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The Old Sod: The Odd Life and Inner Work of William G. Gray: 1 [Illustrated] [Paperback]

Alan Richardson , Marcus Claridge
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Paperback, Illustrated, 10 Dec 2003 --  

Book Description

10 Dec 2003
A hard-hitting biography of one of the least known yet most influential occultists, whose books on the Kabbalah and Magick quietly revolutionised those arts, and whose own work in the Earth Mysteries taught the witches their Craft, and made it what it is today.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Ignotus Press; First edition (10 Dec 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1903768144
  • ISBN-13: 978-1903768143
  • Product Dimensions: 20.2 x 14.6 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,118,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Richardson has been writing weird, wonderful, winsome and frequently embarrassing books - not all of which appear on Amazon - for longer than many of his readers have been alive. He has done biographies of such luminaries as Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, Christine Hartley and William G. Gray. Plus novels and novellas that are all set in his local area. He is also an expert on Earth Mysteries, Mythology, Paganism, Celtic lore, Ancient Egypt,jet fighters, army tanks, Wiltshire tea shops, Great British Actors and Newcastle United Football Club. Although he regards supporting the latter as being the closest thing a man can get to a Near Death Experience. He does not belong to any group or society, does not take pupils, no longer gives lectures, and insists on holding down a full-time job in the real world like any other mortal. That, after all, is part and parcel of the real Path - however it might be defined. He is married with four daughters, and lives the life of a Happy Hermit in the south-west of England.
His simple-simple website is at: www.alric.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

Product Description

About the Author

Marcus Claridge is a godson of William Gray and was initiated by him in his Temple in Bennington Street, Cheltenham. He is currently Warden for the Sangreal Sodality in Britain. Alan Richardson is the author of numerous books on magic and occultism, including a biography of Dion Fortune. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Priceless 1 Mar 2011
By Sulis
The late William G. Gray was one of the great pioneering writers on ritual magic and Qabalah, and he was also an irascible old sod with a devilish sense of humour. However he also had a very interesting life, and this biography by two people who knew him extremely well is a fantastic read. It includes lots of anecdotes about his work as a ritual magician (at a time when it was not only socially unacceptable, but risked falling foul of the Witchcraft Act) and collaboration with a dazzling array of important figures in the world of magic, from Dion Fortune to Doreen Valiente. The book covers his entire lifetime, from the influence of his glamorous astrologer mother, his training by a mysterious Rosicrucian adept known as ENH, and his ever practical wife Bobbie ("why does it have to be in Hebrew? Why can't you use bloody English?") As fascinating as the factual content of the book is, the best bits are in William G. Gray's own words, as there are extensive quotes from his unpublished (unpublishable?) autobiography and personal letters, in which his witty sarcasm makes for a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. One particularly memorable example is his description of Gerald Gardner "prancing around with elk-horns from a coat-rack tied on his head while the girls tickle his tool with a pink feather duster." The book is affectionate, thorough and sometimes irreverent but always immensely entertaining and a fascinating glimpse into the world of a 20th century occultist.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling biography! 5 May 2011
The Old Sod: The Odd Life and Inner Work of William G. Gray is a biography written by Gray's godson Marcus Claridge in collaboration with well-known occult biographer Alan Richardson. This is a fascinating read, based closely around Bill's own autobiography (which was, unfortunately, too libellous to publish in its original form!) It tells the story of Bill's life and psychic development through the influence of his astrologer mother and the enigmatic Austrian adept known as ENH, his survival of the Dunkirk massacre in WW2, and his involvement with just about every important figure in 20th century magic: Dion Fortune, Aleister Crowley, R J Stewart, Gareth Knight, Doreen Valiente and Robert Cochrane. The book includes a vivid and exciting account of a Samhain rite he took part in on Newtimber Hill, near Brighton, with the Clan of Tubal Cain.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By JuliaSG
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This biography was well-written and while not an exhaustive, blow-by-blow description of WG Gray's life it gave a far more interesting picture of the man and the magician. The authors obviously a personal acquaintance with the subject, which did not preclude them from hard-hitting comments, while maintaining sight of the times in which WG Gray lived and his up-bringing. I would recommend this book to any student of the Western Mysteries and as an excellent example of what a biography should be. Well-done!
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5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
This was an interesting book on the personal level, ie as a biography, with some fascinating anecdotes, but I could have done with more about Gray's understanding of the Qabala. This is a very abstract and difficult subject that needs more explanation.

I think maybe you had to actually know Mr Gray personally in order to appreciate him. The authors knew him well, but don't quite convey what they saw in him. Objectively they portray him as a thoroughly obnoxious character who ritually cursed his friends and aquaintences at the drop of a hat.

As regards Gray's racism, I'm well aware that his ideas would have been seen as entirely reasonable in the period to which he belonged, and that Dion Fortune (for example) would have shared them. Such ideas ought to be discussed in a reasonable manner, not shouted down. However, Gray's racism seems closely connected to his overall rudeness and unpleasantness to people generally.

The authors merely comment that "The planes are seperate, as Crowley said". Well Crowley would say that wouldn't he? Because he was another thoroughly unpleasant person who claimed to be an adept. I can't see much use in magickal self-development if it doesn't stop you from becoming a heroin addict like Crowley, or from reacting with physical horror and disgust to something as superficial as skin colour, like William Gray.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful bio, well worth purchasing 3 Jun 2012
By P E Wildoak - Published on Amazon.com
In Julian May's wonderful mystic-SF series, The Galactic Milieu the fictional bookseller Rogi makes the following observation:

"As a bookseller I have noticed a curious thing: There are certain scientific books of epochal importance, titles recognised by every educated citizen in the Galactic Milieu, that nevertheless languish unread by modern people...works that provoked controversy in their day - only to subside into banality once there contents had passed the test of time and merged with the common body of human knowledge."

I can't help feeling a similar thing occurs with the great magical writers and teachers, such as the subject of this wonderful re-issue from Skylight Press, W.G. (Bill) Gray. Among most younger students he is no longer read and not a single bookstore in Perth stocks any of his work. Yet, he was one of the most influential and important British esoteric figures in the post war years. His advances, refinements and methods of magic have passed the test of time and entered the common stock of modern magical practice, where they are just accepted and worked with. He, along with others like Gareth Knight, ploughed the magical ground, newly broken and turned by the likes of Dion Fortune. They added their own innovations and planted seeds still bearing fruit today.

As a young chap I read R.J. Stewart's very good `Psychology and the Spiritual Traditions' which included a chapter by Gray on the quartered circle. Full of arrogance, I was surprised that such a rudimentary chapter was included, as it dealt with material even I had just written about for my own group. Nothing special. Years later however, I realised I was able to blithely write, discuss and expand this material because of the pioneering work of Gray, on the inner and outer levels. And this `nothing special' chapter contained subtle depths and links to the inner, by one who forged them, that I could never offer my group.

The Old Sod traces the life of Gray very well and shows how and why he was able to be such an influence on the magical and pagan communities in the UK and elsewhere. Much of the material in the book, either verbatim or re-written, stems from Gray's autobiography, which was unable to be published for `legal, moral, literary and magical' reasons, though I believe with an emphasis on the legal. The experience and deft handling of the autobiographical material by the authors allows Gray to come through this work. His presence is very strong and real, and his personal reminiscences potent and believable.

Early on we read of Gray the boy sharing a room with his father sensing and `evil and frightening' presence in one corner of the room. Upon investigation it turned out the spot in question was where a vicious attack on a previous occupant of the room had occurred, the victim being almost murdered. Not being dead however - and hence no chance of a haunting by a `ghost' - the young Gray, still a boy, decided that "in some way intense human emotions, such as in this case anger and fear, release energies which influence the vicinity for a long time afterwards and can be sensed by perceptive people." Now this may be old hat to some esoteric folk, but this is a young boy learning to makes sense of the world. This and other anecdotes show how clearly Gray was predisposed to the inner, gifted in ways beyond the normal `psychic receptivity' some children have. It shows a boy destined to magic.

The book is wonderful in describing Gray's journey through his life, both inner and outer. It gives clear examples of those moments in Gray's life where things shifted and changed, and decisions were made which influenced both him and a generation of magicians to come.

Where necessary the book veers a little to fill in the details of characters, events and traditions surrounding the life of Gray, such as the descriptions of magicians like Levi and Fortune, and a good basic run down of the Qabalah. These diversions are all very well written and very well handled by the authors. Of particular interest is the description of Gray's main teacher, the adept ENH, who `convinced Bill that true magic took place inside, and had nothing to do with the glamorous outer trappings that are so beloved of the popular imagination.' In a similar vein:

"Bill pointed out the common error with early-stage people on the Paths to Inner Mystery, which is that they frequently expect wonderful "teachers" to come and instruct them verbally by lectures, and other imparted information which will make them Masters ahead of their time. It may take several incarnations to convince them that great spiritual truths cannot be imparted by words, however "magical" such words may be...Their best "teachings" are imparted by influence alone. Just by ambience alone, so to speak. Proximity."

Speaking of teachers, throughout the book it is easy to get overwhelmed by the vast influence of Gray and the ongoing parade of teachers and writers who worked with him or learnt from him: Robert Cochrane, Ronald Heaver, Patricia Crowther, Doreen Valiente, Gareth Knight, R.J.Stewart and many others. This shows the heavy influence Gray had on modern paganism and magic, even though it may not be outwardly known.

One beautiful thing about the book is its honesty. Though careful and affectionate to Gray, the authors are not in the business of white-washing or hiding things. So the reader gets a real, full and deep picture of Gray, warts and all, shining and dark.

"...there are many aging souls in occultism who can look up with some retrospective pride and say: I've been bollocked by Bill Gray...Bill seemed to fall out with and/or ended up insulting almost everyone: R.J.Stewart, Marian Green, John Hall, Robert Turner, Jacobus Swart, Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Marcia Picklands, Alan Richardson...the list is long, very long."

Gray being the man and magician he was, and it being the era it was, these fallouts more than once descended to curses. The book is very honest with all this, having an extended description by Gareth Knight on his `falling out' with Gray and the events afterwards. Gray lived occultism at a time before the white-light fluffy bunnies infected it, and as RJ Stewart (also a recipient of a Gray curse) has said, it was pretty much par for the course back then.

Anyone who has ever worked a four-fold circle, anyone who has ever connected ceremonial and the land, anyone who is interested in the roots of modern magic - this is a book for you. Wonderfully designed and illustrated, this new edition by Skylight Press is highly recommended for all students of western magical and pagan traditions, or anyone interested in a biography of a unique and real individual.
5.0 out of 5 stars Expand your view of the Esoteric world 22 April 2014
By Max - Published on Amazon.com
I have read this book once. Then go back periodically to help me get a better understanding of the Magical theater of the last century. Gray was a true explorer and genius in my opinion. While Crowley is the focus of many learners it is also a good point to bring Mr Gray into the learning of esoteric teachings meme. I am a fan of his work and learning about his life and what he thought about the other major players at that time is very enlightening. Read books by Richardson or Gray if you want to expand your Magical universe.
1.0 out of 5 stars Gray biography !!!!!!!! 16 Jun 2013
By JL - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a gray biography. This is the Alan Richardson’s 2nd book I have read and probably it is his style that I don’t like (there is another author so I really don’t know how much is related to Richardson). Let me explain the reasons: (1) it includes an excessive quantity of quotes. We all know that there are many ways to plan and write a biography but there is a fine line to combine the chronology of the author with the proper insertions of quotes. Due to this, the continuity of the events narrated is interrupted and the biography becomes very heavy. (2) The authors make comments to justify some of the criticism to The Old Sod but they don’t deep enough in their statements. (3) The biography is not following a proper chronology. Even though, the first chapters begin with William’s childhood, the following chapters are oriented to specific subjects and the chronology is lost. (4) The following statement is found on page 199, almost at the end of the book, “One of the main aims of this book was not to provide comprehensive warts-and-all life story, but to inspire wonder, and provoke intrigue. There is much much more to the reality and legend of William Gray than we have given here. Go out and search the rest for yourself, and understand more about what lay behind the man, and what lies within yourself”. This is ridiculous, especially when a reader many times is interested in biographies to later deep in other works of the character. Fortunately, this is not written in the introduction or the backcover.

The last chapters were the most interesting for me. I think this is a terrible William G. Gray biography. I hope we can have a different and much better one in the future. My criticism in this review doesn't avoid to recognize this great magician anf his works........
0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nice to know more about an old friend 12 April 2011
By Mycroft - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've been a fan of Gray for many years. It's nice to have a more rounded view of the man himself.
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