Aleister Crowley
Edited, annotated and introduced by Hymenaeus Beta
Samuel Weiser, York Beach, ME, 1995

As the 20th century draws to a close, a survey of literature dealing with the themes of occultism, magic and mysticism reveals a gradual decline in the diversity and scholarship found in the earlier part of this century. The works of Dion Fortune, Israel Regardie, Sybil Leek, Doreen Valiente and, most notably, Aleister Crowley present a view of practical occultism lost after the rising popularity of Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders in the 1960s and '70s. Readers and occultists interested in broadening their depth of knowledge in these matters will find that, by revisiting these earlier authors and theorists, an entire new world unfolds—one which has been, by and large, forsaken by the "magical cookbook" approach of many contemporary authors.

Magic—Book Four brings together a previously separate body of Crowley's work for the first time. Crowley states that he intended for the work to be read as a whole, as each part complements the other in many ways. Although originally advertised as "a treatise on magic and mysticism for beginners," the work may at first appear daunting in its scope to contemporary readers accustomed to simpler fare. Crowley planned to write the work so that an average reader would find its more obtuse ideas gradually understandable. To write this simply probably posed a greater challenge to Crowley's abilities than his earlier prose writings, which have a highly developed literary style and a powerful vocabulary that few readers could easily follow. His tendency to assume that readers possessed the education and experience to follow his often obscure allusions worked against his goal of teaching occultism to the general audience. However, with a little patience and an Oxford Dictionary at hand, the serious reader will find that Book Four is Crowley's most important exposition of the system to which he gave the name.

In Part I, "Mysticism," Crowley covers a wide range of introductory principles of practical occultism, including yoga and body postures for meditation and magical working, the use of breath and chant for altering consciousness, the ethics of magic, developing control of the mind and the ability to achieve focus, and meditation techniques. Though it is the most abbreviated section of the book, the content is well defined and presented in a manner which provides an adequate understanding of the material.

Part II, "Magick—Elementary Theory," provides an indepth course of study in temple and sacred circle construction, elements of the altar, magical tools such as the scourge, dagger, chain, wand, cup, and sword,the symbolism and use of the pentacle, crown, lamp, and robe, as well as the ritual use of the bell, book, lamen, and fire. Beyond its practical information, this section reveals a wealth of obscure and fascinating facts on the historic and esoteric backgrounds of these items and their use in magical workings.

Part III, "Magick in Theory and Practice," is heretofore one of Crowley's better-known treatises. The largest section of the overall work, it gives a detailed account of magical alphabets, correspondences of the Qabalah, principles of ritual, instruction in the theory and practice of conjuration, use of gesture, the sacrifice of animals, banishing, purification and consecration rituals, the use of oaths and invocations, divination, the art of alchemy, black magic, and the conjuring of spirits and demons.

Part IV, "The Law of Thelema," takes the student into the realm of high ceremonial magic in this system, which has maintained its integrity and power to this day. It also includes a comprehensive biography of Crowley's boyhood, adolescence, and his progress as a magical theorist and occult practitioner.

The remainder of the work is composed of a substantial set of appendices covering a large scope of occult and thelemic theory and practice. These include detailed charts showing the principal correspondences of the Qabalah, the principal rituals of the O.T.O., and a great number of ritual instructions which form the base of this system of magic.

The reader will find this edition far more "user friendly" than previous publications of these four books under separate covers. The Weiser edition's page layout and typeset style is clear, uncluttered and consistent, with comprehensive footnotes and excellent editor's notes, references and index sections. I highly recommend this work for the reference shelf of any serious magical practitioner, occultist or student of the Western esoteric traditions.

Reviewed by Colin Rowntree

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