I Crowley: Almost the Last Confession of the Beast 666, by Snoo Wilson
Mandrake of Oxford, 252 pp., 1997, 1999
A novel written as an autobiography of Aleister Crowley, I, Crowley depicts the years he spent in America, where he first met Leah, and the occurrences of the Abbey at Cefalu, concluding with Raoul’s death there.
It has been nearly sixty years since Aleister Crowley’s death, fifty at the time of the first publication of this book. A controversial figure in his time, he remains so today. In Crowley’s voice, Wilson writes: “The comic contradictions degenerators’ various ‘takes’ on my character are simply the price paid for individuality, and can be safely ignored by seekers after truth”.
One can sympathize with this view, though in fact the presentation of his character, life and writings are often heavily filtered by both his detractors and advocates alike; and depending on the final image desired, details are carefully selected to support these views. Fortunately, Wilson spares us such vulgarities, and attempts to capture Crowley’s spirit and style, and he is almost successful – a high compliment.
Wilson demonstrates his extensive knowledge of Crowley’s life, works, attitudes and mannerisms, as well as the contradictory nature of the Beast himself in exploring his inner workings.
The chapter headings follow the trumps of Crowley’s Thoth Tarot deck, and numerous footnotes and illustrations serve to further inform the text.
Irreverent and often funny, I, Crowley is a wonderful read; recommended.
The Oestara Anthology of Pagan Poetry, edited by Cynthia Joyce Clay, Delight Clay and Raymond T. Anderson
Oestara Publishing LLC, 127 pp. (incl. index)
According to their website, Oestara Publishing is a co-operative publishing group made up of Pagans who read, edit, and work with one another’s writing to produce Pagan books, from poetry to fiction.
A Pagan poetry contest was held, consisting of two categories, free verse and traditional form verse. Each category had cash prizes for the top three winners, though I could not find the exact dates it ran, the results were published in 2005 in this little book, The Oestara Anthology of Poetry. Other contestants, who did not win the prize money, but whose poetry was felt to be of sufficient quality, also had their work included in this anthology, winning, in effect, a chance to be published.
The introduction details each of the traditional forms used, explains the judges’ weighting system, and establishes who each of the three judges were, Cynthia Joyce Clay, Delight Clay, and Raymond T. Anderson, who also served as the anthology’s editors.
The winners of each category are given in sequence with judges’ commentary directly following each finalist’s winning entry, though the formatting of their observations could have used some adjusting.
I found with no separation between poem and judges’ remarks it broke the flow and did not allow for sufficient time to settle the reader’s own impressions, to really feel each poems worth. As a result, each of the winning poems were immediately coloured by three opinions before one’s own could be formed. I would have preferred to see the poems stand on their own merit, with judges’ commentary being an added bonus tucked away in an appendix, where a deeper look at their judging process could have been more fully formed. As it stands, it seems jagged and jarring.
Following the two sections for winners, several other contestants’ poems are showcased, with numerous poems by the same author, and lone poems, flowing into one another, arranged alphabetically by author’s surname, and also broken into two sections, Free Verse and Traditional Poetic Forms. Several of these are also quite good, and others are imperfect, but beautiful in their vibrant imagery and earnestness.
There are some truly beautiful poems here, Last Ferry, by Cis Staubach, and Banishing, by Julia Swiggum particularly, from the winning contestants.
There are others that were equally beautiful from other entrants, such as Bog Oak, by Stephen Mead, and Recognizing Kali in a Young Girl, by Adam Byrn Tritt, both found in Free Verse, which are two of my favourites.
The poems all follow Pagan themes, some invocations and charges (Charge of the God, by Julia Swiggum, who placed third in the Free Verse category, is a beautiful example of this), others on different festivals, with Samhain being a particular favourite, it seems. Others are more thoughtful, such as The Trouble with God, by Robin Renee, the last lines which run: Krishna, was it really you who said / that each man must do his duty, thus the warrior / must make war? / What did you mean by that? / And isn’t it time you found the warrior / a better job?
Afterwards, two of the judges give examples of their poems, and then each of the three follow up with brief essays of advice, further evaluations and detail their thoughts on Pagan poetry and poetry in general.
The technical aspects of the book are lacking, with inconsistent formatting, odd breaks and errors with punctuation floating throughout the text, but that aside, this is a neat little anthology, and I hope to see more on this theme.
First published on Suite101.com on 12 June 2006. (Unfortunately.)
An Insider’s Guide to Robert Anton Wilson, by Eric Wagner
New Falcon Publications, 156184165X, 237 pp. (incl. appendices and bibliography), 2005
One would have thought the only insider to Bob’s head would be Wilson himself, and yet Eric Wanger has corresponded with RAW over the past twenty years, first via snail mail, and later by e-mail. After twenty years of communication he must have some insight into Wilson’s inner workings, and his efforts aren’t half bad from this outsider’s perspective. Wilson must agree, as he’s written a preface, introduction and overture for the book, though while he may have helped with the infomercial, I think it’s mostly Wagner’s work.
The text also includes a list of the books by RAW, including the Maybe Logic DVDs, an interview, and a lexicon explaining the symbolism behind some of Wilson’s material, though curiously there’s no mention of Greg Hill, co-founder of Discordianism. Actually, Wilson’s exact relationship to Discordianism is never discussed in depth, despite it being a major subject and theme (directly and indirectly) in many of his works.
But perhaps the most useful chapter is Appendix Samekh, in which he goes through the Illuminatus! trilogy in its ten parts and describes the many kabbalistic correspondences and obscure references, seemingly resulting in one massive rolling ball of coincidence and magick and the Illuminatus! timeline.
Unfortunately the book is severely repetitive, for example, the critter story told at least twice (not to mention I’d read it before this book), and William Burroughs cut-ups are explained at least three separate times. In fact, one passage is quoted twice in the same essay.
As Wagner points out, reading Wilson leads to other writers, through reference and obvious influence on his works, ‘[his] style derives directly from Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Raymond Chindler, H.L. Menken, William S. Burroughs, Benjamin Tucker, and Elephant Doody Comix, in approximately that order of importance’. In fact, Wilson gave a list of ten recommended books in a 1996 magazine, later with supplements, and Wagner has gone through them, giving commentary on his reading experience.
There are other irrelevant bits that seem thrown in for no apparent reason, such as vacations and family photos from Wager’s trips to Dublin, Amsterdam, Egypt, etc. For example, there’s one photograph of a man standing in front of a dark wall with a sign reading ‘James Joyce Pub’, evidently taken in Zürich, with the caption ‘Great picture of my dad…’ on page 213. Sure it is Eric, I just don’t quite get what it has to do with Robert Anton Wilson.
So is it an insider’s guide? Well, while there are some useful and interesting bits to be found within its pages, for it appears mostly to be a somewhat disjointed account of Wagner’s unique appreciation and admiration of the man, rambling and repetitive as it is.