Trevor Greenfield (ed.) Paganism 101: An Introduction to Paganism by 101 Pagans. Moon Books, 2014.
Richard Metzger (ed.) The Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult. Disinformation Books, San Francisco, 2014.
These books are similar, in that all are collections of essays by different authors on contemporary occultism. Witchcraft Today – 60 Years On, which refers to Gerald Gardner’s 1954 book, is 180 pages long, whereas The Book of Lies, which is primarily about Aleister Crowley (from whom the title is borrowed, and who resurrected the old spelling of ‘magick’), is much larger, 352 pages with small print in double columns.
It is now six decades since the appearance of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today, which sold 5,500 copies. To those not familiar with publishing, this might not seem many, but actually very few books sell more than 5,000 copies. He originally intended to call it New Light on Witchcraft, and included a lot of material on yoga, which his editors deleted as irrelevant.
The sensational point was his claim that witchcraft was still practised, albeit on a very small scale, when most people assumed that it was extinct, if it had ever existed at all. But Gardner’s biggest influence was by way of a work that he never published – the ‘Book of Shadows’, which contains a set of witchcraft rituals, and has now been copied worldwide. The various contributors to 60 Years On discuss the diverse offshoots, ‘Alexandrian witchcraft’, derived from Alex Sanders, the ‘Seax Tradition’, which is based around the Saxon deities Woden and Freya, the feminist Dianic Tradition which naturally is for women only, and so on.
There has also been a widespread revival of Paganism generally, witchcraft being just one aspect of it. Greenfield has assembled an even larger group of contributors, 101 as his title indicates. These include Druid, Heathens, Goddess Followers, and there are discussions of Deities, Nature, Ethics, Afterlife, Ancestors, Ritual, Magic, Healing and Celebrant Work.
Jack Parsons was a prominent rocket-fuel scientist, and certainly the only disciple of Crowley to have a crater on the far side of the moon named after him. He died in an explosion in his laboratory in 1952. An explosion in a rocket-fuel laboratory should not be too surprising (it was rocket science), but his ‘Scarlet Woman’ Marjorie Cameron, who went on to star in Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, “always believed that Howard Hughes was somehow behind it.”
The connection of H. P. Lovecraft with Crowley is tenuous: in his Supernatural Horror in Literature he discussed Leonard Cline’s novel The Dark Chamber, which mentioned Crowley. Erik Davis observes that “while most 1930s pulp fiction is nearly unreadable today”, Lovecraft has a ’cult’ status, with a curiously literal dimension. Fans are not content to read stories about weird otherworldly entities, Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlathotep, and the rest of them, but often invoke them in magickal ceremonies. This is an interesting example of how a piece of fiction takes on a life of its own. To this day the London headquarters of Santander Bank, which is located in Baker Street, employ a secretary to answer letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes. Even more remarkably, the city of Verona employs several secretaries to reply to letters sent to Juliet by lovelorn women.
Allen Greenfield looks at the influence of Crowley on Wicca, based upon his research into unpublished documents. As he observes, there are Crowley borrowings in the Book of Shadows used by Gardner. In consequence, “I think Aleister and Gerald may have cooked Wicca up.” The problem with this hypothesis is that the Crowley borrowings, on close inspection, all turn out to have been taken from a 1919 volume entitled the Blue Equinox. Notably, Crowley’s Book of the Law is nowhere quoted at first hand, only at second hand, which proves that he was not personally responsible for the Book of Shadows. -- Gareth J. Medway.