I've been surfing through, what is proving to be, a fascinating book a friend gave me a couple of days ago. It is called The Sorcerer's Handbook by Wade Baskin. The edition I am reading was published in 1974. It is a fairly large compendium of occult terms, personalities, secret societies and events. In it we find such tidbits as Oriente being an alternate name for the goddess Diana. We can see the striking similarities of the functions of the Loa of Voodoo and the Kachinas of the Hopi and the Navaho. We can perhaps discover personalities such the alchemist, John Fontaine, Diodorus of Catania, "burned alive in an oven;" John Worth Edmonds, "received communications from Bacon, Swedenborg and others;" and so on. We are clued in on such hidden bodies as the Secret society of Calibar (Egbo), "eleven grades ...first three not open to slaves," Madre Natura "a powerful order whose members worshiped and idealized nature," and the Hung Society, "the largest membership of any secret society in the world." ....To this I say that I am sufficiently impressed to learn that there is an efficient technique for accurately measuring the census of secret societies.
What makes this particular work so much fun, though, is the transparency of its spin. It didn't take long to learn who the author/editor has sympathy for and who he is against. I was able to quickly deduce that he considers himself a member of the "authentic" Golden Dawn tradition and, this being the case, he necessarily "hates" Aleister Crowley. The very first listing we encounter in this "encyclopedia" is the one for A.'.A.'. . "Symbol of a secret society founded by Aleister Crowley. Expelled from the Order of the Golden Dawn, which he had joined in 1898. Crowley founded the Argentinum Astrum (Silver Star) and began to publish the secrets of his rivals in The Equinox. The new society failed to attract many illustrious members. By 1914 its membership had dwindled to 38." So the information Mr. Baskin is kind enough to provide tells us that the A.'.A.'. was little more than a sad, failed attempt to avenge a "failed" Golden Dawn member's hard feelings for having been "expelled." It doesn't bother to indicate the goals of the A.'.A.'. or to give any objective information about it. It concludes with a dwindling membership. The use of the word "illustrious members" tells us a bit about the author/editor's own preferences in shopping for a secret order to join. This is reiterated under his listing for the Order of the Golden Dawn, which begins with a name dropping session: "Occult society whose members included W.R. Yeats (Alamantra: should be W.B. Yeats), Algernon Blackwood, Austin Osman Spare, Arthur Machen, the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, and Allan Bennett, an eccentric who renounced his Catholic faith when he discovered the mechanism of childbirth."
Having read that I was very curious to see if Aleister Crowley was listed and, if so, what Mr. Baskin had to say on the matter. I was not disappointed:
"Crowley, Aleister: Scottish Satanist (1875-1847) founder of a cult violently opposed to Christianity, and editor and author of many works on the occult. His numerous magical writings include many articles published in The Equinox (a journal which he founded), contributions to a number of obscure magazines, The Kabbalah Unveiled, Magick in Theory and Practice, and Moonchild, an occult suspense tale.
Crowley claimed to be a reincarnation of Edward Dee. After he died in Hastings in 1947, his orgiastic "Hymn to Pan" was recited during the funeral services held for him in the chapel of the Brighton crematorium and a Black Mass was administered at his grave by his passionate disciples. Unlike his teacher MacGregor Mathers, he neither created nor stilled thunderstorms, but he did invoke by magical means, and with fateful consequences to himself, forces hidden in the depths of that reality that underlies the world of appearance. His writings are largely responsible for the revival of magic today and of an attitude toward man that was almost thrust aside by the rise of science in the 17th century. He faced the new age with ancient instruments -- the mystic names of power, the wand, the magic circle. See 'Great Beast'"
I have to hand this one to the author's efficiency ...He gets a slam in from the second word. Since Crowley also claimed English and Irish ancestry, one has to wonder at Mr. Baskin's preference for painting Crowley as being particularly Scottish. I presume that this may have something to do with the author's choice to contrast Crowley's "fateful" accomplishment with the miraculous "weather" magic of MacGregor Mathers. Disregarding this, though, Baskin gets it completely wrong on the "reincarnation of Edward Dee." Crowley, who claimed to be the reincarnation of every magician from Cagliastro to Eliphas Levi, claimed to have been the reincarnation of Edward KELLY. The fact that the author/editor of a compendium of magical names and personalities gets this wrong is quite troubling as regards the other information the author purports to sell throughout the book. Upon reading the introduction, though, one shouldn't be too surprised to find such distortions as he acknowledges having benefited from the writings of A.E. 'White' (should be Waite).
By the fourth sentence Baskin has killed poor old Mr. Crowley and begins to roughly sketch lurid images of orgies next to the flaming furnace of hell waiting to consume the casket of the "wickedest man in the world" and his heathen, deranged followers intoning the devil by the ...nonexistent... grave of Mr. Crowley. I found the inconsistency of the cremation and the burial to be quite averse to common sense. As I recall, Crowley's ashes were allegedly scattered by a tree somewhere in New Jersey.
The great irony is that given the author's wish to diminish the A.'.A.'., he has to begrudgingly state, "His writings are largely responsible for the revival of magic today.. " which he cannot leave to stand as a complete sentence but is willing to risk the very premise of his book by reducing it to a view of the world that had been antiquated by the 17th century ...and, thus, as something that stands in opposition to the Renaissance. That revival of magic(k) of which he admits only with contempt, is the very thing that enabled Baskin to get this book published in the first place. Even more puzzling, in light of the rhetoric of the other listings, is Baskin's entry for "Magick in Theory and Practice: One of the best books ever written on the subject of magic. It was published in 1929 by Aleister Crowley, the self-styled 'Great Beast.'"
Baskin isn't quite done kicking the corpse of Mr. Crowley just yet, but rather refers us to see "Great Beast." This provides further information to suggest that Mr. Baskin regards himself as a defender of the Golden Dawn against Mr.Crowley's molestations. Just like the reference to A.'.A.'., this listing casts Mr. Crowley in the light of his association with the Order of the Golden Dawn: "Title of John Symond's biography of Aleister Crowley. The Great Beast describes Crowley's attempt to take over the leadership of the Order of the Golden Dawn. Samuel Mathers, the Visible Head, sent a vampire to attack Crowley, who 'smote her with her own current of evil." Crowley's blood-hounds were all killed, but he retaliated by summoning up Beelzebub and forty-nine demons to attack Mathers."
We also find notable omissions from the listings such as: Thelema, Ordo Templi Orientis. However there is a separate listing for Astrum Argentinum: "A secret society founded by Aleister Crowley. The scandalous behavior of those who entered his Abbey of Theleme in Sicily discredited the society."
The thing that I think I appreciate the most, though, is the more subtle attack Baskin levels against the A.'.A.'. under the listing, "Initiation Into a Coven," with which I will conclude this short review. He makes a parody of the initiatory titles of the A.'.A.'. by blending them with some imaginary facts about witch covens and refers everything, once again, back to a darker age in opposition to Renaissance ideals:
"One must be predisposed by nature to black magic, according to Justine Glass (Witchcraft, 1965), in order to become a witch. Generally contacts with witches are made by questioning one's friends or relatives about the subject. After becoming acquainted with the members of a coven, the candidate has to answer questions concerning his reasons for wanting to join the coven. If his answers are satisfactory, he beings a trial period of 13 months. During this period he is instructed in what might be called external or superficial matters. He also undergoes a series of tests, which vary with the coven.
These tests may involve acts of vandalism committed in churches and cemeteries, grave-robbing, and other seemingly senseless acts. The price of admission is sometimes lowered from the standard sum of 75 pounds or so if the neophyte evidences extraordinary aptitude in such matters as grave-robbing. In 1962 the London Daily Sketch reported the theft of an infant from its grave. The body was never recovered, and Glass attributes its disappearance to the actions of aspirants to membership in a black coven.
If at the end of the probationary period the candidate has proven to be worthy of admission into the order, and if he completes his assignments as a neophyte, he becomes a Zelator.
Then come several other stages after which the candidate can become a Magus or even rise to the summit and be known as Ipsissimus.
The exact nature of the functions and responsibilities attached to the various stages is unknown, but Glass thinks that the basic rite of the modern black coven has changed very little since the Middle Ages..."
Indeed. That's why it's never a good idea to hide behind 'Glass' while throwing stones. We have sufficient information to suppose that this confabulating the A.'.A.'. titles with the petty criminal activities described was intentional when we look up the entry for Ipsissimus: "The highest of the ten grades or ranks in Aleister Crowley's cabalistic system."
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