Aleister Crowley: A Priest of Love, Sex, & Drugs

Aleister Crowley: a priest of love, sex, and drugs. On the way to K2, he drank champagne.

The beast 666, Perdurabo, or Chio Khan lived according to his occult teachings: may your only law be to do what you want. Aleister Crowley paid for materialized evil during his life, embodied in, he was an idol for the flower children of the 1960s.

He was a man of uncontrollable and boundless sexuality, a mystic and occultist, a poet, and a drug experimenter. It is no coincidence that he lived in a turbulent time, determined by tight morals that suppressed human sexuality, as well as the rapid social changes that many people fled to the occult from.

Edward Alexander Crowley was born in September 1875 in the English town of Leamington, into the family of the owner of a small brewery. Both parents were fanatical adherents of the Plymouth Brothers sect. His strict father died when Ed was eleven, after which the boy became unmanageable. His mother once called him the Beast of the Apocalypse in a fit of anger, which Edward somehow had left.

He went with his mother to London to visit his uncle, a respected figure in religious circles, and a well-known philanthropist. But he was also an evil, hypocritical man who only reinforced a sense of disgust with bourgeois society in young Crowley.

At that time, Crowley’s fixation on sexuality began to manifest itself, probably as compensation for lack of love and closeness from religiously passionate parents. He lost his temper at fourteen with a maid in his mother’s bed. When it broke, the mother and uncle fired the woman, after which she survived on the streets as an alcoholic and a prostitute before they found her murdered.

To the peaks of bliss

At the age of twenty, Crowley enrolled at the famous Trinity College in Oxford, where he studied philosophy, psychology, and classical philology and excelled as a competitive chess player. At that time, he was fascinated by magic. After experiencing some enlightenment on his way to Sweden, he changed his first name to Aleister. During his studies, he painted and mainly wrote poetry, but also short stories and plays. He published his works at his own expense, but without much success.

His collection of erotic poems with the all-encompassing title White Spots was rated by one critic as:


“the most disgusting work of English literature”.

At the age of twenty-three, Crowley joined The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, one of countless “secret” occult communities. Its members included poets, William Butler Yeats and Arthur Edward Waite. Brother Perdurabo (Latin for “I will persevere”), as Crowley began to call himself, was most closely associated with a certain Allen Bennett.

Together they developed magical rituals by experimenting with hashish, opium, cocaine, and heroin. Crowley became one of the discoverers of the effects of mescaline. In 1900, however, Bennett left his friend to become a Buddhist monk in Ceylon, and Crowley was fired. The brothers were offended by his bisexuality and voracious promiscuity.

He went to the Scottish countryside, where he further perfected his magical rituals before embarking on a series of journeys worldwide. In Mexico, he was initiated into the ceremonies of the local Indians, visited Hong Kong and Singapore, traveled through India, and went to the Himalayas. Quite a half-century before Hillary and Norgay, Crowley, a skilled mountaineer, wanted to conquer Mount Everest but did not obtain permission, so in March 1902, he set out for the second-highest mountain on the planet K2.

In the end, he did not reach its top, he suffered from snow blindness and the consequences of unregulated drinking of champagne during the ascent, and he also caught malaria. Even the expedition to the third highest peak in the world, Kanchenjunga, ended infamously when the group quarreled, split up and several participants perished.

A prophet of vice

Back in Scotland, Crowley married Rose Kelly, a friend’s sister, who allowed him to avoid being forced into a local cantata. But during the honeymoon, he sincerely fell in love with her. While pretending to be the Persian nobleman Chio Khan, they settled in Cairo. Their daughter Nuit Ma Athanoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith was born there, but she died of typhus two years later. The marriage began to crumble.

During his stay in Egypt, Crowley was visited by “his personal guardian angel”, who dictated Liber Al Vel Legis, the Book of the Law, to him during a nightly ritual. It contains the famous premise that “to do what you want, let alone be the law,” and that “love is the law, love subject to the will.”

In 1912, he was approached by Theodor Reuss, the Quasi-Templar Ordo Templi Orientis founder, which is still active mainly on the other side of the Atlantic. Crowley became Baphomet’s brother, named after a demon with a goat’s head and a pentagram on his forehead, and head of the British branch of the Order, the Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, the island of Ion and all the British belonging to the Gnostic temple.

After the Great War outbreak, he wrote several anti-British and pro-German pamphlets, respectively, but in fact, acting as an agent in the interests of the British monarchy. Even in the United States, where he otherwise perfected his sexual magic with prostitutes.

After the war, Crowley left with his mistresses and supporters in Sicily, where they founded Thelema’s abbey near the town of Cefal├╣. The community’s life was determined by a strict order. They held a ritual procession every day to honor the Sun, and they celebrated wild ceremonies of sexual magic overnight.

The local Crowley pupils generally tolerated it as a harmless group of fools. However, the master soon fell into depression and heroin after his second daughter, Pauper. Besides, in 1923, 23-year-old adoptive “magical son” Raoul Loveday succumbed to Crowley’s blood poisoning. Reportedly after a ritual in which he drank cat’s blood, but more likely after a gulp of water from a dirty well in the mountains.

The shadow of a fallen angel

At home in Britain, a complete media storm broke out, with boulevard readers swallowing more or less true or utterly eloquent details about the obscenities perpetrated by “the most discerning man in the world.” An equally intense campaign ended with a later attempt to publish Crowley’s biography, The Drug Diary, preferring to withdraw it from the sale.

Nevertheless, the publicly despised, impoverished, and skinny addict on heroin did not lack followers or mistresses, with whom he fathered other illegitimate children. Many of his partners ended up in the bottom of a bottle, in a madhouse, or by suicide.

Aleister Crowley died in 1947 at the age of seventy-two from chronic pneumonia.

His life was one great rebellion against the ultra-conservative patriarchate of the nineteenth century. “My mother was by nature a sensual woman, and there is no doubt that sexual oppression has brought her to the brink of madness,” Crowley wrote. According to him, society cannot be balanced and people happy if valid morality makes it impossible for them to experience the innermost of all human needs, namely sexuality.

“As long as sexual relationships remain complicated by religious, social, and financial considerations, they will cause all kinds of cowardly, dishonest, and disgusting behavior,”

he wrote.

Interest in Crowley, therefore, revived in the 1960s, when the process of easing sexual morality culminated in the Western world, people experimenting with drugs and trying new forms of spirituality. Crowley’s lyrics were read by nonconforming intellectuals and long-haired hippies from painted vans.

Twenty years after his death, he became a kind of pop culture icon; for example, the Beatles chose him among the personalities depicted on the cover of the album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In later decades, punks also referred to the Beast, but metalheads or the gothic subculture and many industrial bands. And in the television rankings of the hundreds of the greatest Britons, Crowley placed in a decent seventy-third place.

Simultaneously, the beast is an interesting figure or prophet of hedonism but a personification of the premise that human nature cannot be suppressed. But she could still be a little tame.

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