I have for a number of years now been a follower of the American self help guru Tim Ferris.
Previously famous for his 4 Hour Work Week bestseller he’s possibly best known now for his podcast, which has recently passed 100 million listeners. He’s just released his 4th book, Tools of Titans, a brick thick distillation of the wisdom of his podcast interviews over the last two years. It’s good.
The 4 hour work week did not make me a millionaire, but then I didn’t do anything it said in the book to do, so I can hardly blame Ferris for that. His 4 Hour Body, which includes his Slow Carb Diet, had quite an impact on me physically, turning me from this to this and helping me in a number of other ways and for that I am genuinely grateful to him.
He does come across like a nice guy in his podcasts too and I imagine this is a large contributory factor to his success. But let’s not make assumptions, he does have an arguably unethical take on exploiting third world cheap labour and seems to have a few friends with a disconcerting appreciation of Ayn Rand. One may smile and smile yet be a villain. There are also more than a few parallels one can draw between Tim Ferris and the Great Beast 666 himself, Aleister Crowley.
For those unfamiliar with him, Crowley was the 20th Century’s most well known self styled occult celebrity. He embraced, even encouraged, the tabloid presentation of him as the great beast and as a result has become a go to bogeyman of self righteous moralists everywhere.
Given that, it may come as a surprise to some to know that Crowley had a massive influence on 20th Century culture. The beat generation, the hippy cultural revolution of the 60s, the 80s/90s New Age movement, the Wicca religion, Scientology (via inventor of rocket fuel Jack Parsons), and, via a stew of these, the films you’ve seen, the music you’ve listened to (Zeppelin, Bowie, The Stones +), the books you’ve read, the ‘self help’ industry that swamps our culture, all of these things and more were influenced by, if not directly originating from, the writings and ideas espoused by Aleister Crowley.
Some years ago I came across a post on Ferris’s blog, the 21 day no complaint experiment, in which he describes a technique in which you attempt to avoid complaining for the allotted 21 days. While you do so you wear a purple wristband on one wrist. If you whinge you have to switch wrists and go back to day 0. The idea being that if you stop complaining then everything gets better or some bullshit. As I have turned complaining into an art form of which I am quite proud I never bothered doing the experiment but it reminded me of one of Crowley’s self development ‘experiments’ which also incorporated adapting language to create a perception change in the experimenter. In this case Crowley advised a period of time in which the experimenter cut themselves whenever they said the word ‘I’. Being too sensible to cut myself for no good reason I haven’t done that one either.
However, from this similarity of approach, I began to notice a number of other connections between Ferris and Crowley beyond a general encouragement towards self development through peculiar linguistic, meta-cognitive experiments and self harm. Such as:
- Both strongly promote and indulge in ‘extreme’ outdoor activities as a means of self improvement. Despite his reputation as a junkie Crowley was a well respected mountain climber who set a number of records in his time.
- Crowley describes, often cryptically, achieving heightened spiritual states through sexual alchemy. Ferris often suggests chemical or dietary supplementation to improve sex and the 4 Hour Body has a chapter advising how to give your lover a 15 minute orgasm. If that wouldn’t put you in a heightened spiritual state then I don’t have a clue what would.
- Ferris is a strong promoter of the benefits of meditation and suggests a number of different techniques in his books, blog and on his podcast (via his guests, over 80% of whom practice one form or another). He has also recently taken to promoting Yoga for the physical benefits. Crowley talks extensively about meditation to achieve spiritual enlightenment and arguably was the principle early populariser of Yoga in the west. He wrote the book ‘Eight Lectures on Yoga’ on the subject.
- Both Crowley and Ferris have not been backward about coming forward when it comes to the subject of better living through chemistry. Ferris has been, largely, careful about not promoting the use of illegal, recreational drugs but regularly advocates the use of supplements and drugs for physical and cognitive enhancement. Crowley was a well known drug user, again largely for spiritual enhancement and this subject connects Ferris with another giant of 20th Century occultism – Timothy Leary.
Leary, after a number of psychedelically derived synchronicities, has been considered the heir to Crowley. He said so himself. He is of course mostly known for his popularisation of LSD and Ferris in recent years has been promoting and financially supporting research into psychedelic drugs
- Crowley took on the mantle of the Great Beast 666 after numerologically deriving that number from his own name. The numerological associations to the name – Timothy Ferris – when adapted into Hebrew lettering also total 666.
I made that last one up.
The phrases Crowley and Leary are most known for, ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and ‘turn on, tune in and drop out’ respectively, could both be pithy outlines of elements of Ferris’s philosophy.
Is this all just a coincidence?
I am not suggesting Tim Ferris has ever tried to summon the Great Demon Choronzon while bumming his poet lover in the Saharan desert, but given everything else he’s got up to I wouldn’t put it past him. I’ve never, in fact, come across any open acknowledgement from Ferris that he is aware of this Crowley connection at all. Perhaps he’s unaware of it but I doubt that. He’s too well read and references too many thinkers and writers closely associated with the subject of esotericism. His advocacy of psychedelics makes me certain he’s aware of Leary’s attachment to the subject. Yet he never mentions it. Why?
I’ve already mentioned how Crowley is largely known as a tabloid bogeyman who, though influential, was vilified during his life and has been ever since. Though part of the same esoteric organisations as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Yeats it was Crowley who chose, like Bruce Lee, to reveal many of the secrets of the mystery schools of which he had been a part. He democratised these techniques of personal development but was not shy about the spiritual aspect of that development and may have upset some powerful people by doing so.
Leary, when first discovering the benefits of psychedelics was advised by Aldous Huxley to be careful with his promotion of LSD. Huxley accepted that the drug could be used to alter humanity’s perception and create a better society but advised that he should get the powerful onside in this mission. Unfortunately Leary went with Allan Ginsberg’s advice instead, who, after running round Leary’s house naked, tried to get Kruschev and Kennedy on the phone, declared to the operator that he was God and suggested to Leary that the drug should be available to everyone.
A few years later Leary was literally declared Public Enemy Number 1.
And perhaps this is why Ferris keeps schtum, fear of being damned by association. Or, maybe, if he does know, or is even a part of some occult school he might also be aware of a sign used by these schools. The Sign of Secrecy or the Sign of Harpocrates in which a finger is pressed to the lips. An occult injunction that Crowley and Leary might have benefited by upholding, that one should ‘know, dare, do and be silent’