Change in a parallel world

C F Russell, Louis Culling, and the Book of Changes


If Cecil Frederick Russell (1897–1987) is remembered at all today, it tends to be as an acolyte, however briefly, of Aleister Crowley. Russell first came across Crowley by reading his 'The Revival of Magick' in The International in 1917, and met him for the first time in June 1918, at Crowley's New York apartment. At that meeting, Crowley initiated Russell as III° in the Ordo Templi Orientis, and he took the magical name of 'Frater Genesthai'.

However, a brief glance at Russell's curiously-titled and privately-published 'memoirs', Znuz is Znees [1] reveals a rather more eccentric character (to put it mildly). Mixed in among the fragments of autobiography, these typewritten volumes are packed with verse so appalling it barely merits the word 'doggerel', often also translated into a peculiar (if not singular to Russell himself) phonetic Chinese and accompanied by Chinese 'calligraphy' which barely merits the description 'daubs'; with a rhyming Chinese-English 'dictionary' (featuring the same doggerel and calligraphy); with page after page of abstruse mathematics, made even more incomprehensible by the fact that he frequently provides some of the accompanying explanation and diagram-labelling in his phonetic Chinese; and some specimens of his own artwork which would be flattered by the term 'primitive'. In spite of the amateur presentation of the Chinese material, this may give the impression that Russell was more of an Orientalist than he really was; however, his wife Barbara (1924–1990) is known to have stated that Russell 'learned all his Chinese from reading a dictionary.' [2] This should, perhaps, be borne in mind in the second half of this article, when we come to his material on the I Ching. That said, it has to be remembered that Znuz is Znees is the product of Russell's old age, so allowance must be made for its eccentricities; and though cranky and easily annoyed, he apparently retained an alert mind to the end of his life and read prodigiously and widely. [3]

There are, though, some garrulous passages in 'plain English' (which is perhaps marginally more comprehensible than the phonetic Chinese, though only just), which make Russell sound very much like one of those people you hope you'll never meet. Early chapters of the memoirs reveal all too frankly how Russell, brought up in a house with no more than an odorous hole in the ground for a latrine, spent his youth avoiding the place by simply shitting in his trousers; while intentional bed-wetting continued into his teenage years when he discovered, unsurprisingly, that the girls he was starting to sleep with found this rather off-putting. He appears to have remained a 'difficult' character all his life, so it's perhaps hardly surprising that he and the often-abrasive Crowley came together only briefly.

So let's return to Russell's career as a magician. Having apparently obtained a discharge from the Navy, where he worked as a hospital orderly, by injecting himself with 40 grains of cocaine (when half a grain was thought to be lethal), Russell next appears at Crowley's 'abbey' of Cefalu, in Sicily, in November 1920. There he acted for a while as Crowley's secretary and, less successfully, as his magical and sexual partner (Russell seems to have found 'Alys' not quite to his taste). Under the circumstances, it's not surprising Russell had a tendency to overreact. After a minor disagreement with Crowley, he took himself off to a ruined stone hut on the Rock of Cefalu, where he swore not to eat and drink for eight days, or to let water touch his face, counting stones and divining curious arcana from their numbers. Eventually he was persuaded to come down and seemed to return to normal. But having gone to Palermo for a shave, while still in the barber's chair he suddenly remembered his oath about water touching his face, and fled through the streets with foam flying from his chin. Russell eventually left Cefalu in autumn 1921, going first to Australia and then to San Francisco, shortly after which he more or less severed his links with Crowley and the OTO. [4]

Having split with Crowley, Russell's next major occult enterprise was The Choronzon Club, which he founded in 1922, while living in San Francisco; however, it only started to gain a reasonably large membership from about 1930 onwards, by which time Russell had relocated to Chicago. By this time the 'Club' had been formalised as the G.'.B.'.G.'. or Gnostic Body of God (though Louis T Culling, who edited and published his versions of the order's techniques, gave the meaning as 'Great Brotherhood of God', apparently observing an oath not to reveal the original). Russell eventually closed the order to public membership about 1938, though he continued it as a 'family order'. By then, his attention had turned more to Rudolph Steiner (whose teaching he hoped to combine with Crowley's), higher mathematics and Chinese subjects. [5]

Russell organised the Order as a 'cell system' whereby 'Neighbourhood Primates' ran local groups, and only the local primate was in touch with the order's HQ. Recruiting was also carried out at a local level, and was the responsibility of each primate: initiation to the third degree cost $6, only half of which had to be forwarded to Russell. Perhaps as a result of these incentives, the order gained several hundred members; far more than the OTO ever had in Crowley's lifetime. [6]

1933 advertisement for The Choronzon Club in The Occult Digest, Chicago.


Louis T Culling (1894–1973) eventually published the techniques of the order (without Russell's knowledge, and on the mistaken presumption that he was dead) at the end of the 1960s in two books, The Complete Magickal Curriculum of the Secret Order G.'.B.'.G.'. and Sex Magick. [7] Culling was a veteran of World War One and sometime silent movie organist who owned land near Fallbrook, California. He joined the Choronzon Club in 1931, rising to the position of 'Neighbourhood Primate' for the San Diego area. [8] We shall have more to say of Culling below, but it has to be said here that he is not the most reliable of authors, claiming on one page of Sex Magick that his wife died in an accident, and on another that she was murdered; while in Complete Magickal Curriculum he reproduces a photo of a 'very ancient plaque of Babalon unearthed in Persia', on which 'Babalon' is spelled in the English alphabet. But perhaps the ancient Persians were just extremely foresighted …

Essentially, Russell appears to have taught a modified mixture of Golden Dawn and OTO techniques, the main modifications occurring in the area of sex magic. Apparently averse to homosexual techniques, he seems to have dropped Crowley's XI° working, along with the VII° masturbatory method. As a result, Russell ended up with three 'degrees'. The first is 'Alphaism': magical chastity (less sexual abstinence, as such, than the abstinence from any sexual act which isn't also a dedicated magical act). The second is 'Dianism' (or 'Diana-ism'): prolonged sexual intercourse without orgasm in order to reach a 'borderland state' (on the part of the man; as usual in such cases, the techniques are primarily masculine-oriented). The third is 'Quodosch', which Russell also called the 'Formula of Jack & Jill': full sexual intercourse, with orgasm, equivalent to the OTO's IX° work. [9]

Another fairly large part of Russell's curriculum, however, centred on the I Ching or Book of Change, for visualisation using its hexagrams and component trigrams, for divination, for choosing times for sex magic, and so on. The 'Russell/Culling/Magical I Ching' is a rather peculiar beast, however, and one barely recognisable to those familiar with, say, the classic Richard Wilhelm translation of the book. [10] To get some idea of how it developed, we have to go back to Russell's stay with Crowley at Cefalu in 1920.


It should be remembered that before the Second World War, there was really only one widely available, full English translation of the I Ching, which was that of James Legge. [11] Unfortunately, Legge was a Christian missionary who was frankly scornful of divination as 'superstition', and who obviously only translated the I Ching grudgingly as part of his wider programme of translating all the Confucian Classics (in the hope that Christian and Confucian ethics could be shown to be compatible, and that this would provide a key to converting the Chinese people to Christianity). As a result, Legge downplayed the divinatory aspects of the book and, while translating the abstruse Chinese commentary on the method of yarrow-stalk divination, he provided no explanation of how to perform it, or of the simpler coin-divination method. This meant that, outside academic circles, the English-speaking world was largely ignorant of the methods of I Ching divination, and of the full flexibility of the system. Added to this, Legge's translation of the text is extremely awkward, and his footnotes are often baffling. And we know that it was Legge's translation that Crowley owned.

It's perhaps hardly surprising, then, that Crowley produced his own simplified 'poetic paraphrase' of the I Ching, intended as a mnemonic. [12] 'Doggerel paraphrase' is probably nearer the mark, it has to be said, as can be seen from the following example:


Fire of Water



To give first younger daughters – ill course.

Don't start with the carriage in front of the horse!


Go to it, ye cripples! I'll hold your crutches.

Blind of one eye? Be as chaste as a duchess!

Now, younger sisters, there's scrubbing to do;

Better postpone matrimonial clutches!

Think of Tî-Yî and his sisters anew!

No meat on the chops, and no beans in the stew!

So, what do we have here? First, there's the number of the hexagram in the traditional order of the I Ching, and its Chinese title (usually translated as 'The Marrying Maiden'). 'Fire of Water' originates in Crowley's attempt to synthesise the I Ching with the western magical tradition: each hexagram (six-line figure) can be seen as composed of two trigrams (three-line figures), and Crowley attempted to equate the eight different trigrams with the western Four Elements, Earth, Fire, Air and Water. [13]

The verses (though they'd horrify a purist) do, at least, vaguely refer to the meanings given in the original I Ching text. The first couplet represents the 'Judgment' text of the hexagram, while the remaining six lines correspond to the texts of the six individual lines of the hexagram. These are read from the bottom place upwards, so the first line of verse refers to the lowest line of the hexagram. Here we have two different rhymes, one used to correspond to the yang (unbroken) lines, the other to the yin (broken) lines.

We know that Russell was familiar with this text, as a typescript exists in the Warburg Institute (presumably from the Cefalu period), made by Russell and including his own kabalistic comments, their origin signified by the addition of his magical number, '143'. [14] For this hexagram, the comment reads: 'Averse relationship between Netzach and Hod. (143)'.

In the 1930s, Russell circulated Crowley's unpublished rhyme version of the I Ching to members of his order under the title Book Chameleon, claiming it was a secret manuscript of the Choronzon Club. [15] Unsurprisingly, this seems to have provoked Crowley's wrath (along with many other aspects of Russell's behaviour), and was perhaps a contributory factor to the campaign against Russell mounted by Crowley and his Thelemite followers in 1935. The result was a fall in Russell's membership, which may have contributed to the order's eventual collapse.

In 1940, however, Russell published his own Book Chameleon, with a new text prepared by himself. [16] We might begin our examination of this with a look at the same hexagram quoted above from Crowley's version.

53 (54)

KWEI-MEI's thunder rolls above the lake.

Polarise, repolarise – partake!


Lift thy leg, tramp along – Virtue firm.

Devoted to thy mate, compensate, confirm.

Therefore, accepted Lovers now embrace.

Await the good time at the term.

Moon almost full – sleeves of yellow lace!

Empty basket – bloodless sheep in place!

We see here that Russell has kept the same basic format and rhyme scheme as Crowley. However, the Elemental attributes have been dropped, and Russell has obviously gone back to Legge (whose version he refers to in his accompanying essay) while preparing his new text. The first couplet, with its reference to the component trigrams of the hexagram by their traditional names, thunder and lake, seems to refer more to the commentary known as The Image, rather than the Judgment Text; while the line texts, though sometimes closer in meaning to the original text, are sometimes considerably further away from it than Crowley's version. In terms of quality, then, this version, while different to Crowley's, can hardly said to be either better or worse than its predecessor.

Where the interesting facets of Russell's work begin to show up, however, is in the numbering, '53 (54)', for Russell has actually changed the order in which the hexagrams appear. Here, '54' refers to the number of the hexagram in the traditional ordering of the book, while '53' is the number in Russell's re-ordered version. So what, exactly, has Russell done? This, I'm afraid, requires a somewhat technical digression. [17]

The usual arrangement of the text of the I Ching, as it appears in Chinese versions and standard translations such as those of Legge and Wilhelm, is attributed to King Wen (c. 11th century BCE), traditionally said to be the author/editor of the text as we have it today; it is probably the oldest arrangement of the text we have. [18] The arrangement appears to lack logic, and no convincing explanation has so far been offered for it (despite the efforts of enthusiasts, particularly on the internet).

There are also two major circular arrangements of the eight trigrams and, as we'll see, this where a lot of trouble starts. One of these, known to date at least as far back as the 3rd century BCE, also appears to lack a logical structure, is attributed to King Wen, and is known, on occasion, as the 'Later Heaven' sequence. It is said to represent seasonal and cyclical change, etc, in the real, mundane world. The other sequence of trigrams has a much more logical and 'mathematical' arrangement and is almost certainly later than the King Wen sequence (the dating is uncertain, but a CE origin, rather than a BCE origin, seems most likely). This is said to represent change in the ideal, heavenly world, rather than the mundane one; and as the ideal world was thought, in a parallel to Platonic notions, to 'precede' the mundane one, it is known as the 'Earlier Heaven' sequence. Its origin is attributed to the legendary figure of Fu Hsi who (if he existed at all) is traditionally dated somewhere between the 39th and 30th centuries BCE.

Left: King Wen or 'Later Heaven' trigrams. Right: Fu Hsi or 'Earlier Heaven'.


During the 11th century CE, an I Ching scholar called Shao Yung (1011–1077) took the logical constructional principles of the Earlier Heaven trigram sequence and applied them to the hexagrams, to produce a logical circular sequence of the hexagrams. Not surprisingly, this gained the name of the Fu Hsi hexagram sequence, both because it used the same principles as the trigram arrangement, and to distinguish it from the usual King Wen hexagram arrangement. Shao Yung's arrangement has also become known as the Earlier Heaven hexagram sequence, and the traditional one as the Later Heaven arrangement. As we'll see, this has caused immense confusion among the credulous and literal-minded.

Shao Yung's 'Fu Hsi' or 'Earlier Heaven' hexagrams.


Thanks to a missionary called Bouvet, Shao Yung's circular sequence was brought to the attention of Leibniz (1646–1716), who realised that it could be used to represent the numbers 0 to 63 in his newly-discovered system of binary mathematics, the broken and unbroken lines corresponding to 0 and 1 in the binary system. Although there's no evidence that Russell was aware of this binary correspondence, the circular diagram does appear in Legge's translation, and given his pronounced interest in maths, it's not surprising that this arrangement appealed to him as well, with the result that in Book Chameleon he reordered the hexagram texts according to the Fu Hsi system. Russell appears to have been the first to actually present the text in this order.

Accompanying the paraphrase text of the hexagrams is an essay by Russell, which runs continuously across the foot of each page. This, apart from its direct references to Legge, is in Russell's usual almost-incomprehensible style: the main drift is mathematical and logical, but this is buried under a mass of alchemical, theosophical and kabalistic jargon, with occasional phrases in phonetic Chinese and (perhaps surprisingly), references to Christianity.

On page 12 we are told, in a passage which, for Russell, is surprisingly lucid, that

The YI [I Ching] is actually the product of the great leaders & teachers who formed the postdiluvian civilisation. They carried this fundamental wisdom to that part of central Asia where man's faculties for the present epoch began to develop. The Chinese Wall was built to represent the stream, now the Gulf Stream, which encircled Atlantis. The earliest civilisation in China was designed to enclose, protect & preserve as much as possible of the antediluvian regime.

Russell provides absolutely no evidence to back up this extraordinary statement (nor the one on the following page, that 'Lucifer, Himself, was incarnated in human form in ancient China'), but once again he appears to be first in his field, in suggesting a pre-Chinese (in this case Atlantean) origin for the I Ching.

However, the main thrust of Russell's essay concerns the use of the eight trigrams to model geometric and algebraic aspects of the eight corners of a cube, and then to use similar models for working out various logical propositions. Again, Russell's arguments are difficult to follow, especially for the non-mathematician, and there are times when one suspects him of wilful obscurity, but this was obviously an area of great interest to him and he continued to work out his ideas in such equally-obscurely written booklets as Barbara Cubed, [19] the mere title of which may indicate his uncompromising attitude toward simplicity of explanation.

Russell was not the first to apply such mathematical interpretations to the trigrams and hexagrams; Z D Sung's mathematical treatise The Symbols of Yi King was published six years earlier in Shanghai. [20] However, it seems unlikely that Russell would have been aware of this, as Sung's work (which is in English) goes considerably further than Russell's, and one would rather expect Russell to have made use of Sung's ideas if he had known of them; nor, it appears, does he refer to Sung's work anywhere in his writings. It seems more likely, then, that Russell's work evolved independently, and he may at least have a claim to being the first person in America to explore such areas.

Russell's work, in itself, is unlikely to have had a great influence. Both the first and second editions of Book Chameleon were privately published (the 1967 edition adds some of Russell's execrable calligraphy, and his rhyming Chinese-English dictionary, in equally execrable doggerel, which rejoices in the name 'Abso-Ming-Wen-Lutely Absey-Booke'), and must have had a minimal circulation. However, some of his ideas regarding the I Ching were taken up by his erstwhile disciple, the aforementioned Louis Culling.

Culling, apart from his publication of Russell's magical techniques, also published three 'versions' of the I Ching. [21] None of these are actual translations, and the text of the I Ching is presented in a summarised form, at most; more often, a mere interpretation of meaning is given. All of them give the hexagrams in the same order as Russell (i.e., the Fu Hsi or Earlier Heaven sequence), and all are very much in the Crowley and Russell tradition of 'occultist' interpretation (though rather more comprehensible than Russell). His posthumously-published Pristine Yi King, however, takes things a step further.

Here Culling explicitly states that the I Ching originally consisted of the 64 hexagrams in the Fu Hsi order, and that King Wen revised the order when he added the texts; thus the version he presents is the 'pristine', original one. He also dismisses the traditional method of divination using yarrow stalks as inauthentic because, it seems, Culling met an unnamed Chinese sage in the 1940s who belonged to the transparently phoney 'Order of the Singing Fan' which, he says, claimed uninterrupted existence from before the time of King Wen, and this 'sage' taught him alternative methods, including the 'Dice' and 'Chess' methods. Unfortunately, the dice method derives directly from Russell, who mentioned no such Order and was always eager to take the credit for his own inventions, and the second method is based on western, rather than Chinese chess. As with his 'very ancient plaque of Babalon', one is, unfortunately, forced to the conclusion that Mr Culling was something of a fantasist.

This is hardly the end of the story, however. The Pristine Yi King was published by a large and widely-distributed New Age publisher and, if the book itself is poor, the basic seed it contains became widely disseminated. It has now become a fairly widespread belief in certain more popular areas of interest in the I Ching that the 'Fu Hsi order' is the original order (backed up by a literalist interpretation of its parallel 'Earlier Heaven' title), and that the text should be reordered to fit. This is probably more prevalent on the internet than anywhere else, but we also find it in such apparently scholarly works as Roy Collins' The Fu Hsi I Ching, [22] where Collins baldly states in his preface that the book originated because he was 'unable to find any justification for the change from the ancient/original order, known as the Fu Hsi Order (or Early Heaven Sequence), to the altered King Wen Order (Later Heaven Sequence) during the 12th century BC.' As no such change ever took place, the lack of justification is hardly surprising. This whole notion is traceable directly to Russell; an idea which would probably horrify a sincere and earnest author like Collins … if he could bring himself to accept it.

It's less easy to trace direct influence in the case of the other areas Russell 'pioneered'. There has been a considerable amount of mathematical (particularly algebraic) analysis and speculation about the I Ching in the last few decades. It's a particular favourite on the web; but a fairly large body of similar work has also appeared in scholarly journals such as 'The Journal of Chinese Philosophy'. None of it appears to derive directly from Russell, but he can certainly be seen as forerunner in the field.

Also popular on the web is the same sort of 'occult synthesis' begun by Crowley and continued by Russell and Culling, where the structures of the I Ching are correlated with kabala, western astrology, alchemy, the Four Elements, and so on. Fascinating as these correspondences may appear, they don't actually tell us anything about the I Ching in itself, or how it was understood in its Chinese context … a fact not always understood by their proponents.

Similarly problematical are areas such as the fact that the I Ching hexagrams can be used to represent binary numerals, and that they can also be used to represent the codons of the genetic code. Again, these correspondences are fascinating in themselves, but they can lead the unwary into believing that the Chinese were the first to discover genetics and binary maths (usually 5,000 years ago or more), and then encoded their knowledge into the I Ching … where it remained forgotten until its rediscovery in recent times (usually by 'brilliant westerners'). And this is where Russell's 'antediluvian origin' comes in …

Having convinced oneself that the ancient Chinese must have had 'super-scientific knowledge', the obvious next question is 'where did they get it from?' Answers to this appear, again, most frequently on the web (though not always), and range from pre-Ice Age civilisations, Egypt, aliens (Fu Hsi often turns up in reptiloid guise) and even the constellation of Orion. [23] Again, the circulation of Russell's books was so small that it's unlikely that he had much direct influence on this sort of thinking … but again he could certainly claim to have been 'first in the field'.

Of course, all these areas are pretty much by-ways and side-tracks as far as mainstream I Ching scholarship, mathematics, history, and so on, are concerned. But taken together, they form a very peculiar 'folk' sub-culture, very much of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a parallel world of Change which continues to expand and thrive on it own terms. And somewhere at the back of it all was a very peculiar gent called C F Russell, who probably saw the world in terms quite unlike anyone before or since …


1) C F Russell: Znuz is Znees. Los Angeles: privately published, 1969–1986 (4 vols).

2) Martin P Starr: personal communication, 7 July 2004. I'm extremely grateful to Martin Starr for answering a number of queries arising during the writing of this article.

3) Martin P Starr: personal communication, 8 July 2004.

4) See, inter alia, Russell: ibid., Vol. 2, pp 174–192. Aleister Crowley (ed. Symonds & Grant): The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. NY: Bantam Books, 1971, pp 960–965. Lawrence Sutin: Do What Thou Wilt. NY: St Martin's Press, 2000, pp 287–289. Francis King: The Magical World of Aleister Crowley. London: Arrow, 1987, pp 134–135.

5) Martin P Starr: personal communication, 10 July 2004.

6) King: op. cit., pp.184–185. See also Martin P Starr: The Unknown God. Bolingbrook, IL: Teitan Press, 2003, pp 220–226.

7) Louis T. Culling: The Complete Magickal Curriculum of the Secret Order G.'.B.'.G.'. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1969. Sex Magick. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1971.

8) Starr: op. cit., pp 247–248.

9) Culling: Sex Magick. King: op. cit., pp 183–184. Russell: Znuz, Vol. 3, pp 323–327.

10) Richard Wilhelm & Cary F. Baynes: The I Ching or Book of Changes. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968 (1st ed. 1950).

11) James Legge: The I Ching. NY: Dover, 1963 (Rpt: Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893, as Vol. 16 of The Sacred Books of the East).

12) The fullest edition of Crowley's writings on the I Ching, including his poetic paraphrase, his commentaries on Legge's edition, and various other related writings, is 'Yi King: A Beastly Book of Changes': Red Flame: A Thelemic Research Journal, No. 5, (Berkeley, CA) 1998. My thanks to Alan Moore for providing my copy of this.

13) As the Chinese use a system of five elements, Earth, Metal, Fire, Water and Wood, Crowley's endeavour is completely irrelevant to any understanding of the I Ching in its original Chinese context.

14) My thanks to William Fancourt for providing me with a transcript of this item.

15) Starr: op. cit., p 224.

16) C F Russell: Book Chameleon (1st ed. 1940) 2nd (expanded) edition: Los Angeles CA: Gilbert's Book Shop, 1967.

17) For fuller discussion of the various arrangements of the trigrams and hexagrams, and the problems involved with them, see Steve Moore: The Trigrams of Han. Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1989, passim.

18) Another, different, Chinese arrangement of the text, excavated in 1973 from a tomb at Ma-wang-tui and dated 168 BCE, is more likely to be a variant, rather than a predecessor of the 'King Wen' text.

19) C F Russell: Barbara Cubed. Los Angeles: Times-Mirror Press, 1944.

20) Z D Sung: The Symbols of Yi King. Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1934.

21) Louis T Culling: The Incredible I Ching. London: Helios Books, 1965 (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1969). The L. R. I. I Ching. New York: Life Resources Institute, 1966. The Pristine Yi King. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1989.

22) Roy Collins: The Fu Hsi I Ching. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1993. This impressive-sounding publisher is not actually associated with a particular university, and appears to provide a form of assisted self-publication.

23) For a fuller survey of these beliefs, see Steve Moore: 'It Came From Outer Space': Contemporary Folklore of the Yijing's Origins'. The Oracle, No. 11 (September 2000), pp 30–46.

[First published in 'Strange Attractor Journal' 2 ( 2005).]

A selection of C F Russell’s artwork