Aleister Crowley, also known as 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.
Aleister Crowley was performing ceremonial magic (magick – as he spelled it) and black magic as its popularity skyrocketed in the 20th century. His magical practice and speculations about human sacrifice spoke loudly of him. They contributed to the interest to the interest in him as a British Occultist who served in British Intelligence Services.
He was a man of uncontrollable and boundless sexuality (his acts of sex magic are well documented), 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.
Aleister Crowley Early Life as A Magician
Edward Crowley, born 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. In a fit of anger, his mother once called him the Beast of the Apocalypse, 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, Aleister Crowley’s fixation on sexuality began to manifest itself, probably as compensation for the 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.
One critic rated his collection of erotic poems with the all-encompassing title White Spots as:
“the most disgusting work of English literature”.
At the age of twenty-three, Aleister 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. As Crowley began to call himself, Brother Perdurabo (Latin for “I will persevere”) 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 Cefalù. 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 ceremonial 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
A complete media storm broke out at home in Britain, 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, 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.
Aleister Crowley in The Golden Dawn Order
Crowley, like many other religious skeptics of the nineteenth century, became interested in occultism. In 1898, he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a Rosicrucian-inspired society. The poet William Butler Yeats was a rival of Crowley’s in the London Golden Dawn circle.
Crowley alleged mystical experiences and wrote The Book of the Law, a prose poem he claimed was given to him by a discarnate person called Aiwass, during a journey to Egypt in 1904. In it, Jesus stated his most famous teaching: “Do what thou wilt shall be a complete law.” The notion was not novel—the French poet François Rabelais had stated it more than 300 years before in Gargantua and Pantagruel—but Crowley used it as the foundation for a new religion he termed Thelema, Thelma being the Greek word for “will.”
We have already covered a lot of Golden Dawn mysticism and traditions in previous posts, so please refer to the archive for more information.
The Ordo Templi Orientis, a mystical order of German provenance, recognized the Book of the Law as scripture. Crowley formed his own organization, AA, in 1907, using initials that stood for the Latin phrase for “silver star.” Beginning in 1909, he published his teachings in the monthly The Equinox. J.F.C. Fuller, subsequently a well-known military strategist and historian, was his aide in the early years of this endeavor.
Crowley left England in 1900 to travel extensively throughout the East, returning in 1906 to establish a mystical order to pick up where the Golden Dawn had left off. He dubbed this order the A.’. A.’. (Astron Argon, Astrum Argentium, or Silver Star) soon became the major means of transmitting Crowley’s ideas.
Crowley lived in the United States during World War I, where he wrote to the pro-German journal The Fatherland. Following the war, he relocated to Cefalù, on the Italian island of Sicily, where he turned a villa into the Abbey of Crowley Thelema. During this time, he authored The Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922), a novel that was said to be based on real experience. Crowley was labeled the “wickedest man in the world” in the British popular press after the death of a teenage follower in Sicily, purportedly after partaking in sacrilegious rituals, leading to his deportation from Italy in 1923. Crowley returned to England in the early 1930s, having spent his inheritance on travel and extravagances. His final major achievement was the release of The Book of Thoth (1944), in which he interpreted a new tarot card deck called the Thoth that he devised in partnership with the artist Frieda Harris.
Crowley died in poverty and obscurity in an English rooming house in 1947, but he became a figure of interest in popular culture after his death. The Beatles used his photograph on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Jimmy Page – the guitarist for Led Zeppelin, purchased a property originally owned by Crowley near Loch Ness in Scotland.
Cambridge University: 1895–1898
Crowley began a three-year term at Trinity College, Cambridge, in October 1895, having adopted the name Aleister over Edward, where he was entered for the Moral Science Tripos studying philosophy. With the agreement of his personal tutor, he switched to English literature, which was not part of the curriculum at the time.
Crowley spent much of his time at university involved in his hobbies, becoming president of the chess club and practicing the game for two hours a day; he briefly explored a professional chess career.
Crowley also pursued his passion for literature and poetry, especially the writings of Richard Francis Burton and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Many of his poetry was published in student magazines such as The Granta, Cambridge Magazine, and Cantab.
From 1894 until 1898, he went on vacation to the Alps to climb every year, often with his buddy Oscar Eckenstein, and in 1897 he made the first ascent of the Mönch without a guide. These accomplishments earned him respect in the Alpine mountaineering community.
For many years, I despised being named Alick, partly because of the horrible sound and appearance of the term, and partly because it was my mother’s name. Edward didn’t seem to fit, and the diminutives Ted or Ned were much worse. Sandy recommended two hair and freckles because Alexander was too long. I’d heard somewhere that the best names for becoming famous were those that began with a dactyl and ended with a spondee, as at the end of a hexameter: names like Jeremy Taylor. Aleister Crowley met these requirements, and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. Adopting it would fulfill my romantic fantasies.
On his new name, Aleister Crowley.
Crowley had his first important mystical encounter in December 1896 while on vacation in Stockholm.
Several biographers, including Lawrence Sutin, Richard Kaczynski, and Tobias Churton, believed this was due to Crowley’s first same-sex sexual experience, which enabled him to recognize his bisexuality. Crowley maintained a robust sex life with women at Cambridge, primarily with female prostitutes, from one of whom he contracted syphilis, but he finally participated in same-sex relations, despite their illegality. Crowley began a connection with Herbert Charles Pollitt, president of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, in October 1897. They split up because Pollitt did not share Crowley’s growing interest in Western esotericism, which was a split that Crowley would lament for many years.
Crowley traveled to Saint Petersburg, Russia, in 1897, later saying that he was trying to learn Russian in preparation for a future diplomatic career there.
A brief sickness in October 1897 prompted thoughts of mortality and “the futility of all human endeavor,” and Crowley abandoned all plans for a diplomatic career in favor of pursuing an interest in the occult.
In March 1898, he purchased A.E. Waite’s The Book of Black Magic and Pacts, followed by Karl von Eckartshausen’s The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary, to advance his occult studies.
Crowley privately published 100 copies of his poem Aceldama: A Place to Bury Strangers in 1898, but it was not a big hit.
Leonard Smithers released Aceldama. Crowley also released several other poems that year, including White Stains Decadent, a book of pornographic poetry printed abroad to avoid being banned by British authorities.
He left Cambridge in July 1898, despite a “first-class” showing in his 1897 exams and steady “second class honors” performances before that.
Travel and enlightenment
In 1904, Crowley left England for Ceylon, where he spent two years studying Buddhism. In 1906, he traveled through India before returning home via Egypt. After that, he mainly lived abroad: first in Paris, then in London, and finally in Cairo. During this period, he wrote The Book of Lies, a work that has been called ‘a kind of autobiography’. It is not clear whether it was ever completed or even if any copies survived.
Drugs and death
After this setback, Crowley returned to England but soon found that he had lost all influence over the movement. By 1925, he was living in poverty in London, addicted to morphine and cocaine. A year later, he began taking laudanum regularly. This led to further addiction and eventually to cirrhosis of the liver.
On 30 September 1926, while staying at the Hotel Terminus in Paris, he suffered a massive heart attack.
He is still regarded as one of the most notable members of the Golden Dawn order. Many followers of Thelema see him as the most prominent figure in the Golden Dawn secret society of the twentieth century.