I am so happy that some of the people around at the 'beginning' of the modern pagan/occult movement have begun writing about what they saw and did! Not all of the writing is good, but it is always interesting. Center of the Fire is an intriguing and insightful tale of the author's experiences and the cultural scene that engulfed New York City, and for a time, much of the world. Wasserman's tale is one of searing honesty -- there are a lot of drugs, sex, (rock & roll) and nasty politics. He writes with honesty and in revealing his flaws, provides an example of how we too can search for truth and achieve a deeper spirituality.
I'm not a Thelemic scholar, not have I ever done more than briefly peruse the ideas behind the OTO, but I am fascinated by the idea of passing on a legacy in the form of spiritual and intellectual property. One of the 'fires' Wasserman was in the center of was the Crowley copyrights case. In fact, Marcello Motta, the principal contender for the Crowley legacy, was Wasserman's first Instructor in A.: A:.. The reader is given a well-documented account of the issues, arguments, debates, and court rulings of the Crowley copyright.
Many spiritual traditions do not survive the loss of their founders. If they do they rarely thrive, becoming a pale shadow of their former strength. In the Center of the Fire begins when Crowley is dead and the current leader is a very quiet, unambitious man. So much so that apparently no one even noticed anything was awry for years after he too died. Wasserman chronicles the O.T.O.'s survival and subsequent transformation into the thriving, stable, international magickal organization that it is today.
Alongside the story of the O.T.O. is an honest account of the author’s alcoholism and drug addiction. Today's Pagans view recreational drugs as verboten, but that was not always the case, and Wasserman's straightforward narrative regarding drug use in the counter-culture and among alternative spiritual communities is unapologetic in its description of both the highs and lows.
Wasserman’s frankness and writing skill make this an excellent book. I hope that more of our 'elders' are inspired to share their memories, their stories, and do such with such humility, grace, and panache. This is a MUST for your bookshelf.
~review by Lisa Mc Sherry
Author: James Wasserman
Ibis Press, 2012