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Edward Alexander Crowley (12 October 1875–1 December 1947), better known as Aleister Crowley, was an international freemasonic conspirator, who left a significant mark on early 20th century Occultism. He founded the occult philosophy of Thelema and was involved with various organisations such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis; the latter of which he took over. Between the years 1920–1923 he ran a Luciferian commune at Cefalù, Sicily known as the Abbey of Thelema, which practiced all manner of perversions to the hilt; before being expelled by the government of Benito Mussolini.
|“||After five years of folly and weakness, miscalled politeness, tact, discretion, care for the feeling of others, I am weary of it. I say today: the hell with Christianity, Rationalism, Buddhism, all the lumber of the centuries. I bring you a positive and primaeval fact, Magick by name; and with this I will build me a new Heaven and a new Earth. I want none of your faint approval or faint dispraise; I want blasphemy, murder, rape, revolution, anything, bad or good, but strong.||”|
|— Aleister Crowley, discussing his freemasonic views to Gerald Kelly.|
Fact Sheet on Aleister Crowley
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law
Aleister Crowley (Edward Alexander Crowley) was born 12 October in the same year as the foundation of the Theosophical Society (1875), at Leamington Spa at 11.30pm. He was therefore a Libran with Pisces moon and Leo rising. Contrary to popular legend, he died on the 1st December 1947. A review in Cambridge University magazine Granta of 1904 provides some guidance on the pronunciation of the great man's name: 'Oh, Crowley, name for future fame!/(Do you pronounce it Croully?)/Whate'er the worth of this your mirth/It reads a trifle foully.'
The myth of the magus has grown to prodigious proportions in the half century or more since the old man's death. Crowley is now firmly established in the popular mind as a folk hero (or anti hero?), transmogrified to an icon on a spectrum somewhere between 'the sandman' (Clive Barker version) and 'the gringe'.
To many, Crowley's magick (I am using the archaic form of the term as popularised by AC for technical reasons), provides a neat dividing line between some kind of urban high magical tradition and the supposedly more earth centred styles of neo-paganism. The truth is, as always, a lot more complex. Crowley's magick draws all of it's power from nature, see for example an ancient Egyptian formula: 'so that every Spirit of the Firmament and of the Ether: Upon the Earth and under the Earth; on dry land and in the Water: of whirling Air; and of rushing Fire and every spell and scourge of God may be obedient to Me.' (1)
Crowley spent all of his moderately long life exploring countless dramatic astral and mundane landscapes in search of gnosis. It's a shame he wasn't a good enough travel writer to communicate fully in his many books the real majesty of nature. He seemed to go everywhere, from the deepest jungles to the highest mountains of the earth. An account from Jan Fries' book Visual Magick, amply demonstrates that Crowley never quite lost the taste for the great outdoors and the spirits of nature. In 1925 the mage took the leadership of the 'Fraternitas Saturni on a long walk up the garden path and into the forest. Whenever Uncle Aleister noticed a remarkable plant, stone or tree, he graciously lifted his hat to greet it. This bizarre behaviour apparently astonished his fellows. Some novices, we are told, dared to whisper "What is the master doing?" "The elemental spirits of nature have come to see the master" was the reply "and Sir Aleister is acknowledging their greeting." The whole incident including a rather nice ritual is to be found in an article on 'Pentagramme Magick' in Praxis (1963).
Towards the end of his life Crowley began to lose interest in the Ordo Templi Orientis and other organisations he had fashioned as potential vehicles for the dissemination of the great work. He met Gerald Gardner and together they may have devised a plan to transform the OTO into a more popular witchcraft cult. Gardner duly bought a charter and rose rapidly through the grades, even travelling to America to meet other OTO initiates. Fred Lamond, one of Gardners first acolytes, recalls that American adept Jack Parsons looked very favourably on the idea of a new witch cult. If Crowley had lived long enough to complete Gardner's training, modern paganism would undoubtedly look quite different, but that's another story.
(1) From Liber Samekh, as adapted by Crowley from an ancient Hermetic fragment. The cosmology of the Egyptian original made no sense to Crowley's teachers, hence his slight paraphase - the original reads: 'so that every daimon, whether heavenly or aerial or earthly or subterranean or terrestrial or aquatic'.
Aleister Crowley may have died in 1947, but his influence is still very much felt by the magician of the 1990s. The CD soundtrack The Beast Speaks sold 8000 copies since its release in 1993, and the paperback edition of Crowley's Confessions was number two in Virgin Megastores top ten books. Don't be fooled into thinking that the magician of the nineties is a slavish follower or member of some mind bending cult. Crowley's word was Thelema (The Crowleian pronunciation is Theh-LEE-mah, the accent bewatching on the vowel of the second syllable, Greek speakers ay the accent should be on the vowel of the first syllable for it to be pronounced right....ThEH-lee-mah) - which means [free] Will. Those who choose to follow this magical path aim to de-condition themselves, to develop independence of spirit and ultimately to become their very own self. One of the many attractions of Crowley's type of Magick, was this advice to follow one's own way and create your own life style. You don't need a priest or a judge to tell you how to act - work it out for yourelf.
As part of the process of developing self knowledge, Crowley advocated the practice of Magick. This he defined as 'the science and art of causing change in conformity with will.' The history of magick is the history of human beings. Many of the things that are now labelled 'culture' began as experiments in ritual and magick viz. drama, music, art, dance, philosophy and poetry etc., etc. Magick has played a role in many key moments of our history, for example during the fourteenth century, it was the philosophy of the Renaissance. In our own time, many modern art movements have been driven by magical ideas, for instance, the first abstract painting was made by the Theosophist Kandinsky. Magick is a valuable and reputable activity to undertake.
Whatever else one can say about it, magick certainly is not a mass activity, neither is it a spectator sport. Magicians are in many localities in a minority of one and have to teach themselves the skills traditionally part of the art viz. trance, divination, invocation and creative imagination. The solitary magician gathers most of his or her information from books and Crowley made a substantial contribution to the vast number of books on the subject. Most of his books are now in print, something like 100 titles. The secondary literature of commentaries and studies, as one might expect after more than 50 years, is very extensive indeed. However there is no need to read everything the master wrote. There are a handful of key texts that should give you a good grounding in the man and his magick.
Sadly, there is still no really objective biography of Crowley. The standard biography is John Symonds' The Great Beast, (lastest edition of which is entitled King of the Shadow Realm) which records all of the salient facts but is very hostile to Crowley's ideas and therefore gives a lively but unbalanced picture. Jean Overton Fuller's Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg is slightly more objective and written with much inside information. A modern attempt is the late Gerald Suster's Legacy of the Beast, which is too short to cover all the facts, and too sycophantic -nevertheless, it is not without value. Gerald Suster also wrote Crowley's entry in Dictionary of National Biography - Missing Persons (OUP 1993) which is also worth a read. Incidentally, 1993 was also the year in which Crowley made it to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations for the first time with his motto 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.'
Several newer biographies have recently appeared, two in particular are worthy of note: Martin Booth, A Magick Life and said by some to be the best of the whole lot: Do What Thou Wilt by Lawrence Sutin for St Martin's Press.
There is a 2004 reissue of Megatherion by Francis King, published by Creation Press, which was originally published in 1977 under the title The Magical World of Aleister Crowley. There is also an excellent study of Aleister Crowley's followers in America during the Golden Age of Hollywood, entitled The Unknown God, W.T. Smith and the Thelemites by Martin P. Starr, published in 2003 by The Teitan Press, Inc.
Crowley plaque from Portugal, photograph by Geoff Samuel
The modern generation of Thelemites, admires something in the spirit of Crowley rather than the word. He could be a interesting writer but as is often the case, the present day re-working of his material is often easier to follow and less peppered by some of Crowley's offensive cultural baggage. Writers such as Jan Fries in Visual Magick and Jack Parsons in Freedom is a Two Edged Sword, seem to have a better understanding of the magical philosophy for which Crowley was a conduit. However, you will undoubted want to make your own mind up in this, so apart from biography and if you have the stamina his massive autobiography, and the following are Crowley's principal works.
- 1. Magick - alternatively called Magick in Theory and Practice -or Book Four. This is his textbook of magick, leads the reader from basic yoga techniques through Golden Dawn type ritual to his own unique gnostic rituals, many of them with veiled sexual content. But beware, this is not a book for the beginner and you might do well to ask a more experienced magician to suggest a study plan for it beginning with Liber O, or even look at some of the secondary literature first. For example see Lon DuQuette's The Magick of Thelema or Israel Regardie's Middle Pillar, Eye in Triangle, and others.
- 2. The Book of Thoth, along with the tarot cards of the same name, is his brilliant study of the tarot, difficult to follow in parts if you have no familiarity with his 'Thelemic' imagery, but well worth persevering with. The tarot deck he created with English 'surrealist' Lady Frieda Harris, is fast becoming the most widely used esoteric tarot deck in the world.
- 3. 777 and other Qabalistic Writings. A essential summary of his symbol system, which also contains a reprint of Mathers' instructional essay on Qabalah.
- 4. Holy Books of Thelema - all brought together under one cover, including Liber al vel Legis - Book of the Law. The mystical poem that formed the core of Crowley's magical system. 'Delivered' to him by discarnate entity Aiwass during one of the most important mystical experiences of his life.
There are a small but growing number of groups, based in this country that work with Crowley's ideas. The following list is not exhaustive, but gives some of the main contact points. It is recommended that you do not atttempt to join all of them at once.
OTO, this stands for Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of the Eastern Temple. A magical order, based on eastern eroto-gnostic techniques, some derived from Tantrism. Existed, long before Crowley came on the scene but soon became the principle vehicle for his magical work. Has undergone a big revival over the last ten years. Perhaps it is fortuititous that the OTO split into several rival tendencies following the death of Crowley's successor, Karl Germer. Many magicians feel that magical orders, structured on medieval lines, may not be the appropriate vehicle for Thelema. But as things stand the aspiring candidate must make a choice after investigating and weighing up what both groups have to offer, if anything. In England there are two main groups claiming title to Crowley's mantle: In other parts of Europe and the world, other OTOs exist and can claim priority. There are currently legal threats flying between these groups, so I hope I get it right.
i. OTO 'Caliphate' - BM Thelema, London WC1N 3XX - International HQ: Postfach 33 20 12 D-14180, Germany. More 'traditional' if it can be termed so. Uses original OTO Masonic style rituals and charges annual subscriptions and initiation fees. ii. OTO 'Typhonian' BM Starfire, London WC1N 3XX. Ruled by famous occult scholar Kenneth Grant, whose book Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God, revolutionised the understanding of Crowley magick. Ditched the old Masonic style rituals in favour of the syllabus very like the Argentinum Astrum, i.e. individual graded magical practices leading to adeptship.
Non OTO Thelemic Groups
Apart from the 'OTOs' there are a number of 'new wave' magical groups and orders that are trying to refashion the occult community on more 'rosicrucian' lines, which seem more in tune with modern needs. Strict hierarchies, authoritarianism and obscurantism are definitely out. An honest attempt to build a fellowship or sodality of magicians is on the cards. Amongst these are:
Golden Dawn Occult Society
PO Box 250, Oxford, OX1 1AP. (email C/O [email protected] or http://www.uk.net/ogdos.htm. Offers a foundation course in magick and other training to associate members (associate membership is £5 pa.). Is part of a growing network of individuals and groups throughout Britain and all over the world. Online newsletter.
Chaos Magic and the Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT)
C/O, BM Sorcery, London WC1N 3XX, Another important new style of magick that has developed out of the Thelemic one. Other influences include new physics and European shamanism.
The Kaula-Nath Community (including AMOOKOS). C/O PO Box 250, Oxford, OX1 1AP. East- West tantrik groups, founded by Dadaji, one of Crowley's disciple's in the 1930s who, on the master's advice, went to India and became a sadhu. A unique blend of western occultism with authentic magical Hinduism. Has an older equivalent of Crowley's 'Law of Thelema' - viz: svecchacara - 'the path of ones own will'.
Aiwass and the alien meme
Aleister Crowley claimed to revive lost Egyptian occultism by channeling a being called Aiwass. This being was only a voice. Later a being showed its form, and called itself Lam, which was not a name but a title, Tibetan for "The Way" and its real name was likely Aiwass. Crowley drew this picture in 1918. This was far before the theme of "little green men" which first showed up in the 1930s (popularized in the 1950s) and far before the depiction of gray aliens with large heads which first appeared in the 1950s (popularized in the 1990s). The concept of interdimensional extraterrestrials also was a late 20th century idea too. Crowley didn't see this being as an alien, just simply as a spirit. He didn't think about the whole thing of a small jaw and huge head being some idea of a super-evolved future version of humans, but simply that this was some spirit. That's all. This being looks similar to Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten.
Crowley and the CIA
Flying saucer mythology took hold in a big way in the 1950s, wrapped in gaudy pulp covers and flashed on movie screens. Jack Parsons, the CalTech rocket pioneer and high priest of the OTO's Agape Lodge in Pasadena - and one of the first Americans to report a UFO sighting - was addicted to science fiction. He regularly attended meetings of the L.A. Fantasy and Science Fiction Society, where in 1945 the black adept (he took "the Oath of the Anti-Christ" in 1949) met Lt. Commander L. Ron Hubbard, who made "alien" visitations an integral part of a religious doctrine he called Scientology.
The OTO was founded between 1895 and 1900 by a pair of powerful Freemasons, Karl Kellner and Theodor Reuss. Politically, the order seemed very right-wing, proposing the creation of a pan-German world based on pagan spiritual beliefs. Kellner died in 1905, and Reuss, a former spy for the Prussian Secret Service, assumed the office of high caliph. While living in London, Reuss spied on German socialist expatriates. In 1912 he made the acquaintance of Aleister Crowley [pictured], and appointed him head of the OTO's British chapter. But "The Beast's" political loyalties have always been an open question.
While living in the States, he purported to be pro-German in his diatribes for two authoritarian publications, The Fatherland and The Internationalist. After WWII, there was a deep suspicion of him. But Crowley offered that his pro-German stance was a ruse of MI6, the military intelligence division in the UK. In 1912 he had informed the secret service of his correspondence with Reuss, the German spy. Throughout the '20s and '30s, Crowley gathered intelligence on European Communists, the National Socialist movement and Germany's occult lodges. Crowley died in 1944, willing the copyright for his books and unpublished manuscripts to the OTO, and leadership of the order to Karl Germer, otherwise known as Frater Saturnus X., formerly Crowley's Legate in the U.S. Germer was born in Germany, served in WWI and was reportedly tossed in the prison by the National Socialists for his involvement in Freemasonry. (Crowley believed Germer to be a National Socialist spy, but accused him of being OTO anyway. Typical.)
He settled after the war in Dublin, California and died on October 25, 1962 "under horrifying circumstances," according to his wife in a letter to Marcelo Matta, an OTO official in Brazil. She informed him that Germer, on his death bed, had insisted that Matta succeed him as the Outer Head of the occult order. But the mantle was not passed on to Karl Germer's chosen successor because the CIA orchestrated a coup. But not as an OTO spokesman tells it: "Recently the United States government has legalized our opinion.... [McMurty's] leadership of the Ordo Templi Orientis rests on several rather clear letters of authorization from Crowley himself. They met while McMurty was a young First Lieutenant during World War II. He had been admitted to the OTO in 1941 [by] Jack Parsons."
In fact, the choice of McMurty was not entirely "clear." Matta's advocates insist the court decision was based on the perjured testimony of McMurty and attorneys with CIA paymasters. The cult's position on a successor is moot since, according to charters signed on March 22, 1946 and April 11, 1946, The Beast of the Apocalypse had left it to Germer to veto or amend his designation of a successor. As Matta saw it, no one had a legitimate claim to the title but he. Unfortunately, Herr Germer died during the period the CIA had chosen to move mind control experimentation from academic and military labs into the community. An inner circle of Heironymous scientists experimented on cult devotees, and sometimes collaborated in mass murder to silence the subjects (Jonestown, SLA, Solar Temple). It was a sweet arrangement. Occult societies are secretive and often highly irrational. They follow a leader. They exist on the edge of a society that ignores them because weird religious rhetoric is obnoxious.
A number of intelligence agents with occult interests already had their hooks into the OTO. One of them was Gerald Yorke, a veteran British intelligence agent working, an advocate of Matta argues, "with American intelligence in an attempt to absorb the OTO into the ideological warfare network of the political right." Before the horns of Thelemite succession were bestowed upon Grady McMurty, Yorke the prelate spy "misinterpreted" Germer's will and named Joseph Metzger, a ranking Thelemite (and the son of a former Swiss intelligence chief), to the office of high caliph. One order adept, Oskar Schlag, was an alleged "psychological warfare" specialist from Israel. Even McMurty (with his degree in political science) was a State Department bureaucrat the day Herr Germer died. The coup was sealed while Marcelo Matta, a writer for Brazilian television, fended off operatives of the CIA bent on destroying his sanity and leaving him financially crippled. It was a ritual that subjects of mind control conditioning would come to know well. Strangers approached his friends and filled their ears with lurid stories of debauchery. He was suddenly unable to find work. His mail was opened. Matta took a job teaching English, studied self-defense. "He had begun to doubt his sanity," the advocate says. "He constantly suspected people who approached him. He saw in himself all the clinical symptoms of paranoia."
The Wicked King Wicker A letter from "Son of Sam" David Berkowitz to the New York Daily News. Herein, several allusions are made to pan-German pagant;Son of Sam" David Berkowitz to the New York Daily News. Herein, several allusions are made to pan-German pagan spiritual beliefs. The Wicked King Wicker alludes to the Druid Wicker man set aflame during the celebration of Samhain, the Celtic Lord of the Dead. The Wicker man was a hollow effigy filled with sacrificial victims and then set aflame. The "Son of Sam" alludes to Samhain.
After a few years of harassment and squabbling over the leadership of the OTO, Motta came to the realization that the McMurty junta and "the American 'intelligence' network behind them had a worry, and a pressing one; Motta's proposed 'New Manifesto' [did] not mention ... Grady at all. Since their purpose was to create an American 'intelligence' tool at the expense of a religious organization, it was necessary to either bring Motta to concede Grady further authority or to discredit Motta completely." They did what they wilt. In 1967 Germer's entire occult library and manuscripts were stolen from the home of his widow. Without the royalties these brought in, Mrs. Germer was destitute and literally starved to death. Matta was cast out of the OTO. Trouble brewed in the cult's cauldron. At least one Cotton Club killer passed through. The OTO's Solar Lodge in San Bernardino was founded by Maury McCauley, a mortician, on his own property. McCauley was married to Barbara Newman, a former model and the daughter of a retired Air Force colonel from Vandenberg. The group subscribed to a grim, apocalyptic view of the world precipitated by race wars, and the prophecy made a lasting impression on Charles Manson, who passed through the lodge.
In the L.A. underworld, the OTO spin-off was known for indulgence in sadomasochism, drug dealing, blood drinking, child molestation and murder. The Riverside OTO, like the Manson Family, used drugs, sex, psycho-drama and fear to tear down the mind of the initiate and rebuild it according to the desires of the cult's inner-circle.
On the East Coast, a series of murders created an atmosphere of fear in New York City. Before the world had ever heard of Son of Sam, an obscure Vietnam vet named David Berkowitz moved into an apartment on Pine Street, a rotting gantlet of hovels in Yonkers. Like much of the bloodshed for which he is known, Berkowitz did not make the decision to live on Pine Street. Key decisions in his life were made by the leaders of a religious group based in Westchester, a hybrid of OTO members and acolytes from the Process Church of the Final Judgment. Members of the cult mingled with others in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and had contact with similar groups across the country. The leader of the Westchester "family" was a real estate attorney with a practice in White Plains. He was active in local politics. Balding, lean with years, he directed Berkowitz and his "brothers" to kill in the name of an old cause. The group's meeting place was an abandoned church, a decrepit hulk on the grounds of the abandoned Warburg-Rothschild estate. The church, partially eaten by fire, was the group's "eastern Headquarters." Most of the pews had been removed from the church long ago. On one wall was hung a large silver pentagram, festooned with silver insets in the shape of Waffen SS lightning bolts.
Crowley and the Media
There has been precious little media attention to Crowley, there is still no film or documentary devoted in entirety to Crowley's life. This situation is changing slowly. In year 2000, BBC Scotland made a short documentary about Boleskine, Crowley's house on the banks on Loch Ness. The show was called The Other Loch Ness Monster, but the BBC have so far refused to show it outside of Scotland. Channel Four have filmed a more thoroughgoing documentary although broadcast has again been delayed due to editorial difficulties. It will eventually appear as part of a series dealing with occult themes. BBC Modern Times are currently filming a fifty minute piece on serious magick, which will include a fair amount of material on Crowley. There are been one or two short radio pieces and an interesting stage play by Snoo Wilson some time back. Snoo Wilson appeared in a fifteen minute broadcast for UK's Channel 4 (text reprinted in Thelemic Magick I fromMandrake of Oxford).
Obtaining Useful Books etc
Books by and about Crowley are now widely available in UK booksellers such as Waterstones, Borders, Ottakar's etc. The best selection is still to be found in specialist bookshops such as the world famous Atlantis Bookshop, 49a Museum Street, London WC1, and Watkins Bookshop, 19 Cecil Court, London WC2 4EZ, and Treadwells Bookshop, 34 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London WC2, as well as several others throughout the UK. However, if you don't live in London or getting to a bookshop is difficult, there are several good mail-order suppliers, including Mandrake of Oxford ([email protected][removeme]mandrake.uk.net) which is run by and for working magicians. Information is available here on local stockists and sometimes links if you prefer to deal with a bookseller in your own country.