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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. 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 of 'Closed'. "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 wrote later. "He spent the rest of his life violently reacting against this view, and preaching – and practicing – the gospel of total sexual freedom." The Protestant group had its origin in Ireland. They regarded 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 nature. After his father died Crowley abandoned all aspects of Christianity and considered his mother a 'religious bigot'. On the other hand, she called him 'The Beast' known from the Apocalypse of St John, the last book of the New Testament. Crowley partially accepted the identification and claimed that his advent had been prophesied in the Apocalypse. The avoid sharing the same first name with his father, Crowley changed Edward to Aleister.

His first cat Crowley killed at the age of 11, and much later rumours linked him with infanticide and cannibalism. But above all, Crowley discovered the pleasures of sex, which horrified his mother and uncle. In 1892 he went to public school in Malvern, had homosexual experiences, and transferred to Tonbridge, where he caught gonorrhea. Inheriting his father's brewing fortune, Crowley studied at Trinity College at Cambridge, devoting his time to poetry and occultism.

Crowley joined in 1898 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. 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!
On the blink, on the tum!
It's right, tight, put out the light!
Putty faces!
Oh grimaces
At this time of night!
Let me draw, paint, sculp
Your faces of pulp!
Oh gulp!
Put out the light!
Diabolically, divinely bright tight!

(from 'G-R-R-R-R-R!', 1916)

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).

Crowley married in 1903 Rose Kelly, his first wife, but had still a ring of mistresses. After divorcing in 1909 from Rose, who suffered from alcoholism, he 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, where he published anti-British propaganda. A new woman in Crowley's life, Leah Hirsig, bore him a child, Poupée; her death was a deep blow to him. It has been claimed, that during these years Crowley served as a British spy, gathering information on the German intelligence network and on Irish Republican activity. 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. 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. 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.

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.

After 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 minor poet with dirty fingernails. Among his most 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."

After his death several unpublished writings have been released, including The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, his autobiography, a self-portrait of the man, who also gained reputation as a mountaineer. Most of all, he 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 wrote. 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 known as 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.

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. W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Magician depicts the lightly disguised character of Crowley. The author 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 writings 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); 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); Aleister Crowley by C. Wilson (1989)

Selected works:

  • Aceldama, 1898
  • Jephthah, 1898
  • Jezebel, 1898
  • Ahab, 1898
  • The Mother's Tragedy, 1898
  • Songs of the Spirit, 1898
  • The Tale of Archais, 1898
  • White Stains, 1898
  • The Soul of Osiris, 1901
  • Tannhäuser: A Story of All Time, 1902
  • Alice An Adultery, 1903
  • The Star and the Garter, 1903
  • The God-Eater, 1903
  • The Argonauts, 1904
  • Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden, 1904
  • The Sword of Song, 1904
  • Why Jesus Wept, 1904
  • Rosa Mundi, 1904
  • Oracles, 1905
  • Orpheus: A Lyrical Legend, 1905 (2 vols.)
  • The Works of Aleister Crowley, 1905-07 (3 vols.)
  • Gargoyles, 1906
  • Rosa Coeli, 1907
  • Rosa Inferni, 1907
  • Konx Om Pax, 1907
  • Clouds without Water, 1909
  • Amphora, 1909
  • Alexandra, 1909
  • The Rites of Eleusis, 1910
  • The Winged Beetle, 1910
  • Ambergris, 1910
  • The High History of Good Sir Palamedes, 1912
  • Household Gods, 1912
  • Mortadello, 1912
  • The Book of Lies, 1913,
  • The Saviour, 1918
  • The Diary of a Drug Fiend, 1922
  • Songs for Italy, 1923
  • The Spirit of Solitude, 1929
  • Magick in Theory and Practice, 1929
  • Moonchild, 1929
  • The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, 1929-30 (2 vols.)
  • The Strategem And Other Stories, 1930
  • The Equinox of the Gods, 1937
  • The Book of the Law, 1938
  • Temperance, 1939
  • Thumbs Up!, 1942
  • The Book of Thoth, 1944
  • Olla, 1947
  • The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, 1969 (rev. ed. 1979)
  • The Book of Thoth, 1969
  • Aha, 1969
  • 777 Revised, 1970
  • Shih Yi, 1971 (?)
  • The Vision and the Voice, 1972
  • The Magical Record of the Beast 666: The Diaries of Aleister Crowley, 1914-1920, 1972
  • The Heart of the Master, 1973
  • Khing Kang King, 1973
  • Magick without Tears, 1973
  • Magick, 1973
  • The Soul of the Desert, 1974
  • A Spring Snowstorn in Wastdale, 1974
  • Crowley on Christ, 1974
  • The Complete Astrological Writings, 1974
  • Aleister Crowleys's Astrology, 1974
  • Gems from the Equinox, 1974
  • The Equinox of the Gods, 1974
  • Orpheus, 1974
  • Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on the Book of the Law, 1974
  • The Law Is For All, 1975
  • The Method of Science, The Aim of Religion, 1980
  • The Banned Lecture, 1981
  • 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley, 1982
  • Magick and Mysticism, 1982
  • The World’s Tragedy, 1985
  • Eight Lectures on Yoga, 1985
  • Selected Poems, 1986
  • The Scrutinies of Simon Iff, 1987
  • Aegypt, 1987
  • Golden Twigs, 1988
  • The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook, 1988
  • Portable Darkness, 1989
  • Amrita, 1990
  • Liber Aleph, 1991
  • The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz, 1991

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