The occultist Israel Regardie (1907-1985), as a young man of twenty-one, became Crowley’s secretary in 1928. He was initially deterred by witnessing a scene in Paris, at the end of an introductory meal, when Crowley pounced on his latest mistress Kasimira and commenced sexual intercourse (ibid:426). After four years, Regardie distanced himself from Crowley, whom he came to regard as “the nasty, petty, vicious louse that occasionally he was” (Wilson 1987:12). Much later, Regardie chose to view Crowley as “a great mystic,” and was influential in his aversion to the Symonds biography. Crowley became very popular in the 1960s amongst psychedelic enthusiasts like Timothy Leary. Regardie then presented Crowley as a talented mystical precursor of the psychedelic era. Wilson implied opportunism in this portrayal.
Regardie was now a neo-Reichian therapist, and believed to be an occult adept. His book The Eye in the Triangle (1970) does include criticism of Crowley, and rather pointedly perhaps, implies that what the Beast wrote after Book Four (1913) is best forgotten. However, the predominant impression conveyed to uncritical readers is that Regardie was the American disciple of a great British mystic. A recent analyst has pointed to the romantic nature of Regardie’s retrospective publicity in Roll Away the Stone (1968):
Throughout his discussion, his estimation of Crowley is almost entirely lacking in critical distance and, indeed, approaches hagiography. For example, not only does he [Regardie] claim that his [Crowley’s] “fine classical and scientific education at Cambridge” (omitting to mention that he failed to complete his studies) and “his mountaineering exploits” equipped him to “tackle the problem of psychedelic drugs” (how, he does not say), but he goes on to insist that “Crowley was an experimental mystic of the highest magnitude. He had practiced yoga and magical techniques assiduously for many years until he had achieved a thoroughgoing mastery over both Eastern and Western methods. All of these rare skills were eventually brought to bear on his experimentation with a variety of drugs.” Moreover, Crowley’s writings, he claims, “bear witness, and provide massive evidence of, his objective and scientific attitude to the whole process.” This is actually very far from being the case. (Partridge 2016:151 note 10)
The Crowley myth has misled numerous readers. The self-designated Beast constructed “a magical system out of his Golden Dawn and O.T.O. experiences, and in particular out of his own sexual tastes and obsessions” (Symonds 1989:431). Sexual activity and drugs are not a reliable index to mysticism, particularly when that afflicted subject is confused with magic.
Crowley was an upper middle class Englishman who never did any work. His father Edward (d.1887) was one of the gentry, receiving income from property and dividends. This pater had shares in the family brewery, and also the railway. An Anglican clergyman, Edward became a member of the evangelical Plymouth Brethren. He preached to crowds on walking tours throughout the country (Kaczynski 2010:10-13). He was idolised by his son and died when the boy was twelve. Aleister underwent a phase of emotional upset at the pater’s decease.
The affluent family had four servants (ibid:15). Aleister described his mother as the best of all possible mothers, but “was normally aloof toward her, regarding her as just another one of the servants” (ibid). His class consciousness and masculine complex were evidently quite pronounced. Emily Crowley (1848-1917) was the daughter of a farmer.
The youthful Aleister seduced a parlour maid on his mother’s bed. The servant afterwards complained that he had taken advantage of her, but was dismissed by her employers. Aleister denied the accusation, contriving a story that he had been visiting the local tobacco shop with schoolmates who had led him astray (ibid:25). This episode has been described as “a victory over religious oppression” (ibid), a reductionist verdict of the partisan literature. There was a huge social gulf between servants and gentry; the former were too easily abused by their superiors.
The boy of wealthy background would play games of “aristocrats,” in which he and his chums would scheme against less privileged children they called “cads.” More daringly, Aleister contemptuously knocked over a labourer working in a pit, quickly running away. At the age of fourteen, he conducted the extremely violent murder of a cat. “In page after page of the Confessions he emerges as a liar, a sneak, a bully and a hypocrite” (Wilson 1987:31). The document known as Confessions was composed under the influence of drugs; this “autohagiography” only covers the author’s life until the mid-1920s, and includes his early mountaineering activities.
While an undergraduate at Cambridge, Crowley’s indecent conversation resulted in his being dragged out of the dining hall by a porter (Symonds 1989:vii). Servant girls and prostitutes were the focus of his lecherous attention. His predatory tendencies provoked disapproval. A group of Trinity College undergrads threw him into the college fountain “for being dirty – all round” (ibid:156-157).
As he grew older, Crowley revelled in being a horrible man. This facet of his character has been explained by supporters in terms of his reaction to Christianity. Crowley apparently hated his mother (whom he early regarded as a servant). He gained a family legacy of many thousands of pounds, and lived in affluence until he had squandered the money. Crowley’s attitude to women is not praiseworthy; there is strong indication that he regarded them merely as instruments of gratification. He wrote in his Confessions:
Women were for me beneath contempt. They had no true moral ideals…. Intellectually, of course, they did not exist…. Their attainments were those of the ape and the parrot. Those facts did not deter me. On the contrary, it was highly convenient that one’s sexual relations should be with an animal with no consciousness beyond sex. (Symonds and Grant 1979:141-2)
His early pursuit of women never ceased afterwards. He contracted gonorrhoea from prostitutes (Booth 2000:26-7). Crowley became a bisexual in 1896 (Symonds 1989:155; Wilson 1987:37-38; Kaczynski 2010:36-40). Some years later, he travelled to Ceylon, where he practised Yoga exercises. Crowley had not the slightest affinity with the Yoga tradition of celibacy enjoined in antique texts. He nevertheless claimed that he “succeeded in attaining the first state of trance, known as Dhyana” (Wilson 1987:58). He believed "that within a few months he reached the state of Dhyana, in which the ego is annihilated" (Symonds 1989:44). Soon after, he was an enthusiast of big game hunting and annihilated a buffalo with his shotgun. Very basically, he "lusted after the joys of the flesh" (ibid).
A sober source is John Symonds (1914-2006), the literary executor of Crowley. This author actually met the Beast. Symonds made many critical observations which contradict more glamorous or condoning preferences. For instance, "there was no love or kindness in Aleister Crowley" (Symonds 1989:x). Partisans of the magician have reacted to Symonds as a negative biographer. The issue is accuracy. Symonds cannot be dismissed because he was critical of his subject.
In 1898, Crowley joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, becoming an enthusiast of ritual magic and astrology. The older members of this organisation believed that a magician “should abstain from sex, drink and drugs to keep his mind clear” (Kaczynski 2010:65). Crowley broke all the rules. “His promiscuity quickly became legend” (ibid). In company with Allan Bennett, “he drank and took all manner of drugs” (ibid). Another Golden Dawn member was the poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who met Crowley in 1899, but considered him to be a black magician “who had prostituted the Great Work” (ibid).
Probably in 1899, Crowley was starting to ingest cocaine, opium, and cannabis. His addiction to various drugs was accompanied by an obsession with magic, or “magick,” a word indicating “the sexual technique that Crowley used in his magical operations” (Symonds 1989:432). Peyote gave him hallucinatory visions which he regarded as proof of his elite magical status. He eventually became a heroin addict.
He went to fantastic lengths to be stimulated. He was not turned on by music, which he did not care for anyhow, or paintings or literature or any other ordinary things; he needed perverse stimuli – human excreta, menstrual blood and especially drugs – to make the message come through. He could never get enough stimulation…. Every five minutes he thought of himself as someone different: “Perdurabo,” Count Vladimir Svareff, Lord Middlesex, Prince Chioa Khan, “Baphomet, the Supreme and Holy King,” Mahatma Guri Sri Paramahamsa Shivaji. (Symonds 1989:viii)
These delusions may indicate a personality disorder created by drugs. Certainly, Symonds concluded that Crowley was no Paramahamsa, a title denoting the highest grade of Hindu renunciates. Crowley had “a hundred names,” including the Beast 666. Some readers have been confused at the sheer number of exotic appellations found in biographies of Crowley.
One version feasibly suggests that the magician reflected social and racist prejudices of upper class British society. However, many of his biases were far less typical of British convention. In 1904 at Cairo, he wrote The Book of the Law, which he attributed to his Holy Guardian Angel. This antinomian text contains such injunctions as: “Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be despised among you!” Crowley maintained that his new Law superseded all religions. The lecherous undergraduate was now the prophet of a new age.
In 1903 he married Rose Kelly (1874-1932). The relationship did not prove successful. Apologists say that Crowley became increasingly frustrated with her alcoholism. He divorced her in 1909, on the grounds of his own adultery. The alcohol dementia of Rose grew more acute, and she was admitted to an asylum in 1911. “It was said that he [Crowley] entertained his mistresses at home and, at times, hung her [Rose] up by the heels in the wardrobe” (Symonds 1989:131). In 1907, “he kicked his mother-in-law downstairs” when this lady came to visit her daughter (ibid:104).
Colin Wilson believed that Crowley was not a sadist “in the pathological sense” (Wilson 1987:153). “Among Crowley’s papers, there is a description of tying a negro to a tree, cutting a hole in his stomach, then inserting his penis” (ibid). Wilson mistakenly asserts that “even Sade himself, who spent his whole life toying with such [sadistic] fantasies, never actually practised them” (ibid). In reality, the Marquis De Sade (d.1814) was a scandalous libertine who mistreated prostitutes. He is also known to have lured a poor German immigrant widow to his bedroom, where he threatened her with a knife, saying he wanted some fun. He tied her naked body face down on his bed, afterwards administering a cruel whipping that caused wounds. The apologist sentiments of Wilson are no guarantee that Crowley was innocent in relation to extremism.
The Beast definitely wrote a short pornographic novel that Wilson considered “an attempt to rival Sade” (ibid). This was discrepantly composed for his ill-fated wife Rose, during her convalescence after childbirth. The novel was prefaced by a brief biography of the imaginary author, including the detail that he was too strained by the devotion of his young wife, and therefore took her to a notorious club in Cairo where orgies were committed by the dissolute membership. “He gave her to their tender mercies and saw her violated a dozen times before his eyes. In a month no more debauched woman walked the streets than this dainty English girl” (Symonds 1989:74). Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden has been described as juvenile stuff, based on Rabelais, with a side glance at Sade (ibid:75). There is also an obscene poem called Rosa Mystica, on the subject of Crowley’s wife; this vulgarity has aroused strong doubts that Crowley cared for his spouse. Rose must have known that she had contracted the wrong marriage. All the World’s a Brothel is the title of a related parody by her husband.
By 1909, Crowley created a rival organisation to the Golden Dawn, and one which regularly used drugs. From 1909, he encouraged the use of peyote (anhalonium lewinii), a very strong hallucinogen. A basic belief in his occultist circle was that this drug facilitated astral travel or “ascent.” Crowley recorded that he made many “experiments” on others with peyote in 1910, and in subsequent years. He was keen to introduce peyote to people outside his circle. He apparently used this drug until 1918.
In 1910, one peyote initiate was persuaded to take opium and cannabis also; he departed from the Crowley scene that same year because of the disturbing effects induced by three drugs. Over forty years later, Herbert Close stated that Crowley swindled many people he (Close) knew personally, exerting “the most appalling influence on many” (Symonds 1989:129). Crowley always needed money, after squandering his inheritance, and while avoiding all work.
Peyote research was early conducted in 1888 by the German chemist Louis Lewin (d.1929), and more decisively, by Arthur Heffter (d.1925), who showed that mescaline was the alkaloid creating psychoactive properties of peyote (Patil 2012:335-337). This drug can cause intense hallucinations, nausea, increased heart rate, deficient judgment, and violent moods.
While committing his associates to peyote hazards, in 1910 Crowley staged the Rites of Eleusis at Westminster. The pretentious Rites were advertised as the gateway to ecstasy. The fee was five guineas, targeting the affluent. “Crowley’s rites exalted Pan, the god of lust, and had no similarity to the Eleusinian mysteries” (Shepherd 2004:20).
The psychedelic magician did not meet with the success he hoped for. He tried to justify himself against media attacks, and faced a shortage of funds. At this period he was visited by Theodor Reuss, leader of a recent German occultist organisation called Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Reuss believed that Crowley knew of his order’s “hidden sex teachings.” The parallel has been considered coincidental. Reuss made Crowley swear to secrecy, and in return, authorised him to establish his own branch of the OTO in Britain. “After a journey to Berlin, he [Crowley] was transformed with due ceremony into ‘the Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona, and all the Britains that are in the sanctuary of the Gnosis’ ” (Symonds 1989:161).
The OTO claimed to have been founded by the wealthy Karl Kellner, who was strongly influenced by Hindu Tantra in the form known as vamamarga or vamachara (left hand path). This tradition favoured sexual rites, often with the wife of the practitioner, but sometimes with other women, including prostitutes. Left hand Tantra was not generally favoured by Hindus; some spokesmen of Hinduism have repudiated this approach. A contrasting tradition is known as dakshinamarga. Abuses could easily occur in vamachara. “The basis of this magic consists in the magnetic rapport between the magician and his partner, and it takes months to establish such a rapport. Crowley frequently practised what he called sexual magic with women whom he picked up, spent an hour with and never saw again” (Symonds 1989:165). Contrary to the Indian codes, Crowley commenced OTO sex magic with a male partner. He devised a “magical working” based on anal sex.
Symonds refers to the “huge joke” involved in Crowley’s facile records of his sex magic. Crowley states “in a parsonical voice that he had been attending to his devotions when all he meant was that he'd been committing fornication with a prostitute" (ibid:166). The same commentator refers to Crowley's "endless sexual opera" as a form of unbridled incitement to lust, "more or less daily." Another constant habit was to consult the Yi-Ching, "taking no notice whatsoever of the answers he received, and merely interpreting or misinterpreting them in accordance with his wishes at the time" (ibid:165).
This magician filed his two canine teeth to a sharp point, for the purpose of giving nasty bites to the wrist or throat of his sexual partners. He describes a violent affair with a girl who needed to be beaten for purposes of satisfaction. Colin Wilson stated that this was not the last encounter of such a type. "Physical sadism was another taste he acquired" (Wilson 1971:417).
Crowley's major work is considered to be Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 (1913), much of the content dictated to students. This is frequently described as a synthesis of Yoga, Hermeticism, medieval magic, Eliphas Levi, Blavatsky, and his own contributions. Another description of Book Four is that of "mysticism and magic explained." The mysticism is here Patanjali Yoga, the subject of Part 1 (the book being in four parts). The format ignores the moral teachings of Patanjali. The reductionist Yogic samadhi supposedly enhances magic. On the basis of Book Four, varied claims have been made for Crowley as an expert on mysticism and religion, both East and West. The lavish claims do not convince critics.
In 1920, the Beast arrived at Cefalu, in Sicily. Here he lived at a farmhouse with both male and female partners in sexual magic, creating a small commune. He gave an exotic name to this rural habitation: the Abbey of Thelema, a word which basically meant “Do what thou wilt.” He adorned the walls with paintings of sexual activities. He smoked opium, sniffed cocaine, ate cannabis, and resorted to large quantities of heroin. He favoured other drugs also, and kept wine in his room (Symonds 1989:255-257).
Crowley had contracted the unwise belief that a magical adept could only become free of the need for drugs by ingesting these uninhibitedly. The consequences were predictable; he could not break the drug habit, despite periodic attempts to do so. Supplies of cocaine were freely accessible in the Abbey; heroin was acquired from a mainland trader. One version says that he first used heroin in 1919, when his doctor prescribed this drug for asthma (Kaczynski 2010:505).
There were mishaps afflicting various persons who stayed with him at the promiscuous Abbey. Two of his female partners in sexual magic became jealous of each other, and one resorted to brandy in the friction that resulted. A member of the male personnel had to depart for America because of the strain on his sanity. This sufferer had gained the name of Brother Fiat Lux, a bestowal from Crowley not sufficient for comfort. Another recruit, magically named Genesthai, left the Abbey after his aversion to homosexual activity that he was required to perform with the Beast (Symonds 1989:271-2).
Crowley called himself the Master Therion, in which capacity he devised new magical rites, accomplished the Great Work, summoned and banished devils, invoked the gods, and conversed with Holy Guardian Angels (Symonds 1989:258). He was a presumed expert in casting horoscopes. He visited Tunis, disporting his feminised role as Alys Crowley, and paying an Arab male to be his partner in sexual magic (ibid:260). There were substantial drawbacks.
He behaved as if he believed that through sexual activity he could find his way to freedom, but his sexual magic achieved nothing except the opposite of what he wanted – illness instead of health, poverty instead of wealth, isolation instead of recognition, impotence instead of magic power. (Symonds 1989:261)
His visiting American supporter Jane Wolfe informs that the Abbey “was physically filthy, and as the day wore on, I became aware of the foul miasma enveloping the place” (ibid:264). She could not breathe, and collapsed. She was magically named Metonith by the heroin addict, and soon consented “to help in the great Work of liberating mankind” (ibid). She was given a razor for the purpose of cutting herself on the arm every time she said “I.” Crowley was supposedly egoless, although critics have considered him to be a primary instance of self-esteem.
Metonith practised Yoga postures and pranayama, smoked opium, and kept a magical diary like Crowley. She contracted a mood of acute irritation, wishing to beat another woman (ibid:265). Master Therion would run screaming into the Abbey, and “went all but insane” (ibid:268). One of his mistresses threatened him with a revolver (ibid:269). The new age of “do what thou wilt” could be stressful.
The heroin addict was suffering from “vomiting, insomnia, lassitude” (ibid). He would wave his magic wand and strike his magic bell. He was covered in boils. He had a hypnotic stare. One of his mistresses went “temporarily insane” (ibid:270). He banished the French ritualist Ninette Shumway, who was later allowed to return, but who looked fearful of him rather than adoring. “She was obviously the type who could be dominated” (Wilson 1987:118). Crowley’s sickness and depression must have been something difficult to endure. The imagined remedy of cocaine and heroin sometimes failed to revive him, and evidently contributed to illness.
Crowley considered himself to be a Holy Guru. He achieved an “almost uninterrupted use of heroin,” and “suffered intensely from nervous pain and insomnia” (Symonds 1989:276). The permissive actions of sexual magic were described as Operations of the Gnosis. Crowley’s Magical Record is a diary of sordid content and preferred interpretations. A section of this diary “is like the chart of a hospital patient: he can’t sleep, he can’t eat, he can’t breathe, his bowels won’t stir” (ibid).
Master Therion was in need of funds. However, he had “no experience whatsoever of earning a living or of doing any work” (ibid:280). The most he ever did was take a stroll. He compensated for all the drawbacks with an audacious claim. At the Abbey in 1921, he “took the Oath of Ipsissimus, the highest possible Grade in the whole hierarchy of the Great White Brotherhood of Light, a stage beyond the gods, beyond all mental concepts” (ibid:281). After taking this oath, the heroin addict “described himself as [being] in Samadhi, ecstasy, the state of highest bliss, detachment, and enlightenment…. Crowley had surpassed God Himself” (ibid:281-282). The commentator also words this event in terms of: “He ceased to be Aleister Crowley and became God” (ibid:347).
The following year, God or Master Therion was contemptuous of the new Dangerous Drugs Act passed in 1920. He resorted to a memorable ruse, composing a very misleading article on drugs, published in The English Review. Crowley here adopted the fictitious identity of “a New York Specialist.” He presented himself as a detached drug experimenter who “was always able to abandon the drug without a pang.” He included the statement that, in his “private clinic” (the Abbey at Cefalu), patients “are subjected to a process of moral reconstruction; as soon as this is accomplished, the drug is automatically forgotten” (ibid:310).
The addict wrote a sequel article that was included in the same journal the following month. This time he posed as “a London Physician” responding in agreement with the New York Specialist. The purpose of this deceit was to deride the Dangerous Drugs Act as an irrelevant consequence of ignorance (ibid). Such feats illustrate Crowley’s prodigious capacity for deception.
He now dictated The Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922), a novel taken up by a commercial publisher, and glamorising King Lamus (Crowley) as a healer of drug addiction. “Three months earlier he had been almost dead from heroin poisoning” (ibid:313). Crowley and his Abbey were soon exposed by The Sunday Express in terms of licentious conduct. The publisher Collins dropped the novelist as a complication.
One of Crowley’s mistresses at the Abbey grew thin, sweated at night, and coughed blood. She was apparently suffering from the effects of drug poisoning (ibid:309). In February 1923, the Oxford undergraduate Raoul Loveday died at the Abbey. This enthusiastic new recruit had become ill, along with Crowley himself. One version is that Loveday drank from a polluted stream, contracting a liver infection. In contrast, his wife Betty believed that his demise was a consequence of drugs and cat’s blood; Loveday had drunk the blood of a cat which had been sacrificially murdered by Master Therion. The cat had scratched the Beast, whose retribution was death by knife at the Abbey altar; Crowley ordered Loveday to drink a cup of the sacrificial blood (ibid:493).
Betty Loveday also implicated another event. Only Crowley was allowed to use the word ‘I’ at the Abbey. Everybody else had to say “one.” If this rule was broken, the miscreant had to inflict a razor cut on their arm. The ego was a hindrance to spiritual development. Crowley was presuming a lack of egotism. Betty threw away the razor she was given, but her husband proved loyal, with the consequence that both of his arms were quickly covered with cuts. Raoul was not very strong, and Betty complained that loss of blood undermined his health. The heroin sick Crowley was prostrate in bed for a month after the death of Loveday, suffering a high temperature (ibid:322-327).
The drug addict was expelled from Italy by the government. He nevertheless believed that he was guided by Secret Chiefs of the magical realm. He did achieve bad press coverage. In France, he visited Gurdjieff, who proved averse to him. Crowley’s prominent Abbey disciple Norman Mudd turned against him and committed suicide in 1934. The wife of a new benefactor wrote a letter to Crowley, complaining that he had spent 15,000 dollars on cigars, cognac, cocktails, dinners, women, and other desires of the moment (Wilson 1987:140).
In 1929, he married his second wife Maria Teresa Ferrari de Miramar. The marriage soon collapsed. A former mistress warned Maria of the Beast, but she at first believed in his powers. Maria fell senseless to the floor (possibly drugged) during a magical ritual in his apartment. Afterwards, she became upset and talked of suicide. Crowley planned a divorce without alimony, and diverted money sent for her to himself. Maria was short of food. She could not forgive her callous husband. The memoranda he wrote in 1930 to his London solicitor is a very dubious document. The victim was soon committed to a mental hospital. The behaviour of Crowley “in this whole affair reveals an atrophy of feeling” (Symonds 1989:463).
Many of Crowley’s partners in sexual magic ended their lives in a mental home. One mistress was found drugged and tied up with ropes in the flat he was sharing. One of the Americans drank herself to death. A German girl committed suicide soon after they separated. Even one of his admirers has written: “It is difficult not to feel that Crowley went through life trailing some cloak of death and insanity behind him” (Wilson 1987:149).
A resistant American woman (not one of his mistresses) found that Crowley turned her husband against her, persuading him to have his wife certified as insane. Frances Wilkinson escaped this bizarre situation, but when she returned to her home in New York, she found the Beast at the top of the stairs. He referred menacingly to a silly woman who had not approved of his friendship with her husband, and who returned home to find her two babies with their heads cut off. “This was clearly an attempt by Crowley to drive Frances Wilkinson mad by a form of hypnotic suggestion” (Wilson 1987:148). This episode occurred a few years before the Abbey phase at Cefalu.
In 1932, Crowley gave his mistress Bertha Busch “the biggest kick that [Gerald] Hamilton had ever seen anyone give” (Symonds 1989:479). The helpless victim was lying naked on the floor of Crowley’s Berlin flat. Bertha was known as Bill or Billie. Hamilton reports that the flat was “strewn with broken crockery, plate-throwing being one of Bill’s means of defence.” The victim got up to struggle with her tormentor, and Crowley reached for a rope that he kept for the purpose of binding her. Hamilton retreated, but called the doctor “who soon arrived, prepared his hypodermic syringe, and administered a much-needed narcotic to poor Bill” (ibid:479-480). Relating to this instance, Hamilton also reported that Crowley “was supported by involuntary contributions from his friends” (ibid:479).
On another occasion, when two partners in sexual magic quarrelled in the street, “the Beast held Billie against the wall with one hand and beat her with the other” (ibid:480). These relationships were anything but loving. “The records of his fornications make monotonous reading because he rarely described what his partners did or said as if he were relieving himself with a woman made of rubber” (ibid:487).
A well known book of Crowley is Magick in Theory and Practice (1930). This has been described in terms of “a technique whereby one can make Nature obey one’s will by bringing the power of phenomena to heel with appropriate [magical] words uttered, and actions performed” (ibid:430). Crowley was here fixated upon “transferring one’s consciousness to the Astral Plane, the banishing and invoking rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram, and the Cabalistic method of communicating with discarnate intelligences, spirits and demons, and the testing of them when evoked; in addition, he gives his own technique for arousing the Kundalini Shakti at the base of the spine” (ibid). The Yogic subject of kundalini is notorious for arousing fantasies amongst Westerners.
Crowley depicted his religion of Thelema in terms of “aristocratic communism,” a contradiction which is not explicit about sexual magic and drug use. In 1930, he moved for two years to Berlin, where his communist associate Gerald Hamilton introduced him to members of the German far left. A partisan theory, that he was operating as a spy for British intelligence, lacks confirmation. Back in London, Crowley really did launch court cases against persons whom he targeted as libellers. He was in chronic need of money; he lost his second legal confrontation, which rebounded upon him in 1934. As a consequence, his creditors forced him into the Bankruptcy Court.
Very rashly, the Beast had sued for libel the publishers Constable and Company. He reacted to a few lines, in a Constable book, focusing upon a rumour of black magic at Cefalu. The episode “soon turned into the trial of Aleister Crowley for leading an immoral life” (ibid:493). An eye witness described “many lurid scenes” she had witnessed at the notorious Abbey of Thelema. Crowley insisted that he was an exemplar of white magic. On the second day, one of his erotic poems was read out on behalf of the Defence. On the fourth day, the presiding judge stated: “I have never heard such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man who describes himself to you [the jury] as the greatest living poet” (ibid).
Influenced by the German occultist Martha Kuntzel, Crowley had meanwhile believed that Hitler might become converted to Thelema. Kuntzel was a partisan of both Hitler and the Beast, and considered the latter to be a prophet of National Socialism. She hoped that Crowley would become a secret adviser of the Fuehrer. The expectations came to nothing. In 1935, the Nazis banned Crowley’s occult organisation and confiscated all the papers of Kuntzel (Symonds 1989:511; Pasi 2014). The Beast now decried Hitler as a black magician.
His latest mistress was Pearl Brooksmith, still in her thirties. The usual tensions and conflicts arose in sexual magic. In 1937, the devitalised Pearl, “after more rows and ‘hallucinations,’ was removed either from Crowley’s flat or her own to a mental hospital, from which place she wrote pitiful letters to the Beast, begging him to rescue her” (Symonds 1989:505). He ignored the pleas.
At this period, the impecunious occultist delivered his Eight Lectures on Yoga (1939). Critics call this a pseudo-yoga; there are scrupulous Hindus who completely disown such pretences. Crowley treats his readers to Yoga for Yahoos and Yoga for Yellowbellies. He states in the first lecture: “It is especially important not to bedevil ourselves with Oriental jargon; we may have to use a few Sanskrit words.” The scholarship is missing.
In the second lecture, he refers to Patanjali in terms of: “Not more than ninety or ninety-five percent of what he writes can be dismissed as the ravings of a disordered mind.” Referring to yama, Crowley scorns the traditional injunction to refuse gifts, “which means that if anyone offers you a cigarette or a drink of water, you must reject his insidious advances in the most Victorian manner.” He adds derisively: “The Hindu mind is so constituted that if you offer a man the most trifling object, the incident is a landmark in his life; it upsets him completely for years.” A personal estimation follows. “If someone gives me 200,000 pounds sterling, I automatically fail to notice it. It is a normal circumstance of life. Test me!” This invitation can be interpreted as a ruse to gain money.
The third lecture fails to appreciate a basic word like niyama, which the author associated with “virtue,” a taboo for sexual magic. Crowley here replaces Patanjali with astrology, including a reference to “the flaming energy of passion.” He also inserts: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” The Eight Lectures frequently talk about subjects having nothing to do with the misappropriated Yoga. The next lecture refers to “the refuse heap of Hindu pedantry,” while the subsequent item claims to be studying Yoga “from a strictly scientific point of view.”
The last lecture refers to a “drawing together of the path of Yoga which is straight (and in a sense arid) with that of Magick, which may be compared with the Bacchic dance or the orgies of Pan.” The author misleadingly asserts that “the old antinomies of Magick and Yoga have been completely resolved.” By comparison with his own presumed achievement, he invoked “a pox on all these formalistic Aryan sages.” His elevation over Hindus was accompanied by a typical contempt of Christians: “We may dismiss altogether from our minds every claim to [mystical] experience made by any Christian of whatever breed of spiritual virus as a mere morbid reflection, the apish imitation of the true ecstasies and trances.”
In his diary of 1941, Crowley wrote: “It is quite certain, in particular, that I have always been insane” (Symonds 1989:ix). During the early 1940s, he was still daily consulting the Yi-Ching, and interpreting this in the light of his own preferences. He was injecting himself with strong doses of heroin, while complaining of maladies like asthma and vomiting. “He sought desperately for women, ate the best of food, declined to pay his bills…. He was constantly in the midst of some frightful row with people whom it is sometimes difficult or impossible to identify” (ibid:537-538). Crowley moved between different lodgings in London. He suffered a heart attack but recovered. He was often depressed and irritable. His dreams were often nightmares.
The biographer John Symonds remarks: “His cries of alarm when his supply of heroin was exhausted, and no new supply was in sight, run through his journal” (ibid:552). Symonds met the Beast in 1946 at his new lodgings in Hastings. Crowley looked exhausted. While his two guests went to the dining room, he ate alone in his room; this meant a boiled egg and a heroin injection, as Symonds discovered. Crowley was still able to buy brandy and cigars (he received financial support from some followers of magic).
Symonds made subsequent visits. “His cryptographic jottings on many little squares of paper show exactly how ill and vexed he was in his last years; they help to explain his threatening, insane letters to tradespeople and friends” (ibid:575). Crowley feared the long and boring evenings in solitude; only the injection in his armpit brought relief. “His daily intake of heroin rose from two to three grains to as many as eleven grains, which is sufficient to kill a roomful of people, one-eighth of a grain being the largest usual dose” (ibid).
“Between his black rages and tears he would jest like a schoolboy” (ibid). His situation and state were not enviable. His idea of heaven was the “Abbey” at Cefalu. An eyewitness reported that he died “unhappily and fearfully.” In his last moments, Crowley admitted perplexity. His last words are reported as: “Sometimes I hate myself.” His sober biographer comments: “He had come, for the first time, face to face with himself, saw the whole man, and did not like what he saw” (ibid:578).
Note on Crowley’s Drug Addiction:
Professor Christopher Partridge (of Lancaster University) has focused upon Crowley’s drug addiction. I here quote from his article dated 2016 (available in PDF). “Only a small percentage of the Crowleyan corpus specifically addresses the subject.” The magical lore tends to camouflage basic matters. “He obscured the tyranny of his addiction in much of his writing.” Crowley believed that resort to drugs should precede all magical rituals “because they made access to mystical experiences all the easier.” However, Crowley “would discover that drugs can lead to a dulled and diminished will.” Partridge contradicts the exegesis of Israel Regardie, who was influential in the spread of Crowleyan magic. Regardie wished to believe that his early inspirer never intended “to use drugs as a substitute for the body-mind discipline.” Crowley did indeed give this impression, which was very misleading. He was not dedicated to spiritual discipline, as his biography attests. There are huge contradictions in Crowley. He believed in development of the will, and emphasised that “only weaklings fell victim to a drug.” The discrepancy is so often overlooked. Partridge duly observes: “There were times when, like most addicts, he simply denied that he had a problem and insisted to his followers that drugs had no power over him.” Crowley “frequently repeated nonsense,” including his fond theme that, “in the service of science, he had attempted to induce addiction through persistent use, but failed, such was the strength of his will.” This was a massive delusion or pretence. Partridge contradicts the claim of apologist Kaczynski (2010) that the intention of Crowley was not to encourage drugs at Cefalu, but to remove all temptation by making them so accessible. Partridge cites an early 1920s diary entry of the Beast, revealing the major problem of heroin addiction: “This was a real indulgence [on my part] in the worst sense of the word…. There is not the slightest discomfort to be removed, or the faintest wish to reach some still superior state. It is an absolutely perverse impulse. There has been a constantly decreasing indifference [on my part] to matters of ordinary health, cleanliness and vanity. I seem hardly to know what the state of affairs is, as to defecation, etc…. There are numerous very alarming mental symptoms.” The biographer Symonds knew the extent of Crowley’s heroin addiction in the 1940s, reporting: “More than once I had steadied him while he injected himself in the armpit.” Kaczynski has argued that Crowley achieved freedom from heroin in the mid-1920s, and only resumed this drug in 1940 when a doctor prescribed heroin for asthma (Kaczynski 2010:508). Partridge is sceptical, citing a deduction of Pasi (note 7) that Crowley failed to overcome addiction at Fontainebleau. A realistic implication is that Crowley used heroin until his death. Partridge comments: “It would be naïve to believe that he entirely escaped his longing for heroin once it had found its way into his system.”
Bogdan, Henrik, and Martin Starr, eds., Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Booth, Martin, A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000).
Churton, Tobias, Aleister Crowley: The Biography (London: Watkins, 2011).
--------Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2014).
Crowley, Aleister, Eight Lectures on Yoga (The Equinox Vol. 3 no. 4, Ordo Templi Orientis, 1939).
--------Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 (1994; second edn, Maine: Weiser, 1997).
--------Magick in Theory and Practice (New York: Dover, 1976).
Kaczynski, Richard, Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (2002, second edn, Berkeley, California: North Atlantic, 2010).
Partridge, Christopher H., “Aleister Crowley on Drugs,” International Journal for the Study of New Religions (2016) 7 (2):125-151.
Pasi, Marco, Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics (London: Routledge, 2014).
Patil, Popat N., Discoveries in Pharmacological Sciences (Singapore: World Scientific, 2012).
Patil, Popat N., Discoveries in Pharmacological Sciences (Singapore: World Scientific, 2012).
Regardie, Israel, Roll Away the Stone (St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1968).
-------The Eye in the Triangle: An Interpretation of Aleister Crowley (St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1970).
Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2004).
Sutin, Lawrence, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000).
Symonds, John, The Magic of Aleister Crowley (London: Frederick Muller, 1958).
-------The Great Beast: The Life and Magic of Aleister Crowley (London: Macdonald, 1971).
--------The King of the Shadow Realm (London: Duckworth, 1989).
--------The Beast 666: The Life of Aleister Crowley (London: Pindar Press, 1997).
--------and Kenneth Grant, eds., The Magical Record of the Beast 666: The Journals of Aleister Crowley (London: Duckworth, 1972).
--------and Kenneth Grant, eds., The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1969; revised edn, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).
Wilson, Colin, The Occult (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1971).
--------Aleister Crowley: The Nature of the Beast (Wellingborough: Aquarian Press, 1987).
Kevin R. D. Shepherd
ENTRY no. 76
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