Aleister Crowley’s Four Books of Magick – Liber ABA
I have read Aleister Crowley’s Four Books of Magick – Liber ABA. Having encountered him in several other esoteric books, I decided that it would be reasonable to read his own words. The edition I read is edited by Stephen Skinner and contains an interesting foreword as well as many helpful footnotes. The footnotes are especially helpful since most of the book is rather unstructured.
As is selbstverständlich (roughly translated from German as ‘self understanding’; another translation would be obvious) for my loyal readers, I do not endorse Aleister Crowley as a person (i.e. his degeneracy and drug use). I, a humble seeker of esoteric knowledge, merely seek to present the grimoire at hand.
Mysticism vs Magic
In the introduction, Stephen Skinner shares the following explanation regarding the difference between mysticism and magic:
‘Mysticism relates to improving one’s mind or soul while striving for something like Samadhi or union with god. This can only be experienced internally. Magic, however, is concerned with making changes in the external world, securing the love of someone otherwise unobtainable, or a rapid job promotion, obtaining treasure, or an impossibly elusive book. The two methods are not interchangeable, just as their objectives are very different.’Stephen Skinner
Spirit or Psyche?
Another interesting insight presented in the introduction is Aleister Crowley’s indecisiveness regarding the nature of magical operations.
- The Spirit View. Up until and during the 19th century, magic was seen as a collaboration between the magician and a god, angel, demon, or spirit.
- The Psyche View. The 20th century view of magic was one influenced by science, albeit a soft science – in the form of psychology. The view is that everything magical takes place in one’s own psyche.
Crowley, being a child of his time – Victorian England – with its love for all things scientific, wanted to present magick (magick being his spelling of the word) as a science. This becomes clear when reading the book. This would present an issue since it was his Holy Guardian Spirit, Aiwass – an entity outside of his own psyche – that presented him with the insights required to start Thelema (his new religion).
‘Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.’Aleister Crowley
My own take is that the Spirit View is more heroic; it also makes more sense. The Psyche View is a bit too atheistic for my taste! We will return to this interesting topic at a later stage.
The Five Glaciers
In part one of the book, Crowley elaborates on meditation and yoga. This is the best and most accessible part of the book. He shares a beautiful image that he learned in India in regard to stilling the mind:
‘That image is that of a lake into which five glaciers move. These glaciers are the senses. While ice (the impressions) is breaking off constantly into the lake, the waters are troubled. If the glaciers are stopped the surface becomes calm; and then, and only then, can it reflect unbroken the disk of the sun. This sun is the “soul” or “God.”’Aleister Crowley – Four Books of Magick. Page 85.
In the same part, he shares another epic quote from the Dhammapada (a collection of sayings of the Buddha in verse form):
‘An ill-thatched house is open to the mercy of the rain and wind;Dhammapada
So passion hath the power to break into an unreflecting mind.
A well-thatched house is proof against the fury of the rain and wind;
So passion hath no power to break into a rightly-ordered mind.’
Aleister Crowley’s Description of Himself
Crowley shares the following description of himself. He describes himself in grandiose terms in other sections of the book as well. On a personal note, I like this. Degenerate as he was, he was still accomplished in certain matters (especially mountaineering), and there is no reason to pretend to be humble when one is in fact not.
‘Myself, age 28½. In good health, fond of out-door sports, especially mountaineering and big-game shooting. An Adept Major of the A∴A∴ [Argenteum Astrum, which is Latin for Silver Star] but weary of mysticism and dissatisfied with Magick. A rationalist, Buddhist, agnostic, anti-clerical, anti-moral, Tory and Jacobite. A chess-player, first class amateur, able to play three games simultaneously blindfold. A reading and writing addict.’Aleister Crowley – Four Books of Magick. Page 687.
Something to note with Aleister Crowley is that his father was a devout member of the (Christian) Plymouth Brethren. As I noted in my conversation with Styxhexenhammer666 (listen to it here), it seems that many with anti-Christian attitudes come from strict Christian households. His anti-Christian sentiments become clear when reading the book.
An Amusing Anecdote
Crowley shares the following amusing anecdote. Frater Perdurabo = Aleister Crowley.
‘His need to check the vampiring of a lady in Paris by a sorceress once led FRATER PERDURABO to the discovery of a very powerful body of black magicians, with whom he was obliged to wage war for nearly 10 years before their ruin was complete and irremediable, as it now is.’Aleister Crowley – Four Books of Magick. Page 309.
His style of writing, it must be admitted, is entertaining. He is also politically incorrect, which is refreshing and fun. Some other similar anecdotes appear throughout the book.
The tome is quite massive, physically speaking; length-wise it is around 700 pages, depending on how you count (the appendix section is quite extensive). The text is quite spaced out and there are plenty of illustrations, so the book does not contain 700 pages of dense text. Even so, reading it presents quite a time investment. The edition itself is beautiful; it is a nice hardcover with an aesthetically pleasing front.
Can I recommend the book? It depends on whether you view Crowley as an interesting man or not. If not, then I would not recommend reading the book, especially since there are so many other interesting esoteric works out there – I would first and foremost recommend the works of Stephen E. Flowers. Moreover, large parts of the book do not make much sense. For those who are interested in Crowley’s own rituals and philosophies, however, the book is a good addition to one’s arcane library.
Onwards and upwards!