A Man of Letters

I am now reading Brother Curwen, Brother Crowley (Teitan Press, 2010), an interesting and wonderfully produced collection of letters between Aleister Crowley and David Curwen in the latter years of Crowley’s life. I also purchased The Progradior Correspondence, a similar collection of letters between Crowley and Frank Bennett. This is also a Teitan Press title from Keith Richmond (whose previous works on Bennett were fantastic) that I am quite looking forward to. So, it appears I will be spending the next few days reading other people’s mail.

In as much as one can give a “spoiler alert” to seventy year old correspondence, here it is. At the outset, it is interesting to find Curwen’s frustration at attempting to understand Crowley’s work interpreted as hostility, and the first few interactions are decidedly uncordial. While having studied magick for some time, Curwen had never actually done any, which of course does put a damper on one’s ability to comprehend it. However, things do begin to smooth out, with Curwen giving apologies for his brusque manner and Crowley equally changing his tone (perhaps remembering his manners). From there, the exchange alternates between Curwen asking questions and Crowley explaining how it should all be perfectly clear – classic Crowley!

Having both of these titles reminded me of a painful lesson learned: if you see a collection of letters to/from someone you admire, get it! I recall poking around a used book shop in Dover, NH, one day – ten years ago? – and finding a collection of letters between Aleister Crowley and Israel Regardie. It included much correspondence centered around the time of their split, and Crowley’s vindictiveness toward Curwen is all the greater for Regardie – though the latter had at that point lost all patience for his former teacher. I remember the letters going something like this:

Regardie: “Dear Alice, … That’s right, I said it. You’re gay!”

Crowley: “Perhaps, but you Mr. Regardie – nee Regudy – are a dirty Jew!”

Yeah, that is also (sadly) classic Crowley, and we’re fortunate enough to have passed through the social permutations that brought both of these prejudices largely to a halt. However, it made for a hilarious read, but I did not have a single penny on me at the time – and, like the leprechaun’s gold, the work had disappeared when I returned for having taken my eyes off it. I can’t even recall the title.

All of this got me thinking about the value of correspondence and its place in our current society, where technology has all but eliminated the practice of physical letter-writing. Will we have such a body of evidence in the future?

Contact Colin Campbell via campbell@hermetic.com
The works presented in De Arte Magica are © 2010–2016, Colin D. Campbell