It is necessary, in this world, to be made of harder stuff than one’s environment.
–Aleister Crowley, “Moonchild”
I’ve found that if you do enough research on conspiracy theories or the occult, all roads link back to Crowley. Magician, poet, author, mountain-climber, yoga practitioner, drug-addict, and occasional maniac, Crowley was one of the decisive influences on modern Western occult philosophy and practice. (And it’s pronounced “Croly,” by the way.)
Born on October 12, 1875 to a prosperous Victorian English family, young Aleister was an inquisitive, intelligent child but also somewhat of a bloody terror—so much so that his mother would refer to him as “The Beast 666.”
To be fair to Crowley, the fanatical religiosity of his parents most probably contributed to the boy’s rebellion and chosen life-path. After all, Marilyn Manson himself was once an altar boy.
After attending Cambridge University & having a short career in the Diplomatic Service, Crowley had an epiphany that he was completely wasting his life & was destined for better, more eternal things.
At the age of 23 he began his occult career by joining the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn, a magical fraternity based in London. Following the tradition of all truly great psychic vampires, Crowley started trouble & dissent within the organization & helped it schism & implode.
His main objection to the Golden Dawn’s practices was their focus on “self-development” and their neglect of “real magic”—you know, Earth-shattering kabooms. Crowley wanted Earth-shattering kabooms.
After being kicked out of the Golden Dawn, Crowley took some time to take stock of his life & travel with his new wife, Rose Kelly. One March day in Egypt, 1904, Kelly apparently received a psychic communication from the god Horus himself—and Crowley’s life would be changed forever.
Over April 8, 9, and 10 Crowley took dictation from the entity identifying itself as Aiwass, and soon The Book Of The Law was written. The book would be the cornerstone of the man’s occult philosophy, and it stated that he was the prophet of the new age—the Age of Horus—in which all other religions would be cast aside.
The Book Of The Law is most famous for introducing the phrase “Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law.” In contemporary times this has been bastardized into “do whatever the hell you feel like doing and it’s ok,” which was not exactly what Mr. Crowley meant (though he did do a lot of whatever the hell he wanted).
Rather, “Wilt” or “will” or, as Crowley referred to it, “Thelema”, was what one’s Higher Self dictated—the very unvarnished essence of one’s being, which not only was ok but mandatory for a person to express. The only sin that could really be committed would be not being true to yourself. Which sounds like a very nice, life-affirming philosophy—though it can be argued that such historical misanthropes as Hitler & Jack the Ripper were indeed following the unvarnished essences of their beings.
After his encounter with Aiwass and the completion of The Book Of The Law, Crowley ostentatiously sent notice to his former leader in the Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, that the New Aeon had come & that Crowley was its herald.
At which point, according to Crowley, Mathers sent a vampire woman to kill him, thus starting out a bit of a witch-war between the two men that involved “evil currents,” dead bloodhounds, and the 47 demons of Beezlebub.
After all that nonsense was over, The Great Beast took a time-out from occult pursuits for a couple of years until 1907, when he founded the Argenteum Astrum, Order of the Silver Star, a magical organization based on his teachings from The Book Of The Law.
In 1912 he was contacted by a German magical order, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), and accused of plagiarizing some of their rituals. Crowley explained that it must have been all a coincidence, and shortly thereafter he was invited to be the head of the English-speaking branch of the OTO. In 1916 he promoted himself to the magical rank of Magus through a ritual he made up.
Aleister Crowley was not very well-liked in his native England—the fact that he spent World War I in the United States cranking out anti-British propaganda & expressing his support for the Germans might have had something to do with it.
However, he later claimed that such an enterprise was conducted in a “satirical” fashion, and he was only kidding. His fate as “The Wickedest Man In The World”—as far as England was concerned—was later sealed when one of his mistresses did a tell-all with a London tabloid. Soon the newspapers were filled with tales of drug abuse, debauchery, and “black magic.”
He had established a headquarters for himself in Sicily with his Abbey Of Thelema, but the unfavorable news reports from England plus the rise of fascism & Mussolini soon made Italy too hot for him to stay as well, and he was deported.
In the interim he had written many books, including the occult classic Magick: In Theory And Practice, and was even elected head of the World OTO—but he was also in the midst of a massive drug addiction & a desperate financial situation.
Crowley claimed to be a British secret agent during World War II, hired for the task by no less that Winston Churchill himself. His mission: to exploit the Nazis’ interest in the occult & bring back their secrets. In case that didn’t work, Crowley drew up a “ V for victory” sigil for England to use in order to beat back the mystic Nazi onslaught. None of this can be verified, though, in Master Therion’s defense, the Allies did win World War II.
In the 40s Crowley met an eager young wannabe warlock named Jack Parsons, a Caltech rocket propulsion scientist. Parsons, described as the “true father of American rocketry,” became an enthusiastic disciple of Crowley’s & sought to both emulate the man and recreate his rituals.
In 1946 Parsons and a buddy named L Ron Hubbard performed the Crowley-inspired “Babalon Working,” which some conspiracy theorists believe created a trans-dimensional rift that allowed the aliens to infiltrate our world. In 1952 Parsons died in a mysterious explosion in his garage laboratory—the rumor was that he was trying to perform his idol’s ritual to create a homunculus. It was further rumored that the ritual failed because Crowley put “booby-traps” in all his written spells.
Aleister Crowley died on December 1st, 1947, at the age of 72. Nowadays, he is well-known for being on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; however, despite rumors to the contrary, he did not appear on the cover for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. He also has made appearances in Alan Moore’s Promethea, is the subject of a pretty decent Ozzy Osbourne song, and is the namesake of a character on the show Supernatural.
But his larger influence on the world is palpable.
More to read about on Butterfly Language:
An Alternate History Of Jack Parsons, Part 1: Warrior Lord Of The Forties
The Manson Web, Part 1
Book Review: Sinister Forces By Peter Levenda