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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What the Victorians Read One-Handed

First emerging in 1877, Henry Spencer Ashbee’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (so titled in parody of the Catholic Church’s own index of forbidden books) has been republished under various names – mine is a late-1960s paperback copy entitled Index of Forbidden Books. Published under the pseudonym of Pisanus Fraxi, it is the first of a three-volume series he did chronicling the expansive body of erotica in his book collection. Were it a mere book catalogue, there’d be little interesting about it; fortunately, as a bibliophile who had also published a number of bibliographic works about less scandalous subject matter, Ashbee had very developed opinions about literature, books, writing, and for that matter sex, and he freely comments on the books cited here as well as offering synopses and extensive quotes.

To an extent this means we end up with more of an insight into Ashbee’s preferences than we might have expected; he certainly seems to have a lot of works on the subject of flagellation, and sufficiently developed opinions on the subject that it’s clear that he’s given it a lot of thought. However, Ashbee’s commentary and analysis isn’t just restricted to giving an overview of what got his Victorian rocks off – it also gives us an insight both into the sheer variety of erotic literature available to those who knew where to look in the time period, but also a snapshot of social attitudes surrounding it, as well as an insight into a realm where, in part because more or less all overt discussion of sex was forbidden, there seems to have been little barriers between subject matter we would today find completely innocuous and material which we still consider taboo.

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Pickin’ Up Truth Vibrations, Part 2: The Truth Shall Set Robots Free

The story so far: David Icke, at a point in his career when his undeniable public speaking skills and widespread national fame could have helped him make the Green Party a major force in UK politics, instead casts that all aside, declares that he is a Son of the Godhead, parades himself and his (briefly polyamorous) family around in turquoise tracksuits, makes an ass of himself in a string of media interviews and attempts to fix the energy matrix of Earth.

A media shitstorm predictably ensues; what also ensues is a persistent failure of Icke’s various prophecies to come to pass, save for a few on the “broken clock’s right twice a day” principle. Icke becomes a national laughing stock. His polyamorous arrangement crumbles, with his ex-partner taking her story to the tabloids and Icke writing a mean-spirited hit piece on her in his autobiography. The radical transformation of the world Icke promised stubbornly refuses to manifest.

Lesser minds than Icke’s would, under such circumstances, come to the conclusion that they may have made some poor decisions. Icke, however, is wise enough to know why it’s all gone so badly wrong.

It’s all the fault of the dastardly Illuminati.

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A Renegade Scientologist’s Creation Myth

The Gods of Eden is nothing less than an attempt to write a history of the world from its creation to the present day, and detailing how since prehistory a secret Brotherhood has manipulated society. Generally-accepted history is merely a scam, a cover story designed to obscure the Brotherhood’s role and to advance its agenda; when you peel back the curtain and look at the real story, which Bramley is happy to share with us, it becomes evident that the march of history is shoving us in a very dark direction indeed, as the Brotherhood speeds up their plan to establish a New World Order in which a world government exerting mass mind control will attempt to spiritually deaden us to prevent us attaining collective enlightenment.

The cruellest irony is that the Brotherhood, originally called the Brotherhood of the Snake, used to be benign – having been set up by one of the aliens who created humanity back in ancient days (whose deeds are recorded in Sumerian myth) in order to slip the truth out to us regular humans. Over time, however, the Brotherhood was infiltrated and corrupted by the more malevolent aliens, who realised that it made a very convenient basis for a secret government of Earth which they could use to pull our strings indirectly, and who used it to establish more or less all mainstream religions, either by fabricating them wholesale or by corrupting them and steering them away from their founders’ original intent. Only by waking up to the Machiavellian manipulation which keeps us warring constantly against each other can we face down these aliens, which the book refers to as the Custodians, and free ourselves from their manipulation.

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JFK Was a Diamond Geezer

JFK is the eternal president of the conspiracy theory community. Whilst conspiracy theories had been rife in American culture before his assassination – much of the entire previous decade had involved much fretting about the global Communist menace on the part of citizens and senators alike – the Kennedy assassination is perhaps the first such event which, thanks in part to the mass media age, almost instantaneously spawned its own subculture that could be described as a 9/11-style truth movement. You didn’t have World War II Truthers, after all… Though I guess the early Christians could be regarded as Crucifixion Truthers.

One of the heretical early gospels of JFK assassination theories is the famed Gemstone File. Supposedly a mass of letters written by the mysterious Bruce Roberts, the Gemstone File came to the public consciousness largely through Mae Brussell’s radio show, Roberts having given Brussell copies of the letters because he thought the conspiracy he’d stumbled on was responsible for killing one of Brussell’s daughters in a car accident.

Brussell was the queen of the conspiracy theorists back in the 1970s, offering a left-wing point of view which seemed all too plausible in the days of COINTELPRO and Watergate. After Brussell’s death, her voluminous papers ended up divided among various parties, and the original Gemstone File dropped out of sight – but as we shall see, a paraphrased summary of its contents circulated at first as mass-photocopied samizdat and eventually as a text file on the early Internet.

Come 1992 and the Gemstone File would become the subject of a book by Jim Keith – maverick conspiracy researcher and all round libertarian counter-culture dude. (He strikes me as the sort of libertarian less prone to Pinochet-inspired helicopter memes and who’s more keen on legalising weed.) Keith himself would become the focus of various conspiracy theories after he died in 1999 after complications arising from knee surgery, Keith having injured himself falling off a stage at Burning Man. (I told you he was a counter-culture dude.) Before that happened, though, he was an ex-Scientologist who, after dropping out of the Church, created the underground zine Dharma Combat, and for a space of time in the 1990s produced some of the most way-out-there conspiracy theory books you could hope for. The Gemstone File was his first book, largely a collection of key Gemstone-related texts and commentary thereon by various hands.

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Not As Sharp As Occam’s Razor

As previously documented here, The Black Alchemist was Andrew Collins’ self-published sleeper hit which kicked off a flurry of interest in psychic questing. His followup would actually get issued via Arrow, a mainstream publisher, and would be his magnum opus: whilst he had written accounts of psychic quests before and after, none would be as massive, wide-ranging, or take in such a broad picture of his questing career from its inception in 1979 to the book’s emergence in 1991. That book would be The Seventh Sword, perhaps the deepest dive you could take into psychic questing without getting up and actually dabbling in it yourself.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part constitutes Collins’ definitive account of the finding of the Green Stone and the associated Meonia Sword – as he’d previously recounted in his self-published pamphlet The Sword and the Stone, and as Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman detailed in The Green Stone. Far from redundant, this involves Collins going into the subject in substantially greater depth than any previous recounting of the story, and delving into subjects that Phillips and Keatman had only glancingly addressed.

The second part picks up a few years later and takes in a span of some six years; after Collins learns that the Meonia Sword was not a unique artifact, but part of a set of seven, bit by bit the other swords are uncovered. It turns out that the occultists who’d hidden them in past centuries had intended that they be used in a ritual known as the Form of the Lamb, to unfold at a location known as the Heart of the Rose, in order to herald the coming of the Messiah and other such high spiritual and utopian goals. Eventually six swords are discovered, leaving only the titular Seventh Sword – which, due to its association with the powers of darkness, was known as the Black Sword. The book concludes with Collins still searching for it and encouraging readers to help out in the quest.

Over both parts, Collins and his allies must tangle not only with the difficulties of searching out the artifacts but also believe that they are opposed by a grand occult conspiracy – one which the Black Alchemist and his Friends of Hecate were only a local franchise of. With an Illuminati-esque level of power (and the appropriate tangled Masonic heritage), this conspiracy is never too far away. Can Collins and his questers avoid being ground down by… the Wheel???

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Grappling With History

Written by Aubrey Sitterson, host of the Straight Shoot podcast, and illustrated by Chris Moreno, The Comic Book Story of Professional Wrestling is an almost 200 page history of what the book calls the One True Sport. This is a title Sitterson bestows because of, not despite, the fakery intrinsic to the format, which he makes a case for being a strength of the form rather than a liability. Clueless non-fans love to point out to wrestling fans that it’s fake, as though any wrestling fan didn’t know that. (Despite fan myth suggesting that “kayfabe” – the pretence of reality – died in the 1990s, the history notes that actually the lid was blown off the business by a renegade promoter airing his grievances in the press back in the 1930s.) What they don’t get is that the fakery liberates wrestling from any consideration aside from providing an entertaining spectacle and emotionally engaging stories to the audience. Football teams, athletes, and so on are supposed to be concentrating on winning first and foremost, entertainment second; Vince McMahon’s infamous “sports entertainment” phrase really sums up how wrestling inverts that, since it’s an entertainment which uses the trappings of sport as its aesthetic and premise.

To my eye the length of the book is just about right; it’s short enough to provide a good introduction to the field that isn’t off-putting in its length but long enough to be meaty and go into sufficient detail that it can also teach fans a thing or two. Sitterson has a knack for condensing his text down to a point where he’s delivering a lot of information in a short amount of text without becoming so terse that he fails to adequately explain crucial concepts; Moreno’s artwork not only fits the superheroic world of wrestling neatly but also works well to support and convey Sitterson’s points.

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