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The History of Magic in the Modern Age: A Quest for Personal Transformation Hardcover – September 30, 2000
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Top Customer Reviews
The chapter on A. Crowley, with its depiction of Crowley's ritual sacrifice of a perfectly innocent domestic cat and his enjoining a woman to engage in bestiality, reminded me of my distaste for Crowley. I have never understood the fascination of so many witches with this man. Crowley was authoritarian, cruel, and misogynistic, all of which Drury conveys well.
Yet Drury is generally balanced, which is an important quality to have in writing a book such as this. He sums up the essence of Crowley's enduring appeal by citing his "individualistic libertarianism." Crowley's staunch repudiation of the status quo and his fierce defense of individual freedom appeal to many Americans and others in the West for whom these qualities provide a refreshing contrast from the dogmatism and orthodoxies of conventional religious paths.
The final chapter - Archetypes and Cyberspace - was the only one in which Drury seemed to lose his balanced tone. He presents the World Wide Web and the emergence of 'cyber-paganism' as if there were no down side to the virtualisation of more and more of human awareness. He presents only visionaries and shamans who seem equally optimistic about the trends. The reader will search in vain for any awareness of the ecologically destructive impacts that accompany the mining and processing of computer parts to fund the industrialized world's fascination with these devices.
Missing as well is any discussion of the loss of privacy that has emerged with the Internet, seemingly overnight. The state has obliterated privacy through mass surveillance, a fundamental precondition for totalitarian rule. Granted, the book was published in 2000, before the loss of privacy had become so profound as it is today, but the writing was on the wall then, too, for those who were not too caught up in the naive techno-worship that I'm afraid characterizes too many of the sources quoted in the last chapter, as well as the author himself.
When it comes to the 20th Century all the major figures are there, including Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, Austin Spare, Anton La Vey, Gerald Gardner and Alex Sanders - as well as the leading figures of contemporary Wicca ( the Farrars, Z Budapest, Starhawk et al.) There is a special chapter to distinguish between Wicca and Satanism, which I also found very worthwhile.
Many people now realise the metaphysical dimensions of the internet, and this book also covers magic and cyberspace.
I haven't seen another book quite like this one and I hope it gets widely read. It should become a classic, alongside Margot Adler's " Drawing Down the Moon " .
It also puts a lot of emphasis on the "Quest for Personal Transformation" aspect of magic, even though (as in all religions, it must be said) it seems far more common for practitioners of magic to seek temporal comfort and advantage than personal transformation - Drury doesn't really acknowledge this adequately, in my view.
To quote Golden Dawner A.E. Waite's Book of Ceremonial Magic (Chapter 7):
We have seen that the sorcerer of the Middle Ages was usually squalid and necessitous; hence he coveted treasures: he was usually despised, and hence he longed for mastery, for the prestige of mystery and the power of strange arts: he was usually lonely and libidinous, and hence he sought, by means of spells and philtres, to compel the desire of women. To be rich in worldly goods, to trample on one's enemies and to gratify the desires of the flesh--such are the ends, variously qualified and variously attained, of most Ceremonial Magic...
And this appears to apply equally to many of the people and groups featured in this book.
The book does mention the personality clashes, arguments and organisational splits in the various groups, however, so it isn't completely naive. What came through for me was, frankly, what a sad bunch of losers most of these people were. Their quest for personal transformation, at least positive personal transformation, seems to have largely failed, in the absence of a clear concept of the "good" or a developed interpersonal ethic.