We love hearing what people think of our books, so we thought we’d add a section to the website to reprint some of our favourite reviews…
Grimoire of Aleister Crowley
by Colin Campbell
It’s not that I didn’t expect Grimoire of Aleister Crowley: Group Rituals in the Age of Thelema” by Rodney Orpheus to be great, which it is, I’ve just never considered myself a “group ritual” sort of guy. Okay, there are certain rituals that are greatly enhanced by the presence of another person, like the tango, but aside from those… and a few others…. Alright, I guess it made me admit to myself just how much group work I participate in despite my self-proclaimed (and self-perceived) mindset. My name is Colin, and I… I find benefit in social interaction. There, I said it. Eleven steps to go.
Let’s start with the introduction by Lon Milo DuQuette. In a word: excellent. I am continually astonished and amazed at the depth and insight that he provides, and the clarity that he brings to the complexities of Thelema and the “spiritual journey” (for lack of a better term) in general. He addresses the conundrum of magick, whose object is a change in the individual, being seemingly at odds with the idea of ceremonial group work. This is an important prelude to the work, and he handles the topic admirably.
Within the work itself, each ritual is given a historical introduction. Every one is well written and provides a fantastic background to the ritual itself. It notes the time at which Crowley constructed the ritual, the backstory, and on a practical note also cites the expected duration, layout, number of participants, equipment and other mundanities that make for a smooth performance. There is also an introductory section on general safety that should serve more than profitable for someone not well-seasoned in this sort of work. No one wants to be known as “[N] the One-Eyed Magician”.
As I cannot possibly touch on each and every one of the fifteen rituals included (plus some more in the appendix), and a short sentence itself would be an equal disservice, I will take them in total and say that each is well thought out, practical, and provides ample instruction for the novice to the journeyman and beyond. Any organized body of magicians (an oxymoron, I know) would benefit from this on a bookshelf, and I highly encourage it specifically for building up a magical current in such a group. My favorites include the “two fragments of ritual” that evolved into “A Ritual to Invoke HICE” and “The Supreme Ritual”, the “Mithraic Liturgy”, “An Evocation of Bartzabel the Spirit of Mars”, and “The Bacchanal”.
To risk both cliche and hyperbole at once, the Grimoire of Aleister Crowley is an instant classic. It is a fantastic work, combining practical advice, experience and historical perspective to deliver a truly exceptional modern grimoire.
A Review of The Grimoire of Aleister Crowley: Group Rituals in the Age of Thelema.
by Dave Moore
Disclaimer: The Author is a Personal Friend and a member of the Same Magickal Order, but I have no professional interest in this book other than the swapping of occasional hugs.
Statistics have shown that when first learning to drive a car, the most dangerous time is not before passing the test, but afterwards. Those formative few months after first learning to three-point-turn, do an uphill start, manage the gears, and all the other nominally-tricksy manoeuvres that go into driving a car without an instructor looking over your shoulder, will instill habits that, for the most of us, will last a life-time. Such habits are hard to quash and almost certainly will cause at least one accident in the future, no matter how careful or how much retraining one has.
I would argue that the same learning curve applies to Magick. The author’s previous book, Abrahadabra: Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Magick was a stunning introduction to Thelemic Cosmology, Ethics and Ritual without adopting the slavish “Crowleyier-than-thou” approach often found in books of that type, and I eagerly awaited his next book, which promised to take the reader and (hopefully) participant in his or her own Great Work, a further stage in their spiritual evolution – just like first one learns to drive alone, with no other drivers in the vicinity before venturing out onto public roads, this new book takes the aspiring magician beyond working alone in candlelit back-bedrooms to working with other people. For as the author makes clear in the preface to this solidly constructed and textually informative book, the Law of Thelema is not “Do what I wilt….”, it is “Do what THOU wilt”, a distinction that many people either ignore or simply do not comprehend in their rush to proclaim the (universal truth anyway) of “Every Man and Every Woman is a Star”.
As the above paragraph makes clear, this book is not strictly for newcomers to Thelema. It assumes basic knowledge of Thelemic Cosmology, Ethics and Ritual, and that the author is at least familiar in passing with Crowley the Author and Mythology in general. Yet, I feel this is one of the book’s strengths: if you are in a position to use and understand the rituals in this book, you are in a position to get the most out of them.
After the now seemingly obligatory introduction (for this author anyway!) by Lon Milo DuQuette which itself is a model of clarity and conciseness as to why one needs to get out of the darkened back bedroom (and contains one of the clearest treatments yet of just why magick is both a solo and group work), before the meat of the book, fifteen group rituals revised, expanded and inspired from Crowley’s original (and sometimes unpublished) work, there is a standout chapter entitled “A Note on Safety”. One would imagine that in an ideal world this wouldn’t be needed, but the author makes some obvious and timely points: don’t stab yourself or other participants with blades, be careful when wearing robes near naked flame; exercise extreme caution when bloodletting and so on. Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, you would think, yet we’ve all known people who have managed to cut themselves with a too-sharp sword and then setting themselves on fire whilst jumping around in pain and waving flammable robes everywhere. Personally, I’ve long felt the need for such advice to be stressed – magick, whatever else it does, affects the mind, and when filled with the ectacsy of a godform, its incredibly easy to have a little “oops” or two.
Each Ritual is detailed in the following format. First, there is a general purpose introduction giving the background of the original writing of the ritual by Crowley, the aim of the ritual, and then any modifications the author made (and the reasons for this). Then notes are given on how to perform this ritual (which include essential information on the group dynamics involved, an oft-overlooked hazard of group magick), and finally, an ingredients-like list of what is needed in terms of props, people, time, preparation (something many other magickal works could learn from)..
Often, this detail takes up many pages, and I cannot fault the level of detail here. Diagrams of where people should stand and not stand, and other necessary artwork (provided by Cathryn Orchard ) are also given (this is an excellent idea as vagueness is often a killer when it comes to following written work), then the text of the ritual itself. Interspersed amongst the text of each ritual are copious notes explaining just what is going on, and giving further illustration as to what is happening and why at that point in the ritual, as well as some further relevant potted history. Its a format which works well when first performing and learning the ritual.
It is worth noting at this point, that often, the author’s modifications to each ritual are limited to mainly Thelemising each ritual; personally speaking, I am exceedingly glad to see this being done, as I feel this is a major weakness of other ostensibly Thelemic books, and even of Crowley’s work itself – if we are in a new Aeon, and as Liber Al tells us ( “Abrogate are all rituals, all ordeals, all words and signs…” – I:49), then why do Thelemic magickians continue to use meaningless old-Aeon (and Golden Dawn-based) Judeo-Christian symb- and phrase- ology?
This is a controversial point, and many will disagree with this, and the author always provides, where possible, the original “v1” versions of the Rituals, so workers always have a choice.
The fifteen rituals take up the bulk of the book, and 11 of them are fairly straightforward, The Ritual of the Mark of the Beast, The Invocation of Horus and so on. In the middle of the book however are three what-can-only-be-described as “workshops” on what the author calls The Roots of Thelema: adapting, using and performing A Mithraic Liturgy, The Bacchanal and even The Goetia in a Thelemic milieu. These are incredibly in-depth and detailed tutorials on these subjects, and could easily be turned into books of their own. I would however caution, and the author is the first to admit this, that each of these subjects could be a lifetime’s study in themselves, so whilst I approve of their inclusion in a book like this, I would question whither or not the author is doing himself out of several further books worth of material by including this information here!
The final ritual is The Mass of Babalon which is effectively a tutorial on writing group rituals. Whilst I understand the placement of this section at the back of the book, I think it would have made more sense for this to have been moved forward to before what I will call The Roots Trilogy: I feel the book would have been more effective where these hived off into a section of their own at the very least. Overall though, this does not distract from the content.
Finishing off the book are the full text of a number of miscellaneous Libers referred to in various places of the main text, as well as details on the 72 Goetic Spirits. Useful information to have located in close proximity to the main rituals.
Overall, the text of the book is, chatty, readable and flowing, the diagrams useful, and the tone of the book is neither high-handed or patronising; when reading the book you always feel as if the text is there to help you, not to smack you around the wrist with a ruler should you get a word wrong.
I should point out I have not yet performed any of the rituals in this book as part of a group, so I cannot offer any testimony to the power of said rituals; however, given how much of magick is personal, this is something that is best left to the individual. All I can offer is a personal view as to whether this book and the rituals within are suitable tools for use as a springboard into deeper adventures into the magickal side of Thelema, and on that basis, the book succeeds admirably. My own personal favourite ritual is The Invocation of Horus, a ritual Crowley first used in 1904 and which led directly to the reception (or writing if you prefer) of The Book Of The Law.
This is undoubtedly a welcome addition to the (admittedly very thin) corpus of work on Thelemic Magick, and in my opinion a must-buy for groups seeking to perform Thelemic magick without having to spend time fiddling with the sometimes-slightly-less-than-transparent works of old Uncle Al. As I’m sure he would have wanted: full-steam ahead into the New Aeon! Damn the Torpedoes!
Rating: 5 stars out of 5