Many years ago there were two bookstores in Hollywood that I would frequent. One, just east of Cahuenga on Hollywood Blvd, was Gilbert’s Books. This was a full bookstore that offered both new and used books. It also had a large selection of occult books, some of which were quite unusual and rare. I’ve heard that Israel Regardie used to quietly hang out there, listening amusedly to what some self-styled experts would say concerning those occult books.
When going book shopping in Hollywood, I’d hit Gilbert’s first. It was a slightly further trip than to the second store, but its prices on rare and used books were more reasonable. The second store, Cherokee Books, was also on Hollywood Blvd. near Cherokee Blvd. It was much smaller than Gilbert’s but often had even more unusual books than Gilbert’s. For example, I remember them selling a large collection of books from the personal library of Aleister Crowley’s student (and, for a time, his Magickal Childe), Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones). Some could only be seen by making a reservation with the shop’s owner.
Both stores no longer exist.
The reason I mention this is because of an experience I had at Cherokee. While looking through the occult section I came across a small book entitled The Secrets of the Kaula Circle by Elizabeth Sharpe. “What,” I wondered, “was this little book with the strange name all about?”
I thumbed through the book and discovered that part of it described, in unflattering terms, what was clearly a first-person description of what took place during her attendance at one of Crowley’s sexually-oriented rituals, perhaps several! I realized this was extremely unusual and valuable. So did the person who put a price on the volume. I had already purchased several books and couldn’t afford it. I left the book on the shelf.
When I returned a few weeks later with enough to buy the book, it had been sold.
Over the years, I occasionally looked for this book. It was impossible to find. The story is that Sharpe was a Western woman who supposedly married a Tibetan Lama. The Lama was a member of a secret Tantric magickal group known as the Kaula Circle. Is the story true? Well, she described her book as “A tale of fictitious people faithfully recounting strange rites still practiced by this cult.” Another person referred to this as a “factional” story.
She definitely lived in India and was the private secretary to the Maharani of Limbdi (in the state of Gujarat on the west coast of India). She wrote several articles that were published in The New York World newspaper. At the time this was one of the most important papers anywhere. It was owned by Joseph Pulitzer, was the first paper to include a color supplement, and hired Nellie Bly as one of the first women investigative reporters. It published the first crossword puzzle in a newspaper, and supposedly, professional baseball’s World Series was named for the paper. She wrote for The Illustrated Weekly of India and published several books about India including The India that is India (1934) and the book that is the focus of this post.
In the back of this book is a section called “The Science of Breath” (not to be confused with the book of the same name by Yogi Ramacharaka, a pseudonym of William Walker Atkinson). It claims to be an old manuscript of “hata” yoga. While “hata” is the correct pronunciation of “hatha” yoga, you will find none of the physical poses here. Instead, there’s information on breathwork and astrology, both of which being a more inner aspect of what is commonly just called “yoga.”
Although the main story in this book also briefly describes some of the ideas presented in this final section, it is clear that the author is describing, in not so secret terms, the power of Vama Marg Tantric rituals: that is, actual sexual rituals leading to personal power.
As mentioned above, she clearly describes Crowley. “He called himself by a number. In the beginning he was extremely handsome, afterwards he grew gross…
“He learnt many magical processes by which he drew into his circle great phantoms…”
“[This man’s] number was 666…”
“666 wore a ceremonial robe, had a pentacle, a wand, a sword and a cup. I watched him from my corner solemnly cleansing the altar with water shaken in drops from a blade of grass; and heard him chant Sanscrit [sic] mantras; whilst Tibetan acolytes waved censors [sic] of incense…I watched that day the spirits he evoked…They came first in smoky vapour, emanation of the impurity that comes from desire, and surrounded him like a smoke cloud…”
In carefully chosen words Sharpe describes sex magick and Tantric sexual practices. She also describes Crowley’s work as a negative comparison to the Tantra she apparently loves. Obviously, this is a highly personal view and your interpretation may vary.
I eventually found a copy through a university library and borrowed it via interlibrary loan. I made a photocopy of the long out-of-print work. I think it’s valuable both with information and as history.
Recently, while reading some information on the internet about Vere Chappell‘s excellent books on the amazing sexual mystic Ida Craddock, I saw a mention of Sharp’s book that included a link. Selecting it, I discovered that a Spanish publisher of rare books, Biblioteca EsotÃ©rica Herrou AragÃ³n, was making available a print-on-demand facsimile copy of the original 1936 English edition. The paperback is just under 100 pages, and well worth the price.
Technology is making rare information available to all.