Tag Archives: Alex Sumner

Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration

Alex Sumner reviews Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration: An Investigation into the Source of Gardnarian Witchcraft [Amazon, Abebooks] by Philip Heselton at Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration in the Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition archive.

Heselton Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration

Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884 – 1964) was probably the most influential figure in the Wicca movement in the twentieth century. When, after the decrepit Witchcraft Act 1735 was finally repealed in England and Wales in 1951, Gardner was the first major figure in the Craft to “come out” and declare that he was himself a Witch. He publicly worked to disseminate information about the Craft, both as an author, and as the Curator of a museum to Magic and Witchcraft. Moreover, as a practising Witch he initiated leading lights of the Wicca movement (e.g. Doreen Valiente), and is credited as being the source of many of Wicca’s rituals, texts and beliefs.

Gardner claimed that he was publicising for the first time many things that hitherto had been kept secret. He did this guardedly, for he claimed he was being careful to protect the privacy of pre-existing Witches, from whom he had received the material that he was now making public. This mixture of secrecy and openness has had a curious effect on commentators on the Craft: it has generated something of a romance about what they purport to be the true origins of Wicca.

I have heard a number of stories bandied about concerning Gardner, from different sources, which all seek to make Gardner appear to be a sort of con-man. These include:

  • Gardner invented Wicca himself;
  • Gardner paid Aleister Crowley to write the “Book of Shadows” [2];
  • Crowley invented Wicca after discussions with Gardner;
  • Gardner was initiated by a woman named Dorothy Clutterbuck – however, she was actually a figment of Gardner’s imagination;
  • There was no pre-existing Witch-cult before Gardner wrote Witchcraft Today;
  • Gardner was deliberately misleading in the way he wrote Witchcraft Today.

It is the assertion of Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration that all of the above claims are, in fact, false.

Why should we take notice of a new biography of Gardner now, when so much has been written about him in the past? One compelling reason has arisen: the passing in recent years of Gardner’s protégée, Doreen Valiente, has meant that her personal collection of material relating to Wicca has now been made available to researchers. Indeed, this, amongst other places, is from where Philip Heselton, the author of the book under consideration, has derived his sources.

Heselton has also gone to some trouble in researching the geography of the places involved. Thus, we have it that the author willingly searches out old maps and tramps through the New Forest to deduce the sites of the various Wiccan activities which Gardner described. Heselton, himself a practitioner of Wicca, is even able to use his insider connections to gain access to Gardner memorabilia, which is today in the safekeeping of various covens.

Thus for example, in refuting the idea of Gardner inventing Wicca all by himself, Heselton is able to unearth evidence which suggests that it certainly existed by the mid-1920s – over ten years before Gardner came to live in England. Following a lead in a note in one of Valiente’s books, Heselton suggests that the original creator – or alternatively, the rediscoverer – of the Wicca movement into which Gardner was initiated, was in fact an Adept of the Stella Matutina, one of the successors of the Golden Dawn.

(Here I must point out a technical fault in Heselton’s work: he makes the mistake of saying that this lady in question, “Mother Sabine”, was a member of Waite’s group, when the evidence clearly points otherwise. She joined the Morganrothe, which was the anti-Mathers faction of the Golden Dawn at the time of the 1900 split. This later split into the Stella Matutina, a magical order, and Waite’s Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, from which Waite extracted the magic and replaced it with Christianised mysticism.)

As a magician of the Golden Dawn tradition myself, I find the idea that Wicca was founded by a fellow GD-er fascinating. Indeed, the GD was a strong influence if indirect influence in Gardner’s life in other ways as well. Gardner freely admitted to using extracts of Mathers’ Key of Solomon in his novel High Magic’s Aid: he did this, he said, because he was not allowed to give away the operative secrets of the Craft. Moreover, Heselton has found the sword which Gardner lent to the Druids to use in the Summer Solstice ceremony at Stonehenge: it corresponds exactly to the description of the Magic Sword in the Key of Solomon.

Heselton wields another sharp object – Occam’s Razor – when he comes to the claims regarding Crowley’s involvement in the Craft. We must remember that in the first half of the twentieth century, Crowley was the Occult “Celebrity” – the leading figure, in Britain as well as other parts of the world. Everyone who was anyone in the field of the occult at the time was likely either to have met Crowley, or written to him, or know someone who knew him, etc. Thus we have some authors who go about implying that because everyone in the occult movement was indirectly connected with Crowley, one way or another, Crowley was directly responsible for almost every major event in occultism during that era.

Regarding Wicca, the facts are these. Gardner did meet Crowley, towards the end of the latter’s life. Crowley apparently made Gardner a IV° in the OTO, although it seems that what really happened was that Gardner drew up the charter himself and thrust it under Crowley’s nose, to sign. The Charter which Gardner displayed at the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft was almost certainly his own design: it is in his style of calligraphy, and shows a marked ignorance of the finer points of Thelema and the OTO. However, Gardner never used this charter, and probably wasn’t really interested in the philosophy of the OTO: he certainly never understood its grading structure! Gardner admitted to Valiente that he had incorporated some of Crowley’s poetry in the Book of Shadows. Gardner also wrote that when he first saw the Wicca materials, he believed Crowley may have had a hand in it.

It was this last admission that has caused some conspiracy theorists to believe that Gardner was deliberately being misleading – that Gardner had paid Crowley to write the material. However, it is Heselton’s contention that what really happened was that a third party had lifted some material from Crowley’s published works – hence Gardner may just have been telling the truth.

The real story of the origin of Wicca, according to Heselton, would appear to be something like this. Gardner, on his retirement, returned to England in 1936, and made contact with a number of colourful characters, who though unconnected were all involved with “alternative lifestyles”. These included a group of people in a Hampshire village amongst whom were a former GD Adept, as noted above, and an authoress of children’s books who incorporated Pagan themes into her stories. They had formed a Wicca group by at least 1925: this was the so-called “New Forest Coven”.

Gardner was also a Naturist, and met people interested in alternative or Pagan spirituality through Naturist clubs to which he belonged. Crucially, one of his many friends was the pioneering founder of what was possibly the first open air museum in Britain. This heavily influenced Gardner, and was what probably inspired him to help set-up, and eventually take-over, the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man.

There really was a “Dorothy Clutterbuck” – actually, a lady named Dorothy St. Quintin Fordham (née Clutterbuck), who was a prominent member of the community in the Hampshire village where the members of the New Forest coven lived. Gardner was initiated into Wicca at her house in 1939, although not by her – the Witch whom Gardner looked upon as his initiatrix was another lady entirely.

Wicca was the abiding passion of Gardner’s life – which was a quite something, as being a mercurial character he often dropped things if he lost interest in them. Given Gardner’s fascination with it, it is not surprising that he felt the urge to write about witchcraft. However, in the first half of the 20th century, this was technically impossible, as there was still on the statute books an obsolete piece of legislation known as The Witchcraft Act 1735, which still outlawed the Craft in England and Wales. Therefore, what Gardner did was to write about the Craft in the form of a fictional novel – High Magic’s Aid (1947). Written as an adventure set in mediaeval times, Gardner put a lot of Wiccan belief into the mouth of the heroine – a young Witch called Morven. Heselton quotes Patricia Crowther, who told him what Gardner said when he presented a signed copy of High Magic’s Aid in 1960: “Darling, take notice of Morven’s words, they will teach you much.” [3]

But this novel did not satiate Gardner’s urge to write. In 1953, he wrote the seminal Witchcraft Today – this time a non-fiction book. The Witchcraft Act 1735 had been repealed, and replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 – which technically meant that being a Witch was no longer a crime. In this light, Gardner was able to publicly profess that he was a Witch, and that he was well acquainted with other Witches – hence he could describe their practices from personal experience. His first steps in this direction were at the opening of the Museum of Magic and Witchcraft on the Isle of Man. Just a month after the Act had been repealed, he marked the opening of the museum by publicly performing a spell for good fortune. But what he really wanted to do was to express himself in print. Hence when in 1952 the book Witchcraft by Pennethorne Hughes came out, he was galvanised to refute what he saw as distorted descriptions of the Craft, and slanders against himself and his Wicca friends. Hence the appearance of Witchcraft Today in 1953.

Now here we come to a curious fact! When Gardner wrote High Magic’s Aid in 1946, he consulted his initiatrix in the Craft, whose witch-name was “Dafo”, as to what he could and could not include. The rituals which she proscribed, Gardner replaced in the book with portions from The Key of Solomon. In 1952, Gardner again sought “Dafo’s” permission, before writing Witchcraft Today – which she gave, because she herself did not like Hughes’ book. “Dafo” stipulated that Gardner should at least respect the privacy of the Witches, which he did. Therefore, Gerald Gardner remains probably the first and possibly only founder of a modern Occult movement, who instead of defying his initiators, remained loyal to them!

Being a Gardnerian Witch himself, it is clear from the text that Heselton intends his book to be a suitable monument to Wicca generally, and Gardner in particular. Gardner as a man, did have his faults: for example, despite the fact that he enjoyed a successful career, he was still ashamed of his lack of any formal education. This led Gardner to deceive others into believing that he held non-existent academic qualifications, such as a Ph.D. He may also have deceived Crowley into thinking he held more Masonic degrees than he actually did! On the other hand there is speculation that Gardner may have had an extra-marital affair with another Witch.

Yet it is clear from Heselton’s writing that he regards Gardner’s personal shortcomings as relatively trivial: especially when compared to his main achievement, of publicly establishing the Craft in modern Britain. And in a sense, Heselton is right, for so long as we accept that Gardner was not the inventor of Wicca, but the medium for its publication, then ultimately the Craft transcends Gardner. Although Gerald Gardner certainly deserves full credit for bringing it to a modern audience.

I would therefore recommend this book. It is refreshing to read a book on Wicca by an author who writes as a Historian first, and a Wiccan second. For in doing so Philip Heselton has managed to collate a fascinating array of data which uncovers the previously unknown history of the Craft.

Bibliography

Gardner, G B: High Magic’s Aid, 1949, Michael Houghton

Gardner, G B: Witchcraft Today, 1954, Rider.

Heselton, Philip: Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration, 2003, Capall Bann.

Hughes, Pennethorne: Witchcraft, 1952

King, Francis: Ritual Magic In England, 1970, Spearman.

Mathers, S L Macgregor (ed): The Key of Solomon. https://hermetic.com/norton/classics

Notes

[1] [cover] Image courtesy of http://www.capallbann.co.uk/

[2] King, Ritual Magic In England (1970). This appears to be the original source of the claim: I shall not bother with later sources who repeat the assertion without any new evidence.

[3] Heselton, p223.

The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune

Alex Sumner reviews the works of Dion Fortune at The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune in Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition, No 0, Introduction to the Western Mystery Tradition.

The Occult Novels of Dion Fortune

Introduction

“Dion Fortune” was the pen-name of Violet Mary Firth, 1890 – 1946: it is derived from “Deo Non Fortuna” (“By God not Luck”), which she adopted as her motto when she was a member of the AO.

Dion was (along with Israel Regardie), one of the most prominent members of the first wave of occultists who joined the Golden Dawn tradition after the split at the turn of the 20th century. A former member of the Theosophical Society, she was inspired by Annie Besant’s description of the later Masters, and believed that she herself had made contact with two of them. It was whilst attending a Theosophical meeting that Fortune discerned she had a gift for psychism. Indeed, when she later joined the AO, it would appear that Fortune already had enough confidence in her abilities to believe that she didn’t have to thank her superiors in that Order for them.

It is crucial to understand Dion Fortune that she was a “Free Thinker”. She developed her own views on the Qabalah, on mystical cosmology, paganism, etc which were unlike those taught by either Theosophy or the AO – in this she relied purely on her own genius. It was this tendency to be a Free Thinker which eventually got her into trouble with Moina Mathers, the head of the particular lodge of the AO to which Fortune belonged. Moina pointed out that the writings which Fortune was channelling from her occult sources were not consistent with AO teaching – this lead Fortune to leave, and eventually set up her own occult organisation, the Society of Inner Light.

Dion’s writing career can be divided into two phases, corresponding to her AO and post-AO periods. It was in the first part (which lasted up to about 1930), she seems to be careful to appease her superiors, and conform to the loyalty and confidentiality expected of a “good little initiate”. However, this was completely against her nature, and towards the later part of this first phase one can recognise Fortune asserting her own Will and her own ideas through her writing, leading inevitably to the confrontation with Moina. It was during this time that Dion wrote Psychic Self-Defence, and the fictional works The Secrets of Doctor Taverner and The Demon Lover.

In the second, post-AO phase, from 1930 until the end of her life in 1946, Dion gave up any pretence of toeing the line as just another initiate, and was quite blatantly using her writing to set out her own magical manifesto. It is from this period that her classic work The Mystical Qabalah dates, as well as her fictional novels The Winged Bull, The Goat-Foot God, and her pièce de resistance, The Sea Priestess. Dion also worked on a further novel, Moon Magic, though this was unfinished in her lifetime, and published posthumously in 1956.

Fortune herself said of her fictional output from the post-AO period:

“The ‘Mystical Qabalah’ gives the theory, but the novels give the practice. … [T]hose who study the ‘Mystical Qabalah’ with the help of the novels get the keys of the Temple put into their hands.” [1]

The Secrets of Doctor Taverner

Dion’s first attempt at fiction was this collection of short stories. John Taverner MD is a Harley Street physician, and the proprietor of a sanatorium in the west country. He engages a young doctor, Eric Rhodes, who has been discharged from the Army following World War One. Rhodes soon discovers some strange things about his employer: that he belongs to some kind of secret society, that he believes in astrology, that he regularly deals with paranormal phenomena, that mysterious people address him as “Greatly Honoured Frater”, etc.

In short, Taverner is a powerful Hermetic magician, who uses Magic to cure the afflictions of the patients that come to him. It appears that “Taverner” is based on a real-life character – Theodore Moriarty, a 7=4 of the AO under whom Fortune studied – whilst the character of “Rhodes” is Fortune herself in the thinnest of disguises.

Fortune therefore uses this scenario to relate a number of incidents which she apparently witnessed whilst under Moriarty’s tutelage. For example, in the story “Blood Lust”, Taverner deals with a Vampire, which is in fact an etheric being or ghost which is sucking the vitality of the living: an incident which Fortune later stated happened in real-life.

Fortune uses the various stories in this book to outline her views on reincarnation: not just the fact that it occurs, but that previous lives exert a strong influence on the present one. Unusually strong in fact: it seems that the characters who become involved in the various plots of the stories are usually destined to have done so by their “ante-natal” activities. Fortune takes this to the extent that people who were lovers in former lives are again drawn together by their karma.

There is at least one incident inspired by her connection to Theosophy. In “Recalled” Fortune writes about a messianic child, The Reconciler between East and West, described as a “mahatma-soul”. The imagery is pure Besant, with “the Reconciler” being modelled on the concept of “the World Teacher” which Besant was grooming. Indeed in The Training and Work of an Initiate Fortune admits she believes in this concept. However, this dates the story terribly, as “the World Teacher” idea disappeared in 1925 when Besant’s protegé, Krishnamurti, publicly disowned Theosophy. Yet in this story we have a quote which reveals another of Fortune’s ideas. When a woman discerns, through occult means, that her husband has had an affair with a native girl in India – and that the girl, pregnant, committed suicide – she says of the girl:

“…[I]t was a woman, and I am a woman, and it seems to hurt me because it hurts womanhood. I can’t put it plainly, but I feel it, I feel it as a hurt to all that is best in me.”

Clearly, Dion is an early Feminist, and is using this story to put forward her beliefs.

However there are a number of problems with “The Secrets of Doctor Taverner” which mark it out as Fortune’s least successful venture into Occult fiction. Firstly, it is written from the viewpoint of a non-psychic (Rhodes). All the interesting phenomena happen to Taverner. Thus whilst Taverner is off in the various regions of the Astral plane, we are often left with Rhodes’ description of these incidents, i.e. that he watches over Taverner lying on a couch. This is quite a serious flaw, as the plots of several of the stories rely on the fact that Taverner gets a number of psychic messages via his astral contacts, and often works his cures on the astral. Hence most of the action is happening in invisible realms which, because the narrator is a non-psychic, we are unable to observe.

Secondly, Fortune unwisely decided to tone-down some of the more interesting incidents. For example, in “Blood Lust”, the Vampire is dispatched in the following manner:

“Then the end came. Taverner leapt forward. There was a Sign then a Sound.”

This is the extent of the detail concerning the method which Taverner used to destroy this fearsome entity, and note that neither the Sign nor Sound was defined. Taverner makes a lot of undetailed Signs throughout the book. Yet in Psychic Self-Defence, Fortune goes into much more detail about what Moriarty did: apparently he surrounded it with Love, and absorbing it into his own aura, he neutralised the creature by meditating on Peace. As a result of this venture, Moriarty lay unconscious for three days – but the Vampire was successfully consigned to oblivion. Clearly, the version in Psychic Self-Defence is both more dramatic and gives a better idea about the magical principles involved. It would appear that Dion was still trying to observe her vows of secrecy and loyalty at this point: hence, she was unwilling to give away anything that might be construed as a secret of the order.

Read the rest of this JWMT article at the library!

Omnium Gatherum: July 2nd, 2014

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for July 2nd, 2014

Smithonian Remi Benali Corbis Chinguetti Mauritania
Endangered Site: Chinguetti, Mauritania: The rapidly expanding Sahara Desert threatens a medieval trading center that also carries importance for Sunni Muslims — Jeanne Maglaty, Smithsonian

 

  • Thelema and Witchcraft: was Gerald Gardner head of the O.T.O.? — Brandy Williams, Star and Snake

    “Many Witches are unaware how deeply involved Gerald Gardner was with Ordo Templi Orientis. How Gardner came to think of himself of head of the O.T.O. in Europe, however briefly, shines a light on Gardner’s wide contacts in the esoteric communities, the last days of Aleister Crowley’s life, and the chaos caused by the Second World War.”

  • Empathic people are natural targets for sociopaths — protect yourself — Jane McGregor and Tim McGregor, Addiction Today

    “Many sociopaths wreak havoc in a covert way, so that their underlying condition remains hidden for years. They can possess a superficial charm, and this diverts attention from disturbing aspects of their nature.”

    The following case history illustrates how people can be systematically targeted until they feel they can barely trust their own sense of reality – what we call ‘gaslighting’. Sociopathic abuse is targeted abuse. It can wreck lives. Victims can become survivors, but at huge cost.”

    “Let’s look at what we term the Socio-Empath-Apath Triad, or Seat. Unremitting abuse of other people is an activity of the sociopath that stands out. To win their games, sociopaths enlist the help of hangers-on: apaths.”

  • 7 things paganism can teach the modern man: As thousands prepare to celebrate the Summer Solstice this weekend, Lee Kynaston looks at the lessons we can glean from a pagan lifestyle — Lee Kynaston, The Telegraph [HT Spiral Nature]

    “If I were to ask you what the average male pagan looked like, you’d probably have him down as a bearded, middle-aged, cloak-wearing, tree-hugging, mead-swigging, part-time nudist who’s a bit paunchy around the middle and whose favourite film is The Wicker Man.

    And you’d be right.”

  • 9 Stunning Panoramas of Starry Skies, Captured With a Homemade Camera Rig — Liz Stinson, WIRED

    “Last spring Vincent Brady sold most of his belongings, moved out of his apartment and struck out on the road to document the night sky. But instead of taking your typical long-exposure shots, Brady designed himself a custom camera rig that’s allowed him to capture stunning 360 panoramic images of the stars and Milky Way moving in concert.”

    Vincent Brady Monument Valley AZ

     

  • Desiring Life — T Thorn Coyle

    “Include as much of life as you possibly can: Fall in love. Break your heart. Risk. Open. Seek justice. Create. Dance. Listen. Fuck. Desire. Will. Act. Live.”

  • Human Language Is Biased Towards Happiness, Say Computational Linguists — The Physics arXiv Blog [HT Slashdot]

    “Overall, [Peter Dodds, et al., of the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington] collected 50 ratings per word resulting in an impressive database of around 5 million individual assessments. Finally, they plotted the distribution of perceived word happiness for each language.

    The results bring plenty of glad tidings. All of the languages show a clear bias towards positive words with Spanish topping the list, followed by Portuguese and then English. Chinese props up the rankings as the least happy. ‘Words—the atoms of human language — present an emotional spectrum with a universal positive bias,’ they say.”

  • Madness…or Mystic? Sylvia Plath and the Occult Taboo — Julia Gordon-Bramer, a presentation for ASE 2014

    “The poet Sylvia Plath’s work is full of the moon, and this is just the beginning of her nod to the occult. Her 1956 marriage to the poet Ted Hughes added astrology, tarot, Ouija boards, hypnosis, meditation, folk-magic, witchcraft, and crystal ball scrying to her repertoire of extra-curricular spiritual activities.

    The facts have been out there all along on Sylvia Plath, but until now no one had thought to view them seriously and collectively.”

  • Invoke the Highest First — Alex Sumner, Sol Ascendans

    “Often I find that, when I am facing a new challenge, perhaps one that I find daunting for some reason, the simplest solution is to apply basic principles. This is especially true in magick. In the Golden Dawn the most important rule of thumb is referred to as ‘invoke the highest first,’ which is a reference to one of the clauses of the Adeptus Minor obligation: ‘I furthermore solemnly pledge myself never to work at any important symbol without first invocating the highest Divine Names connected therewith.'”

  • Immanence by Stuart Davis

    “Every body wants to taste
    a little something carbon-based
    Sex is proof the Holy Ghost
    crawls around in stuff that’s gross
    Yeah

    There’s a serpent in my body
    right below my belly
    When I crave an apple
    you are redder than an orchard”

  • NASA, tweet

    NASA Puff the Magic Sun

     

  • The Other Magi of the New Aeon of Horus — Setem Heb, Beetle Tracks

    “In the period following Crowley’s death the state of organized Thelema largely fell to nothing. In his excellent The Unknown God Martin P. Starr provides an excellent account of Crowley’s O.T.O. heir, Karl Germer’s attempt to hold together the existing Thelemites with little effect. As a result of there being no centralized Thelemic authority quasi-Thelemic groups would form.”

  • Archaeologists recreate Elixir of Long Life recipe from unearthed bottle — April Holloway, Ancient Origins

    “The discovery included a two hundred-year-old glass bottle that once contained the ‘Elixir of Long Life’. Now the research team have tracked down the original German recipe used to create the elixir for fending off death. […] the potion contained ingredients such as aloe, which is anti-inflammatory, gentian root, which aids digestion, as well as rhubarb, zedoary, and Spanish saffron – ingredients still used by herbalists today.”

  • The end of EXESESO — Egil Asprem, Heterodoxology

    “After the untimely death of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke back in 2012 […] there has been much speculation about what would happen with the Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO) that he ran at the University of Exeter. Since 2005, EXESESO has offered one of the three official university programs for the academic study of esotericism in Europe (the others being in Amsterdam and Paris), and produced a steady stream of MAs through its distance learning program. After an internal evaluation process at Exeter University, in dialogue with the Theosophically oriented Blavatsky Trust who funded the centre, a final decision has now been made to shut EXESESO down.”

  • Whole lotta Led, as songs don’t remain the same — Barry Egan, Sunday Independent

    “Overall, the story of Zeppelin was like something out of an X-rated version of the Bible; with Plant as the messianic, bare-chested prophet from Wolverhampton and Page as the Aleister Crowley devotee who sold his soul to the devil for magic chords to the Delta blues.”

  • The Lost Desert Libraries of Chinguetti — MessyNessy [HT Book Patrol]

    “The sands of the Sahara have all but swallowed Chinguetti, a near ghost town found at the end of a harsh desert road in Mauritania, West Africa. Its majority of abandoned houses are open to the elements, lost to the dunes of a desert aggressively expanding southward at a rate of 30 miles per year. While predictions suggest this isolated town will be buried without a trace within generations, Chinguetti is probably the last place on Earth you would look for a library of rare books.”

  • New Biogaphies of Aleister Crowley and Proto-Fascist Poet Gabriele d’Annunzio Raise Big Questions on the Nature of Evil — Jason Diamond, Flavorwire

    “While it might not seem an obvious pairing, reading [Gary] Lachman’s book as a biography of Crowley (rather than an analysis of his importance) alongside Hughes-Hallett’s Gabriele d’Annunzio provides an opportunity to both compare and contrast these two controversial figures who reportedly were acquainted with one another in their lifetimes (d’Annunzio was 12 years older than Crowley and died nine years before him). It also gives the reader an opportunity to consider what’s truly bad or evil, and think about the quest for pleasure or power. Few figures in the last century will inspire you to ponder those ideas like the figures profiled in these two books.”

 

If you’d like to participate in the next Omnium Gatherum, head on over to the Gatherum discussions at the Hrmtc Underground BBS.

Omnium Gatherum: May 14th, 2014

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together … Omnium Gatherum for May 14th, 2014

The Magician from The Disney-D'Morte Tarot
The Magician, The Disney-D’Morte Tarot [HT Boing Boing]

 

  • Review: ‘Aleister Crowley’ explores the life and times of the notorious icon ” — Brooke Wylie, Examiner.com

    “Detractors of rock n’ roll have long called the genre, the ‘Devil’s music,’ so in some ways, it’s all too natural that Gary Lachman (known by his stage name Gary Valentine, to some), who is a founding member of Blondie, and has shredded with Iggy Pop, should eventually become an expert on mysticism and the occult. His latest work, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World (available May 15) tackles not only the life and times of the illustrious figure, known by many as The Great Beast, but also the collision of Crowley’s legacy with popular culture.”

    The review includes this apropos and awesome typo (emphasis added): “Crowley’s word is a strange one indeed, and wrapping one’s mind around it can be a substantial challenge at times.”

     

  • Was Jesus a Magician?” — Helen Ingram

    “One of these lectures introduced me to the character of ‘Jesus the magician’ and the work of Prof. Morton Smith, who claimed that Jesus’ conduct within the Gospel material constituted a ‘coherent, consistent and credible picture of a magician’s career.’ The theory that the historical Jesus was actively practicing magic and that this behaviour is reflected in the Gospel materials was a very intriguing proposal and immediately stimulated a personal interest in this field of research. This curiosity culminated in the submission and acceptance of my PhD thesis …”

  • SATANIC BLACK MASS AT HARVARD, SATANIC MONUMENT IN OKLAHOMA” — Paul McGuire, NewsWithViews.com; from the RTFM dept.

    “But the software of God, which is the downloading of cosmic apps, should be understood as nothing more than a contemporary parable to explain in understandable terms the gifts and abilities that the Living God gives people on a natural and supernatural level, the gifts of the Spirit. Tragically, most of the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movements which emphasized these gifts did so in a very distorted and degraded manner, so that these terms have become synonymous with hyper-emotionalism, crazy behavior and aberrant behavior. This is a degradation and improper use of both the software and the apps. They did not read the basic operating instructions provided in the manual.”

  • The Colbert Report on the Oklahoma Baphomet monument, including a call-in by Satan, Lord of Hell, himself [HT The Lost Ogle]

     

  • Real Satanists Don’t Send Press Releases” — Thomas L McDonald, God and the Machine

    “The modern so-called Satanists who make all the noise are not really Satanists. They don’t actually believe in Satan. Most are atheists who couch their so-called ‘Satanism’ in terms of resistance or philosophy. It’s not a religion, but a critique of religion, or somesuch blather. It’s all theater.”

    “The black mass emerged again in the 19th century in the salons, universities, and intellectual circles of Europe, which was the wellspring of modern occultism. Lacking much primary documentation, the upper classes mostly invented their version of a black mass influenced by literature and structured around a simple inversion of the Catholic mass. No real tradition directly linking medieval diabolism to modern so-called Satanism exists, which means horror movies, fiction, and imagination are at the root of most modern practice.”

  • God is dead—What next? Searching for meaning in the age of atheism” — Alasdair Craig, Prospect [HT Arts & Letters Daily]

    “[Peter] Watson is more optimistic about the possibility of an emotionally satisfying atheism. His proposal is that we use art and literature to comprehend and re-enchant the world that science has made foreign. Science is one way of understanding the world; art and literature another, he seems to say. Science provides technology, medicine and abstract knowledge; art provides meaning, purpose and a different, more intimate and immediately relevant kind of knowledge. God’s death just means that we need to construct our own, non-authoritative narratives and art, replete with purpose and meaning. Instead of one unified story to which everyone subscribes, we should play around with a plurality of downgraded stories, which can form the basis of our day-to-day lives.”

     

  • Ancient Egyptians transported pyramid stones over wet sand” — Ans Hekkenberg, Phys.org

    “Physicists from the FOM Foundation and the University of Amsterdam have discovered that the ancient Egyptians used a clever trick to make it easier to transport heavy pyramid stones by sledge. The Egyptians moistened the sand over which the sledge moved. By using the right quantity of water they could halve the number of workers needed. The researchers published this discovery online on 29 April 2014 in Physical Review Letters.”

    “The Egyptians were probably aware of this handy trick. A wall painting in the tomb of Djehutihotep clearly shows a person standing on the front of the pulled sledge and pouring water over the sand just in front of it.”

  • Review: Limp Renaissance sex romp a poor Carry On indeed” — Rebecca Harkins-Cross, Brisbane Times

    Elixir is based on the escapades of Edward Kelley and John Dee, a famed occultist duo in Renaissance England who professed the ability to summon angels and to conduct alchemy. […] [Edward Kelley (Christy Hawkins)] concocts a cunning plan to unlock his colleague’s wife Jane’s (Naomi Takita) chastity belt and pacify the emperor simultaneously, convincing Doctor Dee (Stephen Weir) the elixir should be made from wizard seed and a cuckold’s tears.”

  • Scientists Confirm Vampires Were Onto Something” — Maxwell Barna, VICE News

    “New research published this week by two teams of scientists confirmed what Bram Stoker and countless philosophers, scientists, and cannibals have long posited — there’s an indisputable relationship between blood and aging.”

    “‘When we added young blood, the older mice not only looked better, but they became cognitively better,’ Saul Villeda, the principal investigator at UCSF’s Villeda Lab, told VICE News. ‘It’s like we can turn back the clock on some parts of aging.'”

  • Footage of Orson Welles’s ‘Voodoo’ Macbeth” — National Film Preservation Foundation

    “It had long been assumed that no sound or moving images survived from Orson Welles’s legendary ‘Voodoo Macbeth,’ the Federal Theatre Project’s 1936 Harlem stage production of Shakespeare’s play, set in Haiti with an African American cast. But priceless historical footage can turn up within unlikely places. This long-forgotten record of the first professional play staged by Orson Welles was found in another film, the U.S. government-produced We Work Again, a Depression-era documentary on African American employment.”

  • Stonehenge Discovery ‘Blows Lid Off’ Old Theories About Builders Of Ancient Monument” — Macrina Cooper-White, Huffpost Science

    “Last October, [David] Jacques led an archaeological dig at a site 1.5 miles from Stonehenge. His team unearthed flint tools and the bones of aurochs, extinct cow-like animals that were a food source for ancient people. Carbon dating of the bones showed that modern-day Amesbury, an area that includes the dig site and Stonehenge itself, has been continuously occupied since 8820 B.C. Amesbury has now been declared the oldest continually occupied area in Britain.

    The finding suggests that Stonehenge was built by indigenous Britons who had lived in the area for thousands of years. Previous theories held that the monument was built in an empty landscape by migrants from continental Europe.”

  • Ancient Desert Glyphs Pointed Way to Fairgrounds” — Sean Treacy, Science

    “Seen from above, the jagged rocks strewn about the Chincha Valley desert in Peru seem inconspicuous. But stand in the desert itself and these rocks form lines that stretch toward the horizon. Researchers have found that these lines were probably ancient signposts for the Paracas culture more than 2000 years ago, guiding people across the desert to gathering places for the winter solstice.”

  • Astronomers Identify the Sun’s Long-Lost Sister” — Becky Ferreira, Motherboard [HT Slashdot]

    “HD 162826 is 15 percent more massive than our Sun, and is about 110 light years away in the constellation Hercules. It’s not visible to the naked eye, but it is bright enough to be seen through binoculars.

    Astronomers had been observing the star for almost two decades without realizing it’s the long-lost sister of the Sun.”

  • LGBTQ Tolerance in the Golden Dawn” — Alex Sumner, Sol Ascendans

    “Say what you like about MacGregor Mathers, but on one point he was resolute: he would not brook gossip about Fratres’ and Sorores’ lives — this being a matter purely between themselves and their God. […] Mathers’ firm stand has led to a progressive consequence: the Golden Dawn was the first magical order to adopt a modern approach to tolerance. However, the Western Mystery Tradition was almost derailed by the efforts of Dion Fortune.”

  • Aleister Crowley, aliens, owls and Jesus” — Mike Clelland, hidden experience

    “Little is known of the origin of the big headed entity known as Lam. All that can be known for sure is that this image was drawn by Aleister Crowley to depict a being that was summoned during a magickal ritual titled The Amalantrah Working. This sketch later hung on a gallery wall at Crowley’s Dead Souls exhibition in Greenwich Village, New York, in 1919.”

    “Things get weirder, when the image is reversed, an image of an owl emerges! Granted, I’m seeing owls everywhere I look these days, but still.

    Also, the name Crowley has OWL embedded right in it.”

  • Black magician Aleister Crowley’s early gay verse comes to light: Notebook of poems written by heartbroken occultist in 1898 to be exhibited at antiquarian book fair in London” — Maev Kennedy, The Guardian

    “In 1898 the Wickedest Man in the World was feeling thoroughly sorry for himself. The occultist Aleister Crowley’s first great love affair, with fellow Cambridge undergraduate Herbert Jerome Pollitt, was in ruins, and he took to poetry as his only solace.

    ‘When my sick body in his love lies drowned/ And he lies corpse-wise on me, nor will rise/ Though my breath shudders, and my soul be dead,’ he wrote — and much, much more — in a tiny notebook of unpublished manuscript poems which has recently resurfaced.

    The actor and rare book dealer Neil Pearson, who will exhibit the little book at the Olympia antiquarian book fair in London later this month, concedes that this is not great poetry. ‘The verse is rather broken-backed, and vulgar where he is trying to be honest. But it was written at a time when he was feeling heartbroken and vulnerable and it does somehow humanise him — and God knows Aleister Crowley, more than most people, needs humanising.'”

  • Critical Thinking #5: Marina Warner: The critic and mythographer on fairytales, feminism, modern art, translation and the LRB” — Zeljka Marosevic, Prospect [HT Arts & Letters Daily]; this seems quite an interesting interview, but here’s a few excerpts that caught my eye

    “It’s often encountering the faith of others that I’ve found most disturbing. I don’t wish to scorn faith as it’s a universal part of human consciousness. But as such, it’s a deep puzzle, and I’m interested in its effects and manifestations. I worry about the effects of it, especially in our increasingly conflicted religious world.”

    “Grappling with myths has been my principal interest for years, even to a certain extent, my cause: to put the study of imaginative structures back into the frame when confronting important issues. Not to think of imagination and fantasy as merely childish, or to dismiss them as having no purchase on reality.”

    “Myth and fairy tale have definitely returned. First of all there’s a generation who have grown up on Dungeons and Dragons, Tolkien and Narnia, and now, Philip Pullman and Harry Potter. I haven’t read the Twilight stories so I probably shouldn’t talk about them, but I have watched one of the films, and it seems to me that it’s an example of the problem of attenuation: instead of getting richer, these stories are being told in a less rich way, and the vampires are being tamed!”

  • ‘I gather the limbs of Osiris’: Notes on the New Gnosticism” — Henry Gould, Coldfront

    “One way to think of the New Gnosticism, then, might be as the overturning of an analytical negation (Language Poetry). It includes, also, a reversal of the ‘old’ Gnosticism: which was itself a sort of skeptical deconstruction of canonical Biblical texts.”

    “The infinite starry realm of scribbling, scrambling poets every now and then produces a new galaxy, that is, a new movement or school. These emergent phenomena always generate a contradictory mix of enthusiasm and doubt.”

  • Do What Thou Wilt” — Brandy Williams, Star and Snake

    “The Law applies equally for everyone; each person, each creature, has their own will to do. It’s not my business to figure anyone else’s will out for them.”

  • Exploring Thelema and Chaos Magick, with Pete and Sef (Part 4)” — The Blog of Baphomet

    “‘Pure Will’ ‘unassuaged of purpose’ sounds like it can mean anything, everything, or nothing. I consider that people consist of the totality of what they do (which of course includes what they think). The idea of their having some sort of ‘being’ separate from their doing, or for that matter some sort of ‘will’ other than their total doing seems superfluous to me. I can however appreciate the idea that doing some things may tend to give better results than doing others, and to this extent I can understand ‘Do What thou Wilt’ as an exhortation to do the very best of what you can possibly do and love to do, as so many people settle for mediocrity and lousy compromises.”

  • Caesar by Plutarch and more, quoted at “Caesar’s reform of the calendar — some ancient sources” — Roger Pearse [HT Rogueclassicism]

    “2. For not only in very ancient times was the relation of the lunar to the solar year in great confusion among the Romans, so that the sacrificial feasts and festivals, diverging gradually, at last fell in opposite seasons of the year, 3. but also at this time people generally had no way of computing the actual solar year; the priests alone knew the proper time, and would suddenly and to everybody’s surprise insert the intercalary month called Mercedonius.”

    “5. But Caesar laid the problem before the best philosophers and mathematicians, and out of the methods of correction which were already at hand compounded one of his own which was more accurate than any. This the Romans use down to the present time, and are thought to be less in error than other peoples as regards the inequality between the lunar and solar years.

    6. However, even this furnished occasion for blame to those who envied Caesar and disliked his power. At any rate, Cicero the orator, we are told, when some one remarked that Lyra would rise on the morrow, said: ‘Yes, by decree,’ implying that men were compelled to accept even this dispensation.”

  • Phantom Time” — Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know from How Stuff Works [HT Wythe Marschall]

    “A few fringe professors have caused rumblings with their controversial claim that three hundred years of human history have been entirely made up.”

     

  • First life with ‘alien’ DNA: An engineered bacterium is able to copy DNA that contains unnatural genetic letters.” — Ewen Callaway, Nature News; from the either-way-more-boring-or-way-more-scary-than-it-sounds dept.

    “For billions of years, the history of life has been written with just four letters — A, T, C and G, the labels given to the DNA subunits contained in all organisms. That alphabet has just grown longer, researchers announce, with the creation of a living cell that has two ‘foreign’ DNA building blocks in its genome.”

    “‘What we have now is a living cell that literally stores increased genetic information,’ says Floyd Romesberg, a chemical biologist at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, who led the 15-year effort.”

  • Gay Witches” — Masha Mel, VICE; a photo gallery

    Masha Mel Gay Witches at VICE

     

  • Article about EyeWire at “Computer Game Reveals ‘Space-Time’ Neurons in the Eye” — John Bohannon, Science

    “Researchers have known for decades that the eye does much more than just detect light. The dense patch of neurons in the retina also processes basic features of a scene before sending the information to the brain. For example, in 1964, scientists showed that some neurons in the retina fire up only in response to motion. What’s more, these “space-time” detectors have so-called direction selectivity, each one sensitive to objects moving in different directions. But exactly how that processing happens in the retina has remained a mystery. […] Enter the EyeWire project, an online game that recruits volunteers to map out those cellular contours within a mouse’s retina.”

  • Katherine Harmon Courage on independently thinking octopus arms and the awful Evil Dead-like tragedy of octopus boredom

    “The octopus’s nervous system is a fascinating one. Some two thirds of its neurons reside not in its central brain but out in its flexible, stretchable arms. This, researchers suspect, lightens the cognitive coordination demands and allows octopuses to let their arms do some of the ‘thinking’—or at least the coordination, problem-solving and reaction—on their own.

    And these arms can continue reacting to stimuli even after they are no longer connected to the main brain; in fact, they remain responsive even after the octopus has been euthanized and the arms severed.” [via]

    “Octopuses are so smart they get bored. Aquarium staff have learned to be wary of a bored octopus because they’ve been known to break the monotony by eating their own arms. That tends to scare the kids.” [via]

     

  • The Art World is Too Safe Now: H.R. Giger has Died” — Glendon Mellow, Scientific American

    “The art world has become safer, less dangerous and less disturbing than it ought to be today. The giant in the night, H.R. Giger, has died, it is being reported. […] Giger is dead. His shadow remains cast over our future. The shadow moves.”

  • L. Rock Hubbard: Revisiting the curious career of the ultimate cult musician.” — Nathan Rabin, Slate Culturebox

    “Hubbard’s sonic space opera is, as you might imagine, a staggeringly strange piece of work, a bewildering cross between Queen’s Flash Gordon soundtrack (whose hero is referenced in the shameless opening track ‘Golden Age of Sci-Fi,’ along with Superman and Buck Rogers), an amateur radio play, and a campy audiobook that goes overboard with special effects and musical cues. If you have not recently read all 1,050 pages of Battlefield Earth or seen the film, the album is completely incomprehensible; if you’re familiar with the story, it’s mildly comprehensible.”