This is a preliminary review of the ‘pre-publication, promotion & review’ release of Liber L vel Bogus: The Real Confession of Aleister Crowley by Richard T Cole. A more detailed analysis of the claims made in the book will follow when the final version is published.
Richard T Cole’s book is a must-read. Of course it is: the hype makes enormous claims that demand attention, but ultimately it’s a disappointment… His focus on the negative aspects of Crowley’s personality, for example, (or, more accurately, his sexuality) brings with it an imbalance that ultimately discredits his approach. I’ve yet to speak with anyone interested in Crowley who wasn’t already well-informed about all that, but to embellish one story (seduction of a maid on his mother’s bed) with an extraordinary accusation (a knife being used and the bed replaced by a chopping board) and then to use a 1957 magazine, ‘Real Action For Men’, as its sole source is, frankly, breath-taking in this context.
Don’t misunderstand me: Cole’s book is informative in parts, it is well-written, well-produced and entertaining, but the real question is whether he includes evidence that justifies the extravagant hype used to promote it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t, not in this ‘promotion and review’ edition at least, which adds very little to the ‘evidence’ already published in his free taster PDF.
Some examples: His photographic resources are all over the place; handwriting is misidentified as AC’s; ill-advised ‘humorous’ photoshopped manipulations are shown ridiculing a prominent scholar (a point-scoring in-joke of questionable value at best); there’s a photograph of a reproduction of the stele in place of the actual stele (in itself obscuring something that, had Cole realised it, actually provides evidence in support of his argument); and, finally and most suspiciously, he reproduces on p209 a deliberately faked photograph, exposed as such on the Forums here.
Factually, he lurches from one minor error to the next – nothing too alarming but mostly demonstrating his poor choice of resource material. Why make so much of ‘evidence’ in Marcus Katz’s embarrassingly poor and error-strewn reprint of OS27 when the ‘original’ text is widely available? Dates are often incorrect, works are described as ‘unpublished’ when they’re not, incorrect assumptions are made (e.g. the time taken to travel from Egypt to Europe) and so on.
Ultimately, the point of this book seems to me to be two-fold: first to establish that AC could not have written Liber AL in 1904, and, secondly, that dark forces have tried to hide this fact. Does the book provide convincing evidence for either? Factual evidence of the first is scarce and is based almost exclusively on Cole’s repeated assertion regarding the paper used for the MSS. All other evidence is ultimately peripheral: if the paper includes a watermark proving it didn’t exist until 1905 then Cole’s case is proved. Well, he repeats the assertion but provides no evidence, expecting us to take him at his word and assuring us that the ‘issue [will be] discussed at length in Part 2(B), Appendix 1.’
As for the second point of the book, Cole writes at length regarding the omission of OS23 from the (partial) Yorke Collection microfilm, alleging a conspiracy to hide it as if it proves his hypothesis, without showing evidence that he has read its content and therefore what its significance might be. Those of us familiar with OS23 will be surprised to see so much made of it, fascinating though it is.
In short, then, yes, this is a book that all interested in AC and Thelema should read. I’ve described it in correspondence with RTC as a ‘breath of fresh air’. But, despite the years of effort seemingly invested in it, it still shows the signs of being rushed: there’s simply very little evidence in it, certainly nothing of great significance that withstands rigorous analysis.
I should end by pointing out that RTC spends two pages complaining about the treatment dished out to a LAShTAL.COM member, one ‘Carrot_Childe’, for daring to innocently ask serious questions on the Forums about some of RTC’s claims, bemoaning ‘a predictable fog of feigned ignorance punctuated by volleys of sarcasm and derision from established members.’ As readers of these Forums now know, ‘Carrot_Childe’ is an anagram of ‘Richard T Cole’. The account was created by Cole or his team, it turns out, to promote the book. It’s this hubris and hype, combined with an unwise choice of source material, that ultimately renders the book disappointingly less than the sum of it parts.
Let’s be clear, there is mystery in the Cairo Working and there is evidence that AC obscures far more than he reveals in his account of it. I have lectured on some of the puzzles and Churton has discussed some of them in his biography of AC. This all merits a serious and properly researched work that can withstand academic or at least informed investigation. Unless the ‘final version’ of Cole’s book is subjected to extensive revision, this isn’t it.