The Scarlet Letter
Volume I, Number 4 | May 1994
Reviewed by Frater Kestrel
I've been listening and learning, studying and practicing Thelemic magic for about a year now, and I've been wishing for the past six months that there was a book on the market that would give an open-minded, in depth catalogue and explanation of Thelemic ritual. I've been lucky in having become very close to a sizable number of excellent practitioners of these rituals, and I've seen many of them in practice and felt the profound yet subtle differences that with which Thelemic ritual is embued. In Austin the 93 Current runs strong and deep, but we tend sometimes to get sidetracked into so many complex (if interesting!) eddies of that current that I have felt a need for a very straightforward look at the basics.
Lo and behold! Lon DuQuette has answered those needs and more in this book. He states in his introduction that "It is my hope that this little book may help to bring the wonders of [Aleister Crowley'sl genius to a new generation of seekers and to an even broader audience of serious students." As a beginning serious student I unequivocally state that he has accomplished this purpose admirably well. There is something in here for just about everyone: lessons for the beginner and new insights for the Adept.
The book begins with three chapters of introductory material. The first two, 'The Magick of Will' and 'The Evolution of Magickal Formulæ" are a very good basic platform from which a beginner can pick up some invaluable insight. The third is a complete copy of Liber AL vel Legis, The Book of the Law, which, as we all know, is the sine qua non of all that has any claim to being Thelemic. Included are color plates of the Stele of Revealing and Crowley's poetic paraphrase of its inscriptions, but not, to my slight disappointment, the manuscript holographs.
Building then on this solid foundation, DuQuette begins introducing the rituals. First the pentagrams and hexagrams: both the old æon and Thelemic versions are given, with the wise precaution to learn the original versions so that the energy may be built upon in the Thelemic ones. All the rituals in this section, and indeed throughout the book, are explained succinctly and thoroughly. DuQuette has a style that is refreshingly free of the weightiness of other, more pedantic works I have read on the subject of Magick. He makes it very clear that he is not to be taken as 'the authority' on any of his subjects, but that the reader is to form his/ her own opinions.
The next few chapters cover rituals that are more or less specific to Thelema: Liber Samekh, 'The Solar Rituals', and 'Thelemic Mysticism.' Liber Samekh is presented with Point II inserted into Point I such that Crowley's own explanation is placed at each part of the ritual where it can explain what is occurring at that particular moment. I found this immensely helpful in beginning to understand this ritual. I have "hit this ritual and bounced" once before, and I have been inspired to try again. (Thanks, brother!) The solar rituals are presented with the same easy style as is standard throughout the book, and the 'Thelemic Mysticism' chapter deserves quite a bit of study.
The next chapter is 'Thelemic Orders,' and here is the one place where I have a quibble. Though the A.'.A.'. and O.T.O. are well represented and explained: and given as options should the Thelemite wish to join any order. I had hoped to gather some insight into what other Thelemic orders are doing similarly, or differently. There is, however, no mention at all of any Thelemic orders other than these two. The sentence "The O.T.O. is without question the most visible Thelemic organization on earth" is the only reference at all to the existence of other Thelemic organizations, and that only by the inference that if we are the most visible, there must be some out there who are less visible. I find that, though I do not necessarily agree with most of the Thelemic alternatives to O.T.O., I must give a simple acknowledgment of their presence. They are, after all, doing their will as they see it.
The book ends with Liber XV, the Gnostic Mass, with a brief and loving introduction, and what can I say about it that it does not already say for itself?
This book will live on my bookshelf at constant handy reach for many years, and though I take everything I read with a grain of salt, I have learned more immediately useful information from this book than from many others that I have read. DuQuette has taken a tremendous stride toward the education of Thelemites and potential Thelemites in the writing of this book.