“Absinthe – The Green Goddess” by Aleister Crowley

“What is there in absinthe that makes it a separate cult? … Even in ruin and in degradation it remains a thing apart: its victims wear a ghastly aureole all their own, and in their peculiar hell yet gloat with a sinister perversion of pride that they are not as other men.” — Aleister Crowley

[TOP PICS] Scans (from a photostat copy) of another manuscript of the Green Goddess essay, now in the possession of Jimmy Page, noted collector of Crowley original works and personal items.  [Middle PIC] scan shows the blank space Crowley left to insert his poem.  

[BOTTOM PICS] An original holograph draft by Aleister Crowley of the poem  ”La Legende de l’Absinthe” (here called “L’Absinthe”) published in The International (New York, October 1917) under the pseudonym Jeanne La Goulue (a famous Moulin Rouge dancer painted by Toulouse Lautrec).

In 1918, Aleister Crowley, composed a lyrical essay on absinthe and aesthetics titled “Absinthe – The Green Goddess”.  He wrote his essay (according to legend, while waiting for a female companion) in the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans. “Art is the soul of life,” he proclaimed, “and the Old Absinthe House is the heart and soul of the old quarter of New Orleans.”

In this essay Crowley extols the inspirational virtues of this mildly hallucinogenic green liqueur, and speaks out against the rising tide of prohibitionism that was sweeping the country as the first U.S. “war on drugs” began. 

The Green Goddess essay was originally to have been included in the February 1918 issue of The International (New York), pages 47-51. The magazine never published that issue, and an editorial notice the following month simply extends all subscriptions for an extra month, without explanation. After typesetting, and final correction of page-proofs by the author (from which the piece has been edited for subsequent published versions), the whole issue was withdrawn. Most likely compliance with the new war-time sedition laws proved daunting for editor George Sylvester Viereck, who had been openly propagandizing for sympathy with Germany since 1914. When US soldiers were at last sent in large numbers to Europe at the beginning of 1918, the Congress suspended many freedoms of expression, and Viereck passed on the actual editorial management of The International to Aleister Crowley for the last few months before a completely new editorial team assumed control in April of that year.

An original copy of the printed version of this essay is extremely rare as a result of it being pulled from circulation of the International.  Jimmy Page loved to Collect the works of Aleister Crowley.   What was it that Page found so desireable with this work?  Was it that it was an example of Crowley’s views on the use of consciousness altering substances, and the ability to be free of will to use them? Or was it because it was an example of Crowley’s poetry?

Throughout his life Crowley wrote prodigiously, publishing well over 100 books and pamphlets. Although best known now for his occult writings, Crowley considered himself to be a great poet – once commenting (not entirely with tongue in cheek) – what a strange coincidence it was that the county of his birth, “should have given England her two greatest poets – for one must not forget Shakespeare.” Perhaps appropriately, both Crowley’s first and last published works were volumes of poetry.

Here is an English translation of “La Legende de l’Absinthe,” the French sonnet quoted in full by Crowley in the essay (and which, the manuscript draft conclusively proves he himself authored anonymously).

The Legend of Absinthe
Apollo, who mourned at Hyacinthe’s demise,
Refused to concede this victory to Death.
Much better that the soul, adept in transformation,
Had to find a holy alchemy for beauty.
Thus with his celestial hand he drained and crushed
The subtlest harvest of the garden goddess,
The broken bodies of the herbs yielding a golden essence
From which we measure out our first drop — of Absinthe!
In lowly hovels and in glittering courts,
Alone, in pairs, drink up this potion of desire!
For it is sorcery — as one might say —
When the pale opal wine ends all misery,
Opens beauty’s most intimate sanctuary —
– Bewitches my heart, and exalts my soul in ecstasy!

Although the Green Goddess essay is by far his best known work amongst absintheurs, it is not the only reference to the drink in Crowley’s writings.  He also referenced it the short story in the Simon Iff series “Suffer the Little Children”, originally published in 1917.

Download a pdf of Aleister Crowley’s – “The Green Goddesshere