Thursday, October 18, 2007

Summing up Crowley today

Where we deal with some esoteric stuff. Aleister Crowley, magician, mystic, wild and crazy guy. Prolific author. Unfairly tagged with the label of being right wing due to some misanthropic passages in his "Book of the Law". What does the status of ceremonial magick in the tradition of Crowley stand today?

Well, despite the wide availability of his writings, which is sort of ironic because most of the ones in print are really difficult and hermetic...and probably indecipherable for someone who just picks them up cold, the American OTO, sometimes called the Caliphate OTO, has produced damn few writers that are any good. On a personal level individual OTO members have some insight into things, but in terms of who writes the books there's pretty much no one besides Lon Milo Duquette who seems to have anything interesting or original to say. Rodney Orpheus, a member of the Caliphate OTO in England, wrote "Abrahadabra", which is a good book but I can't really think of anyone else who's done a good insightful job of writing about these things.

There have been spectacular failures, the first of which is Christopher Hyatt, who is in charge of New Falcon Publications, whose works fall somewhere between completely superficial and moronic. There's virtually nothing interesting that he's put out. The only book he's written that has a sustained meditation on anything is "The Psychopath's Bible", where he outlines his belief that people should act to destroy the human race as quickly as possible but never gives any reason why people should either believe in or do this.

New Falcon as a whole is a farce, an outfit that was willing to publish any books that Robert Anton Wilson churned out, no matter how badly he plagiarized himself, writing the same fucking book over and over again. For your $16 you might as well just get "Cosmic Trigger" Volume 1, think about getting "Prometheus Rising" sometime in the future, and forget about the rest. "Right where you're sitting now" is very good....but that's published by Ronin Press not New Falcon. My opinion is that beyond the Illuminatus! Trilogy and the ones outlined above, there's nothing in either Wilson's fiction or non-fiction worth reading. And unfortunately I've wasted my money on quite a lot of his books over the years, so I can feel somewhat confident about that statement.
It's interesting.....Peter Lamborn Wilson, who writes much more serious stuff in the counter-culture vein, rightly observed somewhere that RAW seemed to be a huckster selling whatever pseudo-counter cultural ideas he came across at a given period of time and not much more. It's shocking, shocking! to insult the memory of RAW, but unfortunately it's something that needs to be done. Even though he's not a Thelemite, i.e. a follower of Crowley, Timothy Leary, fellow New Falcon author, could be put in the same category, at least in his later works. The ones he wrote at the height of his popularity, i.e. "The Psychedelic Experience" and "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out" are good ...and available for free online... but if you go down the road to things like "Neuropolitique" you start feeling that some utterly worthless writings of RAW, like "Sex & Drugs" are masterpieces of depth and perception.

Anyways, back to Crowley's ideas today.

The thing is that most of Crowley's ideas were passed on by people associated with his two orders, the A.'. A.'., which was a Golden Dawn like magical fraternity, and the OTO or Order of Oriental Templars, which was an esoteric Masonic organization that went far from the sort of Shriners in little cars idea of what Freemasonry is into real esotericism and occultism....mainly because occultists in the 19th century took Freemasonry and embellished it with their own ideas. The OTO pre-existed Crowley but he changed its focus and rituals to be in line with his thoughts on the nature of the universe and such.

Now the A.'. A.'., such as it is, still has some existence but people from it tend to keep to themselves. The OTO on the other hand has produced the most active proponents of Crowley's philosophy, the people who have done things to keep his ideas alive.

After Crowley's death in '49 the OTO lived on for about six years before basically being shut down for lack of interest. There were no more lodges active in the U.S. The only places that it still existed in some form were in England and Brazil, with Kenneth Grant splitting off from the traditional OTO and creating his own very innovative system, and a very eclectic and not entirely serious branch existing in Switzerland.

Basically nothing happened in the U.S. until the early '70s when three people who had been a member of a lodge in California in the late '40s and early '50s decided to resurrect the OTO....but they did this in a very curious way. Instead of coming out and saying that they were trying to reconstruct something that had been dead for two decades in the U.S. they claimed that they had been keeping the faith all the time and were now coming out of the woodwork to claim the mantle of the prophet, so to speak, the mantle being that of the authorized interpreters of Crowley's thought and legacy.

There was just one problem, and that was that Kenneth Grant's Typhonian OTO and Motta's Society Ordo Templi Orientalis, or SOTO, were still in existence and both of those authors, Grant outshining Motta like a supernova to a grey dwarf, still had something to say about what Crowley really thought and what the sorts of things he put into the OTO were really about.

I could go on, but in the words of one author, the Caliphate OTO, i.e. the reconstructed one (don't ask about where 'Caliphate' comes from) is in the habit of suing people who talk about its behavior in this regard. All I'll say is that the royalties from the (Crowley) Thoth Tarot deck and the Crowley books published by Weiser must be nice, especially since they've gone to such trouble to ensure that their magical order legally owns copyrights to things that were once in the public sphere.

If you want more info look up Peter Koenig's web page "The OTO Phenomenon".

But back to Crowley today. Motta's dead but some of his works, particularly "Calling the Children of the Sun" are available and worth looking at. The person claiming to head his organization, David Bersson, is quite frankly insane, so I don't think that much productive work will be coming out of him.

That leaves Kenneth Grant. Grant is the foremost authority on Crowley and Crowley's thought alive today. His books are inexplicably very inaccessible in the U.S. although parts of his thought are starting to bleed through into the U.S. market, particularly in the republication of the Crowley anthology "Portable Darkness", available in paperback, that was edited by people conversant with Grant's thought on things.

But Grant gets ridiculed by the Caliphate OTO because his group is small. Only Grant is responsible in large part for the formation and growth of Chaos Magic, which is pretty much the biggest innovation in magick in the past three and a half decades. The people who founded Chaos Magic initially had it as being semi-Grantian, and you can see traces of that even today in Peter Carrol's "Liber Null & Psychonaut", although the mentions are so obscure that you'd have to have already read some of Grant, particularly "Nightside of Eden", which is a priceless contribution..., to read Carrol and say to yourself "Oh, I know where that came from".

So on the one hand you have someone who besides writing nine extremely dense and insightful volumes about Crowley since the late '60s served as an inspiration for a totally new current of Magick, but whose order, the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientalis, has always been small, and on the other you have the Caliphate OTO, mainly in the U.S., that has a lot of members but besides keeping the name of the OTO out there has done relatively little in terms of contribution to the occult world of the United States.

I'll let you judge which is the most important of the two.

Before going on to one last little thing I'll mention Michael Bertiaux, whose organization, the OTOA, or OTO Antiquis (Old OTO), combines some pre-Crowley OTO stuff with both Voodoo and French Gnosticism, while having ideas in the Crowleyan tradition here and there. His writings, like the recently reissued "Voudon Gnostic Workbook" are good on their own terms, although the ideas in the "Workbook" could be much more easily explained with clearer language than Bertiaux uses. But it too is well worth checking out.

The last little thing is the matter of Israel Regardie. There seems to be some confusion over his relation to Crowley. Regardie is famous for publishing order documents of a part of the Golden Dawn descended occult lodge the "Stella Matutina", thereby giving people direct access to the things. Regardie was Crowley's secretary for a few years but stated himself that Crowley didn't give him personal instruction in his magical system, and later on Regardie characterized himself as a "Golden Dawn man", not a Thelemite, which is to say a follower of Crowley. This is really important considering that both of these things have been used to give Regardie authority regarding (no pun intended) Crowley's thought and legacy. Regardie supported the reconstructed OTO, although it's not clear if he even was a member of that group, and the weight of his name means something in occult circles in the U.S., although that weight isn't really deserved.

But before I demolish Regardie let me just point out why the discussion of him is important regarding Crowley. The first point is that there were many people that Crowley had more intimate conversation about his ideas with than Regardie and these people have so far been overlooked, partially no doubt because what the have/had to say conflicts with what the Caliphate OTO says Crowley believed, and the second is that the system of magic that Regardie published documents regarding has little to do with how Crowley's A.'. A.'. was structured. Amazing but true. There's an assumption out there that the A.'. A.'., Crowley's full on magical order, was just a copy of the Golden Dawn, but this is not the case. He reworked pretty much all the rituals based on his system of magic, which is much more streamlined and clear than that presented by the Regardie documents. So......Regardie has little relevance to either Crowley in general or to the system the Crowley established in particular.

Yet he's been made a "Saint" in the Caliphate OTO, literally.

I'll comment on Regardie's works by saying that most of the original writing by him is worthless. The futon that I sleep on currently has a broken cross beam; Regardie's "The Tree of Life" is one of the books I use to prop it up. The others are a phone book and a text book. If you want a coherent description of the Golden Dawn system look up Chic and Tabitha Cicero's book "The Essential Golden Dawn", which actually gives an analysis of the thing in action. The thing about the order documents that Regardie published, meaning things that he either got a hold of or that were given to him in confidence, is that they present the same sort of problem as all the information on the internet: plenty of primary sources out there but not a lot of guidance in how to make useful sense out of them.

Which brings me to the last section of this, which is Regardie's role in sparking an occult revival with the publishing of the Golden Dawn material. What people don't realize is that he published all these things in the '50s [on edit: he started publishing the Golden Dawn documents in '37, finished in the early '40s]. This is significant because Aleister Crowley had been continually publishing books on magic deriving from his experience in the Golden Dawn as well as from other sources since the 1900s. There's several thousands of pages of Crowley writings on magic out there, all published before Regardie released his collection of documents in the '50s.
It was surely a boon to occultists to have this stuff get out there but credit should also be given to where credit is due.

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