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Aleister Crowley

Worldviews C

Edward Alexander Crowley, born October 12, 1875 (in order to redeem the world from the disasters begun on that day in 1492, he claimed), led a life of mysticism, occultism, adventure, deception, and outrageous bohemianism. At the age of 23, in 1898, he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult society dedicated to Gnostic and Cabalistic techniques of "spiritual advancement"—or what we nowadays call consciousness expansion. The Golden Dawn methods that Crowley mastered included attainment of those borderline states variously called "out of body experience," "guided visualization," or "ESP" and the assumption of god-forms—"becoming one" with various deities by techniques that occultists consider supernatural and skeptics would call enthusiastic method acting. Crowley himself habitually alternated between the occult and skeptical views.

Between 1900 and 1909 Crowley traveled widely and studied, sometimes at length and sometimes only briefly, in such non-European mystical systems as Buddhism, Taoism, a few varieties of Hinduism, and Sufism. In these years he became proficient in dharana (one-pointed concentration), mantra (the use of some repeated phrase to abolish wandering thought), yoga stretching/ relaxing exercises, the Tantric technique of sex magick ("becoming one" with a deity by identifying that deity with a sexual partner during the sex act), and similar arts; he also developed his own system of eclectic mysticism by creating huge tables of "correspondences" to convert the terms of any mystical school into those of any other, e.g., the Greek god Pan, the Hindu god Shiva, the Tarot card called the Hanged Man, the color blue, the element water, the Hebrew letter mem, and the drug marijuana all refer to the "astral plane" Crowley numbers 23 (or to the 23rd level of human perception in another metaphor). To activate or re-activate that level, Crowley would invoke either Pan or Shiva in a ritual featuring marijuana, blue water, and wall decorations of the Hanged Man and the letter mem. And so on, through 32 levels.

In 1904, in Cairo, Crowley experienced a psychic revolution from which he emerged with "Liber Al" (also called "The Book of the Law"), a prophetic and perplexing document he always claimed he had "received," not written. At first, Crowley did not like the experience or the book, and managed to largely ignore them for nearly ten years. After 1914, however, he felt increasingly under their spell, and eventually he devoted the rest of his life to the "mission" the book imposed upon him. After 1919, he spoke of the Cairo experience as an encounter with a superhuman intelligence; one of his disciples, Kenneth Grant, has claimed the communicating entity emanated from the system of the double star, Sinus, while another student, Israel Regardie, prefers to say Crowley reached depths of the human evolutionary unconscious unknown to either Freud or Jung.

Whoever or whatever Crowley contacted, its major messages became the closest thing to dogmas in his largely agnostic mysticism: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." "Love is the law, love under will." "Every man and every woman is a star." Liber Al also foretells wars and revolutions undreamed of by Crowley's conscious mind or by any other 1904 intellectual, but offers a promise of a new society rising from the universal wreckage somewhere in the future. Its last paragraph tells you that its message "is revealed and concealed." Revealed to those ready to receive it and concealed from others, perhaps?

During both World War I and World War II, Crowley appears to have worked for British Intelligence, although conflicting evidence suggests that he also worked for German Intelligence, at least in the first conflict. This mystery, and the unknown identity of the power or entity unleashed in Cairo, has made Crowley a central figure in most of the religious and demonological conspiracy theories of our time.

Early in his career, Crowley changed his first name to Aleister, so that the Cabalistic "number" of his name would add to 666, identified with the Antichrist in the Revelation of St. John. He also delighted in frightening, baffling, and playing sadistic jokes on the orthodox and gullible. Thus, his reputation as a Satanist definitely does not result entirely from the paranoias of the religious right; he deliberately played the role at times, although always in an absurd and satirical manner.

In addition to "respectable" mystical practices from the traditions mentioned, Crowley also pioneered the study of shamanic/ psychedelic states and used any and all mind-altering drugs with huge gusto, according to which of the 32 planes he wished to visit, ending his life as a heroin addict. He worked his way through the various degrees of several orthodox and unorthodox Freemasonic lodges, including the Scotch and York Rites, and the Order of Memphis and Mizraim, and the Ordo Templi Orientis, of which he became Outer Head. (The Inner Head presumably remains invisible to the un-Illuminated.) Since his death, Crowley has become accepted as the Magus of the New Aeon in some occult circles (a title roughly equivalent to the Master of the New Age) but still retains an even wider reputation (among right-wingers) as the major Satanist of our century.

Although he lived the second half of his life in acute poverty, Crowley also appears in many conspiracy theories as an ally of the international bankers, the Illuminati, or other world-movers;  he presumably provided the demoniac energy behind their materialistic plots. His favorite Masonic symbol, the eye in the triangle,has also become mysteriously entangled with the Great Seal of the United States, the New Deal, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the New World Order.

Aleister Crowley died in 1947, at the age of 72, an amazing feat of longevity considering the shocks and strains he put on both his mind and body. He had written dozens of volumes of poetry, a few novels, scores of mystic essays, and had many achievements in the fields of chess, hunting, and mountain climbing, including the highest climb on the Himalayan peak K2 ever accomplished without oxygen tanks (1904; 23,000 feet).

See also: Freemasonry, Golden Dawn, Illuminati, Ordo Templi Orientis, Rosicrucianism.


The Eye in the Triangle, by Israel Regardie, New Falcon Press, Phoenix, Ariz, 1970

Portable Darkness, ed. by Scott Michaelson, Harmony Books, New York, 1989