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Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man Alive (1875 - 1947)

Aleister Crowley,the Great Beast

"do what you will shall be the whole of the law. love is the law, love under will."

  Aleister Crowleywas born October 12th, 1875at 36 Clarendon Square, Leamington, Warwickshire, England as Edward Alexander Crowleyinto a wealthy and religious family at the height of the Victorian era.Crowley despised and rebelled against his family at everyturn, even renaming himself 'Aleister' to avoid sharing the samefirst name as his father, who passed away when Crowley was 11.

  Like many naughty young boys, Aleister entertained himself throughseveral activities, notably creating a "homemade firework" withwhich he nearly killed himself, as well as torturing a cat inseveral horrible ways to test the "nine lives" theory. Hedispensed of his virginity at age 14 with the help of a maid. At17, he contracted gonorrhea with the help of a street walker.

  Crowley went on to attend Cambridge University, where he apparently studied alpine climbing, living in themanner of the privileged aristocracy and having a great deal of sexwith both men and women. He also began working in the DiplomaticService, but as Crowley himself said "the fame of an ambassadorrarely outlives a century", and Crowley wished to make a greaterimprint on the world.

  Having had this epiphany, he began searching for more lastingpursuits and in 1898, at age 23, Crowley beganhis path of magical enlightenment by joining The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.Led by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathersother members included such notables such as William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Constance Wilde,(the wife of Oscar Wilde), Arthur Machen, Moina Bergson, Arthur Edward Waite, Florence Farr, Algernon Blackwoodand possibly, though records for their membership are shaky, Sax Rohmerand Bram Stoker.

  The Golden Dawn's contribution to the Western Magical Tradition isdefinitely worth noting, because it was their synthesis of the Kabbalah, alchemy, tarot, astrology, divination, numerology, Masonicsymbolism, and ritual magic into one coherent and logicalsystem which led them to influence countless occult organizationsto come. Mathers adapted the system of magic outlined by Eliphas Levi,and through Levi, the spiritual ancestry of the Golden Dawn wastraced to the Rosicrucian Brotherhoodand from there, through the Kabbalah to Ancient Egypt.Mathers' authority was held in part by his link to the "Secret Chiefs", the"true leaders" of the Order, with whom Mathers couldcommunicate with only through metaphysical means.

  Adopting the magical name Frater 'Perdurabo', Latin for "I WillEndure", Crowley advanced quickly through the ranks of the GoldenDawn, initially studying under Alan Bennett,who was Mathers' spiritual heir. Bennett left England in 1899 for health reasons, moving to Ceylon, what it now Sri Lanka, where he joined a buddhistmonastery. Unfortunately, Crowley,left to his own devices, managed to severely fragment the orderthrough sheer force of personality. In 1900, he completed the studies necessary in order to obtain the rank of Adeptus Minor, however the London controllers of the Order, disapproving of Crowley's homosexual dabblings, refused to advance him. Crowley travelled to Paris ,where Mathers himself performed the ceremony, which only served to further outrage the London members.

  The ensuing uproar caused several of the London members to resign,and Mathers was eventually expelled from the Order, specifically on thegrounds that he had put its authority into jeopardy by revealing his suspicions that the founding documents linking them to an older occult order in Germanyhad been forged by another member (which they had been). Crowley attempted to obtain possession of the Order's property on behalf of Mathers, interrupting one of their rituals in full Highland regalia, wearing a black hood. As with any serious dispute between occultists, astral attacks ensued. Crowley reported that the rebels directed hostile magic against him as evidenced by the fact that his rubber raincoat burst spontaneously into flames and he found himself in a "furious temper" for no reason, so extreme that horses ran away in fear at the sight of him. In the end, however, it was the policewho resolved the matter.

  Crowley was expelled from the Golden Dawn, only 2 years after joining,chiefly through the efforts of William Butler Yeats,who reportedly did not approve of Crowley's magical methods.

  Crowley, understandably tired of all the fighting, chose totravel the world, visiting Mexico, India, France, Ceylon, where he reunited with Alan Bennettand studied Yoga.He also married Rose Kelly,later revealed to be clairvoyant, travelling with her to Egypt.

  In fact it was in Egypt,in March of 1904, that Crowley had the most important experience of his life. Crowley had been trying for several years to contact his Holy Guardian Angelusing the methods described in The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Magewith no success. However it was in Cairothat Crowley finally encountered an entity known as Aiwass,whom Crowley believed was his Holy Guardian Angel.

  According to Crowley's own account, while (unsuccessfully) trying to summon sylphs for his wife's amusement, she began to receive a verypowerful psychic message from the Ancient Egyptiangod Horus.

  Skeptical of his wife's sudden clairvoyancy, Crowley demanded answers to a series of questions from her, of which she had no possible prior knowledge. Upon answering all things correctly, he took her to a museum, and after passing several images of Horus (which the still skeptical Crowley reports, he "noted with silent glee"), she pointed across the room to a stele which could not be clearly seen from where they stood. When they examined the stele (now referred to as the Stele of Revealing,it was painted with the image of Horus, and to Crowley's further conviction, it was labelled as item number 666in the museum catalog.

  Crowley had himself adopted 666as hispersonal moniker in rebellion to his religious upbringing manyyears before. After invoking Horus, Crowley made his fateful breakthrough. For three days Crowley took dictation from the entity identifying itself as Aiwass, the resulting text, Liber AL vel Legis,became what is now known as The Book of the Law.

  This book was to become the central core of Crowley's philosophy.Crowley was named  the Prophet of a New Aeon which would end the Age ofOsiris and usher in the Age of Horus,a signal that a new era had begun for mankind, and that the old religions were to be swept aside.

The 3 key philosophical ideas outlined in the book are:

  • Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law

  • Love Is The Law, Love Under Will

  • Every Man And Every Woman Is A Star

  •   Interpretation of what "Do What Thou Wilt..." in contemporarytimes seems to have deteriorated into "do whatever you want...",however it seems clear that the meaning was more along the linesof 'doing that which your higher self dictates'. The higher self,or "Will" is present in all of enlightened people. In order tofollow your "Will", one must know oneself. And selfknowledge is the central basis of most successful philosophies.

      After the encounter with Aiwass, in typical grandiose fashion, Mathers received a letter announcing that the Equinox of the Godshad come, and that Crowley had forged a new link with the SecretChiefs, thus making him the supreme magical authority. This naturallyresulted in a magical duel, which Crowley seems to have eventually won.

      According to Crowley, Mathers reportedly sentone of his followers, a vampire, to him. She appeared to him in the guise of a "young woman of bewitching beauty", but was able to defeat her, and she was "transformed into hag of sixty, bent and decrepit". Mathers then sent a "current of evil" which struck Crowley's bloodhounds dead and caused his servants to fall ill. Crowley retaliated by summoning up the forces of the demon Beelzebuband his 49 attendant fiends. Following thiseffort, Mathers' magical assaults on Crowley ceased. Years later,when Mathers passed away of influenza, many felt that Crowley had murdered him with magic.

      It is not clear why shortly after his encounter with Aiwassand his battle with Mathers, Crowleyseems to have lost interest in things magical for several years. In 1905, he was part of an ill-fated expedition to climb a Himalayanmountain peak, in which several members of the party died. He spent several years travelling through China, Canadaand the United States,with and without his wife and child. It was not until his return from the United States that he found out that his daughter Lola Zazahad died from typhus in Rangoon, India.

      In 1907, Crowley formed the Argenteum Astrum,the Order of the Silver Star, a magical organization centeredaround his re-discovered Book of the Lawmanuscript. In 1909 he began publishing the Equinox, a biannual publication arriving on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the official organ of the A:. A:., the majority of the writing contributed by Crowley himself.

      In 1909, Crowley divorced his wife, on the grounds of heralcoholism. The divorce enabled Crowley to indulge in his passions for magick, drugs, and women unchecked by the constraints of married life.

      It might be interesting to note at this point that Crowleybelieved himself to be the reincarnation of the occultist Eliphas Leviwho died the same year that Crowley was born. He had also determined that his past lives had included Count Cagliostro,an 18th century occultist, founder of 'Egyptian Rite Masonry', Alexander VI, the notorious BorgiaPope, and Edward Kelley(who along with John Deewere the Elizabethancourt magicians who invented, err, deciphered Enochian, the language of the angels.)

      In 1910, Crowley was contacted by the head of a German magicalorder known as the Ordo Templi Orientis ,often referred to as the OTO, (alternately translated as either "the Order of the Templars ofthe East" and "the Order of the Temple of the Orient" in a varietyof sources.) The OTOaccused Crowley of having published the secret of their IXth degree. Crowley was mystified until a conversationrevealed that a passage he published led the OTOto assume thatCrowley was involved in sex magick which they used in theirrituals. He join the order shortly thereafter, and in 1912, becamethe head of the English speaking branch of the Order.

      In 1916, while living near Bristol, New HampshireCrowley promoted himself to the rank of Magus through a ceremony of his own devising. According to Richard Cavendish,in History of Magicand The Powers of Evil in Western Religion, Magic, and Folk Belief(both currently out of print), this involved baptizing a toadas Jesus of Nazareth, then crucifying it. I've been chidedby several acquaintances who are involved with the OTOforciting this "utter fabrication".

      Crowley waited out the first World Warin the United States, publishing a fair amount of Anti-British propaganda. He later claimed that thewriting done supporting the German side was done satirically,however this did little to improve his already festering publicimage.

      After the war, Crowley had a daughter, Poupee, with Leah Hirsig(AKA The Scarlet Woman),and in 1920 he set up the notorious Abbey of Thelemain Sicily.

      The Abbey, however, was an "unsanitary hovel". Crowley's addiction toboth heroinand cocaineraged out of control. The Abbey was the setting for Diary of a Drug Fiend,Crowley's hopeful novel about a couple struggling to freethemselves of their drug addiction. Sadly, the truth was much moregrim. Poupee died there, while Crowley was travelling betweenLondon, Paris and the Abbey. It was when one of the Crowley'sundergraduates Raoul Lovedaydied from drinking impure water, that the Abbey's fate was finally sealed. Loveday's wife Betty Maywent back to England and sold her story to the London tabloid newspaper The Sunday Express.

      The papers were filled with reports of black magic rituals andother scandalous acts allegedly performed at the Abbey. Thesereports came during the same time as the rise of the Mussoliniregime and Crowley was quickly expelled from Sicily in 1923.

      In 1925 he was electedWorld Head of the O.T.O., and 1929 saw the publication of his seminal work Magick:In Theory and in Practice.

      In 1955, Kenneth Angershot the documentary Thelema Abbeyat the Abbey, which had been exorcised after Crowley's departure, painstakingly exposing the whitewashed walls to reveal paintings and other physical evidence of Crowley's occult activities.

      After his expulsion from Italy, Crowley's life took a turn for the worse. His reputation as "The Wickedest Man In The World" was nowmore than ever playing against him. Unable to find a reliable publisherfor his writing, or for that matter, a reliable place of residence, hespent the remaining years as a wanderer, still addicted to heroin,desperately in need of both disciples and money.

      Aleister Crowleydied December 1st, 1947 at age 72. His last words are often reported to be "I am perplexed", though since he died alone, this is patently false.

    The man who put the 'k' in Magick

      There seems to be some confusion as to Crowley's spelling of theword magic. According to Cavendish, the addition of the letter'k' by Crowley represented the sexual aspects of his magicalstudies, the letter 'k' being the first letter of kteiswhich is the Greek word for female genitalia. However I have beentold that reasons for the spelling change were purelynumerological by a member of the OTO. Eitherreason seems likely and acceptable. What is not acceptable is theprofusion of words mispelled in some sort of pseudo-appropriationof the power of the word magick. I have noticed several writersfreely using the word 'magickian', which I am willing to tolerate.A reprehensible abuse of this is certainly 'astrologickal' whichI believe was repeatedly used in a book published by Llewellyn.


      Thelemais Greek for "The Will". Crowley used the word Thelema torepresent his most important concept, the statement "Do As ThouWilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law". Crowley's entire religion,(Crowleyanity as it sometimes referred to by some cynical authors)liberally mixes elements of Christianity, Gnosticismand the Masonsinto its magickal rituals. It's hard to conceive howmildly Crowley and his followers would have been receivedif they were judged according to our contemporary standards. Thelemites, those who follow the laws of Thelema, often greet one another with theshorthand " 93", which is the numerical value of the phrase "LoveIs The Law, Love Under Will", the proper response to the "Do AsThou Wilt..." phrase.

    Subcultural Relevance

      Aleister Crowleymay seem, to the uninitiated, like an unmitigated egomaniac, a charlatan, a mad man, or worse. It can be argued, even by occultists, that this was indeed the case. However asoccultist, Crowley remains unparalleled. How many contemporarypractitioners can actually claim to have manifested a lasting change onthe world. After all, changing the world around you is what magicis all about, and Aleister Crowley did it better than anyone. Tosay that Crowley was ahead of his time would be an understatement.Aside from the glamour of his "wickedness" which will always have acertain appeal, his greatest gift was perhaps his ability toreshape the theory of magic from a modern psychological standpoint,refashioning it into a tool for the New Aeon, a contribution thathas yet to be matched or exceeded.

    Other Sources for Aleister Crowley

     It is my will to visit:

  • The University of Texas, as part of their 20th century manuscript archives in the Harry Ransom Center, has the largest single collection of original Crowley manuscripts, letters, and related documents in the world. All that is required to examine any documents in these collections is a valid state or government issued ID.

  • Probably one of the best sites I've found on Crowley. Tons oflinks to electronic versions of Crowley's work as well as otherwebsites...

  • Another valuable online resource, has the Book of the Lawavailable online.

  • A link to,over 2 gigs of free archival material on a variety of subjects, including magick, Crowley, etc. Sources include usenet etc. Look under 'religion' to get into the magick archives.

  • The official internet site for the Ordo Templi Orientis Indexes all the lodges and oases across the country!

  • A huge archive of articles published about Crowley... A great resource!

  • A large selection of links devoted to all things Satanic...Check your soul in at the door. Includes some Crowley stuff.

  • AleisterCrowley Bibliography (in alphabetical order)

    • AHA! (Being Liber CCXLII)

    • Book of the Law

    • Book 4

    • The Book of Lies

    • The Book of Thoth

    • The Book of Thoth : A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians Being the Equinox Volume III No. V U.S. Games Systems edition

    • Commentaries on the Holy Books and Other Papers: The Equinox Volume IV, Number 1

    • The Confessions of Aleister Crowley : Crowley'sautohagiography, and by no means a modest one. Crowley was never one to let something like facts get in the way of an interesting story.

    • Diary of a Drug Fiend

    • Eight Lectures On Yoga

    • The Equinox of the Gods

    • The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King: Clavula Salomonis Regis

    • The Holy Books of Thelema

    • The Law Is For All: The Authorized Popular Commentary to The Book of the Law

    • Little Essays Toward Truth

    • Magick Without Tears

    • Moonchild

    • 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley

    • Tarot Divination

    • Tao Te Ching : Liber CLXVII : The Equinox : Crowley's take on the Chinese mystical classic .

    • World's Tragedy


    Related Secondary Texts related to Crowley's Work

    Magical Diaries of Aleister Crowley: Tunisia 1923

    Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary

    Enochian World of Aleister Crowley: Enochian Sex Magick

    The Equinox: Volume III, #10

    The Heart of the Master and Other Papers

    The Pathworkings of Aleister Crowley: A Treasure House of Images

    The Magick of Thelema: A Handbook of the Rituals of Aleister Crowley Lon Milo Duquette'suseful interpretation of Crowley's magickal methods.

    Tarot: Mirror of the Soul: Handbook for the Aleister Crowley Tarot Possibly the bestsecondary source for people using the Thoth deck.

    Biographies of Aleister Crowley

    Aleister Crowley Scrapbook A great collection of essays, photographs, newspaper clippings,et cetera revolving around Crowley's life.

    The Eye In the Triangle: An Interpretation of Aleister Crowley A biography by Israel Regardie, for many years Crowley'ssecretary.

    The Legacy of the Beast: The Life, Work and Influence of Aleister Crowley

    The Legend of Aleister Crowley

    Secondary Source Material on Magic

    The Grimoire of Armadel Mathers' translation of this ancient manuscript of ceremonial magic.

    The Kabbalah Unveiled S.L. MacGregor Mathers' notable work on the Kabbalah.

    The Key of Soloman The King (Clavicula Salomonis) Translated by Mathers, this is a faithful rendering of the Key.

    The Tarot: A Short Treatise on Reading Cards Mathers short essay on the history of the tarot, using the Marseilles Deck as its example.

    The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage

    Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses

    The Golden Dawn Scrapbook: The Rise and Fall of a Magical Order A new (9/97), informative and insightful history of the Golden Dawn.

    Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic Edited by Israel Regardie, Crowley's successor, this unveils the many ofmagical methods adopted by the Golden Dawn.

    The One Year Manual Regardie's short work on a 12 month, 12 step program tocontact your Holy Guardian Angel.

    Crowley's Apprentice: The Life and Ideas of Israel Regardie

    Related Ephemera

    Thoth Tarot Deck : US Games Edition (Large Size)

    Thoth Tarot Deck : US Games Edition (Small Size)

    Thoth Tarot Deck : Samuel Weiser Edition, in my opinion the best edition.

    Tarot As Your Companion : A Practical Guide to the Rider-Waite and Crowley Thoth Tarot Decks : Hajo Banzhaf & Elisa Hemmerlein (April 2000)

    The Crowley Tarot: The Handbook to the Cards : by Akron

    Tarot: Mirror of the Soul : Gerd Ziegler


    Author: Patrick Deese

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