Tuesday, April 29th, 2014...9:00 am

A warning from the High Priestess of Oom

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This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.

Today’s Santo Domingo feature has a title that suggests a sensationalist pulp novel. My life in a love cult: a warning to all young girls is, however, an exposé, written by Alma Hirsig under the pseudonym Marian Dockerill, High Priestess of Oom.

Alma Hirsig’s more famous sister was Leah Hirsig. Growing up in New York City in the early twentieth century, both sisters took an interest in the occult, which led them to a visit with the ubiquitous Aleister Crowley in 1918. Crowley took a particular interest in Leah, and the two quickly took up as lovers; Leah taking the name Alostrael, “the womb of God”. She supported Crowley as he developed the philosophical law of Thelema, with its famous maxim “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”, and the pair founded the attendant Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Italy. Crowley’s “Scarlet Woman” served as a muse: he painted several portraits of her, as well as writing poetry unprintable in this space. Even after their strained relationship ultimately ended, Leah continued to promote Thelema, though in time she would come to reject Crowley himself as a prophet.

While Leah adopted Thelema wholeheartedly, her sister Alma was drawn instead to Pierre Bernard, the yogi, mystic, con man, and philanderer. Bernard founded the Tantrik Order of America in 1905, and was also in possession of a great library of volumes in Sanskrit. It is to Bernard that we owe the exaggerated association between Tantra and sex in the United States. He was charismatic and controlling: by the time Alma Hirsig encountered him, he had already been imprisoned once for kidnapping, a charge levied by two teenage girls once his disciples. Hirsig nonetheless became the High Priestess to his Omnipotent Oom. She later recanted her faith, and in 1928 published My life in a love cult, primarily an exposé of Bernard and of American Tantric practice in general. In this illustrated magazine-format volume, Hirsig recounts her life story from her “highly-sexed nature” in youth, to her and Leah’s first encounter with Crowley in New York, through to Bernard’s manipulations, and finally to her freedom from Bernard. The volume concludes with “Marian Dockerill’s confidential advice”, a question-and-answer segment of Hirsig’s romantic advice to young women and men.

Alma Hirsig Bliss. My life in a love cult. Dunellen, N.J.: Published by the Better Publishing Company, [1928]. AC9.D6585.928m.

Thanks to rare book cataloger Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.

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