What better way to mark April Fool’s Day than by commemorating one of the wittiest and most daring of practical jokes, one perpetrated by Aleister Crowley in those brilliant years before drugs and/or self-delusion fogged his mind. Decades before the pathetic “Peekaboo Crowley” of much renown Aleister was still churning out some very enjoyable poetry – some of it brilliant. The Sword of Song and Konx Om Pax are my favorite volumes of verse by “the Laird of Boleskine” … AFTER Clouds Without Water, that is.
Clouds Without Water was not Crowley’s only literary practical joke, of course, but the humor of it resonates to this very day, thanks mainly to the never-changing air of pious self-righteousness that afflicts most of the world’s clergy-members. And not just pious self-righteousness but a habit of condemning in the strongest language works of art which their self-limited minds clearly don’t understand.
THE JOKE: Clouds Without Water was published under one of Crowley’s pseudonyms – Reverend Charles Verey. It was circulated to various ministries and teaching colleges allegedly as a condemnation of “the type of atheism and socialism” that the young and the bohemian were embracing. Crowley – writing as Reverend Verey – wrote a foreward and a closing prayer for the volume of poetry as well as (when you know the full story) HILARIOUS footnotes expressing the kind of simplistic moral outrage that only the most narrow-minded of holy-rollers can spout.
Under another assumed identity Crowley ALSO wrote the sonnets being condemned by his Reverend Verey alter ego. On the surface the poems were written by a college professor scandalously celebrating an extramarital affair with one of his female students, a young woman named Lola.
The sonnets reflect the supposed couple’s flouting of social and sexual conventions until the affair ends in tragedy for all concerned. Crowley’s fictional persona Reverend Verey was denouncing the poems and the lifestyle reflected in those poems in the strongest possible terms.
He was also feigning profound outrage and blaming “works such as this” for corrupting the morals of the young and turning their minds against God and religion as well as tempting them toward socialism. That type of behavior from the clergy rings right through to the present day as, over the past several decades religious fanatics have condemned everything from movies to popular music to books and magazines and television and video games for eroding the country’s (any country’s) morals and conduct. Continue reading