It is always useful having a good name to drop and the names bel low are reasonably good all-rounders. Please note that they all are dead, some for quite a while, so if you do insist on mentioning that you spoke to them last week, have a convincing story about a seance or automatic writing to back it up.
All are given obscurity ratings out of 10. The names with low obscurity ratings you need to know most details about as they are well known, but never quote them as someone might just know enough to argue. The high obscurity ratings are those that virtually no-one knows about unless they check up afterwards. To learn the details is optional and you can quote them freely on their pet subjects.
Dr John Dee (1527-1608)
Dr John must go down in history as the most gullible man to walk the face of the earth. He managed to get in tow with a certain Edward Kelly who persuaded the good doctor that he could communicate with angels. This they did in a very long and complicated process which involved Kelly pointing to letters or shouting them in reverse order (all the words were backwards for some reason never fully explained) while the doctor wrote them down.
The process was made slightly more difficult by the fact that the words thus spelt were all in Enochian, that well known language of the angels. This proves once and for all it is not Gaelic.
The result is the book A True and Faithful Relation of what passed between Doctor John Dee and some spirits - a snappy title which guaranteed it a spectacular commercial success. The first edition came out in 1659 followed up almost immediately by a limited edition Printed in 1974. This is naturally a classic of occult literature and was a great influence on the Order of the Golden Dawn. (At that time even the 1974 edition had not been published so it was really safe to be an expert on it.)
There were also one or two actual spirits who appeared to the pair, including Madimi a spirit in the shape of a eight year old child. Dee eventually did become a little suspicious when Kelly informed him that Madimi had stated they should have all things in common, including their wives. The successful partnership broke up just after that, seemingly at the instigation of Mrs Dee.
Skrying - Dee's particularly obscure form of talking to the angels. It involved moving a skrying stone (a crystal ball) on a tablet covered with Enochian letters. Fortunately it is not that important as no-one else has been stupid enough to use the same method for several hundred years.
Enochian - The language of the angels complete with its own grammar and syntax and about as easy to understand as dialect Serbo-Croat. Luckily the angels seemed to take a crash course in English or Hebrew just after this.
Pet subjects: Enochian and crystal gazing.
Obscurity level: 10/10.
Eliphas Levi (1810-1875)
Levi was the father of all the modern occultists. He started several traditions. He was the first to adopt an impressive name (originally Alphonse Louis Constant which he translated into dog Hebrew as Eliphas Levi Zahed).
He was one of the first with a penchant for being photographed in ceremonial robes looking grand and slightly sinister. This was not quite as impressive a piece of originality as you might think for he had the luck to be around just as the camera was being invented and having a most impressive beard helped him no end.
Levi was a failed Catholic priest (well nearly - he didn't quite take orders) a very popular background for occultists and he made a perilous living teaching occultism and wrote countless books on the Qabalah and Magic.
He cleverly refused to perform any magical acts regarding them extremely dangerous both morally and physically (bluffers' rule No 1.) The only time he was stupid enough to attempt anything practical was when he tried a touch of Necromancy to raise the spirit of Appolonius (a rather vague Pythagorean occultist of the first century of whom such a number of stories has been made up that no-one is really sure if he ever existed.
Why Levi couldn't have stuck to a Red Indian spirit fuide or a 'recently passed over dear one' has never een explained. The result was a dismal failure. Appolonius appeared (which would seem to suggest that he had existed), took exception to Levi pointing a sword at him, touched him on the arm and Levi fainted.
This did not stop the great man dining out on the story for many years and writing the classic The Dogma and Ritual of Transcendental Magic. You wonder what he would have done if he had forced even one word out of the old ghost.
Special interests: Qabalism and the Tarot. Obscurity rating: 8/10.
Mme Helena Petrovna Blavatsky was the founder of Theosophy - God knows why she called it that. No-one knows about her early days so it is not certain that she made up the name, but it seems too good to be true. So does the story that she was an exiled Russian aristocrat.
After the normal sort of apprenticeship for a religious leader (medium and snake charmer) she founded Theosophy. The main aim of the movement was to spread knowledge of Eastern mysticism to such an extent that she virtually single-handedly introduced and made known all those vague philosophies and religions that are so popular now. So next time you are pestered in the street by someone with a shaven head in saffron long-johns you know who to blame.
At first sight Theosophy seems an ideal movement to claim as a link in your chain of occult knowledge. It has the rather obscure mystical content that would normally be perfect, and even Secret Chiefs. But be warned. There are still Theosophists about and it would be just your luck to meet one.
Instead you should have a reasonable working knowledge of the historical perspective (when someone mentions "Blavatsky" don't say "Who's he?") but discount modern day Theosophy totally.
Blavatsky wrote a large number of thick books (Isis Unveiled, The Secret Doctrine) packed full of detail a la Golden Bough interspersed with very complicated creation mythologies which don't really improve much on the Genesis one, but certainly took up more space.
She also discredited the business of Secret Masters which must have been very upsetting for the leaders of a number of vague occult groups who depended on the aid of Secret Masters to get unpopular decisions carried out. Well, it must be difficult to differentiate between letters from Mahatmas that have just materialised, and letters that an accomplice has pushed through a hole in the ceiling.
Hidden Chiefs or Mahatmas - Blavatsky's mystical pen pals: a nice bunch of adepts from Tibet who used to make letters to her materialise round the house in the oddest little corners. Absolutely nothing to do with people crawling through the attic and dropping letters through cracks in the ceiling. Honest.
Astral Light - Something like a personal anglepoise but cheaper to run.
Samuel Liddell Mathers was actually a Scot so he probably had as much right to claim to be a Highland chieftain as any of the modern occultists, although suddenly discovering the title le Comte de Glenstrae was thought a little extravagant. If he had stuck to his first assumed name, MacGregor Mathers, probably no-one would have noticed.
He was one of the founders of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and by far the most interesting. He ended up in France having long chats with Hidden and/or Secret Chiefs whom only he could talk to, and becoming gradually more and more obsessed by Black Magic. As well as finding a title he didn't know he had, he discovered a Third Order of a level of initiation that no-one else seemed to know about.
This didn't go down with the run of the mill Golden Dawners who threw him out of the order. At this Mathers sent Crowley from France in full Highland costume with a golden dagger at his side to snatch back the Temple.The Golden Dawners said 'Go away' and Crowley decided to take them to court instead. Don't ask why he didn't use magic. Mathers then fell out with Crowley too. You can't help feeling that a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People would have been invaluable in these circles.
Interests: Ritual/Black Magic and talking to Secret Chiefs. Obscurity rating: 8/10.
Stanilas de Guaita (1871 1898)
De Guaita was by far the most fun of French occultists that followed Levi. He is best known for having an astral battle with a certain Joseph-Antoine Boullan, a defrocked priest who came up with the perfectly reasonable theory that you approached God by having sexual intercourse with celestial beings.
De Guaita, and another occultist Oswald Wirth, decided to expose Boullan as a fraud and wrote him a letter saying that he was a condemned man. Boullan took this as an astral threat and immediately took steps to protect himself.
Despite all his efforts Boullan died under mysterious circumstances just six years later, absolute proof that the spells can sometimes take a long time to work. During this time there were stories of 'fluidic fisticuffs', blasts of cold air that slapped Boullan round the ear and frightened the cat, and it is regarded as the most exciting astral battle ever. De Guaita died at 27 from a drugs overdose, a very suitable end for an occultist.
Specialities: Rosicrucianism, Black Magic and fluidic fisticuffs.
Obscurity rating: 9/10.
Arthur Waite (1857-1940)
Arthur Waite is worth quoting for three reasons.
1. He was a scholar who actually would give references and reasons for his ideas.
2. He wrote on every occult subject you could wish to mention, and some you wouldn't.
3. His books are so long and crashingly boring that virtually no-one has read them.
His greatest claim to fame is thought to be that he led the mystical clique in the Order of the Golden Dawn at the time it was breaking up and came into conflict with Aleister Crowley. But, since everyone came into conflict with Crowley, don't play that up too much. Waite also fell out with Helena Blavastsky and the Theosophists so perhaps he wasn't the easiest person to get on with either.
His real claim to fame is that he was the only one of the 19th century mystical thinkers who actually showed any kind of cynicism towards what he was hearing, which probably explains why he fell out with everyone.
Pet subjects: Mysticism, Kabbalah, Tarot, Rosicrucianism and Free Masonry. Obscurity rating: 7/10.
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
Crowley was dubbed by the tabloids 'The wickedest man who ever lived' and he spent the whole of his life trying to live up to the title.
He packed a lot of occult action into that time. He is the archetype black-magician used as the model for the bad person in any number of books (for example Somerset Maugham's The Magician and every villain in the Dennis Wheatley books.)
He was, for a short time, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn where he managed to fall out with virtually everyone and was involved in the great split.
More in his line was the OTO (Ordo Templis Orientis), a German order involved in sexual magic, complete with Secret Masters. He took this and adapted it into a new religion, Thelema. With an unaccustomed zeal for economy he boiled down the 10 commandments into one - 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law', a code that on the face of it seems pretty easy to comply with.
Crowley claimed to have completed every magical exercise anyone has ever invented and raised every demon ever heard of and a few he made up himself. It is suggested that when he raised Choronzon, the demon of chaos, he made a mistake by staying outside the pentacle (the only time he used this method) and ended up possessed by this particularly nasty spirit. Or to put it in layman's terms, he was a loony.
Not only did he use the old trick of claiming knowledge passed on from every sect or cult known to man, but he took this a step further by claiming to be a reincarnation of everyone he admired in occult history. Just before that particular incarnation he was Eliphas Levi, the French occultist. Unfortunately the great man never mentioned that he was going to be Aleister Crowley in his next incarnation so the claim was difficult to verify.
Other claims to fame were that he was the first to discover the method for curing cocaine addiction by getting hooked on heroin and vice versa, and that he worked for the German propaganda service in America during the First World War. Because of this total hedonism, giving in to any and every temptation of the flesh he could think of (and taking a few suggestions from friends) he died tragically young at the age of 72.
Thelema - Crowley's new religion which can be crystallised in the idea that if you didn't interfere with Crowley enjoying himself then you would be all right.
Autohagiography - Crowley's version of autobiography. Even remembering the word is regarded as significant. Also never quote a Crowley book by its title but as Liber and any Roman number you want. This avoids being too specific about details. You can quote him any any subject. He wrote on the lot.
686 - The Mark of Beast as mentioned in the Book of Revelation and adopted by Crowley as his own special lucky number.
The Scarlet Woman - Whatever women he was involved with at the time, Crowley tried to turn into his idea of the Scarlet Woman, a particularly wanton prostitute. Most of his abandoned Scarlet Women committed suicide or went mad. He was also quite keen on men, and his former boyfriends usually committed suicide or went mad too.
Pet subjects: Magic, Qabalism, Tarot, Sex and of course, Crowley.
You have to be careful if you drop this name in conversation as by all accounts he is still about. It is difficult to tell when you meet him as he goes under several names - Old Nick, Satan, Beelzebub, Baphomet, Mephistopheles, Lord of the Flies, etc. You sometimes wonder if he is the embodiment of evil or an entry in Roget's Thesaurus.
The reason for the vast range of names is that he has had to incorporate a large number of different personalities. (That, and a desire to avoid the bailiffs.)
Interests: Collecting souls and telling lies. Ambition: To think up an eighth deadly sin. Obscurity rating: 0/10.
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The pathology of the poet says that the undevout astronomer is mad the pathology of the very plain man says that the genius is mad and between these extremes, which stand for ten thousand analogous excesses, the sovereign reason takes the part of a moderator and does what it can. I do not think that there is a pathology of the occult dedications, but about their extravagances no one can question, and it is not less difficult than thankless to act as a moderator regarding them.