Although he is considered to be the most influential occultist of the 20th century and was recognized by the BBC as the 73rd “greatest Briton of all time”, most people have never heard of Aleister Crowley. The English occultist, mystic and ceremonial magician is incredibly popular in some circles (occultists, artists, celebrities, etc.) but completely unknown to the average person. And why should he be known? What did he accomplish? Simply put, he foreshadowed the radical philosophical change that would sweep the Western civilization during the 20th century. By founding the philosophy of Thelema and announcing the coming of a New Aeon, Crowley did not only formulate the major philosophical precepts of the 21st century, he was part of the Illuminist motor that promoted it.
Because of Crowley’s sexual rituals, drug consumption and dabblings in Black Magick (he introduced the letter “k” at the end of “magic” to differentiate it from the entertainment kind) , Crowley was maligned and heavily criticized by the press during his lifetime. However, declassified documents have since revealed that the “Great Beast 666″ led a double life: Crowley apparently maintained ties with the British Government and worked with the British intelligence and high-ranking members of the American Government. The O.T.O.–the secret society he popularized–held within its ranks some of the most influential people of the time, who in turn used their power to further the advancement of its main philosophy: the Thelema.
Crowley was born to a wealthy and religious family. His parents were part of the Exclusive Brethren, a conservative faction of the Christian denomination called the Plymouth Brethren. His father, a traveling preacher for his sect, was particularly devout and was said to read a chapter from the verse to his wife and son every day after breakfast. 1 While Crowley maintained a good relationship with his father, he despised his mother, who described him as “the beast” – a name he later adopted as his life-long moniker.
After losing his father to lung cancer at age 11, Crowley inherited the family fortune and went on studying English literature at Trinity College in Cambridge. It is during those academic years that Crowley began renouncing and even rebelling against his Christian background. He seriously questioned the Bible, partook in sexual activities with local girls and prostitutes and developed an acute interest in occultism. Another symbolic step towards his self-affirmation was his name change from Edward Alexander to Aleister. Here’s an excerpt from his autobiography describing the reasons behind his name change:
Quote:“For many years I had loathed being called Alick, partly because of the unpleasant sound and sight of the word, partly because it was the name by which my mother called me. Edward did not seem to suit me and the diminutives Ted or Ned were even less appropriate. Alexander was too long and Sandy suggested tow hair and freckles. I had read in some book or other that the most favourable name for becoming famous was one consisting of a dactyl followed by a spondee, as at the end of a hexameter: like Jeremy Taylor. Aleister Crowley fulfilled these conditions and Aleister is the Gaelic form of Alexander. To adopt it would satisfy my romantic ideals. The atrocious spelling A-L-E-I-S-T-E-R was suggested as the correct form by Cousin Gregor, who ought to have known better. In any case, A-L-A-I-S-D-A-I-R makes a very bad dactyl. For these reasons I saddled myself with my present nom-de-guerre—I can’t say that I feel sure that I facilitated the process of becoming famous. I should doubtless have done so, whatever name I had chosen.”
Perhaps Crowley’s most significant experiences of his youth were his homosexual relations which, according to his later biographer Lawrence Sutin, led him to an “encounter with an immanent deity”. This triggered in him a great interest in occultism, secret societies and, more specifically, what he will later call Sex Magick.
In his late twenties, Crowley joined many esoteric groups where he was either admired and rose high in the ranks or despised and expelled. Inspired by Arthur E. Waite’s book, The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts, Crowley joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn–known as the “Great White Brotherhood” –in 1898. This secret society held within its membership elite and highly influential members of society. There he was introduced to ceremonial magic and the ritualistic usage of drugs.
In 1899, he reportedly became a member of the Old George Pickingil witch coven. However, he was not welcomed for long as a result of his irresponsible attitude and his inclinations toward homosexuality (which was shocking at that time, even to witches). The priestess of his coven later described him as “a dirty minded, evilly-disposed and vicious little monster!” 3
Crowley also became a high-ranking Freemason, joining several lodges and acquiring several Masonic degrees. In his autobiography, Crowley described his attainment of the 33rd (and last) degree of the Scottish Rite in Mexico:
Quote:“Don Jesus Medina, a descendant of the great duke of Armada fame, and one of the highest chiefs of Scottish Rite free-masonry. My cabbalistic knowledge being already profound by current standards, he thought me worthy of the highest initiation in his power to confer; special powers were obtained in view of my limited sojourn, and I was pushed rapidly through and admitted to the thirty-third and last degree before I left the country.”
With the help of prominent author and Freemason John Yarker, Crowley obtained other Masonic degrees including the 3° In France by the Anglo-Saxon Lodge No. 343, 33° of the irregular ‘Cerneau’ Scottish Rite and 90°/95° of the Rite of Memphis/Misraim. 5 According to the United Grand Lodge of England however, whose recognition is generally considered the standard for Masonic validity, none of these Masonic bodies were considered regular and he was never considered an official Freemason.
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