November 17, 1907, is the birthdate of Israel Regardie, practitioner and explainer of the occult, who early in his career served as personal secretary to the charismatic and outrageous British “Master of Darkness” Aleister Crowley, and later wrote some of the more well-known books about the contemporary practice of magic.
Francis Israel Regudy was born in London to parents who both had immigrated from Zhitomir, in Ukraine. His father, Barnet Regudy, was a cigarette maker; his mother was the former Phoebe Perry. The entire family changed their name to Regardie after Israel’s older brother was registered under that name when he enlisted in the British army during World War I.
In August 1921 the family moved from the U.K. to the United States, where they settled in Washington, D.C. Israel attended art school in Washington and also in Philadelphia.
When he was 16, Regardie would tell an interviewer, he was introduced to the world of the occult by his sister, who “brought home some of her cultish books on diet and health. I saw the name Blavatsky in one of these books,” he explained, “and that did the trick.”
Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891) was the Russian-born spiritualist who founded theosophy, a combination of Western and Eastern philosophies that attempted to penetrate the secrets of the universe and offer its followers enlightenment.
Regardie, who, despite what one might expect from someone involved with secret and mysterious arts, remained open and approachable throughout his life, was forever grateful for his encounter with Blavatsky’s writings. “Here I am,” he told Christopher Hyatt, “originally a little Jewish non-entity who somehow, with a stroke of good luck, got into things he could never have dreamed of – never. And without any education. I had one semester of high school, and then went to school at night.”
Taking advantage of his proximity to the Library of Congress in Washington, Regardie began schooling himself in theosophy, Hindu philosophy and kabbala, for which he studied Hebrew. Around 1927 he read “The Book of the Law” by Aleister Crowley, the poet, painter, mountaineer, alleged British spy and sexual experimenter, who founded a religion he called Thelema. The main dictum of “The Book of the Law” was “do what thou wilt,” which might explain some of Crowley’s notoriety.
Regardie wrote to Crowley, who invited him to join him in Paris and serve as his secretary. For the next four years, Regardie did just that, and during this period wrote not only “The Legend of Aleister Crowley” (together with P.R. Stephenson), but also the popular books “A Garden of Pomegranates,” about Jewish mysticism, and “The Tree of Life,” a primer on magic.
During this period, Regardie joined Stella Matutina, a successor movement to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of the important occult groups of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Fearing that these two movements were in danger of dying out and their teachings being lost to humanity, Regardie decided in 1937 to publish a book outlining those teachings. This earned him the long-term enmity of many followers, who felt he had betrayed his commitment to keep the principles and rituals of the Golden Dawn secret.
However, he explained to Hyatt in 1985, just before his death, that he had done so because he had reason to anticipate a “major calamity” in the coming decades, during which “Western civilization as we know it [would be] destroyed in the Northern hemisphere.” By recording the secret ways of the Golden Dawn, he believed, “this form of occult knowledge [of] being ‘brought to the Light’ would endure for another thousand years or so.”
Regardie had returned to the United States in 1934 after a falling-out with Crowley. There he entered chiropractic school and also undertook the study of an eclectic mix of psychological theories. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, during which time he added Christian mysticism to his body of knowledge.
After his discharge Regardie moved to California – where else? – and opened a practice as a chiropractor and Reichian therapist. He retired in 1974 and moved to Sedona, Arizona, where he died while having dinner with friends on March 10, 1985.