'Aleister Crowley, Marie de Miramar & the True Wanga' - Abraxas 4
If I may take the liberty of blowing my own (spirit) trumpet once more, I had an article published last year in Abraxas Journal (issue no.4):
I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere on Lashtal, so thought I would do so here. This is not (just) a plug for Abraxas; I would be very interested to hear from anyone who had read the piece, and had any comments.
The article had its inception following a discussion with the writer Stephen Grasso (who will be familiar to some here, I hope). It was Stephen who first highlighted for me the oddity of the line in the Book of the Law (I, 37): "the obeah and the wanga."
It was some years later that I stumbled upon a Theosophical pamphlet in the Yorke Collection, 'Obeah Simplified; or, the True Wanga,' dated c1895. Emendations in what appeared to me to be Crowley’s handwriting were present, underlining and annotating certain passages.
It seemed to me entirely possible that a young Crowley had first come across the terms 'obeah' and 'wanga' via this pamphlet; the idiosyncratic interpretation of these terms by its pseudonymous author ‘Cassecanarie’ dovetail nicely, in my opinion, with Crowley's own understanding (as evinced in e.g. the New Comment).
I'velong been fascinated by Marie de Miramar, Crowley's unfortunate second wife, the 'High Priestess of Voodoo.' Consequently, the article’s scope was expanded so as to examine her life, and also to look at the influence (such as it is) of Voodoo - and, more generally, of African Diasporic religions - upon Crowley's thought and writing.
Sounds like an interesting tidbit (the document) whether the notes are in AC's handwriting or not. But let us not forget (for those that accept the Book of the Law as such) that it was written by Aiwaz, not Crowley, and the latter remained puzzled by it for a long time, as evident in his commentaries. Although written in language ultimately intelligible to AC, it stands on its own and can be interpreted without reference to him - I trust you didn't overlook this. (I've only read an excerpt of your article.)
Good point. I did add a caveat of sorts (on page 34):
"From all the above points I cautiously suggest that the pamphlet Obeah Simplified was an inspiration to Crowley. Published in the 1890s, when the young man was still developing his own magical world view, it shaped some of his outlook on utterance and spells and reinforced his respect for non-European magical traditions. This means [if one accepts such an argument...] that it would [have been] a source for The Book of the Law. The spirit Aiwass, who Crowley always said [had] dictated it to him, may perhaps be regarded as a separate entity, but one that was a manifestation of Crowley's unconscious."
As you can see, I am agnostic on the question of Liber Legis's authorship.
But I accept that for those who regard its sole author to have been Aiwass, then any emendations on the Warburg copy of Obeah Simplified., and indeed the pamphlet itself and its provenance, become irrelevant.
It also occurs to me that merely because the pamphlet was published in the 1890s, this does not then mean that Crowley must have acquired it then, upon its publication...he may have done so later. The other Theosophical pamphlets that it has been bound with are also of a similar pub. date, IIRC.
At one time, when I was a feverish young student of Crowley, but long before the internet, with access only to a local Scottish public library, I used to wonder, "what the fuck's a wanga?" I'd come across Obeah as a variant of the Voodoo/Santeria type of thing, but it took a while before I accidentally came across the term "Ouanga" and thought, aha, that might be the same as the "Wanga" mentioned, an alternate spelling.
But even after all these years, I'm still not very clear on what either of the two terms are about, or their relation to each other, and I haven't seen any other Crowleyish (by him or others) writings that clarify the issue very much, just either sketchy mentions showing that nobody else is any the wiser, or metaphorical use of the terms (AC's "Secret Light" comment).
Some, like Bertiaux, seem to have delved into those traditions to some extent, but judging by extant writings from that area, I was never hugely impressed.
The kind of investigation in the OP, like that investigation of the phraseology in AL being reminiscent of some of the phraseology in a Florence Farr pamphlet, could well be little chinks in the wall where we can glimpse AC with his pants down.
The text is now available here https://www.academia.edu/7543217/Aleister_Crowley_Marie_de_Miramar_and_the_True_Wanga if anyone's interested. Just the text, the illustrations have been redacted, so if you want to see them you'll have to buy Abraxas 4, which contains lots of top-notch articles and is handsomely illustrated and produced 😉
By the way, I have just started reading Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold's new Obeah: a sorcerous ossuary booklet; very impressed so far. He mentions - as I have done - line 37 from Book One of Liber Legis and, IIRC, he understands it to mean the 'obeah' is the power or the force which drives the 'wanga'; that is, which gives the 'wanga' (as a spell, or as a physical wanga packet/mojo bag/gris gris bag, etc) its potency or efficacy.
Oh and PS - superb cover illustration by Kyle Fite!
Thank you to whoever posted the link. These tidbits of history are always fascinating.
Obeah and wanga can be greatly simplified to be understood (particularly in the Ruach) though in practice and theory very different!