Thelemic History Reading Guide

Magick and Yoga are cool, but another thing I love about the A∴A∴ is the colorful history of the Thelemic movement. My friends ask me for suggestions on what to read about Thelemic history, so I prepared this little guide. If you are a mere mortal like me who’s not an academic history scholar but also enjoys learning more about our past, you may appreciate this list of books I compiled about the life of well-known Thelemites.

I understand some of these books are rare, expensive, or out of stock, but you can find most of them in second-hand book dealers or perhaps lent them from the nearest library or from a Thelemite friend.

If you would like to add any suggestions, feel free to contact me so I can expand this list. I’m always eager to learn more!

Main Timeline #

Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley, by Richard Kaczynski. The best place to start the study of Thelemic history is by the life of its founder: Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). Although I enjoyed other biographies and encourage you to also read them, I consider this one to be the definitive account of Crowley’s life.

Jane Wolfe: Her Life with Aleister Crowley, 2 vols[1] by Phyllis Seckler. Jane Wolfe (1875-1958) was a silent film actress from the USA who studied under Crowley in the A∴A∴. She was a resident in the Abbey of Thelema. After returning to the USA, she helped to rise the O.T.O.

Progradior and the Beast, by Keith Richmond. A biography of Frank Bennett (1868-1930), another resident of the Abbey of Thelema, including the time he spent with Crowley. It also tells about the Thelemic developments in Australia.

Crossing the Abyss, by Jerry Cornelius. A biography of Charles Stansfeld Jones (1886-1950), one of the O.T.O. Xº Holy Kings and a Magister Templi in the A∴A∴. Considered the magical child of Aleister Crowley. As the title implies, this book provides good insights about the advancement to 8=3.

Strange Angel[2], by George Pendle. The life of John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons (1914-1952), a rocket scientist co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explaining the life in the Agape Lodge of the O.T.O., including how he was scammed by the founder of Scientology.

The Unknown God, by Martin P. Starr. A biography of Wilfred Talbot Smith (1885-1957), another book with plenty of informations about the activities of Agape Lodge and its members. Also includes an episode of Marcelo Motta visiting the American Thelemites.

Karl Germer: Selected Letters. A wonderful collection of letters written by or sent to Karl Germer (1885-1962), the heir of Aleister Crowley, and his successor as the leader of the A∴A∴ and the O.T.O. Explains what happened with those orders after Crowley’s death.

Inside Solar Lodge: Behind the Veil, by Frater Shiva. This is a less expensive second edition of the classic tale of the “Solar Lodge”, an O.T.O/A∴A∴ inspired group, which was responsible for the theft of Crowleyana from the house of Sascha Germer, among other illegal activities, told by an ex-member.

In the Name of the Beast, 2 vols. by Jerry Cornelius. A biography of LtCol Grady Louis McMurtry (1918-1985), an O.T.O. member of Agape Lodge who got close to Crowley and received emergency authorizations which allowed him to reactivate the O.T.O. in the 70s with his wife Phyllis Seckler.

In the Center of the Fire, by James Wasserman. A partial auto-biography of the late Wasserman (1948-2020) covering his occult activities between 1966 and 1989, the recovery of the Germer archives, the restablishments of the O.T.O. and his dealings with Marcelo Motta, J. D. Gunther et al.

Additional Crowley biographies #

Although Perdurabo is my favorite biography of Crowley, there are many other interesting biographies written by other authors. Also, we have Crowley’s own accounts published in some of his books.

Do What Thou Wilt, by Lawrence Sutin. This was the first biography of Crowley I read. Its main value is the detachment from the Thelemic movement, since the author is not a Thelemite and apparently not an occultist either. It’s healthy to have an outside opinion.

The Eye in the Triangle, by Israel Regardie. This biography was written by an well-known occult author and ex-disciple of Crowley, who lived with the Beast for a few years. It does not cover the full extension of Crowley’s life. Includes a psychological profiling of Crowley.

Aleister Crowley: The Biography, by Tobias Churton. This is another good full biography, written by an expert in Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. He’s also the author of a very good series of more specific biographies you will see bellow.

Crowley by himself #

Aleister Crowley himself wrote a few accounts of his own life in the following books:

The Temple of Solomon the King, serialized in The Equinox, written by J. F. C. Fuller and Crowley. An account of the magical and mystical journey of Frater Perdurabo, from 0=0 to 8=3. More focused on the wisdom than the man himself.

The Equinox of the Gods, being Liber ABA Part IV and The Equinox III(3). Explain the early years of Aleister Crowley with a special focus on the event of the reception of The Book of the Law in 1904.

The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, an “Autohagiography”, covering from Crowley’s birth to circa 1922, when he was running his Abbey of Thelema in Italy. Very interesting because it describes the landscapes he saw and the people who crossed his path.

Crowley series by Churton #

Tobias Churton is doing an amazing job of writting biographies diving deeper into specific times of Crowley’s life, revolving around a specific place:

Aleister Crowley in India, by Tobias Churton. Subtitled “The Secret Influence of Eastern Mysticism on Magic and the Occult”. Deals with Crowley activities in India, Burma, and Sri Lanka between 1901 and 1906. Explain how he approached Yoga and Buddhism, a few years before founding the A∴A∴.

Aleister Crowley in America, by Tobias Churton. Subtitled "Art, Espionage, and Sex Magick in the New World”. This is the largest volume so far, narrating Crowley adventures in the USA around 1914-1919, specially concerning the establishment of the O.T.O. and restructuring to comport the Freemasons. See also “Panic in Detroit”.

Aleister Crowley in Paris, by Tobias Churton. Subtitled “Sex, Art, and Magick in the City of Light”. Tells the adventures of Crowley in the early 1900s in France, while he was in the Golden Dawn, and then his return from 1924 to 1929.

Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin, by Tobias Churton. Subtitled “Art, Sex, and Magick in the Weimar Republic”. Crowley the artist in Germany shortly before World War II around 1930-1932, and his occult activities with Karl Germer et al.

Aleister Crowley in England, by Tobias Churton. Subtitled “The Return of the Great Beast”. It’s the saddest book, telling about the later and final days of Crowley, when he was poor, sick, and in the middle of World War II, far away from most of his disciples who were trying to bring him to the USA.

Thelemic History in other media #

Apart from books, we can find plenty of good articles and even videos about Thelemic history. Here is a list of works published on the Internet, sorted by author:

I would like to give special thanks to Adonay Quetzal for giving me a copy of Karl Germer Selected Letters and to Jerry Cornelius for the 2 volumes of In the Name of the Beast. Also, thank you Alexandre Nascimento for growing in me this taste for our occult history, for initially pushing me into reading a lot of Crowleyan biographies 🙂.

Anything missing? Would you like to contribute with more? Feel free to contact me.

  1. This was originally serialized in Seckler’s magazine In The Continuum. ↩︎

  2. This book inspired a TV show of the same name. ↩︎

Thanks for reading

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