Thursday, 20 September 2012

Lon Milo DuQuette at The Atlantis Bookshop Presents...

Last night, I attended the latest event put on by The Atlantis Bookshop Presents, a central London occult and Pagan moot organised by Geraldine and Bali Beskin of Bloomsbury's historic Atlantis bookshop and emceed by well known Druid and Thelemite Steve Wilson. Formerly known as The Moot with No Name, the weekly event has just moved to its new location in the luxurious Edwardian decor above The Blue Post pub on the corner of Newman Street, north of Soho. The speaker for the evening was none other than Lon Milo DuQuette, arguably the most prominent publiciser of Thelema -- the Pagan religion founded by English occultist Aleister Crowley in 1904 -- alive today. An American, DuQuette is on a tour of Europe, and has spent much of the last week offering tarot readings at the Atlantis Bookstore in Museum Street. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. DuQuette's work, he is perhaps best known among the occult community for his book The Magick of Aleister Crowley: A Handbook of the Rituals of Thelema (Weiser, 2003), a tome which is the most accessible -- and perhaps the best -- introduction to the Thelemite faith available. His use of humour to explain the practice of Thelema and magick has gained him a devoted readership on both sides of the Atlantic, and he has a veritable oeuvre behind him consisting of works designed to spread knowledge of these traditions to people who would normally be put off by the dark and spooky image of Crowley and High Magic generally.

During last night's talk, he offered us a series of amusing anecdotes in his own humorous and enthralling style. These revolved around such topics as his development of a mantra to the Hindu god Ganesha that he chants to the tune of well-known rhyme "Pop Goes the Weasel", and his involvement in exorcising a Roman Catholic girl's school from a demonic entity whose name was SLG-SLG. He ran quite considerably over time, but no-one seemed to mind; the audience was clearly captivated by this marvelous speaker and the entertaining tales that he was offering up for our amusement. Following the culmination of his talk, I was one of those who went over to him to congratulate him on his success, and he was kind enough to sign my old copy of his autobiography, My Life with the Spirits (1999), perhaps the best esoteric biography that it has ever been my good fortune to read. He furthermore produced a doodle of himself on the front page, a copy of which you can see below:

DuQuette's self-portrait, inscribed in my copy of his
autobiography.
After the obligatory break for those assembled to purchase more beverages and use the rest room, there was a Question and Answer section, in which I asked Mr. DuQuette how he saw Thelema progressing in the next fifty years. He admitted that he wasn't sure quite what the Thelemite community would look like so far ahead in time, but he did explain that he thought increasing numbers of people across the world would come to accept the Thelemite philosophy, that of living in tune with their True Will, even if they had never heard of Thelema or Crowley before. In this way he believed that the world would soon be populated by Christians, Muslims, Marxists and Jews who would themselves all be Thelemites, even if they themselves did not realise it. As a non-Thelemite, I'm not sure that I agree, but it was interesting to hear his point of view on this issue, one that was seemingly shared by a number of Thelemites in the audience whom I talked to in the pub afterward.

It was a pleasure to meet with Mr. DuQuette and I must encourage anyone with an interest in Thelema specifically or western esotericism more generally to pick up a copy of one of his books, which are by far among of the most accessible introductions on the subject, written by a man with a great deal of simplicity, kind-heartedness and wit.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

In Memoriam: Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1953--2012)

I have just learned of the recent passing of Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1953-2012), one of the world's foremost scholars of Western Esotericism. Aged 59, he passed away after a short battle with cancer last Wednesday, 29 August.

Born in the English cathedral city of Lincoln, he studied at both Bristol and Oxford before rising to academic notability during the 1980s, when he published a number of influential books focusing in on the history of Europe's occult traditions, at the time a largely neglected area of study. A prolific author, he continued putting together such tomes in more recent years, in particular focusing in on the role that Western Esoteric beliefs had on the growth and development of Nazism  and Neo-Nazism in such texts as The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985), Hitler's Priestess (1998) and Black Sun (2002). Perhaps his most important book however remains The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction (1988), widely recognised as required reading for all those interested in this fascinating subject.

Goodrick-Clarke was also instrumental in the establishment of the University of Exeter's Centre for the Study of Esotericism (EXESESO), where he worked as a professor in recent years. He was also a formative figure in the creation of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE), founded in 2005, and which publishes an excellent academic journal, Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism. Goodrick-Clarke was perhaps the most influential scholar of Western Esoteric History of his generation, and his name will continue to be remembered alongside those of other greats in this field like Frances Yates (1899--1981). All of us involved in this area of research owe him a great debt.

More information on this sad news can be found at Sasha Chaitow's Phoenix Rising Academy page. Chaitow personally knew Goodrick-Clarke, having studied for her master's degree at EXESESO, thereby bringing a personal touch to her memoriam.