Elaine Mary Simpson was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn at its Isis-Urania temple in London on 1 January 1897. She chose a Latin motto, ‘Donorum dei dispensatio fidelis’. Elaine’s mother, Alice Isabel Simpson had been a member since 1895 and both women were keen to do the work necessary to get to the stage of being offered initiated into the GD’s inner, 2nd Order, where you could start doing some practical magic. Elaine beat her mother to it by a few months, though, being initiated into the 2nd Order in March 1899. Later that year, Elaine’s younger sister Beatrice was also initiated into the GD.
Elaine and her mother were both ejected from the GD in April 1900 for taking the wrong side in the incident known as the battle of Blythe Road. In Elaine’s case her expulsion probably didn’t matter all that much as she was going to have to stop taking any active part in the GD’s meetings and rituals quite soon. She did (after a pause) carry on with her magic, though, until 1906.
Update September 2014: thanks are due for this update to Clint Warren, who contacted me in August. He has access to Crowley’s original diaries and as a result I’m able to make some corrections to my account of Elaine in 1901. He also inspired me to peer more closely at GD documents at the Freemasons’ Library concerning the events of April 1900.
MY PERENNIAL PROBLEM WITH SOURCES
Most people leave very few traces for historians to follow up. It’s very difficult to compile a biography of them, and it’s as true - alas! - about most members of the GD as about anyone else who wasn’t royal/aristocratic, famous/infamous, and/or a professional writer. In Elaine’s case I have more evidence about her life - even her life in magic - than for the majority of GD members. But that’s not saying much and anyway, the evidence I’ve found focuses on other people, the GD member gets to play a bit-part in it. The person who wrote most about Elaine is Aleister Crowley and that has been a problem for me. Part of the trouble is the Crowley sources and how they have been edited. The rest of the trouble is Crowley’s own character. Misogyny is typical of men in any generation, but Crowley states his in so many words. He also seems incapable of seeing anyone he meets (man or woman) as an individual in their own right. He can only see them as bit-part players in the Drama of Aleister Crowley’s Life. I think myself that he always had that tendency; but by the time even of the earlier version of The Confessions, it’s very pronounced.
Having got that off my chest I shall start.
I’m not going to belabour Elaine’s early life in this biography as it’s covered from her mother’s point of view in the biography of Alice Isabel Simpson. Here I shall say that Elaine Mary Simpson was born in India, the eldest child of Rev William Simpson and his wife Alice Isabel, daughter of Sir John Hall. She was born on 2 February 1875, probably at Dagshai in the foothills of the Himalayas, possibly at nearby Kasauli where she was baptised a couple of months later. Rev William was chaplain at Dagshai at the time of Elaine’s birth. Elaine’s sister Alice Beatrice (known as Beatrice) was born in 1877, also at Dagshai or Kasauli, but shortly afterwards their father was moved on, to Roorkee on the north Indian plains. The British cantonments at Roorkee, at which the Bengal Engineers’ Corps and two units of artillery were stationed, may have been Elaine’s earliest memories. However, she may have had no clear recollection of India at all, because when she was four, Rev William retired and though I don’t have any certain evidence of this, I think the family left India to return to Europe. Where they spent the next few years is also a mystery (they are not on the 1881 census, for example) but they were living in Scotland by August 1886 when Elaine’s brother William Arthur John (known as Arthur), the last of William and Alice Isabel’s children, was born.
In 1888 Rev William came out of retirement to become the vicar of St John the Evangelist, Baillieston and for the next five or six years, the Simpsons lived in the parish’s manse house, on the eastern edge of Glasgow. On the day of the 1891 census Elaine’s grandmother Lucy Hall was staying or perhaps living near them (though not with them). Elaine and Beatrice were at home on census day. They may have finished their education but it was more likely they were home for the Easter holidays. The only definite information that I have about the education Elaine and her sister had comes from Beatrice: she says that she went to “Cheltenham College” - by which she must mean Cheltenham Ladies’ College, founded in 1853 but put on the educational map by its great Principal, Dorothea Beale (appointed in 1858) who did so much to raise the standards of education for middle-class girls. It was a boarding school, and a fee-paying school; perhaps Rev William’s decision to come out of retirement was taken with fees in mind. Beatrice doesn’t mention how long she was at the College, or when she was there. She doesn’t actually mention that Elaine went there too but it would be perverse of the Simpsons to send one daughter there but not the other. Even if Elaine had only spent a couple of years at the College, what she learned there will have put her amongst the best-educated of all the GD’s women members. However, she probably could already speak German and probably French very well by the time she went there, and perhaps some Italian, too. Alice Isabel knew at least the first two languages well, having spent her youth moving from country to country with her parents, living in Paris, Germany, Switzerland and Italy during the 1850s and 1860s. She could also have taught Elaine and her sister the basics of music and singing, which she had learned in Germany. She and Rev William will have shared with their daughters their love of Dante and Tennyson. I wonder what Elaine made of the poem Lancelot and Elaine? Finally, as the daughter of a Church of England vicar, Elaine will have received a very thorough religious education before she went away to school. As Rev William’s personal preferences were at the high-church end of the Church of England scale of religious observance, they will have watched Church of England services being carried out in such a way as to encourage strong emotional responses, through a focus on the drama and symbolism of the Christian rituals.
I have explained in my biography of Alice Isabel Simpson that though I haven’t found any direct proof, I believe Rev William Simpson died around 1895. Following his death, Elaine’s grandmother and mother moved to London. Sharing the expenses, they rented a house at 15 Randolph Road in the district to the west of Edgeware Road. Elaine was 20 when this happened. I think I can safely say that she was not working, nor expected to work. The ideology of the time was that middle-class women would marry, and so it was not necessary that they should work, even before marriage. My impression of Elaine is that she did not have the strength of mind required to challenge that - the level of determination needed was very great. She was probably happy enough following the ideological path; at least until her mother joined the Golden Dawn in 1895. Alice Isabel began bringing home the study-material required of GD initiates who wanted to progress to practical magic by being initiated into its inner, second order - texts on the Kabbalah, astrology and tarot for example - and the attention of Elaine and (to a lesser extent) her sister was caught. Elaine had probably read a great deal of the study-programme before she was initiated into the GD herself. She was approaching her second initiation in the autumn of 1898 when Aleister Crowley underwent his first GD initiation.
ELAINE AND ALEISTER CROWLEY
Neither the lashtal website nor the two versions of The Confessions mention any of the Simpson family before the events of April 1900. I’m never quite sure how well individual GD members could get to know each other at the GD rituals. I’m also not sure how often Crowley went to the GD rituals after the first few he attended. During 1899 had was working very hard magically and otherwise, preparing himself for initiation into the GD’s 2nd Order and for carrying out the Abra-Melin rituals. In both versions of The Confessions Crowley writes that he didn’t consider most of the GD members as having the magical knowledge he would need, especially for the Abra-Melin rituals. This judgement would have been particularly true of Elaine and her mother, as Crowley regarded women as intellectually negligible. As it happens, Crowley was quite right that the Simpsons couldn’t help him. He was after people who knew about alchemy. Relatively few GD members did so and Crowley focused his learning efforts on those people. Despite this, the accounts of the events of 1900 make it clear that by then, Crowley had come to know the Simpsons reasonably well. It’s not clear which of the women he knew first. Not Beatrice, I think - she wasn’t initiated until 1899. It’s more likely that it was Elaine, as the younger of the two who were members when Crowley joined. One of the Simpsons invited him to call on them all at home. By doing so, Crowley was agreeing to move out of the world of mottoes and magic, and into the world of real names. However, in most of his published writings on this period, Crowley refers to Elaine as ‘Fidelis’, the shortened form of her long motto; an important indication of his attitude, in my view.
Now I get to a bit that’s got to be very speculative: because of a lack of the necessary information; but also because the few sources that do exist show only one side of it. Even using the different versions of The Confessions (which I regard as an unreliable source) I do get the impression that Elaine Simpson and Aleister Crowley were attracted to each other; and that the attraction continued for several years, and almost reached a sexual relationship. Evidence for friendship and attraction on Elaine’s part is that Elaine sided with Crowley in one of the GD’s internal disputes, to her cost. A couple of times in her life she also picked up the thread of the relationship, after either Crowley or circumstances had caused it to be dropped. And at least once she responded positively to an attempt by Crowley to restart a relationship that had looked dead and gone. On Crowley’s part, he did consider the relationship dead and gone at one stage; only to start it up again when badly in need of advice from someone with knowledge of how magic works. I’m not going to discount the possibility that Elaine would have married Crowley if she had been asked. But she wasn’t asked and anyway, by the spring of 1900 she had agreed to marry someone else. The very fact of her being engaged may have made it easier for Elaine and Crowley to be acquaintances; and it may have made Elaine a little more careless than she might otherwise have been, about the consequences of considering herself Crowley’s friend. For his part, Crowley writes of Elaine in terms I haven’t find him using about any other woman, not even his wife, although he uses words that consider her to be scarcely adult. Looking back at 1900 from the late 1920s, he wrote of Elaine at that time as “a young girl of perfect purity” (she was 25, a few months older than he was) and at the end of the relationship, still described his feeling for her as somehow above or outside sex. She seems to be unique in his life, in that respect!
Who was the man whom Elaine was due to marry, in the spring of 1900? I’ve suggested in my biography of Elaine’s mother Alice Isabel that the credentials of Paul Witkowski as a husband were of a kind to satisfy any woman anxious to marry her daughters well. He was 11 years older than Elaine and had already got a long way up the office hierarchy in the Hong Kong based firm Arnhold Karberg.
Jacob Arnhold and Peter Karberg had registered the company in Germany in 1866, but they had founded it in Canton. In 1900 it had offices in London and New York but its main sphere of operations was still China, where it had offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai and 37 other towns. It owned property in Hong Kong and Shanghai and also acted as agent in the Far East for a large number of insurance and shipping companies. Karberg had retired from active participation quite early on in the firm’s history although his name was kept; but the Arnholds were still very much in charge, members of the family chairing its board of directors from 1897 to 1910. From 1888 to 1914, Arnhold Karberg was so important a player in the economy of Hong Kong that it had a permanent seat on the board of directors of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. From November 1899 to December 1901 Paul Witkowski sat in that seat, acting up while an even more senior employee of Arnhold Karberg was on leave.
Paul Witkowski had gone to work in Arnhold Karberg’s Hong Kong office in the early 1890s when the Simpsons were still living in Scotland. Although his surname sounds Polish, he was German-speaking, and probably German by birth. The puzzle therefore is, how did he and Elaine meet? They could certainly have met in Glasgow, with Witkowski on a business trip to the city. However, I’ve speculated that Alice Isabel may have known his family since the 1860s when she and her parents were living in Germany. In the spring of 1900, preparations for a summer wedding will have been in hand, the Victorian middle-class wedding taking quite as long to organise as its modern successor. Elaine’s mind doesn’t seem to have been as much on the marriage job as it could have been, however; she may have been feeling swept along by the tide of her mother’s enthusiasm, as many brides-to-be do. Both she and her mother got involved in the power struggles within the GD; some of Alice Isabel’s support may have been unwitting and she also had doubts about what was going forward; but Elaine played an active role on Crowley and Mathers’ behalf and - at least according to Crowley’s accounts - didn’t have any second thoughts about her involvement.
Crowley had become involved in those power struggles when the GD’s 2nd Order members had voted to refuse him initiation into the 2nd Order. He had decided to go to Paris and get Samuel Liddell Mathers to initiate him instead; and to return to London to assert Mathers’ authority over the 2nd Order, forcing its members to accept him as one of them. Before he even set out for Paris he laid before both Elaine and her mother, a plan for taking over the 2nd Order’s rooms at 36 Blythe Road. They both agreed to help him. Between London and Paris, however, the plan seems to have got more all-encompassing: it involved all the GD members - not just the 2nd Order - answering a series of questions on their loyalties, and swearing an oath of obedience to Mathers and to Crowley as Mathers’ representative. According to Crowley’s various accounts, Elaine’s mother started to get cold feet, and Crowley subjected her to all the loyalty questions, and demands, that he was intending to be make of all the GD members in due course. Elaine, however, was still keen to help: Crowley writes that she was one of the group of members that held the view that GD members should obey Mathers as the head of the order, as student magicians always did their masters.
In still being willing to commit herself on Mathers’ and Crowley’s behalf, Elaine was stepping into a dispute that was bigger than she or Crowley could have known. In The Spirit of Solitude Crowley writes of the letters in German from the supposed Fraulein Sprengel as if they were genuine; perhaps even in the 1920s he wasn’t aware that the GD’s foundation documents had been faked. And in 1900 neither he nor Elaine had been in the GD long enough, or knew Mathers well enough, to have experienced the full range of his increasingly difficult behaviour. As Crowley’s friend, Elaine probably felt he’d been denied initiation into the 2nd Order unfairly, having done all the necessary study-work and more. The GD archives don’t contain any indication of what the reasons were for the refusal, but in the earlier and later versions of The Confessions, Crowley gives two different ones. In the later The Confessions Crowley says that Elaine’s mother had told him the reason: that he was suspected of using sex to raise magical energy; a well-known ritual, but one deeply controversial in the GD. However, in the earlier The Spirit of Solitude he says that the decision had gone against him because of jealousy of his very rapid progress from first initiation to readiness for the second; and he doesn’t say who told him what the reason was. Which one is correct? Goodness knows.
The first part of Crowley’s plan of action in London as Mathers’ representative was to take possession of the 2nd Order’s rooms at 36 Blythe Road. As a bona fide member of the 2nd Order, Elaine could not be kept out of them, and she agreed to go to them with Crowley and insist on being let in; letting him in with her. However, as a relatively new initiate into the 2nd Order she did not have any keys to the rooms herself. Crowley arranged to borrow a set from Edward Berridge, another supporter of Mathers, and once Elaine was in, Crowley was intending get the locks changed so that no one else could get in without their permission. Once in possession, he would begin the process of getting the GD members to swear a new, rather different, pledge of loyalty to it and to Mathers as its head, by sending a summons to each member, requiring them to attend an interview. These interviews would take place at the Simpson’s house; and Elaine was the person to whom responses to the summons would be addressed.
As a result of her cooperation with Crowley, Elaine would be given the post of Third Adept in the GD after the coup, with Crowley as First Adept and Berridge as Second; Mathers being by now conspicuously absent from Crowley’s thinking. In suggesting that Elaine be the Third Adept, Crowley was offering her a great step up in status: she had only been doing magic in theory for three years, and magic in practice for one year. He may have been thinking, too, of giving her an important role when all the GD members were having to reaffirm their vows and loyalty: as Mathers’ chosen envoy he would be taking charge of that process himself, of course, asking the questions; but a scribe would also be in the room, taking notes, and perhaps Elaine was going to be the scribe. Both would be masked (this is beginning to sound like 1984). I imagine Elaine found the idea of achieving such high rank in the order very attractive; it made her feel an important part of Crowley’s plans for the Order’s future, even though she would not be able to participate in person in them, for very long.
Elaine and Crowley met briefly on Monday 16 April 1900 to finalise the seizing of 36 Blythe Road. On Tuesday 17 April the plans seem to have gone without a hitch and in what is apparently the last entry in his Abra-Melin Notebook, Crowley was able to describe the day as “Fight, police, victory”. Without a hitch, that is, but not according to what Elaine may have understood beforehand: she may have had Berridge’s keys with her when she and Crowley arrived, but none of the accounts of what happened say that she used them. Instead, the locks on the door were forced; and so were the locks on the cupboards inside. My feeling is that merely opening the door with a key didn’t appeal to Crowley’s sense of theatre. Smashing them open - much more exciting; but as a result Elaine may have been guilty of breaking and entering.
Once in and with the locks changed on 17 April, Crowley took possession of a list of 2nd Order members and started to send telegrams to them, summoning them to attend his test of loyalty. However, the GD’s senior members in London were not that easily cowed and a return bout at 36 Blythe Road was played on Thursday 19 April in which Crowley was ordered to leave by W B Yeats and Edmund Hunter and went, threatening legal action. Edmund Hunter’s account of 19 April mentions that Elaine was in the 2nd Order rooms with Crowley again; and that a parcel was delivered for her during the day from a wigmaker, which she took with her when she left. Perhaps she had intended to dress up for the occasion, following the example of Crowley who was wearing a kilt, a black mask and a dagger. That same evening, the committee of London-based members who were opposed to Mathers expelled Elaine, her mother, Crowley and Berridge from the GD.
Neither Elaine nor Alice Isabel contested their expulsion as far as I know - certainly nothing in the GD archives at the Freemasons’ Library indicates that they did. The ramifications of Blythe Road did rumble on for a month or so, though. Crowley had added his name to the list of 2nd Order members he found at Blythe Road; on behalf of the members in London, Percy Bullock struck it out again. Legal action began about items now missing from the 2nd Order rooms: Crowley saying he wanted compensation for them, apparently on Mathers’ behalf; the GD in London arguing that as they had all put money in to buy them, they were not Mathers’ property but the GD’s as a whole. A letter from the GD’s solicitor to Crowley’s solicitor contained words which Crowley decided had “threatened the reputation of Miss Simpson”. Julian Baker tried to act as mediator on that issue but it was only decided when Elaine - wisely, I think - chose not to take undue offence at what might have been written. There’s no evidence in the GD files that any of these legal exchanges got as far as court, or even as far as an out-of-court settlement, and Elaine - as the possibly libelled person - was the only one who could have started a libel case, or stopped it.
Elaine was moving on. On 12 June 1900, she and Paul Harry Witkowski were married at St Saviour’s Paddington. Aleister Crowley left England that month to go climbing in Mexico. Elaine and her husband went to Hong Kong, where at least for a time, she put aside these childish things. This was force majeure as much as choice: she had to adapt to a new country and cope with the climate of the tropics, which made so many Westerners wilt; make new friends; learn her new double-role of wife and mistress of the household - which is likely to have contained several servants to supervise; and she was soon pregnant, having the baby some time during 1901 (I don’t know exactly when, nor even which sex the baby was). She would have played hostess to visits from both her and her husband’s relatives: Alice Isabel certainly went to Hong Kong to see her grandchild during 1901. Having made the long journey from Europe, visitors would stay for at least several weeks. And taking part in Hong Kong’s social life would have been important for Elaine personally, to help her settle, but also for her husband and his business career. They had two communities to be socially involved with - the British community and the large and important German contingent in Hong Kong.
If her mother is to be believed, Elaine would have managed all these changes well: Alice Isabel says of Elaine that she had inherited her grandfather John Hall’s “wonderful adaptability to new environments”. However, I think Crowley’s writings suggest a somewhat different interpretation. She might have been bored, starved of the kind of challenge her GD study had given her. So when Crowley acted on the suggestion inadvertently made by Alice Isabel, contacting Elaine to suggest that they should visit one another astrally, she agreed. He made the suggestion late in 1900, only a few months after they had - apparently - gone their separate ways.
In the two versions of The Confessions Crowley’s partner in astral travelling is only identified as
a “Sister of the Order (that GD, that is) who lived in Hong Kong”. However, he identifies the Hong Kong-based Sister as “Fidelis” later, so it definitely was Elaine. They exchanged letters and agreed a way to both be prepared to travel astrally at the same time; taking it in turns to be the one who astrally travelled and the one who stayed put. This was not as easy as they had reckoned: they had to calculate the correct time allowing for the fact that they were not in the same place and Crowley was travelling a great deal - through Mexico, to the USA, across the Pacific. When their first attempt actually worked, Crowley was rather surprised, and they did get their calculations wrong quite often, but on other occasions their astral beings conversed - not just about magic, Elaine seems to have described her house in Hong Kong. Being in touch with her again encouraged Crowley. He had been trying to do magic while in Mexico but hadn’t had much success. Needing to cross the Pacific in any case to visit Allan Bennett in Ceylon, he decided to stop off at Hong Kong and tell Elaine his magical troubles.
In the first version (but not the second) of The Confessions Crowley gives a description of the woman he was expecting to meet again, describing “her purity, her fearlessness, her loyalty, her scorn of all dishonourable device and deed, her single-heartedness, her eager and ecstatic aspiration”. It was a very generous piece of praise; and somehow I think he only wrote it so that it could be followed by a big BUT; because when he got to Hong Kong he found Elaine, “playing at Magick, as another might play at bridge. But her true life was dresses, dinners and dances; and her thoughts were taken up by her husband and her lover.” Then he gives a quite ridiculous reason why all European women take lovers in hot countries, and to illustrate just how low she had fallen, continues, “she had won the first prize at a fancy dress ball by appearing in her adept’s robes and regalia!”
What Crowley said in the first version of The Confessions about Elaine’s activities in Hong Kong is fanciful, a rather spiteful account invented long after the actual visit. Elaine might well have spent her first few months in Hong Kong in a whirl of social engagements while she tried to find her feet in her new surroundings, but she certainly wasn’t spending her time that way by mid-1901: Crowley’s own diary for 1901 tells a different story. Having let Elaine know he was on his way Crowley left Hawaii almost at once. He arrived at Yokohama on 16 June 1901 to find a note or letter from her, saying that he couldn’t visit her right now, and asking him to wait a few months, until October. Right now, Elaine told him, she was giving birth to her first child.
Careful study of Crowley’s diaries for 1901 leads Clint Warren to suggest that Crowley and Elaine may not have met face-to-face that June. I agree that it would have been very difficult for them to do so. Elaine and Paul’s house was probably full of staff hired for the birth and the few weeks after, and of excited grandparents-to-be. I’m sure Alice Isabel’s trip to Hong Kong that year was timed (unless the baby arrived prematurely) for her to be there for the birth of her first grandchild and to give her daughter support and reassurance at a critical time in her life. Childbirth was a dangerous business. Even if the birth went easily and she recovered well, a new middle-class mother would probably not be up and about for a few weeks; and even if she was not the lying-in-bed kind (it sounds as though Elaine wasn’t) she wouldn’t be expected to entertain guests.
Had Elaine even told Crowley that she was pregnant? Probably not - after all, he wasn’t family; and these were women’s matters, even within a family, men were not supposed to be too concerned with the nuts-and-bolts of them. Elaine’s imminent motherhood came as a surprise to Crowley and he decided there was no point in waiting around for three months for her to recover. He left Hong Kong after only a few days, continuing on his way to meet ex-GD member Allan Bennett in Ceylon. But he sulked. Focused as ever on his own needs and not anyone else’s, he took it badly that Elaine couldn’t see him when he wanted to talk to her and claimed that there had been no way back from what he had found out while in Hong Kong: “No hope here, then!...Well and good, so be it!...The umbilical cord was cut; I was an independent being”.
But the only umbilical cord being cut in 1901 was that of Elaine’s first child. At another point of crisis in his life, it was Elaine that Crowley was still looking to for help. Two years after having the basic text of The Book of the Law dictated to him by the spirit Aiwass (8-10 April 1904) Crowley was still uncertain whether the communication was genuine, and he decided that Elaine was the one person with whom he could discuss his doubts.
A lot had changed for both of them, between 1901 and early 1906. Probably in 1902, in a reorganisation following Philipp Arnhold’s move from the Shanghai office to the London one, Arnhold Karberg sent Paul Witkowski to Shanghai. It was an important move for him. Arnhold Karberg had been chosen to represent German financial interests when the Chinese imperial government wanted a foreign loan; perhaps Paul Witkowski was going to play a role in this kind of politically-charged negotiation. The Witkowskis had to adapt to living in a new country again. Could Elaine speak Chinese by then? That will have helped her, although Shanghai had a large and powerful foreign community. I expect she could at least give her servants orders and possibly more: both she and her mother seemed to have had a facility for learning foreign languages. It’s also possible that during the period 1901 to 1906 she may have had another child; I only know about her first child.
The changes for Crowley had been even greater: in August 1903 he had married Rose, sister of GD member Gerald Kelly; they also had had a child, in 1904. Did Elaine know of this? Hmmm. Did they keep in touch? - from that supposed parting shot of Crowley’s in 1901, you wouldn’t have thought so. However, a reference in the later version of The Confessions indicates that by the autumn of 1905, Crowley and Elaine were meeting astrally again: Crowley mentions one such meeting that October, in which he saw her “accompanied by a golden hawk in whom I later recognised one of the Secret Chiefs of the A...A”. During that particular astral encounter, he and Elaine discussed the Great Work, which they both agreed would result in “the creating of a new universe”.
In early 1906 Crowley, Rose and toddler Lilith were travelling in the Far East. That April, Crowley decided to leave Rose and the baby to go back to England on their own and go to visit Elaine. It’s not clear to me whether Rose knew of his intentions or even where he was going; nor whether Elaine knew she was expecting him. However, Elaine did make him welcome, at least at first.
Before I try to make sense of April 1906 in Shanghai I want to say two things. Firstly, the account of those days on the lashtal website differs from the only other extant account, that of the later version of The Confessions. They are both based on Crowley’s papers. Elaine never wrote up her side of what went on. Secondly, Israel Regardie was probably the first Crowley follower to admit in public that Aiwass was an aspect of Crowley’s own personality. I was glad to read that (February 2014) in a wiki page on The Book of the Law, because it confirmed what I’d thought was pretty obvious even from the accounts of April 1906 that do exist. Had Crowley sufficient self-awareness to know it? - an interesting question.
Right. Crowley arrived in Shanghai on 6 April 1906 and went to call on Elaine at once, explaining to her in that initial meeting his anxieties about Aiwass and the communication Aiwass had made. Both accounts agree on that. The lashtal timeline then records that Elaine was ill the following day, and they couldn’t begin on Crowley’s plan, which was to carry out the Abra-Melin rituals with Elaine in attendance, writing down whatever conversations Crowley had with any spirits that manifested themselves. Crowley gave it a couple of days before calling on her again, but she was still ill; he wasn’t able to see her until 13 April and she wasn’t really better - that is, physically able to help him - until 20 April. On 12 April - perhaps realising he was going to have to stay in town longer than he’d intended - Crowley wrote to Rose; but he didn’t tell her why he was in Shanghai. On 18 April, with Elaine still not well enough to act, Crowley was starting to change his plans. He decided to ask Elaine to take the major role in communicating with Aiwass, rather than do it himself. Aiwass was finally invoked (Crowley seems to have been sure they’d got the right entity), in the room Elaine had as her magical temple, by Elaine, on 20 April 1906 and again on 21 April; on that second day, urged on by Aiwass, Crowley and Elaine started to do the Great Work - that is, have sex for magical purposes - but stopped; and on that same day, Crowley left Shanghai for Nagasaki on his way to Britain via the USA. During the boat-trip Crowley had his turn to be ill. Once he reached Kobe, on 24 April 1906, he wrote to Rose again, but again didn’t mention anything about Elaine. So that’s one account.
Shanghai was a very unhealthy city to live in, but I think that Elaine’s illness was as much psychological as medical. Crowley had arrived with very little warning and was asking a lot of her. It’s no wonder she took to her bed. However, several days later, she did agree to do what he wanted.
The later account, in The Confessions, doesn’t mention Elaine’s illness; or the letters to Rose. While the lashtal account doesn’t say where Crowley was staying but gives the impression that for at least the first few days, he was in a hotel, the later account says that on 9 April, Crowley moved into Elaine’s house, and that for the next 12 days the were “constantly working (at magic, that is) together”. As part of this, Elaine invoked Aiwass on 18 April.
Well, they can’t both be right. I believe that the lashtal website’s account is more likely to be right, because it’s based on contemporary information not a memoir composed many years later.
In The Confessions Crowley and his editors give more detail of what actually happened in the magical sense, during the times that he and Elaine were together - or what he thought happened. It’s clear that at least in some respects, Crowley didn’t get what he wanted. Well, no, not that exactly - that what Crowley thought he wanted, and what he actually wanted were different things, and opposed. Also - although he doesn’t say this - I don’t’ think he appreciated it when Elaine began to show some independence of judgement. Also, she was willing to play what she saw was her part in the creation of the new universe: that is, to do the Great Work - have sex with him for the purpose of raising the necessary magical energy; which threw Crowley into a quandary.
When answering the question Crowley had come to Shanghai to ask, Elaine seemed to be very certain. She told him that she thought that Aiwass was a real spirit - which made him unhappy. On that assumption, she wanted them to study Aiwass’ communication together, by reading The Book of the Law. Crowley’s initial reaction was that he didn’t want them to do that, at least, not together.
When Elaine invoked Aiwass, the first communication she received from him (I’d call Aiwass an ‘it’ but Crowley always knew it was male - a clue in itself) was that he wanted the two of them to do the Great Work. But then Aiwass added that Elaine would refuse to agree to it; that if she refused, she would be “useless” to Crowley; and that Crowley had been wrong to confide in Elaine because it gave her power over him. So he had his get-out clause - the case against Elaine. But then Aiwass began to argue the case ‘for’ Elaine, describing Crowley as Elaine’s “true helper” and as someone she had a right to demand help from. Aiwass also helped Crowley’s dilemma along by telling them both that it was inevitable that they would do the Great Work together and once they had done so, they would be bound together “irrevocably”. The final element in the debate was Elaine telling Crowley that she felt he was “absolutely necessary for her”; apparently this wasn’t a channeling of Aiwass’ opinions, this was Elaine speaking as her real self. By ‘necessary’ did she mean in magic? Or in all her life? I think she may actually have meant ‘all her life’; at least, she thought she did. I suggest this was what had made her ill: a desire to have sex with Crowley and commit herself to him.
In the end, they did begin the Great Work. Why didn’t they continue, and found the new universe? Crowley attributes it to “my will” and to Elaine’s “feeling that we have done enough for honour”. Again, hmmm. It sounds lofty and purposeful if only negatively, and Crowley rationalised his part in the stoppage still further by declaring that his “love for Fidelis” (not Elaine and I think that’s an important distinction) “excluded the material almost entirely”. Maybe, maybe. But I think they both panicked, at the implications of having sex - being bound ‘irrevocably’ is a pretty alarming idea and what about their lives in the non-magical world? Of course, but more mundanely still, they could have just been interrupted. Elaine’s temple was only a room in her house, a house full of servants and children and perhaps her husband, home from work. And Crowley had a boat to catch - both the accounts give an impression of a man in a hurry. Dull, unmagical reasons.
Crowley must have gone to Shanghai to do the Great Work with Elaine as his sexual partner if circumstances were right. But if you take it that Aiwass was a manifestation of parts of Crowley’s own subconscious, you can see Aiwass’ communications as a struggle within Crowley about Elaine’s role in his future. Was she to be his ‘other’ in magic? And if so what kind of ‘other’? - an equal partner? An acolyte? And what about the wider aspects? A lot depends on why you think Crowley had left his wife and child to seek out a woman he’d despaired of five years before. Had he intended never to go back to Rose? Was he thinking he could have one woman for magic and one for his daily life? Was he thinking clearly at all?
And what about Elaine? She seems almost to have made up her mind for Crowley and magic and against her husband and their life together. I don’t think she would even have debated this choice if she had been entirely happy with her husband; but in the end, she decided in favour of her marriage and her children.
And Crowley for his wife. I noticed that in all Crowley’s writing about his relationship with Elaine, he only mentions her marriage twice: once when she was still only engaged; and once, in a half-sentence, to note that her husband had died. In the versions of The Confessions Elaine’s nearly always referred as Fidelis - the short-form of her GD motto; once she’s referred to by her real-world name - but as Elaine Simpson, even though Crowley was writing about the time of her marriage when he did so. Crowley decided in Shanghai that his feelings for Elaine were a non-sexual love, but I do wonder so it’s even possible that her willingness to be his sexual partner in magic shocked him. I don’t think he ever thought of her as married; she remained a young girl in his mind’s eye.
During the years of their close relationship Crowley was writing poetry regularly. He gathered together a lot of his poems in 1910 and published them in a book he called The Winged Beetle. None of the poems in the book have a date on them but from the evidence of those dedicated to GD members, they were written over a long period. Elaine’s one of the few people to have more than one poem dedicated to her. The Opium-Smoker is dedicated to “Elaine Simpson”. I think it was written around 1899 when Crowley was just getting into drugs as hallucinogens, apparently guided into their use by Allan Bennett. Most of the poem is a reverie of things usually unseen appearing to the poet in his opium-induced trances. The poet seems to be on his own apart from a “boy” who brings him the drug; so Elaine’s not smoking and en-visioning with him. She might be the “compassionate maid” that the poet calls on to bring him light, at the end of the poem as he attempts to write down his visions.
The second poem is Ad Fidelem Infidelem and is dedicated to “Elaine W-----“, the only time in all his writings that Crowley acknowledges Elaine’s surname as a married woman and - by inference - the existence of a man who was her husband. I hope I’m not infringing copyright law in printing the poem in its entirety. If anyone thinks I am doing so, please let me know and I’ll withdraw the poem while I find out whose permission to get:
Ad Fidelem Infidelem
Ah, my sweet sister, Was it idle toil,
When in the flowerless Eden of Shanghai
We made immortal mischief, you and I,
“Casting our flame-flowers on the dull brown soil?”
Did we not light a lamp withouten oil
Nursed by unfruitful kisses, stealthily
Strewn in the caldron (sic) where our Destiny
Bides brooding - Mother, bid its brew to boil!
Ah, Sweetheart, we were barren as Sahara,
But on Sahara burns our subtle star.
Soon an oasis, now too lone and far,
Shall bloom with all the blossoms of Bokhara:
See! o’er the brim the mystic fountain flows!
Cull from the caldron (sic) the ensanguine Rose!
Did Crowley send Elaine a copy of this poem, or of the book? If Elaine did have a copy I wonder what she made of Crowley’s reference to his wife Rose, which suggests to me that he was regretting opting for her rather than Elaine when he thought he had the choice. But on the other hand, perhaps the poem is just a fantasy of what they might have had but too late now.
AFTER CROWLEY - THE REST OF ELAINE’S LIFE
Where was Paul Harry Witkowski while all this magic and nearly some adultery was going on his house?! He must at least have not objected to Elaine’s keeping one room for her magic; but was his attitude one of indulgence, or a real understanding that it was important to her? He was never in the GD himself and probably understood virtually nothing of what went on in it, but surely he hadn’t bargained for a magician who was an old flame of his wife’s to turn up and do magic with her over at least two intense days. Perhaps Crowley’s timing was better than he knew, and he reached Shanghai while Paul was away. But the almost-cuckolded husband’s part in all this is intriguing. He was never put to the ultimate test, however, and - in whatever manner - the marriage of Paul Harry Witkowski and Elaine continued until it was ended by Paul’s death. Though perhaps it did not satisfy either party to it.
Hmmm. Maybe it’s not so odd that Crowley and Elaine never met again as far as I can tell. They had come very close to going too far, not so much on the sexual level but in their emotional involvement; and had both drawn back. Their parting wasn’t one of bitterness and estrangement.
Crowley knew about the death of Paul Witkowski, so Elaine must have written to him about it. There are other letters from Elaine in Crowle’s papers. Their last contact was in 1928 - Elaine wrote to Crowley inviting him to visit her in Frankfurt. He did reply to her letter, but it looks like he didn’t visit (I haven’t seen his letter myself - it’s just referred to in Kaczynski’s biography).
Elaine’s life after April 1906 is more or less a mystery to me. Whether she continued to do magic on her own, in the room in the house in Shanghai and other places she lived in later - who knows. Although he was only in his early 40s, Paul Harry Witkowski died in September 1907 leaving Elaine a widow with a child or children at the age of 32. As she wrote to tell Crowley the news, she may have wondered whether - now she was free - he would come to her; but he didn’t. In 1909 Rose divorced him, but he still didn’t come.
Elaine and Paul may have been in Europe when Paul died: the probate registry entry says that he was “of Bad-Nauheim Germany” so perhaps they were living or staying there at the time. She was certainly back in Europe, possibly in England with her mother and brother, in 1908 when she was winding up his estate. But by 1911, when The Life and Letters of Sir John Hall was published, she had remarried. Her second husband was a Herr Wölker (I don’t even know his forenames) and he was a German civil servant. Elaine may have had a second family with him; I don’t know. Elaine contributed enough to the preparation of The Life and Letters... to be elected with her mother as a member of the Royal Asiatic Society before it was even published, in November 1910, and at the time Elaine and her second husband were living in Hamburg. She kept up her membership of the Royal Asiatic Society only until 1912.
The first World War cut all the Simpsons off from each other, geographically and politically. Elaine’s brother Arthur, a career officer in the British army, fought on the western front and in Italy; and I can’t imagine how Elaine managed as the English wife of a German government official. And was she able to exchange letters with her family?
The last exchange of letters with Crowley indicates that Elaine was still alive in 1928 though feeling the need to get in touch with old friends. Had she just been widowed again? She was only in her early 50s so she could have lived another 20 years or more, but I don’t know what happened to her afterwards. Did she live through Nazi Germany and World War 2? Her child of 1901 and any others she may have had - and thus any descendants of hers that are alive now - must be German.
I can only say that Elaine doesn’t seem to have died in England.
BASIC SOURCES I USED for all Golden Dawn members.
Membership of the Golden Dawn: The Golden Dawn Companion by R A Gilbert. Northampton: The Aquarian Press 1986. Between pages 125 and 175, Gilbert lists the names, initiation dates and addresses of all those people who became members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or its many daughter Orders between 1888 and 1914. The list is based on the Golden Dawn’s administrative records and its Members’ Roll - the large piece of parchment on which all new members signed their name at their initiation. All this information had been inherited by Gilbert but it’s now in the Freemasons’ Library at the United Grand Lodge of England building on Great Queen Street Covent Garden. Please note, though, that the records of the Amen-Ra Temple in Edinburgh were destroyed in 1900/01. As far as I know, the records of the Horus Temple at Bradford have not survived either.
Family history: freebmd; ancestry.co.uk (census and probate); findmypast.co.uk; familysearch; Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage; Burke’s Landed Gentry; Armorial Families; thepeerage.com; and a wide variety of family trees on the web.
Famous-people sources: mostly about men, of course, but very useful even for the female members of GD. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Who Was Who. Times Digital Archive.
Useful source for business and legal information: London Gazette and its Scottish counterpart Edinburgh Gazette. Now easy to find (with the right search information) on the web.
Catalogues: British Library; Freemasons’ Library.
Wikipedia; Google; Google Books - my three best resources. I also used other web pages, but with some caution, as - from the historian’s point of view - they vary in quality a great deal.
SOURCES FOR ELAINE SIMPSON WITKOWSKI WÖLKER
HER MOTHER AND FATHER
Birth and baptism information via familysearch.
Life and Letters of Sir John Hall MD KCB FRCS by S M Mitra though commissioned by and using original documents provided by Alice Isabel Simpson. Published London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta: Longmans Green and Co 1911 p298, p544.
Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1891 p1190.
Scottish Episcopal Clergy 1689-2000 by David M Bertie published Edinburgh: T and T Clark 2000, p598.
That St John the Evangelist Baillieston was a high church establishment, see Irish Identities in Victorian Britain editors Roger Swift and Sheridan Gilley pubished London: Routledge 2011: p144.
For Rev Simpson’s presumed death:
Crockford’s Clerical Directory 1900 Volume 2 p1241
The Gates of Light by Beatrice Irwin (Alice Beatrice Simpson). London: Rider and Co. Undated but British Library catalogue gives the publication date as 1930. P154 but it’s just a very brief biographical paragraph and it doesn’t mention Elaine.
The website of Cheltenham Ladies’ College is at www.cheltladiescollege.org but it’s very focused on the present and future. Wikipedia has a page on the history of the College. Between those pages and the College’s old girls’ society at www.clcguild.org I found several lists of ex-pupils but neither Elaine nor Beatrice were named in them; though GD member Florence Farr was.
ELAINE’S FIRST HUSBAND PAUL HARRY WITKOWSKI
Unable to find anything on his early life, I concentrated on his life in the Far East.
The Directory and Chronicle for China, Japan, Corea (sic), Indo-China, Straits Settlements etc published by the Hong Kong Daily Press. For Arnhold Karberg, issue of 1889 p294. For Paul Witkowski’s arrival in Hong Kong: issues of 1892 (in which he wasn’t listed) and 1894 p215. For a possible date for the move to Shanghai, issue of 1902 p362.
The Bankers’, Insurance Managers’ and Agents’ Magazine volume LXXIII January-June 1902. London: Waterlow and Sons Ltd 1902 p606
See wikipedia for an introduction to the firm, which still exists.
History of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in 4 volumes. Volume 1 is The Hongkong Bank in Late Imperial China 1864-1902: on an Even Keel. Frank H H King, with Catherine E King and David J S King. Cambridge etc: Cambridge University Press 1987: pp336-37, pp461-66, p701. Volume 2 is: The Hongkong Bank in the Period of Imperialism and War 1895-1918: Wayfoong, the Focus of Wealth. Frank H H King with David J S King and Catherine E King. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1988 pp22-24 and p719.
Article on the web in its entirety: The German-Speaking Community in Hong Kong 1846-1918, by Carl T Smith, based on a talk he gave, presumably at the Royal Asiatic Society because it was published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch volume 34 1994. Very interesting on the important part in Far East commerce played by Arnhold Karberg and other German firms before World War One.
ELAINE SIMPSON AND ALEISTER CROWLEY
For 1901: Crowley’s own diary, accessed by researcher Clint Warren.
The account of the trouble at Blythe Road that I usually use is: The Magicians of the Golden Dawn: A Documentary History of a Magical Order 1887-1923 by Ellic Howe. Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd 1972. The chapter is based on Crowley’s Abra-Melin Notebook (though the last entry in that notebook is Saturday 21 April) and an account of the battle written for the GD’s ruling committee by GD member Edmund Hunter; with long quotes from both.
The early and later versions of The Confessions:
The Spirit of Solitude: an Autohagiography subsequently re-Antichristened The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. London: Mandrake Press Museum St 1929. It ends in April 1904, just before Aiwass dictated The Book of the Law.
The authorised version! - the one most people know: The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography. The edition I used: edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant, published London, Boston, Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul 1979.
There’s also a version of The Confessions on the web at Www.hermetic.com/crowley/confessions:
The website I refer to as ‘lashtal’, which is run by the Aleister Crowley Society:
The Winged Beetle poems by Aleister Crowley. 350 copies, privately printed 1910. Only three members of GD have a poem dedicated to them: George Cecil Jones; Allan Bennett; and Elaine. On pp163-67 The Opium-Smoker and p145 Ad Fidelem Infidelem.
The Golden Dawn sources, held at the Freemasons’ Library. Call number GD 2/4/3/37 is the expulsion order, read by Florence Farr at a meeting held at the Isis-Urania temple on 5 May 1900. All GD members were entitled to attend this meeting so Florence didn’t go into details about the reasons for the expulsions.
GD 2/4/3/38 is a series of letters and a bill for fees to Annie Horniman from solicitor Charles Russell of 31 Norfolk Street. Wealthy and generous Annie Horniman was paying the GD’s costs in the legal actions arising from the incidents at Blythe Road.
GD 2/4/3/40 is a very short note, anonymous but written on Annie Horniman’s printed notepaper at Flat H1 Montague Mansions Portman Sq; so probably by her. It’s where the quote about Elaine’s threatened reputation comes from.
GD 2/4/3/41 is notes needed for the legal cases.
The biography of Crowley that I use is Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski. Berkeley California: NAH Books originally 2000 this revised edition 2010. Most of his information on Elaine’s early life he got from The Life and Letters. There’s an error on p65 - he identifies her grandfather wrongly. There are so many men called John Hall!
ELAINE’S LATER LIFE
The Life and Letters of Sir John Hall
Kaczynski op cit p155. It’s not clear from this reference whether the letters exchanged in 1928 were the latest in a correspondence lasting many years; or whether Elaine had contacted Crowley after a long period of quiet. The reference to their having been an exchange of letters is made in a letter from Crowley to Gerald Yorke 1 January 1929, now in the Yorke Collection, Warburg Institute University of London. I couldn’t tell from the reference whether Elaine’s letter is still in Crowley’s papers.
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland published by the Society at 22 Albemarle Street London. Issues of January 1911 to 1930.
Copyright SALLY DAVIS
16 September 2014
Find the web pages of Roger Wright and Sally Davis, including my list of people initiated into the Order of the Golden Dawn between 1888 and 1901, at: