This slim volume, titillatingly titled The Best of the Equinox: Sex Magick, promises something potent, even to the knowing magickian who’s long past the idea of sex magick being, as Lon Milo DuQuette puts it in his introduction, “costumed orgies and pornographic acts of dramatic depravity.” Its very smallness combined with the notoriety of its authors promises a certain potentcy that it delivers on…for some. Lon Milo DuQuette nails the issue in his introduction, admitting that, “[Crowley’s] writings on this particular subject… can be very difficult to understand.” It remains as true in this volume as it has in the previous two.
DuQuette continues, “I must confess, this is not easy. But it is a magical labor well worth the effort, because the reward is nothing less than the Holy Grail itself.” Well then! DuQuette finishes by explaining that he’s included chapter 69 of Crowley’s Book of Lies “for your meditation, your edification, and perhaps – just perhaps – for your epiphany.” This is DuQuette at his most seductive, implying that our enlightenment is tantalizingly close if we can but wend our way through the dense thicket of words that stands between us and the ultimate secrets of the universe. Crowley’s magical sophistication in this volume, however, is such that without other preparation (even including the previous two volumes in series) his instruction is simply baffling. His oaths of secrecy and his dedication to the development of his personal mythology makes his writing both elusive and impenetrable.
The book begins exactly on this note of obfuscation with chapter 69 of The Book of Lies, a nugget of text wherein Crowley’s superficial meaning is no more profound than anything found in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But this is Crowley, cunning linguist, so we know that there must be something more hidden beneath his clever description of mutual pleasure, because if oral sex was the key to the universe the French would surely have reached enlightenment by now and porn stars would be our magickal gurus. (For me, at least, this has certainly not been the case.) Crowley has clearly planted the seeds of something more here, with references to the paradox of “the Word of Double Power – Abrahadabra” that “is the sign of the GREAT WORK, for the GREAT WORK is accomplished in Silence,” but it is a typically gnomic gesture from Uncle Al: the word of power spoken in silence.
After escaping the Book of Lies, the book takes a turn for the intelligible with Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, officially titled Ecclesiæ Gnosticæ Catholicæ Canon Missæ. The Gnostic Mass is one of the few “Crowleyian” rituals I’ve attended myself. As with much of the drama in the second volume in this series, Ritual Magick, the written script of the mass pales in comparison to the experience of it. For instance, reading “During this speech the Priestess must have divested herself completely of her robe” is far different than watching a grown woman, filled with the energy of ritual, get naked in the middle of “church” and dole out the blessings of the mass to those brave parishioners willing to accept them. The symbolism of the mass is present, but not transparent. Crowley masterfully weaves the traditions of the Catholic church with his own brand of magical power, but without its performance the drama is difficult to enjoy.
The essay that follows, “Energized Enthusiasm,” was the high point of this text for me. It is an intelligible, thoughtful commentary on the way that sexual action can both stimulate and dissipate the energy that feeds “[t]he divine consciousness which is reflected and refracted in the works of Genius,” and an exploration of the conditions that lead to its development and retention. The essay is both amusing and irritating in turns. Women are not treated terribly well: “There are but few men and fewer women, those women being invariably androgyne, who possess [the secretion upon which divine consciousness feeds] at any time in any quantity.” If being female is a deterrent to genius, being protestant is the opposite of it:
“…a Protestant is one to whom all things sacred are profane, whose mind being all filth can see nothing in the sexual act but a crime or a jest, whose only facial gestures are the sneer and the leer. Protestantism is the excrement of human thought, and accordingly in Protestant countries art, if it exist at all, only exists to revolt.”
The text around these quotes, however is a thoughtful examination of the generation of creative energy in relationship to sex. Perhaps I only consider this piece thoughtful, however, because it’s one of the pieces I felt I fully understood. The essay ends on a low note, concluding with the first person description of Crowley’s experience attending a sexual ritual by an unnamed secret society in which he has an out of body experience. In doing so, he abandons the narrative he’d begun without truly concluding it.
The final 8 or so pieces contained in the second half of the book include one ritual and books of scripture from the A∴A∴. These books lapse back into Crowley’s traditional mode: pseudo-biblical poetry in worshipful adoration of the secret meanings hidden behind the faces of Crowleyian deities. There’s no doubt that Crowley is presenting high level material here, the kind of material that requires a good deal of dedication, but, as always, the difficulty in just getting to the ideas themselves is merely the first (considerable) hurdle; absorbing and understanding the material is the second, and is no mean feat either. Bathed in secrecy and self-censorship (in part to protect himself from the legal consequences of writing sexually explicit text), the symbols he’s chosen, while intentionally salacious, serve as an impediment to understanding.
The repetition of these hurdles throughout his writing, both in this volume, and in the two previous in the series, expresses the deep ambivalence of Crowley’s dual intentions. According to DuQuette’s introduction, part of the duty of anyone receiving the secret of sex magick, as Crowley had, was to “make sure as many worthy individuals as possible discover[ed] the secret by discerning it themselves.” Thus Crowley, like so many writers of his era, is bound to two diametrically opposed masters: secrecy and evangelism. Crowley’s ambivalence around the expression of magical secrets is a vein that runs deeply throughout his work. Perhaps the transformation of the mind that takes place as we wend our way through his circuitous prose is necessary for the kind of enlightenment that Crowley is offering, but from a contemporary perspective it seems unnecessary impediment to an already difficult task.
In short, if you’re looking for the keys to the universe, you’re not likely to find them here without long and involved sessions of deciphering combined with dedicated meditation upon the complex magical concepts that Crowley has hidden within his enigmatic prose.