Continuing my (unplanned and unheralded) theme of ritual magic books, let’s take a look at a book Aleister Crowley actually wrote himself (rather than sneaking round his library): Magick in Theory and Practice by The Master Therion (being part III of Book 4). Paris: Lecram Press, 1929:
The genesis of this work was quite a few years before. The part of the title in brackets is the clue: a dissemination of the Great Work over four books. Travelling with his ‘Scarlet Woman’ of the time, (a magical partner – he went through quite a few of these, some he was with for much longer than others. The concept had a long history: the alchemists Nicolas Flamel and Thomas Vaughan both worked with their wives for example, but the big influence for Crowley I think was the partnership of S. L. MacGregor Mathers and his wife Moina – but we’ll save that spurious theory for another time…) Mary Desti, in 1912, he received channelled instructions via her good self to publish a Book IV in four parts.
Anyway let’s get back to 1929. Aleister finally gets Magick published in 1929 in France in the four sections of orangey loveliness you see here. He designed the talismanic cover after much trial and error (which he was pleased with) and also added a colour plate (which didn’t please him):
As frequently with Aleister’s projects this didn’t quite work out. Book Four Part I, an excellent treatise on yogic practice as it happens, was published soon after; quickly followed by Part II around 1913 (both works are undated) which covered the use of objects in ritual magic. Part III, Magick (the book what we have ‘ere) took a further 10 years or so to finish and as you see was not published until 1929. But what about Part IV I hear you cry? Well that didn’t come out until 1936 (Equinox of the Gods), was regarded as part of his ‘Equinox’ series and didn’t mention Book or Part 4 anywhere.
The physical aspects of each of the parts of Book Four were also important to Aleister from a talismanic point of view: size of each part, it’s price, and in this case it’s publication in four sections (see ‘Books of the Beast’ by the utterly fabulous Timothy d’Arch Smith for more on this). However the first issue was soon scrapped and re-issued in a one volume quite normal rectangle size. Without the colour plate. Which in all honesty I can see why he wasn’t happy with it, as it look like an original facsimile of itself (if that makes any sense…).
This was released in 1930 and called the ‘Subscriber’s Edition’ even though nobody actually subscribed to it in the first place. It’s basically the first issue sheets, trimmed down and lumped together in one, with a new title page:
Actually this is rightly regarded as Aleister’s great work. You could argue it was the first new (and not a rehash of medieval grimoires), generally published work on theoretical and practical magic published in England for nearly 300 years (Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy was published in English in 1651). It contains some of his best prose writing and is a genuinely impressive didactic tome. He continued to promote this work for the rest of his life, using such techniques as this broadsheet:
You see the thing is, as well as going the extra mile to the outer edges of Magick on our behalf, old Aleister had that very rare thing in the esoteric landscape: a sense of humour. Everyone from Hermes Trimegistus to Chumbley is so bloody serious it’s a welcome hot wet flannel to the face that Al could laugh at not only the world but himself too. Amen to that.