Aleister Crowley – wickedest man in the world?

When Aleister Crowley died in 1947, his enemies prayed it would be the last anybody would ever hear of the Satanic reprobate. The infamous English occultist promoted devil worship; filed his teeth into sharp points; and led a religious cult that involved eating a demonic Eucharist host flavoured with bodily fluids. He also informed devotees that his excrement was sacred – giving a whole new meaning to ‘holy shit’. Respectable opinion was glad to see six foot of earth separate Crowley’s ashes from humanity. But you just can’t keep an old devil like Crowley down!

Crowley was born in 1875 into an ultra-Christian family who were members of the Plymouth Brethren. In fact, his father knew the founder of this sect, John Nelson Darby. As a child in the 1970s, I lived opposite a family in the joyless Plymouth Brethren – one of their main beliefs being that TV and radio are evil. Apparently the internet has now been added to that list. Crowley very soon rebelled against the sect’s suffocating views and developed a Satanic creed much better tailored to his character. He also claimed that at birth he bore the signs of the Buddha on his body including four hairs on his chest curled in different directions to form an Indian Swastika.

Crowley referred to himself as “The Beast of the Apocalypse”, the “Purple Priest”, and signed letters as “Beast 666”. When young, he was handsome and dashing. A poet who hung out with the “Yellow Book” crowd, which included Oscar Wilde. But in middle age, he bore a growing resemblance to Uncle Fester from the Addams Family. Drugs, alcohol, and all those Satanic orgies took their toll. His global travels led him into a very esoteric mysticism where rampant sex was very much the order of the day.

He assumed false identities. For example, on a tour of Russia before the 1917 revolution, he adopted the name Count Vladimir Svareff. In London, he would wear full Scottish regalia and style himself the Laird of Boleskine.

During the First World War, for maximum shock value, he decided to support Germany, describing the Kaiser as “an angel of God”, for which he was branded a traitor to King and Country. Crowley later claimed he’d been working for British intelligence in World War One – an assertion repeated by some Crowley biographers in relation to World War Two. His activity in WW2 is said to have included orchestrating an ‘occult war’ against Hitler, inventing Churchill’s V-sign, and casting false star charts for leading Nazis.

Crowley and Oscar Wilde

There is one story about Crowley that casts him in a very positive light today…

In 1912, the sculptor Jacob Epstein completed a tomb memorial to Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) to be placed on his grave in Paris. Wilde was still viewed as a disgraced figure at this time and homosexuality was very much illegal. So, French customs slapped an enormous duty on the sculpture but allowed it through. However, that was only the start of its troubles.

The figure, shaped like an Assyrian bull, had rather large testicles. The Parisian authorities found them highly objectionable. So a bronze butterfly was crafted and affixed to the offending organs. Crowley was the celebrity engaged to unveil the tombstone over the great writer’s grave. Epstein refused to attend because the genitals had been defaced in his view.

But Crowley subsequently met Epstein in a Paris cafe with the bronze butterfly removed and worn around his neck! Long after Crowley and Epstein’s death, the testicles remained on display until hacked off in 1961. In the 1990s, the usual crowd of moronic tourists plastered the tomb in lipstick kisses and graffiti damaging the stonework. I’ll hazard a guess that 99% of them had never read a word of Wilde – but don’t get me started. It’s now protected behind glass.

But back to Crowley…

Crowley and drugs

The irrepressible Satanist wrote a book, ‘The Diary of a Drug Fiend‘, which was reminiscent of an equally controversial work a hundred years before, ‘Confessions of an Opium Eater‘, by Thomas De Quincey. And it foreshadowed the narcotics-fuelled scribblings of Hunter S. Thompson. Here is a little sample of Crowley’s view of drugs from that no-holds-barred tome:

“Until you’ve got your mouth full of cocaine, you don’t know what kissing is. One kiss goes on from phase to phase like a novel by Balzac or Zola. And you never get tired. You’re on fourth speed all the time, and the engine purrs like a kitten – a big white kitten with the stars in its whiskers.”

At the same time, he was attending social events, like the opera, greeting people with the mysterious line: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Then sitting like an insane Buddha all evening staring directly ahead. Before bidding farewell with the words: “Every man and woman is a star”.

Aleister Crowley brands a woman with symbols

Astonishingly, an American journalist in 1923 watched as Crowley branded magic symbols on a woman in New York, just above her breasts, with a heated dagger. He was completely calm and she was utterly compliant. “I looked at her face. She was not drugged. She was obviously in pain. But it was equally obvious that she was – where she wanted to be.” Crowley continued with this horrific branding while inviting the journalist to a game of chess after he had finished.

Image above: Crowley brands a woman with a hot dagger

Crowley’s commune in Sicily and the boy groomed as a successor

In 1920, Crowley and a Swiss-born American female follower, Leah Hirsig (1883-1975), took over a small, ramshackle house in the village of Cefal├╣, Sicily naming it the Abbey of Thelema. Another priestess would be the silent movie star Jane Wolfe (1875-1958). This became the site of Crowley’s commune where free love and his philosophy for living would be made real. However, it would also be a place where Crowley’s way – was the only way.

The abbey was awash with booze and drugs. An eye-witness saw a pantry shelf stuffed with cocaine, heroin, morphine, cans of ether, and hashish. “All as easy of access as the butter and eggs and milk in your ice box,” as the witness told a newspaper in 1923.

Leah had a son, Hansie, from a previous relationship. Crowley adopted the boy calling him Beast Number Two. Number one was Crowley who had proclaimed himself as the beast, or Anti-Christ to be more exacct, depicted in the Book of Revelation. The four-year-old was instructed to follow his own will and do exactly as he pleased. After all, he was going to inherit the earth. This included drinking brandy instead of milk, running around naked, and the toddler was even photographed smoking.

As money ran short, Crowley and Hirsig went to Paris with their begging bowl to raise money from the city’s gullible occultists. Hirsig’s sister (not a Crowley fan) sped to the villa, kidnapped the boy, and took him to the United States where he became something of a celebrity for a few weeks. He was then seven years old. On the plus side, he had an advanced intelligence of his age. But the cigarette smoking had to stop. Bit by bit he was de-programmed in a Christian school in New York state.

Image above: Beast Number Two enjoying a cigarette

Sadly for Crowley, another dictator rose to power in 1922. The fascist Benito Mussolini became “Duce” of Italy. As residents complained about the activities at Cefal├╣, the new regime told Crowley to pack his bags and leave. As soon as the English Satanist had departed, local people whitewashed the murals inside the “abbey”. No doubt watched over by approving local Catholic priests.

Crowley claimed to have found the elixir of life but still succumbed to death in 1947. His body was cremated at Brighton Crematorium with a service attended by “long haired men and well dressed women”, according to one very sniffy newspaper report. The author Louis Marlow (1881-1966) caused a sensation by agreeing to read an oration from one of Crowley’s books. Marlow was a friend of another author, Somerset Maugham, also said to be a fan of Crowley.

DISCOVER: Gruesome body of a saint on display

How would Aleister Crowley have been treated today?

What strikes me looking at contemporary press reports on Crowley is the degree to which he was tolerated. Despite all the shock and horror that he allegedly provoked. We live in the aftermath of the killings of entire families in the 1979 Jonestown cult; the 1993 Waco Siege of the Branch Davidian cult; the suicides and murders in the Solar Temple cult in the 1990s; and the 1997 mass suicide (and some alleged castrations) of the Heaven’s Gate group.

I’m inclined to think that on several grounds, Crowley’s properties and rituals would have been raided by the police in our time. Allegations of rape, child abuse, grooming, brainwashing, etc, etc. There is no way the authorities would have been able to turn a blind eye. Whatever one thinks of Crowley, I’m sure he would have ended up behind bars today. And possibly a Netflix true crime series to follow!

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