Levity's Vestments

A study in creative plagiarism

By Frater T.S.

In a number of books by the popular occult historian Francis X. King we find the assertion that Aleister Crowley was responsible at least in part for writing the rituals of the modern syncretic ‘pagan&rquo; religion known as Wicca.  The main evidence presented for this assertion is the large number of blatant quotations or paraphrases from Crowley's published writings which appear in the earliest known versions of the Wicca rituals.  A closer examination of the materials suggests that this can be more plausibly explained by assuming that someone, quite probably Gerald Brosseau Gardner, a.k.a. Frater Scire IV° O.T.O., engaged in a measure of re-use.  For example in King’s biography of Crowley (The Magical World of Aleister Crowley, London, Weidenfield and Nicholson, 1977) he states, concerning the ‘Book of Shadows’, the compilation of rituals and instructions of Gardner's cult:

It is a curious blend of Crowleyanity on the one hand and the Gnostic survivals recorded by C.G. Leland in his nineteenth-century studies of Italian folklore on the other.  This mingling of seemingly incompatible elements into a homogenous whole is well illustrated by the section of The Book of Shadows known as ‘the Charge.’

Possibly because he was working from a later revision of the ‘Charge of the Goddess’ which had been deliberately re-written to disguise Crowley’s influence, King did not realise that this piece of ritual originally consisted, with the exception of two lines of preamble, entirely of quotations or paraphrases from Leland’s Aradia (C.G. Leland, Aradia: or, the Gospel of the Witches: London, David Nutt, 1899; various reprints) and writings by Crowley in the Blue Equinox (Equinox III (1), Detroit: Universal Publishing Company, 1919; reprinted York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, 1974, 1992; Thame, Oxon: First Impressions, 1993).  This can however be demonstrated.

The text of the Charge here analysed is a transcription made by Aiden Kelly from Gardner‘s ritual notebook, Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical, formerly in the collection of Ripley's International, Toronto (henceforth BAM).  Errors or eccentricities in spelling and punctuation represent Kelly’s attempt to transcribe the near-dyslexic manuscript as closely as possible.  A slightly defective version which had been ‘cleaned up" with regard to spelling and punctuation but omitted a few sentences was published in Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I (St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1991; henceforth CAM).  The transcript given here appeared in a ‘supplement’ to Crafting the Art of Magic (there is actually a large measure of overlap between the two works) which was privately published in electronic form by Kelly (as ‘The original Gardnerian Documents for the Book of Shadows: A Supplement to Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I’, Seattle: Art Magickal Publications, 1993).  Kelly’s analysis in these works however was somewhat lacking as regards identifying and sourcing the Crowley quotes.

Leviter Veslis

This title appeared in BAM and has been identified (by the historian Ron Hutton, cited in an article by Roger Dearnaley The Influence of Aleister Crowley on lsquo;Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical’) as a piece of medieval ecclesiastical Latin used to mean “lifting the veil.”

The Charge begins with the following brief preamble.  When the text is used ceremonially it would be spoken by the High Priest.

List to the words of the Great Mother who of old was also called among men Artimis: Astarte: Dione: Melusine: Aphrodite and by meny other names

The version in CAM adds four more names, possibly from an intermediate version of the text.  This does not appear to be a quotation from anything and so may be assumed to be one of the two original sentences of Gardner's in this text.

Commenting on this line, Elliot Rose in A Razor for a Goat (University of Toronto Press, 1962; p. 206) says:

First, that string of names.  Those ladies, or rather four of them (Dione is a name of Aphrodite) were worshipped, when they were worshipped seriously, as different people.  At the utmost, I will allow that identification between Astarte and Aphrodite occured in a syncretic age;1 it was not original, and Artemis and the syren Melusine cannot be dragged into it.  Lumping them together and calling them the Great Mother is not possible in religion, but only in Comparative Religion.  If you believe seriously in Aphrodite you do not believe she is really Artemis; they may once in fact have been the same person in two aspects, but the worshipper who knows and accepts their separate legends will not believe it.  (Myself, I doubt if they were ever the same; but I should be in a minority there today.)  And did Isobel Gowdie of Auldearne know all this Classical Dictionary stuff?  Would she have thought it important?  Is it not plainly the product of an anthropologically minded age?

(Note: Rose is here discussing the selective quotations from the rituals which Gardner presented in his book Witchcraft Today (London: William Rider, 1954; reprinted Thame, I-H-O, 2001).  While purportedly a historical / anthropological work this book is probably best understood as Gardner's manifesto.)

The speech of the Priestess, supposedly speaking as the goddess, begins:

At mine Altars the youth of Lacedmonia and Spala made due sacrifice.

Usually corrected to ‘Lacedæmon’ or sometimes ‘Lacedæmon in Sparta’  Lacedæmon and Sparta were two different names for the same place, a city state in a region called Laconia.  The reference is to ritual flogging of young men at the altar of a local form of Artemis.  Again this does not appear to be a quote from anything but is probably original to Gardner.

It is perhaps appropriate to append two more paragraph from Elliot Rose (op. cit, p.206-7)

Then, those youths. Apart from the affectation of "Lacedaemon" (for Sparta; sciolism, too, in the context), why specifically drag them in?  Artemis has already been listed.  The point must be the "due sacrifice."  The reference is of course, to ritual flagellation at the altar of Artemis Orthia; making two references to flagellation so far.2  There are in fact, two others in Mr. Gardner's book, and some vague talk about "ordeals" and "frightening"; the context in every case is initiation.  All this is at least mildly interesting, because there is no hint of it in any earlier account of initiation ceremonies.3  There is a good deal, in the accounts collected by Miss Murray, about the "Devil" beating his disciples,4 but the context is always straightforward maintenance of discipline; as such, of course, it has no special interest because it was, anyway, the standard minor punishment most often employed in the countries and periods involved.  It is really insignificant, but it might not seem so to a modern reader, to someone who was trying, from outside, to build up a picture of what a traditional coven was like and what it did.

There are, however, relatively few people who would seize on this element and expand it, making ritual flagellation a crux of the initiation ceremony (as we may reasonably guess it to be), inserting a reference in the solemn moment of the liturgy, that at which the goddess's names are recited, and justifying it by a legend, the very same legend that professes to explain the theogeny of the goddess.  The moving spirit behind the change5 would therefore seem to have been a person of that particular kind of specialized sensibility;6 it might, for example, have been Swinburne, and though I do not think it was (for there would surely in that case be also hymns and so forth, that Mr. Gardner sould not mistake for anybody else's), it is not improbable that the actual author was under his influence.

The Charge continues:

Whenever ye have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full.  They ye shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of me who am Queen of all Witcheries.

There ye shall assemble, ye who are fain to learn all Sorcery, yet have not won to its deepest secrets, to those will I teach things that are yet unknown.

And ye shall be free from slavery, And as a sign that ye be realy free, ye shall be naked in your rites, both men and wemen, ...

As is now generally recognised, this section is paraphrased from Aradia, specifically the following speech in cap. I (it comes at the end of the legend of Aradia and is said to have been her final address to her followers on earth before returning to the realm of her mother):

When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever you have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full
Ye shall assemble in some desert place
Or in a forest all together joined
To adore the potent spirit of your queen
My mother, good Diana.  She who fain
Would learn all sorcery, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery
And so ye shall be free in everything
And as the sign that ye are truly free
Ye shall be naked in your rites; both men
And women also; this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead.

The Charge continues:

... And ye shall dance, sing, feast make music, and love, all in my praise.

Compare Aradia, cap. II, describing the 'Sabbat, Tregunda or Witch-Meeting' (this passage follows a series of conjurations to be said while making the bread for the Sabbat):

And thus it shall be done; all shall sit down to the supper, all naked, men and women, and, the feast over, they shall dance, sing, make music, and then love in the darkness, with all the lights extinguished, for it is the Spirit of Diana who extinguishes them, and so they will dance and make music in her praise.

The bit about extinguishing the lights recalls the common-currency charge against 'deviant' religious sects that their meetings would end with the lights being extinguished and a wild, frequently incestuous, sex orgy ensuing.  This was charged against Christians in the Roman Empire back in the second century c.e., but after the establishment of the Nicene 'orthodoxy' the stories were recycled for use against Gnostics, Montanists, Waldensinians, etc., etc.  See Europe's Inner Demons by Norman Cohn (London: Heinmann, 1972).

Compare also this, from Crowley's editorial to the Blue Equinox (in which volume all the identifiable Crowley quotes in the Leviter Veslis appear; a copy was indeed found in the collection of Gardner's books acquired by Ripley's):

[religious] celebrations must conform to custom and nature of the people. Christianity has destroyed the joyful celebrations, characterized by music, dancing, feasting and making love; and has kept only the melancholy.

The Charge continues:

For ecstasy is mine, and joy on earth.  For love is my law.  Keep pure your highest ideal: strive ever toward it.  Let naught stop you or turn you aside.

This section was omitted in the paper edition of CAM.  The first sentence does not need to be specifically dealt with here as a slightly different version appears later on in a context which makes identifying the source easier.  For the rest we must turn to Crowley's tract Liber DCCCXXXVII, The Law of Liberty (henceforth Liber 837).  About halfway through chapter 2 we find:

Again She speaks: "Love is the law, love under will."  Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever toward it without allowing aught to stop you or turn you aside, even as a star sweeps upon its incalculable and infinite course of glory, and all is Love.  The Law of your being becomes Light, Life, Love and Liberty.  All is peace, all is harmony and beauty, all is joy.

The quote is from AL I:57.  Of course, it is quoted in other Crowley pieces too numerous to list, but it is probably no coincidence that in both Liber 837 and the Leviter Veslis it comes immediately before "Keep pure your highest ideal."

The Charge continues:

There is a Secret Door that I have made to establish the way to taste even on earth the elixir of immortality.  Say 'Let exstacy be mine, and joy on earth even to me, To Me'

This appears to be an amalgam of two passages: the first, from AL III, 38: (quoted in Liber CCC, Khabs Am Pekht in the Blue Equinox.)

There is a secret door that I shall make to establish thy way in all the quarters

And this, from Liber 837, chapter 2:

Do not embrace mere Marian or Melusine; she is Nuit Herself, specially concentrated and incarnated in human form to give you infinite love, to bid you taste even on earth the Elixir of Immortality.  "But ecstasy be thine and joy of earth: ever To me! To me!"

The quote is from AL I, 53.  Dearnaley (op. cit.) suggests that the mention of Melusine here inspired her citation in the preamble.

The Charge continues:

For I am a gracsous Goddess.  I give unimaginable joys, on earth certainty, not faith while in life!  And upon death, peace unutterable, rest, and ecstacy, nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.

This is a more or less straightforward pastiche of a passage in Liber 837, chapter 2:

For hear, how gracious is the Goddess; "I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice."

The quote in from AL I, 58.  Gardner's version manages to be even more strangely punctuated than the original (most published versions have been "cleaned up" to make them more coherent).  The last phrase appears to contradict the reference to "due sacrifice" at the start (this has been remarked on by Kelly, and by Farrar & Farrar (Eight Sabbats for Witches, London: Robert Hale, 1981: footnote p. 42)).  Note that 'due' does not simply mean 'gratefully received' or 'not refused if offered'; it implies an expectation or obligation.

As normally delivered the first part of the Charge ends here, and the Priest delivers another short line to introduce the next section.

Hear ye the words of the Star Goddess.

I love you: I yearn for you: page or purple, veiled or volupluous.  I who am all pleasure, and purple and drunkenness of the innermost senses, desire you, put on the wings, arouse the coiled splendour within you, "Come unto me."

Again, if we consider this part as a block, its obvious source is the following passage in Liber 837, towards the end of Chapter 2:

With such, we who have accepted the Law of Thelema have nothing to do.  We have heard the Voice of the Star-Goddess: "I love you!  I yearn to you!  Pale or purple, veiled or voluptuous, I who am all pleasure and purple, and drunkenness of the innermost sense, desire you.  Put on the wings, and arouse the coiled splendour within you: come unto me!"

The quote is from AL I, 61 and is of course also part of the Priestess' speech in the Gnostic Mass; the preceding sentence however makes Liber 837 again the more likely source.

The Charge continues:

For I am the flame that burns in the heart of every man, and the core of every Star.

Let it be your inmost devine self who art lost in the constant rapture of infinite joy.

The immediate source here is Liber 837, chapter 3:

Hadit tells us of Himself "I am the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star."  He is then your own inmost divine self; it is you, and not another, who are lost in the constant rapture of the embraces of Infinite Beauty.

The quote is from AL II, 6.  This is significant.  The Crowley material we have seen so far is with minor exceptions based around the utterances of the goddess as recorded in Chapter I of The Book of the Law.  Now Hadit, the speaker in Chapter II, may have little in common with the usual Wiccan conception of the male deity (apart from certain solar aspects); but it is just not believeable that Crowley would have put his words into the mouth of a syncretic lunar / Earth Mother / stellar goddess; in other words, the presence of those words in this place is further evidence were any needed that Crowley did not write the Leviter Veslis.7

The Charge continues:

Let the rituals be rightly preformed with joy and beauty.  Rember that all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.

Another straight lift from Liber 837, cap. 3:

"... Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy and beauty!"  Remember that all acts of love and pleasure are rituals, must be rituals.

The quote is from AL II, 35.  The 'my' in the Charge is a reasonable inference from AL I, 51, given who the speaker is supposed to be.

The Charge continues:

So let there be beauty and strength, leaping laughter, force and fire be within you.

Compare AL II, 20 (quoted in Liber 837):

Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.

The Charge concludes:

And if thou sayest, I have journied unto thee, and it availed me not, Rather shalt thou say, I called upon thee, and I waited patiently, and Low, Thou wast with me from the begining.  For they that ever desired me, shall ever attain me, even to the end of all desire.

Gardner has now finished mining Liber 837 and has instead borrowed some lines from Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente (Liber LXV), which also appeared in the Blue Equinox.  For in Chapter II of Liber LXV we find:

59. But I have called unto Thee, and I have journeyed unto Thee, and it availed me not.

60. I waited patiently, and Thou wast with me from the beginning.

and in Chapter III:

63. They that ever desired Thee shall obtain Thee, even at the End of their Desire.


1: For example, the age that produced the Greek Magical Papyri which routinely identify previously distinct deities with each other (e.g. Hekaté, Koré (Persephone), Artemis and Ereshkigal).

2: Rose has already discussed the "Legend of the Descent of the Goddess" a curious reworking by Gardner of the myths concerning the underworld adventures of Inanna and Persephone;, in which the goddess, after initially refusing to yield to the embraces of the lord of the underworld (treated as a personification of Death), has instead to "receive Death's scourge."  A version of the "Legend" was printed in Witchcraft Today and later incorporated into one of Gardner's initiation rituals.

3: Rose was not aware of Liber Pyramidos; but in the context he may be talking specifically about initiation ceremonies into the alleged witch-cult; he was aware of the flagellation scene in the 'Villa of the Mysteries' murals.

4: Margaret A. Murray. The Witch Cult in Western Europe (Oxford University Press, 1921), pp. 197-203.

5: That is, the change from a "witch cult" based around the worship of a male deity, as postulated by Murray, and which Rose seems to have seriously believed in the existence of, to one, as described by Gardner, with a goddess in the central position.

6: In other words, a heterosexual male masochist, probably a product of the British public school system.

7: Dearnaley (op. cit.) argues further that given this, and given the general careless quoting of Liber AL, it is unlikely that the author of the Leviter Veslis was a member of the O.T.O. at the time.  contra Allen Greenfield's speculations in bis "Secret History of Modern Witchcraft" it seems that Gardner was admitted directly to IV° / P.I. and chartered to run a "Camp of Minerval" in 1947 shortly after first meeting Crowley on the grounds that (a) he was already a Royal Arch Mason and (b) Crowley was desperate to restart O.T.O. activity in Britain where there had been no serious Lodge-work since 1917.  It has been suggested that Gardner was actually ceremonially initiated to Minerval with Crowley and Louis Wilkinson as officers (source: posting by Ben Fernee on the thelema93-l mailing list) but received the remaining Man of Earth degrees by being given the scripts.

Related links

The Influence of Aleister Crowley on 'Ye Bok of Ye Art Magical' by Roger Dearnaley.  A general study of Gardner's use of Crowley material in his ritual notebook.  Dearnaley demonstrates a far greater familiarity with AC's works than Kelly.  For various reasons his treatment of the ‘Leviter Veslis’ follows the inaccurate and 'cleaned-up' transcript in CAM.  [Fixed dead link: cyprian.org no longer exists, changed to point to a copy at lashtal.org]

The Public Contents of the Book of Shadows.  A compilation of published versions of the rituals, instructions and so forth from various versions of Gardner's Book of Shadows, from sources such as CAM, The Witches' Way by Janet and Stewart Farrar (London: Robert Hale, 1984), The Grimoire of Lady Sheba by Jessie Bell (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1971), etc.  Compared to the original MSS and TSS the material here has been 'cleaned up' with regard to spelling, punctuation and the like.

From Man to Witch, Gerald Gardner 1946-49 by Morgan Davis.  Has much on the Gardner-Crowley relationship, and clearly identifies certain rumours about Crowley's alleged involvement in a ‘witch cult’ as being deliberate disinformation put about by Gardner after AC's death.

The Secret History of Modern Witchcraft by Allen H. Greenfield.  While large parts of this article are admittedly speculative it has some interesting thoughts on the Gardner-Crowley-OTO connection, and clears up the rumour about there being a ‘Book of Shadows’ in Crowley’s writing among Gardner’s collection of witchcraft and magic materials.  [Link fixed: Greenfield’s site is currently offline, this is a mirror of a 2000 revision, but does not include the photograph of Gardner’s OTO charter; see rather this page at geraldgardner.com]

Earlier versions of this analysis were posted on various now defunct Thelemic and pagan Internet mailing lists as “The sources for the Charge of the Goddess.”  The minimal feedback received from those postings scarcely contributed to its development (except in so far as my attention was drawn to Dearnaley’s essay) but raised one minor point in need of clarification (in that the critic did not seem to understand what the English word “due” means).

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