Edward Alexander Crowley (1875-1947) renown as Aleister Crowley was a predominate English occultist. He was a prolific writer, a self-proclaimed Antichrist, and messiah of the New Aeon.
Many theorize that Crowley’s radical but authentic nature stemmed from his early upbringing in the small but deeply puritanical sect of the Plymouth Brethren, which adhered to the most Fundamentalist Christianity and its members considered themselves the only true Christian faith. He was born in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England.
Biography of Aleister Crowley
His father Edward Crowley was a wealthy retired brewer and a strong preacher of the sect. His tactic was simple, to ask somebody what they were doing, after each response he continued by asking, «And then?» This continued until they approached the subject of death, then Crowley reminded the person that everyone died and what condition his soul should be in. Aleister Crowley loved and respected his father and years later wrote, «My father, as wronged-headed as he was, had humanity and a degree of common-sense.»
Inspired by his father’s faith inspired Crowley as a child to become a fervent little Plymouth Brother who studied the Bible eagerly. The prophetic passages in the Book of Revelation of the Beast 666 and the Scarlet Woman particularly fascinated him. He readily imagined himself a servant of God battling Satan and his hordes.
Although the celebration of Christmas was forbidden as a pagan festival, and life in the Crowley household was controlled by Biblical word, the child does not seem unhappy till after his father’s death. It is uncertain when his resentment toward his mother, Emily Bertha Bishop, first arose. Aleister Crowley later writes of his mother, «…her powerful maternal instincts were suppressed by religion to the point that she became, after her husband’s death, a brainless bigot of the most narrow, logical and inhuman type» Also, is seems that her son’s mischievous behavior had prompted her to call him «the Beast.» One quickly recognizes that even in childhood the satanic side of religion was influencing Crowley.
Also aiding and assisting this influence was, after his father’s death, his stay in his maternal uncle’s London home. Of Tom Bishop he wrote: «No more cruel fanatic, no meaner villain, ever walked the earth.» Bishop, being narrow minded, forbade the reading of David Copperfield because a certain character in the work was name Emily; and this might cause Crowley to disrespect his mother whose name was Emily too.
But his uncle’s tyranny compared mild to that of Reverend H. d’Arcy Champney who ran the sons of the Brethren in Cambridge. Aleister Crowley described his stay there «A Boyhood in Hell.» In short for punishment he was placed in solitaire, Coventry; neither student nor master could speak to him, or he to them; he got bread and water; in play hours he walked round and round the schoolroom, during work hours he was placed alone on the playground. This strain affected his kidneys and he had to leave school altogether for two years. His health deteriorated so that the doctors attending him feared he might die in his teens. Once his kidney disorder was found out the other boys bullied him unmercifully; his kidneys were regarded the most satisfactory parts of his anatomy to punch.
When his uncle and mother saw that his health was greatly deteriorating he was provided with a routine of having private tutors and attending a day school in nearby Streatham. This school provided two important developments within the youth’s life. First, from the other boys he learned of masturbation, the vice which obsessed Champney with fear that his students would discover and practice it. Of this young Crowley wrote: «Here was certainly a sin worth sinning and I applied myself with characteristic vigour to its practice.» The second development was his attempt to launch a schoolboy rocket, a large jar loaded with ingredients including two pounds of gunpowder, which shattered windows of nearby buildings. This same scientific interest made him kill a cat to see if it had nine lives.
Following a second break down of his health and having to leave Malvern he got private tutoring. Although thought to be a sickly wimp, Aleister Crowley was very intelligent for his age. He did well at all his studies, continuing to show a strong interest in the Natural Sciences. But perhaps his most important characteristic was his willing determination to conquer his bodily deficiencies. Later in life he gratefully remembered one tutor most of all, an Oxford man named Archibald Douglas, who introduced him to smoking, drinking, racing, billiards, betting, cards, and women.
Aleister Crowley wrote, «I immediately accepted his standpoint and began to behave like a normal, healthy human being. The nightmare of Christianity vanished at the dawn…For the first time in my life I was brought into contact with my fellow men and women. For the first time honest friendship, wholesome love, frank, gay and courageous, became possible and actual.»
Here is seen the beginning of the formation of Crowley’s character. Although not the initialization of his character, no this began before brought about by his love and respect for his father, his enthusiasm to follow his father in preaching, his growing resentment of his mother and uncle, the Christian cruelty inflicted upon him causing his Christian love to turn to hatred. No, these all were aspects or parts forming the composition of his character which Crowley now wished to direct because he felt given the freedom to do so. Religion, as it often does, confined him; knowledge set him free; and this freedom Crowley eventually would illustrate to others.
Then he took his next important step which was of rock climbing that improved both his body and self-confidence. Climbing the peaks of the Lake District gave him a greater sense of freedom than he had ever experienced. Soon he was fit enough to enter Tonbridge; although disliking the school, he was impossible to bully. But he had to leave again as he got the clap from a prostitute in Glasgow.
Aleister Crowley seemed to have displayed an early sexual appetite. His first experience seems to have been a theater girl in Torquay at sixteen. Shortly after, he seduced a maid in his mother’s bedroom as a symbolic affirmation of rebellion, manhood, and independence. He was increasingly rejecting the gloom, mediocrity, and intolerance of the Bishop home. He was moving toward the world and the pleasures of the senses and perceiving Jesus as the embodiment of the sin-complex and its attendant ills of oppression, meanness, cruelty and the passion to persecute.
He continued shocking the family with his defiant behavior. There was not anything his mother and uncle could do but observe. Soon he came into his inheritance, an amount between thirty and forty thousand pounds, worth at least ten times as much as its current value. Then in 1895 he entered Trinity College at Cambridge. There he discovered himself in a whole new world, and writes that he was part of the glories of the past and made a firm resolution to be one of the glories of the future. He passed the Special Examination in Chemistry without bothering to get a degree before leaving at Easter Term 1898. His undistinguished academic record does not tell the entire picture, the years there were most vital to his future development.
In college his general attitude was of haughty independence, and this he emphasized by changing his name. From studying he thought the most favorable for becoming famous consisted of a dactryl followed by a spondee such as «Anthony Bedser.» Since his middle name was Alexander, and its Gaelic form was Aleister, he became Aleister Crowley. He took his meals in his room, not mingling with undergraduates in the dining hall; made excuse not to attend obligatory chapel, and neglected attending lectures.
It appeared that he was not studious, but just the opposite was true. Realizing how shamefully ill-read he was he devoured everything important in the English language with extreme thoughtfulness. He also read French literature, as well as Greek and Latin classics. He bought books «literally by the ton» and felt it disgraceful to leave them unread. Books covered his walls to the ceiling and filled four revolving bookshelves. There were volumes on science, philosophy, and even alchemy. He wrote, «Nothing else seemed to me worthwhile but a thorough reading of the great minds of the past…It was very rare that I got to bed before daylight.»
It was in college that he self-published his first book of philosophical poetry entitled Aceldama, A Place to Bury Strangers In, and a volume of pornographic verse called White Stains. In the preface of a Philosophical Poem, By A Gentleman of Cambridge University he describes how God and Satan had fought for his soul: «God conquered-now I have only one doubt left-which of the twain was God?»
His interests turned to the occult after reading Arthur Edgar Waite’s Book of Black Magic and of Pacts. This work hinted of s secret brotherhood of adepts who taught occult wisdom to certain initiates. Being intrigued Crowley wrote to Waite and was referred to Carl von Eckartshausen’s The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary, which describes the Great White Brotherhood. Immediately Crowley is determined to join it and rise to its highest degree.
It was in London that Aleister Crowley met with Julian L. Baker who introduced him to someone whom the latter described as «much more of a Magician than I am.» This man he met was George Cecil Jones who resembled Jesus Christ and had a fiery temper. Jones told Crowley about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, formed about ten years earlier, and introduced him to Samuel Liddell Mathers, then calling himself MacGregor Mathers. Crowley joined on November 18, 1898 and was given the magical name of Perdurabo.
It was during this time Crowley rented his Chancery Lane flat which he also used as a temple. He shared the flat with Allan Bennett, a Buddhist and a Dawn member whom Crowley greatly respected. Bennett’s two essays A Note on Genesis and The Training of the Mind amply illustrated his intelligence. He tutored Crowley in applied Kabbalah and advanced ceremonial magic: the invocation of the Gods, the evocation of the spirits, and the consecration of talismans. Bennett unfortunately suffered from ill-health, especially asthma. He received relief only through using drugs which he experimented with. He was pretty convinced through experimentation that various drugs could be used to induce mind expansion, and with Crowley’s help he conducted scientific tests which eventually would lead to Aleister Crowley’s The Psychology of Hashish.
Crowley then took the Philosophus grade. Even though anxious to advance to the next degree he was required to wait seven months before doing so. During this time he studied and practiced The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage, easily the most impressive of the medieval grimoiries. The grimoirie when discovered by Mathers had a sinister reputation. In a solitary place for six months the Magician aspires with increase fervor and concentration to obtain the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel; if successful, the Magician knows his true purpose in the world (see Abra-Melin Operation). He then must evoke the Four Great Princes of the Evil of the World, their eight sub-princes, and the 316 servitors who will charge previously prepared talismans, which will enable the Magician to gratify his needs and desires. The grimoire immediately seemed to live up to its reputation for Crowley wrote, «The demons connected with Abra-Melin do not wait to be evoked; they come unsought.» Strange events began occurring. Once, for instance, Crowley and Jones «observed that semi-materialized beings were marching around the main room in almost unending procession.»
The deterioration of Bennett’s health temporarily ended this magical practice. After trying to cure Bennett through a magical practice which failed, he was given the necessary funds to travel to Ceylon. Crowley then purchased Boleskine where he intended to carry on the Abra-Melin Operation but was once again interrupted by the dispute within the Golden Dawn.
Many issues were involved in this dispute, however two involved Mathers and Aleister Crowley themselves. The majority of the London members had grown tired of the dictatorship of Mathers who now lived most of the time in Paris. The members of the Second Order also refused Crowley his initiation into the Adeptus Minor which he was entitled to. Their reason was on moral grounds, but as one member Yeats put it, «A mystical fraternity is not a moral reformatory.» Crowley immediately presented his case in person to Mathers, who never consummated his own marriage, in Paris. Mathers stated a member’s sex life was his own business and initiated Crowley into Adeptship in January 1900. This began a schism between the sections. During this schism Crowley pledged his loyalty to Mathers, returning to London as the latter’s Envoy Plenipotentiary.
This appointment by no means brought agreement between the London and Paris sections; if anything, it made things worse, especially for Crowley. There are several versions of the occurring events. In one version the Order’s magicians had called one of Crowley’s mistresses up to the astral plane and convinced her to betray her lover. Two days later she voluntarily approached a member of the Order and volunteered to go to Scotland Yard and give evidence of «torture and medieval iniquity.» However, Crowley’s diary describes a different version of a psychic attack. His ornamental Rose Cross turned white while fires refused to burn in his lodgings; his rubber mackintosh spontaneously went up in flames, for no apparent reason he lost his temper, and on at least five occasions horses bolted at the sight of him.
In defense Aleister Crowley seized the Order’s premises with help of thugs that he hired from a pub. Members of the Second Order with help of the police regained control of the premises, and convinced one of Crowley’s creditors to file a writ against him.
While all this was occurring in London Mathers was resorting to black magic in Paris. He was baptizing dried peas, giving each the name of one of his opponents; he then invoked the devils Beelzebub and Typhon-Set, simultaneously shaking the peas in a large sieve, to create quarrels and discord among his enemies. Apparently this seems to have been one of the most successful curses ever recorded; the London section got rid of Mathers but spent the next several years quarreling violently among themselves.
Crowley had abandoned his Abra-Melin magic work to fight for Mathers, which in the end he lost. He lost the love of a married American opera star who promised to return after divorcing her husband but did not; and afterwards, he sailed for Mexico. In Mexico he rented a house and continued practicing the magic that he acquired in the Golden Dawn including «scrying in spiritual vision,» otherwise known as astral travel. His friend and mentor Oscar Eckenstein helped him after he arrived. Eckenstein told Crowley to forget all of his romantic fascinations and deceitful delights concerning his work. Eckenstein’s program was a rigid discipline in concentration. It began with Aleister Crowley initially visualizing simple stationary objects and then moving ones. Crowley noted his progress with pencil and paper beside him; each time his mind strayed he noted it and tried again. This proved to be agonizing work as his journal records show but gradually he could imagine given sounds, scents, taste, and tactile sensations. Such practice, uninterrupted by romantic interludes, no doubt laid the foundation for his sound magical and mystical techniques.
There survive stories of Crowley’s flamboyancy, besides his sexual liaisons it is said he paid the chef of a London hotel to name a dish after him, sole a la Crowley. He commissioned Augustus John, the most prestigious portraitist of the time, to paint his portrait.
Many did not understand Crowley’s flamboyance and failed to see the true nature of it. It irritated them as Crowley’s true inquisitive nature often irritated them. This inquisitive nature came from his thorough study of Oriental religions; the realizing of its ultimate aim, the realization of deep self knowledge by breaking down the normal self-consciousness-a point most people miss or shrink from. Not understanding this, many thought him unkind. True, he had few, if any sacred cows; his inquiring intellect pierced everything including himself as many knew and were offended by his indifferent laughter. In particular, he attacked those who have no sense of humor in their doctrine, a notable characteristic of his legacy.
In 1903 he met Rose Kelly, the sister of his friend and painter Gerald Kelly, who was vivacious and very attractive, and simple headed. She told Aleister Crowley the she had a problem, she loved a married man but her family was insisting that she marry a different man. The situation aroused Crowley’s indignation and he proposed that she marry him and do what ever she wanted, even continuing as the married man’s mistress. Rose consented to marry him and Crowley thought this was the end of the matter but surprisingly Rose fall in love with him. (Feast of the Times: A Feast for the First Night for the Prophet and His Bride, August 12th; shouuld be celebrated yearly for the marriage of the Beast broght forth the revelation the Book of the Law. ) They had a world voyage for their honeymoon. Rose’s love for him stimulated his. In Cairo Rose told Crowley that she was pregnant which completed his happiness.
It should be noted with surprise that Rose Kelly, the woman he married, should be the initial Scarlet Woman in Crowley’s life because her spiritual essence was whoredom. As previously noted Crowley was particularly fascinated with the Scarlet Woman referred to in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 17:5). Here one finds a play on terms, or a code; it is believed by scholars that the term as used by the author of Revelation seemed to mean Babylon and her devilish powers but actually this was his fearful disguise to Rome, the murderer of the saints of Jesus Christ. Crowley in his use of the term of the Scarlet Woman and her whoredom in his later Thelemic writings redirected the term upon Christianity for its vehement rejection of the pagan creeds in Greece and the Middle East which honored sacred prostitution in temple worship.
Although Rose was not impressed with Crowley’s Magic, out of curiosity she asked him to perform some minor ritual. Soon afterwards Rose was possessed by a strange inspiration and informed Crowley that «they are waiting for you,» eventually telling him «they» meant in particular the gods of Horus. Aleister Crowley being skeptical drew upon the traditional teachings of the Golden Dawn, from which he would draw practically all of his magical knowledge, to conduct a series of tests relating to the correspondences of Horus. Although Rose had completely no knowledge of occultism, she guessed correctly every time against total odds of 21,168,000 to 1.
Still not being completely satisfied, Crowley took Rose to the Boulaq Museum in Cairo to which neither had previously visited and instructed he to find the god Horus. She had no assistance from her husband and passed by several representations of Horus. When going uptairs Rose goes to the stele of Horus in the form of Ra-Hoor-Khuit of the XXVI dynasty, and the exhibit number was 666. Rose exclaimed «There he is,» as she pointed to the exhibit that would become known as the Stele of Revealing.
In short, what followed was that Crowley was identified at the Beast 666 referred to in the Biblical Book of Revelations. After performing an invocation to Horus, Crowley followed his wife’s instructions and sat at his desk in his hotel room on April 8, 9, and 10 from 12 noon to 1 PM. A spirit which announced itself as Aiwass appeared before him on each of these days and dictated to him the three chapters of a book called Liber AL vel Legis or The Book of the Law.
On the surface The Book of the Law appears to be a beautiful prose-poem, but its proclamation is much more. It proclaimed nothing less than that an age had come to an end-that of Osiris, the god who died and rose again and is also known as Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, and Jesus Christ; and that the age of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, had replaced it. Crowley was hailed as the Beast 666, Prophet of a new Aeon in which the new commandment would be Do what thou wilt shall be the whole Law.
It should be pointed out Crowley’s initial reaction was one of rejection when this role seemed unexpectedly thrust upon him, and he found The Book of the Law uncomfortable reading. As a philosophical Buddhist he could not readily accept its bold assertion that «Existence is pure joy.» Being a Romantic humanitarian he was put off by its exaltation of the destruction of the old aeon; and also being a skeptic he was embarrassed at its hailing him as the Beast 666 who was to destroy Christianity and liberate Mankind. He questioned this because he considered to think of oneself as The Great Prophet was delusional and insane, but five years later he would come to realize the role was his inevitable destiny and his fight against it had been futile.
After receiving The Book of the Law and returning to Boleskine with pregnant Rose, Crowley spasmodically practiced magic. Since he seemed uncertain regarding his reception of the Book his next action seemed paradoxical, if not contradictory. He wrote a letter to Mathers informing the latter that he had replaced him as messenger of the Secret Chiefs. This angered Mathers who launched a magical assault which killed Crowley’s pack of bloodhounds and made his servants ill. Aleister Crowley in return evoked Beelzebub and his forty-nine servitors to plague Mathers.
It was not until the summer of 1906 that Crowley got to return to the Abra-Merlin Operation. This was following his second global tour and much unhappiness. He had lost a daughter in death in the Orient, Rose, even though she would give him another daughter, was drifting more into alcoholism, and their marriage was deteriorating because of their incompatibility. Against this background he diligently continued working on the Augoeides invocations, and visited his friend George Cecil Jones. Jones was now an Exempt Adept who was able to encourage and assist Crowley in finally performing the Operation of the Sacred Magick of Abra-Melin of the Mage. This was accomplished in October and in December Jones recognized Crowley as a Master of the Temple, one who has attained the understanding of the Universe, although Crowley never accepted the exalted grade until three years later.
Crowley only felt antagonism toward The Book of the Law which he seemed to have lost, whether unintentionally or purposefully is questionable. During the time between its lost and rediscovery The Equinox had been founded and Ordo Temph Orienti was reorganized. The latter consisted of the external foundation of Crowley’s magical order, the Silver Star or Argenteum Astrum, symbolized by A. A. It was a system of magical self-development and initiation formed two years earlier byAleister Crowley and George Cecil Jones and so far had only draw in two members Captain J. F. C. Fuller and Victor Neuberg. As he was searching for some other things in his home at Boleskine he found The Book of the Law. The find initiated two uninterrupted days of meditation from which Crowley concluded that the Secret Chiefs meant for him to fulfill his obligation to which he finally consented, saying, «…I surrender unconditionally.»
Previously he had written Gerald Kelly, «After five years of folly, weakness, miscalled politeness, tact, discretion, care for the feelings of others, I am weary…I say today the hell with Christianity, Rationalism, Buddhism, all the lumber of the centuries. I bring you a positive and primaeval fact, Magic by name; and with this I will build me a New Heaven and a new Earth. I want none of your faint approval or faint disrespect; I want blasphemy, murder, rape, revolution, anything, bad or good, but strong.»
The Book of the Law formed the basis of Aleister Crowley’s life. It appears that Jones, Fuller, and Neuburg accepted it whole-heartedly too, and to have seen it as the World of the Gods. Crowley described his state of mind then as follows: «Henceforth I must be no more as aspirant, no more an adept, no more aught that I could think of as myself. I was the chosen prophet of the Masters, the instrument fit to interpret their idea and work their Will.» This belief ruled him from now on, that it was his True Will to serve the ends of the Secret Chiefs in the evolutionary furthering and liberation of Mankind.
His advanced magical work convinced Crowley that he would advance to the higher grades; also he was initiated into the Ordo Temph Orienti, a quasi-Masonic organization run by Theodor Reuss. Reuss apparently was extremely impressed with Crowley because he agreed to Crowley establishing an English branch of the O. T. O. and also accepted the basic tenets of The Book of the Law. After becoming head of the English branch Crowley’s initial occupation was rewriting the O. T. O. rituals in his style which involved frequent quotations from The Book of the Law. Also these writings contained what some label Aleister Crowley’s blasphemies including the section on the Black Mass in which Crowley attacks Roman Catholicism as «that base and materialistic cult» and praises the practitioners of the Black Mass because «at least they set up Man against the foul demon of Christians.» When Crowley’s rituals were published in the German O.T. O. publication, the Oriflam, they caused some scandal among German members, even Reuss was criticized. Some feel even Reuss, by then, must have realized that there was no end to Crowley’s egocentricity and that he was determined to turn the O. T. O. in to his own vehicle; however, before this occurred World War I stated.
This supposition that Reuss realized that there was no end to Crowley’s egocentricity may be disputed by the fact that when Reuss resigned in 1922 he nominated Aleister Crowley as his successor. Within a few years the majority of the German Lodges confirmed Baphomet (Crowley’s occult name) as Outer Head of the Order. Crowley continued doing O. T. O. work, including giving the Order his home at Boleskine, until his death, then its center of activity was in California.
Also it might be stressed when first rewriting the rituals he introduced the magical initiation into what had originally been purely Masonic ceremonies, and rewrote the sexual instructions for the higher degrees as well as recruited members. The Equinox became the official publication for both the O. T. O. and A. A. Baphomet chartered an American branch under Charles Stansfield Jones. There is reason to believe the English section would have succeeded and flourished had not the treasured not stolen its funds and alienated Boleskine.
Many will naturally ask if Aleister Crowley actually received The Book of the Law from Aswass or made it up. From an objective view point the evidence that is cited can be viewed both ways. For instance, Crowley has been compared to Mohammad, a former camel driver that is said to have become the great Prophet. He was supposed to have received visitations from the Angel Gabriel, the messenger of Allah. Did he? The Muslims believe he did, and gave them the Qur’an. The founder of Judaism, Abraham, is supposed to have been called by God out of his native land and go into Canaan. Some picture him as being called while walking in the country side alone. He heard the call, no one else did. He left his father, taking those of his father’s people who believed him. Here one has two men, like Crowley who heard voices of supernatural nature. From these men and their followers came two of the major religions of the world. The same question can be asked concerning these men as can be asked about Crowley: did they receive the supernatural messages which they claimed or did they make them up. Objectively, who knows? No one else heard the messages, no other person deciphered them, and so no one can prove they were not made up. These two great religions grew out of faith of men in one man.
The point to be made here is that no one can prove that Aleister Crowley did or did not receive The Book of the Law from Aswass, a supernatural source; by the same argument, neither can anyone prove that he did or did not compose it himself. Although saying this, it must be admitted that there are parts within The Book of the Law which relate to Crowley’s past, for instance, his hatred for Christianity. The true nature of the composition of the work, to an objective viewer, seems endlessly debatable, and will be the occupation of his followers and critics alike.
The main ritual of both the Golden Dawn and O.T. O. were published in The Equinox. Through their publication and by accident and unintentionally Crowley discovered the secret which bound these and other past orders together. On two occasions Crowley was accused the inner most secrets of an Order. The first accusation came from «MacGregor» Matthews who served him with an injunction restraing his publication; Crowley appealed, won, and continued publishing. Next came Theodor Reuss, their first meeting in 1910, who accused him of printing the Order’s supreme magical secret. Crowley protested that he knew no such secret. «But you have printed it in the plainest language,» Reuss said. Upon Crowley’s further insistence that he could not have done so because he had no knowledge of such a secret, Reuss went to the bookshelves and took done a copy of The Book of Lies, and pointed to the passage. Aleister Crowley explained that it instantly flashed upon him. The entire symbolism not only of Free Masonry but many other traditions blazed upon his spiritual vision. From that moment the O. T. O. assumed its proper importance in his mind. He understood that he held in his hands the key to the future progress of humanity. (The Confessions)
This was not Crowley initial suspicion of a vital link between Magick/Yoga and sexuality, but it seemed, for him, to be the confirmation. To him the difficult question was the person’s continence, self-restraint. This involved multiple factors including confusion of erotology as well as sociological factors. At first Crowley’s solution to the provision of clear thinking over all of these problems was in the field of athletics. His final solution which he eventually arrived at was to teach everyone that sexuality was a normal bodily function just like the other bodily functions and should be treated as such. Of course his opponents and critics scoffed at this notion saying that Crawley was putting it forth because he himself abundantly enjoyed sex, some calling him a sexual athletic. It was clear to him that there was a vital connection between magic and sex which he pursued through study and investigation.
His vision of a connection between sexual energy and magic workings is evidenced among his earlier writings. A point to be noted is that The Book of the Law is, among other things, a Tantric text: the Universe manifests through the perpetual love-making of Nuit and Hadit. At Reuss’ mentioning of the passage in The Book of Lies Crowley finally perceived the importance of Sex Magic and that the O. T. O. possessed the practical techniques for promoting it. After convincing Reuss of this fact, and being initiated by Reuss into the highest degrees of the Order, Crowley knew he had received the wisdom to be the «Supreme and Holy King» over the English-section which he had been requested to found.
Critics who have not studied Crowley’s theory of Sex Magick often say he over-emphasized sex citing his own sexual life. This article is not going to elaborate on his sexual life as such ample information can readily be discovered elsewhere. One often finds his critics often compare Crowley’s life to that of ordinary life, when that is done naturally the comparison is more striking especially concerning sex. However absurd Crowley’s sexual behavior may have seemed in his day it does not appear so irrational today. For instance homosexuality, bisexuality, and polygamy are becoming more socially accepted as they are in the occult communities. Instead of absolute criticism, scholars might try to discover what Aleister Crowley and others are trying to say by such behavior.
Many think Crowley’s magical experiments are based upon his grandiose egocentricity. Few note his early education, previously mentioned, and his studies in Cerebral Neurology. When trying to define what governs the behavior of the mind, Crowley studies and conversations with the eminent psychologist Dr. H. Maudesley led him to believe temporarily that all was dependent on the human brain. Later, returning to his early training in the Natural Sciences, he formed the opinion that all questions related to psychology, Magick and Mysticism could be reduced to problems of Cerebral Neurology. In the essay The Initiated Interpretation of Ceremonial Magic, he forcefully argued that the spirits and demons evoked by the Magician are simply part of the brain. Evocation is therefore a matter of stimulating chosen brain cells.
By 1908 when he wrote The Psychology of Hashish Aleister Crowley was advocating the method of psychological introspection and he appealed for men of science to pioneers in the exploration of consciousness, gathering their data from experimentation on themselves with the techniques of Magick and Yoga, and also through carefully observed use of drugs. As one can observe, this was a scientific mind at work, but Crowley’s appeal was largely ignored until the 1960s when Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert and several others fearlessly experimented recoding their results and hypotheses to benefit those concerned and expand human knowledge.
The scientific method and skepticism were always a part of Crowley’s intellectual life. Perhaps this was derived in his college years when he realized how poorly read he was, or even before when he recognized the religious narrow-mindedness of his family. Perhaps this spurred his interest in the natural sciences, their investigative study versus dogmatic teaching. Whatever initiated it, skepticism remained Crowley’s central approach throughout his life. This is seen when Rose informed him that they, the gods of Horus, were waiting for him. Before believing her and following her further instructions he tested the correspondences for those gods. The motto of The Equinox was «The Aim of Religion»; but it was equally «The Method of Science.» Throughout his final work, Magick Without Tears Crowley repeatedly insisted that words must have precise meaning and exact referents. He constantly used one of his favorite references, Skeat’s Etymological Dictionary. Even in his instructions to his followers or fans Crowley encouraged this hard-headed approach, not to believe anything because he stated it or because it was written, but test it, try it, see if its meaning dominated their lives as The Book of the Law finally dominated his. Most of his critics will earnestly doubt these remarks partly because they only see his egocentricity and not those factors producing it.
Many feel that a chief character trait of Crowley was abhorrence for authority, often cited is the defiant behavior which he displayed toward his mother and uncle. However, his later actions seem to contract this. Although, he was no exemplary student in college one sees that he recognized his weakness of being poorly read; he remedied this by reading everything he could and came to value reading the wisdom of the great minds of the past. He also recognized his own physical weaknesses and took to rock and mountain climbing to build physical strength. This shows an observant mind; not one that exerts itself without purpose. This can also be seen after he is initiated into the O. T. O., Crowley took the name of Baphomet, the demon entity which the Knights Templar supposed to have worshipped, to assist him in liberating Mankind from the oppression of Christianity. This is not to say that Aleister Crowley was not paradoxical and pragmatic. One sees that he was when he announced to Mathers that he was now the messenger of the Secret Chiefs, no longer Mathers. Crowley had to be pragmatic for he was on a path which few had taken before; there were few signs, he made his own.
Many think him heartless, but his behavior surrounding his divorce from Rose does not prove this to be so. When their marriage ended, Crowley manufactured evidence allowing Rose to divorce him. His Rosa Decidua gave full utterance to his pain. Two years later he saw her enter an asylum alcohol dementia, and later emerge to marry a man whom he did not have a high opinion.
Crowley desired to be a Magician. Many think that he spelled Magick, a unique form, just to draw attention to himself. In the study of his definition of Magick one finds evidence to the contrary. He defined magic as «the science and art causing change to occur in conformity with will.» In other words, magic was the science and art causing change in accordance to will. The logically proceeding question is whose will; the magician’s?
Crowley also answers this question. The answer lies in his purpose for earnestly seeking the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. For, if and once successful the magician knows his true purpose in life. In short, to Aleister Crowley, this is Divine knowledge of what he, the magician, is to do. This also connects with the single commandment of The Book of the Law: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. This is often expressed as Do what thou will, and harm no one. This latter phrase is equivalent if the phrase is used in the sense which The Book of the Law intended: The person is doing the will which is divinely intended for him.
In order to escape the unhappiness of the divorce from Rose Crowley with Victor Newburg left London for Algiers. It was his intention while the to walk the Sahara to investigate the magical system developed in the 16th century by Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley. Accordingly this system consisted of thirty «Aethyrs» or «Aires» or extra dimensions of super-sensible existence, inhabited by «Angels» or «praeter-human intelligence.» Previously in Mexico, in 1900, Frater Perdurabo had received visions of the Thirtieth and Twenty-Ninth Aethyr, but could proceed no further. Now Crowley, as seer, planned a fresh assault on all the Aethyrs in turn using Newburg as his scribe. This assault was described in The Vision and The Voice.[The visions] brought all systems of magical doctrine into harmonious relation. The symbolism of Asiatic cults; the ideas of the Kabbalists, Jewish and Greek; the arcane of the Gnostics; the pagan pantheon from Mithras to Mars; the mysteries of ancient Egypt; the initiations of Eleusis; Scandinavian saga; Celtic and Druidical ritual; Mexican and Polynesian traditions; the mysticism of Molinos no less than that of Islam, fell into their proper places without the slightest tendency to quarrel. The whole of the past Aeon appeared in [prospective and each element surrendered its sovereignty to Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, the Lord of the Aeon, announced in The Book of the Law.
At the tenth Aethyr, he confronted Choronzon, the Demon of Dispersion, who endeavored, as recorded, to kill Newburg by tearing at his throat with his teeth.
The essence of Crowley’s magical work in the Sahara, in so far as he understood it, is that he was at least initiated into the Grade of the Master of the Temple. Briefly this entails the «Crossing of the Abyss» whereby the ego is annihilated. The Adept gives up all that he is, and all that he was, even his Holy Guardian Angel, and is reborn «a Babe of the Abyss» who grows into a Master. This work The Vision and The Voice confirmed that The Book of the Law was the Truth of the Gods for humanity; and the duty of furthering this Truth was laid upon the new Master.
Most often complaints are lodged against Crowley for his interest in and emphasis on Sexual Magick. As previously mentioned he suspected a vital link between Magic/Yoga and sexuality. However, his main concern was the person’s continence, self-restraint, which involved other factors such as the confusion of erotology and other sociological factors. His primary solution to these problems was the instruction that sex was a bodily function just like the others. His critics jumped on this suggestion saying Aleister Crowley made it because he enjoyed sex so much himself and therefore wanted to become a sexual athletic. They, it is doubtful, never bothered examining his reasons for sexual magic or its history.
In short, the definition or purpose for Sex Magick is similar to the one he gives for Magick: «Magick is the Science and Art of realizing the divine self by changing the human self.» The act or art of love making rises from the human level to the divine. To achieve this the participants employ a similar point of concentration as is used in Yoga. The man concentrates on the chosen manifestation of the Goddess while the woman concentrates on the chosen manifestation of the God. The procedure is enhanced if the man and woman choose the deities that they are attracted to, it does not matter which belief-system they come from, but if helps when drawn from similar mythologies. The goal or accomplishment of the practice or ritual is for the man to surrender his ego to the Goddess and the woman to surrender hers to the God. This is the simplest technique which should enhance sex if nothing else is accomplished, but should entice those interested to approach more advanced methods.
Even though Crowley put the focus on Sex Magick, so to speak, he certainly did not discover it. This is evidenced from Reuss’s accusation that Crowley had published the Order’s supreme magical secret from The Book of Lies. This proved Sex Magic had been previously embodied in magical and mystical orders. Also, Crowley had studied alchemy and observed many of the compounds and operations had sexual connotations, including homosexuality. When studying ancient history he would find there were temple prostitutes, priestesses within the temples of the goddesses whom men copulated with to make love to the goddess-the very principle of Sex Magick which Crowley rejuvenated.
Following the initiation of World War I Crowley moved to the United States where he supported himself as a journalist and started painting while still attempting to pursue his magical training. In 1920 he and Leah Hirsig, his last real Scarlet Woman, along with her two-year old son, Hansi, and Ninette Shumway, who soon became Crowley’s second magical lover, with her three-year old son Howard moved to Cefalu in Sicily where Aleister Crowley built his Abbey of Thelema. The abbey was officially designated Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum, or College of the Holy Spirit. This was to be a school training students who came in Crowley’s teachings. The course structure followed regular A. A. guidelines and included daily adorations of the Sun, studies of Crowley’s writings, regular yogic and ritual practices, and the domestic work. The said ultimate goal of the school was to prepare students for their Great Work of finding their True Will. Due to the rituals practiced the more permanent residents referred to the villa as «horsel,» a contraction of «Whore’s Cell.»
One may be puzzled by the some methods which Crowley used to work magic. Critics say he ran the Abbey like a Buddhist monastery or a Brethren prayer meeting; and the Law of Thelema were as strict as and laws taught by the Brethren sect he denounced. As some would point out Crowley never completely changed his behavior; he just attempted to supplant one regimen for another. The behavior which he learned as a child, though disliked, he embodied within his own belief system.
Such behavior was not always kind. To Crowley many times regimen came before people causing him to be impassionate and cruel in his actions. Leah Hirsig is a tragic example. She helped Crowley build the Abbey of Thelema. But soon she was replaced by another Scarlet Woman, Dorothy Olsen. She had even bore Crowley an infant daughter that died. From her diary on sees how devoted Hersig was: «I should have liked, as a human creature, to have died in the arms of the Beast 666 who, it will be noted in my first diary (commencing Mar. 21, 1919), was and is my lover, my mate, my Father, my child, and everything else that Woman needs in Man. But I have never interfered with his Work, which was my Work, the Great Work, except in ignorance.»
Shortly afterwards Hirsig was in Paris stranded. There she was briefly joined by another Thelemic devotee, Norman Mudd, who had been in London doing work for Aleister Crowley. He could not help her financially but had him perform sexual rituals with her, which helped her physically and emotionally. After he returned to London, she managed to live by doing scullery work and sold herself as a whole. All this time Crowley had financially helped neither she nor Mudd. But when Olsen became pregnant Crowley summoned her. She resumed her duties as Crowley’s secretary he continued with his magical work. Also she became pregnant by a new disciple who had little to do in the lives of mother or child.
The above incidents show the influence or magnetism which Crowley exerted upon those around him in his inner group. There are probably many answers to the question why. Objectively speaking two major answers would appear to be their dependency upon him and their belief in his work, probably the latter fostered by the former. Of course, the sexual attraction of the rituals would play a major part for some people even though Crowley stated that he tried to avoid this.
One person not long in the inner group was Israel Regardie. When interest in the Kabbalah and occult in 1928 he read some of Crowley’s writings; being influenced he wrote to Crowley in London offering his services if Crowley would teach him magic. He served as Crowley’s secretary for three years without being taught magic and left.
In reviewing the life of Aleister Crowley one can say in many cases he was judged by social merits that were not his nor did he condone. For example, the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu after Raoul Loveday, a commune member, died of food poisoning causing a scandal in both Italy and Great Britain, and causing the Italian dictator Mussolini to order him expelled from the country. Did the Italian dictator really bother to find out really what happened? It is doubtful. Another example is when he wrote for the Fatherland during World War I he was accused of being pro-German. Those scrutinizing what he wrote for this publication find no evidence of his being pro-Germany. He was in America trying to irk out a living and filled the paper with more of his magical writings than anything else. It enhanced his popularity among some Germans in New York. He returned fearlessly to England in 1919; and after his death a card was found in his wallet dated 1939, from the Director of Naval Intelligence inviting Aleister Crowley to come and see him.
It is difficult to produce an article about a person who people seem to either love or loath, no in-between. It is especially difficult when relying on what these people have written about this person themselves. Being objective, one tries to evaluate their writings fairly, but when one finds a person who writes almost completely derogatory toward the person and also derogatory toward the relationship this person has with another person when one has evidence to the opposite, one becomes leery. It is not the intention of this article to mention the particular work, but to point out to the reader that when evaluating a person such as Aleister Crowley more than one viewpoint should be considered.
The events surrounding the death of Crowley appear as mysterious as many events in his life. No one seems to know for certain what occurred. Some say he died unhappy and fearful saying, «I’m perplexed…Sometimes I hate myself.» Others have him dying in serenity such as a Buddhist, passing from Samadhi to Super-Samadhi to Nirvana to Super Nirvana. Then there is the incredible testimony of Patricia MacAlphine, the mother of Crowley’s son Aleister Ataturk, who said the day on which Crowley died, December 1, 1947, was very calm, but at the moment of his death a gust of wind caught the curtains in his room and a pearl of thunder was heard as if «It was the gods greeting him.»
He died from myocardial degeneration coupled with severe asthma which he had battled for many years. His only asthmatic relief was supplied through heroin. Aleister Crowley became addicted to it plus other drugs. He made attempts to rid himself of his addiction only to suffer asthma attacks again. This damned-if-he-did and damned-if-he-didn’t attitude seemed to plague him throughout his life, and even after death. When his physician, Dr. William Brown Thompson, was found dead within twenty-four hours after Crowley’s death rumors immediately begun that he had been killed by Crowley through ritual magic because he had failed to supply his patient with enough heroin. Whatever may be the truth of the events surrounding his life and life, Crowley seemed to have written his own epithet «He did what he wilt.» This is perhaps why he is still influential.
by Alan G. Hefner
IAO131.com. Feast of the Times… <http://iao131.com/2013/01/05/feasts-of-the-times-a-feast-for-the-first-night-of-the-prophet-and-his-bride/>
Regardie, Israel, P. R. Stephensen. The Legend of Aleister Crowley. Las Vegas, NV. New Falcon Publications. 1986 [ISBN 0-941404-20-X] Suster, Gerald. The Legacy of the Beast: The Life, Work and Influence of Aleister Crowley. York Beach, ME. Samuel Weiser. 1989 [ISBN 0-87728-697-3] Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. New York. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2000 [ISBN 0-312-28897-20
Wilson, Colin. Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.1987 [ISBN 0-85030-541-1]