In one of our most popular posts, we listed ten myths about Aleister Crowley which we refuted within this blog. We also revealed some interesting facts about Crowley in our guide to the AC2012 campaign ad. Now, we offer ten myths about Aleister Crowley which are actually true! (Or are they…?)
10. Aleister Crowley wrote Gerald Gardner’s Wiccan initiation rituals.
OK, no, Gardner didn’t pay Crowley to write the Wiccan initiation rituals. And it’s not that Crowley sat down to write initiation rituals for Wicca. What happened, apparently, was this: Gardner took a bunch of Crowley’s writings, and material from Liber AL vel Legis, and sort of cut and pasted them with a few words changed and a few words added. From this he created initiation rituals, the Charge of the Goddess, the Drawing Down the Moon ritual, and more. For the full account, see Rodney Orpheus’ essay, “A New and Greater Pagan Cult: Gerald Gardner & Ordo Templi Orientis.”
9. Aleister Crowley knew the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard.
And by know him, we mean… well, Aleister Crowley at least heard about L. Ron Hubbard — enough that he got “fairly frantic” when contemplating the idiocy that he was hearing about. Look, that’s about as well as we think anyone should know L. Ron Hubbard. The lack of any real contact, however, didn’t stop Hubbard from claiming that Crowley was his “very good friend,” as you can hear in this recording where Hubbard pronounces Crowley’s name wrong, discusses a book by Crowley that doesn’t exist, and concludes by saying that Crowley is “Very, very, something or other.”
Aleister Crowley had learned about Hubbard’s friendship with Jack Parsons, who at the time was Master of Agapé Lodge No. 2, one of the American lodges of Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Hubbard and Parsons had started a business together and began the ridiculous Babalon Working. Crowley was right to be frantic; the business partnership ultimately ended in shambles, Hubbard ran off with Parsons’ boat, and went on to start his sci-fi religion, Scientology.
8. Aleister Crowley was actually a nice guy with a good sense of humor.
Just, not always at the same time. Aleister Crowley’s best humor was often at someone else’s expense, but overall he had a kind heart and a deep concern for the well-being of every man, woman, and child alive. Indeed, in 1924 he dedicated his life to serving humankind, and from then on he worked tirelessly and exclusively for the cause of human liberty.
It would be impossible to survey Crowley’s extraordinary wit in this small space. Suffice to say, all of his prose is packed with humor. Aleister Crowley’s original writing is far funnier than any of the parodies of his work. Below are a few short examples of his excellent jests. If you have any other favorite witticisms from Aleister Crowley, please share in the comments!
“One would go mad if one took the Bible seriously; but to take it seriously one must be already mad.” — Liber ABA, Part II, Chapter XVI
“May the New Year bring you courage to break your resolutions early! My own plan is to swear off every kind of virtue, so that I triumph even when I fall!” — Moonchild
“Theosophist: A person who talks about Yoga, and does no work.” — Liber ABA, Glossary
“Some men are born sodomites, some achieve sodomy, and some have sodomy thrust upon them…” — The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz
“[I adopt the phrase 'Holy Guardian Angel'] Because since all theories of the universe are absurd it is better to talk in the language of one which is patently absurd, so as to mortify the metaphysical man.” — The Temple Of Solomon the King in The Equinox I, no. 1.
7. Aleister Crowley inspired the counterculture movement of the 1960s.
Most people are quite aware of Aleister Crowley’s censored appearance on the cover of Sgt. Pepper among the Beatles’ other heroes. Few, though, have gone on to ask why Aleister Crowley made the cut. John Lennon made the connection clear in an interview with Playboy when he said that “The whole Beatle idea was to do what you want, right? To take your own responsibility.” Lennon was paraphrasing “Do what thou wilt,” which is one of the central precepts of Thelema, the religion founded by Aleister Crowley. Thelema is the Greek word which means “will” and teaches that we each must discover our individual inmost nature, described as the “True Will.”
The Beatles were only the first of many counterculture rock musicians in the 1960s to openly cite Aleister Crowley as an influence. Led Zeppelin‘s guitarist Jimmy Page was very interested in Aleister Crowley and he remains a prominent Thelemite today. We have even recently learned that Frank Zappa was reading Crowley in 1968.
Apart from rock stars, who helped to popularize the writings of Aleister Crowley, we can also look at some of the people who revolutionized western culture in other, perhaps more deep and lasting ways. To start with, let’s consider where these musicians may have heard about Aleister Crowley. Perhaps the most likely candidate is Harry Smith, a Thelemite whose influence on folk and rock music cannot be overstated. Aleister Crowley also once dined with Aldous Huxley in Berlin, and the rumor goes that Crowley introduced him to peyote. Timothy Leary saw himself as continuing Crowley’s work, and said so on national television. Check out this clip:
These are only a few of the major streams of influence that Aleister Crowley had in shaping the counterculture movement of the 1960s. There is much more to explore, including Crowley’s efforts to make Eastern philosophy more accessible to the West, which helped to inspire the whole New Age movement. For more complete explorations, you can start by reading the best biographies of Aleister Crowley:
- Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley, by Richard Kaczynski
- Aleister Crowley: The Biography, by Tobias Churton
6. Aleister Crowley was one of the earliest published homoerotic poets in the UK.
At a time when it was illegal to be gay in the UK, when being convicted of sodomy could mean hard labor, Aleister Crowley was publishing verse that could have easily landed him in prison. Indeed, many of Aleister Crowley’s books were banned and/or burned because of the sexuality portrayed in them. Crowley was bisexual and wrote poetry across the spectrum of taboo, whether homosexual or not.
As a notable example, Aleister Crowley published White Stains in Amsterdam in 1898, under the pseudonym of George Archibald Bishop. All but a few copies of the first edition of this book were seized and destroyed by British customs. This came only three years after Oscar Wilde was sent to prison for his poetic allusions to homosexuality.
Later in Crowley’s life, he would continue to write sexual poetry which still shocks people to read even in the 21st century of the common era. For perhaps the most stunning example of this, see his poem inspired by his love of Leah Hirsig entitled Leah Sublime.
5. Aleister Crowley faked his own death.
No, we’re not claiming that Aleister Crowley is still alive and hanging out with Elvis. His death in 1947 was very real and his body was cremated. But before that, in 1930, Aleister Crowley worked with his friend Fernando Pessoa to fake his death at the Boca do Inferno near Lisbon. Crowley left a sad note about heartbreak at the top of this dangerous rock formation, the implication being that he had jumped to his death. Pessoa, the celebrated Portuguese poet, followed up by feeding suggestive ideas to the local papers concerning the occult symbols that Crowley had used to decorate his note, and telling them that he had seen Crowley’s ghost the next day. The papers ran with it, and announced Crowley’s suicide, much to the amusement of both Crowley and Pessoa. Some weeks later, Crowley arrived unannounced at an exhibit of some of his paintings in Berlin. For more about Fernando Pessoa and his brief friendship with Aleister Crowley, see The Magical World of Fernando Pessoa.
4. Aleister Crowley was a spy who worked for the Allies during World War II.
We’ve written here before about some of Aleister Crowley’s activities during World War II. In our post, “V for Victory,” we explained how Crowley’s idea to use the “v-sign” as a magical foil to the Nazis’ swastika was picked up by Churchill. In that same post, we discussed Crowley’s French propaganda poem, “La Gauloise,” and how it was received by de Gaulle, set to music and played on BBC radio. We also discussed this briefly and provided some fun graphics along these lines in our post, “The Answer to 1984 is 666.”
Ian Fleming, the future author of the James Bond novels, was at that time a Navy intelligence officer. He knew Crowley and hatched several schemes to use Crowley to feed misinformation to the Nazis through Rudolph Hess. it is widely speculated that the eventual capture of Hess was thanks to Aleister Crowley’s work as a spy.
Crowley also seems to have done this in World War I when he created some badly written pro-German propaganda, clearly intended to make the Germans look bad.
You can learn all about Aleister Crowley’s activities as a spook in Secret Agent 666, by Richard Spence.
3. Aleister Crowley tore up his British passport and declared independence for Ireland.
Ireland had a special place in Crowley’s heart. He called himself an Irishman inThe Book of Lies, wrote a poem for St. Patrick’s Day, and even penned a Declaration of Independence of the Irish Republic. He also had some thoughts on an improvement to the flag of Ireland in flashing colors, which he expressed in a letter to the editor of the New York Times, published July 21, 1915:
“The true flag of Ireland is a red sunblaze on a green ground. This is symbolical not only of Ireland’s geographical position as the sentinel of the western gate of Europe, but of her traditional history.”
Here’s our rendition of Crowley’s description for a new Irish flag:
Ireland today faces many issues for which Aleister Crowley would certainly be able to offer some guidance. We have written before on Irish politics, including the blasphemy law and the Euro crisis which has created much difficulty for Ireland.
2. Aleister Crowley was the Great Beast 666 prophesied by John the Divine.
No, really. People sometimes think that Aleister Crowley was joking around or just trying to shock people by calling himself ΤΟ ΜΕΓΑ ΘΗΡΙΟΝ DCLXVI (The Great Beast 666). But he really meant it and there are good reasons to think he may have been right. Crowley himself gives a full account of how this happened in his piece, “The Master Therion–A Biographical Note,” as well as in The Equinox of the Gods and part 4 of Liber ABA.
T Polyphilus and Soror Sphinx explore this fascinating aspect of Aleister Crowley in an article published in Reality Sandwich, entitled “The Great Beast Was Here,” where they write:
In 1904, Crowley received a text as a result of magical invocation: The Book of the Law. The law the book contained may be summed up in these words: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.” With the arrival of this new law, Crowley believed the old world order was completely overturned — destroyed by fire, as it were — and a new age dawned. He called his new system Thelema (Greek for “will”), and identified himself with the Great Beast of Revelation. Accordingly, Thelema declares Christianity obsolete, along with all other world religions, even while putting to use their most potent spiritual techniques, symbolism, and mythic narratives.
Far from being a horrific catastrophe, the word “apocalypse” really means an unveiling, a revelation. Since 1904 we have seen tremendous changes throughout society all over the globe. From the perspective of early Christians like John the Divine, the overturning of the old religions was a frightening prospect. From our perspective today, it is a welcome and overdue change. Today, whether people are conscious of Crowley’s magical workings or not, most have come to accept the inherent divinity and liberty of every individual as a self-evident fact of life.
Aleister Crowley also designed his own Mark of the Beast, which we have struck in a coin commemorating our 2012 campaign. A few of these coins are still available exclusively through this website.
1. Aleister Crowley was a solar myth.
When Aleister Crowley was asked during a trial to explain his office, Crowley replied, “‘The Beast 666′ only means ‘sunlight’. You can call me ‘Little Sunshine.'”
In some ways, it is easier to believe that Aleister Crowley is a myth than to believe that he could have been a single, mortal human being. In this myth of Aleister Crowley we find a person who has excelled in three completely distinct careers, which he classifies as “the Secret Way of the Initiate, the Path of Poetry and Philosophy, and the Open Sea of Romance and Adventure.” Aleister Crowley points out that in truly great men, we might find one or two of these facets, but never all three. He concludes:
… in this particular instance all three careers are so full that posterity might well be excused for surmising that not one but several individuals were combined in a legend, or even for taking the next step and saying: This Aleister Crowley was not a man, or even a number of men; he is obviously a solar myth. — The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Part 1, Prelude