The Scarlet Letter
Volume III, Number 2 | December 1995
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
THERE WERE SOME interesting and mixed reactions to my last Pillow Talk article. Most of the feedback I got revolved around my recounting the history of Scarlet Woman. People whose names were actually mentioned in the historical section were generally not as happy with the column as the unmentioned newer folks, who thanked me profusely for the insight and information on events prior to their association with the Oasis. I want to thank everyone for the feedback, it was all constructive and I will be glad to continue to listen.
I probably need to remind readers here at the Oasis, and elsewhere, that the Pillow Talk column—while it does report on Oasis-sponsored events, and does appear in the body's chartered publication—it is still only the product of my personal viewpoint, just like it says in the editorial policy of the 'Letter.
I do not claim to represent the views of the Oasis as a whole or any individual in it, other than myself. I write the column as a service to community because folks seem to enjoy reading it. If a particular voice came out strongly anywhere in the last article that was not properly qualified as my own, it was an unfortunate oversight.
I have always conceived of Pillow Talk as sort of a Scarlet Woman gossip column. It was not intended to be perfectly complete or balanced, but rather to recount and anticipate events and information that I find useful or interesting. The column is published in the hopes that somebody else will find the same entertainment and edification in our work here at Scarlet Woman. Official Oasis records reside with the Secretary; I am just having some fun. I hope you are, too.
Love is the law, love under will.
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WHEN I HEARD that the local O.T.O. newsletter would review the Magic Exhibit at UT's Ransom Center, I was a bit delighted but didn't know what to expect. I am happy that Matt Rogers took my effort as seriously as I took in developing it.
However, I found a few comments curious.Yes, an exhibition on the connection between magic and bibliophilia sounds like a good idea. Some patrons wanted more of a focus on folk magic and witchcraft; others were put off by the fact that stage magic didn't dominate the spotlight (one patron expected to see a live magic show for their children), and why would the curator display the works and ideas of such discredited "spiritualists" as Aleister Crowley and his ilk; then there were a few critics who voiced displeasure with anything speculative and not beholden to their personal guru or to the empirical light of science.
My approach, told simply on the introductory narrative panels, was to explore the question "what is magic?" using the materials at the Ransom Center. Witchcraft, voodoo, astrology, shamanism and many other subjects could not be explored due to lack of material.
Exterior bindings are rarely displayed unless in the context of a bookbinding exhibit Many people griped about what was not shown, but all of these materials are the tip of the iceberg (ask a Crowley scholar, such as Hymenaeus Beta, for independent confirmation of this fact), and available to any scholar with a photo ID in the HRHRC Reading Room.
The "Oswald Wirth" tarot cards, which once belonged to Crowley, were not selected because they are irrelevant to the scope of the exhibit. I know this might seem controversial, but if anyone would like to discuss this with me, I welcome any and all feedback. Suffice it to say, it is a pre-1781 French deck, and as many of us know, the first verifiable connection of magic and the tarot was in that year.
Even at this late date, I am completely unaware of the "Enochian tablets of Crowley" in the Ransom Center's collection. One scholar asked me about this in the early weeks of the exhibit and I pointed out where in the suggested reading list one can find a copy (in some Francis King book). Perhaps Matt Rogers is referring to a Francis King reprint from the 1970's?
Another point. I am admittedly an amateur historian. I always seek the advice
of the experts in the field when curating exhibits. Items on display must be
chosen by the curator 6 months ahead of time for pre-display conservation work.
At that time I did not know what I know now about the significance of one item
(vis a vis the H.G.A. ritual) I cut at the last minute—an 18th
What else have I learned? One month into the exhibit I discovered for the first time Magick–Book Four, edited by Hymenaeus Beta! What a find! This is the kind of scholarship I hope continues at the Ransom Center. Naturally if I had not been such a dilettante at the time, I would have included this in the Suggested Readings.
Finally, most frustrating of all, is the fact this review appears in a newsletter dated September 24, 1995, and puts forth a number of suggestions for changes since there's "three months" left in the run of the exhibit, but then the Scarlet Letter does not show up for sale at Book People until December 15?! Coincidence? Conspiracy? Perhaps a ploy to discourage potential Thelemites from seeing the exhibit (our tentacles are everywhere!)? No, even I'm not that paranoid...
In conclusion, I should say I really did appreciate a serious treatment of this exhibit which, on the whole, I was not afforded by my colleagues who, at best, one expects a sneer from when "Crowley" is mentioned. There are some of us who want to encourage serious scholarship in this neglected and marginalized field. It's not like it can't happen—decades ago nobody took James Joyce seriously, now that field of scholarship is a burgeoning cottage industry.
Speaking personally, I'm primarily interested in the Hermetic Philosophy of the Renaissance and the cross-fertilization of incantation and orally transmitted literature in the ancient world. I felt in this exhibit it was better to discuss a word which is often confused, and thereby give the public more of an overall view of the context and substance of our collections.