Aleister Crowley, originally christened Edward Alexander Crowley, was one of the twentieth century’s most peculiar, interesting, and enigmatic figures.
Crowley, who earned the nickname “the wickedest man in the world,” was admired and denounced by his contemporaries. In his lifetime, Crowley had many things going for him — the good, the bad, and the ugly; he impacted many aspects of life.
From the mundane to the supernatural — the occult, spiritualism, writing, mountain climbing, and even spycraft — Crowley blazed through with unmatched resolve. However, perhaps his controversial, influential beliefs at the time made him famous or infamous.
Crowley’s father was a wealthy brewer’s heir who converted to nonconformism and became a Plymouth Brethren evangelist. On the other hand, the younger Crowley developed a dislike for Christianity quite early in life. Despite being born to devout parents, Crowley rejected Christianity to pursue an interest in Western esotericism.
Crowley was a prolific writer, publishing widely on occult and esoteric matters. He was influential in developing Thelema, a religious and philosophical system he founded.
Despite his vested quest to explore the otherworldly, Crowley wasn’t immune to the challenges of the mundane. Crowley’s biographical details depict a complex picture of a charming individual who wasn’t afraid to pursue his path at a period when being himself meant defying eons of traditional culture and value systems.
Following his passing in 1947, Crowley’s life and ideology inspired the works of numerous artists, including David Bowie, William S. Burroughs, Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Genesis P-Orridge, Timothy Leary, Robert Anton Wilson, and numerous others.
For better or worse, Aleister Crowley was undoubtedly one of the most incredibly creative and imaginative people in contemporary history.
Let’s look at some of the fascinating milestone events in this man’s life, from birth to death.
He Lost His Virginity At Just 14
Crowley appears to have been fascinated with sex since a young age. Although it was no secret that he favored both men and women as intimate partners, he lost his virginity to a woman. This occurred at the age of 14, which is way too young by usual standards. But common sense never really applied to Crowley.
Crowley brazenly had sex with the woman on his parents’ bed. She was a maid at the Crowley family house. When his parents learned of this ‘scandal,’ they were understandably enraged and dismissed the unfortunate maid. The maid reportedly spiraled into an alcoholic abyss before falling victim to Jack the Ripper’s sadistic claws.
He Was An Avid Mountain Climber
Crowley developed an early interest in mountain climbing in his teenage years. Being who he was, Crowley’s interest bordered on obsession, as we’ll come to learn. His debut was his rock climbing stint in the Alps. In 1902, he teamed up with renowned mountaineer Oscar Eckenstein to attempt to conquer K2, the world’s second-highest mountain.
While they couldn’t scale through to the mountain peak, the Crowley-Eckenstein pair could climb up to around 22,000 feet, setting a record that would remain unbroken for another 40 years.
In 1905, Crowley headed an expedition to the Himalayas to climb Kanchenjunga. The mountaineering expedition was nothing short of a disaster, with four lives lost.
The expedition team consisted of Swiss climber Jules-Guillarmod, who put together the unit, three European climbers, and three Kashmiri porters. During the climb, Crowley fell out with the other climbers, whom he thought were inexperienced and reckless. The other climbers, in turn, didn’t fancy his leadership style. They thought he was overbearing and overly cautious.
The group of five eventually splintered. The three climbers and porters chose to evacuate despite Crowley’s warnings that an avalanche was possible.
During the descent, the climbers did trigger an avalanche that claimed the lives of all three porters and one European. Amid all the avalanche mayhem, the climber and porter trio shouted for help, maybe hoping that Crowley would come to their rescue. Help never came.
When questioned, Crowley maintained that he was ignorant that their calls were for help rather than shouts of conversation and merriment, which was why he didn’t leave his tent until the morning to investigate.
Even though Crowley didn’t do anything wrong per se, the climbing community was upset by his callous dismissal of the incident. As he was the expedition’s leader, some considered him responsible.
Crowley didn’t stop climbing and continued climbing well into adulthood. He retried the Kanchenjunga climb and made it to the summit. Crowley also made attempts at the Alps and the Pyrenees but did not reach any summits.
He also made several attempts on the Eiger but was unsuccessful in all of them. Despite his apparent lack of success, Crowley remained passionate about mountain climbing and wrote several books on the subject.
He Studied At Cambridge
Yes! Aleister Crowley studied at Cambridge University. He attended Trinity College from 1895 to 1898, where he studied mathematics, natural sciences, and engineering. He did not complete his degree.
He spent the majority of Crowley’s time at university enjoying his hobbies.
He served as chess club president and played the game for two hours daily. He tried going professional, but it didn’t work out.
Crowley also devoted time to literature and poetry. He was particularly passionate about the works of Richard Francis Burton and Percy Bysshe Shelley. His poems frequently appeared in student magazines like The Granta, Cambridge Magazine, and Cantab.
He Was Part of Many Occult Groups
Aleister Crowley was an influential figure in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an order of magicians and occultists who practiced ceremonial magic and sought to gain knowledge of the spiritual world.
He joined the group in 1898 and was responsible for revising and expanding the group’s rituals and teachings. He developed a system of magical practices incorporating elements of mysticism, astrology, and the Kabalah.
Other Crowley’s comrades in the London golden dawn group at the time included poet William Butler Yeats, author Bram Stoker, and creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Their mutual interest in alchemy attracted Crowley to the group, though some biographers hypothesized that Crowley may have initially joined the group on the orders of the British secret services.
Crowley was also a member of the A∴A∴ and Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). His works have influenced many groups, including the Church of Satan, the Temple of Set, and the Typhonian Order.
He Founded A Religion After An Egyptian God Spoke to him
While in Cairo with his wife in 1904, Crowley claimed to hear the voice of an entity he referred to as Aiwass, which he believed was an Egyptian messenger God Horus
He wrote down this voice’s teachings, which he published in 1904 as The Book of the Law. This book formed the basis of his Thelema religion and its principal tenants, including the “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This phrase encapsulates the idea that each person should strive to live according to their desires and interests while acting out of love and respect for others.
Crowley believed that the Aeon of Horus was the dawning of a new age and that his teachings would be the cornerstone of this new age.
He Practiced Sex Magick – And Regarded Consuming Bodily Fluids As A Sacred Act
Aleister Crowley practiced sex magick, a ritual involving physical, mental, and spiritual practices believed to enhance and empower one’s sexual experience magically.
Sex magick was a significant component of Thelemic rites and was meant to be transformational and illuminating. But for Crowley and his adepts, even bodily secretions played a role in spiritual transformation and enlightenment. For instance, participants in the Mass of the Phoenix had to eat a Cake of Light.
Cakes of light were Crowley’s variation of catholic wafers made from male semen or menstrual blood.
Crowley believed that sex was a powerful tool for spiritual sublimation and that it could be used to access higher realms of consciousness.
He developed several rituals to this end, including the “Star Ruby” and the “Ceremony of the Nine Angles,” which both involve sexual energy and visualization. Crowley also wrote extensively about the power of sex in his works, such as The Book Of Lies and Magick In Theory and Practice.
Crowley’s conviction in the efficacy of his magick served as a compass for his interpersonal interactions. Throughout his life, he had a lot of passionate, intense relationships with both men and women, a classic case of ‘prove it by the life you live.’
He Founded A Commune
Crowley founded the Thelemic community known as the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily in April 1920. The earliest members of this religious commune were his two lovers at the time, Ninette Shumway and Leah Hirsig, and their three children, one of whom was his.
In the Abbey of Thelma, everyone lived according to Thelmatic teachings. Kids were free to run around and play unrestrainedly all day. Adults commune with the unseen, performing rituals, masses, and magick as their self-will dictates.
Raoul Loveday and his wife Betty May were amongst the first set of Thelma adepts who entered the commune. Although Loveday enjoyed living in a commune, his wife was never happy.
After her husband died in 1923, Loveday’s wife returned to England and reported on many demeaning and weird things she had witnessed during her stay at the abbey, such as how they were forced to drink cat blood on multiple occasions.
She also claimed that the Abbey of Thelma enforced a regulation that forced members to mutilate themselves whenever they used the pronoun ‘I’ to promote the spirit of collectiveness.
Crowley, of course, debunked most of her claims, reiterating that they were mostly lying. The Italian authorities expelled Crowley and his cohort after the British press covered the scandalous commune.
His First Same-ender Encounter May Have Been The Catalyst For His Spiritual Awakening.
It is believed that Crowley’s first same-gender experience was with a man he met in Algeria in 1898. This experience triggered a profound spiritual awakening for Crowley, and it was during this period he wrote some of his most influential works, including The Book of the Law.
This experience also marked the beginning of Crowley’s exploration of alternative sexuality, and this experience likely provided him with the impetus to explore the mysteries of occult and ceremonial magic.
Crowley’s embrace of same-gender love and his exploration of alternative sexuality was highly controversial during his lifetime, but today they are seen as part of the pioneering work that he did to expand the boundaries of Western spirituality. He is now remembered as a complex and influential figure who helped to shape the modern understanding of sexuality, gender, and the occult.
His Final Act Was To Put A Curse On His Doctor
Come his final days, Crowley was in a sorry state. He was in such much pain that he needed morphine shots every day to function. Morphine is not an over-the-counter medication; you must obtain a doctor’s prescription before getting your hands on it.
According to recounted tales, Crowley’s doctor refused to write him a new prescription because he suspected him of misusing the drug. Crowley then allegedly cursed him with his magick in his wrath. Considering that the poor doctor passed away just 24 hours after Crowley supposedly cursed him, it gives the allegation credibility to a certain extent.
He Died Broke
Crowley died in poverty and obscurity. Although many disagree with the exact dates of his death, everyone agrees that he passed on in a Hastings grooming house in December 1947. While his ending was anti-climatic compared to the life he led when he was alive, his demise marked the end of an era in Western occultism of which he is remembered as one of the greatest.