The Secret Door
Thoughts on Thelema

Nov
29

Review of Liber L. vel Bogus

Review of Liber L. vel Bogus: The Real Confession of Aleister Crowley, by Richard T. Cole. N.p.: Lulu, 2014. Second, corrected edition.  248p. US$12.55. ISBN: 9781900962865.

 

Liber L. vel Bogus is a book in the non-fiction genre. This book will appeal to critical students of the life and writings of Aleister Crowley, with a high level of general intelligence. However, it will not appeal to devotees of Thelema, or to those who have no interest in the Western esoteric tradition or the New Age. As a book, Liber L. vel Bogus is terribly designed. The fonts on the back cover are garish and illegible. The interior of the book is better, but marred by irrelevant images and cartoons that distract the reader from the (presumably) serious intention of the author. On the positive side, some interesting and rarely seen photographs make the book interesting and accessible. 

The author’s writing style is chaotic and unfortunately intentionally provocative. He cannot conceal his hatred for Aleister Crowley and all he stands for. This attitude, which pervades the text, immediately establishes the author as a “hostile witness” and undermines the seriousness and integrity of his actual research, which is considerable, thus working against his own agenda. Rather than as a reasoned argument, the book comes across as a debunking exercise instead of as an objective study of the veracity of Crowley’s claims, as it purports to be. As a result, I also found this book difficult to read, as my attention was constantly being distracted by the emotionality of the author rather than by his actual arguments. 

The author has apparently spent several decades researching this book, including accessing the Crowleyana collection of the Warburg Institute. He is clearly very familiar with the life and writings of Aleister Crowley. Unfortunately, his arguments are poorly expressed and less than convincing. The author deviates from his main goal of debunking Crowley’s claims concerning the Cairo Working into a diatribe against the Caliphate O.T.O. Most of the book is an argumentum ad hominem in which the author argues that because Crowley is insane and a known dissimulator (Crowley had a taste for aliases, pseudonyms, and disguises), therefore the Cairo Working is a dissimulation. Specifically, he claims to prove that the Cairo Working is a hoax and the Book of the Law a forgery, written by Crowley with the deliberate intention of promulgating the Law of the Thelema as a sort of deluded megalomaniacal power play against S.L.M. Mathers, W.B. Yeats, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The ad hominem argument is, as every first year philosophy student knows, fallacious, though popular, so most of Liber L. vel Bogus is automatically disqualified from serious consideration. We must, therefore, judge the book to be intellectually dishonest. 

Nevertheless, Liber L. vel Bogus encourages the reader to think about the nature of the Cairo Working and Crowley’s original attitude towards it, his ongoing effort to assimilate its contents and adjust his life to the call of the Book to assume the mantle of prophet of the New Aeon, and the nature of spiritual experience in general in relation to the charge of insanity that is commonly levelled by secularists against spiritualists (e.g., an entire book published by Harvard attempted to prove that C.G. Jung was psychotic, a claim that has also been made against William Blake, Rudolf Steiner, Aurobindo, and others). The author cites a psychological expert who concludes that Crowley shows numerous psychopathic traits. Psychological “experts” can be trotted out to support nearly any psychological theory about anything, so this is hardly convincing. 

One of the stronger arguments the author makes is questioning whether Crowley could have travelled from Cairo to Paris between April 24, 1904 and April 26, 1904. This is a distance of nearly 4,600 km. Assuming that Crowley travelled by rail and boat, this implies an average continuous speed of just under 100 km per hour. According to isochronic maps for 1906 and 1914, showing travel time from various points in the British empire to London, Cairo is in the “5 to 10 day” zone, but right on the southeast edge of the “less than 5 day zone.” Egypt was of course a hot tourist destination at this time. The distance from Cairo to Paris (4595.3 km) is 81.8% of the distance from Cairo to London (5615.5 km), so proportionately the trip from Cairo to Paris would have taken approximately 4 to 8 days, probably closer to 4 given Cairo’s proximity to the “less than five day” zone. When we consider that Crowley said that he left Cairo “about a fortnight after” (italics added), a difference of two to four days is well within the bounds of plausibility. This sort of shallow thinking is typical of the author, which in the context of his other failings makes the book seem less than convincing. 

boulaq

1872 PHOTO OF THE STELA OF ANKH F N KHONSU

One statement that the author is correct about is that Aleister Crowley could not have visited the Boulaq Museum in 1904 as he states, where he and his wife, Rose Edith, purportedly discovered the stele of Ankh-ef-en-khonsu, because the Boulaq was closed down in 1902 and its contents moved to the new Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, which was also established in Boulaq in 1858, the same year in which the stele of Ankh-ef-en-khonsu was discovered by F.A.F. Mariette at Dayr al-Bahri. The stele of Ankh-ef-en-khonsu is now exhibit A 9422 (Temporary Register Number 25/12/24/11) in the Boulaq Collection at the Egyptian Museum. However, the exhibit’s plaque also indicates that the stele was originally catalogued as exhibit 666 at the Boulaq before it was moved. Could Crowley have visited the Boulaq when he was in Cairo in October and November 1902 (though he denies this, and the author suggests it was not possible in any case)? According to his own account, Crowley spent most of his time visiting brothels. However, why would he lie about something that he would know could be easily verified by later biographers and historians if he was engaged in the kind of deliberate dissimulation that the author implies? Superficially impressive, this sort of discrepancy hardly supports the author’s thesis that the Cairo Working was invented out of thin air. These sorts of discrepancies rather support the thesis that Crowley’s memory was faulty* and that he actually visited the Boulaq Collection in the Egyptian Museum, which he also refers to as “the museum at Cairo” (i.e., the Cairo Museum, as the Egyptian Museum is also called). Alternatively, it is just possible that he simplified the story to make the numerical coincidence appear more significant. Even if Crowley did do this, however, it does not mean that he invented the whole story. 

The author’s own argument that Crowley was a (literary) dissimulator actually works against him because Crowley’s other dissimulations, e.g., the Bagh-i-Muattar, are carefully crafted and literally perfect, whereas the record relating to the Cairo Working is confused and disorderly, rather supporting Crowley’s claim that he disliked the Cairo Working and sought to put it behind him even as Crowley became increasingly fascinated by the Book of the Law. Most of the discrepancies the author indicates arose out of this initial period of confusion and doubt. The appearance of the handwritten ms. of the Book of the Law, with its very inconsistencies and corrections, supports Crowley’s contention that it was written rapidly with little or no thought, and then corrected (minimally) afterwards. It certainly does not have the appearance one would expect of a forgery. A forger covers his tracks, he does not advertise them as for example Crowley’s late admission that the Cairo Working might have been the result of a canker on his tongue. No actual forger would say this. No forger would make his last important disciple, Gerald Yorke, who subsequently became the English publisher of the 13th Dalai Lama, to swear a “great magical oath” to preserve his manuscripts for the examination of posterity (the same documents used by the author). 

The author also claims that Aleister Crowley could not have written the Book of the Law in 1904 because the watermark on the paper – Standard Typewriting paper of Scottish paper maker Alex Pirie & Sons – is dated 1906. The author even includes a specimen of the said paper on page 207. The only problem is, this is a blank sheet of paper, but there are no blank sheets of paper in the published images of the pages of the Book of the Law. Moreover, when a page of the Book is examined using adjusting the zoom, brightness, contrast, colour, etc. to bring out the watermark impression, no date is apparent. I also do not see any crown, suggesting that the page shown by the author is a completely different paper stock, so how does he know the date of the paper stock that Crowley is using? Interestingly, the author has not included a photograph of any page of the actual holographic ms. of the Book of the Law showing a dated watermark, or any proof of his assertion that this paper did not exist prior to 1906 (Pirie itself began to manufacture paper in 1881). As to why Crowley might be travelling with his own stock of paper – oh yes! Crowley was an obsessive writer and poet who also travelled to the tops of mountains with trunks of books. Mystery solved. 

The greatest surprise in Liber L. vel Bogus is the author’s apparent admission that he considers Aleister Crowley to be an authentic spiritual teacher. On page 10 he writes that “I am unable to shake an unsettling conviction that ‘the Magickal [sic] essence of Aleister Crowley guided my footsteps every step of way.’” And on p. 15 he makes the following startling revelation:

my investigation into the mysteries of Crowley’s reception of Liber L. vel Bogus has, somewhat paradoxically, strengthened my conviction that Aleister Crowley was the single most important individual this planet has produced in the last twelve millennia [on p. 215 he says ten thousand years]. He also noticed a small yet monumentally significant development in the core operating system of our species, correlated this with the imminent birth of a “new Aeon,” and predicted global changes that, since September 2007 [sic], have rocked our world to its foundations. Crowley was not merely the prophet of a new epoch, but actually precipitated the onset of a ‘Magical Current’ that will shape our world for the next two thousand years.

All in all, Liber L. vel Bogus is an intriguing read, seriously marred by the obvious psychological conflicts of the author and his repeated and unparsimonious tendency to prefer extreme and complex over moderate and simple explanations, but the author fails to convince us that the Cairo Working occurred other than as Crowley claimed, more or less, subject to the proviso concerning the Boulaq Museum which was, most likely, simply a mistake made by Crowley’s drug-dazed brain more than two decades after the fact. This does not, of course, prove that Aiwaz is a praeterhuman Intelligence or that the Book of the Law is not the production of Crowley’s unconscious mind (the author’s suggestion that the Book of the Law was not actually written by Crowley is absurd, given the style and contents of the book), but after reading Liber L. vel Bogus I consider the assertion that Crowley consciously invented the Book of the Law and the Cairo Working story as unproved and, to my mind, extremely improbable based on the evidence presented. It has always been and still is my opinion that Crowley believed in his own story. Assertions are not arguments and vitriol is not truth. The weakness of the author’s arguments is not helped by his vindictive rhetoric, and for this reason, we must judge the book finally to be a failure, though an interesting one.

* This is not the only example either. In Magick Without Tears Crowley claims to remember being challenged by Theodor Reuss in 1910 concerning his publication of the Supreme Secret of the O.T.O., but the book in question was not published till three years later. Crowley explained this seriously as a “kink in time” (pp. 193f.), rather than as a kink in memory.