Tag Archives: David Curwen

The Thirteenth Path 1

The inaugural issue of The Thirteenth Path, a new occult journal from Aeon Sophia Press, is available for pre-order in a standard and deluxe edition and pre-order for these is due to begin on October 21st, 2013.

The Thirteenth Path 1 from Aeon Sophia Press

“Book + CD with music by AKRABU and NIHILL

: revelations :

Matthew Levi Stevens — ‘At the Feet of the Goddess: Some thoughts on Kenneth Grant, David Curwen & The 13th Path’
Matthew Wightman — ‘The Nailed God — A klifotic Christology’
S.D. — ‘The Opening Of The Eye Of The Serpent’
Albert Petersen — ‘Breaks’
Robert Podgurski — ‘Inner Sorceries outwardly Seeking’
Patrick J. Larabee — ‘Three Flames from Darkness Sprung…’
Aaron Piccirillo — ‘Power, Tradition, and the Road to Postmodern Magical Practice: An Examination of Austin Osman Spare and Aleister Crowley’
Gabriel McCaughry — ‘The Apex Seeking its Axis’
Revered Arturo Royal — ‘Daemonosophy’
Gilles de Laval — ‘The Script of Lucifer’s Angels’
Bill Duvendack — ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’
Sarah Anne Lawless — ‘Breaking Tradition or, How the Death of Modern Witchcraft Is a Myth’
Michiel Eikenaar — ‘Leap into the Void’
Emma Doeve — ‘Austin Osman Spare & The Great Witch’
Sean Woodward — ‘The Cult of Ku’

: visuals :

Elly Muerte
Abby Hellasdottir
Adrian Baxter
Isab Gaborit
Nestor Avalos
Agnieszka Skatula
Anna Krajewski
Jondix
Lupe Vasconcelos
Vaenvs Obscvra
Samuel Araya
Michiel Eikenaar
Austin Osman Spare
Sean Woodward”

Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley

Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley. A Correspondence between Aleister Crowley and David Curwen, edited with introduction by Henrik Bogdan, preface by Tony Matthews, the 2010 hardcover from Teitan Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Aleister Crowley, David Curwen and Henrik Bogdan's Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley from Teitan Press

“In September 1944, a fifty-one year old Londoner named David Curwen wrote to Aleister Crowley, initiating a correspondence that would last several years. While Curwen approached Crowley with deference, the relationship that evolved between them was a complex one that defied the accepted parameters of the student-teacher nexus. For David Curwen was no newcomer to the study of the occult, and Crowley soon discovered that the flow of knowledge would not be simply one way. In particular Crowley was tantalized by the deep understanding of the principals of tantra that Curwen had acquired during the course of many years study under a mysterious guru.

At Crowley’s urging Curwen joined the O.T.O., but he remained skeptical of many of “the Beast’s” claims, and the two ultimately parted company on strained terms. However, Curwen retained his interest in the occult, and in later life he devoted himself to the study of alchemy, publishing the results of his researches pseudonymously in the book In Pursuit of Gold, a work that many believe to be the most significant study ever published of practical alchemy.

In addition to reproducing all of the surviving correspondence between the pair, Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley includes an important biographical Foreword by David Curwen’s grandson, Tony Matthews. The letters themselves have been edited and annotated by the scholar of Crowley and Western esotericism, Henrik Bogdan, who has also contributed an illuminating Introduction that gives context to the relationship between Crowley and Curwen, as well as exploring the history of their interest in sexual occultism and tantra, and the influence that they had in Kenneth Grant.” [via]

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Pass-Keys to Alchemy

The Pass-Keys to Alchemy: The Lost Book of Lapidus by Lapidus (David Curwen), from Salamander and Sons, is due to be available directly and via Weiser Antiquarian. It’s a little confusing because, as I write this, although the publisher has stated that the volume is available now, their own shop has it still listed as pre-order and the volume does not appear at Weiser Antiquarian yet. In theory, at least, the volume can now be ordered, or will soon be. This follows the previous work In Pursuit of Gold: Alchemy Today in Theory and Practice [also] which was re-issued, in a revised and expanded edition, in 2011.

Lapidus or David Curwen's The Pass-Keys to Alchemy from Salamander and Sons

“Lost for more than three decades, the companion volume to In Pursuit of Gold has been found.

For decades students of alchemy have believed that In Pursuit of Gold – hailed upon its 1976 publication as a rare work by one of the few practicing laboratory alchemists writing in English during the mid-to-late 20th century – constituted the sole alchemical text penned by the enigmatic alchemist Lapidus. The truth is that Lapidus – real name David Curwen – wrote a second text which, unknown to most, he secreted away with at least one trusted Brother in the Art. Throughout the intervening years this remarkable book, The Pass-Keys to Alchemy, has passed through just a few select and trusted hands.

Each of the chapters of The Pass-Keys to Alchemy details one pass-key to the successful confection of the Philosophers’ Stone, as identified by Lapidus. Drawing upon the writings of Eirenæus Philalethes and Ali Puli, The Hermetic and Alchemical Writings of Paracelsus the Great, Bendictus Figulus’ A Golden and Blessed Casket of Nature’s Marvels, Sir Edward Kelly’s Book of St. Dunstan, and Michael Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens among other canonical texts, this lost alchemical masterpiece includes the kind of profound insights into alchemical theory, laboratory processes and practical methods that only derive from a lifetime of quiet alchemical work.

A rare alchemical gem in print for the first time, The Pass-Keys to Alchemy also includes an introductory essay by Tony Matthews, grandson of Lapidus, and 16 of Theodor de Bry’s masterful engraved emblems from Atalanta Fugiens with accompanying commentary by Lapidus.” [via]

Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, ed. Henrik Bogdan and Martin P Starr, from Oxford University Press:

Henrik Brogdan and Martin P Starr's Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism from Oxford University Press

 

Oxford University Press has published a groundbreaking collection of academic studies concerning Aleister Crowley and his place in modern intellectual and religious history. The component chapters of Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism had been written at various points in the last twenty years, and taken together they demonstrate the considerable breadth of relevant subject matter.

The Alex Owen chapter that follows the editors’ introduction is an earlier version of a paper that was eventually incorporated into her constructive monograph The Place of Enchantment, which provides a revisionary perspective on modern occultism. In this version, she seems to be at lesser pains to make Crowley out to be a villain against liberal ethics, but she has the same uninformed regard for his later career, using one or two references to conclude that he was broken and failed after his Algerian operations of 1909. The simple fact is that his most enduring and successful work was done after that: writing Magick in Theory and Practice, reforming O.T.O., designing the Thoth Tarot, and so on.

Marco Pasi provides a valuable primer for academic readers regarding Crowley’s ideas about magic and mysticism, elucidating a tension between the materialist theorizing of Crowley’s early work and the more metaphysical concessions of the fully-initiated Beast. Pasi rightly distinguishes between the Cairo Operation of 1904 and the subsequent attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel that Crowley claimed in 1906, observing that the identification of Aiwass as Crowley’s personal genius was a later development. He errs, however, in speculating that the equivalence was formulated as late as the writing of Magick in Theory and Practice in the 1920s. In fact, it is a feature of Crowley’s 1909 vision of the Eighth Aire in The Vision and the Voice.

Volume editor Henrik Bogdan’s contribution is a solid paper that fills a lacuna in the literature on Thelema by pointing out the positive contribution of the Plymouth Brethren dispensationalist doctrine to Crowley’s idea of magical aeons. While acknowledging the contemporaneity of occultist “new age” concepts (contrasted as largely pacifist vis-a-vis the martial Aeon of Horus), Bogdan does neglect to point out the important symbolic grounding of Crowley’s hierohistory in the Golden Dawn Equinox ceremony. (For that in detail, see my web-published essay “Aeons Beyond the Three“.)

Gordan Djurdjevic’s paper presents “Aleister Crowley as Tantric Hero” in a morphological, rather than a genealogical sense, stressing the notion of functional parallel between Thelema and Tantra. He makes a sound point about the confusion over Crowley’s Tantric bona fides originating in the secondary materials of biographers and students, rather than Crowley’s own claims. But he fails to address the younger Crowley’s derision of Tantra (“follies of Vamacharya [debauchery]” in The Equinox), and omits to observe that while the older Beast claimed to have studied “numerous writings on the Tantra,” he conscientiously referred aspirant Kenneth Grant to David Curwen for sounder Tantric instruction than the Prophet of Thelema could supply.

In Richard Kaczynski’s chapter, the heroically thorough Crowley biographer provides a somewhat exhaustive exposition of a specific range of Crowley’s own sources, presenting Crowley as a synthesist of Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, and phallicist theory of religion. These are certainly the ingredients that most saliently inform the O.T.O., and thus Crowley’s social/institutional legacy, and this chapter amounts first and foremost to a bibliographically-dense essay useful to readers interested in understanding precedents for Crowley’s work with O.T.O.

The Tobias Churton piece on “Aleister Crowley and the Yezidis” is admittedly speculative and conjectural, and terribly sloppy even so. Churton recklessly juggles the historical Crowley with the “‘Aleister Crowley’ of popular imagination,” while his comparisons to Yezidism are nearly all in the subjunctive. The paper goes from bad to worse as Churton provides a long concatenation of mixed-together quotes from Thelemic and Yezidi source material, distinguished from each other only in the endnotes! And then in a big wrapup, he writes like an episode of Ancient Aliens, letting loose a stream of absurd hypotheses in the form of questions (e.g. “Are Yezidis prototypes, or long-lost cousins, of Thelemites? … Was Crowley a Yezidi Prophet?”), and bashfully disdaining to answer them. As an “alternative history” video host might say: “Could these things be true??? The answer is: yes.” But they probably aren’t.

The “Frenzied Beast” paper by Matthew Rogers is excellent, but too short. The author’s conspicuous good looks are absent from the printed page, and the article would have been improved by adding further materials on Crowley’s orientation toward Neoplatonism. In particular, the augoeides doctrine in Crowley’s works should have been given more exposure in connection with the source material in Iamblichus, and there should have been a comparison of “astral travel” in Crowley’s modern occultism with its classical antecedents. Rogers is obviously aware of these features, and if he had known how long it would take this book to get to press, he probably would have expanded the scope of his paper to address them in greater detail.

Martin Starr’s chapter was first written for the prestigious Masonic research journal Ars Quatuor Coronati, and in it he attempts to explain Crowley’s relations with Freemasonry (originally to an audience composed of Masons who jealously assume the priviledged status of the United Grand Lodge of England and the “regular” bodies in its network of recognition). The chapter certainly presents a credible narrative to account for the development of Crowley’s distaste for and derision of Freemasonry. Since its original publication in 1995 however, this paper’s judgment of Crowley’s Masonic standing has received a considered rebuttal from David R. Jones, who also explains some of the technical terminology of Masonic organizing that Starr’s piece takes for granted. The relevant features of Crowley’s American period have been fleshed out in Kaczynski’s Panic in Detroit: The Magician and the Motor City.

The real opinions and motives in the relationship between Aleister Crowley and Arthur Edward Waite are a considerable enigma, and the chapter by Robert A. Gilbert provides as complete a picture of their interactions as one could reasonably expect on the basis of the surviving evidence, which makes for very interesting reading. Unfortunately, the closing paragraphs expose Gilbert’s hostility toward Crowley, offering condemnation in a nonsensical comparison with Waite. Supposedly, Waite left (in his writings?) a real means of attainment to later generations, while Crowley did not. And Gilbert derides the contemporary O.T.O. in terms that have had debatable applicability in earlier decades, but are certainly false now. Or is Gilbert here tipping his hand as an exponent for some survival of Waite’s Christianized “Holy Order of the Golden Dawn”? In the end, the matter is no clearer than the true sentiments of the dead occultists.

In another of the collection’s older papers, Massimo Introvigne offers a few startling errors about Crowley (e.g. claims that Crowley hated his father, that Leah Hirsig was his first Scarlet Woman), but none of them have much bearing on his fascinating central topic of Crowley’s admiration for Joseph Smith and Mormonism. Of the various papers in the volume, this is one of those which touches most directly on a larger theoretical issue of scholarship, in exploring the distinction between religion and magic in the inspiring and organizing of new sects. Sadly, Introvigne simply assumes the “magic” character (by his own definitions) of the revelation of Liber AL vel Legis, without any actual inquiry into or discussion of the Cairo working. In this chapter, Crowley ultimately serves as a hostile witness for the defense in an effort to exonerate Mormonism against accusations of having a magical basis. Not that Crowley was hostile to (his own notion of) Mormonism, but he would have wanted to see it convicted of magick!

In Ronald Hutton’s book The Triumph of the Moon (2000) he provided in one chapter what was at that time the most fair and thorough study of Crowley’s influence on the origins of modern religious witchcraft. His chapter here does not merely rehash that material, but updates it with new findings and perspectives. Unlike Introvigne, Hutton does perceive the properly religious character of Crowley’s 1904 revelation and consequent activities. However, he wants to dismiss the religious dimension of Thelema on the (somewhat justifiable) basis of the magical-rather-than-religious orientation of many latter-day Thelemites. It is an understandable position for him, in defense of his slogan touting Wicca as “the only fully formed religion that England has ever given the world.” (In light of the patently and confessedly religious nature of O.T.O., I would suggest a different gambit to Hutton: The revelation in Cairo to the globe-trotting adventurer Crowley, the German roots of O.T.O., and the subsequent formation of the first durable Thelemic communities outside of Britain indicates that Thelema isn’t so much a product of “England” as it is an inherently intercultural, cosmopolitan synthesis.) As in The Triumph of the Moon, Hutton is here focused on English witchcraft, especially as formulated by Gerald Gardner. He consequently gives no attention to the witcheries of American Jack Parsons and Australian Rosaleen Norton, both strongly influenced by Crowley themselves, and not via Gardner’s work.

The case of Norton is taken up in a study by Keith Richmond, who does her full justice. Adding nothing substantial to the reader’s knowledge of Crowley, Richmond instead illuminates Norton’s regard for and understanding of Crowley. She seems to have been friendlier to Crowley’s work in private than in public, which is understandable, in that she had no need to borrow notoriety!

Hugh Urban’s chapter treats Crowley’s possible influence on L. Ron Hubbard and the Church of Scientology. Urban does some contextual violence to various Crowley quotes from Magick in Theory and Practice, but his readings may be consistent with the way Hubbard approached the material, so for immediate purposes there’s not much point in arguing about them. The chapter’s thesis is the conclusion that any dispassionate observer should reach: Hubbard was influenced by Crowley, but Scientology incorporates so many other elements — some others of which have come to predominate while the ones rooted in magick have faded — that it would be false to simply view it as some sort of crypto-Thelema.

The final chapter, contributed by Asbjørn Dyrendal, is an assessment of Crowley’s influence on two of the seminal organizers of contemporary Satanism: Anton LaVey and Michael Aquino, of the Church of Satan and Temple of Set respectively. Although there is a little confusion of the distinct notions of “black magic” and the “Black Brotherhood” in Crowley’s work, this examination is conducted with great care and accuracy on the whole, pointing out both debts to Crowley and explicit rejections by Satanists of some of his teachings. It is interesting to contrast the Satanists’ criticisms of Crowley with Urban’s appraisals of him, since they come to such different conclusions. (While I differ with their ultimate valuations, I think the Satanists are more accurate here.) Although Dyrendal touches briefly on LaVey’s successor Peter Gilmore, he keeps the discussion very focused on the two Satanist founder figures, and it would have been interesting to bring in some of Don Webb’s outspoken opinions on Crowley, for example (he wrote a short monograph called Aleister Crowley: The Fire and the Force), thus demonstrating Crowley’s direct effects on the enduring Satanist milieu.

With a few minor exceptions, the level of scholarship in this volume is impressive. More than that, the papers tend to be lively and challenging reading. As Wouter Hanegraaff points out in his foreword, the caricature of Crowley as a quasi-medieval Doctor Faustus conceals a figure who is quintessentially modern, and to give the Beast his third dimension places him in the same space that the reader inhabits. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Tantra

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion by Hugh Urban from University of California Press:

Hugh Urban's Tantra: Sex, Secrecy, Politics, and Power in the Study of Religion from University of California Press

 

In this lucid book, Urban provides an overview of the development of discourse about “Tantra” and “Tantrism” in India and the West from the 18th through the 20th century. He emphasizes the interplay of categories across cultural boundaries and in relation to political and economic change in the formation and development of the idea of Tantra. Although the book is informed by an awareness of post-colonial tactics of scholarship, it does not indulge in a simplistic narrative of imperial conquerors determining the identities of colonial subjects, but looks at more complex dialogues and dialectics.

The text includes studies of Tantra in religious, political, literary, scholarly, and commercial contexts. Figures treated include Sri Aurobindo, Arthur Avalon, Swami Vivekananda, Mircea Eliade, Julius Evloa, Oom the Omnipotent, Aleister Crowley, Osho, and others. Urban describes a trajectory “from a tradition associated with secrecy, danger, and occult power to one associated primarily with sexual liberation and physical pleasure.” (265) Unlike many other academics, he does not condemn or dismiss the more recent developments, but instead attempts to contextualize them with respect to a range of phenomena that have always been contested and subject to changes in valuation.

The book is divided into six principal chapters plus an introduction and conclusion, each of which is subdivided into a set of two-to-six-page essays, making it highly digestible. Each essay is headed with one or two epigraphs, which—while insightful and well-chosen—almost inevitably recur in the essays that they lead, often after prose intended to present the ideas that are then summed up by the quote. The overall effect of this process is to confront the reader with the same idea two or three times in succession, in basically the same manner, resulting in a halting sense of redundancy within many of the essays. Otherwise, the writing style is highly engaging.

In the chapter on “The Cult of Ecstasy” Urban observes the confluence of the traditions of European occultism and magic with 20th century neo-Tantra, pointing out incisively that “Tantra has increasingly been associated and hoplessly confused, not only with the Indian erotic arts like those of the Kama Sutra, but also with Western erotic-occult practices like those of Crowley and the OTO.” (228) But he himself contributes in some measure to the confusion when he writes, “Crowley’s practice is the clearest example of sexual magic combined (and perhaps hopelessly confused) with Indian Tantra.” (219) In fact, Crowley never identified any of his practices with Tantra. As Urban notes, Crowley referred in passing to “the follies of Vamacharya (debauchery)” in The Equinox. The claims of biographers Symonds and Sutin regarding Crowley’s supposed study of Tantra in Asia are unconvincing. “Tantra” and Tantric terminology are conspicuously absent from Crowley’s technical instructions for OTO initiates. That sort of synthesis had to wait for the “Creative Occultism” of Crowley’s student Kenneth Grant. Grant’s own interest in Tantra was probably to blame for the fact that Crowley actually got around to mentioning it in his last book-length work Aleister Explains Everything (published posthumously as Magick Without Tears). Even then, Crowley merely wrote vaguely of having studied “numerous writings on the Tantra,” among other sources of Indian lore. (MWT 232) Grant’s craving for Tantric instruction was finally satisfied by David Curwen, a full OTO initiate who had not received his Tantrism through OTO. This relation is documented in Grant’s correspondence memoir Remembering Aleister Crowley. (47-49)

In a topic as rife with controversy as the history of representations of Tantra, such points of dispute are sure to arise. Urban compellingly presents some of the reasons why Tantra is such a focus for contention, and how it deserves the continued attention of scholars in its popular and innovating manifestations as well as its elite and traditional ones. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.