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Ian Fleming on Crowley as a spy

   Sun, March 4, 2007 - 10:28 PM
During the interrogation Rudolf Hess spoke in strange ramblings which some viewed as occult. Ian Fleming, who was involved with those interrogations, decided that help was needed. But who could he get who might understand these occult ramblings? Fleming thought about it and then suggested to his boss, Rear Admiral John Godfrey, "that Crowley should be allowed to interview Hess about the role of the occult in Nazism." (3) Fleming thought Crowley would be able to obtain further details on the influence of astrology with the Nazi leaders. It seemed like a good idea at the time. However it was his friend, Maxwell Knight, who spoke strongly against Crowley's involvement with Hess. It is said that Knight had no intention of allowing Crowley near Rudolf Hess, even though some historians have indicated that Crowley actually was a MI6 agent who spied on the Nazis and Communists in pre-war Berlin for the British government. Still, some members of the British Government, like Fleming, actually believed that Crowley could have helped in understanding Hess and other Nazi leaders. Both sides argued over this issue but Knight won out. In the end, Crowley was never summoned.
Ian Fleming's biographer John Pearson wrote that Fleming "surpassed himself by appealing to one of the most notorious men in the whole of the British Isles. For many years he had been fascinated by the legend of wickedness which had attached itself to the name of Aleister Crowley, necromancer, black magician and the Great Beast 666. This immensely ugly old diabolist and self-advertiser had thrown himself into certain more unsavory areas of the occult with a gusto that must have appealed to Fleming, and when the interrogators from British Intelligence began trying to make sense of the neurotic and highly superstitious Hess he got the idea that Crowley might be able to help and tracked him down to a place near Torquay, where he was living harmlessly on his own and writing patriotic poetry to encourage the war effort. He seems to have had no difficulty in persuading the old gentleman to put his gifts at the disposal of the nation." (4)
Aleister Crowley wrote a brief letter to Ian Fleming, now the Director of Naval Intelligence, offering his help.

If it is true that Herr Hess is much influenced by astrology
and Magick, my services might be of use to the Department in
case he should not be willing to do what you wish. I have the
honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Aleister Crowley (5)

With the letter Crowley included a copy of his latest patriotic poem entitled "England Stand Fast". To quote further from Fleming's biography, "It is a pity that this had to be one of Fleming's bright ideas which never came off: understandably, there was hilarity in the department at the idea of the Great Beast 666 doing his bit for Britain." (6) So in the end "Fleming's suggestion was vetoed, and Crowley and Hess never did meet, to the chagrin of the unorthodox historian." (7)
If the reader looks for Ian Fleming's biography by John Pearson for further reading, they should know that when it was released in America (8) this episode regarding Rudolph Hess and Aleister Crowley was totally omitted. One must find the first edition released in England, published earlier the same year, to find this particular story. There is no indication why it was edited out of the American edition.
Even though Aleister Crowley was not allowed to interview Rudolf Hess, he did hatch another scheme to help the war effort. We know he tried to convince Knight and Fleming that the British government should drop 'occult literature' on the Germans as a propaganda tool. (9) Obviously the literature, whatever it might be, would be written by himself. This project was shelved long before it got off the ground.
Years later in 1952 when Ian Fleming wrote his first novel entitled Casino Royale he looked for someone after whom he could model James Bond's arch-villain. He needed an evil figure in Casino Royale so he dredged up his past images of Aleister Crowley. After all, Fleming "always knew a good villain when he saw one." (10) He decided to give his villain the name Le Chiffre, which is a corruption of the word 'cipher', since the villain claimed he was only a number on a passport. This idea stems from the fact that Le Chiffre was once a Jewish prisoner of Dachau who suffered amnesia, not knowing his real name, only his concentration camp number.
Fleming further described Le Chiffre as clean shaven, complexion very pale or white, fat, slug-like, with sadistic impulses, constantly using a benzedrine inhaler and with an insatiable appetite for women. He also had a rather feminine mouth. It is also written that "parallels exist between them {meaning Crowley & Le Chiffre}. Both called people 'dear boy', and both, like Mussolini, had the whites of their eyes completely visible around the iris." (11) But does this really sound like Aleister Crowley? Especially being Jewish!
In the end Crowley's character was killed by an assassin from the Soviet organization SMERSH, which he had betrayed. He was almost ready to pull the trigger and kill James Bond when the end came. His death was graphically described: after a single bullet rang out "and suddenly Le Chiffre had grown another eye, a third eye on a level with the other two, right where the thick nose started to jut out below the forehead. It was a small black eye, without eyelashes or eyebrows." (12)
In April of 1953, after reading Casino Royale, Somerset Maugham wrote Ian Fleming a rather nice letter on how much he enjoyed the book. In that letter he stated, "...particularly enjoyed the battle at the casino between your hero and M. Chiffre. You really managed to get the tension to the highest possible pitch." (13) It's best to say that Maugham probably didn't realize that Fleming based some of the characteristics of Le Chiffre on Aleister Crowley as he failed to mention the similarities in his letter. Maugham was an old acquaintance of Crowley, whom he had used as the model for Oliver Haddo in his own book entitled The Magician.(14) Aleister Crowley definitely disliked the image painted by Maugham and one can only wonder what he might of thought of Le Chiffre...
It is likely that Ian Fleming honestly believed he borrowed a few of Crowley's characteristic for the evil and sinister figure of Le Chiffre, but this figure is completely different from the real-life Aleister Crowley. Actually the only evidence for such a claim is the fact that Fleming has stated he based Le Chiffre on Aleister Crowley-since such is not obviously recognizable in the book itself. If the reader is in doubt, then read the book or rent the movie and see for yourself.


add a comment
Mon, March 5, 2007 - 7:27 AM
interestingly wiley!!!
Mon, March 5, 2007 - 8:32 AM
According to Crowley biographer Richard Kaczinski ("Perdurabo"), there is solid evidence that AC was a spy for British intelligence (and possibly US intelligence as well) during WWI. His task, apparently, was to help bring America into the war on the side of the British.
Wed, February 11, 2009 - 9:59 AM
This is really interesting. May i suggest only...
Thanks for this informative article, but please, consider placing line spaces between the paragraphs. Although incorrect in books I find this makes for easier reading on a screen. Remember, vampires don't have very good eyesight!
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