Victor Neuberg (1883–1940) Initiate of Aleister Crowley. Victor Neuberg, a poet and an editor, broke ground with Crowley in Crowley’s development of sex Magic as the key to occult mysteries. He assisted Crowley with the publication of his magazine Equinox and for five years was an important figure in Crowley’s magical activities.
Neuberg was born on May 6, 1883, in London to an orthodox Jewish family. He was educated at the City of London School and at Trinity College in Cambridge from 1906 to 1909. He rejected Judaism in favour of agnosticism.
Crowley read Neuberg’s poetry and in 1909 arranged to meet him at Neuberg’s rooms in Cambridge. They were immediately impressed with one another, though Crowley clearly had the upper hand. Crowley initiated Neuberg into his secret society, the Silver Star, and gave him the magical name Frater Omnia Vincam. Neuberg was infatuated with Crowley and looked up to him, referring to him as “my guru.”
Crowley decided to give Neuberg a crash course in occult practices and invited him to Boleskin, his home in Scotland. For 10 days, Neuberg underwent intensive instruction and experiences, exacerbated in part by exhaustion, sleeping naked on a bed of gorse, lack of food, and sadomasochistic treatment by Crowley in the form of verbal abuse and beatings with gorse and stinging nettles. Neuberg recorded his experiences in his magical diary, including his performances of the Bornless One Ritual and details of his long excursions of RISING ON THE PLANES, or Astral Travel, during which he had remarkable visions that were indicative of his natural ability for magic. He wrote of his disgust with Crowley’s verbal abuse, which was anti-Semitic. At one point Crowley verbally abused Neuberg for being among the Qlippoth, negative entities that inhabit the kabbalistic Tree of Life, and beat him bloody with a gorse switch.
Crowley ultimately was satisfied with Neuberg’s magical performance and later in 1909 took him to Algiers where they evoked the Demon Choronzon. Crowley was inspired during this experience to include sex as part of the Ritual; for Crowley it was an illumination of the true workings of magic.
In 1910 Neuberg participated in semipublic rituals in which he invoked Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars, for Prophecy and also performed a wild dervish like dance that ended in his exhausted collapse. The performances began as a private ritual. Neuberg sat in a Magic Triangle and allowed himself to be possessed by Bartzabel. The spirit accurately predicted the outbreak of the Balkan War in 1912 and World War I. Neuberg danced to the violin playing of Leilah Waddell, one of Crowley’s mistresses. The ritual was received so enthusiastically by those in attendance that Crowley worked up seven rituals—the Rites of Eleusis—for public performance.
The rituals were staged in 1910 for paying audiences who were primed with a “loving cup,” Crowley’s mix of alcohol, fruit juice, heroin or morphine, and what he termed “the elixir introduced by me to Europe,” which was probably buttons of mescaline. The potion tasted like rotten APPLES but had the desired effect on the audience. Neuberg was a vision in white, dancing in a spontaneous frenzy to the wild violin playing of Waddell.
The first press reports were glowing. A subsequent disparaging report, which implied that C. S. Jones, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, was engaged in a homosexual relationship with Crowley and Allan Bennett caused Jones to sue the newspaper for libel. The negative publicity may have been encouraged by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, one of the founders of the Golden Dawn, who was suing Crowley in an effort to prevent him from publishing secret Golden Dawn material.
Neuberg’s last significant magical involvement with Crowley took place in 1913–14 in 24 sex magic rituals known as “the Paris Workings.” In them, Crowley was experimenting with sex magic that he was developing for the Ordo Templi Orientis and that he was coming to favour over the more sedate and traditional rituals of the Golden Dawn.
The primary purpose of the Paris Workings was to invoke the gods Jupiter and Mercury and to persuade the gods to bestow money. Neuberg was to play the active homosexual role. The workings began on December 31, 1913, and concluded on February 12, 1914. Neuberg became possessed by Mercury and answered questions posed by Crowley. Neuberg was not always able to perform sexually, and sometimes Crowley assumed the active role. Neuberg also became possessed after the close of the rituals; he gave some prophecies that failed to happen. During the workings, the two learned of previous incarnations in Crete. The final working was to obtain money for Neuberg. He soon received a sum from an aunt, but he angered Crowley by giving some of the money to others instead of all of it to Crowley.
The past-life recall inspired Crowley to commit to writing his thoughts on his relationship with Neuberg:
I am always unlucky for you, you know; you always have to sacrifice everything for my love. You don’t want to in the least; that is because we both have hold of the wrong end of the stick. If only I could leave you and you could love me. It would be lucky. But that apparently has never happened. Mutual indifference and mutual passion, and so on.
The Paris Workings evidently proved too much for Neuberg—whose affections for Crowley may have been waning at that point, anyway—and he soon parted company with Crowley. Another likely reason for his departure was anger over the death of Joan Hayes, a professional dancer whose stage name was Ione de Forest and who had been hired to perform in the Rites of Eleusis. Neuberg became enamoured with her, much to Crowley’s dismay. In 1911 Hayes married but six months later left her husband and became Neuberg’s mistress, angering Crowley.
Two months later, Hayes shot herself to death. Neuberg believed that Crowley had put a Spell on her, thus magically murdering her.
In fall 1914 he informed Crowley that he had decided to leave the Silver Star, and he wanted nothing more to do with Crowley. Furious, Crowley ritually cursed him as a traitor. Neuberg suffered a nervous breakdown, thus upholding the prevailing lore that anyone who crossed Crowley either committed suicide or went into a mental institution.
Neuberg was drafted into the British army from 1916 to 1919, participating in World War I, and then went to Steyning, Sussex, where he wrote poetry and operated a hand printing press, the Vine Press. He published poetry under his own name and various pseudonyms. The press never made much money. Without his magic, Neuberg felt severed from his purpose in life and began a slow decline.
In 1921 he married an earlier mistress, Kathleen Goddard. It was not a love match but a favour to Goddard, who wanted to have a child but in marriage. In 1924 she had a son, and three months later openly took a lover, for Neuberg was psychologically and physically spent. He never fully recovered from the psychological wounds left by his relationship with Crowley.
In 1930 Neuberg met a woman and went to live with her in London. He brightened in the relationship, and his poetry benefited. In 1933 he became poetry editor of Sunday Referee. His last years were happy. He died of tuberculosis on May 31, 1940.
- King, Francis. Megatherion: The Magickal World of Aleister Crowley. New York: Creation Books, 2004.
- Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000.