(Warning: this is a REALLY long post.)
My friend Phil sent me a private Facebook message a couple of weeks ago, with an event on the O.T.O. calendar and the message, "Are you going to this?" "This" was a colloquium entitled "The Soldier and the Seer : J.F.C. Fuller, Aleister Crowley, and the British Occult Revival." It was being held at none other than Rutgers University, New Brunswick. The colloquium was being held of in relation to an exhibition entitled "Unheard of Curiosities : An Exhibition of Rare Books on the Occult and Esoteric Sciences." I could not pass up an event so close to home. So, this past Monday, I took the route that I used to take on Wednesday evenings to teach Cataloging and Classification at what was then the School of Communication, Information, and Library Studies. The event was in Alexander Library's Pane Room, and I reflected that this would be much more interesting than the usual NJLA workshop commonly held in that same room.
I was surprised to learn that Rutgers had the papers of J.F.C. Fuller, a British military man who was more commonly known for being a sort of godfather of tank warfare. I was aware of the Crowley/Fuller connection, as Crowley made Fuller a Chancellor of the A.A., an organization meant to succeed the esoteric Order of the Golden Dawn, and that has some overlap with the Ordo Templi Orientis. In fact, it was Academia Ordo Templi Orientis that was co-sponsoring the event. There was an amazing list of speakers, and I was very much looking forward to the event. I was not disappointed.
Associate University Archivist Erika Gorder spoke about the exhibition and the collections, noting that the occult books came largely (if not entirely) from the collection of Clement Fairweather, a scholar who lived in Metuchen, and was more known for his work on humor, though he was also a scholar of horror literature, in particular the work of H.P. Lovecraft. It was William Sloane who contacted Fuller about acquiring his papers, and received them because he did not think anyone else would want them.
Gordan Djurdjevic was the first speaker, who gave an overview of Academia Ordo Templi Orientis and its mission. It is made up of O.T.O. initiate members, and currently membership is by invitation only. The group was formed in 2011, and is dedicated to interdisciplinary scholarship with respect to Western Esotericism, Thelema, and Crowley, as studying all aspects of esotericism helps to illuminate O.T.O. teachings. He noted the need to separate scholarship from practice, as the theoretical study of subjects related to magic would not include one's personal practical experiences--these would be difficult to write about in a scholarly context. He also addressed the question of "objectivity" from "insiders", which is a basic consideration in Religious Studies. It is often argued that "insiders" lack objectivity on the subject, but as Gordan noted, an agenda-less objective view is a construct itself. The American Academy of Religion approves both inside and outside approaches. Certainly in the field of Religious Studies, there is much academic work in the field of Christian theology by believers. There is really no reason that Thelemites can't write about esotericism.
The next speaker was Henrik Bogdan, who gave an introduction to the study of Western Esotericism, to put the Fuller/Crowley relationship into context, and to address the question of why we should study Crowley. Esoteric beliefs tend to share the idea of a Godhead manifest in the natural world, a microcosm/macrocosm construct, though their correspondences differ significantly. Western Esotericism is a comparatively recent field; there was not much scholarship prior to Francis Yates' work on the subject. He noted that historians of religion tended to view esoteric views as "heresies", and therefore not part of theology, and therefore not studied by theologians. On the continuum between Christian doctrine and pure rationality, Western Esotericism lies somewhere in between, resisting the dogmatism of both approaches. Esotericism stresses the experience of gnosis, that experience of the one true Self, or one's ground of being. There was always a link between science and esotericism, until rational, modern science distanced itself from any kind of "metaphysical" thinking. Antoine Faivre was probably the first scholar to try to come up with a single definition of esotericism that applied to various groups, and he suggested that these groups share a family resemblance--they are a form of thought that includes the idea of correspondences, the idea of living nature, the use of imagination and meditations, the experience of transmutation, and the praxis of concordances, among other elements. Wouter J. Hanegraaff and Kocku Von Stuckrad altered this definition, as Faivre's view tended to view esotericism and its literature as something static, referring only to older sources. Hanegraaff and Von Stuckrad both suggest that esotericism is dynamic and changes over time. It tends to consist of rejected or polemic knowledge, a kind of "mirror image" of the prevalent culture. Understanding Western Esotericism is fundamental to the history of Western culture, and indeed will cause aspects of it to be rewritten. It also helps scholars with issues of identity, identifying and confronting scholarly prejudice. Crowley in particular is important because he is a "religious synthesist". Rather than being a regression to the Middle Ages, magical study and practice was in fact a harbinger of modernity. It looked to science and philosophy rather than Biblical inerrancy, and could be summed up in Crowley's motto for the A.A., "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion". Crowley felt that both religious and scientific approaches were limited, and failed to answer their own questions--magick was the "third way" that synthesized both. Crowley and his influence provides us, in Henrik's words, "a window on the dialectics of Christianity, rationalism, and modernism." J.F.C. Fuller had a revolt against Christianity in common with Crowley, and for Fuller this lead to agnosticism. Crowley and Fuller met when Fuller ended up being the only contestant in an essay contest on Crowley's works, and resulted in the publication of Fuller's "The Star in the West". Fuller brought his friend Victor Neubig into the A.A., and oversaw many A.A. probationers. He broke with Crowley after a scandal involving George Cecil Jones, when Crowley would not take the stand in his libel suit against "The Looking Glass".
Gordan Djurdjevic spoke again, this time on Buddhism and Yoga presented as "The Temple of Solomon the King" in the Equinox, volume 4. He spoke about the practice of concordance and the translation of cultures, as well as the "Easternization of the West" in esoteric practices. The Order of the Golden Dawn incorporated no Eastern practices except for tattva. The A.A. and the O.T.O. both incorporate Eastern practices. Much can be credited to Crowley's involvement with Alan Bennett, who taught Buddhism based on reason rather than on fate. Crowley's "BERASHITH" was intended to be a "sangha of the West", and based more on mathematical rather than mystical comments. Gordan suggests that Crowley did not significantly change his ontology after receiving Liber AL vel Legis in 1904. Crowley was distrustful of monism, because it was rooted in the concept of illusion, and he believed that empirical reality was factual. He rejected any kind of absolutism, suggesting that the only "absolute" thing was zero.
Crowley's Buddhism may have prepared him mentally for the receiving of the the Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis), although he had an aversion to specific passages, specifically the idea in the second book that "existence is pure joy". Eventually Crowley abandoned Buddhism, thinking that the Buddhist precepts were really a joke, as they could never really be fulfilled. He believed that the Atman was capable of change, the "Self" dynamic and fluid. While Crowley instead embraced the idea of "Love is the Law, Love Under Will", his ontological views did not substantially change.
Richard Kaczynski spoke about J.F.C. Fuller's continued interest in the occult after his break with Crowley in 1911. He gave a visual review of Fuller's publications, from the Agnostic Journal in 1904 to his works on yoga and the Qabalah in the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote many articles for the Occult Review. In spite of his break with Crowley, it was clear that Fuller still read his works and collected them. Of note was his article "The Black Arts" in the Occult Review of January 1926 (illustrated by Austin Osman Spare), which may have influenced Gerald Gardner's conception of Wicca. While it is known that Gardner paraphrased much from Crowley, some of Fuller's made-up incantations in this article appear in Gardner's Samhain ritual. While not a central remark to the presentation, I found it interesting that Robert Lowell felt that Fuller was as good at what he did as Bertrand Russell was in philosophy. I had not seen a reference to this in Lowell's interviews and letters, but I also wasn't looking for it at the time I reviewed them.
Chris Giudice spoke about Fuller's connection to the Fascist movement, and his relationship with Hitler and the Nazi party. Anti-democratic feeling was an accompaniment to modernism--there was a rebellion against progressive/Marxist ideology, and Fascism was as much a system of thought as it was a political idea. Italy was the first to embrace this rebellion, and in Germany, National Socialism was a reaction against French Revolution values--discipline, law, and order were hailed. The onset of the Great Depression also did much to facilitate the spread of fascism. Fuller was an intellectual, and like many others, he was attracted to both mysticism and fascism--Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and W.B. Yeats are examples of others with similar interest. Fuller's ideas on the military, particularly on tank warfare, were not well received in Britain, but elicited great interest in Europe. He was called upon to advise Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco in their military operations. One wonders how things might have been different if his home country had taken him seriously, as his military writings gave Germany in particular a great advantage in World War II. Fuller did appear to hold some anti-Semitic views, though he ultimately wrote that anti-Semitism should not have a place in the British state, in his writings for Mosley's British Fascist group. It is notable that Fuller and his wife attended Hitler's 50th birthday party, and they were the English minority at that event. It is not held that Fuller was a traitor, and I do wonder how he felt after viewing the aftermath of World War II, especially in Germany.
Bob Stein gave the next lecture on Crowley, Alphabets, and Liber 231. Liber 231 is a technical treatise on the Tarot, and presented by Fuller in the Equinox Volume 1. Bob noted that there were no numbers on the original Tarot decks, and no particular sequence. The Sefer Yetzirah was later tied to the numbering order of the cards, as well as the zodiac. The alphabet comes from Eliphas Levi, though there was an earlier version of this alphabet.
The sequence of cards was changeable from the time of the Marseilles Tarot. The Fool originally had no number, and adding the zero shifted the numbers of the other cards up by one. He notes that Justice came before Strength, which is out of sequence in terms of the zodiac (putting Libra before Leo). Crowley's work 777 points out both the Qabalistic and zodiacal correspondences, and was written prior to the Book of the Law. Bob spoke about the definition of a "Class A" publication of the A.A., and its authoritative value. Much of Crowley's writings on the Tarot are from Class A, except for Liber CDXVIII (The Vision and the Voice, 1st Aethyr), which is both A and B.
The correspondence of the Hebrew letter "Tzaddi" in the Tarot was explored in the Book of the Law (e.g., "Tzaddi is not the Star"), and Crowley makes some comment on this in the extenuation commentary (available in "The Law is for All"). Tzaddi ends up being the letter and number of the Emperor (IV), and in Liber VII (Lapis Lazuli), Crowley has the line, "only the fish-hook can draw me out", another reference to Tzaddi. Liber 231 itself switches Heh and Vav in the chart relating to the genii of Mercurii and the Qlipoth. Here Strength and Justice are put in their correct zodical order, Ra Hoor Khuit is associated with the Emperor, and Tzaddi is associated with the Star.
Bob made reference to Liber 27 (vel Trigrammaton), which tried to apply the English alphabet to the Tarot sequence--it did not work. By the time of the Vision and the Voice, the Tarot sequence was established and consistent. He made some other comments on the attribution of Tzaddi in the Book of Thoth, and suggests that the Vision and the Voice, 1st Aethyr, resolves Tarot questions. Bob did not attempt to interpret the meaning of any of these correspondences; he merely put them out for Thelemites to ponder.
The last presentation was by William Breeze, and it was on the O.T.O. Archives. He mentioned Hans "Hansi" Hammond (who shows up as the character Dionysus in Crowley's "Diary of a Drug Fiend"), and connects him with Rutgers University and the acquisition of the Fuller papers. I may have misunderstood him, but I believe he said that Hammond was actually University Librarian at Rutgers (I haven't been able to verify this independently as of yet.). If I heard that correctly, that is quite a startling connection between Crowley and Rutgers--Hammond was the son of Leah Hirsig, and William showed scans of newspaper articles about Hammond and Crowley when Hammond was a child. He then discussed Crowley scholarship up to 1974, mentioning Ellic Howe's "Magicians of the Golden Dawn" and "Eliphas Levi and the Occult Revival", as well as James Webb's "Flight From Reason". He stressed that archival evidence is key to Western Esoteric study, and mentioned Marco Pasi and Henrik Bogdan as particularly working with the O.T.O. He then gave a list of Crowley archives around the world at various universities, and mentioned several Masters and Doctoral Theses on Crowley (including the one by my friend Philip Jensen at UT Austin in 2000). Graduate programs in Western Esotericism have come about in Europe, and Religious Studies departments in the United States and elsewhere are starting to expand to include esoteric currents.
William then went on to tell the story of how Liber AL vel Legis was lost twice--first by Crowley (later found with some skis at Boleskine House in storage--William theorizes that the shape of the box with the book, which was on a large roll in a rectangular box, was probably stored with the skis by his servants, as they were about the same length and shape as the box). The second time was after the death of Karl Germer in California. After Karl's death, robbers broke into the house where Sascha Germer was still living, and stole many items related to the O.T.O. When Grady Louis McMurtry went through the house after Sascha's death, he could not find Liber AL vel Legis, and assumed it was stolen. Somehow it ended up in the basement of a house in Oakland, California in 1984, which had been purchased by a bibliophile who saw the work, and realized its value. After consulting with a friend (who happened to be in the O.T.O.) and Israel Regardie, he asked about donating it to the O.T.O. Regardie responded with the understatement, "That would be a nice thing to do."
There was a discussion of the alleged "title page" of Liber AL vel Legis, which William does not think was a title page at all. He also discussed Liber 231, looking at Rutgers' copy, which has the genii illustrations, but no Hebrew lettering. An infrared scan of the original shows where the Hebrew letters had been penciled in and erased. It is an example of how primary source material helps interpretation.
After this there was a brief panel discussion, in which it was noted that the proceedings to this conference would be published. When asked about the future of Esoteric and Crowley studies and what they would like to see, William Breeze suggested that he would like to see a Chair of Crowley Studies (a suggestion made to Marco Pasi, who held a postdoc position at the Warburg Institute--Pasi responded, "That will never happen."). A question on fascism and Thelema led to Chris Giudice's recommendation of the book "Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics". William Breeze also noted that Liber OZ represents the political platform of the O.T.O.
This was the end of a long and interesting day, and I haven't even mentioned the exhibition itself. If you are in New Jersey, this is the last week to see it, so try to drop by Alexander Library at Rutgers before July 3. There are many fascinating esoteric works on display, as well as some of Fuller's letters, original Crowley and Fuller works, and some creative exhibitions that incorporate pop culture works on the occult along with classic volumes.