The Old Sod

Alan Richardson & Marcus Claridge

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The Odd Life and Inner Work of William G. Gray.

“OK so I’m an old sod, an old bastard, a thousand different kinds of shit if you like, but I am a human being who loved the esoteric Tradition I tried to serve… Perhaps I didn’t do very well with what I’d got but I did my best…”

William G. Gray was a real magician, a kind of primeval spirit who worked his magic as an extension of the Life Force, not as a sop to ego. He reeked of psychism like he often reeked of incense, could give you the uncomfortable feeling that he could see right through you and beyond, and had been to places in spirit that we could scarcely imagine. Many of the books on magic and the Qabalah which appear today owe a huge if unrecognised debt to his pioneering writing. If there is anything evolutionary about the current urge to work with harmonic energies within the Earth and ourselves – whether through green eco-movements, the Celtic Revival or the Wiccan arts  – then it is due in no small degree to the work that was done by an old bastard who lived near the bus station in a town in Gloucestershire.

Bill Gray met and worked with many of the most important figures in the British esoteric scene. His boyhood meetings with Dion Fortune and Aleister Crowley are described here in his own words, along with his personal recollections of working magic with Pat Crowther, Doreen Valiente, Ronald Heaver, Robert Cochrane and many others. This lively, entertaining and authoritative biography tells the story of how a difficult, psychic child grew into a powerful adept who was equally at home in Hermetic and Craft traditions, and who challenged established assumptions within paganism and Qabalah alike and revitalised them from within – often falling out with those he worked with but maintaining their affection and respect. Generously illustrated with photographs, many never published before, the book also includes contributions by R.J. Stewart, Gareth Knight, Evan John Jones, Marcia Pickands and Jacobus Swart, plus, of course, W.G. Gray himself.

"The late William G. Gray was one of the great pioneering writers on ritual magic and Qabalah, and he was also an irascible old sod with a devilish sense of humour. However he also had a very interesting life, and this biography by two people who knew him extremely well is a fantastic read. It includes lots of anecdotes about his work as a ritual magician (at a time when it was not only socially unacceptable, but risked falling foul of the Witchcraft Act) and collaboration with a dazzling array of important figures in the world of magic, from Dion Fortune to Doreen Valiente. The book covers his entire lifetime, from the influence of his glamorous astrologer mother, his training by a mysterious Rosicrucian adept known as ENH, and his ever practical wife Bobbie ("why does it have to be in Hebrew? Why can't you use bloody English?") As fascinating as the factual content of the book is, the best bits are in William G. Gray's own words, as there are extensive quotes from his unpublished (unpublishable?) autobiography and personal letters, in which his witty sarcasm makes for a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. One particularly memorable example is his description of Gerald Gardner "prancing around with elk-horns from a coat-rack tied on his head while the girls tickle his tool with a pink feather duster." The book is affectionate, thorough and sometimes irreverent but always immensely entertaining and a fascinating glimpse into the world of a 20th century occultist." — Sulis Manoeuvre

  • ISBN: 978-1-908011-12-1
  • 206 pages
  • cover photo from the original Rollright Ritual, 1975
  • perfect-bound paperback: 229mm x 152mm
  • black and white text, with photographs
  • published 31st January 2011