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"That scoundrel Aleister Crowley"

Following on from my previous blog post - this is a letter sent by MacGregor Mathers to Brodie-Innes in 1909 asking for support in stopping Crowley from continiung to publish the (until then) secret rituals of the Golden Dawn.

Some points of interest:

Mathers doesn't seem to know, or affects not to know, if Brodie-Innes is still connected with the Golden Dawn. The "scission" he refers to is the split in the original Golden Dawn in 1900, which was the outcome of a power struggle between Mathers in Paris and the London temple. The flashpoint of this struggle being the attempt by Aleister Crowley, acting on Mathers' behalf, to gain control of the Order's room and properties in Blythe Road, London. W. B. Yeats was involved in expelling Crowley (who was dressed as a Scottish Highlander and also masked "incognito") from the property in scenes which resemble a knockabout comedy.

Mathers is clearly furious at Crowley, as well he might be. Apart from the (in this case) slightly tricky question of copyright, the secrecy oath taken by all Initiates should have (at least in theory) prevented Crowley from publishing the rituals and papers.

Brodie-Innes appears to be taking a hands-off approach, which, given the unflattering attention the case aroused in the press, was probably the wisest course of action. Several newspapers covered the case, there was much "laughter in Court".

The legal outcome was that Mather's applied for an injunction to prevent the publication and his application failed.

This is how is was reported in the Press:

Publishing the Secrets of the Rosicrucian Order.


Reference to the Rosicrucian Order was made in an interlocutors application in MacGregor v. Crowley,in the Court of Appeal on Monday. The Rosicrucian Order is an organisation instituted in its modern form in 1888 for the study of mystical philosophy and the mysteries of antiquity, and following somewhat on the lines of Freemasonry. The plaintiff in the action, the Comte Lidell Mac­gregor, The Avenue, Beckenham, is chief or head of the Order, and the defendant, Mr. Aleister Crowley, is editor of a journal called "The Equinox," which is published half-yearly at the two equinoctial days in the year. It was also stated by counsel that he had been expelled from the Order.

Pending an action, the plaintiff had obtained from Mr. Justice Bucknill an interim injunction re­straining the defendant from publishing in the third number of the magazine an ac­count of the initiation ceremony of the Order, the claim being that this was in violation of a contract to maintain secrecy as to the proceedings of the Order, and in violation of plaintiff’s copyright in the proceedings of the Order.

The Temple of Solomon.

It was stated that the reason these pro­ceedings had been delayed until the new number of the magaxine had been printed and was on the eve of issue, was that the plaintiff could not find the editor’s address, which now transpired to be 124, Victoria Street.

Mr. Whately said the second number of "The Equinox," published last September, contained an article entitled, "The Temple of Solomon the King." in which reference was made to the meetings of the Order of Rosicrucians, and there was a notice to the effect that the publication would be con­tinued in the March number. The matter was in the form of a serial.

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams: Was it a romance ?

Mr. Whately: I do not know, my lord, I cannot describe it. (Laughter.)

Proceeding, counsel submitted that there was no contract, and no cause of action. Neither was there any obligation on the part of his client to the plaintiff. If there was any obligation to anybody it was to the society, and that could not be a legal obliga­tion, because they were a voluntary associa­tion, and were not the plaintiffs. As to the rights of the plaintiff being infringed, those rights had not been identified.

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams under­stood that each member of the Order held all the other members under an implied con­tract not to disclose what took place at the meetings.

A Pledge of Secrecy.

Sir F. Low said that was the case put to the judge. There were no rules, but appar­ently there was a pledge of secrecy given.

Mr. Whately, continuing, said the defend­ant had prepared the articles complained of from old books which were perfectly well known, and not from anything of which the plaintiff possessed the copyright. If the publication of the next number of the magazine was stopped, the publication would practically be stopped altogether, because the subscribers would be scattered. Ahhough the action was based on something that ap­peared in the September number, not a word was heard of it until the March number had been printed.

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams: That is a question of pounds, shillings, and pence.

Mr. Whately: It is a very serious matter for my client.

Sir F. Low: Our complaint is that wher­ever our ritual was got from, it was a gross breach of faith for the defendant, after being admitted and allowed to attend the meetings, and then being expelled the Order, to start publishing this matter.

Lord Justice Moulton: He has as much right to publish what is in the old books about the Rosicrucians as anybody else.

Sir F. Low: He is not entitled to publish a ritual ceremonv which he had pledged himself to secrecy about, even if it was got from the Bible.

Letting the Cat out of the Bag.

Lord Justice Moulton: Anybody who knows anything about these societies knows that the ritual of most of them has been pub­lished.

Sir F. Low: Your lordship must not ask me to admit that.

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams: I have not observed any indication that you are, either of you, Masons. (Laughter.)

Sir F. Low : I don’t propose to give your lordship any, either. (Laughter.) This society is in no way a Masonic society.

Lord Justice Farwell said he could understand the publication of a trade secret doing a person irreparable injury, but he could not see how any damage, irreparable or otherwise, could be done by the publica­tion in question. .

Sir F. Low: If it is done it will irreparable because the cat will be out of the bag.

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams: But so much of the cat came out of the bag in Sep­tember. (Laughter.)

A Dead Cat.

Lord Justice Farwell: And I think it is a dead cat. (Laughter.)

Sir F. Low : But if they have let out one they may let out another. Counsel suggested that the defendant had been actuated in the matter by a desire for revenge for his expul­sion from the society.

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams: I see the plaintiff savs he is “the earthly chief” of the Order, and subject to the guidance of the “Spiritual’’ Order. .

Lord Justice Farwell: What is the “Spiri­tual Order"? (Laughter.)

Sir F. Low : I cannot go into it, my lord. It is clear the spiritual head would not be answerable for costs. (Laughter.)

Lord Justice Vaughan Williams thought the appeal ought to succeed, and the injunc­tion be discharged. The plaintiff had de­layed his action until just before he publica­tion of the new number of the magazine, whereas he might have proceeded a month or six weeks ago, before the printing began. He did not decide, however, on that ground alone, but he also thought that the publica­tion could do the plaintiff no harm, in view of what appeared in the last number of “The Equinox."

Lord Justice Moulton and Lord Justice Farwell agreed.

The appeal was accordingly allowed, with costs.


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