack described his
Epigonesia as “that rarity of rarities: a new genre,
something like a superficially nonfictional
Pale Fire, taking place in real time as the
primary text alternately rides roughshod over, and is sapped and subverted by, the
critical apparatus.” More recently, in his books
Family Romance and We’ll See Who
Seduces Whom
, Bradley has yanked new kinks into the synaesthetic art of
ekphrasis. He “accepted the challenge posed by stacks of preexisting art” and wrote a
novel and an epic poem, respectively, around them.

Now he’s bulldozed into another new neighborhood. In
Elmer Crowley, a katabasic
, the artwork is given epistemological precedence over the text, which is
deeply strange. Yet, even as that unique protocol is laid down for the first time in
the history of book production, it breaches its own decorum. Ever deeper generic
layers are exposed, like the grotesque frescoes of some Neronic bathhouse leering
under a Vatican street crew’s jackhammer.

The Great Beast might not be able to puzzle out the exoteric designation of Looney
Tunes Land, but he has no problem engaging the horrific anima that informs it. In
his dysesthesia, forced to apprehend essences behind epiphenomena, Crowley
shrewdly interprets everything in terms of the Egyptian and Tibetan Books of the
Dead, the Greek Eleusinian mysteries, the Theravada school, Iamblichus’ brand of
Neoplatonism, John Dee’s Enochian ceremonial, and all the other occultural
traditions of which he is a past master. (Significantly, to his irritation, and eventual
undoing, Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy also keeps rearing its disapproving head.)

Accustomed to dealing with protean elementary wraiths and their camouflages,
Crowley’s magickal mind sets about penetrating this world’s celluloid shell,
intuiting the true demonic source of illumination behind it. And that intuition soaks
straight into Nick Patterson and David Aronson’s pens, pigments and papers, to
surprise our expectations when the next familiar character makes an entrance.
Crowley describes a gray and white blur, with a—

    …lascivious tuft of cottony fibers attached to what would,
    in the subphylum Vertebrata, be its sacroiliac… It seems
    to be mouthing a roughly penis-shaped item, some kind of
    vegetable, probably identifiable by its color. The visible
    spectrum’s mutilated in an indefinable way, so that I can’
    t commit myself as to it being a turnip or cucumber or
    eggplant…. A pair of roughly penile protuberances rise
    from the apex of what I assume, from its paramount
    position, to be the skull. I hesitate to call them horns,
    as neither seems particularly rigid.

But, steel yourself, turn the page and be enlightened. The scwewy wabbit who
turned our childhoods’ Saturday mornings into orgies of giant sucking mouth-kisses
and dynamite sticks down the trousers, has bat wings on his shoulders. Squid-
tentacle suction cups encrust the inner surfaces of his ears. His eye sockets gape
with the blackness of the bottomless pit. Crowley’s spiritual acuity has identified the
chaotic grotesquery that, we only now realize, has always simmered under the
technicolor surface of Leon Schlesinger’s cosmos. It turns out that Bugs is, and
always has been, since his first appearance in 1940, none other than Choronzon. He’
s the horrendous Keeper of the Abyss that comprises, of course, his “wabbit hole.”

And down into that hole the Great Beast 666 plunges. We follow him to the sub-
basement of Hades, where “beasties and mutants of every unknown species are
rehearsing a pageant, a loony Eleusinian anti-mystery.” Their formulary comprises
the scatological doggerel he once dedicated to one of his more coprophagically
inclined Scarlet Women. The Wickedest Man in the World turns out to be
something of a prophet in these parts—

    All the miniature therianthropes and gryphons, the mutant
    beasties and mooncalves and woodland nematodes look up
    from their pious devotionals. They do a synchronized
    double take in the broadest Hollywood style, and throng me
    as if I were Christ running his skiff aground at Galilee’s
    water treatment facility. Asperging in all directions what
    passes for sex sauce, they wail in woe, they hymn in high
    ecstasy, they puff me up and empurple me like Pentheus in
    the Bacchantes.

    “I tot I taw Aleister! I di-i-id, I did taw Aleister!
    Oooh, looky-looky everybody! Look who’s he-e-e-ere!”

Anyone who has found himself suddenly plunged into unknown surroundings (and
who with any gumption hasn’t?) will instinctively try to make sense by recourse to
past experience. Grasping for orientation, Crowley solicits the aid of a gallery of
historical personages. Like Dante before him, he will see his contemporaries in Hell.

It’s only logical that Leon Schlesinger, creator of Looney Tunes, should be spending
eternity in this abyss. In life, he, too, suffered from a speech impediment: the kind
that sprays saliva with S-sounds. So, of course, he greets Crowley morphed into the
person of Daffy Duck. Theodor Morell, Hitler’s personal
Doktor Gutes Gefühl, who
died at the same time as Crowley, is seen administering gigantic syringes of
methamphetamine to all the little monsters. Due to a clerical error in the Divine
Hall of Judgment, his soul has been stuffed into a hippo’s carcass.

As for Dr. Morell’s master, a.k.a. Crowley’s “magickal child—

    Der Fuhrer and Emperor Hirohito are attempting to perform
    the expected soixante-neuf. But, though their salivary
    glands are cooperating, there is some difficulty. Symbolic
    retribution has burdened them with duck bills (though they
    could be platypuses as easily as mallards). Their matching
    toothbrush mustachios being extended far into space by
    these cartilaginous mouth parts, the former Axis leaders
    are hard pressed to achieve intimacy with what, upon
    scrutiny, proves to be this universe’s most horrifying and
    widespread characteristic: featureless crotches.

Porky Pig turns the generic tables, crosses the blood-brain-reality barrier, and
makes a cameo appearance as the devil who, in real life, made steak tartare of
Crowley’s pectorals at a Theosophical soiree in 1910. It’s an orgy scene full of
unspeakable depravity and monstrosity, taken from Crowley’s own horror fiction.

Meanwhile, a colossal nude Madame Blavatsky turns out to be the mountain upon
which all this hellaciousness has been taking place–

And, speaking of Blavatsky, I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that the prophet
of Crowleyanity comes to learn that the cosmos runs according to a Theosophical
rather than Thelemic dispensation. The news is not good for practical occultists,
because their spirits are doomed by Blavatskianity to be ground to sub-atoms on
Kama-Loka’s adamantine floor. Under the astral grindstone, a sequel is rendered
impossible, even in a genre that permits reincarnation–the ultimate sequel bait.

The book ends affectingly with the man’s actual last words:

    I’m perplexed.

    Sometimes I hate myself.


Barry Katz is a wandering Jew from Jaffa, where, as a kid on a kibbutz, he picked
green grapefruits.
Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia by Tom Bradley
written by Barry Katz for HTMLGiant
by Tom Bradley
Illustrations by David Aronson
and Nick Patterson
Mandrake of Oxford Press, 2014
134 pages / $14.99
Buy from
or Mandrake of Oxford