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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

History British Magick After Crowley -review

The History of British Magick After Crowley: Dave Evans: Hidden Publishing: 2007
I have put a photo of Mouse here since she knew almost everyone / many of the people mentioned in this book.

Anarchy, punk and magick. That is a heady brew. But like water, malt and hops (or saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal = gunpowder) in isolation they are neither so heady nor so explosive. They exploded for me as a combination in the Library of the Conway Hall [Red Lion Square, London, UK] back in December 1979 at a meeting of the Persons Unknown Anarchist Conspiracy to Commit Explosions Trial Support Group . Or to be more historically precise, in the pub next to the Conway Hall after the meeting . This was where I discovered that Tony D. (editor of punk fanzines Ripped and Torn/ Kill Your Pet Puppy ) had been reading ‘Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God’ by Kenneth Grant.

The anarcho meeting led on to the best piece of music the anarcho-pacifist-punk group Crass ever created - Bloody Revolutions (B-side ‘Person Unknown/ Poison Girls) which funded an ‘Anarchy/ Autonomy Centre’ at the Metropolitan Warf warehouse in Wapping , east London a year later and which in turn spawned the sub-punk culture ‘anarcho-punk’ …

This meeting with Tony ( and his sister Val and her then boyfriend Brett) changed my life. It led me to follow a different path, one which, 28 years later I am still stumbling along. The meeting was as unlikely as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table [Surrealist quote].
I went home to my bedsit flat in Ilford and wrote a ranting, raving letter in which I quoted the following from the final paragraph of Kenneth Grant’s ‘Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God’:
The artist, the occultist, the scientist, were among those who refused to conform to priestly superstitions. Even today these sections of society are regarded with suspicion, if not with animosity, as a danger to society. People sensed in the artist, the magician, the alchemist, some indefinable yet potent quality that was inimical to their comfortable vegetative existence. The danger lingers on. The scientist, Wilhelm Reich, was eliminated by the American authorities because the logical conclusion of his discoveries implied the total overthrow of society as it is known today. Yet it is upon the debris of that society alone that the Kingdom of Ra-Hoor-Khuit may be established and Liber Oz put into practice. The keen and persistent practice of even a few dedicated individuals will effectually overthrow society and thereby facilitate the unhindered development of the New Aeon and the reintegration of human consciousness.
The next time we met at the Conway Hall, Tony gave me a copy of Kill Your Pet Puppy 2 and there was my letter , including the Grant quote, embodied in it… anarchy, punk and magick indeed. [Reflective note: two years later I wrote to Mr. Grant himself and received some very useful advice ‘Remember the Fourth Power of the Sphinx’ - I.e. Silence - in return]

Silence? The following is unspoken….

There are books that I read. And then there are books that I devour, wolfing down hungrily, tearing off great chunks of raw and bloody text, crunching up the grammatical bones to extract their juicy marrow, washing down the words with great gulps of strange and exotically foaming wines… then, having consumed the feast, carefully re-assemble the fragments … and read it all over again. But this time more slowly, delicately teasing out the metaphors and allusions, admiring the craft of its construction, highlighter and day-glo book marks in hand, ready to note the more useful, the more revealing, the more surprising or even the more doubtful passages.

George Berger’s ‘The Story of Crass’ was the last book to receive such treatment . Dave Evan’s ‘The History of British Magick since Crowley ‘ got the treatment today. As with George’s book, my response is necessarily immediate and subjective - if ‘anarcho-punk’ filled the first part of my London years, ‘chaos-magic’ filled the second. And, like some great spectre haunting the city, the ‘perichoresis ‘ of Kenneth Grant connected the two eras - as did the very different ‘magic’ of Genesis P. Orridge.

However, I realise that the connection between anarcho-punk and chaos magic is not very obvious. Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare and Kenneth Grant do not feature in ‘The Story of Crass’ whilst Crass, The Mob or even Blood and Roses do not feature in ‘The History of BMAC’. But then ,as Dave explains, his book began as an academic thesis, as a history of post - war magic and he had to follow his sources.

So where do Dave’s sources lead him? On a long strange trip to the edge of infinity… and beyond? Not quite. Rather you get a pretty sensible ‘guided tour’ of the British occult scene as it has evolved since Aleister Crowley’s death in 1947. Indeed Dave spends the first 222 pages gently and carefully explaining to the reader that magicians are not mad-eyed, axe-wielding, raping and pillaging madmen hell-bent on destroying society as we know it by invoking demonic entities … attempting to defuse in advance academic doubts about the validity /usefulness/ sensibility of his project.

He then goes on to demolish the claims of a minor figure to be the secret love child of the Great Beast (AKA Edward Alexander ‘Aleister’ Crowley). On first reading I thought this section was a waste of space, but it is useful - it gives Dave the chance to show that he is a applying a ‘critical methodology’ to his sources rather than simply accepting claims made. It is a very good bit of detective work. For example rather than taking the person’s vague claims to have sold ‘thousands of books’ at face value, he checks out the financial records of the publisher and discovers the company is running at a loss…

So when Dave moves swiftly on to discuss the work of Kenneth Grant, his ‘post-academic thesis post-script’ : that Dave believes “ Mr Grant probably saved magic from disappearing into obscurity after Crowley died, and that Grant’s works are magical in and of themselves…” and despite Dave revealing (for them as didn’t know) that ‘so far as academic research is concerned Grant is very difficult’… I.e that Mr. Grants 9 volume ‘Typhonian Trilogy ‘ blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction; one can only agree.

My only criticism here is that Dave could have come over all French intellectual and post-modern in this section and argued the case for Grant as out flanking them all - to challenge Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, Kristeva, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari to ‘deconstruct this’…. but then Dave appears far too sensible to play such games.

Brief aside - for any one unfamiliar with the works of Kenneth Grant (born 1924), he knew Aleister Crowley in the late 1940s, just before Crowley’s death in 1947. Grant’s take on magic is best illustrated by his theory that USA horror fiction writer H.P. Lovecraft actually and accurately described real entities in his ‘fictions’. Cthulhu Lives! [ But Outside of Space and Time - the title of one of Grant’s early books].

From Grant, Dave then moves on to Austin Osman Spare. Spare’s ‘Zos Kia Cultus’ gave All the Madmen’s ‘Zos Kia’ (Psychic TV/ Coil offshoot featuring Min and John Gosling) their name.

Finally he has a stab at Chaos Magic. Whilst Kenneth Grant found the sources of his magick ‘outside of space and time’, chaos magic is ( or was - I reckon it is becoming a bit of recent history) ‘post-modern’, ‘post -quantum physics ‘ magic. Dave himself admits it is difficult/ impossible to use historical methodologies to make sense of something so recent. But he does his best and since no-one else has (outside of the chaos community) tried to contextualise chaos magic, it is useful.

In so far as the personal is chaotic, Dave’s use of ‘sources’ here (and throughout) is as good as they get. Dave quotes extensively from Phil Hine and Lionel Snell (rather than relying exclusively on Pete Carroll and Ray Sherwin ). I am not quite so sure about Lionel - his work preceded the ‘Chaos Current’ - but to the extent of my historically brief involvement in ‘chaos magic’ : 1986- 2001: and as someone who wrote for Joel Birocos’ Chaos/ Kaos and Dave Lee/ Phil Hine/ Ian Read’s Chaos International and was for about five minutes a member of the IOT [Illuminates of Thanateros] and so I met/ knew a fair few of the folk Dave mentions in his book … of these, Phil Hine was the man.

The word ‘sensible’ keeps coming back to me. It may not seem appropriate in the context of the furthest far out reaches of the UK counterculture which this book documents , but that is the way I see it. By using so many quotes from ‘sensible’ folk like Phil Hine and Lionel Snell, Dave Evans has managed to write a ‘sensible’ book on a not-sensible subject .

Hell, I could say so much more, but this is already 1000 words long. So come on all you aging punk rockers, live a little and buy this book.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, author here, someone sent me the link and i can only thank you for the review, you've really got what i was trying to do with the book


dave evans

10:40 am  
Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

Whoooo...this is interesting stuff...didn't realise 'til the weekend when I was talking to someone that you were part of the late 70's Yeovil Mob/All the Madmen Posse....

11:11 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Not the Yeovil years...I only met up with Mark Wilson and The Mob in London in 1981


11:24 pm  
Blogger I am not Kek-w said...

Hi there! Ahhhh...someone told me they thought you were round these parts, but I couldn't remember you! That explains why! :-)

I haven't seen Mark for years, tho I run into his brother now and again...

Anyway, this is v. cool stuff....very interesting....I may well check this book out....

11:53 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I received a note saying my copy of this book had just shipped and - impatient - went review hunting. I was delighted to find this, your post. I spoke with and later met Lionel Snell as he was organized the "Old Master" exhibition at the October Gallery in 1998; hard to believe that was almost ten years ago now. And if you happen to have a copy of Chaos International No. 23 you will find a piece I wrote on Clive Barker's Hellraiser puzzle box... I really should get round to sending them part 2 now they are publishing again.

So, looking forward very much to the book. Cheers and 93.

2:11 pm  

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