||Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) - PSEUDONYMS: Khaled Khan, Frater Perdurabo, H.D. Carr, "A Gentleman of the University of Cambridge"|
English writer and occult figure, popularly known as "the Great Beast" or by the media "The Wickedest Man in the World" because of his fascination to sex magic and degradation, drug-taking and hedonism. Crowley's famous motto was "Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law". In 1934 Crowley took objection to remarks about him and brought a suit for defamation of character, which he lost. The presiding judge stated in his summation: "I have learned in this case that we can always learn something more if we live long enough I have never heard of such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man who describes himself to you as the greatest living poet."
"... Worship me with fire and blood; worship me with swords and with spears..." (from The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley, 1938)
Aleister Crowley was born Edward Alexander Crowley in Leamington, Warwickshire. "Alick", as he was called, later changed Edward to Aleister to avoid sharing the same first name with his father. In his autobiography Crowley claimed he was "remarkable from the moment of his birth. He bore on his body the three most important distinguishing marks of a Buddha. He was tongue-tied, and on the second day of his incarnation a surgeon cut the fraenum linguae. He had also the characteristic membrane, which necessitated an operation for phimosis three lustres later. Lastly, he had upon the centre of his heart four hairs curling from left to right in the exact form of a Swastika." (from The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, 1929-30)
Crowley's parents belonged to a strict Puritan sect known as
the Plymouth Brethren. "Crowley's problem, of course, was
that he was born in the midst of the Victorian age, into a family of
Plymouth Brothers who regarded sex as horribly sinful," Colin Wilson, one of Crowley's biographers, said.
"He spent the rest of his life violently reacting against
this view, and preaching – and practicing – the gospel of total sexual
freedom." ('Foreword' by Colin Wilson, in The Illustrated Beast: The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook by Sandy Robertson, 2002, p. 7) This Protestant group had its origin in Ireland. They
Christmas as a pagan rite, believed that the Pope is Anti-Christ, and
that the rituals of the Church of England are essentially hellish in
Emily Bertha (née Bishop), Crowley's mother, was more dogmatic than his
father Edward and completely lacked a sense of humor. She did not allow her son to read books on the
Sabbath; Charles Dickens' David Copperfield
a totally forbidden book but R.M. Ballantyne's adventure stories
and some of Walter Scott's novels were approved by her. Moreover, she
forced him to spend his holidays in the company of her brother, a
Plymouth Brethren fanatic, whom
Crowley said of having "the meanness and cruelty of an eunuch".
Crowley's childhood hero was his father, a forceful personality and
eloquent preacher, who published pamphlets on the resurrection. For a
time, he was also a teetotaler.
Perhaps due to a reversed Oedipus
complex, Crowley developed an intense dislike of his mother. He once
described her as a "brainless bigot of
the most narrow, logical and inhuman type" but two nights before she
died in 1917 he wrote, "I had often dreamed that my mother had died,
but never with that helpless lonely feeling."
His first cat Crowley killed at the age of 11, and much
rumours linked him with infanticide and cannibalism. But above all,
Crowley discovered the pleasures of masturbation, which horrified his
uncle. At sixteen, he was sent to Malvern public school in
Worcestershire, where "snitching" on other students made him so
unpopular, that he was transferred to Tonbridge in Kent, where he
caught gonorrhea from a prostitute. For a period he attended Easbourne
College and developed a lifelong interest in chess. However, mountain
climbing became his passion. He joined the Scottish Mountaineering Club
and between 1984 and 1898 he made several trips to the Alps. In the
British climbing community he was deemed "a fine climber, if an
Crowley died of tongue cancer in 1887. Liberating himself for good
from his religious upbringing, Crowley abandoned all aspects of
Christianity. As a result, according
to Crowley, his mother called him "The Beast 666,"
referring to the last book of the New Testament. He gladly accepted
identification and claimed that his advent had been prophesied in the
biblical book of Revelation (13:6): "And he opened his mouth for
blasphemies against God."
At the age of
legacy, a significant amount of money, which he squandered on
luxurious, extravagant way of life, self-publishing, and decadent
amusements. He once joked that women, like the milk, should be
deposited daily at the door. Throughout his life, he was addicted to
cocaine and heroin. If Crowley had been normal person, the inheritance
could have provided him a financially secure life of leisure. However,
most of the fortune was gone by the beginning of WWI.
Crowley studied for three years at Trinity
College at Cambridge, devoting his time to
drinking, sex, and writing poetry. He never acquired a degree. In
October 1897, Crowley met Herbert Jerome Pollitt, who performed as
Roygy, and fell in love with him. Crowley described their relationship
as "that ideal intimacy which the Greeks considered the greatest glory
of manhood and the most precious prize of life." (The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern by Alex Owen, 2004, p. 189-190) The affair lasted only a few months.
Feeling lonely and sad, Crowley poured his heart out to his notebook
and later immortalized Pollitt in The
Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist (1910). This privately printed collections of poems, which showed influences from Richard Burton's translation of The Perfumed Garden, glorified homosexual love.
In 1898, Crowley joined The Hermetic order of the Golden
Dawn, which had also poet W.B. Yeats as
its member. Other illustrious names included Algernon Blackwood, the
creator of the occult detective John Silence, and Arthur Machen. Its
ceremonies were strongly influenced by cabalism and spiritualism.
Crowley was initiated into the Order as Frater Perdurabo ("I will
During the next few years Crowley became a member of the group's inner conclave, but after quarrels of the control of the group, he was expelled from it. He founded his own less prominent order, the A A or Argentium Astrum. The Golden Dawn, which was a white magical order, became divided and never regained its formed popularity. Crowley accused later that Yeats had used black magic against him, but he managed to defeat the spell. There was one side effect – Crowley lost his mistress Althea Gyles to Leonard Smithers, a publisher, who was specialized in pornography.
Oh cabbage-heads soaked in rum!
Crowley claimed to have experienced in 1904 a vision in Egypt, prophesying a new era for humanity. Next year he joined a group trying to climb Kangchenjunga (Himalaya), but the attempt ended disastrously. Crowley also visited Canada and America. During these travels his daughter died of typhus in Rangoon. Energetically he established "black magic temples" in Italy and England, and wrote numerous books. Crowley's early works include many volumes of poetry and books with mythological or mystical themes, among them Songs of the Spirit (1898), Aceldama (1989), The Soul of Osiris (1901), Tannhäuser (1902), The God-Eater (1903), Oracles (1905).
Fascinated by Crowley's extravagant personality, the author W. Somerset Maugham portrayed him in the novel The Magician
(1908). Crowley had married
in 1903 Rose Kelly, who was the sister of Maugham's friend, the painter
Gerald Kelly. In spite of being married, Crowley had still a ring of
mistresses. When Maugham first met Crowley in Paris in a restaurant
called Le Chat Blanc, he took an immediate dislike of him, but "he was
a great talker and he talked uncommonly well. In early youth, I was
told, he was extremely handsome, but when I knew him he had put on
weight, and his hair was thinning. He had fine eyes and a way, whether
natural or acquired I do not know, of so focusing them that, when he
looked at you, he seemed to look behind you. He was a fake, but not
entirely a fake." (Prophet of Evil: Aleister Crowley, 9/11 and the New World Order by William Ramsey, 2012, pp. 51-52)
In the book, Crowley served as the model for the charismatic but
repulsive Englishman named Oliver Haddo, a practicer of dark arts and
Satanism, who schemes to sacrifice his young wife in a ritual to create
new life. After reading the novel, Crowley wrote – under the pen name "Oliver Haddo" – for Vanity Fair a review, in which he accused Maugham of plagiarism.
After divorcing in 1909 from Rose, who suffered from alcoholism, Crowley started a relationship with the poet Victor Neuberg. In 1912 he joined the Ordo Templi Orientis – the Order of Eastern Templars, usually referred as O.T.O. First he had been contacted by its German leader, who believed that he had revealed its secret sex rituals. Crowley served as the head of its British section, and took the name Baphomet, an anti-Christian deity. In 1913 he began his first serious experiments in sexual magic, which arose his interest in the use of homosexual acts as magical methods. The sexual magic of the Ordo Templi Orientis was introduced into North America by Crowley's disciple C.S. Jones. A number of the members of O.T.O. have been Crowleyan.
From 1915 to 1919 Crowley lived in the United States. Originally he
went there to sell part of his collection of books. This "American
period" marked a new turn in Crowley life: he had to get used to living
without the luxuries which he once had taken for granted. The novel Moonchild, which he wrote in these years, was not published until 1929. In
Vancouver he practiced some sexual magic with Alice Richardson, the
wife of the philosopher and art critic Ananda K. Coomaraswamy. Crowley
called Alice the "Monkey-Officer".
A new woman in Crowley's life, Leah Hirsig, a schoolteacher, bore him a child, Poupée; her death was a deep blow to him. There is evidence, that Crowley served in America as a British spy, gathering information on the German intelligence network and on Irish Republican activity. To create contacts with pro-German circles, he began to publish anti-British propaganda in the newspaper The Fatherland, edited by George Sylvester Viereck. Later he said: "I knew that the only way I could combat the influence of German propaganda in the States was to identify myself with it in every way, and by making it abhorrent to any sane being, gradually get the minds of the Amrican public to react against its insidious appeal." (Aleister Crowley: the Biography: Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master and Spy by Tobias Churton, 2011, p. 193)
While visiting France, he was an occasional resident of the Hôtel de Blois. In the 1920s Crowley moved to a hillside villa in Sicily. He hoped the Cefalu villa "Abbaye de Theleme" would be a world centre for the study of the occult and sexual magic. Many of the expatriates, among them the modernist writer Mary Butts, found Crowley amusing and visited him at Cefalu. Although Crowley called her a "large, white, red-haired maggot," he acknowledged her assistance in the completion of his work on Magick. From Leah Hirsig he found an ideal partner and called her vagina as "the Hirsig patent vacuum-pump". Once a he-goat was induced to copulate with her. By his followers, he was consecrated a god in 1921.
Crowley mixed blood and sex in rituals to obtain energy and achieve mystical insight. These activities made news in England. The London Sunday Express reported that "the facts are too unutterably filthy to be detailed in a newspaper, for they have to do with sexual orgies that touch the lowest depths of depravity." Rumors were spread that one of his disciples, a 23-year-old Oxford undergraduate Raoul Loveday, died from drinking the blood of a cat in a Thelemic ritual. The cause of his death was actually enteric fewer, contracted by drinking water from a stream. Nevertheless, Crowley was expelled from Sicily by Mussolini or the Italian authorities. The dead man's wife, Betty May, informed on Crowley's degraded activities, and the English papers were full of stories of his scandalous activities, ritual sacrifices etc. "It did not help his case," the Tribune reported, "that he is alleged to have been a spy for Germany in the United States during the war."
In 1929 Crowley married his second wife, Maria Ferrari de Miramar, and earned his living mostly by publishing obscure writings. The following years were shadowed by poor health, drug addiction, and desperation for money. He had a talisman, called Segelah, which was intended "for finding a great treasure." Segelah was smeared with dried semen and menstrual blood. When British printers refused to touch his works, he had them produced in Paris, like many other writers such as James Joyce. Soon Crowley was also deported from France. He had started very early to experiment with psychedelic drugs to find a substance which would "unlock the girders of the soul". During WWII, Ian Fleming suggested employing Crowley as an interrogator of the Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, who landed unexpectedly in 1941 in Scotland and was fascinated by the occult.
Following the expelling Wilfred Smith in 1942 from the Agape Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), Crowley appointed Jack Parsons, a rocket propulsion researcher, as its new head. Parsons's wife Helen Northrup left with Smith, but Helen's half-sister Sarah Elizabeth Northrup (aka 'Betty'), a beautiful young blond, began a relationship with Parsons. In the middle of the so-called Babalon Working, intended to sire a Moonchild described in Crowley's book from 1929, Parsons chose to carry out this sexual ritual with the read head occult artist Marjorie Cameron; her magick partner was also L. Ron Hubbard, the future founder of Scientology. The ritals went on for several days. With Sarah and Hubbard, Parsons later in 1946 founded a boat dealing company named Allied Enterprises. However, Hubbard defrauded him of his money, stole his boat, and ran off with Sarah.
Crowley himself eventually ended in a boarding house in Hastings, addicted to heroin and alcohol. His final act was to curse the doctor who refused to give him more heroin. He died on December 1, 1947, and was cremated in Brighton. Parts of the Mass of the 'Gnostic Catholic Church' were read aloud at his funeral. (According to some rumors the doctor died within twenty-four hours after the magician.) Crowley's ashes were sent to followers in the United States.
As a writer Crowley was prolific. His novels, The Diary of
a Drug Friend (1922) and Moonchild, were partly based on
his personal life and egomaniac hallucinations. Moonchild was a
roman à clef,
in which two societies of rival magicians quarrel over an experiment to
incarnate a supernatural being. H. Spencer Lewis, the founder of the
Rosicrucian organization known as AMORC, was portrayed as Butcher,
who wants to make money with magic. W.B. Yeats was Gates, a "cadaverous
Protestant-Irishman," with "now and then a flash of insight which came
close to genius," but whose "teeth were neglected; and he had a habit
of physical dirt which was so obvious as to be repulsive even to a
stranger." When The Diary of
a Drug Friend was published the Sunday Express accused Crowley of promoting the use of drugs.
Among Crowley's famous occult writings are The
Book of Lies (1913), Magick in Theory and Practice (1929),
and The Book of the Law (1938). In The Book of Lies,
a collection of poetic aphorisms and paradoxes, he wrote: "To beget is
to die; tie die is to beget. / Cast the Seed into the Field of Night. /
Life and Death are two names of A. Kill thyself." The 1976 Dover edition of Magick in Theory and Practice
was a bestseller, and in 1990 an editor asked Martin Gardner, a
mathematics and science writer, to provide a foreword for the
reprinting. Gardner's portrayal of the black magician turned out to be
so negative that Dover shelved plans to reprint the work. (The Sceptic's Dictionary by Robert Todd Carroll, 2003, p. 90) The text, 'Aleister Crowley, the Beast 666,' was later published in Gardner's On the Wild Side (1992). After Crowley's death several unpublished writings have been
released, including The Confessions of Aleister Crowley,
his highly subjective and exaggerated self-portait.
Most of all, Crowley tried to achieve the supremacy in the occult world, not only based on the knowledge of magic (or 'magick' as he preferred to call it), but also in personal revelations. "Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in Conformity with Will," Crowley stated. The final 'k' in his unusual spelling had a dual significance: it distinguished his system from other varieties of occult magic and referred to the Greek word kteis – it had come to mean in the ancient times the female organs in their entirety – labia, clitoris, vagina and uterus.
Crucial was his vision in Egypt in 1904, when according to Crowley's own account, his spiritual alter ego Aiwass or Aiwaz dictated the what became known as The Book of the Law, actually a poem in three short chapters. Eventually he believed that this being was his "Holy Guardian Angel" and should be identified with the Christian Devil, Satan. "... To worship me take wine and strange drugs... and be drunk thereof! They shall not harm ye at all... Be strong, O man! Lust, enjoy all things of sense ands rapture; fear not that God shall deny thee for this." (from The Book of the Law) Crowley claimed that mankind has lived through two great aeons: that of Isis, the prehistoric age of the dominance of Woman, and that of Osiris, the age of the dominance of the male principle and of the great religions. The present aeon was the commencement of that of Horus and self-will. The third age would be a New Age of Youth, based on union of female and male energies. Thus sex was central to Crowley's magical practice, both in heterosexual and homosexual forms.
Crowley claimed to be reincarnation of the French occultist
Eliphas Lévi. One of Crowley's most notorious projects – a conjuration
of Pan employing his Oscar Wilde -style 'Hymn to Pan' – was lifted from
Edgar Jepson's thriller No. 19 (1910). According to Kenneth
Grant, his magical theories correspond very closely with the schema of H.P. Lovecraft's
Cthulhu mythos. Crowley's present day admirers see him as a white
magician, but Crowley himself was not so sure about it. In the 1920s he
wrote in his diary: "I may be a black magician but I'm bloody great
one." The writer Dennis Wheatley once told how Crowley was closed in a
private asylum outside Paris, but this story was not true. The Led
Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant purchased in 1970 Crowley's old Boleskin
House near Loch Ness. "Strange things happened in that house that had
nothing to do with Crowley," he later said. "The bad vibes were already
there." (Tarnished Gold: The Record Industry Revisted by R. Serge Denisoff, 1997, p. 415)
Eliphas Lévi (1810-75, original name Alphonse-Louis Constant) a Paris shoemaker's son, expelled from the church for heresy, who worked as a journalist. Lévi was a key figure in the occult revival of the 19th-century. He wrote widely on Qabalah and Tarot. Among his works are Dogma and Ritual of High Magic (1856) and The History of Magic. "... the Magus should not eat with those who he does not esteem, and must live in the most uniform and methodical manner. He should have the most exalted self-respect an should consider himself a dethroned sovereign, who consents to existence that he may recover his crown. Being amiable and well-behaved towards anyone, he should never permit himself to be absorbed in social relations and should withdraw from circles where he does not possess some initiative." (from The Mysteries of Magic by Alphonse Constant, 1886) - See also: Umberto Eco and Foucault's Pendulum, Arthur Conan Doyle, whose interest in magic was far from the rational thinking of his best-known fictional character, Sherlock Holmes. Besides Maugham's novel The Magician, Crowley can also be found from James Blish's Black Easter, Dennis Wheatley's The Devil Rides Out, Colin Wilson's Man Without a Shadow, H.R. Wakefield's He Cometh And He Passeth By, and Dion Fortune's Winged Bull, which portrayed Crowley as a villain. Note 1: The American avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger supported Aleister Crowley's occult theories and in 1955 he went to Cefalù to make a documentary on Crowley's Abbey. Anger's most famous film is Scorpio Rising (1964). Much of Anger's works have been done in Europe, mainly in France, but abandoned during production and never exhibited. Among his other films are Fireworks (1947), Invocation of my Demon Brother (1969), Rabbit's Moon (1971), Lucifer Rising (1973, rev. edition 1980). Books: Hollywood Babylon (first published in France in 1958), Hollywood Babylon II (1984). Note 2: After the rock star Jimmy Page started to collect Crowley's first editions they have became hard to obtain. Also other rock musicians starting from The Rolling Stones and The Beatles to David Bowie have been interested in Crowley. The Beatles included him on the sleeve of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. For further reading: Magic of My Youth by A. Calder-Marshall (1951); Aleister Crowley by C.R. Cammell (1951, rev. ed. 1969); The Great Beast by J. Symonds (1952); The Romantic Agony by M. Praz (1956); Magic Aleister Crowley by J. Symonds (1958); Aleister Crowley: A Memoir of 666 by A. Burnett-Rae (1971); Sexuality, Magic and Perversion by Francis King (1971); The Legend of Aleister Crowley by P.R. Stephenson (1983); Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast by Colin Wilson (1987); The Legacy of the Beast by J. Symonds (1988); The King of the Shadow Realm by J. Symonds (1988); The Illustrated Beast: The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook by Sandy Robertson (1988); Remembering Aleister Crowley by Kenneth Grant (1991); Aleister Crowley: the Beast Demystified by Roger Hutchinson (1998); Do What Thou Wilt: a Life of Aleister Crowley by Lawrence Sutin (2000); Perdurabo: the Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski (rev. and expamded ed., 2010); Aleister Crowley: the Biography: Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master and Spy by Tobias Churton (2011); Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, edited and introduced by Henrik Bogdan and Martin P. Starr (2012); Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law by Don Webb (2013); Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin: Art, Sex, and Magick in the Weimar Republic by Tobias Churton (2014); Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics by Marco Pasi (2014); Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World by Gary Lachman (2014); Aleister Crowley in America: Art, Espionage, and Sex Magick in the New World by Tobias Churton (2017); Thelema: An Introduction to the Life, Work & Philosophy of Aleister Crowley by Colin D. Campbell (2018); 'Aleister Crowley,' in Magian mestarit ja heidän loitsunsa by Harri Lapinoja (2018). - Suomennoksia: Crowleylta on myös suomennettu Uuden aikakauden profeetta: Aleister Crowleyn koottuja kirjoituksia, toimittanut ja osittain kääntänyt M.A. Meretvuo; käännöksen osittain tarkastanut Antti Pekka Balk (2017)