Founded in the late 1870s, England, Aleister Crowley was one of the great characters of the 20th century—an author, a magician, a writer, an alchemist, a philosopher, and spy self-proclaimed drug addict, and a sex addict. He was also known as the great beast” and the “wrongest man in the world.” He played a major role in developing alternative religions such as Wicca, the Apotentiary, and the Ordo Templi Orientis. He founded the Order of Thelema, a semi-Satanic cult whose famous edict was Do what you want.”
Crowley is too occult as Tolkien is a fantasy—he set the stage in which everyone else plays. Basically, if you’re dabbling in dark stuff, you know, Aleister was actually there first.
Crowley moved a lot with all his hobbies. He pursued adventures in Egypt, India, the Far East, Australia, all over Europe and North America, exploring the globe with sex magic and strange stunts. Here are six locations in the Atlas where the notorious occult left his mark.
1. 36 Bly the Lane
In London, Blythe Lane.
Blythe Lane, the former site of the London Temple of the Golden Dawn Hermetic Order. (Photograph: Philip Perry/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Though he was interested in the supernatural from childhood, Crowley’s first foray into organized magic (or “magic” as he preferred to spell it) was with the Golden Dawn Hermetic Order. Well-liked by his co-founder, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, Crowley progressed in the ranks quite rapidly. Not everybody, however, was a fan. The London chapter, which had already found faults in Mather’s leadership especially disavowed him for the eccentric, bisexual Crowley. This created a definitive split between the two factions of the Order. Still, Mathers was not ready to admit his leadership.
In 1900, the poet and chief of the London chapter, W. B. Yeats was in charge of the meeting. He was struck by an “astral siege” by none other than Aleister Crowley. Crowley, wearing a black Osiris mask and a kilt, and his mistress burst into the temple, casting spells and waving daggers. They were attempting to carry the temple to Mather’s, but they were unsuccessful. The police came, the scuffle went to court, and the Golden Dawn chapter of London prevailed (as they paid the room rent). Now that George’s Cafe has not been described, it remains in the former site of the Temple of Secret Society, with no hint of its former existence.
2. The Boleskin Building
The Boleskin House, photographed in 1912.
The Boleskin House, photographed in 1912. (Photo: Aleister Crowley/PD USA)
The Moleskin House was steeped in darkness even before Crowley moved in. The manor has been constructed on top of the ruins of a 10th-century church that burned to the ground during the service, killing all the congregants inside. Crowley bought the Boleskine House to distinguish himself and perform the Book of the Holy Magic of the Magic of Abramelin. During this time, Crowley became famous for his occultism and black magic, both in Scotland and later in the world. During this time, Mathers called Crowley to Paris. So, he left without dispelling the “12 Kings and Dukes of Hell” he had summoned, and several locals blame the house’s tragic past on the evil spirits left behind.
Second, the two children of Crowley’s housekeeper died mysteriously and unexpectedly. Crowley also bragged that one of the estate workers who had long abstained from drinking had been intoxicated and had tried to kill his entire family. After the house had changed hands, it was still not free from dark energy. Then in 1965, the army major who owned the house committed suicide with a shotgun. However, the next owner, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, spent a very short time at the estate, instead of leaving it to a friend who didn’t mind the mysterious claws, groans, and numerous ghostly appearances, but was annoyed by the Crowley and Page fans who sometimes tried to break into the house and defile the grounds. Later owners denied any notions of haunting or witchcraft in the house, but in 2015, residents returned from a shopping trip to find the house completely in flames.
3. Crowley’s Magic Retreat
Fresh HAMPSHIRE, HEBRON
Fresh Hampshire site of Aleister Crowley’s enchanted retirement.
Evangeline Adams’ New Hampshire house, where Aleister Crowley spent his magical retirement. (Photo: J.W. Ocker’s courtesy)
In 1916, Crowley spent four months at the home of the famous medium, Evangeline Adams, in what he called a “magic retirement.” It didn’t mean a break from cocaine, opium, sex magick, and extended rituals. In reality, quite the contrary. In Hebron, Crowley doubled and did a great deal of prose, poetry, and magical instruction. He was a ghostwriter on some of Adam’s books on astrology.
4. Isle of Esopus
NEW YORK, HYDE PARK
That’s the island seen by ships.
That’s the island seen by ships. (Photo: Data map ©2016 Google)
Crowley spent 40 days and 40 nights (a la Jesus Christ) on a tiny island in the Hudson River. His mission was to translate Tao Te Ching, a Chinese philosophic text of the 4th century. He didn’t bring a lot of food, but he brought a lot of red paint, and he even put himself to work on Thelemic Graffiti on the rocks of the island. Curious families watching the bald, robbed man on the island from the Hudson banks started to carry his rations. He was visited by fans and artists who brought him food, drugs, and company.
Much later, Crowley recorded that he had dreams of his past life during his stay on Esopus Island, yet all of which were somehow very powerful figures. His former self included the famous Taoist Ge Xuan, the Renaissance Pope Alexander VI, the alchemist Alessandro Cagliostro, and the magician Eliphas Levi, we talked a a lot about on this blog. Today, the island is open to the public as long as it can be reached by sea. There are also camping facilities for those who want to follow the footsteps of the notorious occultist.
5. Inferno, Boca do
Opening to the cave of Boca do Inferno.
The mouth of a cave in Boca do Inferno. (Photograph: Beatrizpereirap/CC BY-SA 3.0)
Any eccentric meaning of his salt must forge his own death at least once. When he visited Portugal in 1930 and was disturbed by his new mistress, Crowley seemed to have committed suicide in the Boca de Inferno (“Mouth of Hell”). His uncle, the poet Fernando Pessoa, handed Crowley’s suicide note to the newspapers, helped explain magic symbols and translated mischievous Portuguese into the police and the media. Three weeks later, Crowley reappeared at the opening of an exhibition of his works in the Berlin museum, implying that this whole affair was more of a publicity trick than anything else. Today, a small white plaque mounted on the rock gives the text of Crowley’s note: ‘Não Posso Viver Sem Ti. An outer ‘Boca De Infierno’ apanhar-me-á não será tão quente com a tua,’ which translates loosely to ‘Can’t live without you.’ The other mouth of hell that’s going to trap me won’t be as hot as yours.” That would be touching if all of it were real.
6. The Abbey of Thelema
CEFAL Relevant, Italy
Decay in the Abbey of Thelema, Cefalu, Sicily.
Decay in the Abbey of Thelema, Cefalus, Sicily. (Photo: Frère Kybernetes/CC BY-SA 2.0)
Crowley’s magical career has reached its pinnacle in a small Sicilian city. He, his two lovers, their little children, and other followers moved into a one-story house facing the Mediterranean Sea for a small sum of money. It was called the Abbey of Thelema. The common room was devoted to ceremonial rituals and maintained a scarlet “magic” circle marked with the main Thelemic deities’ symbol. Crowley’s own bedroom, called la chambre des cauchemars” (or “room of nightmares”), was entirely hand-painted by an occultist with explicitly erotic frescoes, hermaphroditic goblins and brightly colored monsters. This private space was used for unique night initiations involving psychoactive drugs that gave this Bosch-like image of hellish debauchery a disturbing cinematic existence.
Dark Places Where Aleister Crowley Performed His of Magick
Magick considered his temple to be a school of magic and gave it a fitting collegiate motto: “Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum”—”College to the Holy Spirit.” The Cefalù era was one of the most fruitful and happy of his life, even as he suffered from drug addiction and had to write the Drug Fiend’s scandalous Diary to fund his community. The growing interest in dark magic and the occult provided him with a broad student body (pun intended). But in 1922, the experience of monasticism ended when Raoul Loveday, a young disciple, fatally died of typhoid fever from drinking polluted spring water, even though Loveday’s wife insisted that it was from drinking cat’s blood.
Crowley and his people were evicted by the Mussolini government in 1923. The tyrant did not have any sympathy for erotic art or mysticism. When the Abbey had closed, the villagers whitewashed the murals, which they saw as demon-like. This removed a significant part of Crowley’s history and work in Cefalù. The Abbey of Thelema is still there, a secret monument of enigmatic, magical decay.
My name is Tammi.
I’ve made up a story of flash-fiction (1,092 words) based on a photo I saw of one of Alisteir Crowley’s daughters (young girl wearing snakeskin boa crowned with goat head) and Boleskin House. Do you know which photo I’m talking about?
Let me know if you want me to send you the short story!