Psychiatry and religion

Authored by: Rhodri Hayward

The Routledge History of Madness and Mental Health

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  April  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138781603
eBook ISBN: 9781315202211
Adobe ISBN: 9781351784399


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In 1904, on a ship sailing from Ceylon to Egypt, the occultist and magician, Aleister Crowley first met the English alienist, Henry Maudsley. It was an unlikely meeting. Crowley, having abandoned his undergraduate studies at Cambridge and his occult training with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, was just beginning a quest to develop his own magical system. Maudsley, nearing the end of his life, had for a brief time been the leading figure within British psychological medicine before estranging many of his gentler and more optimistic colleagues through his bitter assessment of their discipline, his bleak materialism, his disdain of religion and his scorn of contemporary social mores. 1 Maudsley seemed to epitomise the secularising imperative we now commonly associate with nineteenth-century psychiatry. Yet as Crowley later recorded upon meeting, they discovered that their views ‘fitted in exactly. He was’, the magician reminisced, ‘the very man I wanted’. Together they discussed Tantra and yogic meditation, looking to the possibility that new meditative practices might allow practitioners to “remove the inhibitions which repress the manifestations of genius or . . . enable one to tap the energy of the universe.” 2 Two months later, Crowley claimed to have succeeded in his quest. Working with his wife, Rose, in their honeymoon flat in Cairo, he was able to invoke Aiwass, a spiritual emissary of the ancient Egyptian god, Horus. This demonic entity dictated a series of scripts to Crowley that would become the cornerstone of his system of Thelemic Magick and herald the beginning of a new magical age.

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