Considering John Crowley: Ægypt – Dæmonomania

Dæmonomania is the third part of the Ægypt cycle, and was published in 2000, although I didn’t get my copy until the following year, as an import arriving suddenly into the Manchester Waterstone’s. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge, The Solitudes, under its original title, is the last of Crowley’s books to have been published in the UK: praise be to import sections!
It comprises of Uxor, Mora and Pietas, is is the Fall, or Autumn, and it derives its title and much of its underlying themes from De la Démonomanie de Sorciers by Jean Bodin, a book intended to aid exorcists dealing with possession (this may be the very book by Master Bodin that Roger Nowell finds so unhelpful in Mist over Pendle).
Whilst Love and Sleep began and ended with a visit by Pierce Moffat, distraught and strained beyond endurance, to his mother Winnie in Florida, leading to his decision to take up the Rasmussen Foundation’s offer of a grant to travel to Prague, Dæmonomania twists time to deal at length with all the factors shaping and turning Pierce’s course to lead him up to that visit to Winnie: we are not yet to travel in the late novelist, Fellowes Kraft’s, footsteps, nor to learn if there was any truth, in a world on the cusp of changing, in his half-hinted claim of finding the Fountain of Youth.
Instead of spending much of its time in the past, those strands relating to Kraft’s book relating the course of Dr John Dee and Giordano Bruno excepting, Dæmonomania hews to the present, and primarily to Pierce. Pierce is struggling, is starting to fall to pieces. His relationship with Rose Ryder has become too complicated. He has lost the control by which he initially established it, the quasi-magical dominance he has used over her, his ability to manipulate her sexually.
What has done this is God. Pierce, raised devoutly Catholic, has lost God, abandoned him, but Rose, at first through fear of losing her job at the rapidly failing The Woods, has found God, or at least that version of him portrayed by Ray Honeybeare, via the cultish Christian organisation, the Powerhouse – themselves far from being what they purport to be.
It’s difficult to determine the true state of Pierce and Rose’s relationship. It is highly sexual, built upon an unspecified level of BDSM (in terms of specifics, Crowley goes no further than, in Love and Sleep, the buying of silk scarves and the agreeing of a safe-word) that implicitly intensifies. But coupled with Pierce’s use of quasi-magical effects to control Rose, it is extraordinarily difficult to judge how consensual the relationship is.
We see it primarily through Pierce’s thoughts, his fears and self-justifications, and though Rose’s own thoughts come to illuminate certain later parts of this volume, they never touch quite upon the extent she freely consented, or wanted, things to happen in this way. Pierce’s conviction, undercut with doubts, that he is drawing out of her something that is fundamental to her being, is only his view, and the whole relationship has queasy connotations.
Nevertheless, Rose becomes a Christian. She moves from Blackbury Jambs into the City, Conurbana. Before the book ends, she moves further, out of the story’s ambit, out west to Indiana, to the Powerhouse’s centre, her relationship with Pierce resolved, in her mind at least, never to be seen again, unless a late flash-forward is to be believed as literal.
I’ll come back to that, as tricky things start to occur in the final stages of this book. For now, let’s stick with the Powerhouse, who begin to involve themselves in the fortunes of Ægypt‘s other contemporary central character, Rosie Rasmussen. At this time, in this part, Rosie’s concerns are all wrapped up in her three year old daughter Sam. The brain seizures Sam experiences are investigated at painfully slow length. In the end, the diagnosis is not epilepsy, but something rather more indeterminate, a kind of maybe, or not-proven epilepsy. Sam must take medicine that she loathes for the rest of her life. Rosie must treat every day as one in which no seizure will occur.
But her ex-husband Mike, or rather Honeybeare and the Powerhouse through him, do not agree with the diagnosis. It’s not medical, but spiritual (of course it is, how in their minds could it ever possibly anything else?) Sam doesn’t need medicine, she needs exorcising, an exorcising that, when it comes, very late on, seems to require exorcising Mike as well as Rosie from her life, he being responsible for whatever has allowed the demon to find a way in.
To begin with, though, all is to be done legally. Mike applies to have custody re-opened. Rosie, rather than find herself forced by lawyer’s fees into taking up the Foundation Directorship she doesn’t want, fights it alone. And she loses her case, loses Sam, taken away almost as suddenly as in a kidnapping, because she went to the wrong part of the Court, and cold, callous, unChristian advantage was taken of her absence.
Though it spurs her into taking that Directorship, to work for Sam’s return, the loss leaves Rosie lost for a long part of this section of the story. Spofford is away, helping his buddy Cliff rehabilitate lost Vietnam vets. For a brief night, the equally, in fact even more hapless Pierce, fills in in her bed, consolation for each other. Though only Rosie is to achieve fulfilment.
Besides Rose, Pierce has a second struggle. His book is not progressing. Daily he’s losing faith in it, and even more so in himself to deliver it. Kraft’s unpublished novel about the separate courses of Dee and Bruno is losing its hold on him. Dee sees his scryer Kelley walk away, escapes Prague, returns penniless to England where he subsides in poverty and loss for twenty years until his quiet, all but unobtrusive death. Bruno is imprisoned for eight years as the Inquisition tries to make him recant, admit to blasphemies that he will not allow.
In the end, he is burned alive at the stake, in Dæmonomania‘s final pages. An ass, unnoticed by the crowd, breaks loose, just as foreshadowed in the early pages of the book, in a completely different context. This may not be noticed or granted significance by those reading Dæmonomania for a first time, ignorant of what is to follow.
So Pierce abandons his book, just at the point that it is growing ever clearer that the book he is engaged in writing is the book we are engaged in reading. Beau Brachman, a background figure, an enlightened soul, gives Pierce post-modern, metafictional advice as to what he needs to do, in both fiction and ‘real life’. At a Halloween Party, Come As You Aren’t, Pierce – supplementing the foreshadowing by dressing as an Ass – meets a masked man who seems to have no connection with anything, save that he is a writer. Only now, on this reading, have I connected this man, realised that he is Crowley himself, stepping into his own book to complain about his inadequacy to deal with such themes.
And then the plot, if it can be distinguished as such, goes strange. Pierce stumbles, makes mistakes, leads the tale towards disaster, speaks with Rose in a much-removed future time (if the scene can be relied upon to not be the fiction the book is becoming), only for the story to reset itself, time and again, the author intervening to correct, to say no, it didn’t happen like that, converting Pierce’s mistakes into opportunities that lead to the rescue of Sam from her exorcism, her restoration to Rosie.
There’s a strange undercurrent to this final encounter. The ‘assault’ is led physically by Cliff and Spofford, returned, in the nick of time, from their mission, but it is planned by Beau Brachman and it is he who vies directly with Ray Honeybeare, and he who warns that he will not be returning. What happens is not disclosed: we sense something beyond our ken, a moment when magic, true magic of a kind that is not supposed to exist in these two, transitioning ages of the cycle, takes place, with consequences that we instinctively see are ruinous to both parties.
Uxor = spouses/partnership. Mors = Death or Resurrection. Pietas = Journeys.
The third part is done.


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