THE MAGICAL DILEMMA OF VICTOR NEUBURG
Victor Benjamin Neuburg (1883-1940) is a name familiar to many students of western occult history. To some he is best known as a Poetwhose published works received infrequent, yet significant acclaim throughout the first few decades of the twentieth century. To others he is remembered as a Patronfor his "discovery" and encouragement of such poets/writers as Dylan Thomas, Pamela Hansford Johnson, Francis Berry, Indris Davies, and, among others, the author of this biography, Jean Overton Fuller. Many people, however, will first think of VBN for his infamous role as a disciple of Aleister Crowley, a reputation which, more often than not, overshadows the totality of his extraordinary life.
Drawing from a variety of sources (interviews with and the personal letters and diaries of his associates, published and unpublished papers, etc.), Fuller has written a superb biography which provides the reader with a well-rounded and thorough portrait. Fuller weaves numerous anecdotal threads amongst the exhaustive historical details of VBN's life. These threads admirably reveal the texture of his lifeas he lived it, and as association with him was experienced by others. Refraining from having this book represent her sole perspective, Fuller has selected many anecdotes related by other people. This multi-perspective approach is masterfully accomplished; the reader is left with a composite image of VBN derived from the perceptions of the people who knew him best. This is perhaps best exemplified by two quotes: Dylan Thomas writes of VBN that "[h]e possessed many kinds of genius, and not the least was his genius for drawing to himself, by his wisdom, graveness, great humour and innocence, a feeling of trust and love, that won't ever be forgotten" (p. 238); Hugo Manning, another poet fostered by VBN, states that "[h]e served life instead of, like most people, trying to make it serve him" (p. 242).
It is, however, the information presented pertaining to VBN's association with Crowley that makes this book essential to those interested in the historiography of the western occult traditions. Although much of what her research revealed about this relationship was obviously distasteful to Fuller, her commitment to this biography is demonstrated by the fact that she doesn't shy away from including it. By doing so, she has not only provided information on an important contextual element formative to VBN's life and personality, but has also produced another perspective on the contemporary occultism which supplements the work of others such as John Symonds, Francis King, Ellic Howe, Ithell Colquhoun, Israel Regardie, and Kenneth Grant. Specific events examined include VBN's magical initiation, formation of Crowley's Argentinum Astrum/OTO, Crowley and Neuburg's "Desert Workings" using the Enochian Calls, the "Rites of Eleusis" performances, and "The Paris Working."
The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg was initially published in England in 1965, and never widely distributed in the US; the appearance of this revised edition now offers a chance to obtain a copy of this rare and important book. Moreover, this new edition contains information and anecdotes originally omitted at the request of certain sources; following their subsequent deaths, Fuller has now incorporated this material into her revisions. This edition also contains useful footnotes, an excellent index, and a superb short bibliography. Having searched for this book for years, upon obtaining it, I found it to be everything I had hoped, and more. Victor Neuburg was a fascinating and extraordinary man; Jean Overton Fuller's biography of him is a credit to the genre, and more specifically, a quintessential text which adds a necessary dimension to the history of the nineteenth and twentieth century occult movements in England. VBN may have been a "magical dilemma," but Fuller's work has provided the cornerstone for beginning to understand the man and his "magic." In her own words she writes of him: "He was a well from which one could draw to the extent of one's capacity. He received all who came to him, and gave each one back his own image, brightened. If that is not true magic, I do not know what is."
Reviewed by Thoth
All material ©1995-2007 Obsidian Magazine. All rights reserved.