In response to my recent entry on PBR and the Black Brotherhood, Harold commented:
“I've been reading Crowley's novel "Moonchild," and his villains are part of the Black Lodge, but they are all white people--Mathers is the head and Waite is in it.”
I'll respond here, because, I want to clarify my comments a bit. There is a long and varied history of treating “evil magicians” or a “black brotherhood” as antagonists in a novel. Victorian occult literature – like Ghost Land or Dr. Traverner – included stories by occultists wherein they hid the work they did. Fellows like Machen, as well, have societies or cabals of evil or dark magicians that get together for unspeakable ends. In terms of a fantasy motif, I think the “dark brotherhood of pure wrong” makes a great deal of sense and for a good story.
In the context of real, occult practice, however the issue is a bit murky for me. I have to acknowledge the way that Crowley worked the Black Brotherhood into the Vision and the Voice and Magick Without Tears. In both contexts, he uses the term to clarify what he considers “evil” magick, and in MWT he even contextualizes an example where one may be a crap magician doing it wrong, or one could become his ideal abomination. Neither use appears overtly racist.
We could set this as an example, though, against Fortune's Psychic Self Defense where “Black” or “Dark” Brothers are: sodomite, drug-dealing-drug-taking magicians or “swarthy” individuals who use magical powers, abilities, or Siddhis (or whatever) to get sex, drugs, money, power, or abuse children. I'm really condensing a lot of her whacky tales in this generalization, though.
Unfortunately, fewer magicians follow Crowley's example – in which he made mistakes, such as calling Austin Spare a “Black Brother” for his extensive use of autoerotic sex magic – and more lean towards the abusive examples of Fortune or Blavatsky. I won't point fingers. Plenty of groups of asshats do it, and I'd earnestly like them to shut the fuck up.
Similarly, I don't want to suggest tolerating extremely abusive or extremely criminal behavior. My antinomian leanings aside, there's plenty of potential for sexual or mental or emotional (in which case: get out of the group) or physical abuse from any given group of criminal folks or charlatans. The police, however, exist to arrest such individuals.
Anyway, I feel like Crowley 'updated' the mythology of his “Black Brotherhood” to fit with his internal visions and experiences and system, in a way that's generally less obnoxious than the use by post-Theosophical madmen or madwomen. These days, we could probably update the category again with enough vision work. Between the 1980s and 1990s, numbers of Chaos Magicians practiced things like the “Mass of Chaos B” and the “Mass of Choronzon” and called up Choronzon in an effort to discover if the Demon of Dispersion was as bad as Crowley made him out to be. I saw three folks actually help themselves towards insanity with materials like those, but simultaneously plenty of semi-balanced folks who returned to say: “Nah, he aint so bad.”
Whether or not you wish to trust them is, of course, up to you. I don't really worry about it, because I don't really worry about the Abyss much, frankly. That sounds like some other, dead, Faust's problem. Magical vision states tend to reinforce the symbolic and narrative patterns that we reinforce them with, at least in some contexts (there is always the universe pwning you in the face, for example, and forcing you to alter your “beliefs”). At different periods, the spirit world and what exists in it was contextualized differently. Since I tend to use a lot of Ptolemaic Astrological Magic (which doesn't mean I remotely understand it), I am less concerned with the Abyss, Choronzon, and the horrible mess of the Qliphot than I used to be... Some day, I may do work with Dee's Enochian magic the right way and see what the Aethyrs hold to see, but there's plenty of shit around me right now to pay attention to, not to mention the entire history of magical practices prior to Blavatsky, Fortune, and Crowley to look at and try to figure out.
Still, some tales are pretty good, if told well. I may some day come across another great “occult” oriented epic with Black Brothers taking center stage to mess with crap that oughtn't be messed with, and enjoy it very much.
Hell, if you're reading this blog and want to write a story about that, be sure to let me know you wrote it.