Somerset Maugham was well on his way to becoming a doctor when he published a novel and after the first edition sold out in a week, he chucked his career in medicine and evolved into the highest-paid author in England, forging a trail now ruled by J.K. Rowling. It wasn’t until recently that MI6 admitted Maugham was a spook.
While frauds like Mark Passio attempt to frighten people with complex dogmas constructed out of coincidence, I will herein reveal the real secrets of brainwashing. Maugham had an agenda and helped inspire the creation of James Bond with his earlier dashing secret agent named Ashenden, who deployed trickery and blackmail to achieve goals, rather than murder.
Before joining the Red Cross Ambulance crew, where he was allegedly recruited into the secret services, Maugham wrote a book titled The Magician, a thinly-veiled attack on Aleister Crowley, accusing him of ritual murder and other unspeakable acts of black magic. Strange that eventually both these characters would be unmasked as agents of MI6, which leads to the possibility their little mini-war could have been staged all along. The book made Crowley famous, while splitting the world into two factions, one fearing, despising and hating Crowley; the other wanting to learn his secrets. It introduced an entire generation to the obscure occult bibles, books Crowley had raided to create his alternative to Christianity. Strangely, however, it ignored Crowley’s principle influence, French priest and alchemist François Rabelais, who introduced the mythical Abbey of Thelema, where enlightened monks did as they wished, provided they harmed none. Crowley ignored that last part, however. He did not believe hurting people was an obstacle to enlightenment.
Although Crowley became somewhat corpulent later in life, Maugham’s book falsely painted him as obese. It mostly portrayed him as an evil enigma with mysterious powers. “Another strange thing about him was the impossibility of telling if he was serious,” writes the narrator. “There was a mockery in that queer glance, a sardonic smile upon the mouth, which made you hesitate how to take his outrageous utterances.”
Both Crowley and Maugham were bisexual and England’s greatest literary talent (Oscar Wilde) had only recently been jailed and financially ruined for committing sodomy, even though like many other gays in England at the time, he’d married and sired children. The painter Gerald Kelly (brother to Crowley’s first wife) introduced Crowley to the bohemian expats at Le Chat Blanc, a crew that included Maugham, who formed an instant negative impression based on Crowley’s towering ego and affection for cannabis and opium, both of which Maugham detested as “oriental intoxicants.”
“Magic is no more than the art of employing consciously invisible means to produce visible effects,” says Oliver Haddo, the Crowley character in the book. “Will, love and imagination are magic powers that everyone possesses; and whoever knows how to develop them to the fullest extent is a magician.”
One imagines some of these quotes originated straight from Crowley’s mouth during drinking sessions in a Paris bistro. When asked how one accesses magic powers, Haddo replies: “They are enumerated in a Hebrew manuscript of the sixteenth century, which is in my possession. The privileges of him who holds in his right hand the Keys of Solomon and in his left hand the Branch of the Blossoming Almond, are these twenty-one. He beholds God face-to-face without dying, and converses intimately with the Seven Genni who command the celestial army.” Just a fancy way of saying it’s all done with a secret book of Hebrew spells and magic wand.
In the novel, Haddo hypnotizes, marries, and then murders a virgin so he might harvest her soul to create new life. Crowley responded to the book by exposing the magical sections influenced by Eliphas Levi and other famous occultists, accusing Maugham of plagiarism. Today most of those appropriations would probably fall under “fair use.” Crowley then went on to write a book on cannabis under the name Oliver Haddo. All the chapters open with quotes from Zoroaster taken from the Avesta. In his Confessions, Crowley wrote: The Magician was, in fact, an appreciation of my genius such as I had never dreamed of inspiring. It showed me how sublime were my ambitions and reassured me on a point which sometimes worried me, whether my work was worth while in a worldly sense.”
Crowley probably enjoyed the book because Maugham did not seek to expose him as a hoodwinker faking powers, but a real magician. Yet despite his encyclopedic knowledge of all things occult, Crowley never realized haoma of the Avesta and soma of the Rig Veda were references to cannabis. He specialized in ceremonies involving the oil of Abramelin, also known as the holy anointing oil of Moses, but his formula replaced the primary ingredient (cannabis) with galangal, which is not psychoactive, which is why you can buy Crowley’s recipe online but not the real thing.
It doesn’t matter if you choose Christianity or occultism, both are equally corrupted by hoodwinks and neither side holds a monopoly on magic or spiritual truth. The real secret to magic and religion is it only works on believers, and hoodwinks are needed to capture and contain believers. In this self-fulfilling prophecy, one gets a lot farther faking divine power and promising eternal life than one gets admitting we don’t know what happens after death. The most likely scenario is nothing happens. The concept of an eternal soul is comforting but defies the laws of the universe, where nothing lasts forever and change the only constant.
After the first World War, there were a lot of PTSD-damaged Americans left behind in Europe seeking healing and many were self-medicating with hash and opium. After joining the secret service, Maugham wrote a highly influential book about these times, The Razor’s Edge, and that book, like his one on Crowley, left many false impressions that linger today. It also delved into oriental mysticism, only this time the magician was a good guy.
When I think of Maugham, I picture him as Herbert Marshal, the English actor who played him in the original 1946 movie. Marshal captured Maugham’s homosexuality in a very understated and elegant manner, although he ignored his stuttering. But instead of conferring a path to enlightenment, the book and film led people away from it.
I say this is because intoxication is painted as the greatest evil. The protagonist winds up in India seeking the meaning of life and is instructed by a sadhu to meditate alone in a cave until reaching satori, after which he returns to Paris an expert in hypnosis. He attempts to stop a grieving friend from medicating herself by dragging her out of a hash and opium den. Because of this film, millions of people around the world were led to believe enlightenment could be found in a cave on a mountain top in Tibet, and not through intoxicating substances.
Which happens to be the reverse of the truth. Yes, deep meditation can be useful and may be required to quiet a restless mind, but the magical and medicinal plants are important tools deserving respect. Cannabis is at the root of almost all religion, including occultism. Maugham’s guru was a one-dimensional caricature who paved the way for a parade of charlatans to profiteer off popularizing Eastern meditation techniques.
Whenever I find an effort to lead people away from cannabis, I suspect the forces of propaganda are secretly at work. Had Maugham really wanted to enlighten people, he would have explained how wars are staged for profit, and how prohibition of medicinal plants is a scam to reap higher profits while demonizing users. But this sort of information is held close to the vest by the secret services. There’s a reason why Britannia rules both magic and spy-craft and it’s because those two arts have always been joined at the hip.