Thursday, February 16, 2023

Book Review: The Aleister Crowley Manual by Marco Visconti

Thelema, Thelemic, Crowley, high magick, ceremonial magic, free masons, Aleister Crowley, hedgewitch, hedge witch, witch, witchy, witchcraft, pagan, neopagan, occult, magick, magic, book, book review

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When The Aleister Crowley Manual: Thelemic Magick for Modern Times by Marco Visconti popped up as a potential book to review, I was intrigued and a bit weary. There is no denying Crowley's contributions to witchcraft and modern magic, but his works are dense, riddled with racism, misogyny, and anti-semitism, and based upon inaccurate histories and science. These problems obviously gave me pause before I ultimately decided to pick this book up, knowing that it would be beneficial to those interested in high, ceremonial magic, or just better understanding the why behind many of our modern rituals, correspondences, and occult ideology.

Before I begin my review, it should be noted that Visconti assumes the reader is somewhat familiar with Crowley's texts and philosophies, whether you have read his works directly or that of others summarizing or building upon Crowley's ideas. I have to admit, my knowledge is limited, as high ceremonial magic is of no interest to me, but I know enough to understand the basic premises of the rituals and ideas outlined in this book. If you are unfamiliar with Crowley, I suggest reading a summary of his philosophy, not necessarily any of his works, prior to beginning this book, just so you have some background knowledge upon which to build.

The Aleister Crowley Manual: Thelemic Magick for Modern Times by Marco Visconti is a practical working guide to Thelemic magick*. Each chapter is meant to take a full month to work through completion, with the reader practicing and engaging in the rituals and text. The book begins by building the foundation of high magic, which consists of breathwork, understanding the elements, and being present. Next, is the superstructure, which consists of learning mantras, pentagram and middle pillar rituals, and accessing the astral plane. Finally, the book ends with the pinnacle where the reader dives into the complete pentagram practice and begins hexagon work. If you are like me, and not interested in practicing Thelemic magick, the pinnacle chapter will be lost on you as well as much of the superstructure chapters. However, the foundation chapters as well as bits of the superstructure chapters are crucial and explain modern occult practices every witch engages in at some point. In order to fully understand why we do what we do, you must understand the history behind the actions. 

From here Visconti reminds the reader that Crowley did culturally appropriate, and imperialism and colonialism drove much of what Crowley did, including stealing and misrepresenting Egyptian mythology and deities. Despite this, Crowley's ideas have taken on a life of their own, becoming distinct from the cultures he stole from and creating new egregores. Visconti continues on to make an insightful argument about language in regard to our understanding of the unknown, saying "Our language- indeed, our consciousness, which employs language- is a form of disease because consciousness reflects reality to us and distorts the image." Here Visconti is arguing that sometimes we fail to see, understand, or engage in what we do not know because we do not have the words to describe what we are witnessing. This phenomenon has actually been documented multiple times, specifically with our perception of color. For example, the Himba people of Nambia have multiple words for the color green, but no word for blue. When asked to find the color blue among swatches of green, they struggle, whereas those with a word for the color blue do not. The point is, that there is likely so much more out there, magically and maybe even scientifically, that we do not or cannot see because we lack the words to describe it. This is something to keep in mind whenever you are working magic and fail to fully comprehend the magnitude of what you have done. Whether or not deities, spirits, and other supernatural forces exist is irrelevant if what we are doing works.

Once we get into the actual meat of the book, Visconti begins breaking down and summarizing Crowley's work, creating a rather comprehensive introductory guide to the basic principles and practices. He includes ritual steps with pictures, historical background, and even examples of what it will look like in your own practice. It's clear Visconti knows what he is talking about and has not only done his research but lived it as well. Again, this book is dense and will require you to read, reread, then read again before you understand what is being discussed. And even then, you will not fully comprehend what is being said until you actually practice and engage in the magic yourself. Visconti, like myself, advocates for practicing over just reading about magic. Those are two separate hobbies, just like reading and buying books are two separate hobbies. Haha! You cannot cut corners and become an expert overnight. Thelemic magick, or any practice for that matter, takes constant work and engagement in order to fully reap the benefits.

The book ends with giving the readers suggestions on how to continue their journey, from finding a community (or not!) to reading through all of Crowley's work, as well as the works of other Thelemites. Visconti encourages us to move beyond Crowley's work in order to find our own Will, something I agree with full-heartedly. I think many of us get so caught up with following the "greats" that we forget that magic is just as unique and individual as we are. To truly experience magic the way it is meant to be intended, we much forge our own path.

Overall, I did not feel this book was for me, but I know it will be beneficial to many a witch out there, even if you aren't interested in Thelema. There is a good bit of jumping around, and I didn't feel the book flowed well within each chapter. Sometimes it felt jumbled and confusing, and part of this is because that is the nature of Thelemic magic. It's coded, cryptic, and downright pretentious at times, making it difficult to understand for the sake of being difficult! However, I still see the value in understanding Thelemic magic as it's our history and the foundation upon which other occult practices, including Wicca, were built. The Aleister Crowley Manual: Thelemic Magick for Modern Times by Marco Visconti is set to release on February 14, 2023. You can order a copy wherever books are sold. 

*I used "magick" here to denote the word used by Thelemites and other practitioners of high magic out of respect. I am opposed to using the k, which you can read more about in my article Magic vs Magick: Why I Don't Use the K.

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