The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook – Sandy Robertson
Foulsham – 1988 + 2002
Although I don’t practice Magick or believe in most of his bullshit, I have written about Aleister Crowley several times. As full of shit as he clearly was, he led a peculiarly interesting life, and while there are countless books about his magickal philosophy, there are also many books that discuss his life and legacy. The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook is one such work. It’s a collection of articles, photographs, poems, and various other bits and pieces, all relating to Mr. Crowley. For somebody who hasn’t heard of To Mega Therion, this could serve as a nice introduction; it uses cool pictures and first hand sources to form a biography and discuss Crowley’s influence on pop culture. It does not get bogged down in his magickal theory. (Thank heavens.) For the more seasoned Crowleyite, this book contains several, very interesting items that were previously unpublished. So whether you’re a Crowley neophyte or a high ranking member of the O.T.O., this is a cool book to have in your collection.
My only real complaint about this book is that it’s too short. The material that’s here is great, but you can find lots of other Crowleyana online. Given the wealth of information about the Great Beast that is currently available on the internet, it would be physically impossible to compile a Crowley scrapbook that would come close to being comprehensive. One must also remember that this book was published in 1988, before the days of google image search. Its author, Sandy Robertson, didn’t merely copy and paste this stuff from wikipedia. He actually went out and acquired physical copies of the documents herein.
Photo of Sandy by Ann Pearce
Sandy is the former features editor of Sounds magazine, he has appeared in a BBC documentary on Aleister Crowley, and he is one of the individuals responsible for giving Montague Summers‘ grave a headstone. On top of that, he is a really nice guy. We have recently been chatting about the Scrapbook, Crowley and a few other bits and pieces.
Duke: The range of material in the Scrapbook is really impressive. How long did it take to acquire all of that stuff? Any interesting stories about how you got your hands on it?
Sandy: I’d been fascinated by AC since childhood, despite, as I say in the Scrapbook, being warned off by my father. Of course, that only made the subject more attractive! My parents were quite lenient really – I remember my mother getting me into the x- film Dr Blood’s Coffin when I was about ten by pleading with the ticket lady! “He LOVES this stuff, he won’t be scared!”
As there was no Internet back then I had to go to places like photo libraries for images. In one I found an original dust- jacket for Crowley’s Moonchild novel – apart from a crease from folding it was gleaming like new, with a label on the back indicating it had been sent out at the time of publication to promote it. It had obviously been laying in that file since the 1920s.
People like my friend Timothy d’Arch Smith, the eminent bibliographer who’s forgotten more about AC than I will ever know, were a great help. He helped me get the rights to the memoir by AC’s landlord, and put me on to the two feuding ex mistresses of Beresford Egan whom I had to negotiate to reprint his fabulous caricature of AC. (My favourite part of the book, Ed.) They hated each other and his estate had been split between them. The AC memoir had been published by Tim and his pal Victor Hall as a limited edition booklet under the “Victim Press” imprint – geddit?! Victor asked a very reasonable £25 which he claimed was “legally necessary”! Tim told me that Victor was once found at Heathrow trying to fly to Paris in his nightgown, having escaped from some mental facility or other. Police asked the cabbie who’d taken him there why he hadn’t been alerted by his attire, to which he responded, “I thort ‘e was an A-rab, guvnor!”
David Tibet found me, if memory serves, an original booklet from AC’s funeral – he found two at a fiver each! It’s been reprinted since then, of course, but at the time it was very rare. Tibbles used to be my flatmate when I was in Primrose Hill. The landlady was alarmed by his bald head and leather attire. (Tibet has become a legendary cult figure – the landlady would surely approve of his Paul Smith suits which long ago replaced the boots and leather coat.)
Duke: Funny you should mention Timothy d’Arch Smith. I’ve reviewed a few of his books already, and I have a copy of his novel, Alembic, lying on my shelf just waiting to be read. I looked at your thank-you list at the back of the Scrapbook and saw a few other names that have popped up on this blog before, Francis King being one of them. I’m actually halfway through writing a post about his controversial book on the O.T.O., and I’m wondering if you perhaps have any insider information on that scandal or any advice to a person writing about it. (I’m a bit scared the O.T.O. will try to shut down my site if I mention it!)
Sandy: Francis King was a lovely guy but I can’t shed any light on what you ask about. I was very chuffed when he did a fortune telling set for WHSmith, and in the numerology bit he used an imaginary fellow called Sandy Robertson. Actually the personality details were spookily accurate.
Duke: Were you careful about not stepping on toes when you were compiling the Scrapbook? I can’t imagine the members of the Stiff Kittens being delighted with what you said about their record art!
Sandy: I never avoid stepping on anyone’s toes which gets me into scrapes. I always review things honestly rather than backslap, which seems to be what lots of folk in all genres of art do. Backscratching.
Duke: You mentioned before that the American edition of the Scrapbook is slightly shorter due to a complaint from Kenneth Anger. Can you give us the details of this scandal, Hollywood Babylon style, or would doing so put you at a risk of being cursed by Anger?
Sandy: I love Anger’s work but he does seem to make a career of being a professional asshole. Basically, my publisher told me he objected to my printing letters from him to a guy in the OTO who had bootlegged Jimmy Page’s soundtrack to his film Lucifer Rising. The letters show them to be on good terms, but when the guy was expelled from the OTO he said Anger turned on him and acted shocked about his behaviour. Hmmm. Well I never. Say no more for fear of little men, eh, Duc! These are cold, hard facts I’m giving you…heh heh. He also objected to my saying he claimed Sympathy for the Devil by the Stones was about him. If anyone can find a quote anywhere where he claims that I’d be grateful as I’m sure I didn’t conjure it out of nowhere. Grrrr.
I somehow ended up with two copies of this book, a hardback from 1988 and a paper back from 2002. The 2002 edition has an extra paragraph in the introduction. Otherwise identical.
Duke: In “The Fictional Crowley” section of your book, you mention several books/stories containing characters based on Crowley. I’ve already read the books by Maugham and Wheatley and the story by M.R. James. (Loved them all!) Which of the other books featuring fictional Crowleys are worth reading?
Sandy: I’ve been compiling a list for years now of every instance I can find where AC appears as a fictional character or where a character appears to be based on him, and I think I’m up to about 60 now.
The James Blish novel Black Easter is marvellous, also a sequel called The Day After Judgement. The magickian Theron Ware has no physical resemblance to AC but my gut tells me he’s the inspiration for a demonologist who brings about the end of the world!
Colin Wilson’s Man Without A Shadow has been reissued under a few different names and remains an amusing read. A great man, very kind and sadly missed. My father used to make his walking sticks!
AC is still going strong in fiction – in recent years I have loved The Monster’s Lament by Robert Edric, in which he tries to swap souls with a man about to be hanged, and Jake Arnott’s two books The Devil’s Paintbrush and The House of Rumour, both loosely based on fact. I wrote an article on AC in fiction for Fenris Wolf on this stuff recently.
My AC fiction list is for a projected handlist – not sure I could dignify it with the title of ‘bibliography’ and I’m notoriously lazy so who knows when it’ll see the light of day, especially as new titles keep appearing.
Duke: It’s now 70 years since Crowley died. Since your book came out, the fickle public has had an extra 30 years to forget about him. On the other hand, your book (along with the internet) has made Crowley and his writings a lot more accessible. Do you reckon that the general public is more or less aware of Crowley than they were when the Scrapbook came out? Are you still as interested in AC as you were when your book came out?
Sandy: Obviously the internet has made it easier to locate materials and people, and I guess younger folk are more aware of AC than they were in the 80s when the Scrapbook came out. I was in HMV buying this fabulous new film A Dark Song, about a woman hiring a guy to do the Abremalin Ritual (which AC famously never completed) and without knowing that I was buying an occult-y item the sales lad looked at my Houdini t-shirt and said “That looks like Aleister Crowley!”
Yes I am still fascinated by him. I don’t do magick in any practical way, except that everything is magick. I cannot debate details of this or that translation of whatever ritual or manuscript. I’m more obsessed by the man and his life.
Duke: That film, A Dark Song, looks right up my alley. I reviewed S.L. MacGregor Mathers’ translation of the Abramelin text a few months ago! Not only that, but this is an Irish horror film? I don’t know how I hadn’t heard of it until now! Did I ever tell you that I was born and raised in Dublin? Hey, speaking of Ireland, I was doing a bit of online sleuthing, and I found an interview you did with the Boomtown Rats in 1977. It starts off with the sentence “I’ve never been hot to trot for Irish people”…
Sandy: I think the Dark Song film is from an Irish director and was filmed in Wales. Sorry about the jibes re Ireland. Growing up I felt, to steal a quote I read, that my homeland was hot in summer, freezing in winter, and unbearable at all times. And Ireland seemed little better, the same prejudices magnified. Only when I’d been away for decades did I appreciate the marvellous wealth of literature and folklore of the two countries. I’m a great Wilde fan and love reading about Scottish witches. There were executions in Paisley, next to my hometown Renfrew, “cradle of the Stuarts” as the first was born there when Robert de Bruce’s daughter, wed to the Royal steward, gave premature birth as she died falling off her horse. I still can’t stand that cunt Geldof, though.
I’ve never paid much attention to Sir Bob, so I don’t know if he’s really a cunt or not, but strangely enough, it turns out that his late daughter, Peaches, was a huge fan of Crowley. She even had an O.T.O. tattoo.
Although published almost 30 years ago, Sandy’s book is well known by Thelemites and still in print. I reckon it’s a nice addition to any Crowley collection (although I don’t see a copy of it on Peaches’ shelf!), but Sandy has had his detractors:
Sandy: I was only lately shown a review that came out at the time of publication, penned by a guy I’m assured is one of the biggest prats in Thelemic circles. He opined that it was unlikely AC had gay sex with Pollitt (the man he’d called his first wife!) and that the author pic of me made him realise that this is wishful thinking on my part!?! First, I’m not gay and have no prejudice either way. Second, I don’t know how he could intuit my sexuality from a head and shoulders b&w shot. Third, poetry AC wrote to drag artiste Pollitt is explicitly homosexual.
Another guy who turned up at a signing asked if I practice magick. I said no, if I was going to do it it’d be a serious undertaking – I probably don’t have enough discipline and one wouldn’t do, say, nuclear physics on the weekend for a lark. He went away and wrote that I admitted I was just another bandwagon jumper who latched onto Crowley. I should have known better than talk to a hack – I mean, I was one!
I’ll just point out that although Sandy had the decency not to name names, the review by the man who (perhaps wishfully) believed that Sandy was wishfully believing that Crowley was gay is fairly easy to find online. Let’s just say his last name rhymes with jelly.
I like books about Aleister Crowley and the occult and all of that good stuff, but my first love is, and always will be, rock’n’roll. When having a discussion with the man who introduced Genesis P-Orridge to Frank Zappa, I couldn’t resist asking a couple of off-topic questions:
Duke: Did you really cut an interview with Roky Erickson short because he was brandishing a huge knife?
Sandy: A fan gave Roky a knife, which he waved around during the photo session alarming lenswoman Jill Furmanovsky. The reason I walked out of the interview early was that questions I posed were met by minutes long silences before he’d finally say something rivetting like ‘Ah doan’t know”. I played the tape to some people and they understood. I left the tape running and the whole time I was away he sat there with his wife and not a single syllable passed between them. You could feel the waves of mental illness coming off him. Brian Wilson was a happy bunny compared to Roky.
Duke: Are there any recordings of your old band, the Nobodies?
Sandy: Luckily, I’m sure any bedroom tapes of the Nobodies have been erased. Missing episodes of Mystery & Imagination are a tragedy for posterity, missing tapes of me caterwauling are a blessing. I did record a synth type album and sent it to Eno’s Obscure Records. He had the sense not to release it. My old Nobodies pal Alex Fergusson was in Alternative TV and Psychic TV before moving to Germany and begetting twin sons. If anyone’s in touch with him I’d love to hear from him.
I want to thank Sandy for being so patient, accommodating and pleasant. For more of his stuff, check out Rock’s Back Pages and go out and buy his book.
10 thoughts on “A Chat with Sandy Robertson, Author of the Aleister Crowley Scrapbook”
I’ve read the two Blish novels; they’re interesting whether you want to see Theron Ware as Crowley or not. (Ware is actually named for a late 19th novel protagonist, “The Damnation of Theron Ware” by Harold Frederic, which has nothing to do with magic.) Also for a fictional Crowley, there’s Robert Anton Wilson’s “Masks of the Illuminati,” which features both a fictional James Joyce and Albert Einstein to boot.
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Yeah, I’ve read that the Blish novel is part of a series of 4. There’s no way I’m reading one part without reading the others!
Speaking of fictional Joyces, did you ever read Flann O’ Brien’s Dalkey Archive? It features a fictional Jimmy alongside a mad scientist named De Selby, a reoccurring character in O’ Brien’s work. Robert Anton Wilson apparently cites studies by De Selby in one of his other works. This is really cool considering that O’Brien’s first novel was about characters from novels becoming real people. I love how all this stuff connects together.
Wilson also claimed that Finnegan’s Wake was a magical text, didn’t he?
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“Black Easter” and “The Day After Judgment” share a common story. “A Case of Conscience” and “Doctor Mirabilis” do not. In fact, the first two are fantasy, the 3rd sci-fi, and the 4th a fictionalized biography. What they share in common is a theme of the utility and limits of secular knowledge. Sounds horribly dry, doesn’t it? But they aren’t dry stories, though I know some who get bored with “Conscience.”
Can’t say I’ve read O’Brien, but you’ve just put it on my list. 🙂
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O’Brien (real name Brian O’Nolan) is a must. If Joyce and Beckett are the father and holy spirit of Irish modernism, O’Brien is the son. He’s by far the funniest and most readable of the three. I would recommend starting with the Third Policeman. It’s a truly bizarre book that features a man slowly turning into a bicycle.
O’Brien’s first novel, At-Swim-Two Birds, is my favourite book of all time. The plot is completely mental and the structure is bizarre, but the writing is absolutely hilarious. The only problem with it is that, similar to much of Joyce’s work, it’s very Dubliny. I recommend visiting the city and getting violently drunk and lost there before reading it.
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That last recommendation sounds like a good place to start!
Centipede Press are considering a set of the 4 Blish books in that series.
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I always thought Theron was too close to Therion to be coincidence, and ware is an old word used by AC in his Hymn to Lucifer, but I may be indulging in fantasy! I have the Frederic novel which was thought risqué in its day allegedly.
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Hi Sandy, my name is Frank and I like to get in touch with you as working on a book on Genesis P-Orridge. If you read this please contact me via email@example.com
The AC Scrapbook is still a great read from a scholar and a gentleman. When he wrote for Sounds, in the pre-internet era, he’d give us articles on the likes of AC, Burroughs, Colin Wilson etc which were seriously informative, in a time of severe information drought. I’m still studying those writers three decades on. Nobody else could recommend a book on “phenomenological existentialism” in the pages of Sniffin’ Glue!
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Thanks PC, the cheque is in the post! Seriously, I’m flattered that anyone remembers my ramblings with affection decades later.
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