In the past I have been asked my opinion on people who are prominent names in Pagan society. Not too long ago, I got a request I knew would come eventually and always feared that I wouldn’t be prepared for, so I decided to answer it with a blog post. That being said, let us discuss the “father ceremonial magick”, self-proclaimed antichrist and keeper of the loch ness monster as a pet himself, Aleister Crowley.
Even if you aren’t pagan and know nothing or next to nothing of the occult, you’ve probably heard of Aleister Crowley. You just might not know it. The Ozzy Osbourne song “Mister Crowley” that this the title of this post references is about him. V for Vendetta (the comic, not the movie) makes references to Crowley’s law, “Do what thou wilt.” He was featured on the cover of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He is the reason that many people, myself included, spell magick with a k. Suffice it to say that he has has a major impact on today’s world as a whole, despite having lived over a hundred years ago.
Don’t get me wrong, Crowley’s contributions to the pagan community were many and they were great (we’ll get to that in a second), but that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t bat-shit insane. We are talking about a man who, from a very young age, believed himself to be “The Great Beast 666”.
But, perhaps a little background information is in order. Mr. Crowley was born into a wealthy upper-class family in 1875 (To put this in perspective, this is a mere ten years after the end of the American Civil War). He attended several christian boarding schools in his childhood until his father’s death from Tongue Cancer in 1887, at which time he inherited his father’s money. Not long after he was expelled from the boarding school he attended at the time. He eventually attended two separate colleges, which he despised, and then left after only a couple terms. It was about this time that he turned away from Christianity. He began speaking openly about sex with the opposite gender and visiting prostitutes. He subsequently contracted Gonorrhea.
He claimed to have his first mystical experience on a winter holiday in Sweden, which some historians believe to be the result of his first homosexual experience.
Oh, did I forget to mention that? Aleister Crowley was openly bisexual. In the late 1800s and early 1900s. In England. Where homosexuality was illegal.
In 1898 Crowley was initiated into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Here he took a second name, “Frater Perdurabo” which is Latin for “Brother I shall endure to the end.” In 1899 he moved to a house on the shores of Loch Ness, becoming more and more obsessed with Scottish culture. Even to the point of wearing traditional highland dress on visits back to London. During this time he also reportedly claimed that the Loch Ness Monster was his pet. Over time he developed grudges against others within the Golden Dawn, including W.B. Yeats and Arthur Waite. Yes, that Waite. The group as a whole eventually split in 1901 and 1903, but managed to cling to life until 1978.
Between 1900 and 1904 he traveled widely. He and his wife eventually wound up in Egypt. This is where things start to get rather…guano-ey. He claims that his wife began to have visions and repeatedly inform him that “They are waiting for you.” She supposedly gave no more information as to whom was waiting for him. Crowley then performed a ritual invoking Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, after which his wife informed him who “they” were. The god Horus and one of his messengers. She then lead him to a local museum and the Stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu. Crowley was astonished. The number of the exhibit was 666. He began referring to his wife as “Ouarda the Seeress” and performing ritual invocations to Horus. “Ouarda” informed him that “The Equinox of the Gods has come.” He began visiting the Stele frequently and, over a three day period (April 8-11 1904) wrote The Book of Law. He claimed that a disembodied voice dictated it to him each day.
And this is where I shall stop our rather lengthy background information. As I said earlier, I have great respect for Mister Crowley for his contributions to Pagan society. However, a lot of his story reads like an entitled brat looking for attention. This is apparent in everything from his claim of being “The Great Beast 666”, to the claim of having the Loch Ness Monster as a pet, to his interactions with The Golden Dawn, all the way down to his name change. Aleister was born Edward Alexander Crowley. He changed his name in 1895 to “Aleister” because:
“For many years I had loathed being called Alick, partly because of the unpleasant sound and sight of the word, partly because it was the name by which my mother called me. Edward did not seem to suit me and the diminutives Ted or Ned were even less appropriate. Alexander was too long and Sandy suggested tow hair and freckles. 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. Aleister Crowley fulfilled these conditions and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. To adopt it would satisfy my romantic ideals.”
As for the rest of his story, the visions, the “prophecies”, the entire thing reads like something I’d expect out of a newly initiated Wiccan that joined a coven just so she could say “I’m a witch!” And threaten to put spells and curses on people she doesn’t like. He may have made many contributions to Pagan society but, with the way he carried on, he could have very easily destroyed us before we had gotten fully back on our feet.
In conclusion, Aleister, I love your ideals, The Book of Law was possibly the single largest contribution to Paganism since the Eddas were committed to paper in the 13th century, but you were Bat-shit crazy.