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AT A TIME when representatives fail to represent, judges can’t judge, and leaders don’t lead, it’s somehow comforting to hear about a nut case who was first-rate in his outrageousness. Aleister Crowley, British occultist, womanizer, magician, poet, mountaineer, and, possibly, intelligence agent, found the top of his game when he started channeling Alwass, a supernatural ancient Egyptian.
It was 1904. Aleister and his wife Rose were honeymooning in Cairo. And, according to his later writings, beginning on April 8 Crowley heard the disembodied voice of Alwass, the messenger of Hoor-Paar-Kraat, a composite deity of ancient Egypt. Over the next three days, Alwass dictated The Book of Law, a fundamental principle of which was “Do What Thou Wilt.”
Given that this was pretty much how Crowley had lived his life thus far, he recognized this injunction as the core of a new religion which he named Thelema.
As a side matter, on July 28, 1905, Rose gave birth to Lilith, their first child. Aleister responded by writing the pornographic Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden to entertain Rose during her lying-in.
I suspect you had to be there.
At about the same time, Crowley had brief affairs, one with actress Vera “Lola” Neville née Sneep; made a failed attempt at scaling Nepal’s Kangchenjunga, 28,169 ft, third tallest mountain in the world; and was hustled out of India after killing a native (or was the native a mugger?).
You know, the usual stuff while touring around, high on hashish.
By 1907, Crowley’s inheritance was running out. He took on students, his subject being English Magick, his object, to take the students to any extent he could.
All the while, other people got caught up in the supernatural Egyptian Alwass and what evolved into The A∴A∴ and The Holy Books of Thelema. My research has not revealed the meaning of those dual ∴ symbols. It may have been secret.
A∴A∴ meetings were enlivened by members personifying various deities, the performances enriched by peyote-spiked punch. It was around this time that West de Wend Fenton, editor of The Looking Glass newspaper called Crowley “one of the most blasphemous and cold-blooded villains of modern times.”
Notes Wikipedia, “Crowley had become increasingly frustrated by Rose’s alcoholism, and in November 1909 divorced her on the grounds of his own adultery.”
Now there’s a movie plot.
In early 1912, Crowley got in trouble with German occultist Theodor Reuss for allegedly sharing secrets of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), another wingy fraternal religious organization. At the time, Crowley fashioned himself “ ‘X’ Supreme Rex and Sovereign Grand Master General of Ireland, Iona, and all the Britons.”
A little later, changing pace, Crowley acted as manager for The Ragged Ragtime Girls, an all-female violin ensemble that played London’s Old Tivoli Theatre. They also had a six-week gig in Moscow, where Crowley had an S/M relationship with Anny Ringler, a Hungarian. Unlike his affair with Mrs. Rogers, I could find no subsequent poetic trace.
Crowley lived in the U.S. for awhile, 1914–1919, during which time he affected German sympathies. He hung out with arty types, claimed New Orleans as his favorite U.S. city, and spent some time with evangelical Christian relatives in Titusville, Florida.
Talk about interesting dinner conversations.
Good gracious, I’m only to 1919 and the man lived until 1947!
There were tales of sex magic (apparently more entertaining than classical English Magick), cuttings, blood lettings, and other stuff I’d prefer not to write about, all punctuated by the increasing use of the word “despondent.”
For a brief but telling summary of Aleister Crowley’s place in history, I recommend Stranger Than We Can Imagine: An Alternative History of the 20th Century, by John Higgs, Soft Skull Press, 2015. Higgs introduces Crowley and his “Do What Thou Wilt” philosophy in the chapter on individualism, one of 15 defining aspects of the last century.
About the only good thing I can add about Aleister Crowley is that he’s one of the montage on the Beatle’s Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.
Higgs’ book is a topic for another day. In the meantime, I’m not giving anything away by observing that Aleister Crowley was a reductio ad absurdum of individualism. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017