According to page xi of the Introduction
"This book describes what magic is and how it can be used. It will be gratefully received by experienced students of the occult who find themselves awash and drifting on a sea of irreconcilable techniques and conflicting assertions."
An extremely presumptuous way to begin! For one thing, while I would not consider this a bad book, it is to the student of magick little more than a 270-page general information brochure, or pretty much what a First Grade Reader is to a university literature major. Tyson's book briefly explains a few things about "magic", a little about a handful of magical systems, and it glances only superficially at a small number of individuals who were instrumental in moulding the occult community. The book is fairly okay for someone who has little knowledge and only a passing interest in magic, but I think that due to his own limited point of view, Tyson greatly overestimates the value of his book. For example, truly "experienced students of the occult" have long since passed beyond the stage in their career when, very early on, they "find themselves awash and drifting". Also, I am one of many truly "experienced students" who has no reason to "gratefully" receive this book. While he does spend a lot of time kissing Wiccan, Druid and Neo-pagan butt in Ritual Magic, his treatment of magic in general and Aleister Crowley in specific is deplorable. For instance, it is obvious that Tyson is suffering from an internal conflict of the "divided self". Throughout the book it seems that his reasoning conscious aspect of mind is constantly saying that magic can all be explained away as psychology and illusion, while his feeling subconscious aspect of mind, which obviously suffers from primitive superstitious dread, asserts that magic is real and comes from what he calls the "Unmanifest" ... "My own term for the unknowable source of existence", Tyson explains in his Glossary. Donald Tyson is obviously quite confused, and the fact that there is such a clear conflict going on between his conscious and subconscious aspects of mind proves that he is not, after all, himself very experienced in "the occult". Essentially, although generally, it is the primary purpose of magick [or "magic" as Tyson prefers] to apparently unify the apparently divided self, or one might say integrate or reintegrate the conscious and subconscious aspects of self and mind to real-ize through this Union the Supraconscious or True Self. Through a balance of the apparently separate and opposing forces union is eventually achieved.
Endlessly, but not with as much brass as some "authors" of occult books, Tyson implies that he is somehow much better than the rest. On page 11 he refers to his "transcendent view of magic" as if it were somehow "higher" or "closer to the truth" than "the common view of those who practice its diverse forms", and he claims to have "improved" good solid rituals like the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram by idiotically simplifying them, even reorienting the four directions in some cases. What, I wonder, will his next book be? Magic for Morons: How to do Magic with a Wave of the Hand after Ten Easy Minutes of Study and Practice?
Here is another "improvement": on page 8 Tyson wrote
"The most audacious, if not the greatest, magician of the 20th century, Aleister Crowley, had little patience for airy platitudes. His approach to magic was completelyl practical. His definition has the greatest currency among ritual occultists of the present day. It is breathtaking in its daring and scope: Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will ... Crowley believed that most persons are in perpetual strife with their essential natures and that this internal division limits their ability to work magic."
Before we go on here, please note the last sentence as this most surely applies to Tyson himself. Also, do not be here deceived early on in the book. It may be that he simply wanted to hook as many readers early on as he could, or it may be a symptom of his own "internal division" and conflict. It is very common for occultists to quote Crowley, use Crowley, base 99.9% of everything they say or do on Crowley's work, while at the same time they participate in rude, uncouth and ignorant Crowley-bashing. Tyson does not speak so well of A.C. later on in his book.
Now here is Tyson's "improvement" on Crowley's definition of "magic" from page 12:
That is as much of an improvement of the definition as the burning of buffalo chips in an open pit is an improvement over central heating and electrical lighting. [In case you are not aware of it, one might translate "buffalo chips" into the common speech of the average individual as "bullshit".]
Consistantly, Tyson judges magic [et al] according to his own failings. On page 13 he states that "Magic can never be predicted with certainty", forgetting that one should never say never. I suggest that Tyson can never predict the outcome or manner of manifestation of magical work with certainty, therefore, believing himself to be quite the adept, he assumes that no one else can.
On page 15 he points out that
He notes that A.C. recognized this phenomenon, which he himself perceived. This may be so. I myself have performed rituals and achieved dramatic and almost immediate results which, nevertheless, had to have begun manifesting before my ritual had even been begun. Yet it has apparently never occurred to Tyson that it is possible that the practitioner, "unconsciously", perceived the beginning of the manifestation of his desire and that it was this that prompted him to perform the ritual which would then help it along, much as a physician assists a woman in labour to deliver her baby. This "unconscious" realization of the situation may actually be deliberately motivated by the Supraconscious [Holy Guardian Angel, Daemon, Genius, True Self, etc.], perhaps to encourage the doubting and skeptical reasoning conscious aspect of the divided self to be a little more flexible and perhaps accept a little of what the subconscious takes for granted. Superficial thinking makes it possible for the subconscious to take off into flights of fancy while it provides the reasoning, conscious aspect of mind with apparent irrationalities to chew up and spit out in an attempt to prove its superiority over the more "primitive" aspect of the human mind or brain.
I am doing my best to be as concise as possible here, working from eight pages crammed with notes of just some of the things I thought worthy of notice in the book.
Ritual Magic is not without its simple errors. On page 53, for instance, he has "Dion Fortune ... (1891-1948)", however, according to every book or article I have ever read about this lady the year of her death has been given as 1946 E.V. A minor error to be sure, but it gives one some idea of how sloppy the author can be, and shame on the editor for not catching this mistake.
I have mentioned that Tyson did not treat Crowley very fairly in his book [while like so many occultists relying heavily upon Crowley's work, even if only in a superficial manner], and since the main thrust of Newaeon should always be the defense of the Master Therion, his work and writings, and above all Thelema, it would be remiss of me not to present at least a few examples of this unfair treatment.
Page 13: "Aleister Crowley was incorrect in describing magic as a 'Science and Art.' Magic is not and cannot be a science so long as science is limited by cause and effect."
Crowley was not incorrect. Tyson is merely being superficial. He is assuming that Crowley limited science to the idea of cause and effect, even though he has himself noted that Crowley observed a phenomenon that seemed to defy the cause and effect concept. Furthermore, it is Tyson's own superficiality that limits the concept of science to simple cause and effect. He fails to understand, for example, that sometimes it is a matter not of cause and effect, but rather a series of causes and effects going back further and deeper than he brothers to investigate. The above is just another typical, albeit tame, example of Crowley-bashing common among occultists who wish to make themselves look brilliant, not by displaying brilliance, but rather by trying to diminish or conceal the brilliance of a greater man. Very petty.
Page 54: "Aleister Crowley ... was utterly dedicated to the practice of magic ... to the exclusion of all lesser concerns such as physical health, monetary prosperity, a stable family life, social respectability, and his own sanity."
He goes on to say in the book,
"Fortunately his mind was founded on the bedrock of English middle-class reality. He succeeded in driving many of those around him insane but preserved his own peculiar view of life intact."
And of course to Tyson's superficial way of thinking, Crowley's "peculiar view" was mad. However, despite his ill-health in his latter years, A.C. remained an extremely sane and brilliant man up to his death at the age of seventy-two as his latter works and personal letters prove. Donald Tyson's book, however, does not prove brilliance, and one has to question the sanity of a man foolish enough to attempt to build up his own reputation by blackening the reputation of another and truly brilliant man. For a time, out of ignorance, some may accept his nonsense as gospel, but sooner or later some s.o.b. like yours truly comes along to ruin the game, and eventually aspirants gain knowledge and experience and look back on books like Tyson's, wonder how they could have ever believed such nonsense, and warn new aspirants not to believe nonsense like Tyson's in Ritual Magic. I have seen it hundreds of times and I have been there myself.
Furthermore, Crowley did not drive anyone insane. A relatively small handful of individuals once associated with Crowley, later in life, after their association with Crowley had ended, "lost it", but if one loses one's sanity one has only oneself to blame. No one, for instance, can be driven insane. It is ignorance to believe this possible. The most that can be done is to put enough pressure on one to drive one to the breaking point at which time one may give up and surrenders one's sanity, and Crowley is hardly guilty of this. The individuals who associated themselves with A.C. were at their very best in life during the time of that association, proving, if anything, that his influence was beneficial, Crowley drawing the best out of people. Tyson is obviously a victim of the Judeo-Christian scapegoat mentality and it is painfully clear that he bases his judgments not so much upon a long and thorough study of Crowley's works and character [such as the 25 of my nearly 42 years devoted to Crowley and Thelema], but rather does he base "his" opinions [Squawk squawk!] upon the perversions of Thelema espoused by Kenneth Grant, the lies told by John Symonds, and the very poor example of Thelema provided by the pseudo-thelemites of the Caliphate gang.
In Ritual Magic Tyson describes some of the ways ignorant faddists and pseudo-thelemites misinterpret Thelema to excuse their pursuit of ego-gratification, such as on page 118, and it becomes clear that he has probably never even met a genuine Thelemite. Admittedly they are few and far between, and most of the real Thelemites in existence today have not yet awaken to that fact, while the vast majority of those individuals running around claiming to be Thelemites really know and care little about Thelema, using it only as a vehicle for their egos, misrepresenting it with every word and deed. It is partly because of their destructive influence that I spend so much time and energy in an effort to at least balance the scales they continually tip. One must remember that the Æon of Horus has a lifespan of thousands of years and that it is now only eighty-eight years old. It is the immaturity of the times and to be expected - however frustrating it may be for those of us who have awakened to our essential Thelemic nature.
We have dealt with this nonsense many times before, the myth, grossly exaggerating the facts, first promoted by John Symonds. He had, in fact, beaten the addiction initiated not by his experiments but by a doctor's prescription, and because of his early experimentation he had built up quite a resistence to the effects of drugs and suffering from numerous illnesses in his old age, heroin was about the only thing that could give him any relief - and he was master of the drug, no more ruled by it than a legitimate astrologer is ruled by the stars.
Also on page 56: "The thought of working for a living never even entered his mind. Fortunately for him, he was able to gull several quite wealthy patrons..."
More nonsense almost straight from John Symonds' mouth! The prolific writing that Crowley did was a monumental task in itself - and unlike Tyson, Crowley put a lot of work into his writing. Furthermore, does Tyson believe that climbing such mountains as K2, the second highest mountain in the world, is not work? Let him give it a try sometime! Also, Crowley practically wrote two books for Evangeline Adams and perhaps others, he translated Levi, Baudelair's Little Poems in Prose, edited, annotated and introduced A Prophet In His Own Country, "Being the letters of Stuart X", published by the author, Henry Clifford Stuart, in 1916 E.V., and for the better part of three years he was a contributing editor not only for the monthly magazine The International, but also The Fatherland, soon responsible for the lion's share of the contents written under various pseudonyms. He worked damn hard on these two magazines alone, and for a mere pittance, practically starving at the time. If one just considers Crowley's literary work alone, it is clear that while he liked to call himself a lazy man he was anything but. If Tyson does not believe that writing is work, then he should return any money Llewellyn Publications paid him for Ritual Magic, for it is obvious that he did not put into it even half of the research and effort that Crowley put into a single chapter of any given book, an article or a poem.
"He died in poverty a hopeless heroin addict, his magical powers long since lost", according to Tyson.
Or rather, according to John Symonds or one of Symonds' other parrots. Poverty, yes, since he gave his all to his work, the only pleasures he took for himself in his last days being a spot of good brandy and cigars. We have already dealt with the heroin nonsense, and if one carefully reads Ritual Magic it becomes clear that Tyson is rather puritanical, this extreme effecting his viewpoint so that even the middle of the road may seem to him an extreme. As for the supposed loss of Crowley's "magical powers" - how the hell would Donald know? Was he there? Did he personally know A.C.? No. He is simply relying solely upon the misinformation from extremely unrelaible sources - sources, such as John Symonds, deliberately trying to misinform people. And anyway, his concept of "magical powers" seems a bit infantile as in real life such "powers" are not betstowed upon one in such a way as they can be "lost". The power exists, one develops the ability to tap into and direct that power, and really the worst thing that can happen once one has learned to do that is that one can become distracted or rusty and not be as effective as one once was.
Page 116: "Aleister Crowley openly mocked the high ideals of the order [of the Golden Dawn]. This contributed to his unpopularity with its leaders, who were quite sincere in their desire to save mankind from itself."
How does Tyson know how sincere the many members of the Golden Dawn were? He doesn't. He can't. His statement is too sweeping. And in fact Crowley did not mock the high ideals of the order - he mocked the hypocrisy of many of the members of the order, and he was there. He knew those people personally. He worked in a temple, within a circle with those people, talked with them, ate with them. His opinions are based upon firsthand information and experience. Tyson's information is so far from even being secondhand that it is laughable.
On page 117 Tyson refers to "the Crowley cult". Now the very first thing I did with his book was to read the Glossary at the end of the book and there I found his definition of "cult" - basically the usual incorrect one that the fundamentalist pseudo-christians and the ignorant and sensationalistic media uses:
"CULT--A group of fanatical admirers who form a devoted attachment to and follow the teachings of a charismatic leader or set of ideas."
I find that rather insulting to begin with because while I am demonstratably a devoted defender of Crowley and Thelema I am hardly fanatical. And I have always had trouble with that "charismatic" bit. It seems to imply that one is mesmerized by the individual said to be charismatic. Who's mesmerized? Not me. Oh, I do find Crowley's intellect and sense of humour, his life and work, fascinating, but how dull-witted I would be if I did not. Obviously Tyson set out to run roughshod all over Crowley from the start, and what an easy thing Crowley-bashing is, especially since the man is long dead and unable to defend himself against such nonsense as Tyson's.
By the way, according to my Webster's dictionary:
"cult, n. [Fr. culte, L. cultus, from colere, to cultivate, worship.] 1. worship; reverential honor; religious devotion. [Obs.] 2. the system of outward forms and ceremonies used in worship; religious rites and formalities. 3. devoted attachment to, or extravagant admiration for, a person, principle, etc., especially when regarded as a fad; as, the cult of nudism. 4. a group of followers; sect."
Page 121: "This communication from Aiwass [The Book of the Law] was equivalent for Crowley to the communication that S.L.MacGregor Mathers had earlier established with the Secret Chiefs of the Rosicrucian current."
Not even close. In Crowley's case it was a communication from the True or Supraconscious Self to the persona, Crowley, whereas in Mather's case it was a [doubtful] commnication between Mathers and individuals separate from him. Furthermore, the results were quite different. Chalk another one up to Tyson's extremely superficial thinking.
Page 57: "After an extensive examination of their works, I find in both Mathers and Crowley a surprising lack of creativity."
In the first place there is an old saying that there is nothing new under the sun, so in fact, although I doubt Tyson extensively examined anything in his life, one might say the very same thing about anyone and everyone who had existed anytime during the past several thousand years. And anyway, who is Tyson to talk? Although he has simplified standard rituals to the point of idiocy, constantly trying to promote his New Magus in Ritual Magic, I do not see the least little bit of creativity in his work! On page 227, regarding "The Magician's Library", Tyson wrote,
"Unfortunately there is a great deal of derivative writing in the marketplace that is based upon these few seminal works",
and it is clear that he is so incredibly self-deluded regarding his own importance that he does not even recognize the fact that Ritual Magic fits very neatly into this category of "derivative writing!
At this point, as you have probably noticed in previous reviews, you may begin to wonder just what is being reviewed - the book or the author? In point of fact, I think that it is extremely important to understand the author of such a book so that the book itself can be viewed and judged with the proper perspective. I freely admit that I review the author's talent, knowledge and character at least as much as I review his work in any "book review" that I write.
And so what of the author of Ritual Magic, Donald Tyson?
Page 59: here and elsewhere he seems to admire too much the madman Austin Osman Spare, admittedly a wonderful artist, but one who drove himself mad - his twisted and perverted psyche clearly portrayed in his twisted and perverse style. Tyson claims that Spare's
"drawing that depict the spirits ... can be quite dangerous to the unwary, as they are apt to come alive if looked upon for any length of time."
Optical illusion. Period. The twisted line drawings lend themselves perfectly to the deception of sight.
On page 71 Tyson says that in regards to
"Close contact with spirits ... I have not myself experienced external bleeding, but the rise in internal pressure is obvious."
He is talking about a bloody [no pun intended] adrenalin rush, probably brought on by his own imaginaton. [Or he may be suffering from a condition that causes a swelling of the brain - certainly he has a swelled head!]
Page 75: "Everyone who gets into ritual magic has pretty much the same goal in the beginning--they want to rule the world."
Pardon my "French", but, bullshit. Oh, this is indeed true, it seems, for the run of the mill occultist, hardly more than a faddist at best, but I for one never wanted to rule anything but my own emotions and mind. What "got me into" the study of "the occult" was a pure desire TO KNOW - and to know simply for the sake of knowing. This is the difference between the average occultist like Tyson, whom I suspect has come to his belief because this is what is true for him, and the sincere student of the esoteric.
Page 76: "Everyone has a will that is continually seeking to exert personal influence over the greater world. If you magically push someone, sooner or later they will push back. Hard."
I for one admit that I hope to professionally influence people to exercise their brains, think, and become better people - hopefully achieve their full potential - but I have never actually wanted to personally influence or control another. Maybe I am just more Taoistic than Tyson. Maybe I am just more mature and sincere in my pursuit of magick than he is. Whatever the case may be, it sounds like Tyson has tried to "magically" control others in his life - and failed miserably.
He relates on pages 160 and 161 a supposedly "shamanic" dream that he had in which he climbed atop "a single tree stump" in the centre of a circular clearing. "With excitement" he "climbed the weathered stump and stood swaying on its rounded point" and "felt a great sense of euphoria, as though [he] had accomplished a feat of daring and significance". Shamanic? I don't think so. However, while I tend to lean more towards Jung than any other, I cannot ignore the positively Freudian aspects of this dream!
I wonder if it has anything to do with his attitude regarding homosexuality on page 162, which seems to be that it is "abnormal". The Gay community ought to love that one!
Remember that I said that he suffers, at least subconsciously, from a dread of the "supernatural"? On page 193 he advises that
"It is a poor practice to conduct rituals so late at night that you are exhausted and immediately fall asleep after you finish. This will often result in nightmares."
I can recall numerous times, exhausted, I went to sleep immediately after doing my thing in the circle, and yet not once did I suffer from nightmares. If anything, my dreams were sweet and wonderfilled. Beautiful astral excursions into a magical land wherein I watch my rituals begin to have their desired effect. And nightmares? I love them like a kid loves a good rollercoaster ride, and I have learned to "wake up" within dreams and nightmares and take "conscious" control of them when I wish to. I suppose Tyson is victimized by his nightmares, evoked by the superstitious dread deep in his subconscious.
As you can imagine, I can go on and on and on, but at this point that would only serve to strengthen Donald Tyson's admiration of me. [Ahum] Let me just - FINALLY - end this review here and sum it up by saying that while Ritual Magic is not an entirely bad book, containing some interesting information [one can find in any number of books] and worthwhile advice [that common sense alone should provide any student with], it is a "derivative" work, superficial, inaccurate in many instances, somewhat misleading, and with all due respects to Donald Tyson, I cannot recommend it.
If I'm such an expert why don't I write a book on Magick? [I am anticipating the smartass's remark.] When I can write a book that is better than Tyson's Ritual Magic, which alone would be a snap, but also at least half as good and worthwhile as Aleister Crowley's Magick in Theory and Practice, THEN I will write a book on the subject. Until then I have no desire to add yet another tired old rehash of the same old same old to the collection of boringly and inaccurately repetitive books on the market today. I will finish my semi-historical novel right now, thank you. Period.