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Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Aleister Crowley, The Occultist Who Horrified Early 1900s England

By Katie Serena



English mystic, novelist, mountaineer, and magician Aleister Crowley rejected his upper-class Christian upbringing and explored the darkest corners of occultism.


He was an occultist, ceremonial magician, drug fend, sex addict, mountaineer, poet, and a “traitor to the British people.” He drew

crowds of followers and hordes of critics. He was branded as evil and egotistical, a raging genius, and a messiah of anti-Christianity. It’s safe to say that few people in modern history generated as much controversy, shock, and scandal as Aleister Crowley.


Stringer/Getty Images

The tabloids called him the “Wickedest Man In The World,” and a “Master Of Darkness.” But how do you begin to describe a man who was banned from Mussolini’s Italy for acts of extreme depravity, and who also rubbed elbows with the most respected writers of the 20th century while penning textbooks on tantric sex magic? Let’s take a closer look at the complicated life of Aleister Crowley.


Aleister Crowley’s Not-So-Humble Beginnings Wikimedia Commons


Crowley’s birthplace in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. He came from a wealthy family.


To understand Aleister Crowley, or to come as close to understanding him as he would allow, one must start with his upbringing.


Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875, he quickly found himself amongst some of Britain’s most devout Christians, the very opposite of the type of people he would attract later in his life. His father was an evangelist, and at first, Crowley found himself entirely devoted to the religion, out of respect for his father.

But after his father’s death when Crowley was just 11 years old, he began firmly eschewing all sense of Christianity. He would point out inconsistencies in the teachings of the Bible during study groups in school, and would outright defy Christian morals by smoking, masturbating, and having sex with prostitutes. For his behavior, his mother referred to him as “the Beast,” a title which he revealed in


Aleister Crowley in traditional occult ceremony dress. Wikimedia Commons

Crowley adopted the name Aleister in 1895 when he was 20 years old. His reasons for discarding his old name, outlined in his autobiography, seem to foreshadow every choice he would make in his adult life, as they depict a man with high ambitions, ideals and a complete disregard for personal connection:



“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. ”


“I had read in some book or other that the most favorable 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.”

Crowley’s First Forays Into

The Dark Depths Of Occultism


The same year that he changed his name, Crowley enrolled at Cambridge University. His life at Cambridge paints a picture of a lifestyle ft for an Austenian hero — a tortured soul practicing chess, penning poetry and inspired literature, and dreaming up exotic mountain climbing adventures in his spare time.


However, Aleister Crowley was about as far from a Mr. Darcy type as one could be. Under his polished, collegian exterior lay a deeply tumultuous man, harboring secret plans of magical domination, maintaining borderline-sadistic sexual relationships with both men and women, and delving ever deeper into the world of the occult.


Once his time at school was over, Crowley nearly considered a career in diplomatic relations. But after a brief illness that triggered his understanding of morality and “the futility of all human endeavor,” he further narrowed his focus to writing occult literature and publishing several erotic poems.

Aleister Crowley during his K-2 expedition. Wikimedia Commons

In 1898, Crowley met a chemist named Julian L. Baker, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined. The order was devoted to studying paranormal activity and all matters of the occult.

Eventually, Crowley hired a senior member of the group to be his live-in personal tutor on the subject. Together, Crowley and his tutor experimented with ceremonial magic and the ritualistic use of drugs.


Independently, Crowley continued to explore his bisexuality and seek out prostitutes. But while this life for him was eye-opening and spiritual, higher-level members of the Golden Dawn considered it too libertine and refused to allow him entry into the upper levels.


Having had enough of Europe after his stint with the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley traveled to Mexico, bringing to life his past dreams of mountain climbing. From there, he traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Ceylon, and India.


While in India, Crowley began practicing raja yoga, a Hindu meditation tradition. He later accompanied mountaineers in the first-ever attempt to climb K2 in 1902.



Travels Through Europe And Falling In Love


Rose Crowley, Aleister’s first wife. Bettmann/Getty Images

In November of 1902, Crowley traveled back to Europe, settling in Paris and immersing himself in the art world. Again, his lifestyle painted quite a different picture than the one he was truly living, as he surrounded himself with famed artists like painter Gerald Kelly and sculptor Auguste Rodin.


To the surprise of many, Paris was where Aleister Crowley fell in love. Gerald Kelly introduced Crowley to his sister Rose during a meeting, after which the two married. At first, the marriage was one “of convenience” to prevent her from entering an arranged marriage.


But before long, the two fell in love for real. Crowley even set aside his profane, dark writings, and penned his wife several love poems.


Despite their initial arrangement, Rose and Aleister Crowley could not be a more perfect pair. Rose accompanied Aleister on his journeys and went along with his schemes, and indeed it was through her that Crowley found the inspiration to begin his own religion.



The Birth Of Thelema, Aleister Crowley’s Infamous New Religion


While Rose was meditating, she informed Aleister that the Egyptian god Horus was waiting for him. In 1904, through his own meditation, he heard the voice of Aiwass, the personal messenger of Horus.


Using the words of the messenger and Horus himself, Crowley transcribed The Book of the Law, the book that would become the basis of his new religion, Thelema.


The main teaching of Thelema was a similar principle to the one that Crowley had lived by his whole life: “Do what thou wilt.”


The teachings were intended to act as a successor to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and were seen as extremely similar to theirs.


In 1907, Crowley founded the occult order, naming it the A∴A∴. Crowley devoted almost all of his time to building the order, writing its literature, and creating a periodical for its members.



A Tumultuous Personal Life In The Era Of Two World Wars


Rose and Aleister Crowley and their second daughter, Lola Zaza Crowley. Wikimedia Commons

While Crowley was consumed by the words of Horus and his desire to feed the masses information about the occult, his wife was descending into her own darkness of full-blown alcoholism.


Meanwhile, their daughter Lilith died of typhoid in 1906. Despite the illness, Crowley still blamed her death on Rose’s inability to get a grip on the world around her.


Despite her apparent failure to remain sober, Rose and Aleister had another daughter, Lola, who was entrusted solely to Rose’s care upon the pair’s divorce in 1909. Eventually, Rose was committed to an institution in 1911.


The bulk of Aleister Crowley’s life after his divorce was spent floating from city to city, as he had before, picking up several “scarlet women” along the way, one of whom allegedly bore him a son, who he named Aleister Atatürk.


His travels were dogged by rumors that he was working as a British intelligence spy, as several countries he drifted through were coincidentally under investigation by the Brits.


He continued to publish occult manuscripts and engage in sex with prostitutes during the years of World War I.


Aleister Crowley in 1921. Keystone/Getty Images

By 1920, he’d moved to Sicily, where he established the Abbey of Thelema as his headquarters. There, he and his followers experimented with sex, drugs, and a series of bizarre rituals.

The government was so appalled that they banned Crowley from Italy, forcing the headquarters to close and the group to disperse.


But that didn’t mean Crowley was done. He soon found an assistant who helped him transcribe his teachings and publish his books. And by the late 1920s, he got remarried to a Nicaraguan woman named Maria Teresa Sanchez, so that she could join him in Britain.


During World War II, he rubbed elbows with known figures from the intelligence community, such as Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl, though the rumors of Crowley’s involvement in actual intelligence were never confirmed.


However, he did offer his services to the Naval Intelligence Division at one point — and he was turned down.


On Dec. 1, 1947, Aleister Crowley died at age 72, his body giving out to chronic bronchitis. His funeral dubbed the “Black Mass,” was only attended by a few of his closest friends and associates — despite his words reaching hundreds of thousands of people throughout the years.


It seems that even though he’d gained the infamy he’d always wanted, he was not remembered fondly as a person. However, friends and family assured everyone that he wouldn’t have wanted to be.


The Complicated Legacy Of Aleister Crowley Though he was gone, the impact of Crowley lived on, not only among occultists – possibly the only people who remember him fondly – but also through writers, artists, philosophers, and musicians.


Crowley’s image stands, amongst others, on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and his motto, “Do what thou wilt,” is inscribed on Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin III vinyl. David Bowie referenced him in the lyrics to “Quicksand,” and Ozzy Osbourne paid tribute to him with a whole song titled “Mr. Crowley.”


Those who remember him often lend their ideas of him to his image as a cookie-cutter villain, an image that might not be too far off. His name is whispered with horror amongst devout Christians, skepticism amongst conspiracy theorists, and with awe amongst the occultists and pagans.


Ultimately, Crowley’s goal was achieved – no matter what they say when they whisper his name, it’s still being whispered today.


Now that you know about Aleister Crowley, the “wickedest man in the world,” read up on history’s most infamous cult leaders. Then, learn about the most interesting mad scientists of all time.


If you would like your chance to get up close and personal with Mr. Crowley the just us if you are brave enough then join us at our investigation at the True Crimes Museum. Book your ticket here: https://www.ghosthuntertours.co.uk/product-page/ghost-hunt-at-the-true-crime-museum-hastings-25th-november-2022




All credits for this article go to Katie Serena | Checked By John Kuroski Published August 22, 2021, Updated July 15, 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/aleister-crowley










Katie Serena


 


Katie Serena is a New York City-based writer and a staff writer at All That's Interesting.






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  Aleister Crowley, The Occultist Who HorrifiedEarly 1900s England By KatieSerena English mystic, novelist, mountaineer, and magician Aleister Crowley rejected his upper-classChristian upbringing and explored the darkest corners of occultism. H e was an occultist, ceremonial magician, drug fend, sex addict, mountaineer, poet, and a “traitor to the Britishpeople.” He drew crowds of followers and hordes of critics.He was branded as evil and egotistical, a raging genius, and a messiahof anti-Christianity. It’s safe to say that few people in modernhistory generated as much controversy, shock, andscandal as Aleister Crowley. Stringer/Getty Images


  Known as the Great Beast 666,Aleister Crowley wasone ofthe most controversial igures in modern British history. Thetabloids called him the“Wickedest Man In The World,” and a “MasterOf Darkness.” But how do you begin to describe a man who was banned from Mussolini’s Italy for acts of extreme depravity, and who also rubbed elbows with the most respected writers of the 20th century while penning textbooks on tantric sex magic? Let’s take a closer look at the complicated life of Aleister Crowley. Aleister Crowley’s Not-So-Humble Beginnings Wikimedia Commons Aleister Crowley’s birthplace in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England. He came from a wealthy family. To understand Aleister Crowley, or to come as close to understandinghim as he would allow, one must start with his upbringing. Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875, he quickly found himself amongst some of Britain’s most devout Christians, the very opposite of the type of people he would attract later in his life. His father was an evangelist, and at frst, Crowley found himself entirely devoted to the religion, out of respect for his father.


  But after his father’s deathwhen Crowley was just11 years old, he began frmly eschewing all sense of Christianity. He would point out inconsistencies in the teachings of the Bible during study groups in school, and would outright defy Christian morals by smoking,masturbating, and having sex with prostitutes. For his behavior, his mother referred to him as “the Beast,” a title which he reveled in.


Aleister Crowley in traditional occult ceremony dress. Wikimedia Commons


Crowley adopted the name Aleister in 1895 when he was 20 years old. His reasons for discarding his old name, outlinedin his autobiography, seem to foreshadow every choicehe would make in his adult life, as they depicta manwith high ambitions, frm ideals, and a complete disregard for personal connection: “For many years I had loathed being calledAlick, partly becauseof the unpleasant sound and sight of the word, partly becauseit wasthe name by whichmy mother called me. Edward didnot seem tosuit me and the diminutives Ted or Ned were even less appropriate.Alexander was too long and Sandy suggestedtow hair and freckles.” “I had read in some book or other that the most favorable name forbecoming famous was one consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee, as at the end of a hexameter: like Jeremy Taylor. Aleister Crowley fulilled these conditions and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. To adopt it would satisfy my romantic ideals.”


  Crowley’s First Forays Into The Dark Depths Of Occultism The same year that he changed hisname, Crowley enrolled at Cambridge University. His life at Cambridge paints a picture of a lifestyle ftfor an Austenian hero — a tortured soul practicing chess,penning poetry and inspired literature, and dreaming up exotic mountain climbing adventures in his spare time. However, AleisterCrowley was about as far from a Mr. Darcy type as one could be. Under his polished, collegian exterior lay a deeply tumultuous man,harboring secret plans of magical domination, maintaining borderline- sadistic sexual relationships with both men and women, and delving ever deeper into the world of the occult. Once his time at school was over, Crowley nearly considered a career in diplomatic relations. But after a brief illness that triggered his understanding of morality and “the futilityof all human endeavor,” he further narrowed his focus to writing occult literature and publishing several erotic poems.


Aleister Crowley during his K-2 expedition. Wikimedia Commons


In 1898, Crowley met a chemist named JulianL. Baker, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined. The order was devoted to studying paranormal activityand all matters of the occult.


  Eventually, Crowley hired a senior member of thegroup tobe his live-in personal tutor onthe subject. Together,Crowley andhis tutor experimented with ceremonial magic and the ritualistic use of drugs. Independently, Crowley continued to explore his bisexuality and seek out prostitutes. But while this life for him was eye-opening and spiritual, higher- level members of the Golden Dawn considered it too libertine and refused toallow him entry into the upper levels. Having had enough of Europe after his stint with the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley traveled to Mexico, bringing to life his past dreams of mountain climbing. From there, he traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, Ceylon, and India. While in India, Crowley began practicing raja yoga, a Hindu meditation tradition. He later accompanied mountaineers in the frst-ever attempt to climb K2 in 1902. Travels Through Europe And FallingIn Love


RoseCrowley, Aleister’s irst wife. Bettmann/Getty Images


  In November of 1902,Crowley traveled back to Europe, settling in Paris and immersing himself inthe art world. Again, his lifestyle paintedquite a different picture than the one he was truly living,as he surrounded himself with famed artists like painter Gerald Kelly and sculptor Auguste Rodin. To the surprise of many, Paris was where Aleister Crowley fell in love. Gerald Kelly introduced Crowley to his sister Rose during a meeting, after which the two married. At frst, the marriage was one “of convenience” to prevent her from entering an arranged marriage. But before long, the two fell in love for real. Crowley even set aside his profane, dark writings,and penned his wife several love poems. Despite theirinitial arrangement, Rose and AleisterCrowley could not be a more perfect pair. Rose accompanied Aleister on his journeys and went along with his schemes,and indeed it was through her that Crowley found theinspiration to begin his own religion. The Birth Of Thelema,Aleister Crowley’s Infamous New Religion While Rose was meditating, she informed Aleister that the Egyptian god Horus was waiting for him. In 1904, through his own meditation, he heard the voice of Aiwass, the personal messenger of Horus. Using the words of the messenger and Horus himself, Crowley transcribed The Book of the Law, the book that would becomethe basis of his new religion, Thelema. Themain teaching of Thelema was a similarprinciple to the one that Crowley had lived by his whole life: “Do what thou wilt.” The teachings were intended to act as a successorto the Hermetic Order of theGolden Dawn and were seen as extremely similarto theirs.


  In 1907,Crowley founded the occult order, naming it theA∴A∴. Crowley devoted almost all of his time to building the order, writing its literature, and creating a periodical for its members. A TumultuousPersonal Life In The Era Of Two World Wars


Roseand Aleister Crowley and their second daughter, Lola Zaza Crowley. Wikimedia Commons


While Crowley was consumedby the words of Horus and his desire to feed themasses information about the occult, his wife was descending into her own darkness of full-blown alcoholism. Meanwhile, their daughter Lilith had died of typhoid in 1906. Despitethe illness, Crowley still blamedher death on Rose’s inability to get a grip on the world around her. Despite her apparent failure to remain sober, Rose and Aleister had another daughter, Lola, who was entrusted solely to Rose’s care upon the pair’s divorce in 1909. Eventually, Rose was committed to an institution in 1911. The bulk of AleisterCrowley’s life after his divorce was spent floating from cityto city, as he had before, picking up several “scarlet women” along the way, one of whom allegedly bore him a son, who he named AleisterAtatürk. His travels were dogged by rumors that he was working as a British intelligence spy, as several countries he drifted through were coincidentally under investigation by the Brits. He continued to publish occult manuscripts and engage in sex with prostitutes in the years during World War I.


Aleister Crowley in 1921. Keystone/Getty Images


By 1920, he’d moved to Sicily, where he established the Abbey of Thelema as hisheadquarters. There, he and his followers experimented with sex, drugs, anda series of bizarre rituals.


  But in1923, an Englishman diedunder mysterious circumstances afterone ritual where heallegedly consumed the blood of a cat.Mussolini’s government was so appalled that they bannedCrowley from Italy, forcing the headquarters to close and the group to disperse. Butthat didn’t mean Crowley was done. He soon found an assistant who helped him transcribehis teachings and publish his books. And by the late 1920s, he got remarriedto a Nicaraguan woman named MariaTeresa Sanchez, so that she could join him in Britain. During World War II, he rubbed elbows with known fgures from the intelligence community, such as Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl,though the rumors of Crowley’s involvement in actualintelligence were never confrmed. However, he did offer his servicesto the Naval Intelligence Division at one point — and he was turned down. On Dec. 1, 1947, Aleister Crowley died at age 72, his body giving out to chronic bronchitis. His funeral, dubbed the “Black Mass,” was only attended by a few of his closest friendsand associates — despitehis words reaching hundreds of thousands of people throughout the years. It seems that even thoughhe’d gained the infamy he’d always wanted, he was not remembered fondly as a person. However, friends and family assured everyone that he wouldn’t have wanted to be. The Complicated Legacy Of Aleister Crowley Though he was gone, the impactof Crowley lived on, not only in occultists – possibly the only people who remember him fondly – but also through writers, artists,philosophers, and musicians. Crowley’s image stands, amongst others, on the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and his motto, “Do what thou wilt,” is inscribedon Led Zeppelin’s LedZeppelin III vinyl. David Bowie referenced him in the lyrics to “Quicksand,” and Ozzy Osbournepaid tribute to him with a whole song titled “Mr. Crowley.”


  Today, the legacy of Aleister Crowley is a collage of intrigue. Those who remember him often lend their ideas of him to his image as a cookie-cutter villain,an image that might not be too far off. His name is whispered with horror amongst devout Christians, with skepticism amongst conspiracy theorists, and with awe amongstthe occultists and pagans. Ultimately, Crowley’s goal was achieved – no matter what they say when they whisper his name, it’s still being whispered today. Now that you know about Aleister Crowley, the“wickedest man in the world,” read up on history’s most infamous cult leaders. Then, learn about the most interesting mad scientists of all time.



Katie Serena KatieSerena is a New York City-basedwriter and a staff writer at All That's Interesting. Sign Up For The ATI Newsletter Email Sign Up Previous Post Geronimo: The Tragic True Story Of The Legendary... Next Post The Dyatlov Pass Incident: The Mysterious1959 Tragedy That...

























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