Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Complete Magick Curriculum of the Secret Order G∴B∴G∴: Being the Entire Study, Curriculum, Magick Rituals, and Initiatory Practices of the G∴B∴G∴ (The Great Brotherhood of God) [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Louis T Culling, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke.
This text (the “Edited, Revised, and Expanded” second edition of The Complete Magick Curriculum of the G∴B∴G∴) is the work of three men distributed over about eight decades.
At the root is the actual curriculum in the form of rituals and “directives from Headquarters” written by C.F. Russell to instruct the adherents of his Thelemic magical order G∴B∴G∴, which boasted “A Short-cut to Initiation.” This material was put into practice by an organization which achieved total membership in the triple digits during its operation in various US metropolitan areas in the 1930s. It is quite interesting in being a fully-realized Thelemic system of magical training and organizing that appears to have made no reference to the person of Aleister Crowley. It did, however, operate under the authority granted by him to Russell, and it did promote Crowley’s Liber Legis and his cardinal doctrine of Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The system is deliberately minimalist in design, and the ceremonial liturgies hardly measure up to Crowley’s ritual texts, but I’m sure they were effective. Another notable feature was its deployment of a sex-magical program stemming from the writings of Ida Craddock.
The next layer of The Complete Magick Curriculum was contributed by Louis T. Culling, an initiate of G∴B∴G∴, O.T.O., and A∴A∴, who claimed to have been entrusted by Russell with the duty of publishing the G∴B∴G∴ material — to take place at least twenty years after the closure of the order to aspirants in 1936. (Culling also thanks Katherine Peacock, a fellow G∴B∴G∴ initiate, for her work in preparing the original edition of The Complete Magick Curriculum.) In fact, it was more than thirty years before Culling actually brought the book out, through Llewellyn Publications.
The new “edition, revision, and expansion” of the text, reflected in the 2010 trade paperback issuance, is the fault of longtime Llewellyn publisher Carl Weschcke, who facilitated the publication of the original edition, and was on friendly terms with Culling. This book appears to be a cardinal illustration of the scenario in which editorial correction is poor-to-nonexistent, since nobody wants to tell the boss that his composition stinks. Spelling is variable and erratic. Weschke’s contributions, whether in the foreword, the chapter-level commentaries, the “study and discussion points,” or the appended glossary, are all structured in the form of glosses and lemmas which purport to clarify topics and expressions on which Culling’s text touches. Most of these are repeated at least once, so that by my rough estimate, at least seventy pages’ worth of the book are perfectly redundant. Even just within the forty pages of front matter, there are multiple paragraphs that recur verbatim.
Weschcke has a long history of involvement in American occultism, including AMORC, Aurum Solis, and Wicca. But he has evidently never been initiated into any Thelemic society, and his comprehension of Thelema is patently lacking. The book reproduces the first chapter of The Book of the Law, introducing numerous significant errors. E.g. I:56-57, where “solve” is “solved,” and the Hebrew letter aleph is given instead of tzaddi! (117) Weschcke confesses himself “rather at a loss” in accounting for the “Calypso Moon Language,” (88, 243) because he has (obviously) never given serious study to The Vision and the Voice or Liber LXVI. Instead he offers “research” — fruit of a quick Internet search, I suspect — consisting of the various possible meanings of “Calypso,” most of which are painfully irrelevant. In the G∴B∴G∴ instructions, practitioners are told to use the ficus gesture (right-hand fist with thumb between index and medius) as the “Magick Wand.” Weschcke says that this ceremonial technique is “to my knowledge, unique to the G∴B∴G∴” (58, 268), because his knowledge includes no working familiarity with the O.T.O. Gnostic Mass or the A∴A∴ Ritual of the Mark of the Beast (Liber V).
Sometimes Weschcke’s commentaries willfully contradict the spirit of Culling’s original text. For example, when Culling offers a useful distinction between the technique of the Thelemic magical oath and that of the New Thought affirmation (33), Weschcke insists that Culling is “showing his natural prejudice for what today we more often refer to as ‘fluffy.'” (Surely Weschcke means “prejudice against“?) Then Weschcke provides a lengthy defense of the “beautiful philosophy” of New Thought and its derivatives (41-42, 274).
Unfortunately, one point in which Culling and Weschcke concur is a certain anti-intellectualism (e.g. 178). While it is surely true that intellectual inquiry alone will never suffice to accomplish the Great Work of spiritual realization, the sort of active disparagement of study shown in this book will result in just the accumulation of errors and nonsense that it now exhibits throughout. As successful magicians should be aware, it’s not a matter of either theory or practice, but rather both theory and practice.
I would like to be able to refer readers to the first edition, which would be free of the more egregious elements of the book I read. But it is quite scarce, and commands prices of $100 and more — which I can hardly view as worthwhile to anyone other than the specialist researcher into Thelemic history. There is a missed potential shadowing this book: the possibility of a richly objective documentary treatment like that in The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor by Godwin, Chanel, and Deveney. Perhaps someone will someday undertake that work for the G∴B∴G∴