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life long thou hast plagued me and affronted me. In thy name, with all other
free souls in Christendom, I have been tortured in my boyhood; all delights
have been forbidden unto me; all that I had has been taken from me, and that
which is owed me they pay not in thy name. Now, at last, I have thee: the
Slave-God is in the power of the Lord of Freedom. Thine hour is come; as I
blot thee out from this earth, so surely shall the eclipse pass; and Light,
Life, Love, and Liberty be once more the Law of Earth. Give thou place to
me, O Jesus, thine aeon is passed; the Age of Horus has arisen by the Magick
of the Master, the Beast that is Man; and his number is six hundred and three
score and six.
condemned the frog to be mocked and spat upon and scourged and crucified, and
it was done.
had landed in New York in late October 1914, after an uneventful voyage from
Southampton aboard RMS Lusitania, and settled on W. 36th St. He had come
to sell copies of his more esoteric published works to John Quinn, the lawyer
and Maecenas of modern art and literature.
him a poet and adventurer. In 1900, he had scaled Mexico’s 17,000-foot
extinct volcano Ixtacihuatl and the 14,000-foot Popocatepetl. A year later,
he climbed the Himalayan peak known as K2, going higher than any man had before,
without oxygen cylinders or elaborate equipment. In 1905, he attempted Kanchenjunga,
the third-highest mountain in the world.
knew him as an occultist. They thought him a fraud, pervert, traitor and black
magician. Some whispered he was a Satanist. A few thought him the Antichrist.
Maugham’s The Magician, published in 1908, had presented Crowley,
very thinly disguised, as the monstrous Oliver Haddo. After the book’s
publication, Crowley murmured to Maugham, "I almost wish that you were
an important writer." He then published, under the pen name Oliver Haddo,
an article illustrating Maugham’s flagrant plagiarism of H.G. Wells’
The Island of Dr. Moreau as well as books on magic and medicine.
Crowley (from early manhood he had used the Gaelic equivalent of his second
name, Aleister) was born on Oct. 12, 1875, in Leamington, Warwickshire. He was
the only son of a wealthy brewer. His parents were rigidly puritanical. Crowley
seems to have been a difficult child: By his own admission, at the age of 11,
he tested his cat’s nine lives on Christmas Eve 1886 by poisoning, chloroforming,
gassing and defenestrating the animal, which failed the test.
died while Crowley was young, and Aleister inherited 50,000 pounds when he came
of age, roughly equivalent to two million dollars today. He went through it
in 15 years.
were undeniable: He was intelligent, poetic and skilled at mathematics, chess
and mountaineering. He was witty: During Crowley’s stay in America, Theodore
Dreiser, hunting for the word for a young swan, asked Crowley, "What is
it? What would you call a young swan?" "Why not call him Alfred?"
unstable. Perhaps there was not one but many Crowleys. He seemed to imagine
himself a different man at every moment: the English gentleman and fellow of
Trinity College, Cambridge; the visionary; the mountaineer; the world teacher;
superb poetic technician with an exquisite, jeweled Swinburnean style. He also
delighted in inventing witty, if obscene, limericks on the spur of the moment.
Thus, his clerihew on the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni de’Bazzi
not a misnomer.
imagine where ends the poem whose lines include "my mistress, my Great
Dane, and I," or the content of "Necrophilia" and "A Ballad
of Passive Paederasty." Most of these appear in his most famous collection,
White Stains, first published in 1898 by Leonard Smithers, then Britain’s
to his parents’ religious fanaticism by rejecting Christianity. Yet his
work’s effect relies on Scripture, even to his self-assumed title, from
the 13th chapter of Revelations: "Let him that hath understanding count
the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man; and his number is six
hundred threescore and six."
by magic (or, as he spelled it, magick). This was wholly different from mere
prestidigitation–the parlor tricks of a David Copperfield, for example.
Crowleyan magic might be defined as the disciplined exercise of a wholly focused
and trained consciousness upon a given task, summoning an occult force to influence
the effects of natural law. This is done by a particular ritual which must be
correctly performed at a cosmically suited time to put the desired force into
action. As Francis King wrote in Ritual Magic in England, "All the
adjuncts of Ceremonial Magic–lights, colors, circles, triangles, perfumes–are
merely aids to concentrating the will of the magician into a blazing stream
of pure energy."
Crowley added drugs and sex. He experimented with peyote and other psychedelic
drugs long before Timothy Leary, or before Aldous Huxley wrote Doors of Perception.
Crowley believed his lust drove him to commit acts of magic, not perversion.
He wrote, "Some see a phallus in every church spire. Why not see a church
spire in every phallus?"
factual that he engaged in animal sacrifice, heterosexual orgies, bloody scourgings,
bestiality and sodomy. Though he considered his more intimate male relationships
to be such as "the Greeks considered the greatest glory of manhood and
the most precious prize of life," he did not shun promiscuous, anonymous
bathhouse sex. He liked to think he had revived the religious mysteries of classical
times and that his Orgia, whether with woman, man, dog or goat (or any three
together) were like those in the Golden Age.
what might seem (and what might have been) self-indulgence, he did not lack
self-discipline: He had learned to meditate with a profoundly focused contemplation;
he had learned yoga in Ceylon, mastering through the day-to-day drudgery and
discomfort of repeated practice the positions, the breathing, the mantras by
which he forced his mind into concentration.
humility and true self-knowledge. His growing self-confidence swelled into megalomania,
and he believed he had so developed his occult talents as to rise beyond the
human: He wrote of passing over the Abyss, the gulf between the noumenal and
phenomenal worlds, and then of becoming first a Master, then a Magus, and finally
Ipsissimus, which is to say a god.
to Crowley, on April 8, 9 and 10, 1904, while he was in Egypt, a nonhuman entity
named Aiwass dictated to him a prose-poem in three chapters totaling 65 pages,
Liber AL vel Legis, The Book of the Law. It referred to the Beast, who
appears in the Book of Revelations, as the prince priest of a new age and to
the Scarlet Woman as his partner. It enunciated the dogma, "Do what thou
wilt shall be the whole of the Law."
saw this book as the basis of a post-Christian religion. To further its cause,
he created an order, an occult fraternity (after all, a magician without an
order is like a politician without a party). He borrowed from the ritual and
degree structure of the Golden Dawn, in which he, William Butler Yeats and others
had been initiates, and drew on its teachings and practices, rewriting them
into a more comprehensible form while grafting onto them his interests in yoga
and other Oriental practices.
his funds, and so he came to New York. He published occasional articles in Frank
Crowninshield’s Vanity Fair, including a series entitled, "The
Revival of Magick." More importantly, he was reintroduced to George Sylvester
Viereck, a fine poet and writer who was also a hopeless Germanophile. Crowley,
with his usual gratitude for material favors, described Viereck as approaching
him "with extended hands, bulging eyes, and the kind of mouth which seems
to have been an unfortunate afterthought." Viereck offered him a job writing
pro-German articles for the magazine The Fatherland, which was probably
subsidized with German secret service funds. Crowley was also hired to edit
another Viereck magazine, The International, which he largely wrote himself;
it was the only salaried job he held in his life.
later argued he was in no sense a traitor to his country; rather, he was serving
it by writing propaganda so silly as to bring Germany into disrepute. He might
have been telling the truth. He wrote an article in which he compared the Kaiser
to Parsifal. In another, he wrote about German air raids on London: "A
great deal of damage was done at Croydon, especially at its suburb Addiscombe,
where my aunt lives. Unfortunately her house was not hit. Count Zeppelin is
respectfully requested to try again. The exact address is Eton Lodge, Outram
he sought a Scarlet Woman to be his regular partner in acts of sex magic. Several
of them came and went, more than one repelled by Crowley’s insistence on
anal sex, which he called intercourse "by the unspeakable vessel."
He treated them without tenderness: one mistress, whom he named the "Dog-headed
Hermes or Anubis," was usually called the Dog for short; he called another
1919, he met Leah Hirsig, a New York City schoolteacher whom he found overpoweringly
attractive, and asked her to be his Scarlet Woman. She accepted, no doubt considering
this more agreeable than life in the classroom. Then he marked her with the
Sign of the Beast. John Symonds, Crowley’s biographer and literary executor,
wrote in The Great Beast, "He branded her breast with a Chinese
dagger already heated in the fire, with the Mark of the Beast: the cross within
the circle, or the sun, moon, and balls dependent.
they lived together at 63 Washington Square South.
third volume of his magazine, the Equinox, through the press. In December
1919, the Great Beast sailed for England, leaving a trail of bouncing checks.
his adventures in Sicily, where he attempted to perform a rite Herodotus had
observed in a temple in Egypt of the Pharaohs: a priestess copulating with a
goat. Leah, who may have endured as Scarlet Woman longer than anyone else, was
more than willing. The goat, not having been brought up to respond to a human
female, refused. "I atoned for the young He-goat at considerable length,"
wrote Crowley in his diary.
government expelled him, and he became a penniless wanderer, living on the fees
and offerings of his followers, still writing, publishing and teaching. Even
his signature became obscene, as he chose to form the A as a penis, with a small
loop at the base of each arm of the letter. He went from one furnished room
to another, spending his last two years in Hastings, a seaside resort town,
at Netherwood, a boarding house run by a man with an odd sense of humor. His
"House Rules" included:
are requested not to tease the Ghosts.
will be served at 9 am to the survivors of the Night.
Borough Cemetery is five minutes walk away (ten minutes if carrying body),
but only one minute as the Ghost flies.
are requested not to cut down bodies from trees.
has a certain amount of used clothing for sale, the property of guests who
no have no longer any use for earthly raiment.
Ipsissimus died of bronchitis and cardiac degeneration on Dec. 5, 1947. At his
funeral in the chapel of the Brighton municipal crematorium, an old friend recited
Crowley’s Gnostic Mass, including the violently pagan and erotic "Hymn
to Pan," and closed with this collect:
from whose eyes the veil of life has fallen may there be granted the accomplishment
of their true Wills; whether they will absorption in the Infinite, or to be
united with their chosen and preferred, or to be in contemplation, or to be
at peace, or to achieve the labor and heroism of incarnation on this planet
or another, or in any Star, or aught else, unto them may there be granted
the accomplishment of their wills; yea, the accomplishment of their wills.
gave up his body to be burned.
But he was
He was a
He was fascinated
It is simply
But he lacked
But he exhausted
In the meantime,
He saw the