Tag Archives: gerald gardner

High Magic’s Aid

Randall Bowyer reviews High Magic’s Aid by Scire (Gerald Gardner) in the Bkwyrm archive.

This is a fun little story of sorcery in the Middle Ages. The fact that it often reads like advance-promo for Bro. Gardner’s later books on Wicca merely adds to its charm and interest for the student of occultism. The plot involves a fairly unlikely alliance between a Pagan Witch and a Christian Mage (yeah, right again), and just maybe a few too many sneers at the Church (or maybe not), but it’s still fun. Although it is. married throughout by, erros of punctuation and of orthografy; typical of Bro. Gardner. Or perhaps a pour jab ov edithing on teh pert of Samael Wiser.

Then again, since we are dealing not with an ordinary novelist but with an Initiate, we must not rule out the possibility that these are “Qabalistic Mistakes” which secretly point to mighty arcana. For example, on p. 268 a spirit is conjured through “HIM who half created all things.” The casual reader will giggle at the obvious misprint of “half” for “hath,” but the Qabalist will ponder deeply: if HIM half-created all things, then who created the other half? Perhaps HER? The Torah tells us that ELOHIM is the author of Creation, so we can conclude that if HIM created half, ELO created the rest. This interpretation is supported by the Scripture, for we read that the Creation is two-fold – “In the beginning ELOHIM created the Heavens and the Earth.” And ELOHIM perfectly expresses this two-in-one idea of Deity, as it consists of the feminine Eloah with the masculine plural ending -im. But I digress…

Find this book at Amazon, Abebooks, and Powell’s.

Satanism and Witchcraft

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Satanism and Witchcraft: The Classic Study of Medieval Superstition by Jules Michelet.

Jules Michelet Satanism and Witchcraft

Michelet provided a seminal treatment of witchcraft, influential on readers such as Gerald Gardner who went on to organize neo-pagan religion and influence modern ideas of occultism. In Michelet’s view, medieval witches were adherents of indigenous, pre-Christian religion, and they expressed popular resistance against the oppressions of church and state. Heretics, witches and satanists all reflect a measure of virtuous anti-authoritarianism, containing the seeds of rational enlightenment.

Although Michelet was a credentialed historian capable of meticulous research, his Satanism and Witchcraft was written in broad, romanticizing strokes for a popular audience. Thus it is highly readable, but not all that reliable in its details as a work of positive history. It found its market well enough, and it has stayed perpetually in print. [via]

A Day for Patricia Crowther at The Belgrave Rooms on Sun Apr 6th, 2014 in Nottingham

A Day for Patricia Crowther is a conference at The Belgrave Rooms on Sunday April 6th, 2014 in Nottingham, offered by the Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation [HT Sorita d’Este].

A Day for Patricia Crowther conference 2014

“A Witchcraft Conference in honour of PATRICIA CROWTHER, Sunday 6th April 2014, 10am-6pm, The Belgrave Rooms (Masonic Hall), Nottingham, with talks by: Vivianne & Chris Crowley, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Philip Heselton, John Harper … plus the best in Pagan stalls & historic exhibition of Witchcraft Artefacts. Tickets are available at £15 each

We are continuing our series of ‘A Day For …’ events and this year we will be honouring the achievements and contribution to the Witchcraft and Pagan community of Patricia Crowther.

Patricia is one of the few remaining contemporaries of Gerald Gardner and has to be considered one of the true Elders of the Craft. She was initially reluctant to allow us to hold a day in her honour but we have persuaded her that the Craft and pagan communities deserve their chance to pay her their respects and celebrate her so we are very pleased to announce that all being well she will be our guest of honour on the day.

We will also present talks by Vivianne & Chris Crowley, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Philip Heselton and Patricia’s good friend and astronomy expert, John Harper.

This year we have taken note of past comments and decided to hold the conference out of London. Nottingham has played a part in the modern history of the Craft and is close to Patricia’s home town of Sheffield. Nottingham boasts a lively Pagan community, being the home of Pagan Pride whose volunteers will be on duty to support our event with us and our other major supporter, GreenMantle magazine.

As a venue we have chosen the grandoise and magnificent Masonic Halls called locally ‘The Belgrave Rooms’ which is on the tramline outside Nottingham Trent University less than 5 minutes walk from the city centre’s Market Square. On-street parking in Nottingham is readily available and Sunday rates are £1 per day on the meters.

The doors will open at 10 and close at 6, there will be refreshments and lunch available (you should be able to book your lunch on arrival) and we’ll have a selection of invited Pagan stalls as well as an exhibition from the Doreen Valiente Collection which will be ‘enhanced’ with some on-loan artefacts as well.

Tickets are priced at £15 and all the booking information is available on the Doreen Valiente website. And if you sign up as a Doreen Valiente Foundation member you will receive discounts on tickets and information about other opportunities during the conference weekend.” [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.

Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, Part 3 of 3

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus posts the third part of a response to Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, ed. Henrik Bogdan and Martin P Starr, from Oxford University Press, over on his blog at “Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, Part 3 of 3” which speaks to essays, about Witchcraft, Scientology and Satanism, by Ronald Hutton, Keith Richmond, Hugh Urban and Asbjørn Dyrendal; giving special attention to the chapter by Ronald Hutton.

“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 witchcrafts of American Jack Parsons and Australian Rosaleen Norton, both strongly influenced by Crowley themselves, and not via Gardner’s work.” [via]

“With a few minor exceptions, the level of scholarship in this volume is considerable. 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]

 

Triumph of the Moon

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Ronald Hutton:

Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon via Oxford University Press

 

Ronald Hutton’s history of 20th century Witchcraft and Wicca is a comprehensive and compelling examination of the subject. No other book to date gives such a clear and entertaining view of the origins and development of religious Witchcraft in the modern world. Hutton clearly has substantial sympathy for his subjects, and he is respectful to both living and dead practitioners, but he does not settle for unsubstantiated claims, and he deftly dispels a number of myths and long-standing controversies.

The book is divided into two sections, and the first section is a set of interlinked historical essays that describe various movements, ideas, and institutions that served as contributory streams to religious Witchcraft. These contributors include Romantic literary paganism, the Frazerian and ritualist schools of anthropology, folklorism, Freemasonry, ceremonial magic, Thelema, and Woodcraft Chivalry, among others. In the second section, Hutton provides a full narrative of the emergence and evolution of modern British Witchcraft, beginning with Gerald Gardner, and addressing all the major leaders, groups, “traditions,” and schools. The unique mutations of the Craft in North America are addressed only to the extent that their influence migrated back to England. (Jack Parsons’ abortive Witchcraft thus passes without notice.) Hutton also traces the reactions of the press, politics, popular culture, and the academy to the increasing presence and visibility of Witchcraft.

In light of Aleister Crowley’s published disdain for “witches,” it is ironic that so many British Wiccan luminaries claimed to have had instruction from the Beast. Hutton carefully checks these allegations against Crowley’s own exhaustive diaries; Gardner is the only one who seems to have had a genuine claim in that department.

Hutton calls Wicca “the only religion England has ever given the world.” I don’t know that I would agree with him, since despite the prudent claims of Freemasonry to be “religious, not a religion,” it probably qualifies as well, from a scholar’s perspective. In fact, Hutton’s grasp of Masonry leaves a little bit to be desired; as for instance when he calls the Royal Arch “the highest, most exclusive and most prestigious of all Masonic degrees.” (p. 219) Where it counts in relation to his central topic, however, Hutton delivers the goods, instancing such items as this Fellow Craft ritual closing circa 1800:

“Happy have we met, Happy have we been,
“Happy may we part, And happy meet again!” (p. 56)

I find it hard to imagine how any present-day Witch can afford to be without the information in this book. Anyone with any experience of Wicca should be fascinated by it, and anyone interested in contemporary religion will be enriched by it. After having read it cover-to-cover, I continue to take my copy off the shelf for purposes of reference and research. [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.

Lords of the Left-Hand Path: Forbidden Practices and Spiritual Heresies

Lords of the Left-Hand Path: Forbidden Practices and Spiritual Heresies by Stephen E Flowers, from Inner Traditions, was published back in June, recently went into reprint, but I haven’t mentioned it previously. The book covers quite a few topics that may be of interest and are related to the subject matter in the library.

 

“From black magic and Satanism to Gnostic sects and Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, the left-hand path has been linked to many practices, cults, and individuals across the ages. Stephen Flowers, Ph.D., examines the methods, teachings, and historical role of the left-hand path, from its origins in Indian tantric philosophy to its underlying influence in current world affairs, and reveals which philosophers, magicians, and occult figures throughout history can truly be called “Lords of the Left-Hand Path.”

Flowers explains that while the right-hand path seeks union with and thus dependence on God, the left-hand path seeks a “higher law” based on knowledge and power. Following a carefully crafted definition of a true adherent of the left-hand path based on two main principles—self-deification and challenge to the conventions of “good” and “evil”—the author analyzes many famous and infamous personalities, including H. P. Blavatsky, Faust, the Marquis de Sade, Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley, Gerald Gardner, Anton LaVey, and Michael Aquino, and reveals which occult masters were Lords of the Left-Hand Path.

Flowers shows that the left-hand path is not inherently evil but part of our heritage and our deep-seated desire to be free, independent, and in control of our destinies.”