AN INTERVIEW with
CALIPH HYMENAEUS ALPHA 777
CONCERNING “MY BOOK”
The following interview is extracted from a taped session
in which questions submitted by Michael Ripple were
presented to Caliph Hymenaeus Alpha. The session
begins with an introductory statement by Mike:
In order to study Thelemic Magick, it is necessary, as with anything else, to go back to the works of the original masters. Books written about Thelema by others often present opinions, but do not necessarily contain the original Gnosis. An example is Kenneth Grant’s Typhonian Trilogy. In Mezla (a newsletter published by supporters of Grant in New York State), Volume I, Number 10, an argument is presented that evidence of Grant’s authority in OTO is to be found in works like the Typhonian Trilogy. They write: Consequently if, instead of wasting valuable time and energy in denying its livingreality (i.e., Grant’s OTO), such individuals were to strive to understand what the93 Current actually can mean for themselves and for humanity at large, they may reach a stage where these words will seem superfluous. To this end they should acquaint themselves very thoroughly, very profoundly, with Grant’s Typhonian Trilogy, for no where else in published form have the genuine and ultimate formulae of practical occultism been made so fully available.
But I would rather study the original masters than the revisionists. The Book of Thoth is an example of an original work much more worthwhile for Thelemites to acquaint themselves with “very thoroughly, very profoundly.”
CALIPH’S REPLY: I agree completely with what you have to say about Grant’s Typhonian Trilogy…Basically what it’s going to come down to is, if the Set-So this combination is so heavy for the New Aeon, why isn’t it mentioned in The Book of the Law?...I simply want it understood by all concerned that the Grand Lodge of O.T.O. takes this as being merely another form of Aleister Crowley revisionism.
QUESTION: The Book of the Thoth is the only other book mentioned in The Book of the Law (referred to as “my Book,” I:47), and it held great importance for Crowley. Correspondence here (in Syracuse University’s Crowley collection) furthers this view. What was happening that made the publication of the book so difficult, and what was behind Crowley’s differences with Artist Executant Frieda Harris? REPLY: In the first place, “The Book of Thoth” that is mentioned in Chapter One, Verse 57 of The Book of the Law is not The Book of Thoth that was printed in London in the 1940’s. The latter is a “book” in the conventional sense of the word, that has a lot of printed material primarily intended to explain the Tarot of the Egyptians. It also includes several reproductions in color of the Thoth Deck, as well as several pages of black and white illustrations of the complete set of the Thoth tarot cards, as painted by Lady Frieda Harris under the direction of Aleister Crowley. When Nuit speaks of “all these old letters of my Book,” she is referring to the cards (of “Tarots” as they are sometimes called in older reference works on the tarot deck), the tarot deck itself being “my Book.” This is especially obvious with reference to the Trumps Major, each of which is assigned a letter on the Qabalistic Tree of Life. It also applies to the Lesser Arcana or suit cards. The key here is to understand that each “Tarot” or card represents a particular state of the developed psychic body as illustrated by the Qabalistic Tree. Now as to the difficulty of getting the book published: This was in 1943. The problem was that England was at war, and the only materials being received by the British Isles were coming in on convoys, mostly from the USA. The only materials on those ships were food and clothing for the English population, and arms and ammunition for the army; or in the case of troop ships, additional American troops coming in. The civilian economy was shrinking. When anything was used up that had come from a foreign country and was not related to the war, it was not replaced. This was especially true with paper that was of a fine quality—and the original edition of The Book of Thoth was published with the finest quality of paper. The Moroccan bindings were irreplaceable; once the Moroccan leather was used up, there would be no more. London was being fire-bombed at the time, and every time a warehouse was hit priceless items could be lost. It’s a miracle that the paintings that are all the Thoth Deck themselves even survived. So the problem was first of all a matter of shortages. Rationing was simply automatic. In one of Crowley’s letters to me, he points out that if The Book of Thoth is not ready for the printer by a specific date, the book will have to be rescheduled. This brought up all kinds of possibilities—not merely war damage, but that the paper would be used by somebody else, the Moroccan bindings would be gone, etc.—in addition to the possibility that the paintings would be destroyed, that the plates would be destroyed, that the printing plant would be destroyed: it would be extremely problematical if The Book of Thoth were ever published. There was a great deal of difficulty and of tension on Crowley’s part that he should get it out so that it could be distributed before the possibility of destruction. As for his relation with Frieda Harris: Basically it was a case of a classic love-hate relation between two geniuses. She had agreed to submit to his instruction in terms of painting the deck, but this did not take away her own rebellious nature or her freedom as an artist as she saw it—and in a few instances, she changed the deck. In one instance he was able to get one card done over three times—that made four originals of the Magus card. I receive letters asking, “Are you sure that the Magus card in my deck is the one that Crowley wanted to be the Magus card?—because I’ve seen illustrations of other Magus cards.” This is true; these other cards have been published in places like Man, Myth & Magic. [For one example of these alternate Crowley-Harris Magus cards, see p.24 of The Book of Tarot by Fred Gettings, Triune Books, London, 1973.] The verification that the card printed in the deck is the one that Crowley wanted is very simple: all you have to do is pick up a copy of The Book of Thoth, and there is the Magus card as printed in the Thoth Deck. This was my guide in choosing that particular slide for publication. I met Frieda Harris several times. I met her at 93 Jermyn Street; I met her at her flat…One reason I say it’s a miracle that the Thoth Deck survived is that she lived at the top of a four-story apartment building that either had no elevator or due to war-time restrictions the elevator wasn’t running. I remember all too vividly having to pound up those four flights of stairs. This apartment building had a flat roof. The Germans were dropping a magnesium fire-bomb…one fire-bomb on that flat roof and the whole building would have gone. Presumably she had some of this material with her, since by British law the Thoth paintings belonged to her, not to Crowley. I have two letters here from Crowley in which he mentions Frieda Harris. The first one is dated July 6, 1944; it has the Mark of the Beast sigil as letterhead…it contains this line:
…Frieda Harris is having one of her periodic fits of ego-maniac insanity and making all the mischief she can…
Then in a letter dated July 19, 1945, from Netherwood, he says:
What you say about Frieda is very important. It is imperative that you should know the facts. She is a perfect darling in every possible way, but she is a dangerous lunatic, the most treacherous and deceitful person that I know of or have ever known. Just to give you and example, she tried at one time to make out the Tarot pictures were her own work, and she actually tried to give exhibitions of them in London (with interviews in the evening papers) behind my back, under the impression that I should not find out about it!!! The result was of course rather painful for her, but if people will play these dirty tricks they must expect what they get. Most of her madnessess are quite without motive and quite without sense. Here is one instance: Very early in the war an arrangement was made by which she had to pay certain items from a private fund. When I was taken ill in Torquay I was completely knocked out financially with a sudden and unexpected expense. I wrote to her that I was ill, but said nothing about money. However she sent me a wire to have all the best treatment I could get, and the following day she came I had a weekly account with a local grocer—I was not in arrears—but she wrote to him that he was on no account to give me any credit. Of course he showed me the letter…The next thing occurred a month later. She sent the rent of my flat to my next-door neighbor who was handling the business, and begged him on no account to let me know she had done so! Consequently when I turned up in the ordinary course to pay that rent myself, he looked at me very funnily and said it had been paid. I said “No, it hasn’t.” He said, “Yes, it has,” and showed me the letter. He remarked that it was a silly thing to do, as he could have simplypocketed the money if he happened to be dishonest. These are only small examples of the sort of thing she is doing all the time. She made so much mischief with the printer that I had to make it perfectly clear to them that she had nothing to do with the business and that they were to take no notice of anything she said or wrote. I can assure you that it is very trying to have to work with anyone so completely insensate… On final hit on Frieda: As I said, I met her several times. She wasn’t a large woman, but she held herself very erect. She had bright eyes; she looked at you directly. She was obviously conscious of everything going on around her. She must have been putting me on—at the time I was not quite sure what to make of it—but she said that she thought it was a wonderful thing for a young man to be studying to be a magician. Only later would I realize how funny that was. I visited her several times at her flat, but the last time was not necessarily a happy occasion. Shall I say it was a puzzling occasion to me at the time. Later I would be much more sympathetic to her point of view. Anyway, Crowley had loaned her some material—I believe it was Artemis Iota; it was something that he needed to get back for Magick Without Tears which he was in the initial stages of sketching out and putting together…He had written her several times asking for this material, but she had not bothered to give it back to him. I visited him for Christmas of 1944…he mentioned this difficulty and said, “When you’re in London, go by and see if you can get this from her, and send it to me.” I promised I would do so, and I did. I called up, and she was there—naturally I was in uniform, as I was on my way back to the Continent for the rest of the war—so I go pounding up those four flights of stairs; it’s early evening, the sun has been down for a while as I recall and it’s quite dark out. (It’s not too bright inside either; the English were saving electricity.) Her apartment was the first door beyond the top of the stairs to the left. As I walked up to it, I had been there several times and I was expecting to be welcomed. But I didn’t quite get the welcome I expected. The door was open; the room was dark, with a small amount of candlelight. There must have been a piano over on the left, because there was the sound of someone playing Debussy’s Clare deLune on the piano. Frieda came to the door and asked what I wanted. I told her that I wanted this material from Crowley. She said, Just a minute, I’ll get it for you,” and disappeared for a moment. She came back quickly and handed it to me, and then she said, “I would invite you in, but your presence would spoil the mood of the evening.” I said something like “Thank you, goodbye,” and turned around and went pounding down the stairs in my combat boots, feeling a little red behind the neck, and thinking, “What the hell happened?” As I got to the first landing, she had apparently thought that was a rather rude send-off, so she called down the stairs to me and said, “You will come by the next time in London, won’t you?” I looked upstairs over my left shoulder, knowing that I was going back into combat, that we still had to make the Rhine crossing, Germany was still very active, and you never take it for granted that you’re going to come out of a situation like that—thinking that the chance of my seeing London again was most unlikely—I said, “Yes of course, the very next time I’m in London!” and went pounding on down. I have a letter from Crowley in which he thanked me for getting a copy of this material, whatever it was, from the “middle of the Black Forest.” This gives you some idea of their relation. As far as their differences were concerned, it was mostly a difference of personalities that were strongly attracted, and at the same time strongly repelled. As an addendum: In the Crowley material found at West Point, there is a one-page piece of material extracted from a letter of Lady Frieda’s…It’s her description of going to Netherwood when they discovered that Crowley was dead, and she expressed great consideration and great admiration…and a great love for him in the most considerate terms. It’s interesting to contrast the material with these letters of Crowley’s. QUESTION: What is the story behind your giving two hundred dollars to Crowley for the publication of The Book of Thoth, and was this amount critical? REPLY: I was playing chess with Crowley at 93 Jermyn Street shortly after I met him; I met him on October 31, 1943…so this was probably in November. We were sitting, playing chess, drinking brandy and smoking perique…at some point he starts talking to me seriously across the chessboard about how The Book of Thoth is scheduled for the printers—they had the paper, the Moroccan leather for the binding, the cover material was set up—and they had a scheduled date for printing. It was extremely important that they make that scheduled date or else the book would have to be rescheduled, and by that time the paper and binding materials may have been used up. This was what made the matter of money important. What he was saying was that he needed another 50 pounds (or $200.00 American) to give to the printer right away to guarantee that the printer would go ahead with the publication of the book. I went back to my army base in East Anglia and thought about it. I was just a poor kid from Oklahoma; I happened to have gotten to the rank of First Lieutenant, but I had no bank account, no family money; the only money I had was my monthly paycheck. I’d been paid about that time, and as I looked at the money in my hand I thought, “I wonder if I went back to the paymaster and asked him if I could draw next month’s salary, if he would give it to me.” So no sooner thought than done, and I went, and the guy says, “Sure.” He gives me next month’s salary. So I put the two together and came up with $200.00, which is fifty pounds. So I went down to the post office and wired the money to Crowley. (In England the post office and the telegraph office are combined.) Much to my delight, about a week later I received a letter from him. In the envelope was a big, one-page receipt. It has the O.T.O. letterhead; it’s dated December 1, 1943 e.v., 93 Jermyn Street, S.W.l.: Received from Lt. Grady McMurtry, the sum of fifty pounds sterling …(there is an English postal stamp which is signed across:) for the Grand Treasurer General, O.T.O., Aleister Crowley, December 1, 1943 e.v. I promise to pay Lt. Grady McMurtry, on demand, the sum of ten pounds sterling, on the following dates: March 1, June 1, September 1, December 1, 1944 e.v.; March 1, June 1, 1945 e.v., for value received. (Two more English postage stamps signed across:) for the Grand Treasurer General of O.T.O.,
The reason why it’s important that these three English postage stamps be on there—any one would have done—is because in Great Britain the postage stamps contain a representation of the Crowned Head of the Empire. This one happened to have the representation of George VI. So in England, to put a postage stamp on a document and sign across it is automatically notarizing it. The document then states:
In the event of my death or disability, these obligations are to be discharged by the then Grand Treasurer General of the O.T.O. Witness my hand and seal: Ankh-f-n- Khonsu, (Masonic Mark), BAPHOMET Xth O.T.O., (seal).
So apparently he put an awful lot of emphasis on having got that $200.00 at that particular time. I’d never seen such a fancy seal in my life. To show you how much I appreciated it all, I threw it into my trunk locker along with my combat boots, dirty socks, and old stogey cigars, and took off to the invasion and forgot about it…for about 30 years. Until the time came that we got word that the Thoth Deck was up for grabs for publication. Then I used it by sending a zerox to Gerald Yorke. Of course I was never repaid for the $200.00. Anybody who gave Aleister Crowley money and expected to get it back had to have a hole in their head. I never expected to get it back. We gave him the money because we loved him and because he needed it for his work—which of course was the work he was doing for us—and for you.
QUESTION: What was the story behind Crowley asking which numbered copy of the first edition of The Book of Thoth you wanted—and although you requested #56, you ended up with #10: What was behind that? REPLY: The first edition was strictly limited to 200 copies, and Crowley numbered them and kept a careful log of who got what number. One reason I know this is because I saw the log…So he was going to be numbering these copies and he wanted to know who wanted what number. For example, I would suppose that Jane Wolfe took #156 because that was her number. I suppose that Wilfred Smith took #132. Maybe Jack Parsons took #210; I don’t know. Or he may have given them special numbers…I believe that the first ten volumes, or certainly no more than the first 20, had the corners of the covers cut with red Moroccan. I know mine does. Most of them were bound with the red Moroccan only on the spine. So, we were sitting there, playing chess, drinking brandy and smoking perique, and he starts saying now that the book is going to be coming off the press, what number do I want? I knew what he meant; but at that time I really had not become a student of gematria, and numbers in that sense were rather meaningless to me. He began suggesting numbers, and I sat there looking rather blank—playing the perfect straight guy (because I was)—(you might think of it as a sort of Laurel & Hardy routine with me playing the Hardy part.) He started numbering numbers, and after he’d gone through quite a few of them, I realized that this had to stop before he ran out, so I just reached frantically out and said “That one! I’ll take that one,” and it was 56. I know this because I have a receipt from him: Dated October 31, 93 Jermyn Street, S.W.l.: Received of Grady McMurtry, the sum of ten Guineas, for Number 56 of The Book of Thoth (Tarot), (signed) for the Grand Treasurer General, Aleister Crowley.
Again there is an English postage stamp, but this time he didn’t sign across it.
When my copy of The Book of Thoth showed up in the mail, one of the first things I noticed was that I had received copy #10. So I wrote to him. I don’t have a copy of his reply right here, but I can quote it very simply. It was a short letter, and it dealt with inconsequential matters until the last sentence. He didn’t even say “in regard to your letter”; he just said, “I chose the number ten for Jupiter—for Luck.” And then when you stop and think—if you were the world’s greatest Magician, and you had a young friend who was lost in wars, plying the extremely unlikely trade of explosive ordinance expert, and trying to survive—and you wanted to do him a favor and wish him luck—what would be better than to hand him Jupiter, the great God of Luck? At the time I didn’t really appreciate it much, but later—if you will check Column Ten in 777, “Mystic Numbers of Sephiroth,” and you go down to line 4, which of course would be Chesed, you’ll find that ten is the mystic number of Chesed. Now that’s not just Jupiter the planet, that’s the mystic Jupiter. Whether he did anything but send me a letter and number the copy of The Book of Thoth that he gave me, I have no idea. But I’ve sometimes felt that I wouldn’t have been able to get out of some of the things that I’ve gone through if I hadn’t had a little bit of extra luck.
The documents reproduced on the following pages are:
1. Grady’s receipt from Crowley for #200.00 for publication of The Book of Thoth, referred to in the interview.
2. Crowley’s inscription in Grady’s copy of the first edition of The Book of Thoth.
3. A three page letter from Crowley with reference to Frieda Harris. The hand-written
postscript is particularly interesting. It says:
PS It seems important that you should understand my motives. To me this Work on the Tarot is an Encyclopaedia of all serious “occult” philosophy. It is a standard book of reference, which will determine the entire course of mystical and magical thought for the next 2000 years. My one anxiety is that it should be saved from danger of destruction, by being reproduced in permanent form, and distributed in as many distant places as may be. I am not anxious to profit financially; if I had the capital available in this country, I should send (say) 200 copies to State Libraries in all parts of the world, and as many more to my principal representatives.
[the documents mentioned above are not reproduced here - ed.]
NOTE : This article originally appeared in the KAABA Newsletter
Volume I Number 2, An. LXXIV, Sol in Cancer, Summer 1978 e.v.,
pgs.7-14. This newsletter was published out of Ra-Hoor-Khuit Lodge,
OTO in Syracuse New York.
We wish to thank Soror Copulo Contrarium for making this page possible.