Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The years between the two World Wars were a golden age of American occultism. Israel Regardie published several books after his break with Aleister Crowley at the end of the 1920s. Among the more active groups, Harvey Spencer-Lewis had his thriving Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC,) and sparred fiercely with Reuben Swinburne Clymer, who headed the Fraternitas Rosae Crucis. There was the Rosicrucian Fellowship, whose founder Max Heindel was dead, but which continued, as it does to the present. And there was the Builders of the Adytum, which not only survives today, but has spun off two or three other orders using the teachings of its founder, Paul Foster Case.
Along with Regardie, Case, or Frater Perseverantia as he was known within BOTA, was perhaps the most influential of these Adepti. Volumes such as The Book of Tokens, or The True and Original Rosicrucian Order, still repay study. If he is not as well known as Crowley, the other Frater P (Perdurabo), he is surely second in line. In my own Temple’s lineage, his work has always been well regarded.
Yet we know relatively little about him. Paul Clark, a student of Case’s spiritual heir Ann Davies, published Paul Foster Case: His Life and Works, in 2013, but the biographical section of this is only 109 pages. The man’s three (four?) marriages are scarcely mentioned in it, and his private struggles, while alluded to, aren’t discussed in much depth. With Case, a lot is still obscure.
With Crowley, we know about his court cases, his drug experiences, his prowess at chess, how good/bad the sex was with various partners, and even the times when he suffered from diarrhea or constipation. The detail is more than sufficient, thank you. He set out to live his life on a broad scale, and he knew that hiding himself wasn’t going to fly. To exemplify his own system, he had to let it all hang out, or how would students grasp that True Will, along with the Holy Guardian Angel, are concepts that embrace every aspect of our lives?
Case, by contrast, was New York state-born, and appears to have embodied midWestern virtues of probity, modesty and hard work. Did he ever have parking tickets, or get into a fight in a bar one time? Did he fool around on any of his wives? Or even pick his nose in public when he thought no-one was watching? Perhaps, but nobody knows. The BOTA has found it strategically useful to keep much information in its archives, and Clark’s book marked the first time some key letters from his dealings with other Adepts was made public. There must be other archival documents to be opened up, but to date, it hasn’t happened.
No wonder, then, that some adherents of Case look at Crowley with horror. Their hero never had dirty fingernails in their book, let alone did he suffer hostile write-ups in sleazy news media. If he did, the information is lost in mouldering newspaper files, or in slowly cracking microfilms of them lying in half-forgotten libraries.
But beyond this, the two men had different yet interlocking aims. This can make one difficult to comprehend or appreciate for those working with the system of the other.
Case was a man of order. In 1918 he joined a U.S. Temple of the Alpha et Omega, two decades after the schism in the Golden Dawn between the Matherses and the faction led by Florence Farr, W.B. Yeats and their allies in the GD’s Second Order. In two years he had risen to a position where he was teaching, yet he found the fraternity lacking in standards and breadth of teaching. Moina Mathers (MacGregor being dead by now) kicked him out, which pushed him to develop his own improved esoteric system.
For consistency of approach, interlocking symbolism and cumulative power, it would be hard to fault what resulted. There might be more psychological sophistication offered elsewhere today, but the balance, rigour and coherence of Case’s system holds up.
Crowley spent even less time than Case – sixteen months – in the Golden Dawn’s First Order. Reforming that wasn’t his priority: he was after bigger fish. He felt the GD “failed to initiate” in the sense of leading people to full Adeptship. His experiences in several countries – Ceylon, Mexico, India, Burma and China among them – exposed him to techniques and states of consciousness Case never experienced. And he was forever looking for more, which is partly how he and George Cecil Jones came to found the A.A.
It’s not entirely oversimplifying to say that the typical ‘product’ of Case’s system could make a good beginner for Crowley’s. Equally, many people who leap straight into Thelemic magick would benefit from experiencing something like the BOTA work, if only that order’s correspondence course. Crowley offers an incomparable vision that must and will become unique for each aspirant; but it’s Case who wrote Occultism 101.
In practice, I find adherents of the two teachers stand-offishly polite to each other. There’s a common failure to appreciate each in context.
Case was the son of New England Congregationalists, so the Christianity he absorbed as a boy didn’t leave him resentfully out of synch with either mainstream society or esoteric spirituality. He did try learning yoga out of books, but hit problems with that; and while he had magical instruction in the Alpha et Omega, there’s some question of just how much expertise had been transferred to the U.S. One consequence of incomplete knowledge may have been that Enochian magick wasn’t taught well, or with sufficient safeguards, and Case became a lifelong opponent of the Enochian system as a result.
Crowley was raised in a narrow Protestant sect that automatically inspired rebellion in a mentally alert lad, not least since nonconformist churchgoers in 19th Century England had low social standing. He explored Raja Yoga, Buddhism and (to a small extent) Sufism in their native lands, at the hands of learned teachers, as well as learning magick from the best Golden Dawn alumni. AC’s view was bound to be the broader one. He was a wilder, crazier guy than Case, which meant he made plenty of serious errors, and also stumbled on more breakthroughs.
Case, instead, reformed the First Order system. He was impatient with disorder, and his Tarot deck and his books are all in lock-step with each other. I’ve never known what to make of his reported encounters with Dr. Fludd and Rakoczi, the Master ‘R’, but I’m convinced “something of the kind” occurred that gave him a comprehensive and well-rooted symbology to use. His books show a coherence in the system he was teaching.
But systems, by their nature, are of Yetzirah – Formation. That is the glory and the limitation of his work. You could spend a productive lifetime as an occultist working his system, while never actually breaking through the Veil into the next world, that of Briah, or Creation. And that’s where Knowledge & Conversation comes to pass.
Crowley was in a hurry, and often focused on aspiration rather than formulation. There are those who find his life inspiring, and those repelled by it. But no-one can deny the range and intensity of his desire to transcend, and to go beyond Briah into Atziluth, Origins.
The result was a complex, colourful, multi-levelled ‘map’ of how the experience of the Second Order leads into the Third – that is, crossing the Abyss. This crossing was seen as virtually mythical in the original Golden Dawn, and Case has almost nothing to say about it in his published writings. “Let it be understood then that what is given here is only what has been received,” he wrote in True and Original, about the grade of Master of the Temple. “There is no claim to the revelation of inner secrets.” Clark’s biography mentions persistent rumours that he made the crossing just before his actual or purported death, but the details are still disputed.
Crowley, on the other hand, gave us The Vision and the Voice, Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli and Liber B vel Magi, all of which pertain to supernal grades and stem from his actual experience of them. There are other writings, such as Liber Cheth or Liber LXV, that poetically evoke the conditions and experience of genuine Adeptship. These are allusive and metaphorical, since Adeptship is akin to what Jungians would call Individuation, and Crowley understood just how individual the Second Order process must be. Each aspirant has to create his or her own symbol system, according to laid down principles, while something as precise as Case’s work is only partly viable for those working the mid-portion of the Tree of Life.
The system Case produced for BOTA only goes up as far as Tiphereth, like that of the original Golden Dawn. The elemental grades can be treated in a more generic manner because ‘human nature’ has generic qualities. The Second Order grades, wherein the aspirant is walking and exploring a unique road, do not. Perhaps the Third Order’s universality reverses this; but since it involves a whole other scale of experience to what most of think the magical and mystical path to be, or to require, we can leave it alone until we hear the unequivocal call to go there.
This isn’t important to us. The point is, Case is coherent and graspable, if sometimes bound by his own books. He was also, it seems, ambivalent about actual magical practice, and writes more of meditation than of ritual. Crowley, no slouch at extreme magick, leaped beyond patterned working, requiring each student, in the end, to discover his or her own system. Yet both improved on the existing Tarot deck in their different ways, and given how little was written about Tarot at the time, it’s instructive to see how much their different designs and explanations coincide. The one confirms the other as much as anything, implying an ultimately similar source for their teachings.
Provided we don’t confuse the planes by trying to fit the work of onto or into that of the other, they both offer the serious student valuable ideas. And a useful means to cross-check our own insights against two sets of prior discoveries that often support each other.
Love is the law, love under will,