Monday, June 24, 2013

Letter to Green Egg: 'my forthcoming book on Crowley'

[Editor's note: I have always enjoyed reading Robert Anton Wilson's letters to various publications; they contain some of his most pungent sentences. Beginning today, I am running a series of letters to Green Egg, the pagan magazine, that were written in the 1970s. Photocopies of the letters were supplied to me by Mike Gathers, and so I am passing them on to you. This letter includes the startling fact that Wilson was working on a book about Aleister Crowley, Lion of Light. Does anyone else have more information? -- Tom]

Letter to the Forum of Green Egg
From Vol. 6, No. 60, Oimelc AA13 Feb 1, 1974

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.

I see that debate still continues about how much of the Wicca tradition goes back to the Stone Age and how much was created by Gerald Gardner (with the help of Aleister Crowley). After researching that question for about seven years now, I am more confused and less certain than ever. To increase the confusion (and lessen the certainty) of others, let me call attention to Idries Shah's book, The Sufis (not to be confused with his other book, The Way of the Sufis, which does not contain the same information.)

Mr. Shah's evidence leaves no doubt that some at least of the Wicca tradition is neither of European neolithic origin nor of Gardner's personal invention but came into Europe via the Sufis in the late middle ages. Anyone who has remaining doubts can simply attend a Sufi dance and a Wicca festival in rapid succession, whereby it will appear obvious to the senses that the same basic rituals are being used for the same basic purposes.

I hope nobody thinks that I am asserting that Witchcraft is "only" a Europeanized offshoot of Sufism. It could equally well be argued (and has been argued) that Sufism is "only" an Arabized offshoot of Gnosticism.

Dr. Martello is textually correct in asserting that the Gardnerian "be seed and root and stem and bud" etc. can be found in Crowley before it appeared in Gardner; so can the phrase "nor do I demand  aught in sacrifice." Of course, Crowley's sensitive psyche could have picked these expressions up by ESP from Witch covens active around him; or (see Francis King's Rites of Modern Occult Magic), he might have had contact decades before he met Gardner ...

A careful reading of the preface to From Ritual to Romance by Dr. Jesse Weston might indicate that she was in contact with a proto-Gardnerian coven circa 1900-1910. The same hints, however, can also be taken to refer to either the Golden Dawn or the Ordo Templi Orientis.

Attempts to be historically and scientifically accurate about the history of European Wiccadom (which have been rare, Goddess knows!) have mostly run aground by looking only at those events which were given the label of "Witchcraft" by those whose words were recorded. If we widen our lens and look at the subject of "Christian heresies" and "non-Christian heresies" and "Secret societies" etc., if we compare alchemical texts with Rosicrucian pamphlets and early Masonic charters, etc. a great deal begins to come into focus, as I hope to show in my forthcoming book on Crowley, Lion of Light. The fact that there are Masonic elements in Gardnerian covens does not mean that Gardner necessarily put them there.

Various "Pagan" elements, it appears, survived the official Christianization of the West and the Moslemization of the Near East. Sometimes, traditions were preserved within families or other groupings for many centuries. Sometimes, somebody discovered an "olde booke" and recreated what had been persecuted out of existence. Sometimes, somebody wandered as far as several thousand miles in search of wisdom, found it, and came home to establish as a new school something that had already existed there as a tradition only a few generations earlier. Many other permutations and combinations are possible, and probable, considering the ferocity of persecution and the need for secrecy.

In the 19th Century, after burnings at the stake were no longer legal, fearing only the more modern forms of persecution by slander and harassment, the black American adept, P.B. Randolph, very carefully hid the sexual side of his methods even from his own official disciples and passed them only sub rosa to the Ordo Templi Orientis. Many learned tomes arguing about whether the OTO traces back to the Templars or just to Karl Kellner's contact with an Arabic (Sufi?) magician are vitiated by neglecting the Voodoo tradition via Randolph. Similarly, attempts to understand, say, Elizabethan Witchcraft by looking only at what was called "witchcraft" a few centuries earlier might be equally vitiated by ignoring Giordano Bruno and the Rosicrucian lodges in England at the time.

In short, we will learn more by examining the practices of various groups than by centering on what they called themselves, or what their enemies called them.

               Love is the law, law under will,
                                  Mordecai the Foul
                                  (Robert Anton Wilson)
                                  Bavarian Illuminati
                                  535 Taylor
                                  San Francisco, CA 94102


michael said...

It's too bad RAW never got out a book devoted to Crowley, because of all the writers who read Crowley deeply, RAW had the potential to make what AC was getting at far more lucid than almost all the other AC writers. RAW might have had a stronger influence on making the literary world see AC as a Modernist writer with very strong libertarian ideas, and maybe AC as a proto-experimental psychologist, specializing in self-experimentation.

I got all of this from reading RAW on Crowley, but it's spread out, all over the place. I hope some people stick with reading the Green Egg stuff: it's REALLY interesting!

RAW announced a few titles of books that never surfaced. Another one was _Death Shall Have No Dominion_, but RAW did manage to pepper his books with all sorts of riffs on longevity research and immortality.

There's a line in a Gnostic text (I forget which one): "Make death die." This strain of Gnosticism seems an early version of RAW's advocation for immortality via scientific research.

Robert Dee said...

Great stuff. I've been disappointed that more of RAW's work hasn't come to surface in recent years. He's written thousands of articles and I for one would love to see them compiled and published.

Fingers crossed that Bride of the Illuminati is sitting on a hard disk somewhere waiting to be discovered...

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I doubt that "Bride of Illuminatus" was finished, or even got close to being finished, but you can read the beginning at

Eric Wagner said...

Great blog as usual. I find it interesting that Bob mentions researching this topic for seven years in 1974. Elsewhere he has mentioned Alan Watts got him interesting in Crowley by recommending Regardie's The Eye in the Triangle, but that book didn't come out until the seventies.

I like the tie in with Bruno and the Tale of the Tribe.

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...


The evolution of RAW's projects would be easier to trace if his papers were available at a university or a library. I'm beginning to think our best shot at getting any insight will be when the Timothy Leary papers become available at the New York Public Library.

Oz Fritz said...

It's now commonly accepted that Gardner borrowed a lot from Crowley when he started his order.

"Lion of Light" would have been a great title for a Crowley book. It reminds me of Aslan from the Narnia Chronicles. I wonder how serious RAW ever got about writing it? This is the first I'm hearing about it.