| October 12,
|1 December 1947(1947-12-01) (aged 72)
Hastings, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom
| Leamington Spa,
|Aleister Atatürk Crowley
|Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley
|Lola Zaza Crowley
Does Aleister Crowley Dead or Alive?
As per our current Database, Aleister Crowley died on 1 December 1947(1947-12-01) (aged 72)
Hastings, East Sussex, England, United Kingdom.
Crowley was born as Edward Alexander Crowley at 30 Clarendon Square in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, on 12 October 1875. His father, Edward Crowley (1829–1887), was trained as an engineer, but his share in a lucrative family brewing business, Crowley’s Alton Ales, had allowed him to retire before his son was born. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop (1848–1917), came from a Devonshire-Somerset family and had a strained relationship with her son; she described him as “the Beast”, a name that he revelled in. The couple had been married at London’s Kensington Registry Office in November 1874, and were evangelical Christians. Crowley’s father had been born a Quaker, but had converted to the Exclusive Brethren, a faction of a Christian fundamentalist group known as the Plymouth Brethren, with Emily joining him upon marriage. Crowley’s father was particularly devout, spending his time as a travelling preacher for the sect and reading a chapter from the Bible to his wife and son after breakfast every day. Following the death of their baby daughter in 1880, in 1881 the Crowleys moved to Redhill, Surrey. At the age of 8, Crowley was sent to H.T. Habershon’s evangelical Christian boarding school in Hastings, and then to Ebor preparatory school in Cambridge, run by the Reverend Henry d’Arcy Champney, whom Crowley considered a sadist.
In March 1887, when Crowley was 11, his father died of tongue cancer. Crowley described this as a turning point in his life, and he always maintained an admiration of his father, describing him as “my hero and my friend”. Inheriting a third of his father’s wealth, he began misbehaving at school and was harshly punished by Champney; Crowley’s family removed him from the school when he developed albuminuria. He then attended Malvern College and Tonbridge School, both of which he despised and left after a few terms. He became increasingly sceptical regarding Christianity, pointing out inconsistencies in the Bible to his religious teachers, and went against the Christian morality of his upbringing by smoking, masturbating, and having sex with prostitutes from whom he contracted gonorrhea. Sent to live with a Brethren tutor in Eastbourne, he undertook chemistry courses at Eastbourne College. Crowley developed interests in chess, poetry, and mountain climbing, and in 1894 climbed Beachy Head before visiting the Alps and joining the Scottish Mountaineering Club. The following year he returned to the Bernese Alps, climbing the Eiger, Trift, Jungfrau, Mönch, and Wetterhorn.
Having adopted the name of Aleister over Edward, in October 1895 Crowley began a three-year course at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was entered for the Moral Science Tripos studying philosophy. With approval from his personal tutor, he changed to English literature, which was not then part of the curriculum offered. Crowley spent much of his time at university engaged in his pastimes, becoming president of the chess club and practising the game for two hours a day; he briefly considered a professional career as a chess player. Crowley also embraced his love of literature and poetry, particularly the works of Richard Francis Burton and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Many of his own poems appeared in student publications such as The Granta, Cambridge Magazine, and Cantab. He continued his mountaineering, going on holiday to the Alps to climb every year from 1894 to 1898, often with his friend Oscar Eckenstein, and in 1897 he made the first ascent of the Mönch without a guide. These feats led to his recognition in the Alpine mountaineering community.
Crowley had his first significant mystical experience while on holiday in Stockholm in December 1896. Several biographers, including Lawrence Sutin, Richard Kaczynski, and Tobias Churton, believed that this was the result of Crowley’s first same-sex sexual experience, which enabled him to recognise his bisexuality. At Cambridge, Crowley maintained a vigorous sex life with women—largely with female prostitutes, from one of whom he caught syphilis—but eventually he took part in same-sex activities, despite their illegality. In October 1897, Crowley met Herbert Charles Pollitt, president of the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, and the two entered into a relationship. They broke apart because Pollitt did not share Crowley’s increasing interest in Western esotericism, a break-up that Crowley would regret for many years.
In 1897, Crowley travelled to Saint Petersburg in Russia, later claiming that he was trying to learn Russian as he was considering a future diplomatic career there.
In October 1897, a brief illness triggered considerations of mortality and “the futility of all human endeavour”, and Crowley abandoned all thoughts of a diplomatic career in favour of pursuing an interest in the occult. In March 1898, he obtained A.E. Waite’s The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts, and then Karl von Eckartshausen’s The Cloud Upon the Sanctuary, furthering his occult interests. In 1898 Crowley privately published 100 copies of his poem Aceldama: A Place to Bury Strangers In, but it was not a particular success. That same year he published a string of other poems, including White Stains, a Decadent collection of erotic poetry that was printed abroad lest its publication be prohibited by the British authorities. In July 1898, he left Cambridge, not having taken any degree at all despite a “first class” showing in his 1897 exams and consistent “second class honours” results before that.
In August 1898, Crowley was in Zermatt, Switzerland, where he met the chemist Julian L. Baker, and the two began discussing their common interest in alchemy. Back in London, Baker introduced Crowley to George Cecil Jones, Baker’s brother in-law, and a fellow member of the occult society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which had been founded in 1888. Crowley was initiated into the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn on 18 November 1898 by the group’s leader, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. The ceremony took place in the Golden Dawn’s Isis-Urania Temple held at London’s Mark Masons Hall, where Crowley took the magical motto and name “Frater Perdurabo”, which he interpreted as “I shall endure to the end”.
Crowley moved into his own luxury flat at 67–69 Chancery Lane and soon invited a senior Golden Dawn member, Allan Bennett, to live with him as his personal magical tutor. Bennett taught Crowley more about ceremonial magic and the ritual use of drugs, and together they performed the rituals of the Goetia, until Bennett left for South Asia to study Buddhism. In November 1899, Crowley purchased Boleskine House in Foyers on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland. He developed a love of Scottish culture, describing himself as the “Laird of Boleskine”, and took to wearing traditional highland dress, even during visits to London. He continued writing poetry, publishing Jezebel and Other Tragic Poems, Tales of Archais, Songs of the Spirit, Appeal to the American Republic, and Jephthah in 1898–99; most gained mixed reviews from literary critics, although Jephthah was considered a particular critical success.
In 1900, Crowley travelled to Mexico via the United States, settling in Mexico City and starting a relationship with a local woman. Developing a love of the country, he continued experimenting with ceremonial magic, working with John Dee’s Enochian invocations. He later claimed to have been initiated into Freemasonry while there, and he wrote a play based on Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser as well as a series of poems, published as Oracles (1905). Eckenstein joined him later that year, and together they climbed several mountains, including Iztaccihuatl, Popocatepetl, and Colima, the latter of which they had to abandon owing to a volcanic eruption. Leaving Mexico, Crowley headed to San Francisco before sailing for Hawaii aboard the Nippon Maru. On the ship he had a brief affair with a married woman named Mary Alice Rogers; saying he had fallen in love with her, he wrote a series of poems about the romance, published as Alice: An Adultery (1903).
Briefly stopping in Japan and Hong Kong, Crowley reached Ceylon, where he met with Allan Bennett, who was there studying Shaivism. The pair spent some time in Kandy before Bennett decided to become a Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition, travelling to Burma to do so. Crowley decided to tour India, devoting himself to the Hindu practice of Rāja yoga, from which he claimed to have achieved the spiritual state of dhyana. He spent much of this time studying at the Meenakshi Temple in Madura. At this time he also composed and also wrote poetry which was published as The Sword of Song (1904). He contracted malaria, and had to recuperate from the disease in Calcutta and Rangoon. In 1902, he was joined in India by Eckenstein and several other mountaineers: Guy Knowles, H. Pfannl, V. Wesseley, and Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. Together the Eckenstein-Crowley expedition attempted K2, which had never been climbed. On the journey, Crowley was afflicted with influenza, malaria, and snow blindness, and other expedition members were also struck with illness. They reached an altitude of 20,000 feet (6,100 m) before turning back.
Having arrived in Paris in November 1902 he socialised with friend and future brother-in-law, the painter Gerald Kelly, and through him became a fixture of the Parisian arts scene. Whilst there, Crowley wrote a series of poems on the work of an acquaintance, the sculptor Auguste Rodin. These poems were later published as Rodin in Rime (1907). One of those frequenting this milieu was W. Somerset Maugham, who after briefly meeting Crowley later used him as a model for the character of Oliver Haddo in his novel The Magician (1908). Returning to Boleskine in April 1903, in August Crowley wed Gerald’s sister Rose Edith Kelly in a “marriage of convenience” to prevent her entering an arranged marriage; the marriage appalled the Kelly family and damaged his friendship with Gerald. Heading on a honeymoon to Paris, Cairo, and then Ceylon, Crowley fell in love with Rose and worked to prove his affections. While on his honeymoon, he wrote her a series of love poems, published as Rosa Mundi and other Love Songs (1906), as well as authoring the religious satire Why Jesus Wept (1904).
In February 1904, Crowley and Rose arrived in Cairo. Claiming to be a prince and princess, they rented an apartment in which Crowley set up a temple room and began invoking ancient Egyptian deities, while studying Islamic mysticism and Arabic. According to Crowley’s later account, Rose regularly became delirious and informed him “they are waiting for you.” On 18 March, she explained that “they” were the god Horus, and on 20 March proclaimed that “the Equinox of the Gods has come”. She led him to a nearby museum, where she showed him a seventh-century BCE mortuary stele known as the Stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu; Crowley thought it important that the exhibit’s number was 666, the Number of the Beast in Christian belief, and in later years termed the artefact the “Stele of Revealing.”
Returning to Boleskine, Crowley came to believe that Mathers had begun using magic against him, and the relationship between the two broke down. On 28 July 1905, Rose gave birth to Crowley’s first child, a daughter named Lilith, with Crowley writing the pornographic Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden to entertain his recuperating wife. He also founded a publishing company through which to publish his poetry, naming it the Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth in parody of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Among its first publications were Crowley’s Collected Works, edited by Ivor Back, an old friend of Crowley’s who was both a practicing surgeon and an enthusiast of literature. His poetry often received strong reviews (either positive or negative), but never sold well. In an attempt to gain more publicity, he issued a reward of £100 for the best essay on his work. The winner of this was J. F. C. Fuller, a British Army officer and military historian, whose essay, The Star in the West (1907), heralded Crowley’s poetry as some of the greatest ever written.
While Rose and Lilith returned to Europe, Crowley headed to Shanghai to meet old friend Elaine Simpson, who was fascinated by The Book of the Law; together they performed rituals in an attempt to contact Aiwass. Crowley then sailed to Japan and Canada, before continuing to New York City, where he unsuccessfully solicited support for a second expedition up Kanchenjunga. Upon arrival in Britain, Crowley learned that his daughter Lilith had died of typhoid in Rangoon, something he later blamed on Rose’s increasing alcoholism. Under emotional distress, his health began to suffer, and he underwent a series of surgical operations. He began short-lived romances with actress Vera “Lola” Neville (née Snepp) and author Ada Leverson, while Rose gave birth to Crowley’s second daughter, Lola Zaza, in February 1907.
Crowley’s inheritance was running out. Trying to earn money, he was hired by George Montagu Bennett, the Earl of Tankerville, to help protect him from witchcraft; recognising Bennett’s paranoia as being based in his cocaine addiction, Crowley took him on holiday to France and Morocco to recuperate. In 1907, he also began taking in paying students, whom he instructed in occult and magical practice. Victor Neuburg, whom Crowley met in February 1907, became his sexual partner and closest disciple; in 1908 the pair toured northern Spain before heading to Tangier, Morocco. The following year Neuburg stayed at Boleskine, where he and Crowley engaged in sadomasochism. Crowley continued to write prolifically, producing such works of poetry as Ambergris, Clouds Without Water, and Konx Om Pax, as well as his first attempt at an autobiography, The World’s Tragedy. Recognising the popularity of short horror stories, Crowley wrote his own, some of which were published, and he also published several articles in Vanity Fair, a magazine edited by his friend Frank Harris. He also wrote Liber 777, a book of magical and Qabalistic correspondences that borrowed from Mathers and Bennett.
In November 1907, Crowley and Jones decided to found an occult order to act as a successor to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, being aided in doing so by Fuller. The result was the A∴A∴. The group’s headquarters and temple were situated at 124 Victoria Street in central London, and their rites borrowed much from those of the Golden Dawn, but with an added Thelemic basis. Its earliest members included solicitor Richard Noel Warren, artist Austin Osman Spare, Horace Sheridan-Bickers, author George Raffalovich, Francis Henry Everard Joseph Feilding, engineer Herbert Edward Inman, Kenneth Ward, and Charles Stansfeld Jones. In March 1909, Crowley began production of a biannual periodical titled The Equinox. He billed this periodical, which was to become the “Official Organ” of the A∴A∴, as “The Review of Scientific Illuminism”.
With his old mentor George Cecil Jones, Crowley continued performing the Abramelin rituals at the Ashdown Park Hotel in Coulsdon, Surrey. Crowley claimed that in doing so he attained samadhi, or union with Godhead, thereby marking a turning point in his life. Making heavy use of hashish during these rituals, he wrote an essay on “The Psychology of Hashish” (1909) in which he championed the drug as an aid to mysticism. He also claimed to have been contacted once again by Aiwass in late October and November 1907, adding that Aiwass dictated two further texts to him, “Liber VII” and “Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente”, both of which were later classified in the corpus of The Holy Books of Thelema. Crowley wrote down more Thelemic Holy Books during the last two months of the year, including “Liber LXVI”, “Liber Arcanorum”, “Liber Porta Lucis, Sub Figura X”, “Liber Tau”, “Liber Trigrammaton” and “Liber DCCCXIII vel Ararita”, which he again claimed to have received from a preternatural source. Crowley stated that in June 1909, when the manuscript of The Book of the Law was rediscovered at Boleskine, he developed the opinion that Thelema represented objective truth.
Crowley had become increasingly frustrated with Rose’s alcoholism, and in November 1909 he divorced her on the grounds of his own adultery. Lola was entrusted to Rose’s care; the couple remained friends and Rose continued to live at Boleskine. Her alcoholism worsened, and as a result she was institutionalised in September 1911.
In November 1909, Crowley and Neuburg travelled to Algeria, touring the desert from El Arba to Aumale, Bou Saâda, and then Dā’leh Addin, with Crowley reciting the Quran on a daily basis. During the trip he invoked the thirty aethyrs of Enochian magic, with Neuburg recording the results, later published in The Equinox as The Vision and the Voice. Following a mountaintop sex magic ritual; Crowley also performed an evocation to the demon Choronzon involving blood sacrifice, and considered the results to be a watershed in his magical career. Returning to London in January 1910, Crowley found that Mathers was suing him for publishing Golden Dawn secrets in The Equinox; the court found in favour of Crowley. The case was widely reported in the press, with Crowley gaining wider fame. Crowley enjoyed this, and played up to the sensationalist stereotype of being a Satanist and advocate of human sacrifice, despite being neither.
The Equinox continued publishing, and various books of literature and poetry were also published under its imprint, like Crowley’s Ambergris, The Winged Beetle, and The Scented Garden, as well as Neuburg’s The Triumph of Pan and Ethel Archer’s The Whirlpool. In 1911, Crowley and Waddell holidayed in Montigny-sur-Loing, where he wrote prolifically, producing poems, short stories, plays, and 19 works on magic and mysticism, including the two final Holy Books of Thelema. In Paris, he met Mary Desti, who became his next “Scarlet Woman”, with the two undertaking magical workings in St. Moritz; Crowley believed that one of the Secret Chiefs, Ab-ul-Diz, was speaking through her. Based on Desti’s statements when in trance, Crowley wrote the two-volume Book 4 (1912–13) and at the time developed the spelling “magick” in reference to the paranormal phenomenon as a means of distinguishing it from the stage magic of illusionists.
In early 1912, Crowley published The Book of Lies, a work of mysticism that biographer Lawrence Sutin described as “his greatest success in merging his talents as poet, scholar, and magus”. The German occultist Theodor Reuss later accused him of publishing some of the secrets of his own occult order, the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), within The Book. Crowley convinced Reuss that the similarities were coincidental, and the two became friends. Reuss appointed Crowley as head of the O.T.O’s British branch, the Mysteria Mystica Maxima (MMM), and at a ceremony in Berlin Crowley adopted the magical name of Baphomet and was proclaimed “X° Supreme Rex and Sovereign Grand Master General of Ireland, Iona, and all the Britons”. With Reuss’ permission, Crowley set about advertising the MMM and re-writing many O.T.O. rituals, which were then based largely on Freemasonry; his incorporation of Thelemite elements proved controversial in the group. Fascinated by the O.T.O’s emphasis on sex magic, Crowley devised a magical working based on anal sex and incorporated it into the syllabus for those O.T.O. members who had been initiated into the eleventh degree.
In March 1913 Crowley acted as producer for The Ragged Ragtime Girls, a group of female violinists led by Waddell, as they performed at London’s Old Tivoli theatre. They subsequently performed in Moscow for six weeks, where Crowley had a sadomasochistic relationship with the Hungarian Anny Ringler. In Moscow, Crowley continued to write plays and poetry, including “Hymn to Pan”, and the Gnostic Mass, a Thelemic ritual that became a key part of O.T.O. liturgy. Churton suggested that Crowley had travelled to Moscow on the orders of British intelligence to spy on revolutionary elements in the city. In January 1914 Crowley and Neuburg settled into an apartment in Paris, where the former was involved in the controversy surrounding Jacob Epstein’s new monument to Oscar Wilde. Together Crowley and Neuburg performed the six-week “Paris Working”, a period of intense ritual involving strong drug use in which they invoked the gods Mercury and Jupiter. As part of the ritual, the couple performed acts of sex magic together, at times being joined by journalist Walter Duranty. Inspired by the results of the Working, Crowley wrote Liber Agapé, a treatise on sex magic. Following the Paris Working, Neuburg began to distance himself from Crowley, resulting in an argument in which Crowley cursed him.
By 1914 Crowley was living a hand-to-mouth existence, relying largely on donations from A∴A∴ members and dues payments made to O.T.O. In May he transferred ownership of Boleskine House to the MMM for financial reasons, and in July he went mountaineering in the Swiss Alps. During this time the First World War broke out. After recuperating from a bout of phlebitis, Crowley set sail for the United States aboard the RMS Lusitania in October 1914. Arriving in New York City, he moved into a hotel and began earning money writing for the American edition of Vanity Fair and undertaking freelance work for the famed astrologer Evangeline Adams. In the city, he continued experimenting with sex magic, through the use of masturbation, female prostitutes, and male clients of a Turkish bathhouse; all of these encounters were documented in his diaries.
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 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.
Crowley entered into a relationship with Jeanne Robert Foster, with whom he toured the West Coast. In Vancouver, headquarters of the North American O.T.O., he met with Charles Stansfeld Jones and Wilfred Talbot Smith to discuss the propagation of Thelema on the continent. In Detroit he experimented with Peyote at Parke-Davis, then visited Seattle, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Diego, Tijuana, and the Grand Canyon, before returning to New York. There he befriended Ananda Coomaraswamy and his wife Alice Richardson; Crowley and Richardson performed sex magic in April 1916, following which she became pregnant and then miscarried. Later that year he took a “magical retirement” to a cabin by Lake Pasquaney owned by Evangeline Adams. There, he made heavy use of drugs and undertook a ritual after which he proclaimed himself “Master Therion”. He also wrote several short stories based on J.G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough and a work of literary criticism, The Gospel According to Bernard Shaw.
In 1918, Crowley went on a magical retreat in the wilderness of Esopus Island on the Hudson River. Here, he began a translation of the Tao Te Ching, painted Thelemic slogans on the riverside cliffs, and—he later claimed—experienced past life memories of being Ge Xuan, Pope Alexander VI, Alessandro Cagliostro, and Eliphas Levi. Back in New York City, he moved to Greenwich Village, where he took Leah Hirsig as his lover and next Scarlet Woman. He took up painting as a hobby, exhibiting his work at the Greenwich Village Liberal Club and attracting the attention of the New York Evening World. With the financial assistance of sympathetic Freemasons, Crowley revived The Equinox with the first issue of volume III, known as The Blue Equinox. He spent mid-1919 on a climbing holiday in Montauk before returning to London in December.
Now destitute and back in London, Crowley came under attack from the tabloid John Bull, which labelled him traitorous “scum” for his work with the German war effort; several friends aware of his intelligence work urged him to sue, but he decided not to. When he was suffering from asthma, a doctor prescribed him heroin, to which he soon became addicted. In January 1920, he moved to Paris, renting a house in Fontainebleau with Leah Hirsig; they were soon joined in a ménage à trois by Ninette Shumway, and also (in living arrangement) by Leah’s newborn daughter Anne “Poupée” Leah. Crowley had ideas of forming a community of Thelemites, which he called the Abbey of Thelema after the Abbaye de Thélème in François Rabelais’ satire Gargantua and Pantagruel. After consulting the I Ching, he chose Cefalù (on Sicily, Italy) as a location, and after arriving there, began renting the old Villa Santa Barbara as his Abbey on 2 April.
Moving to the commune with Hirsig, Shumway, and their children Hansi, Howard, and Poupée, Crowley described the scenario as “perfectly happy … my idea of heaven.” They wore robes, and performed rituals to the sun god Ra at set times during the day, also occasionally performing the Gnostic Mass; the rest of the day they were left to follow their own interests. Undertaking widespread correspondences, Crowley continued to paint, wrote a commentary on The Book of the Law, and revised the third part of Book 4. He offered a libertine education for the children, allowing them to play all day and witness acts of sex magic. He occasionally travelled to Palermo to visit rent boys and buy supplies, including drugs; his heroin addiction came to dominate his life, and cocaine began to erode his nasal cavity. There was no cleaning rota, and wild dogs and cats wandered throughout the building, which soon became unsanitary. Poupée died in October 1920, and Ninette gave birth to a daughter, Astarte Lulu Panthea, soon afterwards.
New followers continued to arrive at the Abbey to be taught by Crowley. Among them was film star Jane Wolfe, who arrived in July 1920, where she was initiated into the A∴A∴ and became Crowley’s secretary. Another was Cecil Frederick Russell, who often argued with Crowley, disliking the same-sex sexual magic that he was required to perform, and left after a year. More conducive was the Australian Thelemite Frank Bennett, who also spent several months at the Abbey. In February 1922, Crowley returned to Paris for a retreat in an unsuccessful attempt to kick his heroin addiction. He then went to London in search of money, where he published articles in The English Review criticising the Dangerous Drugs Act 1920 and wrote a novel, Diary of a Drug Fiend, completed in July. On publication, it received mixed reviews; he was lambasted by the Sunday Express, which called for its burning and used its influence to prevent further reprints.
Subsequently, a young Thelemite named Raoul Loveday moved to the Abbey with his wife Betty May; while Loveday was devoted to Crowley, May detested him and life at the commune. She later said that Loveday was made to drink the blood of a sacrificed cat, and that they were required to cut themselves with razors every time they used the pronoun “I”. Loveday drank from a local polluted stream, soon developing a liver infection resulting in his death in February 1923. Returning to London, May told her story to the press. John Bull proclaimed Crowley “the wickedest man in the world” and “a man we’d like to hang”, and although Crowley deemed many of their accusations against him to be slanderous, he was unable to afford the legal fees to sue them. As a result, John Bull continued its attack, with its stories being repeated in newspapers throughout Europe and in North America. The Fascist government of Benito Mussolini learned of Crowley’s activities, and in April 1923 he was given a deportation notice forcing him to leave Italy; without him, the Abbey closed.
Crowley and Hirsig went to Tunis, where, dogged by continuing poor health, he unsuccessfully tried again to give up heroin, and began writing what he termed his “autohagiography”, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley. They were joined in Tunis by the Thelemite Norman Mudd, who became Crowley’s public relations consultant. Employing a local boy, Mohammad ben Brahim, as his servant, Crowley went with him on a retreat to Nefta, where they performed sex magic together. In January 1924, Crowley travelled to Nice, France, where he met with Frank Harris, underwent a series of nasal operations, and visited the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man and had a positive opinion of its founder, George Gurdjieff. Destitute, he took on a wealthy student, Alexander Zu Zolar, before taking on another American follower, Dorothy Olsen. Crowley took Olsen back to Tunisia for a magical retreat in Nefta, where he also wrote To Man (1924), a declaration of his own status as a prophet entrusted with bringing Thelema to humanity. After spending the winter in Paris, in early 1925 Crowley and Olsen returned to Tunis, where he wrote The Heart of the Master (1938) as an account of a vision he experienced in a trance. In March Olsen became pregnant, and Hirsig was called to take care of her; she miscarried, following which Crowley took Olsen back to France. Hirsig later distanced herself from Crowley, who then denounced her.
According to Crowley, Reuss had named him head of the O.T.O. upon his death, but this was challenged by a leader of the German O.T.O., Heinrich Tränker. Tränker called the Hohenleuben Conference in Thuringia, Germany, which Crowley attended. There, prominent members like Karl Germer and Martha Küntzel championed Crowley’s leadership, but other key figures like Albin Grau, Oskar Hopfer, and Henri Birven backed Tränker by opposing it, resulting in a split in the O.T.O. Moving to Paris, where he broke with Olsen in 1926, Crowley went through a large number of lovers over the following years, with whom he experimented in sex magic. Throughout, he was dogged by poor health, largely caused by his heroin and cocaine addictions. In 1928, Crowley was introduced to young Englishman Israel Regardie, who embraced Thelema and became Crowley’s secretary for the next three years. That year, Crowley also met Gerald Yorke, who began organising Crowley’s finances but never became a Thelemite. He also befriended the homosexual journalist Tom Driberg; Driberg did not accept Thelema either. It was here that Crowley also published one of his most significant works, Magick in Theory and Practice, which received little attention at the time.
In December 1928 Crowley met the Nicaraguan Maria Teresa Sanchez. Crowley was deported from France by the authorities, who disliked his reputation and feared that he was a German agent. So that she could join him in Britain, Crowley married Sanchez in August 1929. Now based in London, Mandrake Press agreed to publish his autobiography in a limited edition six-volume set, also publishing his novel Moonchild and book of short stories The Stratagem. Mandrake went into liquidation in November 1930, before the entirety of Crowley’s Confessions could be published. Mandrake’s owner P.R. Stephenson meanwhile wrote The Legend of Aleister Crowley, an analysis of the media coverage surrounding him.
Crowley’s theological beliefs were not clear. The historian Ronald Hutton noted that some of Crowley’s writings could be used to argue that he was an atheist, while some support the idea that he was a polytheist, and others would bolster the idea that he was a mystical monotheist. On the basis of the teachings in The Book of the Law, Crowley described a pantheon of three deities taken from the ancient Egyptian pantheon: Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. In 1928, he made the claim that all “true” deities were “derived” from this trinity. Jason Josephson-Storm has argued that Crowley built on 19th-century attempts to link early Christianity to pre-Christian religions, such as Frazer’s Golden Bough, to synthesize Christian theology and Neopaganism while remaining critical of institutional and traditional Christianity.
In April 1930, Crowley moved to Berlin, where he took Hanni Jaegar as his magical partner; the relationship was troubled. In September he went to Lisbon in Portugal to meet the poet Fernando Pessoa. There, he decided to fake his own death, doing so with Pessoa’s help at the Boca do Inferno rock formation. He then returned to Berlin, where he reappeared three weeks later at the opening of his art exhibition at the Gallery Neumann-Nierendorf. Crowley’s paintings fitted with the fashion for German Expressionism; few of them sold, but the press reports were largely favourable. In August 1931, he took Bertha Busch as his new lover; they had a violent relationship, and often physically assaulted one another. He continued to have affairs with both men and women while in the city, and met with famous people like Aldous Huxley and Alfred Adler. After befriending him, in January 1932 he took the communist Gerald Hamilton as a lodger, through whom he was introduced to many figures within the Berlin far left; it is possible that he was operating as a spy for British intelligence at this time, monitoring the communist movement.
Crowley left Busch and returned to London, where he took Pearl Brooksmith as his new Scarlet Woman. Undergoing further nasal surgery, it was here in 1932 that he was invited to be guest of honour at Foyles’ Literary Luncheon, also being invited by Harry Price to speak at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research. In need of money, he launched a series of court cases against people whom he believed had libelled him, some of which proved successful. He gained much publicity for his lawsuit against Constable and Co for publishing Nina Hamnett’s Laughing Torso (1932)—a book he claimed libelled him by referring to his occult practice as black magic—but lost the case. The court case added to Crowley’s financial problems, and in February 1935 he was declared bankrupt. During the hearing, it was revealed that Crowley had been spending three times his income for several years.
Crowley developed a friendship with Deidre Patricia Doherty; she offered to bear his child, who was born in May 1937. Named Randall Gair, Crowley nicknamed him Aleister Atatürk. He died in a car accident in 2002 at the age of 65. Crowley continued to socialise with friends, holding curry parties in which he cooked particularly spicy food for them. In 1936, he published his first book in six years, The Equinox of the Gods, which contained a facsimile of The Book of the Law and was considered to be volume III, number 3, of The Equinox periodical. The work sold well, resulting in a second print run. In 1937 he gave a series of public lectures on yoga in Soho. Crowley was now living largely off contributions supplied by the O.T.O.’s Agape Lodge in California, led by rocket scientist John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons. Crowley was intrigued by the rise of Nazism in Germany, and influenced by his friend Martha Küntzel believed that Adolf Hitler might convert to Thelema; when the Nazis abolished the German O.T.O. and imprisoned Germer, who fled to the US, Crowley then lambasted Hitler as a black magician.
When the Second World War broke out, Crowley wrote to the Naval Intelligence Division offering his services, but they declined. He associated with a variety of figures in Britain’s intelligence community at the time, including Dennis Wheatley, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, and Maxwell Knight, and claimed to have been behind the “V for Victory” sign first used by the BBC; this has never been proven. In 1940, his asthma worsened, and with his German-produced medication unavailable, he returned to using heroin, once again becoming addicted. As the Blitz hit London, Crowley relocated to Torquay, where he was briefly hospitalised with asthma, and entertained himself with visits to the local chess club. Tiring of Torquay, he returned to London, where he was visited by American Thelemite Grady McMurtry, to whom Crowley awarded the title of “Hymenaeus Alpha”. He stipulated that though Germer would be his immediate successor, McMurty should succeed Germer as head of the O.T.O. after the latter’s death. With O.T.O. initiate Lady Frieda Harris, Crowley developed plans to produce a tarot card set, designed by him and painted by Harris. Accompanying this was a book, published in a limited edition as The Book of Thoth by Chiswick Press in 1944. To aid the war effort, he wrote a proclamation on the rights of humanity, Liber Oz, and a poem for the liberation of France, Le Gauloise. Crowley’s final publication during his lifetime was a book of poetry, Olla: An Anthology of Sixty Years of Song. Another of his projects, Aleister Explains Everything, was posthumously published as Magick Without Tears.
In April 1944 Crowley briefly moved to Aston Clinton in Buckinghamshire, where he was visited by the poet Nancy Cunard, before relocating to Hastings in Sussex, where he took up residence at the Netherwood boarding house. He took a young man named Kenneth Grant as his secretary, paying him in magical teaching rather than wages. He was also introduced to John Symonds, whom he appointed to be his literary executor; Symonds thought little of Crowley, later publishing negative biographies of him. Corresponding with the illusionist Arnold Crowther, it was through him that Crowley was introduced to Gerald Gardner, the future founder of Gardnerian Wicca. They became friends, with Crowley authorising Gardner to revive Britain’s ailing O.T.O. Another visitor was Eliza Marian Butler, who interviewed Crowley for her book The Myth of the Magus. Other friends and family also spent time with him, among them Doherty and Crowley’s son Aleister Atatürk. On 1 December 1947, Crowley died at Netherwood of chronic bronchitis aggravated by pleurisy and myocardial degeneration, aged 72. His funeral was held at a Brighton crematorium on 5 December; about a dozen people attended, and Louis Wilkinson read excerpts from the Gnostic Mass, The Book of the Law, and “Hymn to Pan”. The funeral generated press controversy, and was labelled a Black Mass by the tabloids. Crowley’s ashes were sent to Karl Germer in the US, who buried them in his garden in Hampton, New Jersey.
Thelema continued to develop and spread following Crowley’s death. In 1969, the O.T.O. was reactivated in California under the leadership of Grady Louis McMurtry; in 1985 its right to the title was unsuccessfully challenged in court by a rival group, the Society Ordo Templi Orientis, led by Brazilian Thelemite Marcelo Ramos Motta. Another American Thelemite is the filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who had been influenced by Crowley’s writings from a young age. In the United Kingdom, Kenneth Grant propagated a tradition known as Typhonian Thelema through his organisation, the Typhonian O.T.O., later renamed the Typhonian Order. Also in Britain, an occultist known as Amado Crowley claimed to be Crowley’s son; this has been refuted by academic investigation. Amado argued that Thelema was a false religion created by Crowley to hide his true esoteric teachings, which Amado claimed to be propagating.
Crowley also had a wider influence in British popular culture. After his time in Cefalù which had brought him to public attention in Britain, various “literary Crowleys” appeared; characters in fiction based upon him. One of the earliest was the character of the poet Shelley Arabin in John Buchan’s 1926 novel The Dancing Floor. In his novel The Devil Rides Out, the writer Dennis Wheatley used Crowley as a partial basis for the character of Damien Morcata, a portly bald defrocked priest who engages in black magic. The occultist Dion Fortune used Crowley as a basis for characters in her books The Secrets of Doctor Taverner (1926) and The Winged Bull (1935). He was included as one of the figures on the cover art of The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and his motto of “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed on the vinyl of Led Zeppelin’s album Led Zeppelin III (1970). Led Zeppelin co-founder Jimmy Page bought Boleskine in 1971, and part of the band’s film The Song Remains the Same was filmed in the grounds. He sold it in 1992. Though David Bowie makes but a fleeting reference to Crowley in the lyrics of his song “Quicksand” (1971), it has been suggested that the lyrics of Bowie’s No. 1 hit single Let’s Dance (1983) may substantially paraphrase Crowley’s 1923 poem “Lyric of Love to Leah”. Ozzy Osbourne and his lyricist Bob Daisley wrote a song titled “Mr. Crowley” (1980). Crowley began to receive scholarly attention from academics in the late 1990s.
Crowley has remained an influential figure, both amongst occultists and in popular culture, particularly that of Britain, but also of other parts of the world. In 2002, a BBC poll placed Crowley seventy-third in a list of the 100 Greatest Britons. Richard Cavendish has written of him that “In native talent, penetrating intelligence and determination, Aleister Crowley was the best-equipped magician to emerge since the seventeenth century.” The scholar of esotericism Egil Asprem described him as “one of the most well-known figures in modern occultism”. The scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff asserted that Crowley was an extreme representation of “the dark side of the occult”, adding that he was “the most notorious occultist magician of the twentieth century”. The philosopher John Moore opined that Crowley stood out as a “Modern Master” when compared with other prominent occult figures like George Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Rudolf Steiner, or Helena Blavatsky, also describing him as a “living embodiment” of Oswald Spengler’s “Faustian Man”. Biographer Tobias Churton considered Crowley “a pioneer of consciousness research”. Hutton noted that Crowley had “an important place in the history of modern Western responses to Oriental spiritual traditions”, while Sutin thought that he had made “distinctly original contributions” to the study of yoga in the West.
Currently, Aleister Crowley is 147 years, 1 months and 18 days old. Aleister Crowley will celebrate 148th birthday on a Thursday 12th of October 2023.
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