This post is in defense of Richard Spence’s excellent and well-documented research into Aleister Crowley, particularly his Secret Agent 666 paper and later book.
In early summer 2018, a critic (using a pseudonym) attempted to debunk Richard Spence’s research in Crowley’s history as a spy for British intelligence.
In essence, this person used three main ideas as his supposed rational and “skeptic” proper arguments against Spence and against the Crowley/spy presentation.
Two of the three ideas I list below were actually on the same topic, a particular document, one that we happen to have ordered in and put up on the internet. You can see it here.
- That because a document stating that the British consul in New York affirmed that Crowley worked for the British government came from U.S. military intelligence, this is then sarcastically described as “the guys who are apparently paid to keep secrets.” – implying they (and the document) are therefore discreditable as sources.
- That because that same document doesn’t specifically state Crowley is/was a spy, therefore it is not proof of anything. This is followed with the admission that the document does say “he is a government employee” but the person does not add right there with it, something that should have been if the person was truly being intellectually honest. I refer to where the document stated that Crowley was in the U.S. “on official business of which the British Counsel (sic) in New York has full cognizance.” A well-grounded historical understanding of the use of the terms Official business and British Consul being extremely key to understanding why this essentially tentatively confirms Crowley’s spy/propaganda work status for the British government in some capacity.
- That a particular cite given by Richard Spence for a letter by Crowley to the New York Times in July of 1915 was looked up by the pseudonymous critic who announced: “I found no mention of Crowley, or Atlantis, or Egypt.’ The critic then uses this as a jumping off point for several facetious and sarcastic statements as to Richard’s credibility, finishing with “I am also open-minded to the possibility that Spence’s reference is complete bullcrap.”
Taking up point 3 first, I can not only provide evidence that there was indeed such a letter by Crowley (using the pseudonym Alex. C. Crowley), I can also prove that the specific cite simply had the two-digit day date reversed.
The cite in Spence’s paper was:  The New York Times, 12 July 1915, p. 10.
It should have read 21 July.
A simple typo, in other words, was used as a basis to characterize Richard Spence’s research as “complete bullcrap”.
That’s it, reverse those two numbers and…
There’s the letter by Crowley using a pseudonym of “Alex C. Crowley”, easily found searching the New York Times own archive.
Screenshot – showing page 10 and everything, just like Richard Spence said. The letter is in the “Tongues of Opinion” section.
The Irish Flag
To the Editor of the New York Times:
May I be permitted space to inform your correspondent that the harp device is altogether modern? The true flag of Ireland is a red sunblaze on a green ground. This is symbolical not only of Ireland’s geographical position as the sentinel of the western gate of Europe, but of her traditional history.
It is supposed that Ireland was originally colonized from Egypt, or, alternatively, that both Egypt and Ireland were first peopled by fugitives from Atlantis when that continent was submerged. It may be that this is, after all, more than a fairy story.
ALEX C. CROWLEY
New York, July 19, 1915
The fact that the person didn’t even try to track down the content itself with some basic internet research skills, and would rather use the typo to get his readers to shelve both the content of the letter and by association trying to throw ALL of Spence’s research into Crowley’s status as a spy into question? About the best you could say about such behavior is that it’s lazy. We’ll leave it at that for now.
What is true, is that there is what some could consider an improper inclusion in Richard Spence’s characterization of this letter, but that would be some pretty extreme hair-splitting to do so.
Richard wrote in reference to Crowley’s letter:
If so, he only added to this perception some days later in a letter to the Times, in which he proclaimed the Irish to be the noble descendants of ancient Egypt and Atlantis.
As you can see, there is nothing in Crowley’s letter “proclaiming” the Irish to be “noble descendants”. In Spence’s defense though, I think he was simply counting on most people’s understanding of the “enlightened people” factor in the stories about Egypt and Atlantis, thereby claiming heritage from those places is somewhat equivalent to a claim to some kind of inherited nobleness.
As to any questions that might arise as to Crowley using the pseudonym of Alex C. Crowley, I refer you to Bill Heidrick’s excellent resource re: Crowley works, archived here, in which if one looks up “Crowley, Alex C.” one is pointed to the Crowley Classics section of the Thelema Lodge Calendar for March 1992 e.v. and you see the exact reproduction of the text of this Irish Flag letter I just showed you.
Note: I see no reason to doubt Heidrick’s work here, but if anyone has any primary source information to disprove Heidrick’s documentation of this as Crowley’s pseudonym, do let me know in the comments.
Taking this further, this particular critic we’ve been talking about didn’t seem to find their way to the Google Books version of Richard Spence’s expanded version of his Secret Agent 666 paper, instead offering some mumbling type excuse that they wanted to find a PDF.
If they had looked at the Google books copy, they would have been able to search it and notice that no results came up about this letter to The Times (New York Times) lending further evidence to that Spence himself may have ditched the cite for the book version because he realized it was wrong and just hasn’t had a chance to follow up on it yet.
In closing on this particular point, we all make typos from time to time, I know I do. I would think that in the interest of intellectual honesty and non-biased behavior, and just plain helping out one’s fellow human, one would generally expect that such virulent criticism would not be leveled over a simple typo. Especially without even trying to determine if the content was itself accurate.
It was relatively easy for me to find the Crowley letter, or at least a good starting point, but simply doing the following search on Google. And yes, I know I’m probably not your average person when it comes to knowing what to search for, but still…this wasn’t that hard.
Taking the result marked by the red arrow, we end up at a forum that gives us the correct date, and the name of the letter, and the name Crowley used. Put that into the NY Times article archive search and there it is. Was that so hard?
I would like to say that in most cases I checked Richard Spence’s cites out as primary sources when I could, and I found no occasions where he was not accurate in his cites. I did not check out this particular  cite, but as you can see, if I had, I would have tracked it down exactly as I just showed you.
So for that reason, I am thankful for the efforts of the pseudonymous critic (no matter how misguided they may have been) for the opportunity to prove the general accuracy of Richard Spence’s work. Plus, to have had the opportunity to provide yet another cautionary tale to people to be even more careful when just accepting something on the internet and changing one’s view drastically about someone or their work.
There’s proof and their’s PROOF. Don’t confuse the two.
On that note, just a few brief words on the other two points attacking Spence’s work – the document from the MID about Crowley, the British consul, and his being there in the U.S. in the early 1900’s on official business for the British.
Nowhere in this pseudonymous critic’s discussion does that person mention that not only was Spence right about there was such a document (the critic kept using words like “ostensibly” and even “spurious” about the existence of the document) at no time does this critic actually note that our blog post that he links to actually has the real document for anyone to see for themselves.
What did this critic do instead? Chose to engage in childish and undeserved hyperbole and vitriolic characterizations of our presentation of the document, thereby lowering their own credibility as a trusted source even further.
Reminds me of some other people I know.
As an added bonus, along the way messing around in the New York Times archives, I found some other articles about Crowley that I’ll go ahead and include, just for fun and yes, also to perhaps stave off any future lazily researched argumentation about did he or didn’t he concerning Crowley.
Let’s start with this one from Tuesday 13, July 1915 titled: IRISH REPUBLIC BORN IN NEW YORK HARBOR; Ten Patriots at Daybreak Renounce Allegiance to England Near Statue of Liberty. INDEPENDENCE IS DECLARED Sympathy with Germany, They Say, a Matter of Expediency — Then They Breakfast at Jack’s.
Screenshot from Times Viewer –
Full article image – (plain text below)
Plain text as also provided by Bill Heidrick’s excellent resource, the Crowley Classics section of the Thelema Lodge Calendar for March 1992 e.v. and you see the exact reproduction of the text of this article.
Irish Republic Born in New York Harbor
Ten Patriots at Daybreak Renounce Allegiance to England Near Statue of Liberty
Independence is Declared
Sympathy with Germany, They Say, a Matter of Expediency-Then They Breakfast at Jack’s
As dawn was slowly spreading over the city on the morning of July 3, a thirty-foot launch slipped from the recreation pier at the foot of West Fiftieth Street and glided down the Hudson. On board were ten persons, silent and serious with the consciousness of what was to them a profoundly solemn and significant ceremony.
In the prow of the boat was Aleister Crowley, Irishman-poet, philosopher, explorer, a man of mystic mind – the leader of an Irish hope. Of nearly middle age and mild in manner, with the intellectual point of view colored with cabalistic interpretation, Crowley is an unusual man, capably so to those who believe and feel in common with him. He has spent years exploring in Persia, India, and Tibet, and he is the author of several volumes of translations of the early writings of those countries. He is said to be a close friend of William Butler Yeats, the Irish poet, and he has written several Irish poems himself.
In the boat also was Miss Leilah Waddell, whose mother was an Irish refugee of the last generation and who believes herself an Irish patriot. She is a violinist and has appeared publicly on several occasions since her recent coming to America. And among those in the exotic party were one J. Dorr, an Irish editor who has published papers in both Ireland and England, and Patrick Gilroy, an Irish agitator. All of those in the launch were Irish. Most of them have come to this country since the beginning of the war.
Ready to War on England
The members of the party consider themselves members of the secret Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, and their early morning mission of July 3 was to declare the independence of the Irish Republic, which included a declaration of war against England, and to pledge their allegiance to the government of their vision.
The little launch passed from the river into the bay and stopped off Bedloe’s Island, under the Statue of Liberty. The time and place chosen for the ceremony were considered brightly propitious. There was the poetic significance of the dawn, the great figure of Liberty enlightening the world was symbolic of the dreamed-of republic, the season was the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. And the leader of the party, Crowley, in whose mysticism there is something of astrology, had read the heavens and found that the conjunction of certain stars was auspicious for Ireland at exactly 4:32 o’clock on the morning of July 3.
So, with the launch a few feet off Bedloe’s Island, at the moment of 4:32 o’clock, Crowley rose to begin the ceremony. He said:
“I have not asked any great human audience to listen to these words; I had rather address them to the unconquerable ocean that surrounds the world, and to the free four winds of heaven. Facing the sunrise, I lift up my hands and my soul herewith to this giant figure of Liberty, the ethical counterpart of the Light, Life, and Love which are our spiritual heritage. In this symbolical and most awful act of religion I invoke the one true God of whom the sun himself is but a shadow that he may strengthen me in heart and hand to uphold that freedom for the land of my sires, which I am come hither to proclaim.
“In this dark moment, before the father orb of our system kindles with his kiss the sea, I swear the great oath of the Revolution. I tear with my hands this token of slavery, this safe conduct from the enslaver of my people, and I renounce forever all allegiance to every alien tyrant. I swear to fight to the last drop of my blood to liberate the men and women of Ireland, and I call upon the free people of this country, on whose hospitable shores I stand an exile, to give me countenance and assistance to my task of breaking those bonds which they broke for themselves 138 years ago.
Unfurl Irish Flag
“I unfurl the Irish flag. I proclaim the Irish Republic. Erin go Bragh. God save Ireland.”
As the bits of the torn English passport scattered over the surface of the water the Irish flag, a green field supporting a golden harp, flapped free in the breeze from a mast in the bow of the boat.
Solemnly then the Declaration of Independence of Ireland was read. It is:
We, the secret Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, hereby authorize our spokesman and delegate, Brother Aleister Crowley, No. 418, in our name and in our behalf, to promulgate the proclamation following:
In so grave a circumstance of human affairs as the declaration of war or revolution, it is customary that those whose conscience and free-will alike impel them to take up arms against other men, should state openly the causes of their resorting to so dread efficacy of protest.
Peace and good-will are the ruling passions of the better sort among mankind; and for these to turn therefrom argues the existence of a state intolerable to free men. We hold this truth to be self-evident, that all men and women are created unequal; and our justice wills that this prejudice of nature be redressed, so far as is possible to human effort, by assuring to each and every one of them equality of rights before the law, and the right to make, alter, or repeal that law itself; and, by assuring to each and every one of them freedom to develop the powers of the soul, spiritual, moral, mental, or physical without interference from any other person or persons, so far as that development may prove compatible with the equal rights of others.
Right to Rebel
To obtain these advantages of security and freedom is the object of all proper government; and it is not only the right of every man for himself, but his duty to his neighbor, to refuse obedience to any authority which does not serve its people to this end with loyalty and fidelity. What then must be the right and duty of every member of a nation not only misgoverned, but governed for the purpose of exploitation by an alien, usurping, and inferior race?
For many centuries this particular wrong has been suffered with a patience and gentleness not unworthy of the Saviour of Mankind, by the Irish people; but as to endure oppression with meekness is the pride and prerogative of God, it is not for man to usurp it. The free and independent spirit of the people of Ireland is weary of the continued crimes of the English tyrants; and, seeing no end possible but the success of the oppressors in their systematic annihilation of the people, dares the desperate alternative of revolt.
For, as is notorious in every country of the inhabited globe, the deliberate policy of England from the first conquest of Ireland has been endowed with that admirable virtue of consistency which is the spine of good intention, but in this case props the determination to destroy a people.
The land of Ireland has been stolen from the people of Ireland, both by armed aggression and by the chicaneries of unjust law.
The labor of Ireland has been sterilized and thwarted by the envy of British industries.
The people of Ireland have been enslaved by a ferocious constabulary, militia, and soldiery, enforcing laws intended to weaken the people directly by coercion or indirectly by impoverishment. The right of political action has been denied to them, and the sacrilegious hand of atheistic oligarchy has been lifted even against the freedom of religious thought.
The means of private assassination and of public massacre have been freely employed against the people, and when even the soldier turned with disgust from the task of a butcher, famine and pestilence were deliberately brought upon the land by the calculating craft of the robbers, tyrants, and murderers that bear rule over them.
So comprehensive, so infamous, and so continuous a conspiracy is unparalleled in the annals of humanity; and were we to precise and to detail the crimes against our people which already overload the scroll of the recording angel, and now bare the sword of the avenging angel of God, we think that not even earth itself could contain the document of their mere enumeration.
“Hatred of Their Tyrant”
Nor have the Irish people been inactive in measures directed to appease the unnatural hatred of their tyrant. They have sought by every lawful means to obtain some alleviation of our sempiternal suffering. They have made political overtures only to be rejected, or nullified by the adroitness of the lawyer. They have sacrificed freely their best blood, for their sons have been the best soldiers of the usurper; and England has answered by their deliberate massacre in battle.
We believe that earth itself revolts at the recital of these tyrannies and treasons; we believe that God Himself is weary of beholding these intolerable evils; and we believe in consequence that the hour is come when desperation should be transformed into resolution, patience inflamed to wrath, and Peace, folding her wings upon her face, mournfully beckon war.
We, therefore, the secret Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic, by the mouth of our trusty and well-beloved delegate and spokesman, Brother Aleister Crowley, No. 418, do decree and proclaim:
1. That, we put our trust and confidence in the Judge of the whole world, appealing to Him to witness the righteousness of our intent.
2. That, declaring England the enemy of civilization, justice, equality, and freedom, and therefore of the human race, we do hereby lawfully establish the Republic of the Men and Women of the Irish People, free and independent by right human and divine, having full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliance, establish commerce, and to do all other things which independent States may of right do.
3. That we do hereby dissolve all political connection between that Republic and the usurper, absolving of their allegiance to England (a) all free people of good will that are of Irish blood, (b) all free people of good will born in Ireland, (c) all free people of good will who may hereafter desire to partake of the benefits of the Irish Republic, and effectually acquire these rights by the forms provided.
4. That, we do hereby declare war upon England until such time as our demands being granted, our rights recognized, and our power firmly established in our own country, from which we are now exiled, we may see fit to restore to her the blessings of peace, and to extend to her the privileges of friendship.
And for the support of this declaration, with a firm and hearty reliance upon the protection of God, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
Long live the Irish Republic.
The official copy of this declaration of independence is “signed by order and on behalf of the committee” by “Aleister Crowley, 418,” and “attested” by “L. Bathurst, 11.”
With the conclusion of the reading of the declaration, the launch headed up the Hudson River, proceeding near the western shore, Miss Waddell playing patriotic Irish airs on her violin. The music and the large Irish flag, now plainly visible in the increasing light, identified the boat to the seamen on the German ships interned at the Hoboken waterfront, and they cheered the small company of Irishmen lustily. The Captain of the Hamburg-American line tug which happened to be standing off with steam up near the Vaterland, turned out into the river and escorted the launch to its landing at Fiftieth Street.
Incidentally it was noted by those in the launch that as they passes by the French and English ships at the piers on the eastern side of the river the sailors on them cheered as loudly as the Germans had.
Breakfast at Jack’s
The party left the launch and went to Jack’s restaurant for breakfast, where a number of late revelers did not seem to disturb the spirit of their gathering.
A touch of comedy to the ceremonies over which Crowley and his companions laughed themselves the next day was that the party had intended to go through their ritual on the steps at the base of the Statue of Liberty, but, giving more mind to the vision of the Irish Republic than to practical details, those who arranged the journey neglected to obtain Governmental permission to land on Bedloe’s Island. When the launch stopped at the dock, therefore, a stolid watchman who displayed neither Irish nor English sympathies, but who had fluent command of New York’s most emphatic language, refused to let the patriots set foot on the “land of liberty.” So the ceremonies were held in the boat while it drifted near the island.
The particular avowed purpose of the representatives of the “committee” in America is to spread propaganda that will contribute, at the end of the European war, to the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. Members of the committee in Ireland, according to information obtained by a representative of the New York Times are now engaged in a secret effort to dissuade Irishmen from enlisting in the English Army. But those members of the committee who will talk of their business at all admit that there is no immediate intention of an attempt to wage active war on England by the instigation of an armed rebellion in Ireland. It is said that the present purpose of the formal declaration of war against England is more to enlist the sympathies of Irish and of Americans to the “cause” than to bring about what even the most visionary enthusiasts of the movement recognize as an impracticable war.
Aleister Crowley was displeased when the news of the ceremonies at Bedloe’s Island and of the formation of the “committee” came into the possession of The Times, and he declined to discuss his plans and purposes further than to acknowledge the fact set forth. An American who is acquainted with Crowley’s beliefs and intentions, however, while frankly admitting that the Irishmen of the “committee” sympathize with Germany in the present war, asserted that this was due to anti-English feelings and not to any natural love of things Germaine. The members of the “committee” see in Germany, according to their unofficial spokesman, a factor that will impair the power of England to oppress them. That is all.
Interestingly enough, this very article is what was being discussed by Richard Spence just before the part we already talked about – Crowley’s follow-up letter to the Times. Spence wrote about this article:
In July 1915, Crowley garnered the attention of the New York Times. On the morning of the 3rd, he and nine companions cruised across New York Harbor in a small launch £ying an Irish flag and dropped anchor off the Statue of Liberty. Calling themselves the “Secret Revolutionary Committee of Public Safety of the Provisional Government of the Irish Republic,’’ the group proclaimed the independence of Ireland and declared war on England. Later, sailing past docked ships of the Hamburg-America Line,
they were cheered by German seamen. Crowley was the acknowledged leader of the enterprise, which included his “scarlet woman,’’ Leila Waddell, who offered patriotic Irish airs on her violin.
The Times reporter described Crowley as a “poet, philosopher, explorer, a man of mystic mind, and the leader of Irish hope.’’ “Of nearly middle age and mild manner,’’ the piece continued, “with the intellectual point of view colored with cabalistic interpretations, Crowley is an unusual man.’’ What more mainstream Irish patriots thought of Crowley’s bold initiative is not recorded, but the action does not seem to have provoked any outpouring of support. Crowley protested the coverage, which he thought made him and his tiny movement look silly.
Not a bad synopsis, if you ask me.
As mentioned earlier, this particular critic we’ve been talking about didn’t seem to find their way to the Google Books version of Richard Spence’s expanded version of his Secret Agent 666 paper. Again, if they had looked at the Google books copy, they would have seen this added to the section talking about Crowley’s antics in 1915.
Spence details that Crowley wrote: “I did not feel that I was advancing in the confidence of the Germans,” he later wrote, and as a result he had been getting “no secrets worth reporting to London.” Sounds rather spy-ish behavior to me. Crowley the independent British Spy? (inside joke).
Spence’s source for this clearly must have been Crowley’s Confessions, Chapter 76. Nicely archived here.
Everybody assumed that the irritating balderdash I wrote for The Fatherland must be the stark treason that the Germans were stupid enough to think it was.
A person in my position is liable to see Sherlock Homes in the most beefwitted policeman. I did not feel that I was advancing in the confidence of the Germans. I got no secrets worth reporting to London, and I was not at all sure whether the cut of my clothes had not outweighed the eloquence of my conversation. I thought I would do something more public. I wrote a long parody on the Declaration of Independence and applied it to Ireland.
I invited a young lady violinist who has some Irish blood in her, behind the more evident stigmata of the ornithorhyncus and the wombat. Adding to our number about four other debauched persons on the verge of delirium tremens, we went out in a motor boat before dawn on the third of July to the rejected statue of Commerce for the Suez Canal, which Americans fondly suppose to be Liberty Enlightening The World.
There I read my Declaration of Independence. I threw an old envelope into the bay, pretending that it was my British passport. We hoisted the Irish flag. The violinist played the “Wearing of the Green”. The crews of the interned German ships cheered us all the way up the Hudson, probably because they estimated the degree of our intoxication with scientific precision. Finally, we went to Jack’s for breakfast, and home to sleep it off. The New York Times gave us three columns and Viereck was distinctly friendly.
Over in England there was consternation. I cannot think what had happened to their sense of humour. To pretend to take it seriously was natural enough in New York, where everybody is afraid of the Irish, not knowing what they may do next. But London was having bombs dropped on it. There was, however, one person in England who knew me — also a joke when he saw it: the Honourable A. B., my old friend aforesaid. Owing to the confusion inevitably attached to the mud with which we always begin muddling through, this gentleman had been inadvertently assigned to the Intelligence Department.
When he saw the report in the New York Times, he wrote to me about it. I knew he would not talk. I knew he would not blunder. I wrote back explaining my position, with he immediately understood and approved. But intelligence such as his is a rare accident in an Intelligence Department. He could not authorize me to go ahead without appealing to his superiors. He put the case before them. They were quite unable to understand that I was merely in a position to get into the full confidence of the Germans if I had the right sort of assistance. They idiotically assumed that I already possessed a knowledge of the enemy’s secrets and they sent me a test question on a matter of no importance — did I know who, if anybody, was passing under the name of so-and-so? I was not going to risk my precarious position asking questions. The official English idea of a secret agent seemed to be that he should act like a newspaper reporter. The result was that the negotiations came to very little, though I turned in reports from time to time.
Next up –
We have Crowley doing his “I’m an occultist” thing – a common British intelligence cover back in the day – around six months before his whole Irish Republic gambit, in this wild article from The Times of Shreveport Louisiana, December 27, 1914. Titled: Master Magician Reveals Weird Supernatural Rites.
Later on in 1915, we see more promotion of Crowley the Occultist. This time warranting p.2 of the December 26th edition of The Washington Post.
This being done at the same time as he’s writing about what peace should bring to the nations for The International. (as shown in the Current Magazines section of the 18 December 1915 issue of the Pittsburgh Press)
Busy boy, that Crowley.