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The Magic of Aleister Crowley by John…
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The Magic of Aleister Crowley

by John Symonds

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Symonds met Aleister Crowley in 1946, the year before Crowley's death. Crowley's will left the copyright of his works to Symonds and made him Crowley's literary executor, though Crowley's legal status as an undischarged bankrupt meant that the copyrights actually ended up in receivership. At first fascinated by Crowley, Symonds became increasingly critical of his ideas and manners, in particular the use of drugs and free-sex.He edited, with Kenneth Grant, Crowley's autobiography and a number of other works. He authored four biographical works of his own: The Great Beast, (1952), The Magic of Aleister Crowley (1958), The King of the Shadow Realm (1989) and The Beast 666 (1997).… (more)

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This book was issued after the first edition of Symonds' original Crowley bio The Great Beast, and the later revised edition of The Great Beast claimed to include the contents of The Magic of AC. But that was only partially true. About 60% of The Magic consists of biographical material that Symonds had not included in The Great Beast, particularly drawn from Crowley's records of his major magical operations, such as "The Ab-ul-Diz Working" and "The Paris Working." These passages were later integrated with the main biography, as advertised. But this material is more reliably approached through the primary documents in The Equinox IV (2) (The Vision & the Voice, with Commentary and Other Papers), of course.

What serious students will find most interesting is the other 40% of Symonds' The Magic of AC, in which he describes the manner in which he ingratiated himself to the elderly Prophet of the Aeon. There is a curious repeated pattern, in which Crowley invites Symonds out to Netherwood, and Symonds brings along an uninvited guest as a companion. Symonds writes that "Crowley was someone to see and to talk about afterwards," as if the old magician were a stage play for his amusement. Despite his protestations that he found Crowley entertaining in a sort of pathetic way, it looks like Symonds was genuinely afraid of him. His poor wife Margaret certainly was, and the account of Symonds arm-twisting her into a visit makes for gruesome reading. After several visits with Crowley, having read The Book of the Law and The Equinox of the Gods which Crowley gave him as gifts, Symonds still doesn't seem to know the word Thelema, instead going on contemptuously about "Crowleyism" and "Crowleyanity." Symonds patently deceives Crowley into thinking that he is willing to help on such projects as a new Thelemic commune ("The Green Lion"), playing him along, rather than being honest with him. He whines about getting involved in the publication of Olla, when he volunteered to help. And then he treats his assignment as literary executor as a surprising stroke of luck, when his intention to write a saleable biography of Crowley had been declared to the reader (but not to Crowley) from the outset.

Symonds once accused Crowley of being a man with no superego or conscience of any kind. He often remarked how Crowley seemed utterly mystified by why other people should consider him evil. I rather think, after reading The Magic of Aleister Crowley, that the description better fits Symonds himself. He seems to have thought that readers would consider him fully justified in lying to an eccentric old man whom he intended to use as literary fodder. So today Symonds is an elderly author living in England. If only two wrongs could make a right....
1 vote paradoxosalpha | Jun 10, 2009 |
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