The Complete Magician’s Tables

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The Complete Magician’s Tables by Stephen Skinner is published by Golden Hoard Press. It’s a large format and visually very impressive clothbound hardcover book with gilt titles and an attractive and hardwearing laminated dust jacket. Beautifully printed on heavy paper, with clear typesetting and very impressive use of Excel spreadsheets throughout, its 432 pages make it a weighty tome, easily justifying its price of £30 or $46. A leather-bound edition, limited to just 250 copies, will also be made available, although only Weiser Antiquarian in the United States appear to have it in stock at the time of writing. Before I start I should point out that the review copy was received at lashtal.com back in the middle of July. Regular readers of my reviews on LAShTAL will know that I avoid committing to opinions until I’ve read the whole book at least twice. For reasons that will become obvious during the course of this review, however, reading The Complete Magician’s Tables from cover to cover was never going to happen. I have therefore based this review and its conclusions on my near constant use of the book as a reference work during the course of my Thelemic studies. The first thing to note is the author, Stephen Skinner. That’s a name familiar to many of us who have studied the life and works of Aleister Crowley. Skinner ran Askin Publishers and edited several significant works by the Beast back in the days when the occult bookshops’ shelves were filled with works by Francis King and, of course, Symonds and Grant: among Skinner’s works was a skilfully annotated edition of Crowley’s Tunisian diaries and a beautiful paperback of the latter’s translation of the Tao Teh King. Skinner has since moved on to other areas of interest, including the writing of eight books on feng shui. As a result he has become less well-known in Thelemic circles, although this is all set to change with the publication of this book and his three volume Sourceworks Of Ceremonial Magic. It’s fair to say, therefore, that the pedigree and credibility of the author is most impressive. It is pleasing to note that the dedication of this book is to Gerald Yorke, “friend and mentor who preserved and kept alive the work of Aleister Crowley.” The book starts with an excellent introduction to Correspondences and their use in ritual magic: “Correspondences not only form the basis of communication, but they are also the basis of magic.” And to work magic with correspondences requires reference to tables such as these. A detailed and fascinating history of the science of correspondences follows, including Henry Cornelius Agrippa and S L McGregor Mathers. Skinner introduces Liber 777 and dwells on the fact that much of the contents of that book derived from the Golden Dawn and that Crowley did not generate very much of the content. It’s unfortunate that Skinner doesn’t draw attention to the fact that Crowley’s first edition of Liber 777 was published anonymously (photographs of it appear in the Bibliographia Thelemica here), but that’s a minor irritation. The history section concludes with an acknowledgement by Skinner that his Complete Magician’s Tables will never really be complete “in any sense of the word, hoping only to provide the magical student with a classic which will weather the next 100 years as well as Crowley’s Liber 777 has weathered the last 100 years.” The book then presents what is effectively an excellent Reader’s Guide for Liber 777, explaining and criticising its editorial apparatus. Skinner very effectively demonstrates the illogicality of many of Crowley’s decisions in connection with the layout, content and structure of Liber 777. As I mentioned, the tables are beautifully typeset and presented, they run logically from one to the next and are exhaustively referenced. The row numbers make a great deal more sense than those in Liber 777 and many correspondences that were previously obscure become almost obvious as a result. With “more than 777 tables”, I do not intend to discuss their contents in detail. However, I would like to draw attention to some of the many gems in this wise and erudite work. For example, I am particularly impressed by the collection of tables on Dr John Dee’s Angels, which contains much fascinating information and which serves to make sense of much that can be confusing to younger students of Enochiana. There are two intriguing tables relating to the Sigillum Dei Aemaeth alone. Another couple of tables relate to Egyptian hieroglyphics. This is an imaginative step, successfully completed. A wonderful selection of tables relates to the Magic of the Grimoires. It’s difficult to guess just how much time a simple study of these tables would save any serious student of the grimoires, but there is an enormous amount of information presented clearly and, so far as I can tell, reliably. It’s safe to say that Mr Skinner’s knowledge of the medieval grimoires is astonishing and encyclopaedic. The 100-plus pages of commentary at the back of the book explain and where necessary justify many of the more controversial or obscure correspondences. Given Mr Skinner’s background of publishing Crowley’s works, it is interesting to note that his remarks concerning the OTO in the commentary are favourable. Where the columns in this book are derived from the same or similar columns in Liber 777, this is made very clear. This just serves to demonstrate how much more thorough and more easily navigable this book is. It would not be right to ignore some of the books less positive aspects. I am not persuaded, for example, by the author’s decision not to use a “zero row” representing the Unmanifest. Skinner notes that there are very few attributions suitable for a zero row but I find his arguments for excluding it unconvincing. Skinner’s deliberate decision to exclude the Thelemic pantheon from the table relating to Egyptian gods is perplexing and some readers will be surprised to see his note that he “will not be utilising the mid-20th-century swap of Emperor and Star tarot trumps favoured by Crowley, and derived from … The Book of the Law”. Perhaps these omissions would justify an extra couple of columns in the book, making its completeness even more complete for Thelemites. I’m pleased to note that there are surprisingly few – and invariably minor – typographical errors. They are inevitable in a work of this scale and complexity, although getting Crowley’s birth names in the wrong order is unfortunate! It’s a measure of how highly I rate this book that I kept the review copy as my constant study companion for more than a month and that, despite having received the copy for review, I have placed an order for an additional copy “for best”. This is a robust and strangely profound work that will, I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever, become considered as a classic of its type, an essential purchase for all interested not just in ritual magic but also comparative religion and the history of ideas. There can be no argument: Stephen Skinner set himself a huge challenge to compete head-on with Liber 777. Although I’m a dyed-in-the-wool admirer of Crowley’s work, I am happy to admit that this book is the victor. And just one last thing… For the next edition – and trust me, there will be many future editions – please include a CD-ROM of the Excel spreadsheets. Imagine a fully searchable version of a book as wonderfully packed with information as this!

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