Friday, June 01, 2018

Booknote: Thelema

Colin D. Campbell, Thelema: an Introduction to the Life, Work & Philosophy of Aleister Crowley. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-7387-5104-7.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: biography, magic, spirituality, divination, Thelema, religion
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This book is an introduction to the life and works of Aleister Crowley. The book is a pretty basic overview. It is organized into three major parts, plus a small additional part:

  • "Man, myth, and legend." This is a biography  of Aleister Crowley. It provides just enough to give readers an overview of his life. Campbell's intention for this biography section was: "My intentions are instead to present a brief sketch of Crowley's life, highlighting the events that will better explain the man and ultimately the philosophy behind Thelema, his spiritual legacy." If you want to know more, you may wish to find a more substantial biography. Also, as Campbell urges throughout this book, go read Crowley's works. For all of Crowley's reputation as a "wicked man," the man did have his accomplishments. I'd say today he'd also be labeled "a troll" given that often he said and did things just to challenge the Establishment and get a reaction from people. Overall, I found this biography section interesting, but it left me wanting more. 
  • "Philosophy." This is where Campbell goes over Crowley's philosophy and religion of Thelema. Campbell here takes major ideas of Thelema and strives to make them accessible. Some concepts are explained better than others, though I think much of the difficulty goes back to Crowley. 
  • "Practices and observations." This part of the book looks more at technical aspects of Thelema. If the previous part had the theory, this part has the practical. Campbell here discusses concepts, rituals, feast, ceremonies, and other elements of Thelema as a religion and practice.
  • "Modern Thelema." This is a quick wrap up section where we see how Thelema survives in our present time. 
A strength of the book is that Campbell constantly cites and draws upon Crowley's works. It's like Campbell telling readers to not just take his word for it; go read the primary sources too. Book also includes a lot of footnotes, and Campbell also often comments on what to read depending on context. Additionally, Campbell recognizes that  his book is an introduction, narrow in scope. He writes, "not only did I recognize that any manageable introduction to Crowley would be inadequate, I have counted on it" (emphasis in the original). The book also includes a list of references.

Lon Milo Duquette provides a foreword for the book. Duquette may be known to readers for his works on Crowley, especially his book on the Thoth Tarot deck which is often recommended by Tarotistas for Tarot students wanting to study and use Crowley's Tarot deck.

Still, despite the fact this book is meant to be introductory, there are some parts that can be pretty complex. However, if you are curious about the man and Thelema, this book provides a good starting point. I came to the book as a curious reader, and I feel I learned a bit. It gave me ideas of what to look for next to keep on learning. Overall, I really liked this book.

4 out of 5 stars. 

On a side note, I took some notes of quotes and concepts from the book I wanted to remember. I will be posting those notes in another post coming soon.

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