"Millionaires don't use astrology; billionaires do."—J.P. Morgan
Evangeline Adams, descended from the family of the same name that played so large a part in directing the formative years of the United States, had created an empire. This was no political empire, however, but one that fed on a burgeoning public fascination with all things spiritual, which for Ms. Adams meant astrology. The industrial revolution was in full swing, and in an age where more and more of daily life became wonderously mechanical, and (not unlike today) science advanced at a pace never before seen, seeking a way to make sense of it all was only natural—and it was thus only natural to look ever upward, into the stars, for help.
If you've ever opened the daily paper to look up your horoscope, or consult the same through a more modern media, you have in some regard Ms. Adams to thank for it. Her specific practice was both in natal astrology, the position of the planets at the individual's birth, and horary astrology, the position of the planets at the present moment. She believed the precision of her especial method was due to her use of both of these methods in conjunction, with the birth chart being the basis of her understanding, giving a context to the current astrological conditions. "… [I]f I draw my conclusions from the positions of the planets [in the natal chart] in combination with the chart of the individual at the moment I am asked to decide a given question, I will get my answer—and it will be the right answer."
Located in New York, she had access to many of the most influential and wealthy clientele that she should hope for, including the man quoted at the head of this essay: the famous financier J.P. Morgan, whose firm still stands today. Others included, by her account, such luminaries as the renowned opera singers Lilian Nordica and Mary Garden. However, her real genius was not only in seeing wealthy clients in her Carnegie Hall studio, but in opening her practice to a mail order service where anyone could consult her, or at least consult the aides trained in her method. She would even go on to have a popular radio show. Through this successful venture, she had become a very wealthy woman, with annual earnings said to be in excess of $50,000—over a million dollars in today's money.
Despite her well-to-do upbringing in the affluent districts of greater Boston, as well as the general freedom to pursue her passion for astrology, not all had come so easily. There was no legal standing for astrology at the time in the state of New York, and she was accused multiple times of being nothing more than a fraud—a matter for which she would ultimately go to court in defense of her practice. She emerged victorious, bringing respectable witnesses to her defense in describing the circumstances and accuracy of her predictions. Without the relegation of astrology to a practice at least for amusement if not something much greater, we might have no popular astrology at all.
I shall presume to need no introduction for Aleister Crowley. Already well known for his work in magical circles, Crowley had met Evangeline in 1914 through a mutual acquaintence in New York. Then, as now, his reputation preceeded him, for better or worse, but the two appeared to hit it off well enough in polite company. While Evangeline had a thriving practice and knew precisesly how to construct the charts she required for her methods, Crowley's knowledge of the subject itself was far more expansive and significantly more complex. Part of his work, after all, was to set the principles of magick (his spelling) on sound scientific grounds, or abandon them. There was one small problem: as far as he could tell, she had no idea how the practice actually worked at all. "The most famous astrologer in the States [Adams]…did not know that the solar system was essentially a disk."
Over this original meeting, it was determined that Crowley would help write a book for Adams, the results of which would become, with substanital changes from Adams (and perhaps others) Astrology: Your Place in the Sun (1927) and Astrology: Your Place Among the Stars (1930). Yet, it was true to Crowley's style—as is often the case for anyone—that having to explain a thing requires a great deal more effort than simply knowing it. It seems the work became quite difficult, with the myriad temptations of New York City not helping in the least. With this in mind, and the keen desire on both sides to finish things up, Crowley departed to the shores of Newfound Lake in New Hampshire to complete the work, bringing with him a small canoe and "an axe to remind him of George Washington."
Adams is well known to have had a cottage on the northern end of the state's second largest lake, the peaks and valleys of the White Mountains serving to keep the waters cold even in the summertime. Crowley, following a then-popular local effort to rename the lake, referred to it as Lake Pasquaney, purported to be its original Native American name. (The effort was ultimately unsuccessful, and the rather nondescript nomenclature of Newfound Lake remains to this day.) The area was frequented by well-to-do vacationers from Boston and New York, with a convenient train stop in the town of Bristol, at the southern end of the lake. Adams' main cottage, the one with which she is most commonly associated and to which she referred to as "The Zodiac," is on the northern end of this serene lake, next to the church and nestled between the town commons and shaded rows of aging headstones that comprise the church graveyard in the town of Hebron.
While often cited as the location at which Crowley stayed, it was actually at a different cottage that Adams had recently inherited from her brother, Charles, who died in 1915. Recently identified, this cottage was near the southern end of the lake in Bristol, or "North Bristol" as Crowley would refer to it, just across the main road to the western side of the lake. It was from this placid locale in July of 1916 that Crowley would attempt to complete the work now almost two years in the making. Amusingly, this relocation effort had precisely the opposite effect intended. In his "magical retirement" on the lake, Crowley recognized that much of what he was presently involved in—including Adams' work—was counterproductive to his own work in establishing Thelema, the religious and spiritual system that he would come to champion through much of his life. Althoughit was nearly complete in its intent, as far as may be surmised by the content, the work was abandoned; Crowley could go no further.
Crowley's reconstructed manuscript, released as The General Principles of Astrology (2002), can be a dense tome when compared to many more popular treatments, but well worth its weight. Its contents show the influence of his classical education both in scholastics and in magick, as well as the influence (and direct inclusion) in Adams' release of Astrology: Your Place in the Sun (1927) and Astrology: Your Place Among the Stars (1930). The two authors would part acrimoniously—with Crowley receiving no compensation for his troubles, the results of which would become two very popular books in Adams' name that are reprinted even to this day.
The first of these books, Astrology: Your Place in the Sun (1927), bound in blue fabric and featuring a bold sunblaze on the cover, reveals the essentials of the practice: the signs of the Zodiac, the planets and their influence, ascendants, and perhaps most importantly how to actually cast a horoscope through the use of an ephemeris and the required calculations. The introductory materials are without question Crowley's own hand, with references to exceptionally British events, turns of phrase, and similar remarks that bear his authorship. Each of the descriptions of the signs themselves, with their myriad assocations equally bear the hallmark of a man steeped in the syncretic training of magical practice at the time.
While Adams would not have been the one quoting Ptolemy, it is equally true that her hand is evident in the book, so it wasn't purely passed off. Later chapters, specifically those related to her particular method of casting horoscopes aforementioned, are clearly hers and anchor themselves against recent events of a distinctly American character, such as Lindberg's flight over the Atlantic. These explanations also use the more modern circular format of Adams' practice rather than the more ancient square version that Crowley was wont to employ.
In Astrology: Your Place Among the Stars (1930), Adams expanded on (and capitalized on the popularity of) her prior release. As with the earlier volume, the introduction is pure Crowley in style and content, with references to notable European figures—something that did not go unnoticed by the modern editor of The General Principles of Astrology. Its full content goes exhaustively into depth on the influence of each planet in each sign of the Zodiac, including Uranus and Neptune, on which the practice had more or less been mute. Again, it is clear that Crowley's hand was at play in this as well, with detailed explanations of the signs, including notable public figures with which those conditions could be associated. A current review of this work notes the particular usefulness of Adams' explanations of planetary mythology, all of which of course came from Crowley! Adams did include a set of horoscopes of her own construction at the end of the book, again in the circular format she favored, but the bulk was all Aleister.
What I find most interesting in the unraveling of this history is that if you step back and view these separate works, it shows just how much work was undertaken in pursuit of a popular yet comprehensive guide to astrology. The sum total of the effort is impressive, dauntingly so, and one can see why Crowley was at pains to complete it. Say what you will about the man, and there are valid criticisms to be laid against the more commonly salacious (and generally fabricated) ones, but if the influence of these works is as pronounced as they are thought to be, then we have Adams to thank for their popularity, but Aleister Crowley for its content.
Colin Campbell (Maine) has been studying and teaching elements of magical practice for over twenty-five years with a particular emphasis on Thelema, giving lectures at both the local and national level. He is the author of ...