Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley – Richard Kaczynski

perdurabo Kaczynski.jpgPerdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley – Richard Kaczynski (Revised and Expanded Edition)
North Atlantic Books – 2010

Aleister Crowley has appeared on this blog a fair few times at this stage. I’ve read books about him and several of his own works, and I thought I had a pretty good idea of what he was about. Then I read Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski.

This really is an excellent book. I haven’t read any of the other biographies of Crowley, and the only reason I would want to at this stage would be to compare them with this one. I don’t imagine any of them include much information that isn’t in here. Although Perdurabo is very long and very extensive, it never really gets boring.

This isn’t just a story of Crowley’s life. It also serves as a reference work on his works. It gives the details behind all of the Beast’s most important books, and I am quite sure that I will be referring to my copy of Perdurabo whenever I’m reading a book by Crowley in the future. I would have been able to make more sense out of the books by Crowley that I’ve read if I had read this beforehand.

I’ve read about Crowley’s notorious Abbey of Thelema many times. I knew that this was a house in Italy where he lived with some of his disciples for a while. I guess I had never given the idea much thought before, but without directly stating it, this book makes it pretty clear that Crowley was a cult-leader at this stage of his life. He manipulated his followers to get them to do whatever he wanted.

Some of the most interesting stuff that I learned wasn’t about what Crowley did at the Abbey; it was the things that he didn’t do there. Apparently Crowley never forced one of his followers to drink a cup of cat’s blood. (He probably only sacrificed the cat because it was noisy.) And, while this book confirms that Crowley once tried to get a goat to fuck his girlfriend, it suggests that he did not cut the goat’s throat to let it bleed all over her as it was cumming.

Being a manipulative dickhead is one thing, but Crowley’s behaviour at the Abbey was shameful in a far nastier way than what’s mentioned above. In April, 1920, Crowley’s partner and their three month old daughter moved to the Abbey. The baby was dead by October despite her parent’s performances of sex-magick rituals to save her. The child had been ill before arriving, but Crowley was content to let her live in a dirty building with her father constantly strung out on heroin.

And this wasn’t Crowley’s first failed attempt at fatherhood. In 1906, Crowley and his family were in China. He sent his pregnant wife and their two year old daughter back to England via India while he went towards Canada. When he got back to England, he discovered that his little girl had died. I don’t care how independent and capable his wife was, he shouldn’t have left her in that situation. Kill goats, spread German propaganda, cheat idiots of their money and dignity, but take care of your little girl, you horrible piece of shit.

I’m quite sure that Crowley was upset by the deaths of his children, but it seems very likely that both babies would have lived longer if he had taken better care of them. It’s difficult for me to have any respect for a man who acted this way.  He may have been “Supreme Rex and Sovereign Grand Master General of Ireland, Iona, and all the Britons”, but he was also a deadbeat junky and a shitty, incompetent father.

I knew that Aleister Crowley had written poems, but I wasn’t aware of how many. For a portion or maybe several portions of his life, he seemed to think of himself as a poet more than anything else. I’ve never really been a poetry kind of guy myself, but within minutes of reading an excerpt from Aleister’s collection titled Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden, I had bought a copy. You can find the text online, but I needed a hard copy for my bookshelf. I’ll review this one here soon.

crowley snowdrops

 

In the spirit of the comprehensiveness of Perdurabo, I had intended on going  through the index of books I’ve reviewed and compiling a list of notes about the ones which feature Crowley. I quickly realised that that would require an awful lot of work, and a Richard Kaczynski I am not. Here’s some of the more Crowley-centric posts I’ve written:

 

2015-12-28 02.38.38Moonchild, The Magician and To the Devil – A Daughter
This was my first post on Crowley. It’s a comparison of his different appearances in works of fiction. Knowing what I know now, I’d probably change a few things if I was going to rewrite this, but this post actually contains some fairly impressive research.

 

liber alThe Book of the Law and The Book of Lies
I wasn’t hugely impressed by Crowley’s masterpiece. I might see it differently now given what I have learned about Crowley’s life, but it’ll be a long time before I can bring myself to read it again.

 

crowley tiocfaidh ar la up the rahCrowley’s Saint Patrick’s Day Poem and Crowley’s Essay on James Joyce
These are writings by Crowley that were hard to find online. Both posts include brief discussions on Crowley’s interesting attitude toward Ireland.

 

the aleister crowley scrapbookThe Aleister Crowley Scrapbook
This post includes an interview with Sandy Robertson, the book’s author. I was flicking through this book the other day, and found another reference to Inpenetrable by Joel Harris. (The third reference to this book that I’ve ever seen.)

 

There’s a lot more on Crowley on this blog. If you do a site-wide search for his name, you’ll see what I mean.

 

Aleister Crowley on James Joyce

Only yesterday, I finished reading Richard Kaczynski’s Perdurabo, the monumental biography of Aleister Crowley. I had intended on publishing a review of that book today, but seeing as though it’s Saint Patrick’s day, I thought I should post something relating to my native Ireland. Last year, I posted Aleister Crowley’s poem “Saint Patrick’s Day, 1902”. It was my second post discussing Crowley’s strange attitude towards Ireland. While reading through Kaczynski’s biography of the Great Beast, I found another interesting link between Crowley and the Emerald Isle.

aleister crowley and james joyce.jpg

In July 1923, Crowley had an article titled “The Genius of Mr. James Joyce” published in New Pearson’s Magazine. Crowley discusses both Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and the then recently published Ulysses, showering both novels with lavish praise. When reading Crowley, one should always consider the possibility that he’s being insincere, but that’s clearly not the case here. It’s not hard to see how Crowley would be interested in a character like Joyce; both men were leaders in their fields, sexual deviants, largely misunderstood, and victims of censorship. (Although the two men never met, several people, including Kaczynski and Robert Anton Wilson, have pointed out similarities in their writing.)

james joyce aleister crowley

Here then, in its entirety, is Aleister’s article on Jimmy:

The Genius of Mr. James Joyce

Within the last twenty years a new form of literature has been evolved, the novel of the mind. I mean by this a story where what men do is described only as the outcome of what they think and feel and believe, and where the focus of interest is in their thoughts rather than in their acts. This literature is still in its experimental stage, and a majority of the novelists fail because they think it is enough to observe correctly, and so produce pathological studies rather than works of art. Their work is interesting because it is concerned with reality, but for the most part it is  indifferent literature, because the reality has not been worked into proper shape. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the further the majority of these writers probe into the mind of man, the further they depart from artistic creation.

My Wyndham Lewis’ novel Tarr is a case in point. It is one of the most interesting books written within the last ten years. It is a book that opens a secret cupboard and displays the contents with an observation that compels our admiration, but our chief interest is in watching the cat let out of the bag. All sensitive men are compelled to plead guilty to the indictment, but there is little indication that the author is interested in style for its own sake, and that his purpose would not have been as well served by an essay on the hatred of human beings for human nature.

This form of writing has been saved, by the genius of Mr. James Joyce, from its worst fate, that of becoming a mere amateur contribution to medical text-books.

Every new discovery produces a genius. Its enemies might say that psych-analysis—the latest and deepest theory to account for the vagaries of human behavior—has found the genius it deserves. Although Mr. Joyce is  known only to a limited circle in England and America, his work has been ranked with that of Swift, Sterne, and Rabelais by such critics as M. Vatery, Mr. Ezra Pound and Mr. T. S. Eliot.

There is caution to be exercised in appraising the work of a contemporary. When we like him at all, we are inclined to like him too much, because we are in unconscious sympathy with his presentation of life, and are incapable of judging his work impartially. I am convinced personally that Mr. Joyce is a genius all the world will have to recognize. I rest my proof upon his most important book Ulysses, and upon his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, and on such portions of Ulysses as have appeared. Before these he wrote two books, Chamber Music (The Egoist Press, London), a collection of most delicate songs, and Dubliners (Grant Richards, London), sketches of Dublin life distinguished by its savage bitterness, and the subsequent hostility it excited. The Portrait when it appeared was hailed as a masterpiece, but it has been boycotted by libraries and booksellers for no discernible reason other than the fact that the profound descriptions tell the truth from a new, and therefore to the majority a disturbing, point of view.

The book is the history of the infancy, childhood, and adolescence of a high-school boy, Stephen Daedalus. While he is little his people are prosperous gentle folk, by the time he is grown up they are living in a Dublin slum. In a magnificent early chapter his family sit round their rich Christmas Dinner. It is the time of the Parnell tragedy, and every person there takes a different view of it with an equal passion, and their dispute rises with matchless intensity until Stephen’s father is left alone at the head of the table and cries and says, “Parnell, my dead king.”

Stephen goes to a Catholic public school, and his young body and his young beliefs drive hell into him, and he leaves school and goes to college and finds his nature unchanged. He grows up in love with absolute beauty, and obsessed with the obscenity of life. He is tortured so soon as he is able to perceive the conflict of the body and the soul, the excremental animal and the image of God.

The book is written with the utmost delicacy and vigor. When Stephen is a baby, Mr. Joyce selected the exact incidents that would impress the hardly conscious minds in such a way that the reader finds that his own infantile memories are astir. He recalls his own mind when it was incapable of synthesis and conscious only of alternation between nourishment and excretion. Gradually the child becomes aware of the relation between one thing and another, with adolescence his consciousness becomes complete, and the struggle of the individual to express and reconcile himself to life begins. As his mind changes Mr. Joyce changes his style, the unperceiving mind is shown so that the actual texture of its unperceptiveness is felt, an incomplete thought is given in its incompleteness. But when Mr. Joyce leaves his characters to their stream of unsorted perceptions and speaks for himself, he write classical English prose with the particular beauty proper to a new master. Stephen is walking on the cliffs of Dublin bay, and looks over to the town and sees—

“as a scene, or some dim areas, old as man’s weariness the image of the seventh city of Christendom was present to him across the timeless air, not older, not more weary, nor less patient of subjection than in the days of the thingmote.”

The end of the Portrait leaves Stephen still at Dublin University. He is the eldest, a swarm of brothers and sisters sit round the table and drink tea out of jam pots. His mother “is ashamed a University student should be so dirty, his own mother has to wash him.” He is the poorest of poor students, the most gifted, proud and perverse. We leave him, knowing that there is worse in store for him and turn to Ulysses.

Ulysses (The Shakespeare Book Co., Paris—by subscription), as the title suggests, is another Odyssey of a small Jewish commercial traveler round about the Dublin streets on one day.

About him there unwinds the most extraordinary procession of his friends and acquaintances from one public house to the next, and among them is Stephen, his father gone in drink, Buck Mulligan, a horsey “tough,” barmaids, the Rev. Father Conmee S. J. Stephen’s little sister buying a French grammar for a penny, maid-servants, loafers, business men, all passing and talking and dreaming, and observed and set down to what seems the last possible point of human observation.

A great part of the book is passed in a public house where the scenes of the Odyssey are represented by two barmaids standing behind a barrier of whiskey-bottles which contain, as Mr. Joyce observes, “orient and immortal wheat standing from everlasting to everlasting.”

Stephen is now a school master, reading Lycidas over the heads of a class of indifferent children. He is now a quite subsidiary character. It is in Mr. Bloom that the essence of the book lies.

The disreputable, snobbish Catholic world sees in Mr. Bloom a commercial traveler of a despised race. Mr. Bloom sees himself as a lover, a poet, a gourmet, and a man-of-the-world. Yet he is an acute observer of himself, he takes himself into his own confidence, and it is infinitely entertaining to overhear him. It is also shocking and startling. His Odyssey is between his home, some shops, a cemetery and a public-house, in a trance on foot. In the beginning he buys a piece of soap, “sweet lemony wax,” and the part taken by that piece of soap in his  trouser pocket is given its exact proportion. It has a life-history of its own, a “Little Odyssey.”

I have no space to enter upon the real profundity of this book, or its amazing achievement in sheer virtuosity. Mr. Joyce has taken Homer’s Odyssey and made an analogy, episode by episode, translating the great supernatural epic into terms of slang and betting slips, into the filth, meanness and wit and passion of Dublin today. Then the subtle little alien is shown exploiting, as once the “Zeus-born, son of Laertes, Odysseus of many wiles” exploited, the ladies and goddesses of the “finest story in the world.”

At present Mr. Joyce is all but unknown except to the inmost ring of English and French lovers of the arts. In his own country prejudiced Dublin opinion is making a determined effort to boycott him. It would certainly reflect no discredit on the Commonwealth of Australia if she were to be one of the first to recognize a writer who will in time compel recognition from the whole civilized world.

 

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these lads in conjunction with each other. Both Aleister Crowley and James Joyce appear as central characters in Robert Anton Wilson’s Masks of the Illuminati.

Expect more on Crowley here soon. I should have the review of Perdurabo ready for next week.

Robert Anton Wilson, the Last Great Irish Modernist?

James Joyce and Albert Einstein are drinking in a pub together when a panicked man rushes into the bar. Jimmy, Albert and Sir John Babcock, the man claiming that he’s being pursued by a devil, leave the bar and go to Einstein’s apartment where Babcock recounts the mysterious occurrences that have led him to this point. His narrative is interspersed with questions, observations and pontifications from Joyce and Einstein. This is Masks of the Illuminati, Robert Anton Wilson’s 8th novel.

robert anton wilson masks illuminatiMasks of the Illuminati – Robert Anton Wilson
Dell Trade Paperback – 1981

The story is full of ideas that fans of Wilson will be familiar with, and there are references to half the authors that have been featured on this site. Not only do the names and works of writers like Lovecraft, Wilde, Charles Maturin and Philip Jose Farmer pop up throughout, but the story itself directly borrows from and repeatedly references Robert W. Chamber’s King in Yellow, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, and Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Vril. Oh, and Aleister Crowley turns out to be behind most of the plot’s mischief, so a basic understanding of his work, life story and personality is probably necessary for readers of this book. I felt pretty cool reading through and patting myself on the back every time I came across a reference that I recognized.

James Joyce is not only one of the main characters in this book; he’s also a huge stylistic influence on the writing. Lots of the people following this blog are probably just here for the Satanism and aliens, and these unfortunates might not have much of a background in Irish modernism, so I’ll just briefly state that James Joyce was a genius writer whose books about life in Dublin city got progressively more mental and complicated as he got older. His final novel, the infamous Finnegan’s Wake, is 600 pages of dense, indecipherable nonsense. (I watched a lecture by RAW on youtube a few years ago in which he described a means of using Finnegan’s Wake as a form of telling the future. Masks of the Illuminati is set pre Ulysses though, so there’s no overt discussion of FW in here.) For most of Masks of the Illuminati, the Joycean influence is mild, and only the sections describing characters’ dreams are truly loopy.

finnegans wake nonsenseI got about 6 pages into Finnegan’s Wake before giving up.

While Joyce is clearly an important influence on the writing of Masks, it’s hard to tell how much of the Joyciness in here is direct Joyciness and how much is Joyciness à la O’Brien. Some might think that Samuel Beckett is the next greatest Irish modernist after Joyce, but for my money, that title goes to Brian O’Nolan, better known as Flann O’Brien. (Beckett worked as a translator for Joyce as he was composing Finnegan’s Wake, and while his own writing was clearly influenced by the avant-garde nature of his master’s, O’Brien’s work is more overtly Dubliny than Beckett’s and so its weirdness is a bit more noticeably Joycean.) While the literary techniques in Joyce’s Ulysses vary from chapter to chapter, At Swim-Two-Birds, O’Brien’s equivalent masterpiece (and crucial companion to Ulysses in my opinion) tells its story through the repeated use of a selection of literary gimmicks.

Nature of gimmicks: various modes of information presentation: notes, poems, lists, etc.

Descriptions of things within the narrative of At Swim are labelled as if they part of a medical or judicial report. In a very similar manner, much of the description of characters and events in Masks of the Illuminati is presented in the form of questions and answers. Several portions of the narrative are also presented in the form of a screenplay. Joyce had done similar things in Ulysses, writing one chapter entirely as question and answers and one as a closet drama, but the way Wilson goes back and forth with these methods throughout the novel instead of keeping them in separate chapters makes his book read more like an O’Brien novel than one of Joyce’s.

That Wilson was a fan of O’Brien is common knowledge. He not only described O’Brien’s The Third Policeman as one of the greatest Irish novels; he also included De Selby, a recurrent character in O’Brien’s work, as a character in some of his own fiction. This recycling of fictional characters is distinctly Flannish; most of the characters in At Swim-Two-Birds are borrowed from other stories due to the narrator/author’s belief that there are already too many characters in the canon of literature.

flann o'brien einstein

So the ways in which Wilson tells his story and chooses his characters are undoubtedly similar to those of O’Brien, but it is his choice of characters that most clearly highlights the Flannish influence on Masks of the Illuminati. James Joyce appeared as an important character in O’Brien’s Dalkey Archive 17 years before Masks was published. Dalkey Archive was also heavily influenced by O’Brien’s interest in Einstein’s work (Alana Gillespie wrote a doctoral thesis addressing this influence), and at one point in the narrative, DeSelby (the character to later appear in Wilson’s fiction) directly critiques Einstein’s theory of relativity. Much like the fnords, Flann O’Brien’s influence on Masks of the Illuminati may not be immediately obvious, but it is present on every page.

I find it hard to imagine enjoying the work of either Joyce or O’Brien without having visited Dublin at least once. That might sound obnoxious, but if you’ve read the books, you’ll know what I mean. Soon after Masks of the Illuminati was published, Wilson and his wife moved to Ireland for six years. He later claimed that, “Dublin, to me, is a James Joyce theme park.”

james joyce statue

In a way it’s slightly ironic that Wilson was so inspired by the likes of Joyce. Ulysses, Joyce’s masterpiece, is a mock-epic. It takes the banal, vulgar events of an ordinary day in Dublin city and fits them into the structure of Homer’s Odyssey while simultaneously threading the narrative through every literary technique imaginable. A huge part of the appeal of Joyce’s writing is his ability to see and depict the fantastic in the ordinary. While Joyce wrote about everyday life, Robert Anton Wilson is most famous for his books about absolutely insane conspiracy theories. I love Robert Anton Wilson, but his approach of using bizarre writing techniques to write about bizarre topics is probably responsible for how relatively unpopular his writing is. He was clearly a very intelligent man with a passion for literature, but his fiction (or at least 4 out of the 5 of his novels that I have read) is remarkably inaccessible. The deliberate esotericism doubtlessly prevents squares from reading his books, but it gets nerdy, Irish weirdoes like me hot, bothered and horny for more.

That being said, I didn’t actually like how this book ended. I get that it’s supposed to be a mental book about mental topics, but the last chapter both goes and stays off the rails for a little too long. Showing a Joycean influence is cool, but going full on Finneganean is a bit embarrassing. The last 30 pages or so felt like watching a modern punk singer trying to pull a GG Allin – watching a copycat punch themself in the face and then roll around in their own feces isn’t shocking or transgressive anymore; it’s just a lad making a smelly mess of himself.

Overall though, Masks of the Illuminati is quite an interesting book. My review has focused on its Irish influences, but there’s lots more to the book. I’m sure that twice as much could be written about the Crowleyean influence and content, but I’ll leave that to somebody else. While Robert Anton Wilson was undeniably an American writer, it’s worth pointing that he spent almost one third the amount of time living in Ireland that James Joyce did, and so I can think that Ireland can take at least partial credit for his genius.

masks of the illuminati robert anton wilson

July 23rd is International Robert Anton Wilson day, so if you haven’t read any of his books, today would be a great time to start. If you’re already a fan, you should check out my RAW day post from last year, a review of his first novel, the Sex Magicians. It’s definitely one of the better posts on this blog.

Speaking as an Irishman: Aleister Crowley’s Saint Patrick’s Day Poem

crowley tiocfaidh ar la up the rahLast year, I wrote a post about Aleister Crowley in which I briefly discussed his strange fascination with Ireland. In the Book of Lies, he claims to be an Irishman, and his title within the O.T.O. was “Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona and all the Britains within the Sanctuary of the Gnosis”. In 1915, he tried to cause a scene in New York by proclaiming the birth of an independent Irish Republic. Thirteen years prior to doing so, he wrote a poem about the Emerald Isle. I’m going to post it here:

ST. PATRICK’S DAY, 1902.
“Written at Delhi.”

O GOOD St. Patrick, turn again
Thy mild eyes to the Western main!
Shalt thou be silent? thou forget?
Are there no snakes in Ireland yet?

“Death to the Saxon! Slay nor spare!”
“O God of Justice, hear us swear!”

The iron Saxon’s bloody hand
Metes out his murder on the land.
The light of Erin is forlorn.
The country fades: the people mourn.

Of land bereft, of right beguiled,
Starved, tortured, murdered, or exiled;
Of freedom robbed, of faith cajoled,
In secret councils bought and sold!

Their weapons are the cell, the law,
The gallows, and the scourge, to awe
Brave Irish hearts: their hates deny
The right to live — the right to die.

Our weapons — be they fire and cord,
The shell, the rifle, and the sword!
Without a helper or a friend
All means be righteous to the End!

Look not for help to wordy strife!
This battle is for death or life.
Melt mountains with a word — and then
The colder hearts of Englishmen!

Look not to Europe in your need!
Columbia’s but a broken reed!
Your own good hearts, your own strong hand
Win back at last the Irish land.

Won by the strength of cold despair
Our chance is near us — slay nor spare!
Open to fate the Saxons lie: —
Up! Ireland! ere the good hour fly!

Stand all our fortunes on one cast!
Arise! the hour is come at last.
One torch may fire the ungodly shrine —
O God! and may that torch be mine!

But, even when victory is assured,
Forget not all ye have endured!
Of native mercy dam the dyke,
And leave the snake no fang to strike!

They slew our women: let us then
At least annihilate their men!
Lest the ill race from faithless graves
Arise again to make us slaves.

Arise, O God, and stand, and smite
For Ireland’s wrong, for Ireland’s right!
Our Lady, stay the pitying tear!
There is no room for pity here!

What pity knew the Saxon e’er?
Arise, O God, and slay nor spare,
Until full vengeance rightly wrought
Bring all their house of wrong to nought!

Scorn, the catastrophe of crime,
these be their monuments through time!
And Ireland, green once more and fresh,
Draw life from their dissolving flesh!

By Saxon carcases renewed,
Spring up, O shamrock virgin-hued!
And in the glory of thy leaf
Let all forget the ancient grief!

Now is the hour! The drink is poured!
Wake! fatal and avenging sword!
Brave men of Erin, hand in hand,
Arise and free the lovely land!

“Death to the Saxon! Slay nor spare!”
“O God of Justice, hear us swear!”

 

I’d love to hear Bono and Enya do a duet version.

I haven’t read much else of Crowley’s poetry, but this seems more political than mystical. It’s quite vicious. I wonder how much of Crowley’s sympathy for Ireland was sincere and how much was just part of his anti-authoritarian shtick. Somehow, I doubt the Irish public of 1902 would have had much time for him.

Sorry for the recent lack of updates on the site; the books I’m reading at the moment are quite long, but I’m aiming for another two posts by the end of the month. Anyways, I hope you have a pleasant, holy and snake-free Saint Patrick’s day.

 

 

Brits out!

 

The Paddling of the Swollen Ass

secret rituals of the oto francis kingThe Secret Rituals of the O.T.O. – Francis King
1973
I’m a member of a few different book related groups on Facebook. A few weeks ago, I saw a man post a link to the ebay auction for his copy of Francis King’s The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O. Within moments, other users of that group had warned him to take the ebay listing down and to try to sell it privately instead. They claimed that the O.T.O. would file a copyright claim to have the ebay auction cancelled. Sure enough, the ebay listing was cancelled less than 6 hours later.

I knew the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis) was originally a German secret society that Aleister Crowley had commandeered at some stage, but I had no personal interest until I saw that they didn’t want people to read a particular book. Nothing is quite as appealing as that which is forbidden, and I immediately determined to read said book.. Unfortunately, copies of this curious text sell for anything between $250 and $1300.

francis king sex satan swasticaThese are the only books I own by Francis King. It can’t be denied that he had a real talent for choosing appealing titles.

Luckily for me, it took about 5 seconds to find the text of Secret Rituals online. It seems rather silly that the O.T.O. would bother filling out the copyright claim against an ebay auction for a single, very expensive copy of the book that’s going to end up wrapped in plastic on some nerdy collector’s shelf when the same exact text is freely available to anyone with access to the internet. Let it go lads. The more you fuss over it, the more people are going to want to read it. I can honestly say that I would never have bothered reading this garbage if not for your hullabaloo.

And this is the thing; the content of this book is actually rather boring. There’s a small biography of the O.T.O. at the beginning, and the rest of the book is taken up with the different initiation rituals. I’m not going to discuss what they entail because I don’t want the O.T.O. to file copyright claims against me, but I will say that there’s nothing all that interesting. You know all the silly ceremonies the Mason’s go through? This is the same crap, only a bit more Templary.
secret rituals of the oto

Members of the O.T.O. have claimed that the documents herein are imperfect draft versions of their rituals. King supposedly got them off some collector and stuck them together in a book without really asking permission. Others have pointed out that these rituals don’t make any sense without another document, De Arte Magica. The best part about this omission is that De Arte Magica was later printed in full in Scott Michaelsen’s Portable Darkness with the O.T.O.’s permission. (It’s also available online.)

oto lamen.jpgAll in all, the controversy surrounding this book is far more alluring than its contents. I wouldn’t recommend reading it, but can’t deny that doing so was moderately satisfying.
.

crowley liber cdxv paris workingLiber CDXV – Opus Lutetianum or The Paris Working – Aleister Crowley
1914

It’s no secret that the O.T.O. teaches sex magic. I was doing a bit of research on the ol’ sex magic after reading their secrets, and I came across Liber CDXV – Opus Lutetianum or The Paris Working. This is basically a magickal diary kept by Aleister Crowley during a lengthy sex magick ritual that he was practicing with his mate Victor Neuburg. This ritual is the basis for the story of Crowley told by the Canon Copely Syle in Dennis Wheatley’s To the Devil a Daughter and again by Wheatley in his The Devil and all his Works. The story tells of Crowley going mad and his son (who never existed) dying in an attempt to evoke Pan. What actually happened was that Crowley and Neuburg took a bunch of drugs and bummed the arses off each other. Fair play.
Read the cryptic account of their drugged-out bumming frenzy here.

This has been my third post in a row relating to Aleister Crowley. Kenneth Grant led his own branch of the O.T.O., and The Magical Revival discusses sex magic at length, even briefly mentioning Crowley and Neuburg’s tango in Paris. The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook shys away from elaborating on any of the truly lurid details of Crowley’s practices, but it does suggest that his poetry might be a good place to look if one was interested in that kind of thing. My own suggestion would be to read Crowley’s poem, Leah Sublime. It’s a love poem to one of his girlfriends, and it contains the lines;

“Shit on me, slut!
Creamy the curds
That drip from your gut!
Greasy the turds!
Dribble your dung
On the tip of my tongue!”

He did actually eat her poos in real life too, and that’s not even nearly the worst of it. Leah Hirsig was the woman that had tried to have sex with a goat for one of Crowley’s rituals. When the goat wouldn’t fuck her, Crowley slit its throat and let it bleed all over her.

Hopefully it will be a while before I post about this Crowley scumbag again. I feel like it’s time to read some fiction. My life is a bit hectic at the moment too, so posts here might be a bit more sporadic for a while.

A Chat with Sandy Robertson, Author of the Aleister Crowley Scrapbook

the aleister crowley scrapbookThe 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.

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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.

crowley magick robe

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.)

thoughtful aleister crowleyDuke: 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.

aleister crowley scrapbooksI 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.

crowley with his magic wandDuke: 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.
peaches geldof instagram crowley

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.

The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin The Mage: the 100th post on Nocturnal Revelries

the book of sacred magic of abramelin the mageThe Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage – Abraham of Würzburg (Translated by S.L. MacGregor Mathers)
Dover – 1975

Wow, 100 posts! I don’t think I realized how much work I was going to put into reviewing dumb books when I started. This blog now contains more words than most of the books that have appeared on it. To celebrate this momentous achievement, I’m going to briefly review the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, a curious grimoire of angelic magic. I first heard of it in the BBC documentary about Aleister Crowley’s house by Loch Ness, and I remember soon thereafter watching a video of Robert Anton Wilson discussing how he had attempted to perform part of the Abramelin ritual while tripping on acid, but it wasn’t until I heard the name of the text being mentioned in Ghoulies, one of the finest motion pictures ever made, that I knew that I needed a copy for my library. This book of spells purports to have been written in 1458, but the oldest surviving copies date from 1608. Many grimoires claim to be far older than they really are as that makes them seem more mysterious, but if this text was written in 1608, you’d imagine that the author would have set it back more than 150 years. Regardless of its authenticity, this is a rather interesting read.

I don’t want to spend too much time going into the plot details as there are plenty of summaries of this book to be found online, but the idea here is that in 1458, an old man named Abraham wanted to give his younger son, Lamech, a present. He had already let his eldest son in on his knowledge of Kaballah, so he decided to initiate Lamech into the secrets of Sacred Magic instead. He himself had come across these secrets from a hermit named Abramelin. We never find out much about Abramelin, but his magical secrets had supposedly made their way to him from the lads in the Old Testament.

There are three books within this book. The first of which gives Abraham’s account of how he came by this magic, and the second book gives the instructions for a 6 or 18 month ritual that one must go through in order to use the spells that make up Book 3. The lengthy ritual puts the magician into contact with his guardian angel. (I use the masculine pronoun purposefully here; women aren’t really supposed to practice this magic.) The guardian angel then grants the magician the power to control demons. This makes for a weird form of whitened-black magic. The practitioner is commanding legions of evil spirits to do his bidding, but he is doing so under the guidance of a good spirit. The standard how-to-turn-invisible/tell-the-future/get-money spells are all here, but it is presumed that the magus will only utilize these abilities for the good of all humanity.  Abraham strongly advises that this system of magic never be used for evil purposes, but he nevertheless includes instructions on how to cast spells upon Men, to bewitch beasts, to cast spells upon the liver, heart, head and other parts of the body, to demolish buildings, to ruin possessions, to excite emnity in general, to excite quarrels and fights, and to cause a general war.

Each spell comes in the form of a magical square. These look a bit like wordsearches, and each one must be used in a certain way. You generally have to make a copy of the square, rub it on your bum or keep it in your hat for a few days and then plant it close to the thing you want to bewitch.

spell square abramelin
The Spell Square to “make work done in inaccessible places”

It’s pretty hard to imagine anyone being in the position to give up 6 months of their life to perform the ritual as described in Book 2. The ritual must also be performed in a very specific type of building, so unless you’re a millionaire, you’re probably not going to have the opportunity to get this done. Aleister Crowley tried in 1901, but he didn’t get to finish it. The fact that he didn’t finish the ritual meant that the demons he evoked were never banished and were left free to haunt the house where he had evoked them. (Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page bought the house in 1970, but it has since burned down.) The book is fairly clear that its instructions must be followed very carefully, and I doubt many people have had both the determination and the means to actually go through with it. A few of those who have claimed to complete the ritual have published the diaries that they kept throughout. I would imagine these accounts are very boring indeed.

The Mathers version of the Book of Abramelin, the text that I read, was translated from an incomplete, already translated version of the original text. The manuscript that Mathers translated is of a later date than the copies that have since been discovered, and it only contained 3 books while the earlier German versions contain 4. The missing book is about the Kaballah though, so I’m actually pretty relieved that I didn’t have to waste my time reading it. The other big differences between the texts are that Mathers got some of the ingredients for one of the potions wrong, his version of the ritual is 6 rather than 18 months long, and his versions of the magic squares are missing some letters.

Unlike many grimoires, the Book of Abramelin is actually a fairly entertaining read. The narrative of the first book reads like a novella, and the unique bad-angels-working-for-good-angels-working-for-the-magician-working-for-God concept makes the magical instruction fairly interesting too. George Dehn and Steven Guth put out a translation of one of the older manuscripts, but unless you were seriously considering performing the ritual herein described, I wouldn’t bother shelling out the extra money. The Mathers translation may not the most authentic version of this book of spells, but it still includes all of the bits I’d be interested in. That being said, if I ever come across a cheap copy of the newer translation, I’d probably take a look.

If you want a far more in depth look at Abramelin’s magic, check out this blog.