12 July 1984
P. O. Box 1169
Berkeley CA 94701
RAIDERS OF THE LOST BASEMENT
When you buy a house, proverbially there is trash in the
basement. Our house was no exception. The former owner had been due
to come through and take it all away, but she had had to go out of
town and delayed the cleanout until after Deb and I had moved in. On
moving day, after the 15 foot truck had gotten unloaded in 45
minutes, I decided to look and see if there was anything of interest
in the trash.
Old mattresses. Old wood scrap -- well, we can burn that in
Larry's fireplace. Old high school textbooks -- ξοβοδω wants those.
A couple of boxes of old letters and junk ... might as well look
through that. A newspaper clipping from the 20s about Aleister
Crowley? A carbon of something called AMRITA which appears to be an
O.T.O. ritual for eternal youth? These boxes are worth looking at
For those of you who led a sheltered childhood and did not
dabble in the occult, a little background. Aleister Crowley was an
infamous hedonist and the best-known magician of the early part of
this century. He controlled several organizations at various times,
probably the best known of which was the Ordo Templi Orientis, or the
Order of Oriental Templars, known generally as the O.T.O. He is the
author of many odd books including an autohagiography, and took for
himself the appellation of '666', referring to the Beast from the
Book of Revelations. He died in 1947. The O.T.O. is still around,
and recently won a lawsuit against Peter Straub for misrepresenting
them in one of his books.
I figured we might find a few letters from Crowley in the
boxes: those would be of interest to almost any student of the
occult, and I certainly wouldn't mind having one. They'd also be
fairly valuable. So I hauled the boxes upstairs, and over the next
few days I dug through them.
What I'd found were two boxes of papers relating to Karl and
Sascha Germer. I'd never heard of them, but I soon discovered that
Karl was Crowley's literary executor and the head of the O.T.O. after
Crowley's death. There were letters from Crowley indeed; about half
a dozen of them. More interesting were the dozens of file folders
containing flimsy carbons of letters documenting a batch of rifts in
the O.T.O., feuds which sound so much like AH, SWEET IDIOCY that
it isn't funny. And most odd was what appeared to be three rituals
in a strange handwriting, covering 65 sheets of paper.
The writing didn't look like the writing on the letters from
Crowley. The envelope they were in (which was mosly disintegrated)
had been mailed from England in 1948. But I thought they might be in
the style of Crowley's automatic writing (writing guided by a spirit
hand, which often looks different from a person's normal writing),
and that there might be some reason it had been sent in 1948. So I
started asking around to see if anyone knew what Crowley's automatic
writing looked like. One person told me that there were a bunch of
reproductions of it in the back of most editions of THE BOOK OF THE
LAW, also known as LIBER AL VEL LEGIS, or LIBER AL for short. I
decided that what I should do was copy the whole thing and look for a
copy of LIBER AL to compare it with. Before I could do this I had
lunch with a friend of mine, and decided to ask a workmate of hers,
Josh Gordon, about it.
I had known Josh was a member of the O.T.O. -- he'd mentioned
it a couple of times in the store. So I just dropped a copy of the
first six pages on his desk, and said "Do you know what that is?"
"Sure, it's a xerox of the manuscript edition of THE BOOK OF
"Gee, I have the original at home."
"The ... original?
"How much do you want for it? Oh Jesus, who can I tell? Do
you realize that I'm an O.T.O. member, and I'mboundbylawandbyoath..."
He rapidly became incoherent. I was able to figure out that the
O.T.O. had been looking for the original for more than 10 years; that
it had not been among Germer's papers when he died; that Josh really
felt that he had to tell the secretary of the Order that it had been
found; that it was stolen property; and that he was as freaked-out a
human being as I have ever seen. He called the secretary from his
office then and there, and without naming me told him that LIBER AL
had been found. We arranged that I would meet with the secretary
(Bill Heidrich) and Josh sometime after I had talked with Debbie and
Larry about what to do with this stuff. Josh also said "There are
people out there who would kill for that manuscript." I believed him.
So what do you do when you have a problem and need advice?
You call your friends who know something about the subject. Now, we
knew that Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Alan Bostick were knowledgeable
about Crowley. So we called them that evening. After each had
picked himself off his respective floor, they produced a lot of
information that was rather helpful. Patrick produced the
information that the book had supposedly been dictated to Crowley by
the angel Aiwass in Egypt in 1904. Patrick also said that the one
person connected with the O.T.O. that everyone respects is Israel
Regardie, Crowley's secretary for many years, who apparently manages
to avoid fighting with anyone. Alan confirmed this, and said that
finding that manuscript in one's basement was a bit like finding one
of the Dead Sea Scrolls. THE BOOK OF THE LAW was the cornerstone
book of Crowley's philosophy.
I was in a bit of a quandry at this point. It seemed to me
that the letters and manuscript really belonged to the O.T.O., or at
least that they had a strong moral claim to them. On the other hand,
this was one of the most spectacular rare book finds I had ever made.
I didn't want to just give it away to the first people who claimed it
In mild trepidation, Deb and I decided to go meet Heidrich.
We called Josh and arranged to meet at the store and drive over to
Heidrich's house. We told Larry where we were going and that if he
didn't hear from us by morning, he should take action. I packed up
the first third of the manuscript and some of the financial records,
and we headed off at about 9:00 PM.
It turned out that Bill lives in Marin County. We got there,
and told the story and pulled out the section of the manuscript.
Bill looked at it calmly, pulled out his copy of the printed
manuscript edition, and confirmed, by checking stains and so forth,
that it was the real thing; he then said, very calmly, "It is the
real manuscript. I am shitting a brick." Josh said, "Wouldn't it be
fun to tell everybody in the Order about this at once, and observe
their reactions?" Bill replied, "No, you can only watch so many
bricks get shat before they obscure the audience." We talked about
whether and when Bill should tell Grady McMurtry, the current Outer
Head (in effect, president) of the O.T.O. Grady is an occasional
customer of ours, and has heart trouble. They didn't want him to
know until we'd worked out the details of returning it.
Bill seemed reasonable to us, but we didn't want to give up
the manuscript without at least some checking with an outside
observer. So we asked if they would mind if we called Regardie and
asked his advice. Bill said, fine; but he's over 70 and lives in
Arizona, so we shouldn't call him this late at night; here's his
number. We parted, all somewhat shaken by the speed with which
things were going. Josh rode back with us, and we talked about
O.T.O. history all the way home.
The next morning I called Regardie. I introduced myself,
said Bill had suggested I call, and then said "I seem to have found
the original manuscript of THE BOOK OF THE LAW in my basement."
"Oh, then you're a very lucky fellow!"
"What do you think I should do with it?"
"Well, you could keep it, or you could sell it..."
"I was thinking of giving it back to the O.T.O."
"That would be a very nice thing to do!"
"Well, if I were to do that, who should I give it to?"
"Well, X is a raving lunatic, and heaven only knows what Y or
Z would do with it... Bill and Grady are really the only appropriate
people. But what I'd like to know is, how did the manuscript get
into your basement?"
"I'd like to know that myself. If I ever find out, I'll let
"This is indeed a great day in thelemic history."
He was a very nice man, and the first person who acted as if
he believed the thelemic doctrine, "Do what thou wilt shall be the
whole of the Law." Since this is the way all good Crowleyites start
their letters, and the most important tenet of Crowley's doctrine,
it's nice to know one of them believes it! (Actually, the "thou"
refers to the divine self rather than the temporal, so it's not that
easy, but I can't resist an occasional dig.) We exchanged a few more
pleasantries, and I rang off and called Josh. He came over and got
the manuscript, taking it to Bill who called Grady. It now rests in
a safe deposit box the location of which is known only to three
people, and I'm not one of them.
The rest is somewhat anti-climactic. The one lead we had as
to how the papers got into the basement turned out to be false; we
may never know. In among the papers we found the letters Crowley
sent making Germer his legate in the United States, the original
charter of the O.T.O. as given to Crowley in the 1920s, and various
letters from Gerald Yorke about the manuscript of LIBER AL. One of
the copies of AMRITA was annotated in Crowley's hand. There were
also a large number of the original copyright forms for Crowley's
books. The copyright papers and some of the letters from Crowley are
going to be instrumental in a lawsuit the O.T.O. is fighting over who
has the copyrights to Crowley's work. The repercussions of this in
the local magickal world are going to be fun to watch.
I got to keep one Crowley letter, and the O.T.O. is going to
give me some sort of a finder's fee and possibly some more money if
the materials are displayed or published. And I got a story I can
dine out on for a while. Estimates of the value of the manuscript
range from the naive guess of several people of $10,000 up to an
informed guess of $250,000+. With almost no Crowley manuscripts in
circulation and the key nature of this particular work, your guess is
probably as good as any.
But if I ever do find out how it got in the basement, I'll
let you know!