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on 1 June 2016
The Subject and the Preface

The Delight of the Physical Beauty of the Book

For me, there are few fulfilling experiences that surpass the arrival of a new book into my possession.

Today, I was fortunate to receive a fundamental work that demonstrates the rising recognition of the cultural force represented by the achievement of the occultist, philosopher of religion,man of letters, painter, champion mountaineer and chess master, Aleister Crowley.

Tearing open the packaging demonstrating the exquisite care that marks book posted by Oxford University Press, the book's publishers, I encounter the treasure within.

The face of the Great Beast 666, the Master Therion, as he described himself, gazed at me from middle aged features framed by a lightly coloured square, bordered by four black lines rising from a line constituted by the light thickness of successive dots to lines of thicker constituencies, culminating in a thick square line framing the cover of Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, edited and introduced by Henrik Bogdan and Martin P.Starr. Oxford University Press, 2012.

The bulk of the book at 406 pages promises delights galore as ideas unfold in page after page, its delightful simplicity and refinement of cover design and stout binding making it a feast of ergonomic interaction, as book holder and book, book reader and bound collection of pages of text, interact at the nexus of space and consciousness, where words and understanding swim into new configurations in the human interaction with the manifestation of materiality represented by the printed book, which, even though it is also likely to exist in digital form, delivers a distinctive aesthetic, almost erotic charge in its physical embodiment, in the care with which it is created to delight the eye through its visual patterns and excite the mind through its ideational configurations.

The Achievement of Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley's central achievement may be described as the scope of his actualisation, though his life and works, of the promise of the African, Western and Jewish cultural synthesis represented by the Golden Dawn, the most influential modern Western magical order, as well as the potential of other magical systems, integrating them with the Indian philosophy and practice of Yoga and with Western philosophy, and building upon this framework to develop his own philosophies and practices of magic, culminating in his creation, with the help of his wife, Rose Edith Crowley, of the magical religion, Thelema.

In achieving these distinctions, Crowley actualised a great contribution to the alternative religious orientations developing in the West in the wake of the collapse of widespread public allegiance to Christianity created by the emergence of Western modernity driven by the rapid advances in science and technology.

The Golden Dawn demonstrates both the soaring religious vision of the classics of religious thought, the Hindu Upanishads, the Bible and the Koran, among others, but excels beyond them them in providing a rich and extensive system of exercises of meditation, prayer and ritual directed at training the aspirant to achieve the lofty heights of awareness of the divine that inspires the most sublime religious vision.

It is Crowley's distinction to have demonstrated with particular aggressive devotion the possiblities of this system, even though he cannot be described as saintly.

It was also he, who, breaking his initiatory vows of secrecy, published the teachings of the Golden Dawn, thereby seeding the flourishing of Western esotericism through the inspiration of the knowledge thus made publicly available.

Crowley demonstrated a keen sensitivity to, and a totality of commitment, to the quest for unity of self with ultimate reality represented by mysticism, developing this vision within the context of a balance between imaginative and affective drives and ratiocinative engagement with the principles involved in this work.

In pursuing what he described as the goals of religion and the methods of science, he employed ritual, philosophical analysis and poetry, recording and publishing his experiments over a lifetime at the borders of Western magical practice as it was known in his time, creating and publishing many books on magical theory and practice, developing new magical techniques, co-creating a unique Tarot divination deck, writing and publishing various volumes of poetry, a novel, creating a number of paintings and playing a central role in various magical orders.

In every genre in which Crowley worked, the creation of magical ritual and expositions of magic, poetry, the short story, the novel, autobiography and creation, with Frieda Harris, of a new set of Tarot divination cards, the Thoth Tarot, he achieved something distinctive, his core work in magic being a landmark in the field.

His work in magic is best understood as constituting a cultural encyclopedia that goes beyond its specialized subject to integrate broad areas of Western, and times, Asian cultures, into a prismatic whole fired by his amazing intelligence, breadth of knowledge and restless creativity.

This encyclopedic cultural range is particularly powerfully expressed by his magnum opus, Magick : Book 4, which integrates a scope including magical ritual and philosophy of magic, mainstream Western philosophy and nursery rhymes understood in terms of magical thought.

Like all great religious thought, Crowley’s magical work needs to be read as speaking to both the specific focus of his visionary aspirations and transcending those to resonate in relation to the human drive to engage with possibilities that expand existence beyond the material into realms of ultimate meaning.

His literary work, specifically his short stories, poetry and novel, are able to tantalise with their unique creative universe in a way that marks them as testaments to expressive possibilities at the borderline of experience and imagination, unifying various cultural universes in terms of his distinctive imagistic and verbal musical world.

Ultimately,though, Crowley demonstrates, par excellence, the process, universal even within distinctive expressions, through which individuals are able to distill the knowledge available within a culture, transforming it into a form which they understand as a new message to humanity, a goal Crowley accomplishes in the creation of Thelema.

Engaging Aleister Crowley at the Convergence of Western Esotericism

and the Development of Civilisation

Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism is described as the first comprehensive effort to adress this broad a range of the achievements of this protean master.

This is another initiative by Oxford UP in contributing to the growth of the scholarly study of Western esotericism, the publication of Neville Drury’s Stealing Fire from Heaven : The Rise of Modern Western Magic being a relatively recent achievement of the Press, bringing their unfailing standard of quality to bear in relation to the newly growing but well established field.

The field opens out into ancillary streams within and beyond the study of its primary subject matter, represented, for example, by the culturally cognate subject of Jewish esotericism as well as the intersections of Western esotericism and modern science.

Moshe Halbertal’s introduction to his Concealment and Revelation: Esotericism in Jewish Thought and its Philosophical Implications, published by Princeton UP, for example, shares significant parallels with Wouter Haanegraaff’s preface to this volume on Crowley in locating the esoteric within a broader cultural context beyond itself, both Hanegraaff and Halbertal situating their subject in terms of relationships between the esoteric and the exoteric, in relation to modes of navigating the complementary contraries represented by the hidden and unknown, the revealed and known.

Wouter Hanegraaf, one of the foremost writers and institution builders in the study of Western esotericism, describes this broader cultural location in terms of Western society’s self understanding through the binary polarities in which the irrational and the occult represent the antithesis of the rational and scientific cast that is understood as defining modern culture.

This description resonates with Michel Foucault’s explorations of the creation of culture through polarities, particularly Western culture, as in Madness and Civilisation, in terms of schemes of defining self and other, schemes which are best understood as interpretations of history, interpretations that might not always reflect incontrovertible and mutually verifiable historical facts.

The greater complexity beyond such polarities, as demonstrated by historical experience, is dramatised by the intertwining of the occult and the scientific in Western cultural history, as definitively established by Frances Yates' Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition and the Rosicrucian Enlightenment and the work of other scholars, achieving a defining expression in the contemporary consensus in Isaac Newton scholarship, as in the magisterial work of Richard Westfall and other Newton scholars, and the more recent succinct, but comprehensive presentation of Rob Lliffe on Newton, in the Oxford UP Very Short Introductions series, describing the intertwining of occult, Christian and scientific thought in the achievements through which Newton laid foundations central to modern science.

Hanegraaf presents Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism in his preface as representing one stage in the creation of the canvas depicting the development of Western consciousness.

The ongoing process of creating a representation of this consciousness is described by Hanegraaff as continuing with this work in illuminating the areas of darkness, the location of the irrational Other, the antithesis to the rational refinements that define modern Western culture , demonstrating the presence of light and rationality, of coherence and creative value within the heretofore inexplicable dynamism of the occult, exemplified by a figure I describe as its most prominent individual, Aleister Crowley.

The volume explores a broad scope of Crowley’s involvement in various streams that constitute the Western esoteric tradition, demonstrating how his distinction as the most prominent figure of Western esotericism is earned through the character of his life, his massive list of published writings in various genres and his direct role in various occult schools and movements, all these enabling his pervasive influence in Western occultism, even among those who reject the foundations inspirational for Crowley.Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism
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on 7 November 2012
A wonderful collection of essays covering many aspects of "the Beast's" life and thought. Highly recommended to all interested in current scholarly research into Crowley.
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on 29 September 2012
After much wrangling I finally got my hands on this much anticipated volume. Amazon failed to deliver so I had to pay nearly £30 on another site for the softback. My advice is wait until the £9.99 [or rather the £6.66?) edition is published. As it stands on 29th September 12: Mainly rehashed articles and papers from other books in one volume. If you are a Crowley fan ( I am not a follower, as HE would appreciate) you probably have most of these in one form or another. The book also misses much in the Crowley Spectrum. Rather monochromatic in his rainbow in fact. Too short by far. It is lacking in truly original scholarship. Its redeeming point, and why it was worth publishing is that it gleans the grain from the chaff in a tidy parcel. Really 'introductory' in its scope, but not initiation. ["Portable Darkness" for That) But at present, for the purpose of this review truly not worth the money. Lets look forward to the popular edition, hopefully expanded and a fraction of the price.
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on 8 May 2015
Excellent book and excellent seller
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