My sincere thanks to the highly regarded Mogg Morgan (Mandrake of Oxford) for his insightful review of Richard T Cole's forthcoming book, reproduced here by kind permission...
Liber L. vel Bogus
The Real Confessions of Aleister Crowley
ISBN 9781900962 865
Richard T. Cole -- Edited by Sadie Sparkes -- Publication date 1st April 2014 -- Although as yet no price.
Given the publication date and the author's known propensity for the odd spoof a certain amount of caution is advised. I was lucky to receive a pre-publication review copy with an informative comps slip with a note: 'Mogg – One for the Thelemic Anorack Anoracks? It's an inverted Whodunnit with very best wishes yours RC.'
Not sure I quite qualify these days, odd thing is despite the publication date the book is still hard to come by, almost as if Richard is trying to create a buzz and boost sales but somehow I think the target audience is quite small – after all, if I was a beginner to magick, what would I make of the title, or why would I be interested in what is a product for anoraks, i.e. nerdy Crowley fans? The compliments slip summarizes the contents as 'To my mind, it appears almost certain that there was no "cross examination" of Rose, no Boulak visit, no Reception, No Aiwass, no Book of The Law, no lost manuscript and no Thelema. All were fantasies conjured from the mind of an obsessive psychopath, in furtherance of his grand delusion of "I Crowley, the Chosen One".'
Having read most of the book thus far, I think the above is still largely unproved. Or perhaps, I'd more agree with another commentator who says: 'Well, that's hardly a surprise! You never, seriously, believed Crowley's story than an angel flapped in on his honeymoon with a New World Religion T-shirt and "Chosen One" badge... Did you?' (Cole : 15) We are talking about the foundation narrative of a new religious movement called Thelema, whose holy book, Liber Al Vel Legis, was supposedly channelled to Aleister Crowley following a series of mysterious events in Cairo, Egypt, in 1904. Personally I always thought it pretty obvious that this foundation myth had been worked over by Crowley; to me the channelled text is clearly written in his style.
But there again, having studied a lot of religious inspired texts over the years, wouldn't it be naïve to expect anything different? I'd say it's the way all religious texts are generated, part inspiration, part perspiration. One of the key pieces of evidence RC points to as part of this post revelation working over is the typing paper used by Crowley, acting as amanuensis, to scribe the text. Cole contends that he has proof that this paper was not widely available in 1904. Given how much he reads into this fact, it's rather odd that the promised definitive proof, presumably a letter from the Wiggins Teape archive, is not reproduced in the present book! It is instead held over for a slated volume two! That is, as they say, a bit like someone knocking on the front door just as one is about to sit down for dinner, it just won't do (there is a ruder version of this metaphor). The proper place for that "evidence" is surely in this present volume?
Even if we accept some of this working over of the sacred text is highly likely, then it is not a killer fact. Examples that spring to mind? Well, perhaps the Pentateuch which is supposedly written by Moses, who dutifully recorded his own death in the final verses of Deuteronomy 34! Perhaps someone finished that bit off for him? Or Yeats and Georgie Hyde Lees who made a magnificent series of trance sessions as recorded in the volume 'A Vision'. But there is obviously some working over of the material, and notes of the first few communications were so unimpressive, they did not even bother to keep them.
Caroline Tully has written something on this that deserves to be better known. In an article in 'The Pomegranate' (2009 20-47) called 'Walk like an Egyptian: Egypt as Authority in Aleister Crowley's Reception of The Book of the Law' she also identifies the imperatives laid upon all western magical adepts to form a contact with 'The Secret Chiefs'. And in most cases this means travels to the land of eastern promise, either Egypt or India, and to receive a revelation. If this doesn't happen spontaneously, one has to make it happen. As Tully concludes: 'Crowley was less interested in Egyptian culture, aesthetics or religion than in the power he could extract from association with its venerable antiquity. His accurate assessment of the spiritual clout possessed by ancient Egypt in the eyes of his peers meant that regardless of the actual function and meaning of Egyptian material culture, the simple fact of its Egyptian nature provided him with spiritual credibility and prowess.' (Tully 2009 : 44)
I'd say Crowley is very much in that tradition, although Cole does a good job in exposing how Crowley's psychology was seriously flawed, motivated not so much by some mystical quest, as more by spite and a desire to hit back at his one-time mentors in The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn. His declaration of war on Mathers, the head of the London Order, does, with hindsight, look rather puerile.
Richard seems convinced that revealing the process of magical inspiration will for many be a deal breaker, especially when this is done for the Thelemic tradition; I'm not so convinced. I think it might actually lead to a more mature understanding of magick and gnosis. Forgive me, Richard, if you say that later in the book, which I suspect it is your point of view, but I'm not such an anorak that I could continue reading to the bitter end – too much detail for me. For those who like detailed textual analysis of Crowley's oeuvre, there is plenty here to keep you busy.