Tag Archives: wicca

Witchdom of the True

Witchdom of the True: A Study of the Vana-Troth and the Practice of Seiðr by Edred Thorsson (as Edred), a 1999 paperback from Rûna Raven Press, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Edred Witchdom of the True from Rûna Raven Press

On the title page, this also has “Volume I: Lore and History” and “From a Manuscript Formerly Entitled ‘True Wicca'”.

“‘Edred does it again! The Witchdom of the True is an invaluable resource to Wiccans and to those who follow Asatru alike. In clear and compelling language, it restores the Vanir-faith to its place as an integral part of the dynamic and diverse Northern tradition. Long known as the leading light in the modern runic revival, Edred now pulls back the curtain of time to show us the origin of Wicca in the Vanir cult of he ancient Northlands. This is an exciting book, and a breath of fresh air in a field that long needed the windows and doors thrown open!’ — Stephen A. McNallen, Asatru Folk Assembly

Found in Witchdom of the True
· History of the Vanic Faith
· Survival and Revival of Witchdom
· Cosmology
· Myth and Lore of the Lord and Lady
· Ritual Working Formula of Witchdom
· Lore of Witchcraft
· Lore of Seith

‘In this book the author finally makes clear once and for all the deep and ancient nature of the true cult of the Lord and Lady, its origins and mythology. Modern Wiccans will be delighted to have this lore clarified, and it is hoped the information will help transform the Wiccan movement in the next millennium by returning it to its natural roots.’ — Inga Steddinger, High Priestess, Author of Wiccan Sex Magic” — back cover


Ameth

Ameth: The Life and Times of Doreen Valiente by Jonathan Tapsell, forthcoming from Avalonia Books, may be of interest.

Jonathan Tapsell Ameth from Avalonia Books

This study of the life of the Witch, Priestess and Author Doreen Valiente, who is sometimes named as the ‘Mother of Modern Pagan Witchcraft’ presents a wonderful collection of information and insights into her life and work. ‘AMETH’ was Doreen Valiente’s witch name, the author talks about this in the book writing that during Doreen’s initiation as a Witch by Gerald Gardner, she was given the name:

‘At this rite Gardner and Dafo gave their new initiate a secret Witch-name known only to those within the Craft. Doreen was from then on to be known as — Ameth. Gardner is likely to have said these words taken from his own Book of Shadows: “Hear, ye Mighty Ones, (Ameth) hath been consecrated Priestess and Witch of the Gods.” before asking the Gods to depart. Ameth true to her secret oaths of the Old Religion would neither disclose to either her husband or mother that she was now a fully-fledged Witch.’

‘As the ceremony progressed the newly initiated Witch, Doreen, would have been anointed, given wine from a chalice, gently scourged for purification and eventually untied and the blindfold taken away. At its conclusion she would have been presented with an athame (a witch’s knife), a wand to invoke spirits, a white handled knife, a scourge and a censor for incense. Another magical artefact, belonging to the Witch, was the cords used to bind her during the ceremony. One cord measured nine feet long and was to be used to make magical circles and another cord was used for spells. She was now a member of the coven and only another two degrees stood between her and the title of High Priestess in the art magical.’

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]

The Charge of the Goddess

An expanded paperback edition of The Charge Of The Goddess, a book of poetry by Doreen Valiente, with previously unpublished poems, is due for release in April, 2014 to coincide with A Day For Patricia Crowther, but is available now for pre-order from the Doreen Valiente Foundation.

Doreen Valiente The Charge of the Goddess expanded edition

“Doreen Valiente, hailed as the ‘Mother of Modern Witchcraft’, is one of the most influential figures in 20th century contemporary religion and spirituality. A prolific poet throughout her life, her most famous and many previously unknown poems are published here in this special posthumous volume named after her best known work: The Charge Of The Goddess. This 2014 expanded edition features over 80 poems including all of the poems from the previous book of the same title plus many more previously unpublished poems.

Whilst the book will appeal to those interested in Doreen’s spiritual and religious themes, the poetry embraces diverse and broader themes from seasonal insights to humourous retellings which the custodians of her legacy are proud to present here along with some of her better known pieces such as ‘The Witches Chant’ and ‘The Charge Of The Goddess’.”

Overthrowing the Old Gods

Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law by Don Webb, the 2013 paperback from Inner Traditions, which includes a commentary on Liber AL vel Legis by Michael A Aquino, and includes, as part II, the collection of essays once available in the old Rûna-Raven Press book Aleister Crowley: The Fire and the Force as well, is part of the collection at the Reading Room courtesy of the publisher.

Don Webb Overthrowing the Old Gods from Inner Traditions

“Received by Aleister Crowley in April 1904 in Cairo, Egypt, The Book of the Law is the most provocative record of magical working in several hundred years, affecting not only organizations directly associated with Crowley such as the Ordo Templi Orientis but also Wicca, Chaos Magic, and the Temple of Set.

Boldly defying Crowley’s warning not to comment on The Book of the Law, Ipsissimus Don Web provides in-depth interpretation from both Black and White Magickal perspectives, including commentary from Michael A. Aquino, Ph.D., who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996. Webb examines each line of the Book in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, existentialism, and competing occult systems such as teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought. Discarding the common image of Crowley formulated in a spiritually unsophisticated time when the devotee of the Left-Hand Path was dismissed as a selfish evildoer, Webb unveils a new side of Crowley based on his adoption of the Loki archetype and his aim to become a vessel of love for all humanity. In so doing, he shows how The Book of the Law is connected to both Right- and Left-Hand Paths and reveals how Crowley’s magickal path of mastery over the self and Cosmos overthrew the gods of old religion, which had kept humanity asleep to dream the nightmare of history.

Providing in-depth analysis of Crowley’s sources and Webb’s own self-identification with the First Beast of Revelation from a profound esoteric perspective, Webb takes his views out of the Golden Dawn matrix within which he received The Book of the Law and radically recasts the Cairo Working as a text of personal sovereignty and a relevant tool for personal transformation.” — back cover

 

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.

H P Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews H. P. Lovecraft’s Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology and Contradiction by Gavin Callaghan, from McFarland.

Gavin Callaghan H P Lovecraft's Dark Arcadia from McFarland

Gavin Callaghan’s Dark Arcadia is a capable and engaging critical treatment of the weird fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. He brings an interesting combination of methods to this material. Recognizing Lovecraft’s professed interest in classical literature, he examines the allusions to antiquity and the possibility of satirical method in HPL’s stories. As a complementary tactic, he invokes psychoanalytic appraisals of Lovecraft’s authorial motives (strongly indulging Jungian approaches) to account for significant tropes in his output.

Although the publisher’s jacket copy praises Callaghan for “ignoring secondary accounts and various received truths,” he is clearly well-read in the existing body of Lovecraft criticism. While he brings some new ideas to the field, his most significant contradiction of “common knowledge” about HPL and his work is to consider the “cosmicism” of Lovecraft’s horror to be ornamental rather than essential. Callaghan asserts that the various instances of cosmic scenarios and phenomena in Lovecraft’s stories (actually rather outnumbered by more conventional gothic horror tropes and contexts) are simply grandiose exaggerations of the author’s familial mise-en-scène, and vehicles for his ambivalent antagonism toward the cultural decadents of his parents’ generation and his own. The “Old” and the “Elder” to which HPL attribute a veneer of deep time were, according to Callaghan, in living memory in the fact of their inspiration. The extra-dimensional hugeness of Lovecraft’s monsters simply reflects the subjective enormity of parental figures.

Callaghan also opposes the notion that there was in any sense a “mellowing” or relaxation of Lovecraft’s social and cultural conservativism in his later fiction. In the interpretive context Callaghan provides, he makes a persuasive case in this regard. Callaghan’s own value-position relative to Lovecraft’s ideological stances is not made especially clear. While he does indict HPL for his racism and misogyny, he also repeatedly implies sympathy for Lovecraft’s right-wing “acuity” (8). Callaghan notes with evident distaste, for example, the fact of “some branches of the modern Wicca movement finding allies and common cause with environmentalist, feminist, luddite, leftist, gay liberation, and other radical organizations” (207), and he refers to “the insanity of the sexual revolution” (8, 58).

The volume is divided into six loosely-interlinked essays, three longer and more general, and three shorter and of narrower scope. It opens with the long “Dark Arcadia,” in which the focus is on Lovecraft’s preference for Roman over Greek antiquity, and his satirical intent directed at the decadent culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Chapters three and six are the other long pieces, and they address the principal psychological materials that Callaghan discerns in the HPL oeuvre: “Behind the Locked Door” is about the paternal image with classical allusion to the myth of Theseus, and “HPL and the Magna Mater” provides an analysis of the Lovecraftian feminine. The smaller essays address Lovecraft’s use of apiary imagery, his trope of the “moon-ladder,” and an interpretation of the “coda” that concludes “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

Callaghan dedicates a section of his bibliography to an odd assortment of six works on occultism. His insightful remarks on Lovecraft’s antagonism for the Theosophical Society show that this reading was not wasted, but he generally hews to popular derision for modern occultists such as Aleister Crowley. (In this contempt, he probably tracks with Lovecraft, who appraised Crowley as a “queer duck.”) Callaghan’s gloss on the monumental Etidorhpa of John Uri Lloyd is quite superficial, but he deserves a point for mentioning it at all.

Callaghan gives a great deal of attention to a number of Lovecraft’s “lesser” stories and collaborations, such as “The Green Meadow,” “The Moon-Bog,” and “Medusa’s Coil,” suggesting that in those instances where the writer’s technique is less polished, his methods and motives may be more exposed. His insistence on the abiding Puritan character of Lovecraft’s orientation, as well as the polemical intent of stories that seem so focused on evocative mood, is tied together quite convincingly with a study of the psychological conditions that could inspire such polemics. The book is, on the whole, a fascinating read for anyone familiar with Lovecraft’s work. [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.

Omnium Gatherum: Aug 28th, 2013

An irregular hodgepodge of links gathered together …

Unicursal Gareth Branwyn illustration
Boing Boing’s Gareth Branwyn is crowdfunding a book [via]

 

  • Mark Stavish, via email; from the your-shortfall-is-more-than-my-entire-budget dept.

    “The New Alexandrian Library Project is nearing completion, but, has fallen short by about $50,000 of its financial goal. Ground has been broken, and construction underway, but more money is needed.”

  • Unearthed Peruvian tomb confirms that women ruled over brutal ancient culture” — Scott Sutherland, Geekquinox [HT Anne Rice]; from the girt-with-a-sword dept.

    “Centuries ago, in the Sechura Desert of northern Peru — one of the most arid and brutal environments on our planet — the Moche people developed an equally-brutal culture. With no written history left behind, much of their society still remains a mystery, but paintings on pottery have shown researchers evidence of a rigid culture of survival, with ritualized combats where the losing side was sacrificed.

    Findings in recent years expanded the tale of these people even further, telling a story of how they were ruled by women, priestesses who also acted as queens.”

  • The Elements and the Four Cardinal Directions” — Aaron Leitch, Aaron Leitch’s Blog [HT Sorita d’Este]

    “To my knowledge, there are no systems of correspondences of Elements to directions that go back to 5000 BCE. The earliest such correspondences could have arisen would have been in cultures that developed astrology – likely going back no further than Babylon. Not even Egypt had such correspondences that I know of – though they did have the four Sons of Horus as the pillars of the four directions (associated with the arms and legs of Nut), I’ve never seen any Egyptian text that associates them directly with four Elements.”

  • The Placing of the Elements In A Golden Dawn Temple” — Alex Sumner, Sol Ascendans

    “The magical inner-workings of the Golden Dawn ceremonies take the Temple, and astrally transport it through Time and Space and across dimensions – to the Hall of the Duat, in the Egyptian otherworld.

    Hence, the correct placing of the elements should neither be for the Northern Hemisphere, if your temple is in the Northern Hemisphere, nor for the Southern Hemisphere if it is physically located there, but for how the elements would be placed in the Hall of Judgement in the Egyptian otherworld.”

  • A Very British Witchcraft — channel4.com; from the fire-up-the-vpn dept.

    Channel 4's A Very British Witchcraft

    “The extraordinary story of Britain’s fastest-growing religious group — the modern pagan witchcraft of Wicca — and of its creator, an eccentric Englishman called Gerald Gardner.

    Historian and leading expert in Pagan studies Professor Ronald Hutton explores Gardner’s story and experiences first-hand Wicca’s growing influence throughout Britain today.

    Born of a nudist colony in 1930s Dorset, Wicca rapidly grew from a small New Forest coven to a worldwide religion in the space of just 70 years.

    It’s a journey that takes in tales of naked witches casting spells to ward off Hitler, tabloid hysteria about human sacrifices and Gerald Gardner himself appearing on Panorama.” [via]

  • Love Spells, Prostitutes, and Poison” — Sarah Veale, Invocatio

    “When we think of magic in the ancient world, we tend to think that what we today consider magic was, back then, simply religion. Certainly this holds true for things like worshiping many gods, divining the future, or other such activities. But there definitely was a subset of ancient practice that was considered to be against the grain. Those engaging in such practices go by many names: magoi (a term used to refer to ‘Eastern’ holy men), pharmakeis (those skilled with drugs and potions), goetes (spiritual practitioners who engaged the dead), and epodoi (singers of incantations). But all had one thing in common: they were perceived as working against nature, and thus society in general.”

  • Why terrorist bosses are micro-managing dicks” — Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing [See, Amazon]; from the show-mommy-exactly-where-you-helped dept.

    “It comes down to this: people willing to join terrorist groups are, by definition, undisciplined, passionate, and unbalanced, so you have to watch them closely and coordinate their campaigns.”

  • Cyber-Harassment: What the Online Community Can Do to Stop the Trolls” — Jade Walker, huffingtonpost.com; from the disgustipated dept.

    “Basically, don’t feed the egos of the attention-starved people who use the Internet to (often anonymously) defame, harass and frighten. Or worse, accept that this is how the world should work instead of trying to change it.

    To which, I call bullshit.

    I would not tolerate such behavior in person, and I am certainly not about to do so online. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Others have also decided to fight back.”

  • Anita Sarkeesian at TEDxWomen 2012“; from the nobody-goes-there-anymore-it’s-too-crowded dept.

    “… creating an environment too toxic and hostile to endure.”

Overthrowing the Old Gods

Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law by Don Webb, from Inner Traditions, is scheduled to be published on Oct 15, 2013.

Don Webb's Overthrowing the Old Gods from Inner Traditions

“New commentaries on Aleister Crowley’s Book of the Law reveal how it is connected to both Right- and Left-Hand Paths

• Examines each line of the Book of the Law in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, Gurdjieff’s teachings, and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought

• Explores Crowley’s identification with the First Beast of Revelations as well as his adoption of the Loki archetype for becoming a vessel of love for all humanity

• Recasts the Cairo Working as a text of personal sovereignty and a relevant tool for personal transformation

• Includes commentary on the Book of the Law by Dr. Michael A. Aquino, who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996

Received by Aleister Crowley in April 1904 in Cairo, Egypt, the Book of the Law is the most provocative record of magical working in several hundred years, affecting not only organizations directly associated with Crowley such as the Ordo Templi Orientis but also modern Wicca, Chaos Magic, and the Temple of Set.

Boldly defying Crowley’s warning not to comment on the Book of the Law, Ipsissimus Don Webb provides in-depth interpretation from both Black and White Magical perspectives, including commentary from Dr. Michael A. Aquino, who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996. Webb examines each line of the Book in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, existentialism, and competing occult systems such as the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought. Discarding the common image of Crowley formulated in a spiritually unsophisticated time when the devotee of the Left-Hand Path was dismissed as a selfish evil doer, Webb unveils a new side of Crowley based on his adoption of the Loki archetype and his aim to become a vessel of love for all humanity. In so doing, he shows how the Book of the Law is connected to both Right- and Left-Hand Paths and reveals how Crowley’s magical path of mastery over the self and Cosmos overthrew the gods of old religion, which had kept humanity asleep to dream the nightmare of history.

Providing in-depth analysis of Crowley’s sources and his self-identification with the First Beast of Revelations from a profound esoteric perspective, Webb takes his views out of the Golden Dawn matrix within which he received the Book of the Law and radically recasts the Cairo Working as a text of personal sovereignty and a relevant tool for personal transformation.” [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.

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]

 

 

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