Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
Written and compiled by George Knowles.
Aleister Crowley was perhaps the most controversial
and misunderstood personality to figure in the new era of modern day witchcraft.
Known by the popular press of his time as “The Great Beast” and
“The Wickedest Man in the World”, Crowley was a powerful magician, poet,
prophet and famed occultist. He was
also a one-time witch, though most of the elders of the craft would discredit
him the title.
Crowley like many great men before him, was a man before his time. He lived in a society that could little understand him or appreciated his latent genius. His writings so shocked the peoples of his era that he was robbed of the praise that it merited, and as a poet he never received the recognition he deserved.
Crowley was born on the 12th October 1875 in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. His parents Edward Crowley and his wife Emily were wealthy brewers and the epitome of respectability. They were also devout Christians and staunch members of the Plymouth Brethren sect. They brought up young Crowley in an atmosphere of pious religious narrow-mindedness, against which he constantly rebelled. His whole life thereafter seems to have been a revolt against his parents and everything they stood for. His father died when he was 11 years old.
Crowley's Father and Mother
After the death of his father, Crowley inherited the
family fortune and went on to be educated at Trinity College Cambridge.
There he wrote and studied poetry. He
loved the out-doors life and was a capable mountain climber, in pursuit of which
he attempted some of the highest peaks in the Himalayas.
In 1898 he published his first book of poetry called "Aceldama, A
Place to Bury Strangers In", a philosophical poem by a 'Gentleman of the
University of Cambridge' in 1898'. In
the preface he describes how God and Satan had fought for his soul and states:
“God conquered – and now I have only one doubt left – which of the
twain was God”?
It was while he was at Trinity that Crowley became
interested in the occult and with his roommate Allan Bennett, they began to
study whatever they could. Crowley
soon discovered that he was excited by descriptions of torture and blood.
He liked to fantasize about being degraded and abused by a 'Scarlet
Women', one who was dominant, wicked and independent.
One of the books he read about this time was by the
author 'Arthur Edward Waite', entitled “The Book of Black Magic and of
Pacts”. It hinted at a secret
brotherhood of occultists and Crowley became even more intrigued.
He wrote to Waite for more information and was referred to "The
Cloud upon the Sanctuary – By Karl von Exkartshausen".
This book tells of the 'Great White Brotherhood' and Crowley determined
he wanted to join this group and advance to its highest levels.
Later that year on the 18th November 1898, he and Bennett both joined the
'Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn', the elusive Great White Brotherhood (see 'S.L.
MacGregor Mathers and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn').
In 1899 Crowley is reported to have become a member
of one of “Old George Pickingill’s” hereditary covens situated in the New
Forrest, although apparently he was not welcome for long (see 'Old George
Pickingill'). It is alleged that he
obtained his 'Second Degree' before being dismissed due to his contemptuous
attitude toward women, failure to attend rituals with regularity, his personal
ego and sexual perversion (Crowley had a bias toward homosexuality and the
bizarre, shocking during his time even amongst witches).
The priestess of his coven later described him as “a dirty-minded,
evilly-disposed and vicious little monster!”
As well as being dismissed and outcaste by the New
Forrest witches, all was not well within the Golden Dawn.
By this time Crowley had moved out of Trinity Collage without earning his
degree, and taken a flat in Chancery Lane, London.
There he renamed himself 'Count Vladimir' and began to pursue his occult
studies on a full-time basis. Crowley
had a natural aptitude for magic and advanced quickly through the ranks of the
Golden Dawn, but the London lodge leaders considered him unsuitable for
advancement into the second order. Crowley
went to Paris in 1899 to see 'S.L. MacGregor Mathers', the then head of the
Order and insisted that he be initiated into the second Order.
Mathers at the time was experiencing growing dissension to his absolute
rule from London, and sensed in Crowley an ally. To the consternation of the London lodge he readily agreed to
Crowley's request and initiated him into the second order.
However their allegiance was an uneasy one, for Mathers
like Crowley was a powerful magician and both were intensely competitive.
Mathers taught Crowley 'Abra-Melin' magic but neither attained any of the
grades of the A\A\. They quarreled constantly and allegedly engaged in magical
warfare. Mathers is said to have
sent an astral vampire to attack Crowley who responded with an army of demons
led by Beelzebub. In April 1900,
Mathers due to problems within the London lodge, dispatched Crowley back to
England as his 'Special Envoy' where he made an abortive attempt to regain
control. Shortly thereafter both
Mathers and Crowley were expelled from the order.
Crowley began to travel, mostly in the East studying
Eastern Occult systems and 'Tantric Yoga'; he also studied 'Buddhism' and the 'I
Ching'. Then for a time he lived in
an isolated setting near to Loch Ness in Scotland.
In 1903 he met and then married Rose Edith Kelly, sister of the well-known
artist Sir Gerald Kelly. She bore him one child.
While they where on holiday in Egypt the following year, April 1904, he
and Rose took part in a magical ritual during which he alleges to have received
a message from the God's. As a
result of this communication he wrote down the first three chapters of his most
famous book “Liber Legis, the Book of Law”.
This book contains his oft-quoted dictum:
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the Law, Love under Will”, upon which Crowley based the rest of
his life and teachings.
Rose Edith Kelly - Crowley's first wife
In 1909 Crowley began to explore levels of the
astral plane with his assistant, a poet called “Victor Neuberg”; they used
'Enochian' magic. Crowley believed
he crossed the Abyss and united his consciousness with the universal
consciousness. He describes the
astral journeys in “The Vision and the Voice”, which was first published in
his periodical “The Equinox” and then posthumously in 1949.
Never far from controversy in 1909 through to 1913,
Crowley serialized the secret rituals of the Golden Dawn in his magazine 'the
Equinox', which he also used as vehicle for his poetry.
Mathers who had written most of the rituals and who was still his
greatest antagonist, tried but failed to get a legal injunction to stop him.
His action only served to gained Crowley more press publicity and
By now Crowley was fast becoming infamous as a Black magician and Satanist, he openly identified himself with the number 666, the biblical number for the antichrist. He also kept with him a series of 'Scarlet Women'; the best known of these was Leah Hirsig, the so-called “Ape of Thoth”. Together they would indulge in drinking sessions, drugs and sexual magic. It is believed that Crowley made several attempts with several of these women to beget a 'Magical child', none of which worked and instead he fictionalized his attempts in a book called “Moonchild”, published in 1929.
Leah Hirsig - the “Ape of Thoth”
In 1912 Crowley became involved with the British
section of the O.T.O. (the Ordo Temple Orientis or Order of the Temple of
the East), a German occult order practicing magic. He then moved and lived in America from 1915 to 1919, moving
again in 1920 to Sicily where he established the notorious Abbey of Thelema at
In Sicily he proceeded to involve himself in Italian
occultism and in 1922 became the head of the 'Ordo Temple Orientis'.
However (as he routinely did) he began to attract more bad publicity.
The press denounced him as “The Wickedest Man in the World” because
of the alleged satanic goings on in the Abbey.
It has now come to light that many of the allegations were false and were
no more than press sensationalism. However
their effect had serious repercussions for Crowley.
In 1923 Mussolini the then ruler of Italy stepped in and expelled him
Crowley wondered around for a while visiting such places as Tunisia and Germany before settling for a time in France. While in France he engaged as his secretary the services of another aspiring magician 'Israel Regardie'. Regardie would later become famous himself and played a prominent role in exposing the complete rituals of the 'Golden Dawn' to the public (see Israel Regardie). Crowley continued to travel around Europe during which time he picked up a growing heroin addiction, a habit he would suffer from for the rest of his life. Back in England in 1929 he met and married his second wife 'Maria Ferrari de Miramar'. The marriage took place in Leipzig, Germany.
Maria Ferrari de Miramar and Crowley
In 1933 Crowley met with 'Sybil Leek' another famous
witch and became a frequent visitor to her home.
Sybil a hereditary witch was only 16 years old at the time and later
wrote in her autobiography "Diary of a Witch" - (New York: Signet,
1969), that Crowley talked to her about witchcraft.
He taught her the words of power and instructed her on the use of certain
words for their vibratory qualities when working with magick (see
Already notorious and well known to the press,
Crowley then became involved in a famous and sensational libel case.
In 1934 before Mr. Justice Swift, he sued Nina Hamnett a prominent
sculptress. Nina had published a
book “Laughing Torso” (Constable and Co., London, 1932) in which Crowley
alleged she had libeled him by saying he that the practiced black magic.
As the case proceeded the other side produced such evidence of
Crowley’s bizarre life-style and scandalous writings (as they were considered
at that time), that the justice was horrified.
Crowley lost the case and was forced into bankruptcy, much to the delight
of the popular press who again had a field day.
Crowley in his room in Jermyn Street, Piccadilly circa 1943
In his penultimate year 1946, a mutual friend 'Arnold
Crowther' introduced Crowley to 'Gerald B.
His meetings with Gardner would later lead to controversy over the
authenticity of Gardner’s original 'Book of Shadows'.
It was alleged that Gardner paid Crowley to write it for him?
But this has now been discounted. While
it did contain some of Crowley’s writings, this was the result of Gardner and
Crowley comparing notes on rituals used in 'Old George Pickingill’s' covens in
the New Forrest area. Doreen
Valiente in her book "Witchcraft for Tomorrow” does much to shed light on
Crowley near the end of his life
At the time of his meetings with Gerald Gardner,
Crowley was a feeble old man living in retirement at a private hotel in
Hastings, barely kept alive by the use of drugs. It was here that he passed from this world into the next on
the 1st December 1947. Unrepentant
and unbowed he left this world with a final snub at the society that had so
misunderstood him, he left instructions that he was to be cremated and instead
of the usual religious service, his 'Hymn to Pan' and other extracts from his
writings was to be proclaimed from the pulpit.
Finally his ashes were to be sent to his disciples in America.
In many ways Aleister Crowley was not a well-liked
man, but he influenced and had an effect on the build up to the new era of
modern witchcraft. His knowledge of
witchcraft and magick was profound and without question, and he has passed on
that knowledge through his books. In
today’s more liberal society more and more of Crowley’s books are being
reprinted as we begin to appreciate his strange genius.
Indeed some of his books have now gained classical status.
These include: Gnostic Mass and The Book of Law (New York: Samuel Weiser,
1977) from which portions of the well known “Charge of the Goddess” were
written by Doreen Valiente. Other
books include: Magick in Theory and Practice, 777 And Other Qabalistic Writing
and The Book of Thoth to mention just a few.
An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present - By Doreen Valiente
Encyclopedia of Wicca &
Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi
Witchcraft for Tomorrow - By Doreen Valiente
First published on the 03 October 2003, 19:47:18
© George Knowles
First published on the 03 October 2003, 19:47:18 © George Knowles
This article is now showing with my permission at http://groups.msn.com/BEWITCHEDPSYCHICREADINGS
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