A note from the author of this piece: those who know me from my Facebook page, will not be at all surprised to read these words - that if I could find a way to traverse back in time, that I'd loved to have loved him, even if for a short while...
A Concise Beginners Introduction to 'The Beast,' Aleister Crowley
by Jude (Joodhe)
He was born Edward Alexander Crowley, on October 12, 1875; died on December 1st, 1947. He was born in Leamington Spa, England, and died at Hastings England (72 years of age).
Crowley (pronounced as, crow [as in the bird] - ley) was a great magician, and due to the great contributions he made to magick, may have been the greatest magician of our times. There are many detrimental claims made concerning Crowley, which could be because he existed in a time in history where religion and behaving a certain way was necessary to fit in, far more so than it is today. His father was heir to a brewing fortune, and was also an evangelist for a Christian Fundamentalist religious organization, known as the Plymouth Brethren. Crowley had no interest in Christianity and turned away from it to pursue his own path. He was university educated (Cambridge); and through his years could call himself many things, including a mountaineer, a prolific writer, a painter, a poet, a teacher, a visionary, a chess player, a hedonist, an occultist, and a ceremonial magician.
Crowley referred to himself as 'The Beast 666,' which was him adopting and embracing a slur his mother applied to him when young. She felt that as he rejected Christianity, that he was influenced by the Devil. As for his birth name, he did not like it and changed it, as for one thing he was looking for a name that met his requisite. In his words: "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." The name 'Aleister Crowley' fit the bill, and Aleister as well, is Gaelic for Alexander; he was Irish after all.
Crowley was bisexual, with his primary preference being men, with he adopting the submissive role. For a while he lived in a partnership with a male by the name of Herbert Charles Pollitt, whom he loved dearly. However, the differences between them in matters of faith ultimately caused them to part ways, as Pollitt had little to no interest in Western esotericism.
|Crowley in Golden Dawn robe|
Crowley became a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898, and that's where he learnt ceremonial magick, tarot, alchemy, astrology, qabalah, and other hermetic subjects. It was he himself that appended a k to the word magic, in order to differentiate works from those conducted by a stage magician. There, by the way, is great significance in that Crowley affixed the k onto magic. Within doing so he brought the numerical value of the word to eleven. And as well there are eleven words in "do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." No mere accident, this is an example of the particular and thorough man and deep thinker that Crowley indeed was. His aim was to standardly create correspondences, and so he did.
Crowley ultimately was ousted from the Golden Dawn; it has been said that the reason was that W.B. Yeats was the primary one that pushed for it to happen, as he found Crowley's approach to magick offended his own, and also deemed his behavior to be immoral. A bit of poetic injustice going on there, it seems. Thereafter A.C. spent time in Asia, where he learnt yoga, and also and mysticism from an Oriental perspective; he felt these things added great value to the magick he had till then practiced.
He created the faith 'Thelema,' of which the principal tenet is a phrase already touched upon - "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. [Love is the law, love under will.]" He considered himself to be the prophet that would guide humanity into the Aeon of Horus. While married to his wife Rose, that he'd wed in 1903, he travelled to Egypt; and while there he wrote 'The Book of the Law,' or 'Liber AL vel Legis,' which is the sacred book of Thelema.
In 1906 he started a branch of the Great White Brotherhood, named the Astron Argon, or Silver Star. A few years thereafter he joined a German Freemasons group, called Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). The organization was deeply steeped in magickal activity, and after a while Crowley became (disputably) the top man there. Some say that him becoming top man was opposed by many, and caused a rift and subsequent separation. But under him they were led to regard Thelemic tenets, and as well they disengaged from the Freemasons, thus women were no longer barred from joining.
Inspiration of a sort was provided to William Somerset Maughan, who with the character Oliver Haddo, portrayed Crowley in his 1908 novel 'The Magician.' By 1914 A.C. was having his first bouts with financial distress, as he spend his money extravagantly and had been abusing drugs.
|A.C. in ceremonial robe, 1912|
In 1929 Crowley wed again, this time to Maria Sanchez de Miramar, to whom he would still be married to at the time of his death. Into the mid thirties he was facing far more severe financial issues, and he ended up filing bankruptcy. Though he continued to bring in royalties from some of his better known works, such as 'The Book of Thoth,' and 'Diary of a Drug Fiend'; his addiction ate the funds up and he ended up living in a rooming house. For the record, the concept for his Thoth tarot deck was extracted from his Book of Thoth, the artwork was produced by Lady Frieda Harris.
At times throughout his life since becoming a heroin user, Crowley tried to kick the habit; and thus he could regather himself enough to get some degree of new foothold from time to time, and this happened yet again in the forties. It was in the mid forties that he acquired a male secretary by the name of Kenneth Grant. He had not the money to pay him and thus Grant's wage was the knowledge provided. Grant went on to become not only a Thelemite and a ceremonial magician, but also the co-founder (along with his wife) of 'the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis' (TOTO); the name was changed in 2011 just prior to Grant's death, to become 'the Typhonian Order.'
Aleister, lived out the final days of his life as a poor man in a rooming house. During his life he was for the main part publicly despised, and was appreciated and/or followed by relatively few. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
"Crowley considered himself to be one of the outstanding figures of his time. The historian Ronald Hutton stated that in Crowley's youth, he was 'a self-indulgent and flamboyant young man' who 'set about a deliberate flouting and provocation of social and religious norms', while being shielded from an 'outraged public opinion' by his inherited wealth. Hutton also described Crowley as having both an 'unappeasable desire' to take control of any organisation that he belonged to, and 'a tendency to quarrel savagely' with those who challenged him. Crowley biographer Martin Booth asserted that Crowley was 'self-confident, brash, eccentric, egotistic, highly intelligent, arrogant, witty, wealthy, and, when it suited him, cruel'. Similarly, Richard Spence noted that Crowley was 'capable of immense physical and emotional cruelty'. Biographer Lawrence Sutin noted that Crowley exhibited 'courage, skill, dauntless energy, and remarkable focus of will' while at the same time showing a 'blind arrogance, petty fits of bile, [and] contempt for the abilities of his fellow men'. The Thelemite Lon Milo DuQuette noted that Crowley 'was by no means perfect' and 'often alienated those who loved him dearest.'"
|The unicursal hexagram, the symbol of Thelema, can be drawn without lifting the pen, thus the name|
After his death though, he became famous, especially amongst darker flavoured entertainers, such as Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne. The very mention of his name creates rifts of polarity - people tend to love or hate the man. To some like me, he will be regarded as one of the greatest, not only magicians that ever lived, but also one of the greatest authors and greatest men; but some feel that his hedonistic lifestyle, drug abuse, and lack of moral standing, are reason enough cast disdain thickly onto the volumes of knowledge and wisdom he imparted and onto the effect inspiration wise that his life had on so many posthumously.
There is one thing Crowley took a public beating over, and I found the topic distasteful, thus chose to simply quote from a Wikipedia page where I found a concise paragraph on it:
"Professing to be of Irish ancestry and a supporter of Irish independence from Great Britain, Crowley began to espouse support for Germany in their war against Britain. He became involved in New York's pro-German movement, and in January 1915 German spy George Sylvester Viereck employed him as a writer for his propagandist paper, The Fatherland, which was dedicated to keeping the US neutral in the conflict. In later years, detractors denounced Crowley as a traitor to Britain for this action. In reality, Crowley was a double agent, working for the British intelligence services to infiltrate and undermine Germany's operation in New York. Many of his articles in The Fatherland were hyperbolic, for instance comparing Kaiser Wilhelm II to Jesus Christ; in July 1915 he orchestrated a publicity stunt – reported on by The New York Times – in which he declared independence for Ireland in front of the Statue of Liberty; the real intention was to make the German lobby appear ridiculous in the eyes of the American public. It has been argued that he encouraged the German Navy to destroy the Lusitania, informing them that it would ensure the US stayed out of the war, while in reality hoping that it would bring the US into the war on Britain's side."
...and all I have to add to the last thought presented, is that no one is perfect...
Aleister, as already mentioned, was a prolific writer, and amongst his works are the ones found here: List of Aleister Crowley Works (Wikipedia)
and here: Crowley at Dark Books
Wikipedia on Crowley
Crowley on Encyclopedia.com
The Ordo Templi Orientis Phenomenon on Crowley
Related Reading on our Blog:
To Mega Therion
The Virgin & the Whore
The Serpent Gate: To Meta ophion (a tarot resource)