BERLIN. The yellow stars daubed on shop windows in the Jewish Quarter, overshadowed by the monstrous towers the Nazis called architecture – totems of the thousand-year Reich. Such a millenarian atmosphere suited Crowley, fresh, if that is the word, from a reinvigorating interlude of sex magic with a woman half his age in Lisbon. Like a gratified parent, he still doted on the “German Crusade”, as he called it. In turn, the authorities tolerated his existence. Names he had been invoking for years were on the lips of high-ranking SS officers: Ahriman, Horus, and Moloch – many deities were abroad that year. Besides, his relationship with the Nazis stretched back to the early days of the Party’s formation. Yet they did not like the relationship to be too defined. Already theirs was a hidden doctrine, a sect of intrigue and the esoteric, of ritual and symbol, posing as the modern. A few years later, his eyes opened, the OTO suppressed in Germany, Crowley would describe them with contempt as the Black Brothers.
The 1977 International Times story that inspired the novel:
Indeed, they were worshippers of the left hand, the perverted spirit – but in secret only. To the ostensible world, they presented themselves as the final cultists of the empirical. Crowley to them was something of a buffoon: an actor in a shadow play of rich widows and cocaine who shared their interests but not their intent. The Wanderer of the Waste was comfortable with this arrangement. He loved outrage and extravagance; while for them, purpose was enough.
Crowley had first met Aldous Huxley in this same Berlin at the start of the decade and had painted his portrait in the belief that he was rich. This time Huxley was in the city as an observer of the strange monster Germany was becoming. Like many witnesses, he was both repulsed and fascinated by the dark rhythym that beat in the pulse of that nation. To describe their relationship as friendship would be to miss the point. Crowley was doubtless fascinating – notorious as the Great Beast in his own country and much of Europe, a brilliant conversationalist and something of an enigma, whereas Huxley was a myopic intellectual. Yet Crowley attracted him, just as thirty years before he had intrigued the dry and peevish Somerset Maugham in Paris. He almost existed for the straying eye of the novelist who hunted those chapters of exhibition life did not afford. Yet now Crowley fades, his rotundity, absurd and menacing, is blurred – a glaring headline of Edwardian sin.
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,
Love is the Law, Love under Will.”
So I utter his Law in my own defence, that simplification filched from Rabelais, supposedly dictated in the mirage of a Cairo night by his guardian angel Aiwass. I think of him shortly after the war shambling through that seedy Hastings boarding house sated with the Law: a figure of pathos in his threadbare dressing gown nursing his habits and remorse, an aged minotaur, sybarite among the shadows, in the fading of his Aeon, more the fool than Prospero.
Already in the Thirties psychotropic agents fascinated Huxley. Albert Hoffman, synthesizer of LSD, had yet to sway on his bicycle after the mysterious chemical seeped through his pores, yet there existed an abundance of literature concerning its predecessors: Havelock Ellis’s experiments with mescaline or those of William James with psylocibin. Moreover, Berlin, at that time, still nursing is Weimar hangover, was the epicentre of drugs in Europe. Both Hitler and Goering used amphetamine and cocaine, and the SS administered many narcotics in their initiation ceremony, the Ritual of the Stifling Air, which closely resembled the Black Mass. Indeed, one of the biggest contributors to the formation of the Nazi Party, and so the Second World War, may have been the diet of methedrine, a super strength amphetamine, and Nietzsche fed to German soldiers in the trenches – both pills of the former and copies of Also Sprach Zarathrustra were standard army issue. An oversimplification, perhaps, yet the first chemical history of our epoch remains to be written.
Thus it was that Huxley came to Crowley for his first taste of mescaline. The latter took the drug irregularly, without pretensions, purely as an exercise in that hedonistic spirituality he practised. Huxley, on the other hand, nursed a genuine mystical longing that had surprisingly blossomed in a soul as rooted in reason as his own. There was a confusion of aims, a perennial ambiguity about their enterprise. I, Victor B. Neuburg, poet and sodomite, sorcerer’s apprentice, veteran of Bou Saada and the Paris Workings, was the arbiter.
They had spent the afternoon in our less than opulent rented quarters discussing Karma. Crowley was talking:
‘To me it exists solely as a paradox. It is true I have seen retribution visit others on many occasions, especially those foolish enough to cross me as they have learnt to their cost. There does seem to be a sense of balance in the machinery. Nevertheless, this process is unending. It acts in everything and so to allow it an iota of acknowledgement is absurd.’
‘We reap what we sow, Aleister,’ Huxley countered, ‘not in a moral sense, at least only haphazardly moral. Nemesis is something like gravitation, inevitable yet indifferent. If, for example, you sow self-stultification by an excessive interest in money, you will engineer a grotesque humiliation.’
‘We reap what we sow, Aleister,’ Huxley countered, ‘not in a moral sense, at least only haphazardly moral. Nemesis is something like gravitation, inevitable yet indifferent. If, for example, you sow self-stultification by an excessive interest in money, you will engineer a grotesque humiliation.’
‘In what sense? How can you possibly accuse the rich of humiliation? Surely they’re the last people to fall victim to that particular failing.’
‘I was coming to that. By self-stultification I don’t just mean money. I mean anything that clouds the spirit. Over-indulgence in alcohol, food or sex are more examples of things that wreck our purpose. However, because these things reduce you to a sub-human condition, you will not be aware the humiliation is humiliation, so to speak. There is your explanation of why Nemesis sometimes seems to reward. What she brings is humiliation only in the absolute sense, for the ideal and complete human being, or at any rate, for the nearly complete. For the sub-human it may seem a triumph, a consummation, a fulfilment of the heart’s desire.’
‘Moral,’ concluded Crowley,’ live sub-humanely and Nemesis may bring you happiness. Well, if you will excuse me, my dear Aldous, I will proceed to self-stultify. Victor, if you don’t mind: Pandora’s box!’
I rose and went to the cabinet and took out his medicine. Four phials lay in the ivory box. I selected the one containing Burmese heroin and another crammed with Bolivian cocaine. Carefully I mixed the powders on a silver tray, crushing the dirty khaki coloured heroin and adding about five times as much cocaine. I passed Crowley a silver spoon that, with surprising dexterity, he used to scoop up some of the powder, which he then deftly inhaled, first through the right and then the left nostril.
‘Won’t you join us for cocktails?’ Crowley invited. ‘This combination certainly beats Pimm’s.”
Disapproval etched itself into the lines on Huxley’s austere face.
Observing this, Crowley commented: ‘I’m afraid if you keep the devil’s company then you must see his works. Imagine you’re with Falstaff, you know, “gentlemen of the shade, minions of the Moon”.’
‘But this is such waste,’ declared Huxley, ‘the ultimate form of self-stultification. What’s more I’m sure it’s a conscious assault on the soul, an immense dereliction.’
‘It depends,’ Crowley replied. ‘Drugs are magick and have always been used as such. The soma of the Vedas, the nepenthe of Homer, the henbane and belladonna of the witches all point to the fact. I am sure for the nomal man, whom I happily call the sub-human, they are invariably detrimental. However, in no way do I consider myself ordinary. To me drugs are the litmus test of capacity. I know the wraith-like effects of cocaine, that long corridor of shadow where the soul is wasted and profaned. And heroin! The cushioned daze of the opiated night. But it is because I have supped large on both such joys and sorrows that I consider myself more than human.’
‘Have you not read Baudelaire’s intimate journals? Isherwood, who is staying near here, has just translated them. I’ve never come across such desperation, such remorse for a lifetime given over to false ideals – hashish and all the other indulgences that besotted the Decadents.’
‘But that is it exactly!’ Crowley, excited by the drugs, sputtered. ‘Baudelaire gloried in his fall, his self-imposed damnation. Besides, he did write some damn fine stuff, and wasn’t that born precisely out of those feelings of failure and hysteria he cultivated with his drug taking, his black bitch, his guilt? You see, Aldous, as long as we are active we are saved. All energy is eternal delight provided we use it. To take a drug is to permit a daemon to enter the sanctum of thought and action. If we give voice to this captured spirit then we enforce, rather than profane, and so exorcise the very spirit that possesses us.’
He got up and went over to the sideboard. It was growing dark outside and his obesity threw a giant shadow across the wall. I suppose, in tribute to the spirit of the times, I should comment on the stamp of stormtroopers’ boots from the street below. But in truth I only heard the low growl of traffic and the occasional voice. Crowley came back and gave Huxley a piece of paper. ‘Read!’ he said simply.
I have that paper before me now. In the last decade, it has become yellowed and brittle round the edges. It is one of many of his papers that I still keep: bills, incantations, the occasional doodle or letter. Like me they survive in obscurity, unknown to both his followers and biographers. I shall transcribe it here.
“From the tower enchantment and the sweet hypnosis of lost time, my dreamseed spill their valediction across known worlds. I tell the cartographers, who call my map invisible, that space is frozen in the habit of their fictions. Their cities are my seed, their houses, wives and toil are fantastic shadows of solidity. I see only waves, brilliant, aural cartoons containing one centimetre of gross matter. Let the radiant language now spill forth. I sing the chisel and the blade, the hammer and the scales, and all melodies of craft. The Work ferments inside my battery of cells. My voltage is a million watts.
“Alchemy is patient. It sits in stillness. Like Tao it recognises the divinity of hazard, the vigour of the useless – accident is merely the collision of two meanings. So in me the dross solidifies. I have stopped asking if I have a story as there are no stories now, only decipherable collisions. In me, the opaque furniture of the random is condensed and drained into rich ore. My veins are heavy with dark coal nurturing diamonds. I am the redking, the bronzed phoenix upon the wheel of flame. I have traversed the river of ordeal and was crowned by elementals. Now shall the paradox of prisms blaze onto papyrus my heart’s bold voice.
“Airborne visions tingle. Coming from rich flight, the dreamer’s wingspan – almost prosaic this whirlwind. Lost continents, contours, cartographers, and me, my maiden voyage is crystal and a glass. Truly it is the scheming polarity of vision this placing on a glass, a pane that mirrors to the heart’s dereliction, the soul’s migration. I sweep the city. This is the holy liquid of metropolis, fashioned in the image of its metal bowels. This is the Fall of Ushers, the corruption of sense. Tell me the sex of electricity, of coils, sockets, plugs. Once the planet gave the deity of gender to the thunder in the hills. Only man creates the sexless. My mind is snow vapour; airwaves flow freely like the magic carpet on Sinbad’s voyage. I am standing in Mexico. I have the stature of the ancients, the children of Lilith, twenty-three feet tall. I strut the sunflower Van Gogh sand, eaten by cacti, while the arcane sun explodes above. I eat the sun. I am the debris of the stars. Solar storms flare from my pores and launch a billion sun borne seeds, the first shudder running through me forever. In the fever of mirage, in hallucination, I seek to touch the brimming fare of yellow; peyote, datura, mescaline. Behind needles sharpened by white light, fantastic buds map shades of an oasis.”
Huxley read the piece carefully but seemed unimpressed.. His exact words I cannot recall, only that they were polite and vague. Myself, I am fond of the passage and as I am fond of all visionary otherworldly things. Doubtless, to Huxley the words were another demonstration of the Beast’s eccentricity, like the whole pantheon of dark, forgotten gods that sprang so glibly to his lips.
‘When the wind of the wings of madness comes,’ Huxley said, ‘I hope you will be spared!’
His purpose in coming that evening was to take mescaline. They had discussed the subject at length – Huxley referring to Havelock Ellis, Crowley to the Vedas. ‘Come then,’ said the Beast as dusk fell. First, we smoked hashish from the hookah, its effect lightening the atmosphere considerably. Huxley lost most of the caustic self-possession that clung to him like a limpet to a rock. He was almost merry. Crowley’s mind still maintained the intense superficial clarity that cocaine induces, and heroin and hashish only partially placate. He teased our guest as if he were a mischievous child. Huxley’s intellect was running wild. He talked scathingly of England and the English, expressing opinions that delighted Crowley. They discussed Gurdjieff then Yeats and his Vision, and this time it was Crowley’s turn to be scathing. Huxley even launched into a lecture on Tao exercises, which Crowley brought to an abrupt halt by asking if one-hand clap was not a form of masturbationary syphilis. We all laughed uproariously, like schoolboys over a dirty joke. Meanwhile, I had administered the mescaline.
‘You know Hitler has taken this stuff,’ Crowley observed. ‘I heard it from a reliable friend in the OTO.’
‘OTO?’ Huxley was perplexed.
‘Ordo Templi Orientis. My local branch, you might say. Their connections with the Nazis are nobody’s business. They almost founded the Party, or at least subverted it. Do you know that two of their top men personally trained Hitler? Before he was a stuttering Austrian oaf, a shoddy bohemian with dirty nails, and a pervert to boot. They coached him in oratory and rhetoric, and under the influence of the drug that will shortly, my dear Aldous, set your eyes on fire, gave him his daemon.’
‘Then,’ declared Huxley, ‘all the dispersed romanticism that in its waning found expression in the esoteric, in secret cults, has made its kingdom here; fascism is, after all, the triumph of decadence, the final madness of Bohemia.’
‘So that Bartzabel may have his day, precisely,’ Crowley replied.
Later a vast smile spread across Huxley’s formerly dry features, now radiant, illuminated, his eyes indeed tinged with fire. In what region of enchantment he walked, I do not know. Whether beneath the icy domes of Kubla Khan or in some long vanished field of his childhood, fragrant with wood smoke, he did not say. And what music flowed inside him, whether the Abyssinian maid soothed him with her dulcimer or the highest octaves of the stars astonished his ears, was also secret. Whatever is discovered at such moments belongs inviolably to the inner life of the traveller. Even if he should wish to convey it, he would probably find the few words that pertain to this province of experience unforthcoming. We have no maps for the mescal voyage of the psyche.
For me, it was a night of colours – yellow phantoms emanating from the street lamps below; silver flashes of rain tangoing on the windowsill; deep cobalt of the sky – an airless backdrop to the unflinching stars; a violet gauze of cloud over the white moon, and all the world’s allure gathered in a rainbow.
At one point Crowley produced some Tarot cards, prototypes of the pack of Thoth that Lady Frieda Harris had just embarked on in Marylebone. The figures seemed to move – the Lovers entwining themselves on the matrix, the Empress breaking into her impenetrable smile, the Prince of Wands tightening the reigns of the chimera he rode. All these vital creatures, through our intent, in the steely point of time called Berlin, living out the correspondence of their ageless dance. Like a pharaoh long ago, we parted the curtain and glimpsed the peerless geometry of the stars.
At another point Crowley quoted from The Book of the Law.
“I am the snake that giveth knowledge and delight and bright glory and stir the hearts of men with drunkeness. To worship me take wine and strange drugs, whereof I will tell my prophet and be drunk thereof! They shall not harm ye at all.”
‘A trifle perilous, don’t you think?’ Huxley murmured.
‘Of course,’ Crowley agreed, always lucid at such moments, ‘if you read it carelessly and acted on it rashly it might well lead to trouble. But the words “to worship me” are all important. They mean that things like cocaine, mescaline and alcohol may be and should be used for the purpose of worshipping, that is, entering into communion with the Snake, which is the genius that lies at the core of every star. For every man and woman is a star. The taking of a drug should be a carefully thought out and religious act. Experience alone can teach you the right conditions in which the act is legitimate; in other words, when it can assist you to do your will.’
Huxley left shortly afterwards. He walked through a Berlin he had never seen before, where cylinders of fire in the cold dawn air dazzled his senses, and the splashing rain became cartwheels of light spinning across the pavement. He had entered a hitherto unknown continent and now, like an illuminated Columbus, was intent on discovery. I remained with the good Master Therion, his bulk shifting in reverie on the Turkish couch.
Many years stretch between then and now. Long ago my two protagonists were dust, fallen to the bottom of the hourglass. Huxley on his deathbed: two hundred micrograms of LSD-25; the luminous smile of his chemical exit. Crowley in that rambling Hastings boarding house: a vast spider with a heroin itch, regurgitating the entrapments of the past. Many years: a war; the accelerated madness of an epoch; the dawning of the age of Thelema. To me long slow years of remorse, when I turned from the gender he had so skilfully taught me and from the vision that witnessed me abandoned in the desert: the pallid brow, stiff horns, the foul rapture that attends that angel to we in league with him through time and eternity – his sub-contractors.
Scan of the story as it appeared in International Times link
The doctored story in Russian http://kolonna.mitin.com/archive/mj57/sybarite.shtml
In a letter sent to A.E. Trick in 1934, Dylan Thomas wrote: “The creature himself – I must tell you one day if I haven’t told you before how Aleister Crowley turned Vicky into a camel – is a nineteenth-century crank with mental gangrene, lousier than ever before, a product of a Jewish nuts-factory, an Oscar tamed”.
“Vicky” was Victor Benjamin Neuburg, who as poetry editor of the Sunday Referee had been the first to publish Dylan’s work. Yet far from being a solitary instance, line upon line of Dylan’s letters of the mid-Thirties explode with bile against Neuburg, his companion Runia Tharpe, and the poetry group they presided over at their home in Swiss Cottage. This was nothing new. Throughout his life, Neuburg inspired extreme reactions in those who knew him.
Neuburg was born in Islington on May 6, 1883 into a Jewish family of Viennese extraction. When he was an infant, his father returned to Austria, so his mother raised him with the help of doting aunts. At the age of sixteen and a half, he joined the family firm, which imported canes, fibres and rattans, but it quickly became apparent a conventional life was not for him. He felt the call to be a poet and nursed an enthusiasm for fads. He dabbled with agnosticism, and vegetarianism until he settled on the paganism and ritual magic of Aleister Crowley. They met while Neuburg was up at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1906. Crowley, an alumnus, who often returned to the college to fish for disciples – a ruse later adopted by the Soviet Secret Service – simply knocked on the door one day.
Aleister Crowley, the self-styled Great Beast, was born in 1875 into a strict Plymouth Brethren family and needs much less of an introduction than Neuburg. Due to the number of dedicated websites, The Observer has described him as the “demon of the internet”. New biographies and editions of his work appear monthly, which is odd when you consider that the Beast died a heroin-addicted pauper in Hastings on December 1, 1947, leaving eighteen shillings and sixpence, and a terrible reputation. Spurred on by John Symonds biography, the Great Beast, interest simmered through the Fifties, then, in the Sixties, Crowley’s appearance on the cover of Sergeant Pepper heralded his becoming an icon of the Counter Culture. His interest in the occult, yoga, drugs, his travels in the East, dovetailed with the obsessions of the period. With the arrival of Punk, his philosophy of rampant individualism, of “Do what thou wilt”, seemed to have discovered its soundtrack.
At an early age, Crowley had decided he was the anti-Christ and continued to cause mayhem throughout his life in a variety of guises, including mountaineer, writer, painter and spy. He played a great part in reviving the study of ritual magic (or magick, as he termed it, a spelling that has become ubiquitous, from the shop signs in Glastonbury to the titles of self-help manuals) and had a significant influence on Wicca and Scientology. His system is that which informs the Cabbalistic framework that underpins Under the Volcano, due to Malcolm Lowry’s friendship with a follower of Crowley. In 2003, he came seventy-third in the BBC poll of the 100 most famous Britons. In an article in the Guardian, Tim Cummings commented, “His influence on modern culture is as pervasive as that of Freud or Jung.” It is little wonder that Neuburg, who detested the “normal” and longed for an extreme magical, Dionysian mode of being, was sucked into the Beast’s orbit.
From 1906 to the eve of the Great War, Neuburg was Crowley’s foremost apprentice, sacrificing the family fortune and, arguably, his health and a fair bit of his sanity in the process. Somewhat disastrously for a magician, Crowley lacked the capacity to witness fully what he invoked, a deficiency amply compensated for by Neuburg who had formidable talents as a seer. In the Algerian desert, with the aid of mescaline and sexual magic, they were the first Englishmen since the Renaissance to make the Enochian Calls of Edward Kelly and John Dee, court magus to Elizabeth the First. These Calls were designed to summon angels and a vivid record of their experiences was later published in the Equinox as ‘The Vision and the Voice’, which included their encounter with the dreadful Spirit of the Abyss, Choronzon. During this trip, Neuburg had his head shaved so only two pointed tufts shaped like horns and dyed red remained. Crowley led him by a chain attached to a metal collar round his neck and introduced him to bemused Bedouins as a captured jinn.
Back in London, under the aegis of Crowley, Neuburg and other followers put on the Rites of Eleusis at the Caxton Hall. Vicky demonstrated a remarkable talent as a dancer during performances in which they invoked the pagan gods, recited Swinburne and Baudelaire, and provided the audience with a mescaline-laced punch. When reading accounts of this, or the commune like arrangements at Crowley’s flat at 124 Victoria Street, where magical sexual rites and a wholesale consumption of mind-altering drugs was in order, it seems the Sixties were already thriving in Edwardian London.
During this time, Neuburg had a relationship with Ione de Forrest, a beautiful, highly-strung actor, who performed in the Rites. There is evidence that Crowley was also involved with her and was jealous of her influence on his acolyte. After one session, in which Neuburg had danced down Mars, Crowley allegedly did not bother to release him. Possessed by the god of war, Neuburg visited Ione, who was pregnant, probably by him. She spoke of killing herself. With uncharacteristic cruelty, Neuburg told her to go ahead and left. The artist Nina Hamnett found the body the next day: the actor, whose real name was Joan Hayes, had shot herself. Hamnett records all this in her autobiography Laughing Torso (Constable, 1931), in which Neuburg is referred to never by name but as the Poet. Ione’s death haunted Vicky and he believed it was a widely known story in bohemian circles, which it probably was, at least after the appearance of Hamnett’s book. Yet it was still not enough to provoke a breach with his Holy Guru.
Crowley was a charismatic man who attracted many apprentices and scarlet women in the course of his career, but Neuburg was of more use to him than most. Vicky’s large private income came in handy, especially in the production of the Equinox, an expensively produced magical journal that ran to several issues. Under its auspices, The Triumph of Pan (Equinox, 1910) appeared. As With Neuburg’s first collection Green Garland(Probsthain 1908), most of the poems deal with occult or mythological themes and stylistically owe much to the Greek and Roman poets, Blake, Shelley and Swinburne. Neuburg’s poetry, like Crowley’s, can seem outmoded today and it is doubtful if it would be remembered, but for their other exploits. The opening of ‘A Meeting’, dedicated to Nora, a lady of pleasure Neuburg met in Bournemouth, gives a taste of this:
Arthur Calder-Marshall, the historian, blamed early tragedy for preventing Neuburg becoming a great poet and described him as “a Prometheus bound before he could make fire”. Rupert Croft-Cooke summarised both his poetry and Crowley’s as “nothing but a volatile facility”. Nevertheless, upon its appearance in December 1910,The Triumph of Pan garnered many reviews, several favourable (Katherine Mansfield was an admirer), and it is still in print today.* There is an androgynous slant to some of the poems, revealing the influence both of Sappho and Edward Carpenter, which is epitomised by such lines as:
Neuburg dedicates most of the poems to various contemporaries, including two to Austin Osman Spare, who produced portraits of both Neuburg and Crowley. Several cast light on his relationship with the Beast. Some reminisce in occluded terms about their experiences in the desert. Others are more di
Neuburg’s ultimate goal is a transgressive one; a Nietzschean desire to see “further than is permitted”. He is gleefully marching to the beat of a different drum with the Beast keeping time.
Crowley and Neuburg’s final magical operation occurred in January and February 1914. They locked themselves in a Paris hotel room and invoked a succession of gods, including Jupiter and Mercury. As usual, the results were dramatic. Shortly after, Neuburg parted ways with his master. What brought on the final breach is unclear. Vicky seemed to have come into some money at this time, which only added to Crowley’s ire as he saw this as a direct result of the Working. There was a tradition in bohemian circles in the inter-war years that Crowley had ritually cursed him, one Neuburg corroborated, turning him into a goat, however, not the camel of popular belief. Nothing the Beast himself said or wrote on the subject contradicts this. He was to describe Vicky as “a Caliban-like creature, a certain deformed and filthy abortion without moral character”. He ridiculed him in his autohagiography The Confessions (Routledge, 1979) and on June 28, 1930 penned a limerick in his diary, which showed that Neuburg was still in his thoughts sixteen years after the split:
Following it is written: “Spiritual attainments are incompatible with bourgeois morality”. ‘Tools’ probably has a sexual meaning.
Neuburg went on to fight in the First World War and by all accounts cut a ludicrous figure as a soldier. Afterwards, he lived in the picturesque Vine Cottage in Steyning, Sussex, where he set up the Vine Press. Using a handheld press, he produced several volumes of his own poetry: Lillygay (Vine Press, 1920), which included verse in Scottish dialect; Swift Wings (Vine Press, 1921), about subjects connected with Sussex;Songs of the Groves (Vine Press, 1922) and Larkspur (Vine Press, 1922), in which he occasionally broaches occult themes. He also printed the work of others, including Rupert Croft-Cooke’s Songs of a Sussex Tramp(Vine Press, 1922). The books were beautifully produced and employed a curious font with a wide W and linked double O.
In his memoirs, Glittering Pastures (Putnam, 1965), Croft-Cooke has a chapter called The Vickybird, which describes Vicky in Steyning in the early Twenties. A fuller picture emerges in Arthur Calder-Marshall’s The Magic of my Youth (Hart-Davis, 1951). His family lived in the village, and later he was to meet Crowley as well. As Calder-Marshall described him, Neuburg at this time possessed “thin venous hands and a head which, by nature disproportionately large for his body, was magnified by dark medusa locks”. He dressed scruffily and at times wore Elizabethan style leggings, which went with his general love of fol-de-rol and his use of greetings such as “Prithee, good sir, enter my humble abode.’ He had coined his very own neologism “ostrobogalous”, which he used to describe anything pornographic or odd and was prone to speaking in abbreviations, such as T.A.P., take a pew, or T.K, tobacco craving. He would go to extraordinary lengths to pick up litter or rescue insects and everyone commented on his astonishingly loud and screeching laugh.
In 1921, Neuburg married Kathleen Rose Goddard, whom he met when she worked at Hove Post Office. They produced a son, also called Victor, described by Neuburg as “my first and only edition”. Without Vicky doing much to prevent it, Kathleen, who seems to have been serially unfaithful to him, eventually ran off with someone else. With the family trust almost exhausted, Vicky’s prospects seemed bleak. What he had renounced haunted him. “He gave up magic and spent the whole of the rest of his life feeling he was not doing what he was meant to be doing,” his friend, the journalist Hayter Preston, observed. His only hope was that he would live again, as expressed in a poem of this period entitled ‘White Hawk Hill’.
In his memoirs, Croft-Cooke speaks of Neuburg’s need to be “in the swim” and a curious series of events brought this about in the early Thirties. Neuburg met a woman called Runia Tharpe, a freethinker and weekend bohemian, who was the wife of a society portrait painter, and moved in with her – first in Primrose Hill, then in the Swiss Cottage Area. In 1933, Hayter Preston became literary editor of the Sunday Referee and gave Vicky a column called Poet’s Corner, in which, among others, he published Pamela Hansford Johnson, David Gascoyne, and Dylan Thomas, leading eventually to the appearance of the Welshman’s first collection,18 Poems. He was also prone to publishing just about anybody who sent work into him, being terrified of hurting someone’s feelings by rejection, a trait Dylan relentlessly satirises in his letters:
There is more, much more of this concerning “The Neuburg Academy for the Production of Inferior Verse” where Vicky “must spread the vomit evenly and impartially over his pages”. This scorn for “the Creative Lifers” and indeed for Neuburg’s whole conception of poetry, which Dylan describes as “word-tinkling” or “saccharine wallowings of near schoolboys in the bowels of a castrated muse”, did not stop Dylan contributing to Poet’s Corner or attending the meetings organised in Neuburg’s home in Springfield Street, where poets such as he himself read.
Also present was the young Jean Overton Fuller, who grew fascinated by Neuburg; enough to produce in 1965 probably the definitive biography, The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg, currently republished in a third edition by Mandrake. Fuller’s impulse in writing the biography is devotion, and she is brave in facing up to features of Vicky’s personality and practices that, at the very least, must have struck her as bizarre. She describes Neuburg as “the bole from which the tree of my life had grown”. Indeed, Neuburg, a kind and genial man, largely inspired affection in those who knew him and bore the nickname Vicky or Vicky Bird, the latter due to his jerky gait. Even Dylan was fond of him and the voluminous scorn of the letters, while sincere in its criticism of a type of poetic impulse, was an example of him playing the imp. Neuburg did not stay in the swim for long. The Sunday Referee changed policy and he lost his position. His attempts to carry on alone failed. His final years were ones of eclipse. When Neuburg died of lung-related complications on May 31, 1940, Dylan described him as “a sweet, wise man” and complimented him “for drawing to himself, by his wisdom, graveness, great humour and innocence, a feeling of trust and love, that won’t ever be forgotten” – not the words of an enemy.
The years with Crowley had had a disastrous effect on Vicky’s pocket, reputation and health – Fuller believes the rigours of his magical training at Boleskine, the Beast’s lair on the shores of Loch Ness, contributed to his lung problems, and so his death. Most journals and newspapers would not accept any work from him for the rest of his life; the Beast’s increasing infamy only serving to remind editors of the association. Neuburg claimed Crowley had ruined his life and was terrified of meeting him. On a couple of occasions, the Beast had sent his current scarlet woman to Steyning and eventually came himself. Vicky hid with a neighbour. Yet Vicky never recanted and continued to believe the magic worked, just as it had in 1910, when possessed by Mars, he had predicted the First World War. Despite his fear, his feelings towards the Beast remained ambivalent. Neuburg was never sure if Crowley was the worst or best man who had ever lived. On its publication in the late Twenties, he hailed Crowley’s Magick in Theory and Practice as the greatest work on magic since the Renaissance. If the constructs of magic and poetry hold true and there is a numinous architecture, which we glimpse and sense we are here more fully to behold, Neuburg is important: he dared test the waters. Yet even in the glory days, he foresaw rupture and exile. In the last poem of the Triumph of Pan, “Epilogue”, which aptly is dedicated to AC, he wrote: