[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)
San Francisco, CA 94102