“They died within two years of each other; she within the smog-enshrouded Middlesex Hospital, amid the massive bomb damage done to London by six years of war; he in the salt-sea air of Hastings, in a large and stately boarding house with the evocative and curiously apt name of Netherwood.
When the woman died, on 8 January 1946, taken by acute myeloid leukaemia, it had been quite unexpected. She was still young (a mere fifty-five) and had lived a decent life; eating healthy food, taking appropriate exercise in various dimensions, engaging in stimulating mental activity involving august spiritual beings, and she had once written a book about the nature of Purity.
When the man died of a lung infection, on 1 December 1947, unloved in any usual way, no one was at all surprised. In fact they marveled that he had lasted so long. He was seventy-two, had lived a life full of adventure, indecency, and excess; had wrestled with demons of the darkest kind; had been branded by the national press as the Wickedest Man in the World; and finally his drug-wracked body had just given up.”
And so begins Alan Richardson’s “Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune: The Logos of the Aeon and the Shakti of the Age”.
This book is described as a comparative biography of Crowley and Fortune (perhaps two of the best known occultists of the 20th century), and that’s a fair description. However, I feel it doesn’t do the book justice. The poetry of the writing, the nearly epic scope of the stories, the love, passion, and romanticism on the part of the author defy an easy summary, so forgive me for not trying. Richardson masterfully tells the stories of these two larger than life characters, all the while showing how their magical lives danced around each other; sometimes intersecting, other times diverging, but always close.
The book tells the stories of Crowley and Fortune’s lives in reverse, starting at death and going forward to their births (homage to training the Magickal Memory, remembering events in reverse sequence). Therefore, the book begins with Fortune and Crowley’s respective deaths in the Prologue, and then continues with seven chapters: Deaths and Afterward, The Wars of Their Worlds, Priests and Priestesses, Temples and Their Truths, Initiations and Other Awakenings, Falling to Earth and Other Trauma, and Past Lives and Similar Futures.
Although the author stresses that his book “is not meant as an exhaustive biography” on either of the subjects, I found (with my amateur level knowledge about Fortune and Crowley) that this book definitely hit all the marks, and certainly unearthed some extra information I had never heard before. At the very beginning of the book Richardson apologizes if the work seems to have a Dion Fortune bias, since he is an admirer, but stresses that he tried to treat both subjects with an even hand. I feel he succeeded. It is difficult to discuss Aleister Crowley. Generally, much like the man, people who write about him touch on the extremes of his character. I think fan and hater of Crowley alike will find the author’s treatment enlightening. Also, despite his concern that his affection for Fortune will color his writings about her, here too Richardson succeeds in offering the whole person, strengths and weaknesses alike.
This book tells the fascinating story of perhaps two of the best known, and best beloved by some, occult practioners of our time. Yes, their lives were fascinating, but only the talent of someone like Richardson can make them mythic.