How Aleister Crowley, the Infamous Occultist, Led the First Attempt to Reach the Summit of K2 (1902)

It sounds like the plot of a Werner Herzog film: Aleister Crowley, heir to a brewing fortune and “flamboyant, bisexual drug fiend with a fascination for the occult,” meets “son of a well-known Jewish Socialist” Oscar Eckenstein, “a chemist turned railway engineer.” The two strike up a friendship over their mutual passion for mountaineering, and, in four years time, co-lead an expedition to reach the summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world.

The descriptions of these characters come from Mick Conefrey’s The Ghosts of K2: The Race for the Summit of the World’s Most Deadly Mountain, a book detailing the many grueling attempts, many deaths, and few successes, in over a century of climbs to the mountain’s peak. Crowley and Eckenstein’s expedition, undertaken in 1902, was the first. Though unsuccessful, their effort remains a legendary feat of historical bravery, or hubris, or insanity—an ascent up the face of what climber George Bell called “a savage mountain that tries to kill you.”




In an interview with National Geographic, Conefrey sums up the doomed expedition:

 In those days, nobody had a clue about what it was going to be like. They thought they would go to the Himalayas and knock off K2 in a couple of days. But as the expedition proceeded, it started falling apart. Eckenstein, the leader, had a bad respiratory infection. Crowley had malaria and spent most of the time in his tent with a high fever. At one point he got so delirious, he started waving his revolver at other members of the team. 

There are many other Herzogian touches. In his book Fallen Giants, Maurice Isserman describes the team—also consisting of a novice Englishman, a Swiss doctor, and two experienced Austrian climbers—as “unreasonably burdened by three tons of luggage.” Some of that unnecessary burden came from a “several-volume library” Crowley “intended to haul onto the glacier.” The others “objected to the superfluous weight, but Crowley had read enough Joseph Conrad to know what happened to those who let go of their hold on civilization in the wild.” The library stayed, and a train of 200 porters hauled the team’s luggage to Baltoro Glacier. (See Crowley in a photo from the expedition above, presumably stricken with malaria.)

Prior to setting off for K2 Eckenstein and Crowley had climbed volcanoes in Mexico, then the latter had traveled to San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Sri Lanka, and India—along the way having affairs, learning meditation, and developing a “lifelong devotion to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction." While it takes a certain rare personality to subject themselves to the rigors of scaling a mountain almost five miles high, Crowley—notorious for his “magick," sexual adventures, drug use, lewd poetry, and founding of a religious order—is arguably the most out-there personality in the history of a very extreme sport.

But mountaineering "is not a normal pursuit,” writes Scottish climber Robin Campbell, “and we should not be too surprised to find its adepts showing odd behavior in other spheres of life.” Like all devotees of strenuous, death-defying pursuits, Crowley “wanted extreme experiences,” says Conefrey, “where he pushed himself to the limit.” It just so happened that he wanted to push far beyond the natural and human worlds. After the failed K2 attempt, he would only make one more daring expedition with Eckenstein, in 1905, a climb up the Himalayan mountain of Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.

On the trip, Crowley, the leader, reportedly treated the local porters with brutal arrogance, and when three of them were killed along with one of the expedition members, he refused to help, writing to a Darjeeling newspaper, “a mountain ‘accident’ of this sort is one of the things for which I have no sympathy whatever.” He left the following day and gave up mountaineering, devoting the rest of his life to his occult interests and the exploits that earned him the tabloid reputation as “the wickedest man in the world.”

K2 was finally conquered by two Italian climbers in 1954, who reached the summit, frostbitten and half-mad, as Joanna Kavenna puts it in a review of Conefrey's spellbinding book, "in a moment of sublime anticlimax."

Related Content:

The Surreal Paintings of the Occult Magician, Writer & Mountaineer, Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man in the World Documents the Life of the Bizarre Occultist, Poet & Mountaineer

Aleister Crowley & William Butler Yeats Get into an Occult Battle, Pitting White Magic Against Black Magic (1900)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pianist Plays Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Ravel & Debussy for Blind Elephants in Thailand

Romsai the elephant wore a red rope around his neck to warn approaching humans that he was a danger to both them and elephants. A dark patch on his head from a temporin secretion indicated that he was in the musth cycle, which only heightened his aggression. His mahouts at the ElephantsWorld sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand observed that the old, blind elephant was growing more dangerous with age.

And yet, he is the personification of sweetness, as pianist Paul Barton serenades him with a performance of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, repeating the melody section several times “as he seems to like it.”




In lieu of applause, Romsai places his trunk over the top of Barton’s upright piano again and again, in no way aggressive, more the gesture of a grateful audience member.

As Barton, a Yorkshireman who went to Thailand over twenty years ago for what he thought would be a short piano teaching stint only to wind up marrying a local artist and animal rights activist, said in an interview with YourStory:

All animals like music. Dogs, cats, etc. But elephants are the closest to human beings in the sense that they have the same neurons in the brains as us. Also they have a very good memory. If you are treated badly as a child, you are going to remember that all your life. It’s the same with elephants. The elephant shares that part of the brain with us which has flashbacks. They can never forget the terrible things they have seen and suffered… If you play classical music to an elephant, something soft and beautiful, something that human beings have been listening to for hundreds for hundreds of years, something that is timeless—and you play that to an elephant that is blind and they've never heard music before—the reaction is priceless. There is a special bond between you and the elephant. You are communicating with them in a different language. That language is neither ours nor theirs. There is something infinitesimally wonderful in a piece of Beethoven that connects me to that elephant and that feeling is otherworldly.

The impulse to play live concerts for Romsai and other blind sanctuary dwellers was partly born from seeing the positive effect music had on some blind children with whom Barton worked.

He also wanted to make amends for the deforestation of the elephant’s homeland, and the way the teak industry exploited their labor. It was while thus employed that many of them suffered scratched corneas and other eye injuries that blinded them, rendering them doubly vulnerable when the Thai government enacted a ban on commercial timber logging in 1989:

The elephant has worked for humans for too long. It was used in wars, it was used to deforest its own home. What is the little thing I can do as a human to say sorry, for my species for what we have done to them? I'll carry this heavy thing myself and play some music for the elephant while it is having some breakfast.

Removed from the plush seats of a concert hall, Ravel feels right at home. A rooster crows, a nearby child pipes up, and Romsai wanders in and out of the frame, at times appearing to keep time with his trunk.

Cicadas underscore Schubert’s Serenade.

Another ElephantsWorld resident, Lam Duan's (aka “Tree with Yellow Flowers”) stillness as she listens to Bach is reminiscent of Barton’s first musical outing with the elephants:

Elephants eat a lot of food. A lot. It is exhausting trying to procure that much food for so many elephants. When an elephant gets to eat, it’s a bit like a dog. A dog will eat its food so quickly because it’s not sure if it will ever eat again. And elephants are the same. Once they get their hands on some juicy leaves, they will eat and eat and nothing can tear them away from their food. That morning I brought the piano in early to the sanctuary. Pla-Ra was taken to a field full of juicy bamboo shoots and she began eating with a single minded dedication. I started to play Beethoven and she stopped eating. There was this half eaten bamboo shoot sticking out of her trunk while she stared at me. That was a reaction never seen before. An elephant stopped eating because of music.

Barton’s latest recording features 80-year-old Ampan, blind in one eye and near blind in the other, enjoying Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Support Paul Barton’s Patreon here. Learn about volunteer opportunities or make a donation to ElephantsWorld here

via Laughing Squid

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Make the Oldest Recipe in the World: A Recipe for Nettle Pudding Dating Back 6,000 BC

Attention culinary historians, survivalists, wildcrafters, and gonzo eaters!

Nettle pudding, Britain’s—and quite possibly the world’s—oldest recipe, looks like a good bet in the event of a zombie invasion, or some other catastrophe.

The ingredients—sorrel, watercress, dandelions, nettles—are the sort of thing you can find in a ditch or public park.

If you’re worried about pulling an Into the Wild, book a prophylactic tour with naturalist Wildman Steve Brill.




Should barley flour prove in short supply, don’t worry about it! Grind some acorns, like that kid in My Side of the Mountain. 

You think early man sweated substitutions?

No way! Improvisation was the name of the game.

Rigid adherence to published ingredients will have no place in the zombie invasion! As Cardiff Metropolitan University’s home economist Dr. Ruth Fairchild told The Daily Mail:

You have to think how much more is wasted now than then.

Food waste today is huge. A third of the food in our fridges is thrown away every week without being eaten.

But they wouldn't have wasted anything, even hooves would have been used for something.

They had to eat what was grown within a few miles, because it would have taken so long to collect everything, and even collecting water would have been a bit of a trial.

Yet today, so many people don't want to cook because they think of it as a chore.

Stop thinking of nettle pudding as a chore! Start practicing for the zombie invasion with Antiquity Now’s step-by-step recipe and let us know how it tastes.

NETTLE PUDDING (an 8000 year old recipe!)

Ingredients

1 bunch of sorrel

1 bunch of watercress

1 bunch of dandelion leaves

2 bunches of young nettle leaves

Some chives

1 cup of barley flour

1 teaspoon of salt

 

Instructions

Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt.

Add enough water to bind it together and place in the center of a linen or muslin cloth.

Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar (a pork joint will do just as well). Make sure the string is long enough to pull the pudding from the pot.

Cook the pudding until the meat is done (at least two hours).

Leave the pudding to cool slightly, remove the muslin, then cut the pudding into thick slices with a knife.

Serve the pudding with chunks of barley bread.

(Be mindful that fire may attract zombies. Keep a shovel beside you at all times. Good luck!)

You can read more about the discovery of Nettle Pudding at the BBC and The Telegraph.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

3,000-Year-Old Olive Tree on the Island of Crete Still Produces Olives Today

Image by David Hodgson, via Flickr Commons

On the island of Crete, in the village of Vouves, stands an olive tree estimated to be 3,000 years old. Hearty and resilient, "the Olive Tree of Vouves" still bears fruit today. Because, yes, olives are apparently considered a fruit.

Archaeologist Ticia Verveer posted a picture of the tree on Twitter earlier this week and noted: It "stood here when Rome burned in AD64, and Pompeii was buried under a thick carpet of volcanic ash in AD79." That all happened during the tree's infancy alone.

An estimated 20,000 people now visit the tree each year. If you can't swing a trip to Crete, you can take a virtual tour of the Olive Tree Museum of Vouves (it requires Flash) and see this 3D model of the tree.

Across the Mediterranean, you'll find six other olive trees believed to be 2,000-3,000 years old--some of our last living ties to an ancient world. And beautiful ones at that.

via @ticiaverveer

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The Illustrated Medicinal Plant Map of the United States of America (1932): Download It in High Resolution

Two years ago, we highlighted collector David Rumsey’s huge map archive, which he donated to Stanford University in April of 2016 and which now resides at Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center. The opening of this physical collection was a pretty big deal, but the digital collection has been on the web, in some part, and available to the online public since 1996. Twenty years ago, however, though the internet was decidedly becoming an everyday feature of modern life, it was difficult for the average person to imagine the degree to which digital technology would completely overtake our lives, not to mention the almost unbelievable wealth and power tech companies would amass in such short time.

Similarly, when the above 1932 Medicinal Plant Map of the United States (see in a larger format here) first appeared—one of the tens of thousands of maps available in the digital Rumsey collection—few people other than Aldous Huxley could have foreseen the exponential advances, and the rise of wealth and power, to come in the pharmaceutical industry.




But the pharmacists had a clue. The map, produced by the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association, “was intended to boost the image of the profession,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “at a time when companies were increasingly compounding new pharmaceuticals in labs,” thereby rendering much of the drug-making knowledge and skill of old-time druggists obsolete.

Although the commercial pharmaceutical industry began taking shape in the late 19th century, it didn’t fully come into its own until the so-called “golden era” of 1930-1960, when, says Onion, researchers developed “a flood of new antibiotics, psychotropics, antihistamines, and vaccines, increasingly relying on synthetic chemistry to do so.” Over-the-counter medications proliferated, and pharmacists became alarmed. They sought to persuade the public of their continued relevance by pointing out, as a short blurb at the bottom left corner of the map notes, that “few people realize the extent to which plants and minerals enter into the practice of pharmacy.”

The map appeared during "Pharmacy Week" in October, when "pharmacists in Anglo-Saxon countries" promote their services. Losing sight of those important services, the Druggists’ Association writes, will lead to suffering, should the traditional pharmacist's function “be impaired or destroyed by commercial trends.” Thus we have this visual demonstration of competence. The map identifies important species—native or cultivated—in each region of the country. In Kentucky, we see Nicotina tabacum, whose cured leaves, you guessed it, “constitute tobacco.” Across the country in Nevada, we are introduced to Apocynum cannabinum, “native of U.S. and Southern Canada—the dried rhizome and roots constitute the drug apocynum or Canadian hemp.”

The better-known Cannibus sativa also appears, in one of the boxes around the map’s border that introduce plants from outside North America, including Erythroxylon coca, from Bolivia and Peru, and Papaver somniferum, from which opium derives. Many of the other medications will be less familiar to us—and belong to what we now call naturopathy, herbalism, or, more generally, "traditional medicine." Though these medicinal practices are many thousands of years old, the druggists try to project a cutting-edge image, assuring the map’s readers that “intense scientific study, expert knowledge, extreme care and accuracy are applied by the pharmacist to medicinal plants.”

While pharmacists today are highly-trained professionals, the part of their jobs that involved the making of drugs from scratch has been ceded to massive corporations and their research laboratories. The druggists of 1932 saw this coming, and no amount of colorful public relations could stem the tide. But it may be the case, given changing laws, changing attitudes, the backlash against overmedication, and the devastating opioid epidemic, that their craft is more relevant than it has been in decades, though today's "druggists" work in marijuana dispensaries and health food stores instead of national pharmacy chains.

View and download the map in a high resolution scan at the David Rumsey Map Collection, where you can zoom in to every plant on the map and read its description.

via Slate

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Strange, Sci-Fi Sounds of Skating on Thin Black Ice

This gives new meaning to "skating on thin ice." In Sweden, a filmmaker named Henrik Trygg likes to take his chances skating on pristine sheets of black ice, measuring only five centimeters/two inches thick. It's a risk. A natural thrill. It's also quite a sensory experience. Just listen to the "high-pitched, laser-like sounds," of which sci-fi films could be made.

Watch Trygg's film, "The Sound of Ice," above. And, below, a version annotated in English by National Geographic.

via The Kids Should See This

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Discover the Japanese Museum Dedicated to Collecting Rocks That Look Like Human Faces

It says something about the human brain that we so often see the shape of human faces in inanimate things — and that we feel such amusement and even delight about it when we do. If you don't believe it, just ask the 618,000 followers of the Twitter account Faces in Things, which posts images of nothing else. Or go to Chichibu, Japan, two hours northwest of Tokyo, where you'll find the Chinsekikan, a small museum that has collected over 1,700 "curious rocks," all 100 percent organically formed, about a thousand of which resemble human faces, sometimes even famous ones.

"The museum’s founder, who passed away in 2010, collected rocks for over fifty years," writes Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft. "Initially, he was drawn to rare rocks, but that evolved into collecting, well, strange rocks — especially unaltered rocks that naturally resemble celebrities, religious figures, movie characters, and more.




These days, the founder's daughter keeps the museum running, and it has been featured on popular, nationwide Japanese TV programs." It has also, more recently, become a subject of CNN's internet video series Great Big Story, which highlights interesting people and places all around the world.

The Chinsekikan stands in walking distance of a local river rich with rocks, where we see the museum's proprietor Yoshiko Hayama performing one of her routine searches for wee faces staring back at her. "To find rocks, we walk step-by-step," she says. "If we walk too fast, we won't find them." She explains that a proper jinmenseki, or face-shaped stone, needs at least eyes and a mouth, reasonably well-aligned, with a nose being a rare bonus. Only decades of adherence to these standards, and hunting with such deliberateness, can yield such prize specimens as a rock that looks like Elvis Presley, a rock that looks (vaguely) like Johnny Depp, and a rock that looks like Donald Trump — though that one does benefit from what looks like a pile of thread on top, of a color best described as not found in nature.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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