Friday, September 19, 2014

Aleister Crowley: Serial Killer?

It's official: The Daily Mail hates Aleister Crowley. I pretty much figured as much from their articles about OTO, but this one seals the deal. It's actually from three years ago, but I somehow missed it back when it came out and frankly it's the single most bizarre Crowley conspiracy theory that I've ever heard - and understand, I've heard a lot of them.

According to author Mark Beynon, who is described in the article as a "historian" despite the fact that I can find no information about his supposed qualifications anywhere, Aleister Crowley was in fact a serial killer responsible for a series of murders related to the opening of Tutankhamon's tomb. According to Beynon, his victims include:

Raoul Loveday who died on February 16, 1923. The 23-year-old Oxford undergraduate was a follower of Crowley's cult at a Sicilian Abbey. He died on the same day at the very hour of Carter's much-publicised opening of Tutankhamun's burial chamber after drinking the blood of a cat sacrificed in one of Crowley's rituals. Mr Beynon argues that he was deliberately poisoned.

Nope, this anecdote is one of the oldest accusations against Crowley and it has been debunked by multiple biographers. How about the rest?

Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey who died on July 10, 1923. The Egyptian prince, 23, was shot dead by his French wife of six months, Marie-Marguerite, in London's Savoy Hotel shortly after he was photographed visiting the tomb. Mr Beynon says that Crowley and Marie-Marguerite had been lovers in Paris. She was working as a hostess at the Folies Berghre and he was a regular patron at the same venue. He suggests that Crowley put her up to the shooting.

The more parsimonious explanation here is that Bey was abusive and his wife may have shot him in self-defense. This is, in fact, why she was acquitted when the case came to trial and reflects the findings of the court.

Aubrey Herbert, died September, 23, 1923. Shortly after Marie-Marguerite's acquittal, Aubrey Herbert, the half-brother of Lord Carnarvon, died of blood poisoning after a routine dental operation went suspiciously wrong at his private hospital in Park Lane. He had only recently returned from his own trip to Luxor. Mr Beynon speculates that Crowley was behind the death and may again have used Marie-Marguerite to do his dirty work.

Medical procedures have improved vastly since the 1920's and 1930's. It was not that uncommon for a patient to die following even minor operations, as penicillin, the first modern antibiotic, was only approved for medical use in 1940.

Captain Richard Bethell, died November 15, 1929. Howard Carter's 46-year-old personal secretary was found dead in his bed at Mayfair's exclusive Bath Club. Bethell was said to have been in perfect health. It was initially thought that he died of a heart attack but his symptoms raised suspicion that he was smothered to death as he slept. Crowley had only recently returned to London and was often a guest of novelist W. Somerset Maugham at the club.

Yes, dying in a building that Crowley may entered, at a time when he might or might not have been there, is clearly highly suspicious. By that criteria, there are an awful lot of murderers out there.

Lord Westbury, died February 20, 1930. Bethell's father, Lord Westbury, 77, was believed to have thrown himself off his seventh floor St James's apartment. But Mr Beynon found that it was practically impossible for an elderly man to have climbed out onto the window ledge and suggests that Crowley threw him off.

Edgar Steele, died February 24, 1930. Only four days after the death of Lord Westbury, Mr Steele, 57, died at St Thomas' Hospital after a minor stomach operation. Mr Beynon speculates that Crowley was behind the death. He was in charge of handling the tomb artefacts at London's British Museum.

Before antibiotics, abdominal surgery no matter how minor carried a high risk of potentially deadly infection. The risk is not negligible even today, with all the improvements medicine has made in the last 75 years.

Sir Ernest Wallis Budge, died November 23, 1934. A former Keeper in the British Museum's Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, he was found dead in his bed in Bloomsbury aged 77. A friend of Lord Carnarvon, he had been responsible for displaying the artefacts from Luxor. Mr Beynon says there is evidence that Budge and Crowley were associates on the London occult scene.

Budge probably did know Crowley. But he died at the age of 77 and there was nothing suspicious about his death.

But the biggest, weirdest question about all this is why Crowley would have bothered. It seems that Beynon has this idea that Thelema is some sort of traditional Egyptian religion, and thus a Thelemite should be offended in some way by the excavation of Tutankhamun's tomb. While Thelema does make use of Egyptian godforms, this is not really the case.

As a matter of fact, this Thelemite (me) has a poster hanging in his living room from the Tutankhamun exhibition in Chicago. If anything, the excavation of the tomb is fascinating to most of us because of what it revealed about the culture and artifacts of ancient Egypt.

So who is Mark Beynon? All I can find is his Amazon biography, which is not particularly enlightening.

Mark Beynon has had screenplays in development with the UK Film Council and Screen South. He began his writing career with a succession of acclaimed theatrical productions before moving into the short film arena where he enjoyed making the official selection of some of the UK's top film festivals. The Devil's Plague is Mark's debut novel.

I don't know about you, but in my world "screenwriter" and "historian" are totally different jobs. I wonder if this book was an idea for a novel, like James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, that Beynon later decided to publish as non-fiction in order to stir up more notoriety. Judging from his book's sales rank it hasn't worked. Its single Amazon review says this about the Crowley murder conspiracy:

The second half of the book goes into the proposed connection between Aleister Crowley and a series of deaths attributed to the "Curse of King Tut." It is an intriguing portrait of the so-called "Wickedest Man in the World;" however, it totally falls apart as any kind of criminological investigation. Instead, it consists of one wild conjecture built upon another, with no presentation of evidence of any kind. Benyon's disregard for any distinction between composing pure fiction and writing history is most evident in this section. For example, Benyon moves from proposing in one paragraph that Crowley could have used laudanum to murder one of the so-called curse's victims, to stating as fact a few pages later (p.112) : "On Nov. 4 [1906, shortly before infecting Fletcher Robinson with laudanum] he [Crowley]wrote in his diary , "dog-faced demons all day. Descent into Hell." This habit of moving from conjecture (often quite wild) to accepting his own conjecture as fact and building a subsequent case upon it, is found consistently throughout the second half of Benyon's book, ie. the portion attributing the deaths of persons connected with the King Tutankhamun excavation to Aleister Crowley. As such, it verges on irresponsible journalism.

Yup, that sounds like fiction to me, especially in light of what I know about Crowley and his life. I understand that OTO is gearing up to publish all of Crowley's magical diaries, which will let readers decide for themselves if any of these accusations hold up to even casual investigation. I strongly suspect that they won't.

Maybe this makes me an irresponsible blogger, but I won't be linking to Benyon's book or the Amazon review quoted above. It's not hard to find if you go looking, and I refuse to give this guy any more publicity than I have to in order to point and laugh. I also highly recommend against purchasing it, even as a joke. There's no sense in rewarding an effort as sloppy and prejudiced as this one.

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