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Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley (12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947), was a British occultist, writer, mountaineer, poet, and yogi. He was an influential member in several occult organizations, including the Golden Dawn, the A∴A∴, and Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), and is best known today for his occult writings, especially The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema. He gained much notoriety during his lifetime, and was dubbed "The Wickedest Man In the World.

Crowley was also a chess player, painter, astrologer, hedonist, bisexual, drug experimenter, and social critic. He had also claimed to be a Freemason, but the regularity of his initiations have been disputed by a member of the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon.

Early years

Edward Alexander Crowley was born at 36 Clarendon Square in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, between 11:00pm and midnight on October 12, 1875.

His father, Edward Crowley, was trained as an engineer but according to Aleister, never worked as one. He did, however, own shares in a lucrative family brewery business, which allowed him to retire before Aleister was born. Through his father's business he was an acquaintance of Aubrey Beardsley. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop, drew roots from a Devon and Somerset family. Both of his parents were Exclusive Brethren, a more conservative faction of the Plymouth Brethren.

Crowley grew up in a staunch Brethren household and was only allowed to play with children whose families followed the same faith. His father was a fanatical preacher, travelling around Britain and producing pamphlets. Daily Bible studies and private tutoring were mainstays in "Alick's" childhood.

On February 29, 1880, a sister, Grace Mary Elizabeth, was born but lived only five hours. Crowley was taken to see the body and in his own words (in the third person):

"The incident made a curious impression on him. He did not see why he should be disturbed so uselessly. He couldn't do any good; the child was dead; it was none of his business. This attitude continued through his life. He has never attended any funeral but that of his father, which he did not mind doing, as he felt himself to be the real centre of interest."

On March 5, 1887, his father died of tongue cancer. This was a turning point in Crowley's life, after which he then began to describe his childhood in the first person in his 'Confessions'.

After the death of his father to whom he was very close, he drifted from his religious upbringing, and his mother's efforts at keeping her son in the Christian faith only served to provoke his skepticism. When he was a child, his constant rebellious behaviour displeased his mother to such an extent that she would chastise him by calling him "The Beast" (from the Book of Revelation), an epithet that Crowley would later adopt for himself. He objected to the labelling of what he saw as life's most worthwhile and enjoyable activities as "sinful".

University

In 1895, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, after schooling at the public schools Malvern College and Tonbridge School, and originally had the intention of reading Moral Sciences (philosophy), but with approval from his personal tutor, he switched to English literature, which was not then a part of the curriculum offered. His three years at Cambridge were happy ones, due in part to coming into the considerable fortune left by his father.

Here he finally broke with the Church of England, internally if not externally:

"The Church of England [...] had seemed a narrow tyranny, as detestable as that of the Plymouth Brethren; less logical and more hypocritical."

"When I discovered that chapel was compulsory I immediately struck back. The junior dean halled me for not attending chapel, which I was certainly not going to do, because it involved early rising. I excused myself on the ground that I had been brought up among the Plymouth Brethren. The dean asked me to come and see him occasionally and discuss the matter, and I had the astonishing impudence to write to him that 'The seed planted by my father, watered by my mother's tears, would prove too hardy a growth to be uprooted even by his eloquence and learning.'"

In December 1896, following an event that he describes in veiled terms, Crowley decided to pursue a path in occultism and mysticism. By the next year, he began reading books by alchemists and mystics, and books on magic. Biographer Sutin describes the pivotal New Year's event as a homo-erotic experience (Crowley's first) that brought him what he considered "an encounter with an immanent deity. During the year of 1897, Aleister further came to see worldly pursuits as useless. The section on chess below, describes one experience that helped him reach this conclusion. In October a brief illness triggered considerations of mortality and "the futility of all human endeavor," or at least of the diplomatic career that Crowley had previously considered.

A year later, he published his first book of poetry (Aceldama), and left Cambridge, only to meet Julian L. Baker (Frater D. A.) who introduced him to Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

Bisexuality

Throughout the period of 1895, he allegedly maintained a vigorous sex life, which was largely conducted with prostitutes and girls he picked up at local pubs and cigar shops, but eventually extended into homosexual activities in which he played the passive role. During the course of his life, Crowley practiced sexual magic rituals with both men and women. Biographer Sutin recounts Crowley's relationship with, and lasting feelings for, Herbert Charles Pollitt, whom he met while at Cambridge in 1897. Pollitt did not share his partner's mystical leanings, and Crowley had this to say about ending their relationship:

He would have made any public expressions of "distaste" at a time when British law officially forbade homosexuality. The arrest, conviction and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde took place in Crowley's first year at Cambridge. In the autobiographical preface to Crowley's drama The World's Tragedy, he included a section on "Sodomy" where he openly admitted his bisexuality and praised sex between men. However, someone removed these two pages from all copies of the book except those Crowley gave to close friends.

Later, in a January 1929 letter, he wrote While that claim about women conflicts with other statements and actions of Crowley's, it accurately describes his relationships with Pollitt and various working class women during his college years.

Name change

Crowley described his decision to change his name as follows:
"For many years I had loathed being called Alick, partly because of the unpleasant sound and sight of the word, partly because it was the name by which my mother called me. Edward did not seem to suit me and the diminutives Ted or Ned were even less appropriate. Alexander was too long and Sandy suggested tow hair and freckles. I had read in some book or other that the most favourable name for becoming famous was one consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee, as at the end of a hexameter: like "Jeremy Taylor". Aleister Crowley fulfilled these conditions and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. To adopt it would satisfy my romantic ideals. The atrocious spelling A-L-E-I-S-T-E-R was suggested as the correct form by Cousin Gregor, who ought to have known better. In any case, A-L-A-I-S-D-A-I-R makes a very bad dactyl. For these reasons I saddled myself with my present nom-de-guerre --- I can't say that I feel sure that I facilitated the process of becoming famous. I should doubtless have done so, whatever name I had chosen.

The Golden Dawn

Involved as a young adult in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he first studied mysticism with and made enemies of William Butler Yeats and Arthur Edward Waite. Like many in occult circles of the time, Crowley voiced the view that Waite was a pretentious bore through searing critiques of Waite's writings and editorials of other authors' writings. In his periodical The Equinox, Crowley titled one diatribe, "Wisdom While You Waite", and his note on the passing of Waite bore the title, "Dead Waite".

His friend and former Golden Dawn associate, Allan Bennett, introduced him to the ideas of Buddhism, while Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, acting leader of the Golden Dawn organization, acted as his early mentor in western magic but would later become his enemy. Several decades after Crowley's participation in the Golden Dawn, Mathers claimed copyright protection over a particular ritual and sued Crowley for infringement after Crowley's public display of the ritual. While the public trial continued, both Mathers and Crowley claimed to call forth armies of demons and angels to fight on behalf of their summoner. Both also developed and carried complex Seal of Solomon amulets and talismans.

In a book of fiction, entitled Moonchild, Crowley later portrayed Mathers as the primary villain, including him as a character named SRMD, using the abbreviation of Mathers' magical name. Arthur Edward Waite also appeared in Moonchild as a villain named Arthwaite, while Bennett appeared as the silent, monkish Mahathera Phang.

While he did not officially break with Mathers until 1904, Crowley lost faith in this teacher's abilities soon after the 1900 schism in the Golden Dawn (if not before). Later in the year of that schism, Crowley travelled to Mexico and continued his magical studies in isolation. Crowley's writings suggest that he discovered the word Abrahadabra during this time.

In October 1901, after practising Raja Yoga for some time, he said he had reached a state he called dhyana—one of many states of unification in thoughts that are described in Magick (Liber ABA) (See Crowley on egolessness). 1902 saw him writing the essay Berashith (the first word of Genesis), in which he gave meditation (or restraint of the mind to a single object) as the means of attaining his goal. The essay describes ceremonial magick as a means of training the will, and of constantly directing one's thoughts to a given object through ritual. In his 1903 essay, Science and Matter, Crowley urged an empirical approach to Buddhist teachings.

In 1903 he married Rose Edith Kelly.

1904 and after

Crowley said that a mystical experience in 1904, while on holiday in Cairo, Egypt, led to his founding of the religious philosophy known as Thelema. Aleister's wife Rose started to behave in an odd way, and this led Aleister to think that some entity had made contact with her. At her instructions, he performed an invocation of the Egyptian god Horus on March 20 with (he wrote) "great success." According to Crowley, the god told him that a new magical Aeon had begun, and that Crowley would serve as its prophet. Rose continued to give information, telling Crowley in detailed terms to await a further revelation. On 8 April and for the following two days at exactly noon he allegedly heard a voice, dictating the words of the text, Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law, which Crowley wrote down. The voice claimed to be that of Aiwass (or Aiwaz) "the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat", or Horus, the god of force and fire, child of Isis and Osiris and self-appointed conquering lord of the New Aeon, announced through his chosen scribe "the prince-priest the Beast" (For citations, see main article The Book of the Law).

Portions of the book are in numerical cipher, which Crowley claimed the inability to decode. Thelemic dogma explains this by pointing to a warning within the Book of the Law — the speaker supposedly warned that the scribe, Ankh-af-na-khonsu (Aleister Crowley), was never to attempt to decode the ciphers, for to do so would end only in folly. The later-written The Law is For All sees Crowley warning everyone not to discuss the writing amongst fellow critics, for fear that a dogmatic position would arise. While he declared a "new Equinox of the Gods" in early 1904, supposedly passing on the revelation of March 20 to the occult community, it took years for Crowley to fully accept the writing of the Book of the Law and follow its doctrine. Only after countless attempts to test its writings did he come to embrace them as the official doctrine of the New Aeon of Horus. The remainder of his professional and personal careers were spent expanding the new frontiers of scientific illuminism.

Rose and Aleister had a daughter, whom Crowley named Nicole Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley, in July 1904. This child died in 1906, during the two and a half months when Crowley had left her with Rose (after a family trip through China). They had another daughter, Lola Zaza, in the summer of that year, and Crowley devised a special ritual of thanksgiving for her birth.

He performed a thanksgiving ritual before his first claimed success in what he called the "Abramelin operation", on 9 October 1906. This was his implementation of a magical work described in The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. The events of that year gave the Abramelin book a central role in Crowley's system. He described the primary goal of the "Great Work" using a term from this book: "the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel". An essay in the first number of The Equinox gives several reasons for this choice of names:

  1. Because Abramelin's system is so simple and effective.
  2. Because since all theories of the universe are absurd it is better to talk in the language of one which is patently absurd, so as to mortify the metaphysical man.
  3. Because a child can understand it.

Crowley was notorious in his lifetime — a frequent target of attacks in the tabloid press, which labelled him "The Wickedest Man in the World" to his evident amusement. At one point, he was expelled from Italy after having established a commune, the organization of which was based on his personal philosophies, the Abbey of Thelema, at Cefalù, Sicily.

Aleister and Rose were divorced in 1909.

A∴A∴ and Ordo Templi Orientis

In 1907, Crowley's interest took off once again, with two important events. The first was the creation of the Silver Star (A∴A∴), and the second was the composition of the Holy books of Thelema.

In 1910, Crowley performed with members of the A∴A∴ his series of dramatic rites, the Rites of Eleusis.

According to Crowley, in 1912, Theodor Reuss had called on him to address accusations of publishing O.T.O. secrets, which Crowley dismissed, for having never attained the grade in which these secrets were given (9th degree). Reuss opened up the Book of Lies and showed Crowley the passage. This sparked a long conversation which led to the opening of the British section of O.T.O. called Mysteria Mystica Maxima.

Years in America, 1914-1918

R.B. Spence writes in the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence that Crowley worked for the British intelligence while residing in America from 1914-1918, under a cover of being a German propaganda agent and a supporter of Irish independence. Crowley's mission was to gather intelligence about the German intelligence network, the Irish independent activists and produce aberrant propaganda, aiming at compromising the German and Irish ideals. He also used German magazines The Fatherland and The International as outlets for his other writings.

During his time in the U.S., Crowley practiced the task of a Magister Templi in the A∴A∴ as he conceived it, namely interpreting every phenomenon as a particular dealing of "God" with his soul. He began to see various women he met as officers in his ongoing initiation, associating them with priests wearing animal masks in Egyptian ritual. A meditation during his relationship with one such woman (Jeanne Robert Foster) led him to claim the title of Magus, also referring to the system of the A∴A∴.

Two periods of magical experimentation followed. In June 1916, he began the first of these at the New Hampshire cottage of Evangeline Adams, having ghostwritten most of two books on astrology for her. His diaries at first show discontent at the gap between his view of the grade of Magus and his view of himself: "It is no good making up my mind to do anything material; for I have no means. But this would vanish if I could make up my mind." Despite his objections to sacrificing a living animal, he resolved to crucify a frog as part of a rehearsal of the life of Jesus in the Gospels (afterward declaring it his willing familiar), "with the idea...that some supreme violation of all the laws of my being would break down my Karma or dissolve the spell that seems to bind me. Slightly more than a month later, having taken ethyl oxide, he had a vision of the universe from modern scientific cosmology that he frequently referred to in later writings.

Crowley began another period of magical work on an island in the Hudson River after buying large amounts of red paint instead of food. Having painted "Do what thou wilt" on the cliffs at both sides of the island, he received gifts from curious visitors. Here at the island he had visions of seeming past lives, though he refused to endorse any theory of what they meant beyond linking them to his unconscious. Towards the end of his stay, he also had a shocking experience he linked to "the Chinese wisdom" which made even Thelema appear insignificant. Nevertheless, he continued in his work. Before leaving the country he formed a sexual and magical relationship with Leah Hirsig, who he met earlier, and with her help began painting canvases with more creativity and passion.

Abbey of Thelema

Crowley, along with Leah Hirsig, founded the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily in 1920. The name was borrowed from Rabelais's satire Gargantua, where the "Abbey of Theleme" is described as a sort of anti-monastery where the lives of the inhabitants were "spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. This idealistic utopia was to be the model of Crowley's commune, while also being a type of magical school, giving it the designation "Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum," The College of the Holy Spirit. The general programme was in line with the A∴A∴ course of training, and included daily adorations to the Sun, a study of Crowley's writings, regular yogic and ritual practices (which were to be recorded), as well as general domestic labor. The object, naturally, was for students to devote themselves to the Great Work of discovering and manifesting their True Wills. Mussolini's Fascist government expelled Crowley from the country at the end of April 1923.

After the Abbey

In February 1924, Crowley visited Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. He did not meet the founder on that occasion, but called Gurdjieff a "tip-top man" in his diary. Crowley privately criticized some of the Institute's practices and teachings, but doubted that what he heard from disciple Pindar reflected the master's true position. Some claim that on a later visit he met Gurdjieff -- who firmly repudiated Crowley. Biographer Sutin expresses skepticism, and Gurdjieff's student C.S. Nott tells a different version. Nott perceives Crowley as a black or at least ignorant magician and says his teacher "kept a sharp watch" on the visitor, but mentions no open confrontation.

On August 16, 1929 Crowley married Maria de Miramar, from Nicaragua, while in Leipzig. They separated by 1930, but they were never divorced.

In 1934, Crowley was declared bankrupt after losing a court case in which he sued the artist Nina Hamnett for calling him a black magician in her 1932 book, Laughing Torso. In addressing the jury, Mr Justice Swift said:

However, Patricia "Deirdre" MacAlpine approached Crowley on the day of the verdict and offered to bear him a child, whom he named Aleister Ataturk. She sought no mystical or religious role in Crowley's life and rarely saw him after the birth, "an arrangement that suited them both.

During World War II, Ian Fleming and others proposed a disinformation plot in which Crowley would have helped an MI5 agent supply Nazi official Rudolf Hess with faked horoscopes. They could then pass along false information about an alleged pro-German circle in Britain. The government abandoned this plan when Hess flew to Scotland, crashing his plane on the moors near Eaglesham, and was captured. Fleming then suggested using Crowley as an interrogator to determine the influence of astrology on other Nazi leaders, but his superiors rejected this plan. At some point, Fleming also suggested that Britain could use Enochian as a code in order to plant evidence.

Death

Aleister Crowley died of a respiratory infection in a Hastings boarding house on 1 December 1947 at the age of 72. He had been addicted to heroin after being prescribed morphine for his asthma and bronchitis many years earlier. He and his last doctor died within 24 hours of each other; newspapers would claim, in differing accounts, that Dr. Thomson had refused to continue his opiate prescription and that Crowley had put a curse on him.

Biographer Lawrence Sutin passes on various stories about Crowley's death and last words. Frieda Harris supposedly reported him saying, "I am perplexed," though she did not see him at the very end. According to John Symonds, a Mr. Rowe witnessed Crowley's death along with a nurse, and reported his last words as "Sometimes I hate myself." Biographer Gerald Suster accepted the version of events he received from a "Mr W.H." who worked at the house, in which Crowley dies pacing in his living room. Supposedly Mr W.H. heard a crash while polishing furniture on the floor below, and entered Crowley's rooms to find him dead on the floor. Patricia "Deirdre" MacAlpine, who visited Crowley with their son and her three other children, denied all this and reports a sudden gust of wind and peal of thunder at the (otherwise quiet) moment of his death. According to MacAlpine, Crowley remained bedridden for the last few days of his life, but was in light spirits and conversational. Readings at the cremation service in nearby Brighton included one of his own works, Hymn to Pan, and newspapers referred to the service as a black mass. Brighton council subsequently resolved to take all necessary steps to prevent such an incident from occurring again.

Thelema

Thelema is the mystical cosmology Crowley announced in 1904 and expanded upon for the remainder of his life. The diversity of his writings illustrate his difficulty in classifying Thelema from any one vantage. It can be considered a form of religious traditionalism, humanistic positivism, and/or an elitist meritocracy.

The chief precept of Thelema, derived from the works of François Rabelais, is the sovereignty of Will: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." Crowley's idea of will, however, is not simply the individual's desires or wishes, but also incorporates a sense of the person's destiny or greater purpose: what he termed "True Will."

The second precept of Thelema is "Love is the law, love under will" — and Crowley's meaning of "Love" is as complex as that of "Will." It is frequently sexual: Crowley's system, like elements of the Golden Dawn before him, sees the dichotomy and tension between the male and female as fundamental to existence, and sexual "magic" and metaphor form a significant part of Thelemic ritual. However, Love is also discussed as the Union of Opposites, which Crowley thought was the key to enlightenment.

Science, magic, and sexuality

Crowley claimed to use a scientific method to study what people at the time called spiritual experiences, making "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion" the catchphrase of his magazine The Equinox. By this he meant that mystical experiences should not be taken at face value, but critiqued and experimented with in order to arrive at their underlying religious or neurological meaning.
In this connection there was also the point that I was anxious to prove that spiritual progress did not depend on religious or moral codes, but was like any other science. Magick would yield its secrets to the infidel and the libertine, just as one does not have to be a churchwarden in order to discover a new kind of orchid. There are, of course, certain virtues necessary to the Magician; but they are of the same order as those which make a successful chemist.

Crowley's magical and initiatory system has amongst its innermost reaches a set of teachings on sex magick. He frequently expressed views about sex that were radical for his time, and published numerous poems and tracts combining pagan religious themes with sexual imagery both heterosexual and homosexual, as well as pederastic. One of his most notorious poetry collections, entitled White Stains (1898), was published in Amsterdam in 1898 and dealt specifically with sexually explicit subject matter. However, most of the hundred copies printed for the initial release were later seized and destroyed by British customs.

Sex magick is the use of the sex act — or the energies, passions or arousal states it evokes — as a point upon which to focus the will or magical desire for effects in the non-sexual world. In the view of Allen Greenfield, Crowley was inspired by Paschal Beverly Randolph, an American Abolitionist, Spiritualist medium, and author of the mid-19th century who wrote (in Eulis!, 1874) of using the "nuptive moment" (orgasm) as the time to make a "prayer" for events to occur.

Crowley often introduced new terminology for spiritual and magical practices and theory. For example, he termed theurgy "high magick" and thaumaturgy "low magick." In The Book of the Law and The Vision and the Voice, the Aramaic magical formula Abracadabra was changed to Abrahadabra, which he called the new formula of the Aeon. He also famously spelled magic in the archaic manner, as magick, to differentiate "the true science of the Magi from all its counterfeits.

He urged his students to learn to control their own mental and behavioral habits, to the point of switching political views and personalities at will. For control of speech (symbolised as the unicorn) he recommended to choose a commonly-used word, letter, or pronouns and adjectives of the first person, and avoid using it for a week or more. Should they say the word he instructed them to cut themselves with a blade on each occasion to serve as warning or reminder. Later the student could move on to the "Horse" of action and the "Ox" of thought. (These symbols derive from the cabala of Crowley's book 777.)

Chess

Crowley maintained that he learned chess from books by the age of six, and first competed on the Eastbourne College chess team (where he was taking classes in 1892). He says that he showed immediate competence, beating the handicapped local champion and later editing a chess column for the local newspaper, the Eastbourne Gazette, through which he criticised the Eastbourne team.

He later joined the university chess club at Cambridge, where, he says, he beat the president in his first year and practised two hours a day towards becoming a champion — "My one serious worldly ambition had been to become the champion of the world at chess. His writings make it clear that he and his supporters thought he would achieve this goal:

However, he explained that he gave up his chess aspirations in 1897 at the age of 22, when attending a chess conference in Berlin:

Mountaineering

Crowley was obsessed with mountain climbing, which he used as a tool to combat his chronic asthma. He taught himself by scrambling up Cumberland Fells and Beachy Head, after which, he started spending every holiday by switching between the Alps and Bernese Oberland.

In March 1902, Oscar Eckenstein and Crowley undertook the first attempt to scale Chogo Ri (known in the west as K2), located in Pakistan, and Eckenstein had set out to teach Crowley about the techniques of climbing. The Eckenstein-Crowley Expedition consisted of Eckenstein, Crowley, Guy Knowles, H. Pfannl, V. Wesseley, and Dr Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. They ascended June 8, and after eight days, weather conditions were taking their toll. Two months in, they found themselves back down on the plain, which made this Crowley's first recorded defeat.

In May 1905, he was approached by Dr Jules Jacot-Guillarmod (1868 - 1925) to accompany him on the first expedition to Kangchenjunga in Nepal, the third largest mountain in the world. Guillarmod was left to organise the personnel while Crowley left to get things ready in Darjeeling. On July 31 Guillarmod joined Crowley in Darjeeling, bringing with him two countrymen, Charles-Adolphe Reymond and Alexis Pache. Meanwhile, Crowley had recruited a local man, Alcesti C. Rigo de Righi, to act as Transport Manager. The team left Darjeeling on August 8, 1905, and used the Singalila Ridge approach to Kangchenjunga. At Chabanjong they ran into the rear of the 135 Indians/ Central Asians who had been sent ahead on July 24 and July 25, who were carrying food rations for the team. The trek was led by Aleister Crowley, but four members of that party were killed in an avalanche. Crowley's autobiography states they reached about 25,000 feet.

Crowley was sometimes famously scathing about other climbers, in particular Owen Glynne Jones, whom he considered a risk-taking self-publicist, and his 'two photographers' (George and Ashley Abraham).

Controversy

Author and Crowley biographer Lon Milo Duquette wrote in his 1993 work The Magick of Aleister Crowley that:

"Crowley clothed many of his teachings in the thin veil of sensational titillation. By doing so he assured himself that one, his works would only be appreciated by the few individuals capable of doing so, and two, his works would continue to generate interest and be published by and for the benefit of both his admirers and his enemies long after death. He did not - I repeat not - perform or advocate human sacrifice. He was often guilty, however, of the crime of poor judgment.

Like all of us, Crowley had many flaws and shortcomings. The greatest of those, in my opinion, was his inability to understand that everyone else in the world was not as educated and clever as he. It is clear, even in his earliest works, he often took fiendish delight in terrifying those who were either too lazy, too bigoted, or too slow-witted to understand him."DuQuette, Lon Milo The Magick of Aleister Crowley. Weiser Books.

In this vein many of Crowley's more audacious and outright shocking writings were often thinly veiled attempts to communicate methods of sexual magick, often using words like "blood", "death" and "kill" to replace "semen", "ecstacy" and "ejaculation" in the yet puritanical sexual environment of late 19th/early 20th century England. It would seem that Mr.Crowley can certainly be accused of having a sick sense of humour. Take for instance the highly repeated quote from his thickly veiled Book Four: "It would be unwise to condemn as irrational the practice of devouring the heart and liver of an adversary while yet warm. For the highest spiritual working one must choose that victim which contains the greatest and purest force; a male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory." Robert Anton Wilson in The Final Secret of the Illuminati (aka Cosmic Trigger Volume One) interpreted the child as a reference to genes in sperm. Crowley added in a footnote to the text on sacrifice, "the intelligence and innocence of that male child are the perfect understanding of the Magician, his one aim, without lust of result."

In the "New Comment" to the Book of the Law, "the Beast 666 adviseth that all children shall be accustomed from infancy to witness every type of sexual act, as also the process of birth, lest falsehood fog, and mystery stupefy, their minds...Politeness has forbidden any direct reference to the subject of sex to secure no happier result than to allow Sigmund Freud and others to prove that our every thought, speech, and gesture, conscious or unconscious, is an indirect reference!" And indeed, according to Freudian Steven Marcus, men in Victorian England had a common sexual fetish for thinly veiled descriptions of men spanking boys. (In their reformatory institutions for children, men "were allowed to birch their inmates across the bare buttocks until the early 1920s, when under government pressure the cane or tawse over trousers became standard.) Many have cited one or both of these quotes from Crowley, without context, as proof of immorality and sometimes of a vast child-abusing conspiracy.

Drugs

Crowley was a habitual drug user and also maintained a meticulous record of his drug-induced experiences with laudanum, opium, cocaine, hashish, alcohol, ether, mescaline and heroin. Allan Bennett, Crowley's mentor, was said to have "instructed Crowley in the magical use of drugs. The Cairo revelation from Aiwass/Aiwaz specifically recommended indulgence in "strange drugs." While in Paris during the 1920s, Crowley experimented with psychedelic substances, specifically Anhalonium lewinii, an obsolete scientific name for the mescaline-bearing cactus peyote. In October of 1930, Crowley dined with Aldous Huxley in Berlin, and to this day rumours persist that he introduced Huxley to peyote on that occasion.

Crowley first developed a drug addiction after a London doctor prescribed heroin for his asthma and bronchitis. His life as an addict influenced his 1922 novel, Diary of a Drug Fiend, but the fiction presented a hopeful outcome of rehabilitation and recovery by means of Magickal techniques and the exercise of True Will. At the time of his death he was addicted to heroin, his narcotic of choice.

Racism

Biographer Lawrence Sutin stated that "blatant bigotry is a persistent minor element in Crowley's writings. The book's introduction calls Crowley "a spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family who embodied many of the worst John Bull racial and social prejudices of his upper-class contemporaries, Sutin also writes, "Crowley embodied the contradiction that writhed within many Western intellectuals of the time: deeply held racist viewpoints courtesy of their culture, coupled with a fascination with people of colour.

Crowley defended the use of violence against the Chinese, specifically the lower classes. He applied the term "nigger" to Italians (in Diary of a Drug Fiend Book I, Chapter 9) and Indians, and called the Indian theosophist Jiddu Krishnamurti "negroid."

Crowley, according to his biographer, Lawrence Sutin, used racial epithets to bully Victor Neuburg during a sadomasochistic magical working: "Crowley leveled numerous brutal verbal attacks on Neuburg's family and Jewish ancestry ...". The two became lovers by the end of that year if not before, but "[w]hether or not Crowley and Neuburg had sexual relations during this magical retirement is unclear," according to Sutin.

Crowley's published expressions of antisemitism were disturbing enough to later editors of his works that one of them, Israel Regardie, attempted to suppress them. In 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings of Aleister Crowley (Samuel Weiser, 1975), Regardie, a Jew, explained his complete excision of Crowley's antisemitic commentary on the Kabbalah in the 6th unnumbered page of his editorial introduction: "I am ... omitting Crowley's Preface to the book. It is a nasty, malicious piece of writing, and does not do justice to the system with which he is dealing.

What Regardie had removed was Crowley's "Preface to Sepher Sephiroth", originally published in Equinox 1:8. Written in 1911, at the same time that Menahem Mendel Beilis was accused of ritual cannibalism in Kiev, Russia, it contained a clear statement of Crowley's belief in the blood libel against the Jews:

Having thus implicitly defended the recent antisemitic pogroms in Kishinev Russia and elsewhere, on the grounds that the murder of thousands of Jews was a rational response to the implied danger of Jewish ritual cannibalism, Crowley rhetorically asked how a system of value such as Qabala could come from what "the general position of the ethnologist" called "an entirely barbarous race, devoid of any spiritual pursuit," and "polytheists" to boot. As Crowley himself practiced polytheism, some read these remarks as irony.

Crowley repeated his claim that Jews in Eastern Europe practice ritual child-murder in at least one later work as well, namely the section on mysticism in Book Four or Magick. Here he uses quotation marks for "ritual murder" and for "Christian" children.

An article at The Cauldron: A Pagan Forum makes the following claim while speaking of the previously mentioned remark elsewhere in Magick:

Crowley studied and promoted the mystical and magical teachings of some of the same ethnic groups he attacked, in particular Indian yoga, Jewish Kabbalah and goetia, and the Chinese I Ching. Also, in Confessions Chapter 86, as well as a private diary which Lawrence Sutin quotes in Do What Thou Wilt chapter 7, Crowley recorded a memory of a "past life" as the Chinese Taoist writer Ko Hsuan. In another remembered life, Crowley said, he took part in a "Council of Masters" that included many from Asia. He has this to say about the virtues of "Eurasians" and then Jews:

All these remarks must necessarily be contrasted or reconciled with Crowley's explicit philosophical instructions in Magick Without Tears. Chapter 73, which is entitled "'Monsters', Niggers, Jews, etc," states his essentially individualistic and anti-racialist views, citing relevant verses from The Book of the Law: "Ye are against the people, o my chosen!" (Liber Al II:25), "Every man and every woman is a star" (Liber Al I:3). Here Crowley emphasizes by way of commentary upon these verses the instant debasement and un-Thelemic viewpoint which any notion of human beings as "classes" or "races" -- whether belonged-to or feared -- instead of as individuals, is likely to bring. The "Thelemic" philosophical position which he taught in this volume (which is a series of letters of direct personal instruction to various disciples) is clearly an anti-racialistic one. Even in private comments on Mein Kampf, Crowley said that his own preferred "master class" was above all distinctions of race.

Sexism

Biographer Lawrence Sutin stated that Crowley "largely accepted the notion, implicitly embodied in Victorian sexology, of women as secondary social beings in terms of intellect and sensibility. Occult scholar Tim Maroney compares him to other figures and movements of the time and suggests that some others might have shown more respect for women.

Crowley stated that women, except "a few rare individuals," care most about having children and will conspire against their husbands if they lack children to whom to devote themselves. In Confessions, Crowley says he learned this from his first marriage. He claimed that their intentions were to force a man to abandon his life's work for their interests. He only found women "tolerable", he wrote, when they served the role of solely helping a man in his life's work. However, he said that they were incapable of actually understanding the work. He also claimed that women did not have individuality and were solely guided by their habits or impulses.

Nevertheless, when he sought what he called the supreme magical-mystical attainment, Crowley asked Leah Hirsig to direct his ordeals, marking the first time since the schism in the Golden Dawn that another person verifiably took charge of his initiation. In the Hierophant section of the Book of Thoth, he interprets a verse from the Book of the Law that speaks of "the woman girt with a sword; she represents the Scarlet Woman in the hierarchy of the new Aeon.(...)This woman represents Venus as she now is in this new aeon; no longer the mere vehicle of her male counterpart, but armed and militant."

Writings

Crowley was a highly prolific writer, not only on the topic of Thelema and magick, but on philosophy, politics, and culture. The poems and plays written in his twenties and found in his Collected Works of Aleister Crowley 1905-1907 were alone enough to substantiate a common writer's career. He left behind a countless number of personal letters and daily journal entries. He self-published many of his books, expending the majority of his inheritance to disseminate his views.

Within the subject of occultism Crowley wrote widely, penning commentaries on magick, divinatory tarot, Yoga, Qabalah, astrology, and numerous other subjects. He also wrote a Thelemic interpolation of the Tao Te Ching, based on earlier English translations since he knew little or no Chinese. Like the Golden Dawn mystics before him, Crowley evidently sought to comprehend the entire human religious and mystical experience in a single philosophy.

Some of his most influential books include:

He also edited and produced a series of publications in book form called The Equinox (subtitled "The Review of Scientific Illuminism"), which served as the voice of his magical order, the A∴A∴. Although the entire set is influential and remains one of the definitive works on occultism, some of the more notable issues are:

  • III:1, "The Blue Equinox" (largely regarding the structure of OTO)
  • III:2, The Gospel According to St. Bernard Shaw and other papers (proof copy only)
  • III:3, The Equinox of the Gods (covering the events leading up to the writing of Liber Legis)
  • III:4, Eight Lectures on Yoga
  • III:5, The Book of Thoth (a full treatise on his Thoth Tarot)
  • III:6, Liber Aleph (An extended and elaborate commentary on Liber Legis in the form of short letters)
  • III:7, The Shih I (allegedly. An unfinished/published translation of the I Ching)
  • III:8, The Tao Te Ching (a translation of the Chinese classic)
  • III:9, The Holy Books of Thelema (the "received" works of Crowley)
  • III:10, An issue with mostly O.T.O constitutional papers
  • IV:1, Commentary on the Holy Books, and other papers (mainly Liber 65 and Madame Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence)
  • IV:2, The Vision and the Voice with Commentary and other papers

Crowley also wrote fiction, including plays and later novels, most of which have not received significant notice outside of occult circles. Some of these fictional works include:

Crowley also had a peculiar sense of humour, which he often utilised as a teaching instrument. He wrote a polemic arguing against George Bernard Shaw's interpretation of the Gospels in his preface to Androcles and the Lion, which was edited by Francis King and published as Crowley on Christ. In his Magick, Book 4 he includes a chapter purporting to illuminate the Qabalistic significance of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. In re Humpty Dumpty, for instance, he recommends the occult authority "Ludovicus Carolus" -- better known as Lewis Carroll. In a footnote to the chapter he admits that he had invented the alleged meanings, to show that one can find occult "Truth" in everything. His "8 Lectures On Yoga" are written under the name Guru Sri Pramahansa Shivaji (which translates into something along the lines of "Great Exalted Guru of Shiva") and are divided into "Yoga for Yahoos" and "Yoga for Yellowbellies". In The Book of Lies, the title to chapter 69 is given as "The Way to Succeed - and the Way to Suck Eggs!" a pun, as the chapter concerns the 69 sex position as a mystical act.

Crowley was also a published, if minor, poet. He wrote the 1929 Hymn to Pan, perhaps his most widely read and anthologised poem. Three pieces by Crowley, "The Quest", "The Neophyte", and "The Rose and the Cross", appear in the 1917 collection The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Crowley's unusual sense of humour is on display in White Stains, an 1898 collection of pornographic verse pretended to be "the literary remains of George Archibald Bishop, a neuropath of the Second Empire;" the volume is prefaced with a notice that says that " The Editor hopes that Mental Pathologists, for whose eyes alone this treatise is destined, will spare no precaution to prevent it falling into other hands."

Some of his published poetry includes:

  • White Stains (1898).
  • Alice, an Adultery (1903).
  • The Sword of Song (1904).
  • The Star and the Garter. (1904).
  • Orpheus, a Lyrical Legend (two volumes, 1905).
  • Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden. (1904).
  • Clouds without Water ("by the Reverend C. Verey", 1909)
  • The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz. ("translated by Major Lutiy", 1910).
  • Aha ! (1910)
  • Ambergris: the Selected Poems of Aleister Crowley (1910)
  • The Winged Beetle. (1912).
  • Olla, an Anthology of Sixty years of Song (1946, his last published work)

The Greek scholar Dionysios Psilopoulos has written on Crowley as a poet (Ph.D., Edinburgh).

Cultural references

See also

Notes

References

  • Booth, Martin (2000). A Magick Life: The Life of Aleister Crowley. Coronet Books, London. ISBN 978-0-340-71806-3
  • Berti, Giordano (1998). La Grande Bestia: Luci e Ombre, first chapter of Tarocchi Aleister Crowley. Lo Scarabeo, Torino. ISBN 88-86131-73-9
  • Bull, John. "The Wickedest Man in the World". Sunday Express, 24 Mar. 1923. Unverified that this is the article: Verification that the Sunday Express did make article:
  • Carroll, Robert Todd (2004). " Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 30 December 2004.
  • Cornelius, J. Edward (2001). The Friends & Acquaintances of Aleister Crowley in Red Flame: A Thelemic Research Journal no. 3.
  • Cornelius, J. Edward (2005). Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board.
  • Crowley, Aleister (1990). " The Tao Teh King, Liber CLVII: THE EQUINOX Vol. III. No. VIII. ASCII VERSION". Retrieved 30 December 2004.
  • Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2005). The Equinox Retrieved 24 March 2005.
  • Grant, Kenneth (1991). Remembering Aleister Crowley.
  • Hutchinson, Roger (1999). Aleister Crowley: The Beast Demystified. Mainstream Publishing, New York. ISBN 1-84018-229-6
  • Kaczynski, Richard (2002). Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley. New Falcon Publications. ISBN 1-56184-170-6
  • Rubio, Frank G. (2001). El Continente Perdido. Valdemar, Madrid. ISBN 84-7702-349-2
  • Sutin, Lawrence (2000). Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley . ISBN 0-312-28897-2
  • Thelemapedia. Aleister Crowley.
  • Wilson, Colin (1993). Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast. Harpercollins, New York. ISBN 0-85030-541-1
  • Wilson, Robert Anton (1977). Cosmic Trigger: The Final Secret of the Illuminati. Pocket Books, New York.

External links

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