Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Three Dangerous Magi, The: Osho, Gurdjieff, Crowley by P T Mistlberger:
The Three Dangerous Magi exceeded my expectations. As it was subtitled “Osho, Gurdjieff, Crowley,” I expected a book that would discuss the notion of a dangerous magus, and then provide an account of each of the three men named in order to demonstrate the phenomenon in the 20th century. The actual structure of this text is a lot more complex (some might accuse it of lacking focus), and I’ll describe it below.
Author Mistlberger is a therapist and workshop facilitator who has studied and practiced the teachings of all three of his titular magi. Of the three, his earliest but loosest connection seems to be to Crowley. As a reader, that was fine with me. I expected to be relatively critical of his treatment of Crowley, but I was interested in learning about the other two. The book is big — a 700-page doorstop — and it took me a while to get around to reading it after I picked it up.
The book is addressed to a popular audience, rather than a scholarly one, to the point where I sometimes found it a bit condescending. (Was it really necessary to define “neologism” for the reader?) Still, the prose is accessible, and it’s clear that the author has done his homework. There are three bibliographies in the end matter: an annotated listing of the main doctrinal texts produced by the magi themselves, followed by a catalog of relevant biographies with extensive commentary, and finally a general bibliography of works referenced. There are extensive endnotes, but alas, no index.
After an introduction in which he establishes his credentials and characterizes his interest in the material, Mistlberger jumps right into short biographies, one per chapter, for each of his three figures. Then he provides another triad of chapters to summarize the teachings of each of these three roguish spiritual leaders. I found these summaries pleasantly concise and accurate to my current understanding. The third and longest section of the book is called “Commentaries,” and it consists of nine thematically-oriented comparative studies of all three men, on such topics as sex, drugs, rivalry, community, and legacy. A further section provides a chapter for each magus describing the practical work they prescribed. And the last three chapters fade out towards the end matter (there’s no bracing conclusion) with discussions of cultural precedents for the three teachers’ work. There are a few appendices that supply more restricted and tangential comparative essays: Crowley-Osho parallels, Crowley and chess, Gurdjieff and Zecharia Sitchin, and Osho’s bibliomania.
While the comparative treatments were more ample and detailed than I had anticipated, my own knowledge of Crowley’s work enabled me to draw many connections that Mistlberger overlooked, especially in the “historical influences” section. The chapter on “Magical Warfare” includes a thorough and critical account of the personal interactions between Crowley and Gurdjieff, which I found quite interesting and useful.
Throughout the book, Mistlberger takes care not to minimize the faults and failings of these “dangerous” men, but his general gist is clearly sympathetic. His overall project is to popularize and rehabilitate these obscure and/or notorious figures, and he does credible work in that vein. As I got a better sense of how these three magi (and Mistlberger cops to the biblical allusion on p. 449) interrelated in the author’s mind, I couldn’t help but imagine Osho as a spiritual phallus for whom Crowley and Gurdjieff were the testes! [via]
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