Hauntings of All Phases

Though David Tibet will likely be primarily known forever as the mind behind Current 93, which as previously chronicled started out as part of an esoteric circle of influential industrial musicians before mutating into a poetic Gnostic weird folk project (after steering uncomfortably in the direction of fascistic neofolk before Tibet wised up, righted the ship, and changed up his collaborators), this is not the only string to his bow.

As well as a sideline as a visual artist, Tibet has also maintained a long career as a collector of vintage horror fiction and weird tales, and has also turned his hand to publishing, editing, and facilitating the reprinting of rare material from time to time; for instance, he played a key role in rediscovering and making available again the eccentric work of Count Stenbock, and it was his suggestion which led to Wordsworth releasing The Drug and Other Stories, the most substantial collection of the short stories of Aleister Crowley ever put between two covers.

Tibet has also, more recently, tried his hand at being an anthologist. The Moons At Your Door, published in 2015 via Strange Attractor and released in conjunction with the Current 93 album which shares its title, is a collection of fiction which has over his years of reading and collecting continued to resonate with him. Inevitably, a lot of this has seeped its way into Current 93’s musical output, because Tibet is the sort of creator who isn’t shy of acknowledging his influences, and so the selection is in some respects idiosyncratic and reflective of Tibet’s expansive range of interests and obsessions. But is it any good to read for anyone who isn’t David Tibet?

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Crowley In Small Doses

Regardless of what you think of his esoteric endeavours; you can’t deny that Aleister Crowley tried his hands at a wide range of endeavours. Between being a mountaineer, an occultist, a chess enthusiast, and a poet, he also turned his hand to prose fiction from time to time. His novels Diary of a Drug Fiend and Moonchild get most of the infamy, but he also produced a good chunk of short fiction in his time.

David Tibet, though he was deep into Crowley when he started the Current 93 industrial music project that he is most famous for and has retained a long-standing appreciation of the man, does not seem to be a dogmatic Thelemite these days; however, he is on at least good enough terms with William Breeze, AKA Hymenaeus Beta – the current head of the “Caliphate” faction of the Ordo Templi Orientis (Crowley’s most famous magical order) – to have featured Breeze on a few Current 93 recordings and to have been appointed to the International OTO Cabinet. In this latter capacity, he’s a “non-initiate” advisor to the OTO – essentially acting as someone that the leadership can turn to for advice on his particular areas of expertise.

Among Tibet’s eclectic range of other contacts is Mark Valentine, who has edited anthologies for Wordsworth Editions’ Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural line. Wordsworth Editions, for those of you not in the UK, are known primarily as publishers of out-of-copyright work at a modest price; these days of course, there are absolute tons of small press outfits doing precisely this on Amazon, crapping out books on CreateSpace that are by and large horribly presented and feel nasty and cheap. Wordsworth are better than that: by and large the books they put out are nicely laid-out and properly edited, and by putting these out at a decent price they make a good selection of old literature easily available in hard copy for readers who might be on a tight budget, or might understandably object to paying a premium for a book which is nothing more than a reprint of something nabbed from the public domain.

The Tibet-Valentine connection makes sense when you think about it, given that both of them have made something of a career of researching into classic ghost and horror stories. (For an example of Tibet’s contributions in this vein, see my Stenbock article.) Tibet suggested to Valentine that a collection of Crowley’s short stories might be a nice addition to the Wordsworth Mystery & the Supernatural portfolio, and helped put Wordsworth in touch with William Breeze. Since the OTO believes it has a duty to make Crowley’s work available, Breeze was amenable to the idea, and though the copyright on the material had not yet run out (in the UK the copyright to material published by Crowley in his lifetime expired in 2017; posthumously-published material may still be in copyright depending on when it was first released), Breeze agreed to accept only a token royalty on the OTO’s behalf so that Wordsworth’s standard pricing could apply.

In the end two collections were produced. 2012’s The Simon Iff Stories and Other Works brought together two sets of stories that Crowley wrote as a series – Golden Twigs, a clutch of stories inspired by The Golden Bough, and the titular stories of the psychic detective Simon Iff, who would also appear as the protagonist of the novel Moonchild. Preceding it in 2010 is the book I’m going to review here: The Drug & Other Stories, collecting various standalone short stories Crowley wrote in a span of time from 1902 to 1922.

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The Necronomicon Wars

Even in his own lifetime, H.P. Lovecraft got the occasional bit of fan mail from occultists either asking if his mythology of the Great Old Ones was real – or insisting that it was real. Over time, it seemed like the Necronomicon became the particular focus of this sort of inquiry – perhaps because of Lovecraft’s technique of listing it and other invented Mythos tomes alongside real books when using it in his stories.

Lovecraft gently let down all such inquirers. He’d also disappoint fans who knew it was fictional but thought it’d be wicked awesome if he’d write an actual Necronomicon, by pointing out that he’d already established in his stories that the damn thing was hundreds of pages long – and whilst he might be tempted to cook up some scraps, he really didn’t want to spend that long cranking out a tome of that length. Nonetheless, an appetite for the book remained.

After Lovecraft died, pranksters would slip references to it into library catalogues and the like, but the efforts of Arkham House to exert control over Lovecraft’s intellectual property (despite August Derleth’s rather weak claim to be Lovecraft’s literary executor, a role it’s now generally agreed that R.H. Barlow had a better claim to) may have dampened any efforts to turn the artifact into reality. Derleth’s death in 1971, however, made such fakery significantly more tempting.

The early 1970s also saw Kenneth Grant put out The Magical Revival, the first volume in his epic Typhonian Trilogies – a sprawling account of his further development of Aleister Crowley’s occult system of Thelema. This included an astonishing claim – that Lovecraft’s fiction wasn’t fiction, but was on some level communicating psychic truths that were not only compatible with Thelema but were actually important components of it in their own right.

This created the impetus for a bizarre new feature of the occult scene – a spate of purported Necronomicons, at least one of which would inspire readers to actually try out the magic described therein, and a raging conflict in the wider scene over whether these books a) were what they purported to be and b) had any legitimacy as grimoires. In short, the stage was set for a conflict in which shots are still fired to this day – the controversy I like to call the Necronomicon Wars.

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Mini-Review: Book 4

So before I did my Foucault’s Pendulum review, I decided to take a look over some of the sources for the magical traditions that clash by the end of the novel, which is kind of why there’s been a trickle of occult content on the blog for a bit; having first read the novel knowing very little about the stuff it was riffing on, I wanted to see how it read to someone who actually knew the territory (it’s just as good).

Here’s a leftover from that research project. Crowley’s attempt to produce an all-encompassing manual of magic – published previously in several separate parts including Magick In Theory and Practice and The Equinox of the Gods – boldly proclaims that it intends to be a guide to magic which is accessible to everyone, and then spends most of its page count mired in technicalities, presenting various arguments trying to insist on the authenticity of The Book of the Law, and giving a somewhat confusing rundown of ceremonial magical procedure, with brief sections at the beginning giving a somewhat more coherent rundown of the basic practices of meditation and an idealised version of magical practice which seems to be entirely logistically unattainable for most practitioners.

The magical information in here is largely the Golden Dawn material, plus Crowley’s fixation on The Book of the Law and some other concepts added by Crowley, and it is perhaps more interesting as a worked example of how an actual practitioner might use and further develop the Golden Dawn system than a system in its own right.

It’s not Crowley’s fault that the book is a bit of a mess, since it had a long and frequently disrupted writing process and several aspects of it were dictated to Crowley by, he thought, spirits talking through his personal mediums, right down to the questionable decision to call a book for beginners “Book 4”. (There are numerological reasons for doing so, but it’s still confusing.)

Current editions have a biographical essay from the current head of the OTO, William Breeze, discussing how Crowley produced the book. It is notable how Breeze shines a light on Crowley’s use of a succession of “Scarlet Women” as mediums, a rather exploitative-sounding process which led to a trail of human wreckage in Crowley’s wake. If trampling down others in this fashion was the price of producing this book, I am not altogether sure it was worth it.

Seeking Goblins, They Find the Beast

My favourite televisual junk food recently has been Hellier, produced by the gang at the Planet Weird website and available on Amazon Prime, the Planet Weird YouTube channel, and the show’s dedicated website. It’s centred on Greg and Dana Newkirk, the co-founders of Planet Weird, and their team of fellow researchers as they delve into a paranormal mystery centred on the small Kentucky town of Hellier… or at least, they try to find a mystery.

The narrative begins simply enough: back in 2012, Greg had been contacted by an individual called David Christie, who e-mailed him about small alien creatures allegedly besieging his rural home. The initial e-mails sound a lot like a riff on the letters in The Whisperer In Darkness to me; to Greg, they seemed to be riffing on the decades-old case of the Kentucky Goblins. (Though the term “goblin” wasn’t used in the e-mails, the description of the creatures matched the earlier incident uncannily well.)

At around the same time Greg also got some e-mails from someone calling himself “Terry Wriste”, who seemed to know something about the situation, which made Greg think that there was probably enough to it to be worth looking into – but David didn’t respond to followup e-mails (much as you wouldn’t follow up, say, if you’d just written the original e-mail as a pisstake and were wrong-footed by being taken seriously), and Greg let the matter lie.

Years later, filmmaker Karl Pfieffer found himself drawn into the case through a series of curious synchronicities, prompting the Newkirks to take a second look at the case. Filling out the party with a few other trusted colleagues, the Newkirks would lead the group on an expedition to Hellier itself, where depending on your point of view they find absolutely nothing or absolutely everything.

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Gems of Criticism

Of all the incidents in Aleister Crowley’s extensive history of shit-stirring in the occult subculture of the early 20th Century, The Equinox is the one which left behind the most material for later generations to pick over. The Equinox was Crowley’s journal of esoteric philosophy and practice; with the motto of “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion”, it had an initial run from 1909 to 1913, then returned briefly for a bumper issue in 1919 (the so-called “Blue Equinox”), and then for all intents and purposes that was that. (Such subsequent volumes as issued during Crowley’s lifetime were basically self-contained books on a single subject, rather than journals with articles on varied topics; in the case of books issued during World War II, this was a wheeze intended to take advantage of the fact that magazines were under different paper rationing restrictions from books.)

For its brief run, the original Equinox was supposed to be the teaching organ of the A∴A∴, a splinter group of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn founded by Crowley and some of his allies. Crowley’s eclectic approach to spirituality doesn’t quite hide the fact that, overall, the entire shebang is basically a sort of repackaged Theravada Buddhism, the magical goal of communication and union with one’s Holy Guardian Angel being part of the process of attaining the enlightenment of ego-death.

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Beastly Sincerity

In writing A Magick Life Martin Booth sets himself a challenge. Biographies of figures like Aleister Crowley can be difficult because he was one of those people who devote their lives to subjects which believers take extremely seriously, but which sceptics tend to simply find amusing and/or disturbing (depending on just how prudish their instincts are).

In the case of Crowley, the subject in question is occultism and ritual magic, including sex magic rituals. This is the sort of subject matter people tend not to have mild, moderate, wishy-washy opinions about. For occultists, Crowley is either a hugely important figure in terms of recent innovations in the subject (Thelemites follow his system to this day, yet more draw on it, and chaos magicians tend to see his work as a necessary precursor to the sort of postmodern take they utilise) or one of the worst disasters to ever befall the field. Those who do not lend credence to occultism still tend to pass judgement on it; “it’s creepy and culty and manipulative” say some, “it’s an amusing eccentricity” say others, “it’s the work of the Devil” say yet others, “it’s asinine self-aggrandising nonsense” say still others.

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