Tag Archives: jack parsons

Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus

Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus: History. Magick. Psychedelia. Ufology. by Paul Weston, the 2009 paperback from Avalonian Aeon Publications, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Paul Weston's Aleister Crowley and the Aeon of Horus from Avalonian Aeon Publications

“Whilst ‘dealing with diverse and extraordinary subjects,’ this book focuses particularly on the Beast, and the various individuals, movements and madnesses that have followed on from him. Discussions of Crowley, Thelema, magick, and mysticism lead to explorations of the life and thought of Gerald Gardner, Kenneth Grant, L. Ron Hubbard, Timothy Leary, Jack Parsons, Robert Anton Wilson and others. The author also explores a number of bizarre and sometimes bewildering subjects, from the atom bomb and hallucinogens, to Nazi occultism, UFO’s and ‘the Sirius Mystery’, with various divergences and forays into sixties popular culture, Illuminati, Men in Black, the Church of Satan, the Process Church, Manson murders, the Thule Society, ‘New Aeon English Qabalah’, and the alleged secret United States government research into time travel said to have been conducted at Montauk Air Force Station. One reviewer has not unreasonably likened the work to that of Robert Anton Wilson on account of its scope and sometimes deliberately surreal perspectives.” [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 Unknown God

The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites by Martin P Starr, from Teitan Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Martin P Starr's The Unknown God from Teitan Press

“The first documentary study of Aleister Crowley’s contemporary followers in North America, told through the life of their de facto leader, Wilfred Talbot Smith (1885-1957). Smith, the unacknowledged offspring of a prominent English family, emigrated to Canada where he met Charles Stansfeld Jones and through him, the works of Aleister Crowley. Although Crowley and Smith met only once, their twenty year correspondence proved to be a major link to the few and the faithful attracted to Crowley’s work in the United States and Canada. Smith’s spiritual life centered first on the initiatic structure of the Order of the A∴A∴, complemented by the emerging fraternal and social schemes of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Smith followed Jones into a few long-forgotten movements like the Universal Brotherhood and the Psychomagian Society, but he declined membership in C.F. Russell’s Choronzon Club.

To promulgate the Crowleyan teachings, in 1934 Smith incorporated his own ‘Church of Thelema’—known to Los Angeles newspaper readers as the ‘Purple Cult.’ The following year he initiated OTO activity in Los Angeles which attracted its own cast of occult characters. Smith’s life reached a strange conclusion when Crowley, taking a page from Louis Bromfield’s novel, THE STRANGE CASE OF MISS ANNIE SPRAGG, which explored ‘the twin mysteries of love and religion and the confusion that lies between’ and combining it with a reading of Smith’s natal chart, sent him off on a retreat to determine which God he was incarnating. It was a journey from which Frater 132 never returned …

THE UNKNOWN GOD is a fascinating and complex human story, intimately interwoven with the lives of most of Crowley’s disciples in the United States including C.F. Russell, Jane Wolfe, Max R. Schneider, Jack Parsons, Louis T. Culling, Frederic Mellinger and Grady L. McMurtry as well as occult teachers like H. Spencer Lewis (AMORC) Paul Foster Case (BOTA), and Wayne Walker (OM), Hollywood actors such as John Carradine and even the founder of the Mattachine Society, Harry Hay. Students of 19th and 20th century esoteric movements, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society and the Crowley-derived organizations, will find THE UNKNOWN GOD worth reading.”

 

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 House of Rumor

The House of Rumour: A Novel by Jake Arnott is an alternate history novel which features characterizations of Ian Fleming, Aleister Crowley, Jack Parsons, and more.

Jake Arnott's The House of Rumor

“Mixing the invented and the real, The House of Rumour explores WWII spy intrigue (featuring Ian Fleming), occultism (Aleister Crowley), the West Coast science-fiction set (Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and Philip K. Dick all appear), and the new wave music scene of the ’80s. The decades-spanning, labyrinthine plot even weaves in The Jonestown Massacre and Rudolf Hess, UFO sightings and B-movies. Told through multiple narrators, what at first appears to be a constellation of random events begins to cohere as the work of a shadow organization—or is it just coincidence?

Tying the strands together is Larry Zagorski, an early pulp fiction writer turned U.S. fighter pilot turned “American gnostic,” who looks back on his long and eventful life, searching for connections between the seemingly disparate parts. The teeming network of interlaced secrets he uncovers has personal relevance—as it mirrors a book of 22 interconnected stories he once wrote, inspired by the major arcana cards in the tarot.” [via]

There’s also a review with spoilers by Charlie Jane Anders over at “In House of Rumour, Ian Fleming and Aleister Crowley win World War II” if you want to check that out.

Aleister Crowley, Friends, and Followers

You may be interested in Weiser Antiquarian Book Catalogue #108: Aleister Crowley, Friends, and Followers.

“The catalogue starts with a work that has provoked considerable discussion even before its public release: Michael Effertz’s thoughtfully argued book Priest/ess: In Advocacy of Queer Gnostic Mass. There follows a section devoted to copies of The Book of the Law including a copy of the seldom-seen O.T.O. leather-bound Centennial Edition, limited to 418 numbered copies, signed by Hymenaeus Beta and the 1956 reissue of The Equinox of the Gods with the rare separate folder containing a facsimile of the original manuscript of “The Book of the Law.” Rare materials by Crowley in the following section include several letters from him to his collaborator on the Thoth tarot deck Frieda Harris, a superb first edition of The Book of Lies, a rare greeting-card type edition of The Hymn to Pan, and the original typescript of The Yi King: An Interpretation, a work which would later be published by Helen Parsons Smith as the Shi Yi.

Some of the most exciting items are found in the next section “Works by Friends and Followers of Aleister Crowley.” This includes Kenneth Grant’s copy of the Hatha-Yoga Pradipika of Svatmarama Svamin with Grant’s elaborate ownership inscription and his personal sigil as well as a list of the various titles to which he lay claim – on the half-title page, along with editions deluxe of Beyond the Mauve Zone and The Magical Revival. There is also a good selection of works by Jack Parsons including his own copy of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius, with Jack Parsons’ ownership initials on the first blank. In addition to an unusual collection of publications by Louis T. Culling there is a nice group by Israel Regardie including a signed edition of The Eye in the Triangle.

The penultimate section “Works Relating to Aleister Crowley and his Magical Orders” includes a number of unusual books, some of which have a most interesting provenance. Thus a copy of L. Ron Hubbard, Final Blackout was a gift to Wilfred T. Smith and his wife, Helen (Helen Parsons Smith), a copy of De Villars’ Comte de Gabalis belonged to Reea Leffingwell (of Agape Lodge), whilst a copy of The Kabbalah; Its Doctrines, Development and Literature has ownership signatures of two California Thelemites, Joseph C. Crombie and Mildred Burlingame. Copies of Arthur Edward Waite’s superb edition of Eliphas Levi’s The History of Magic and William Stirling’s The Canon are both from the collection of Aleister Crowley’s student Arthur Edward Richardson, with his bookplate on the front pastedown, whilst the first edition of Richard Kaczynski’s ground-breaking biography, Perdurabo. The Life of Aleister Crowley, is a presentation copy inscribed to English Crowley scholar Nicholas Bishop-Culpeper. The final section of the catalogue is somewhat more whimsical, featuring books related to music and cinema which make some mention of Aleister Crowley. Not surprisingly many also invoke the names of Jimmy Page and Kenneth Anger.” [via]

The Birth of Babalon

What is the tumult among the stars

that have shone so still till now?

What are the furrows of pain and wrath

upon the immortal brow?

 

Why is the face of God turned grey

and his angels all grown white?

What is the terrible ruby star

that burns down the crimson night?

 

What is the beauty that flames so bright

athwart the awful dawn?

She has taken flesh, she is come to judge

the thrones ye rule upon.

 

Quail ye kings for an end is come

in the birth of BABALON.

 

I have walked three dreadful nights away

in halls beyond despair,

I have given marrow and tears and sweat

and blood to make her fair.

 

I have lain my love and smashed my heart

and filled her cup with blood,

That blood might flow from the loins of woe

to the cup of brotherhood.

 

The cities reel in the shout of steel

where the sword of war is drawn.

Sing ye saints for the day is come

in the birth of BABALON.

 

Now God has called for his judgement book

and seen his name therein

And the grace of God and the guilt of God

have spelt it out as sin

 

His bloody priests have clutched his robes

and stained his linen gown

And his victims swarm from his broken hell

to drag his kingdom down.

 

O popes and kings and the little gods

are sick and sad and wan

To see the crimson star that bursts

like blood upon the dawn

 

While trumpets sound and stars rejoice

at the birth of BABALON.

 

BABALON is too beautiful

for sight of mortal eyes

She has hidden her loveliness away

in lonely midnight skies,

 

She has clothed her beauty in robes of sin

and pledged her heart to swine

And loving and giving all she has

brewed for saints immortal wine.

 

But now the darkness is riven through

and the robes of sin are gone,

And naked she stands as a terrible blade

and a flame and a splendid song

 

Naked in radiant mortal flesh

at the Birth of BABALON.

 

She is come new born as a mortal maid

forgetting her high estate,

She has opened her arms to pain and death

and dared the doom of fate,

 

And death and hell are at her back,

but her eyes are bright with life,

Her heart is high and her sword is strong

to meet the deadly strife,

 

Her voice is sure as the judgement trump

to crack the house of wrong,

Though walls are high and stone is hard

and the rule of hell was long

 

The gates shall fall and the irons break

in the Birth of BABALON.

 

Her mouth is red and her breasts are fair

and her loins are full of fire,

And her lust is strong as a man is strong

in the heat of her desire,

 

And her whoredom is holy as virtue is foul

beneath the holy sky,

And her kisses will wanton the world away

in passion that shall not die.

 

Ye shall laugh and love and follow her dance

when the wrath of God is gone

And dream no more of hell and hate

in the Birth of BABALON.

The Birth of Babalon in The Book of Babalon by John Whiteside ‘Jack’ Parsons

 

The Hermetic Library arts and letters pool is a project to publish poetry, prose and art that is inspired by or manifests the Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to submit your work for consideration as part of the Arts and Letters pool, contact the librarian.

Mock Up on Mu

 

Craig Baldwin’s film Mock Up on Mu, which includes a characterization of John Whiteside ‘Jack’ Parsons and others.

“A radical hybrid of spy, sci-fi, Western, and even horror genres, Craig Baldwin’s Mock Up On Mu cobbles together a feature-length “collage-narrative” based on (mostly) true stories of California’s post-War sub-cultures of rocket pioneers, alternative religions, and Beat lifestyles. Pulp-serial snippets, industrial-film imagery, and B- (and Z-) fiction clips are intercut with newly shot live-action material, powering a playful, allegorical trajectory through the now-mythic occult matrix of Jack Parsons (Crowleyite founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab), L.Ron Hubbard (sci-fi author turned cult-leader), and Marjorie Cameron (bohemian artist and “mother of the New Age movement”). Their intertwined tales spin out into a speculative farce on the militarization of space, and the corporate take-over of spiritual fulfillment and leisure-time.” [via]

Jack Parsons, Scientology and the Jet Propulsion Lab

You may have heard about the recent publication of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, a new and extensively researched exposé on Scientology, which, of course, mentions Aleister Crowley and Jack Parsons.

“Before Scientology, there was Aleister Crowley, the English “magician” revered by generations of would-be wizards. When Hubbard and a friend tried to breed an Antichrist according to Crowley’s teachings, even Crowley rolled his eyes: “I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these goats.” Of course, Hubbard – “Source,” just “Source,” no “the,” of Scientology – didn’t really want Crowley’s approval. According to the Church of Scientology, he was undercover for “naval intelligence” on a mission that “broke up black magic in America.” Phew!” [via]

Well, all this has people talking about Jack Parsons and the Jet Propulsion Lab again, such as in “The strangely true connection between Scientology, the Jet Propulsion Lab, and Occult Sorcery“.

“One of the weirdest historical confluences you can imagine took place in Pasadena, California, in the 1940s. There, a darkly handsome young man and chemistry autodidact named Jack Parsons had just made a bundle of money by inventing solid rocket fuel and selling it to the military. He was part of a group of explosion-obsessed researchers at CalTech who founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where recently the Martian Rovers were made. He was also a goddess-obsessed acolyte and generous financial supporter of the infamous Pagan leader, Aleister Crowley.

Parsons used his defense contract money to convert an old mansion into a group house whose residents included other Pagans, artists, scientists, and writers. One of his boarders was a charismatic science fiction author named L. Ron Hubbard, who became Parsons’ greatest frenemy, participating in rituals of sex magic with the rocket scientist, sleeping with his girlfriend, and finally absconding with all his money. Here is the true story of how Scientology and JPL were both conceived by men under the sorcerer Crowley’s mystical influence.” [via]

You may also be interested checking out “A Rocketship to Babalon: the Short Strange Life of Jack Parsons” in Matt Staggs from back in 2010.

“However, his scientific work was only one part of Parson’s life. He was also an avid student of the occult.

He applied his zeal for scientific research to his inquiries into the unknown, and eventually came to the attention of the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. The British occultist appointed Parsons to the head of California’s Agapé Lodge – a branch of Crowley’s OTO (Ordo Templi Orientalis). The OTO practiced what Crowley called Thelemic magick: a mix of sexual rituals, bastardized Kabbalism and rites taken from Freemasonry and medieval grimoires. Crowley espoused what he considered to be a scientific approach to the practice of magick, espousing “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion,” a statement that Parsons could stand behind. His own esoteric works were often mixed with his scientific experiments, and it has been reported that Parsons attempted to invoke spirits while working with rocket fuel.

As a leader of the Agapé Lodge, Parsons was passionate and generous, using his salary to fund the upkeep of the order while conducting occult experiments that he hoped would usher in a new age of magickal freedom. After his own wife left him, Parsons took up with his sister-in-law Sara Northrup, an OTO member herself. The two were magickal partners as well as romantic ones, and were soon joined in their occult studies by a third: future Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Soon after they met, Hubbard and Parsons began a magickal ritual called The Babalon Working: a spell to invoke the power of a goddess. This divine being – identified by Crowley as both the Biblical whore of Babylon and the goddess Ishtar – would bring about the end of what they considered an age of repressive Christian morality. Crowley warned against this for a number of reasons, perhaps the most practical of which was that the self-styled “Wickedest Man in the World” considered Hubbard a con man an swindler. Parsons disregarded the warning.” [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]

 

Darker Than You Think

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson:

Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think

 

According to “John Carter,” the pseudonymous author of Sex and Rockets, the Jack Williamson novel Darker Than You Think had a profound impact on O.T.O. Br. Jack Parsons IX°.

The monster-type of the novel is a sorceror-lycanthrope-vampire, representing the genetic recrudescence of a pre-human race that has interbred with and become submerged in humanity. These other-people are called “witches” in the story, which might largely account for Parsons’ affinity for the terms “witch” and “witchcraft,” despite their forceful rejection by Aleister Crowley.

The book stands in many ways as a precursor of the Anne Rice formula of “anti-horror,” in which the sympathetic protagonist is a praeterhuman monster at odds with humanity. Particularly like Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, the Williamson story indulges in an initiatory plot-line, in which there is a gradual induction into monsterhood. There is also a thematic and mechanical correspondence to certain initiations and epiphanies described in Lovecraft’s stories (e.g. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “Dreams in the Witch-house”), where the narrator’s horror is compounded by discovering his identity with the object of his fear.

The character of April Bell is the unequivocal scarlet initiatrix of the protagonist Will Barbee. She is the Babalon who rides him as a Beast, most conspicuously when he takes the form of a huge saber-tooth tiger and and carries her naked through the night—an image repeatedly used for illustrations in the various editions of the story. (See Sex and Rockets, pp. 59 & 210, and the current Tor edition of Darker Than You Think, pp. 135 & 143, for different versions of this “Lust Trump.”) Of course the names are interesting as well: “Will” is English for Thelema, and “April” is the month of the writing of The Book of the Law. Darker Than You Think is full of an apocalyptic tone, embodied most clearly in the imminence of the reign of a witch-king called the “Child of Night.” (C.f. Liber LXVI, v. 2)

All of these correspondences must be chalked up to inspiration, rather than study. Only after writing Darker Than You Think, Williamson met Parsons, and eventually attended an Agape Lodge O.T.O. function, where he was favorably impressed by lodgemaster Wilfred Smith. But he never pursued any formal studies, and was left with the impression that Crowley was best characterized as a “satanist.” [via]

 

 

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