Perspective by Colin Wilson
Israel Regardie was the last representative of the great occult and metaphysical tradition of the late 19th century, whose names include Madame Blavatsky and her contemporary Mary Baker Eddy, MacGregor Mathers and W.B. Yeats, and many another famous writer. Even in such distinguished company, Regardie stands out as a figure of central importance.
Frances Israel Regardie was born in London on November 17, 1907, on a dark foggy morning. In 1921 he moved with his family to America, living in Washington D.C. until 1928. In the meantime he attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. and then later an art school in Philadelphia where in his own words, he suddenly realized "that I was no artist." Forthwith that was the end of his art studies. Fate had marked him out for a rather more strange and exotic career. The first intimations of this came when he was about 15 years of age, when he saw a reference to a never before heard of Madame Blavatsky, in a nutritional book, of all things, belonging to his sister. Intrigued by the name, he looked it up in the public library to learn of the eventful career of that tempestuous lady. "From then on," he says, "I was hooked." It was a kind of awakening, characterized by the interest in Blavatsky extending to all forms of oriental philosophy and to the practice of yoga. By the time he was 18 Regardie was familiar with most major works on yoga.
So it was with considerable excitement that, at the house of an attorney friend in Washington D.C., he made the discovery of a new text on yoga by a man who unmistakably knew what he was talking about. The work—which was read aloud—was called rather cryptically, Part I of Book IV, and was written by one Aleister Crowley. This excited Regardie so much that he wrote to Crowley at the address of a publisher of some 20 years earlier. When some months later he received a reply from Paris he had totally forgotten about the letter in the meantime, and so was thoroughly elated despite the long lapse of time to receive a response from a man who later was to prove one of his mentors and idols.
Crowley suggested that Regardie get in touch with his New York agent, a German named Karl Germer. From Philadelphia Regardie went to New York to meet Germer whom he discovered to be an ex-Wehrmacht officer who regarded Crowley with profound admiration. Some of his enthusiasm was communicated to Regardie so that the latter purchased from him a set of books entitled the Equinox, a periodical of gigantic proportions that Crowley published every six months between 1909 and 1914. For the next few months Regardie neglected his art and plunged deeply into an altogether foreign and strange but familiar world of magic, mysticism and occult philosophy with Nietzschean overtones all tinged with the fin-de-siecle flavor of the 1890s, the period of the yellow book and Aubrey Beardsley and others of his ilk. The end result of this was that two years later, on Crowley's birthday October the 12th, 1928 Regardie first sailed and arrived in France, there to meet at Gare St. Lazare Aleister Crowley. The "Great Beast" had invited Regardie to become his secretary. Without knowing anything about what that entailed the invitation had been accepted with alacrity.
The next two or three years must have been traumatic for the young Americanized Londoner. Crowley was just publishing his most important book, Magick in Theory and Practice. (New Falcon, 2017). It failed entirely to attract much attention. A quarrel between Crowley and his public relations man, C. de Vidal Hunt, led to Hunt notifying the Surete Generale that Crowley was amongst many other things a "dope addict." As a consequence of this Crowley was expelled from France. Because of the dogma "guilt by association" Regardie, who had failed to obtain a carte d'identite, was also ordered to leave. Comedy followed tragedy, and because of his association he was not allowed to land in England though he had been born there, and return to France was impossible so he had to go to Brussels. It took him six more months before he was allowed to enter England.
Once there however he moved in with Crowley and his mistress Marie de Miramar at a house in Knockholt in Kent, not too far from London where he began preparing some of Crowley's work for press. Crowley had in the meantime befriended a young enterprising Australian writer P. R. Stephensen who was one of two principals conducting the Mandrake Press. Unfortunately, Crowley's reputation established by John Bull as the wickedest man in the world was now so firmly established that his books were thoroughly rejected by most English booksellers, and Mandrake soon went under. In Knockholt Regardie and Stephensen collaborated on a short book defending Crowley, The Legend of Aleister Crowley (New Falcon, 2016). It did nothing to improve Crowle.0-sinister reputation or to improve the finances of the Mandrake Press. Shortly thereafter Crowley was invited to Berlin to give an exhibit of his so called paintings, so that Regardie went his own way. For awhile, he visited a meditation house in North Devon conducted by a disciple of the silent guru Meher Baba but after a few weeks of this sweetness and light he returned to London, where he became for a short while the secretary to the writer Thomas Burke, author of the once famous, Limehouse Nights, which was made into a movie in Hollywood. There Regardie also wrote his own first two books The Garden of Pomegranates and The Tree of Life.
Both are studies in the Qabalah and the occult, the latter being regarded by many as one of the most important books on Magic ever written. It is dedicated "with poignant memory of what might have been, to Marsyas." The latter name is one used by Crowley years earlier in his epic poem AHA.
Many years later when Regardie sent copies of one or more of his books to Crowley the latter received them with something less than appreciation, making some unkind jokes particularly about Regardie's adoption of the name Francis—a name that had been bestowed upon him by a lady friend who like Regardie at that time was an admirer of St. Francis of Assisi. Regardie gave way to outraged vanity. He wrote Crowley in London a sarcastic letter addressing him as "Dear Alice," a possible reference to the "Beast's" homosexual inclinations as well as to a diminutive of Aleister. The result was a complete break between the two. Crowley produced a scurrilous document about his ex-secretary accusing him of theft and betrayal which he circulated anonymously to all Regardie's friends and acquaintances. Some copies of this document still circulate. It says a great deal for Regardie's forgiving nature—and for his capacity for objective admiration—that he reproduced this document in full in his later study of Crowley, The Eye in the Triangle (New Falcon, 2015).
After the publication of the The Tree of Life, Regardie found himself at the centre of a violent but unsought after controversy. He had revealed many of the ceremonies and teachings of a society known as the Golden Dawn of which Crowley had been a highly disruptive member in the earliest years of the century, while a young wild bohemian. Some ex-members attacked Regardie. Others, like Dion Fortune, supported him with some reservations. The upshot was that he was invited to join the Stella Matutina, a reincarnation of the original Golden Dawn. This transpired in an immense disappointment. As magicians some of the Chiefs of the Stella Matutina struck him as ignorant and inept. Disgustedly he left the Order and decided to publish the Rituals of the Golden Dawn—an act which has earned him much odium in occult circles though every student of occultism remains in his rr debt. In fact Francis King a modern historian of this area has determined that the rebirth of magic in recent years is entirely due to Regardie's work.
These details are necessary so that the readers of this book should understand something of Regardie's significance in the history of 20th century occult and metaphysical movements. The remainder may be told more briefly. Regardie remained in England until 1937, continuing to study Magic, Alchemy and writing another important text, The PN/o.sabout the mysteries of Alchemy. This is one of the most interesting and exciting books about Alchemy as a search for a kind of unity of being, and an attempt to unite the conscious and unconscious forces of the psyche. (It is all the more fascinating that in more recent years, Regardie changed his mind to some extent and came to believe that Alchemy is as well an attempt at a chemical transformation of matter. In other words he believes that Alchemy has metaphysical as well as chemical components.
In 1937 with the recognition that war seemed inevitable Regardie returned to the United States. There he threw himself into the study of Psychology—he had undergone Freudian analysis in England and became a lay analyst. When America entered the war he enlisted in the Army—a step he wryly admits to be a ghastly error. After the war he continued his professional training, moved to California and practiced Reichian therapy. He admits that this "with Magic has changed the whole course of my life." In 1980 he retired to Arizona where he continued to write until his death in 1985.
Teachers of Fulfillment (previously known as The Romance of Metaphysics), began with his realization, after treating several patients who were heavily involved in metaphysics, that he knew nothing at all of what they were talking about. So he began an extensive study of the subject soon to discover that his patients also knew next to nothing of the origins and nature of the subject they professed to practice. After lengthy discussions with them and with some of the exponents of the different metaphysical systems in New York where he was living at the time, he concluded that most of the adherents of the different schools were wholly unaware of the Christian Science origins of what they believed in. So there appeared to be no alternative, since none of the books he had read dealt with this history, but to start a study of the origins, history, nature and psychological interpretations of the various metaphysical beliefs then current in the late 1930s. The Teachers of Fulfillment is the outcome of those preoccupations and studies of that time.
For many years now I have been an avid reaaer of Regardie's books. The last one I read Foundations of Practical Magic was published in England in 1979. It fascinated me because it reveals that with every advancing age Regardie's mind becomes more clear and vigorous—a tribute to the disciplines to which he has devoted his life. But the chapter that impressed me most was not concerned with Magic but with Meditation. It is a remarkable synthesis of all he knows about magic, meditation and psychotherapy.
Now for those who understandably regard Magic as an absurd superstition it is important to bear in mind Crowley's own definition: "Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with the Will." He is echoing a remark of the great 19th century occultist Eliphas Levi, who wrote: "Would you learn to reign over yourself and others? Learn how to will."
Many students of magic and metaphysics are no doubt attracted by its romantic aura and high promise and so indulge in every kind of wishful thinking. But I suspect that the true students have all started from the same intuition; that in some absurd paradoxical way human beings have greater potentials than they realize. Everyone knows that odd feeling we get at times that all is well, that nothing can go wrong. Just as there are days when nothing seems to go right, so there are days when we experience an exhilaration that is like the first smell of Spring: an excitement that seems to be based on some knowledge, some recognition. The romantic poets of the 19th century were always experiencing these moments of vision, then wondering the next day whether it was all an illusion. Magic is first of all an attempt to achieve some kind of control over that inner world of intuition. It escapes us because we are so poor at focusing the attention. Some one of the first steps in magical and metaphysical practice is to attempt to train the mind to visualize, to be capable of conjuring up (and it is interesting that we use this particular phrase about imagining) objects and scenes and endowing them with the smell of reality. And this ability is in fact one of the basic psychological disciplines. That is to say that a person who had become accustomed to doing it at will would have achieved a far higher level of mental health than the rest of us. Students of Metaphysics also believe that when a person achieved this level of intensity it is to some extent possible to make things happen. The metaphysician does not, like the wizard in the "Sorceror's Apprentice" turn brooms into water carriers. But he does believe that it is possible to shape his own destiny. Again everyone knows the feeling of bell* completely determined to do something, and how, when this happens, events often seem to "come out right." Jung would probably state that this is the operation of the immense unknown forces of the unconscious mind.
Regardie believes, as I do, that this knowledge is very old indeed—that it was probably old when the Egyptians built their first temples. One of the most exciting things in the world is to discover that latest findings in psychology, in structural linguistics, in split-brain physiology, blend smoothly into the pattern of the earliest recorded human knowledge. It is this insight that pervades this remarkable book on metaphysics, and which makes it, to me, the most personal and moving of all Regardie's writings and makes him to me the most interesting writer on magic, philosophy and mysticism of the twentieth century.