1934: Aleister Crowley filed libel suit against author who implied that he practised “black magic”


Aleister Crowley, c 1938. Photograph: Hulton Getty

From the Guardian archive, 13 April 1934: “Black Magic” Libel Action

Originally published in the Manchester Guardian on 13 April 1934: Mr. Aleister Crowley, the author, declines to make himself invisible in court

guardian.co.uk | Apr 13, 2012

The “black magic” libel action again came before Mr. Justice Swift and a special jury in the King’s Bench Division yesterday.

Mr. Aleister Crowley, the author, claimed damages against Miss Nina Hamnett, authoress of a book entitled “Laughing Torso,” and Messrs. Constable and Co., Limited, the publishers, and Messrs. Charles Whittingham and Briggs, the printers.

Mr. Crowley complained that the book imputed that he practised “black magic” and he said this was a libel upon him. The defence was a plea of justification.

At the material time Mr. Crowley had a villa on the mountain-side at Cefalu, Sicily, which was known as the “Abbey of Thelema.” He denied that he practised “black magic” there. He also denied that a baby mysteriously disappeared, as the defence alleged, from the “Abbey.”

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Mr. Martin O’Connor (for Miss Hamnett) resuming his cross-examination yesterday, invited Mr. Crowley to try his magic in court. “You said yesterday,” said Mr O’Connor, “that, as the result of early experiments, you invoked certain forces with the result that some people were attacked by unseen assailants. Try your magic now on my learned friend (pointing to Mr. Malcolm Hilbery, K.C.). I am sure he will not object.” “I would not attack anyone,” replied Mr. Crowley. “I have never done wilful harm to any human being.”

When invited again Mr. Crowley replied: “I absolutely refuse.”

“On a later occasion,” continued Mr. O’Connor, “you said you succeeded in rendering yourself invisible. Would you like to try that on now for, if you don’t, I shall pronounce you an imposter? – You can ask me to do anything you like. It won’t alter the truth.”

Counsel then dealt with the ritual observed in the ceremonies at the villa at Cefalu. Mr. Crowley denied that a cat was killed in the ceremony and that part of the cat’s blood was drunk by a person taking part. “There was no cat, no animal, no blood, and no drinking,” he declared.

In re-examination Mr. Crowley agreed that he had studied black magic, though only as a student. He had never practised black magic, and had always written about it in terms of strongest condemnation.

When Mr. Crowley’s evidence was concluded Mr. Justice Swift asked him to tell the Court “the shortest, and at the same time comprehensive, definition of magic which he knew.”

Mr. Crowley: Magic is the science of the art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will. White magic is if the will is righteous and black magic is if the will is perverse.

Mr. Justice Swift: Does that involve the invocation of spirits? – It may do so. It does involve the invocation of the holy guardian angel who is appointed by Almighty God to watch over each of us.

Is it in your view, the art of controlling spirits so as to affect the course of events? – That is part of magic. One small branch.

If the object of the control is good then it is white magic? – Yes.

When the object of the control is bad what spirits do you invoke? – You cannot invoke evil spirits. You must evoke them and call them out.

When the object is bad you evoke evil spirits? – Yes. You put yourself in their power. In that case it is possible to control evil spirits or blind spirits for a good purpose as we might if we use the dangerous elements of fire and electricity for heating and lighting, &c.

 

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