on 1 March 2011
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content of the book is, the best bits are in William G. Gray's own words, as there are extensive quotes from his unpublished (unpublishable?)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.
on 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.
on 21 May 2013
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!
on 11 August 2014
This is Richardson at his best - tackling a subject for which he has a great deal of fondness and respect without resorting to mawkish sentimentality. Personalities are shown 'warts and all' but without malice to provide a historical document of some of the great characters of 20th century magic. There is, of course, a great deal the author chooses to leave out but this is on account of him respecting confidences and remaining true to the magical ethos of not betraying trust. A highly entertaining insight into one of magic's great magicians by one of the most under-estimated of magical writers.
on 1 September 2011
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.