Book Review: The Diary of a Drug Fiend, Aleister Crowley

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What better way to celebrate this dark and spooky night with a book that explores the dark side of the psyche – and the means of healing it?

Courtesy of Weiser Books, a copy of Crowley’s The Diary of a Drug Fiend landed with a solid thump on my doorstep.  At 368 pages, it is a substantial read, in more ways than one.  It’s a reproduction version, using the original typeface and layout.  Sometimes it’s a bit too much like trying to read the Captcha phrase on a website, but it’s an interesting design, and serves to set the time and place of the story even more than the descriptions of scenery and daily life.  The cover also nicely captures the look of the period:

The Diary of A Drug Fiend, Aleister Crowley

The Diary of A Drug Fiend, Aleister Crowley

The nominal plot is the spiral of addiction and recovery of young Peter Pendragon and his lover (and later, wife), Lou.  They meet, they recognize something fated in their meeting, and immediately are sidetracked by being introduced to cocaine by a “friend”. (Ah, how often this is the case!)   As with all addictive cycles, it starts all fun and fabulous, until they find themselves strung out, nearly broke, and without supply.  Their situation is somewhat alleviated by the fact that Peter is heir to an estate with a secured income – even with its annual limit – but it does provide them a country home to escape to when they’ve run out of money and it seems they’ve hit bottom.

“Seems” is the key word – they think they’ve hit bottom, but they have so much further to go.  Once they’ve used all their drugs, scared off the servants, and find themselves without a cent or a plan, they decide to end their misery permanently.  They are prevented from this action by King Lamus, a character woven in and out of the story until this point, at which he becomes central in shaping the course for our soon-to-be recovering addicts.

Lamus takes them to the Abbey of Thelema at “Telepylus” to effect their recovery.  This is where – for me – the book actually becomes interesting. Perhaps because of my past, dealing with the addictive experiences of friends and loved ones, the first part of the book was not enjoyable – more like revisiting territory I’d forgotten about, and had no desire or need to revisit.  This was also exacerbated by my impatience with the foolish behavior of addiction – I don’t have patience for it in real life, and I found myself irritated by the destructive behavior in the book.  (This is my issue, and not Crowley’s!)

The Abbey is a closed society of like-minded individuals who, of course, are practitioners of Thelema.  Through the experience of daily life at the Abbey, the description of which serves as an “Introduction to Thelema” course, Peter and Lou shake their addictions and find their True Wills with which to direct their lives.

For me, I’d have rather had a more concise telling of the addiction spiral, and more material on the recovery and exploration of Thelema.  However, Crowley was nothing if not a product of his education, and his schooling in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era shows in the extensive descriptions of the highs and subsequent very low depths.  I understand the literary device of emphasizing the repetition of the addictive behavior and the extremities of thought and action brought on by addiction, but again, for someone how has gone this route, either personally or as a witness to someone else’s journey, it becomes tedious (much like the real life experience) and I do wish that Crowley had offered more in the last section, focusing on recovery, renewal, and spiritual awareness.  However, since more than a bit of it is autobiographical for Crowley, it may be that his dwelling on the addiction spiral was a way of living up to his reputation as “the wickedest man in the world”.

The book rewards patience, and if one can set aside one’s own experience and simply accept the experience of the book for what it is, it can be rewarding. It’s certainly interesting to combine Thelema with addiction recovery, and, were I a recovery counselor, I would probably adopt some of the techniques to work with my clients.

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