Simanaitis Says

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HERE’S A guy who invented his own religion, practiced English Magick, channeled an ancient supernatural Egyptian, popped recreational drugs, climbed Himalayan peaks, and maybe even acted as a British intelligence agent. Aleister Crowley was a real piece of work, some say a first-rate nut case.

Edward Alexander Crowley, 1875–1947, English occultist, magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer. Founder of Thelema, possible Satanist. Image c. 1912.

Crowley was born in 1875 into an English family of evangelical Christians who had a lucrative brewing business. In his teens, he worked hard rejecting any of this pious upbringing: He smoked, practiced self-abuse, and contracted gonorrhea from a prostitute. Crowley also acquired an interest in mountaineering, climbing the Bernese Alpine peaks of Eiger, Trift, Jungfrau, Mönch, and Wetterhorn before turning 20.

Crowley entered Trinity College, Cambridge University in 1895, initially enrolled for the Moral Science Tripos studying philosophy.

Given his life’s choices to this point, can you top Crowley’s choice of major?

Crowley’s three years at Cambridge included his first mystical experience, recognition of a preferred bisexuality, a case of syphilis, and his interest in English Magick.

In 1898, Crowley was initiated into an occult society known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Maybe he joined the order under cover for British intelligence; maybe not. He rose through the lower grades of the Order, though, according to Wikipedia, “He was unpopular in the group; his bisexuality and libertine lifestyle had gained him a bad reputation.”

Apparently English Magick and ritualistic use of drugs didn’t harm one’s cred among Golden Dawners.

Crowley during his Golden Dawn years.

In 1900, Crowley set out to travel the world. This included Mexico (was he there pursuing oil prospects for British intelligence or to climb Iztaccihuatl, Popacatepetl, and Colima?), San Francisco, and then across the Pacific to Hawaii and Japan (and a shipboard fling with a married woman named Mary Alice Rogers).

Apparently one to kiss and tell, Crowley published a set of poems in 1903 called Alice: An Adultery.

In Ceylon he visited Kandy, home of Sri Dalada Maligawa, The Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Almost completing his circumnavigation, Crowley hung out in Paris in 1902, where he wrote a series of poems about acquaintance Auguste Rodin, sculptor of, among other things, The Thinker. He also met novelist W. Somerset Maugham, whose character in The Magician, 1908, is patterned after Crowley.

If the foregoing makes Crowley appear something of a Brit lit lion, and not going on to further hijinks, rest easy: Upon returning to England, he married a friend’s sister, Rose Edith Kelly, which managed to screw up the friendship and appall the Kelly family.

On their honeymoon, in February 1904 the couple arrived in Cairo. Crowley set up an apartment as an Egyptian temple and sought to channel ancient deities. Wikipedia notes, “According to Crowley’s later account, Rose regularly became delirious and informed him ‘they are waiting for you.’ ”

Clearly a marriage made in heaven. Or somewhere or other.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll learn what Alwass the supernatural communicated to Crowley, and how this ancient Egyptian’s message of “Do What Thou Wilt” resulted eventually in a tribute on a Beatle album. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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