Originally published at: https://library.hrmtc.com/2018/06/13/master-of-the-temple/
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Master of the Temple by Eric Ericson.
The cover of this occult potboiler bears the pointless assertion: “a novel is not necessarily a work of fiction.” This one certainly is, though. The author (I suspect “Ericson” is a nom de plume) is educated, though not always accurately so, regarding the 20th-century history of magical orders and initiates, and shows a certain level of insight regarding magical practice and ritual design. He even provides a set of appended notes to document certain alleged facts on which he drew in writing the book, which seems like a little too much protestation to me.
The “Noble Order” which forms the centerpiece of the novel is an imaginary schism and reform of O.T.O., instituted by a German named Frick. Sexual magic is presented as a wholesome esotericism, but Aleister Crowley is supposed to have succumbed irrevocably to demonic forces in the Algerian desert, as per the accounts of John Symonds or Alex Owen. The order maintains a level of secrecy comparable to the early Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; its existence and name are not to be revealed to the profane. Somewhat like Crowley’s reform of the latter, the Noble Order has unpacked certain practical techniques suited to inner order adepts and distributed them among earlier grades, as well as furnishing aspirants with individual instructors.
The story’s protagonist Jonathan Rawlings is an advanced initiate of this order, and a globe-trotting sales executive for an English biscuit manufacturer. As a “Seventh” of the Noble Order, he is evidently supposed to be the equivalent of a Major Adept. The preponderance of the twenty-five chapters adhere to a straightforward formula, in which Rawlings visits a new city, does some mundane business there, meets key members of the local lodge of his order, and performs (usually with them) a magical ceremony (usually sexual in character). These chapters consistently deploy tissue-thin stereotypes about the various countries and American regions in Rawling’s itinerary.
As the jacket copy makes plain, the larger plot arc is a faustian tragedy, and the very last chapters are concerned with Rawlings’ comeuppance. In parallel with the libelous background narrative about Crowley, Rawlings is supposed to fail in “crossing the Abyss,” and his method in attempting it certainly seems weak enough. (He anticipates that he might need a whole weekend to recover!)
The frequency of error among the purportedly factual elements of this book leads me to caution readers against believing them. But for those already well-studied in this material, and particularly experienced initiates of O.T.O. or A∴A∴, Master of the Temple is still an entertaining curiosity that hits its target as often as it misses.