Other interests and accomplishments were wide-ranging (he was a chess master, mountain climber, poet, writer, painter, astrologer and social critic). He was quite notorious during his life, and was dubbed "The Wickedest Man In the World"; the term first appeared in 1928 in John Bull, a tabloid pictorial of the day.
His father, Edward Crowley, once maintained a lucrative family brewery business and was retired at the time of Aleister's birth. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop, drew roots from a Devon and Somerset family.
Aleister grew up in a staunch Plymouth Brethren household. His father, after retiring from his daily duties as a brewer, took up the practice of preaching at a fanatical pace. Daily Bible studies and private tutoring were mainstays in young Aleister's childhood; however, after his father's death, his mother's efforts at indoctrinating her son in the Christian faith only served to provoke Aleister's skepticism. As a child, young Aleister's constant rebellious behavior displeased his devout mother to such an extent she would chastize him by calling him "The Beast" (from the Book of Revelation), an epithet that Crowley would later happily adopt for himself. He objected to the labelling of what he saw as life's most worthwhile and enjoyable activities as "sinful."
In response, Crowley created his own philosophical system, Scientific Illuminism — a synthesis of various Eastern mystical systems (including Hinduism, Buddhism, Tantra, the predecessor to Western sex magick, Zoroastrianism and the many systems of Yoga) fused with the Western occult sciences of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the many reformed rituals of Freemasonry he later reformulated within the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O). This system is founded in scientific skepticism. His undergraduate studies in chemistry at Trinity College, Cambridge helped forge the scientific skepticism that later culminated in the many-volumed and unparalleled occult publication, The Equinox.
Involved as a young adult in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he first studied mysticism with and made enemies of William Butler Yeats and Arthur Edward Waite. Like many in occult circles of the time, Crowley voiced the view that Waite was a pretentious bore, through searing critiques of Waite's writings and editorials of other authors' writings.
His friend and former Golden Dawn associate Allan Bennett introduced him to the ideas of Buddhism, while Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, acting leader of the Golden Dawn organization, acted as his early mentor in western magick but would later become his enemy. Several decades after Crowley's participation in the Golden Dawn, Mathers claimed copyright protection over a particular ritual and sued Crowley for infringement after Crowley's public display of the ritual. In a book of fiction entitled Moonchild, Crowley portrayed Mathers as the primary villain, including him as a character named SRMD, using the abbreviation of Mathers' magical name. Arthur Edward Waite also appeared in Moonchild as a villain named Arthwaite, while Bennett appeared in Moonchild as the main character's wise mentor, Simon Iff.
While he did not officially break with Mathers until 1904, Crowley lost faith in this teacher's abilities soon after the schism in the Golden Dawn (if not before). In 1900, Crowley traveled to Mexico and continued his magical studies in isolation. AC's writings suggest that he discovered the word Abrahadabra during this time.
In October of 1901, after practising Raja Yoga for some time, he said he had reached a state he called dhyana — one of many states of unification in thoughts that are described succinctly and vividly in MAGICK Book IV (See Crowley on egolessness). 1902 saw him writing the essay Berashith (the first word of Genesis), in which he gave meditation (or restraint of the mind to a single object) as the means of attaining his goal. The essay describes ceremonial magic as a means of training the will, and of constantly directing one's thoughts to a given object through ritual. In his 1903 essay, Science and Buddhism, Crowley urged an empirical approach to Buddhist teachings.
He said that a mystical experience in 1904 while on vacation in Cairo, Egypt, led to his founding of the religious philosophy known as Thelema. Aleister's wife Rose started to behave in an odd way, and this led him to think that some entity had made contact with her. At her instructions, he performed an invocation of the Egyptian god Horus on March 20 with (he wrote) "great success". According to Crowley, the god told him that a new magical Aeon had begun, and that A.C. would serve as its prophet. Rose continued to give information, telling Crowley in detailed terms to await a further revelation. On 8 April and for the following two days at exactly noon he heard a voice, dictating the words of the text, Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law, which Crowley transcribed. The voice claimed to be that of Aiwass (or Aiwaz "the minister of Hoor-paar-kraat," or Horus, the god of force and fire, child of Isis and Osiris) and self-appointed conquering lord of the New Aeon, announced through his chosen scribe "the prince-priest the Beast."
Portions of the book are in numerical cipher, which Crowley claimed the inability to decode. Thelemic dogma (to the extent that Thelema has dogma) explains this by pointing to a warning within the Book of the Law — the speaker supposedly warned that the scribe, Ankh-af-na-khonsu (Aleister Crowley), was never to attempt to decode the ciphers, for to do so would end only in folly. The later-written The Law is For All sees Crowley warning everyone not to discuss the writing amongst fellow critics, for fear that a dogmatic position would arise. While he declared a "new Equinox of the Gods" in early 1904, supposedly passing on the revelation of March 20 to the occult community, it took years for Crowley to fully accept the writing of the Book of the Law and follow its doctrine. Only after countless attempts to test its writings did he come to embrace them as the official doctrine of the New Aeon of Horus. The remainder of his professional and personal careers were spent expanding the new frontiers of scientific illuminism.
Crowley was notorious in his lifetime — a frequent target of attacks in the tabloid press, which labeled him "The Wickedest Man in the World" to his evident amusement. At one point, he was expelled from Italy after having established a sort of commune, the organization of which was based on his personal philosophies, the Abbey of Thelema, at Cefalu, Sicily.
In 1934 Crowley was declared bankrupt after losing a court case in which he sued the artist Nina Hamnett for calling him a black magician in her 1932 book, Laughing Torso. In addressing the jury, Mr. Justice Swift said: "I have been over forty years engaged in the administration of the law in one capacity or another. I thought that I knew of every conceivable form of wickedness. I thought that everything which was vicious and bad had been produced at one time or another before me. I have learnt in this case that we can always learn something more if we live long enough. I have never heard such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man (Crowley) who describes himself to you as the greatest living poet."
Aleister Crowley died of a respiratory infection in a Hastings boarding house on December 1, 1947, at the age of 72. According to some accounts he died on December 5, 1947. He was penniless and addicted to heroin, which had been prescribed for his asthma and bronchitis, at the time.
His last words have been reported as, "I am perplexed.", though he did not die alone and the only other person with him, Patricia "Deirdre" MacAlpine, the mother of his son, denied this and claimed he said "Sometimes I hate myself". According to MacAlpine, Crowley remained bedridden for the last few days of his life, but was in light spirits and conversational. Readings at the cremation service in nearby Brighton included one of his own works, Hymn to Pan, and newspapers referred to the service as a black mass. Brighton council subsequently resolved to take all necessary steps to prevent such an incident occurring again.
Crowley learned to play chess at the age of six and first competed on the Eastbourne College chess team (where he was taking classes in 1892). He showed immediate competence, beating the adult champion in town and even editing a chess column for the local newspaper, the Eastbourne Gazette (Sutin, p.33), which he often used to criticize the Eastbourne team. He later joined the university chess club at Cambridge, where he beat the president in his freshman year and practiced two hours a day towards becoming a champion — "My one serious worldly ambition had been to become the champion of the world at chess" (Confessions, p.193).
However, he gave up his chess aspirations in 1897 when attending a chess conference in Berlin:
But I had hardly entered the room where the masters were playing when I was seized with what may justly be described as a mystical experience. I seemed to be looking on at the tournament from outside myself. I saw the masters— one, shabby, snuffy and blear-eyed; another, in badly fitting would-be respectable shoddy; a third, a mere parody of humanity, and so on for the rest. These were the people to whose ranks I was seeking admission. "There, but for the grace of God, goes Aleister Crowley," I exclaimed to myself with disgust, and there and then I registered a vow never to play another serious game of chess. I perceived with preternatural lucidity that I had not alighted on this planet with the object of playing chess. (Confessions, Ch.16).
In the summer of 1902, Oscar Eckenstein and Crowley undertook the first attempt to scale Chogo Ri (known in the west as K2), located in Pakistan. The Eckenstein-Crowley Expedition consisted of Eckenstein, Crowley, Guy Knowles, H. Pfannl, V. Wesseley, and Dr Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. During this trip he won a world record for his hardships on the Baltoro Glacier, sixty-eight straight days of glacial life.
In May 1905, he was approached by Dr Jules Jacot-Guillarmod (1868 - 1925) to accompany him on the first expedition to Kanchenjunga, the third largest mountain in the world which is located in Nepal. Guillarmod was left to organise the personnel while Crowley left to get things ready in Darjeeling. On July 31 Guillarmod joined Crowley in Darjeeling, bringing with him two countrymen, Charles-Adolphe Reymond and Alexis Pache. Meanwhile, Crowley had recruited a local man, Alcesti C. Rigo de Righi, to act as Transport Manager. The team left Darjeeling on August 8, 1905, and used the Singalila Ridge approach to Kangchenjunga. At Chabanjong they ran into the rear of the 135 coolies who had been sent ahead on July 24 and July 25, who were carrying food rations for the team. The trek was led by Aleister Crowley, but four members of that party were killed in an avalanche. Some claims say they reached around 21,300 feet before turning back, however Crowley's autobiography claims they reached about 25,000 feet.
Science, magic, and sexuality
Crowley claimed to use a scientific method to study what people at the time called "spiritual" experiences, making "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion" the catchphrase of his magazine The Equinox. By this he meant that mystical experiences should not be taken at face value, but critiqued and experimented with in order to arrive at their underlying religious meaning. In this he may be considered to foreshadow Dr. Timothy Leary, who at one point sought to apply the same method to psychedelic drug experiences. Yet like Leary's, Crowley's method has received little "scientific" attention outside the circle of Thelema's practitioners.
Crowley's magical and initiatory system has amongst its innermost reaches a set of teachings on sex "magick." He frequently expressed views about sex that were radical for his time, and published numerous poems and tracts combining pagan religious themes with sexual imagery both heterosexual and homosexual.
Sex Magick is the use of the sex act—or the energies, passions or arousal states it evokes—as a point upon which to focus the will or magical desire for effects in the non-sexual world. In this, Crowley was inspired by Paschal Beverly Randolph, an American author writing in the 1870s who wrote (in his book Eulis!) of using the "nuptive moment" (orgasm) as the time to make a "prayer" for events to occur.
Women as inspiration
During March 1899 Crowley met, at one of the semi-public performances of MacGregor Mathers' Rites of Isis, an American soprano by the name of Susan Strong (3 August, 1870 - 11 March, 1946). Susan was the daughter of Dennis Strong, an American Congressman and mayor of Brooklyn. She had gone to the UK at the age of 21 and had enrolled in the Royal College of Music, London under the tutelage of the famous Hungarian musician Francis Korbay. Crowley met up with her again in London when she sang the part of Venus in Tannhäuser on 22 June 1899. A torrid romance followed during which Susan swore to divorce her American husband and devote herself to Crowley. However on her return to the US, around October 1899, she apparently cooled in ardour. Crowley followed her to New York in June of the following year, but by then she was already on her way back to the UK to appear in performances of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. During 1900, while in Mexico City, Crowley experienced an epiphany, during which he transcribed his play, titled Tannhäuser. He attributed the inspiration of this play to his romance with Susan Strong.
- see also Thelema
The religious or mystical system which Crowley founded, into which most of his nonfiction writings fall, he named Thelema. Thelema combines a radical form of philosophical libertarianism, akin in some ways to Nietzsche, with a mystical initiatory system derived in part from the Golden Dawn.
Chief among the precepts of Thelema is the sovereignty of the individual will: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law." Crowley's idea of will, however, is not simply the individual's desires or wishes, but also incorporates a sense of the person's destiny or greater purpose: what he termed the "Magick Will." Much of the initiatory system of Thelema is focused on discovering one's true will, true purpose, or higher self. Much else is devoted to an Eastern-inspired dissolution of the individual ego, as a means to that end (see Choronzon).
The second precept of Thelema is "Love is the law, love under will" — and Crowley's meaning of "Love" is as complex as that of "Will". It is frequently sexual: Crowley's system, like elements of the Golden Dawn before him, sees the dichotomy and tension between the male and female as fundamental to existence, and sexual "magick" and metaphor form a significant part of Thelemic ritual.
Thelema draws on numerous older sources and, like many other new religious movements of its time, combines "Western" and "Eastern" traditions. Its chief Western influences include the Golden Dawn, Kabbalah, and elements of Freemasonry; Eastern influences include aspects of yoga, Taoism, and Tantra.
Within the subject of occultism Crowley wrote widely, penning commentaries on the Tarot (The Book of Thoth), yoga (Book Four), the Kabbalah (Sepher Sephiroth), astrology (The General Principles of Astrology), and numerous other subjects. He also wrote a Thelemic "translation" of the Tao Te Ching, based on earlier English translations since he knew little or no Chinese. Like the Golden Dawn mystics before him, Crowley evidently sought to comprehend the entire human religious and mystical experience in a single philosophy. He self-published many of his books, expending the majority of his inheritance to disseminate his views. Many of his fiction works, such as the "Simon Iff" detective stories and Moonchild have not received significant notice outside of occult circles. However his fictional work Diary Of A Drug Fiend has received acclaim from those involved in the field of substance abuse rehabilitation.
Crowley's most grandiose work is The Equinox, a large bi-annual periodical that served as the official organ of the Argenteum Astrum (A∴A∴), and, later, the O.T.O. It was subtitled "The Review of Scientific Illuminism" and remains one of the definitive works on occultism.
Crowley's other major works include:
He also wrote a short, highly readable introduction to yoga (Eight Lectures on Yoga) and a polemic arguing against George Bernard Shaw's interpretation of the Gospels in his preface to Androcles and the Lion. Crowley's piece was edited by Francis King and published as Crowley on Christ, and shows him at his erudite and witty best.
Crowley had a peculiar sense of humour. In his Book Four he includes a chapter purporting to illuminate the Qabalistic significance of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. In re Humpty Dumpty, for instance, he recommends the occult authority "Ludovicus Carolus" -- better known as Lewis Carroll. In a footnote to the chapter he admits that he had invented the alleged meanings, to show that one can find occult "Truth" in everything. The title to chapter 69 is given as "The Way to Succeed - and the Way to Suck Eggs!" a masterful pun as the chapter concerns the 69 sex position as a mystical act.
Many Crowley biographies relate the story of L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons and their attempt to create a "moonchild" (from Crowley's novel of that name). In Crowley's own words, "Apparently Parsons and Hubbard or somebody is producing a moonchild. I get fairly frantic when I contemplate the idiocy of these louts." Clearly the admiration Hubbard had for Crowley was not reciprocated.
Crowley was also a published, if minor, poet. He wrote the 1929 Hymn to Pan , perhaps his most widely read and anthologised poem. Three pieces by Crowley, "The Quest ", "The Neophyte ", and "The Rose and the Cross ", appear in the 1917 collection The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Crowley's unusual sense of humour is on display in White Stains , an 1898 collection of pornographic verse pretended to be "the literary remains of George Archibald Bishop, a neuropath of the Second Empire;" the volume is prefaced with a notice that says that " The Editor hopes that Mental Pathologists, for whose eyes alone this treatise is destined, will spare no precaution to prevent it falling into other hands."
Miscellany and Rumours
- Crowley also tried to mint a number of new terms instead of the established ones he felt inadequate. For example he spelled magic "magick" and renamed theurgy "high magick" and thaumaturgy "low magick". Many of his terms are still used by some practitioners.
- Crowley remains a popular icon of libertines and those interested in the theory and practice of magic.
- Crowley has been attributed as selecting the "V for Victory" sign during World War II as used by Sir Winston Churchill.
- "In World War I Aleister Crowley ingratiated himself with a Hermetic sect in order to reveal to the Americans that its head was a highly dangerous German agent. In World War II it was well known in British Intelligence that many leading Nazis were interested in the occult and especially in astrology. Crowley did some work for MI5, but his project for dropping occult information by leaflet on the enemy was rejected by the authorities." - Richard Deacon, Spyclopaedia
Crowley in popular culture
- The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
- Argenteum Astrum (A∴A∴)
- Ordo Templi Orientis
- William Breeze
- The Equinox
- Thoth Tarot
- Grady McMurtry
- Jack Parsons
- Lon Milo Duquette
- Carroll, Robert Todd (2004). "Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 30 December 2004.
- Crowley, Aleister(1990) "The Tao Teh King, Liber CLVII: THE EQUINOX Vol. III. No. VIII. ASCII VERSION". Retrieved 30 December 2004.
- Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2005).
- The Equinox. Retreived 24 March 2005.
- A biography of Crowley by Lawrence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt (2000) ISBN 0312288972.
- Template:Gutenberg author
- The most complete resource for books of Crowley in PDF format
- A site dedicated to a film being made on Crowley's life
- Aleister Crowley on Thelemapedia
- Aleister Crowley - The Rotten Library
- Aleister Crowley Ebooks
- Aleister Crowley and the Green Goddess
Original Wiki source: Wikipedia