It's witching time once again. The book I wrote about this time last year
— the fabulous association copy of Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World
, printed in 1693 and annotated by Increase Mather — has sold. What treat do I have to share this year?
The History of Magic by Eliphas Levi and A. E. Waite. This copy is the first edition, printed in 1913, and it has been annotated throughout in pencil by this man:
Aleister Crowley might be viewed as a mystic, a drug addict, a mountaineer, or as the "Wickedest Man in the World," depending on what you know about him. (Personally, I like the "Wickedest Man" label, as it puts him in the distinguished company of Tiberius Caesar and the Marquis De Sade.)
Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875, the boy who would become Aleister grew up in a family that followed a strict religious sect called the Exclusive Brethren. The Crowley money — of which there was plenty — came from interests in a family brewery.
Not having to work for a living gave Aleister the freedom to become a highly skilled chess player, and to indulge in his love of mountain climbing. His "career" became metaphysics, alchemy, occultism, and mysticism. His was a personality that easily made enemies — he could count William Butler Yeats and A. E. Waite among them.
Our copy of A. E. Waite's translation of The History of Magic testifies to how Crowley felt about Waite. Here's an example of how Crowley gave vent to his feelings:
The text is signed throughout by Crowley, using his initials, mystic symbols, and the numerals "666." This is not at all how anyone should treat a book, of course, unless they are hugely famous.
Aleister Crowley died in December 1947. His always controversial persona flourished, however, and he remains a forceful influence both in the world of metaphysics and in the arts. This year saw the movie release of Chemical Wedding, which boasts a plot where "a shy, stuttering professor brings Aleister Crowley back to life."
I can only assume that chaos ensues. Happy Halloween!
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A note about "magick" and our price of $11,666.11:
The Anglo-Saxon k in Magick, like most of Crowley's conceits, is a means of indicating the kind of magic which he performed. K is the eleventh letter of several alphabets, and eleven is the principal number of magick, because it is the number attributed to the Qliphoth — the underworld of demonic and chaotic forces that have to be conquered before magick can be performed.
—John Symonds and Kenneth Grant, from the introduction to Crowley's Magick