When discussing Crowley, with friends, students or fellow occultists, pagans, wiccans and spiritualists you’ll find that the reaction concerning Crowley is pretty diverse. From ‘don’t get involved because he is evil’ to ‘he was a genius’. So who is this person? Was he truly such a beast that murdered his friend? Did he consort with the ‘devil’?
You could say that by reading his work you may get to know Crowley a little but that is, of course if you can stomach his style of writing.
Let's gain an insight into the life of this man:
He was bi-sexual and take in mind that in his day, this was simply unacceptable. Oscar Wilde was of the same generation and imprisoned for ‘homosexual acts’. Alastair’s sexual frustration and fascination you could say is clearly expressed in some of his, at times, rather explicit poems.
It was his poetry that started his bad reputation. Most of them expressed his sexual frustration and his thoughts about the hypocrisy in Christianity.
Below you can find an example. I have taken some extracts from the poem All Night
as it is a large piece of work you will only find half of it here. The extracts highlight where a predominantly Christian population may translate as ‘blasphemy’. These extracts give the gist to what has upset a population who’s sexual views were still very Victorian and where anything outside orthodox Christianity was seen as evil.
by: Aleister Crowley (1875-1947)
All pleasure in one draught. No whispered sigh,
No change of breast, love's posture perfectly
Once gained, we change no more. The fever grows
Hotter or cooler, as the night wind blows
Fresh gusts of passion on the outer gate.
But we, in waves of frenzy, concentrate
Too often or too hard; fresh fire invades
Our furious veins, and the unquiet shades
Of night make noises in the darkened room.
Yet, did I raise my head, throughout the gloom
I might behold thine eyes as red as fire,
A tigress maddened with supreme desire.
White arms that clasp me, fervent breast that glides
An eager snake, about my breast and sides,
And white teeth keen to bite, red tongue that tires,
And lips ensanguine with unfed desires,
Hot breath and hands, dishevelled hair and head,
Thy fevered mouth like snakes' mouths crimson red,
Kissing the gates of hell, the sword of God,
Each unto each a serpent or a rod,
Yea, king and queen of Sheol, terrible
Above all fiends and furies, hating more
The high Jehovah, loving Baal Peor,
Our father and our lover and our god!
Yea, though he lift his adamantine rod
And pierce us through, how shall his anger tame
Fire that glows fiercer for the brand of shame
Thrust in it; so, we who are all of fire,
One dull red flare of devilish desire,
The God of Israel shall not quench with tears,
Nor blood of martyrs drawn from myriad spheres,
Nor watery blood of Christ; that blood shall boil
With all the fury of our hellish toil;
All loves of hell or heaven, supremely wed,
Knit in one soul in one delicious bed
More hot than hell, more wicked than all things,
Vast in our sin, whose unredeeming wings
Rise o'er the world, and flap for lust of death,
Eager as anyone that travaileth;
So in our lusts, the monstrous burden borne
Heavy within the womb, we wait the morn
Of its fulfilment. Thus eternity
Wheels vain wings round us, who may never die,
But cling as hard as serpent's wedlock is,
One writhing glory, an immortal kiss.
This poem is rather decent in comparison to some of his other works which is often described as ‘vulgar’.
The majority of Crowley’s poetry has been based on his mystical work and without the understanding of this art you would indeed see most of them from a superficial perspective. Apply it to the Qabalah and it becomes a completely different piece of cake. Crowley’s definition of love is: the Union of Opposites, which according to Crowley is the key to enlightenment. Those who study ‘polarity’ theories may find truth in it.
Alastair Crowley was always so kind, without fail to send a copy of his published work to the media for review. This was the beginning of what we call in this day and age the path to public ‘Slander’.
The Reviews given to Crowley’s work were with a few exceptions condemned. If it wasn’t criticised for the vulgar content it would be for the blasphemy.
Addiction, Racism, performer of human sacrifice and murderer
The heading is quite a description. Let’s start with his health. Crowley was an asthmatic and suffered from bronchitis. A doctor prescribed him heroin to alleviate his asthma. (It shows how little the medical world knew about the effects of this drug).When exactly Crowley was described the drug is not sure but must have been around the 1920’s.
Today, we know more about addiction and how it influences our psyche and what it does to our body. Crowley publsihed in 1922 the book: ‘A diary of drug Fiend’ that clearly is steeped with his personal experiences.
One of the most known side effects of addiction is the social disruption. As quoted from the web-site www.drugeffect.org:
‘As the user becomes more and more reliant on heroin to achieve that sense of pleasure, a psychological dependence takes hold. Life without heroin becomes less and less satisfying. Work, family, friends, social engagements, and the routines of life that bring most people a sense of purpose and satisfaction become annoyances for the person suffering from heroin addiction.’
I think that this sums up Crowley and explains part of his inability to maintain friendships. Many of the people that were close to him describe their mixed feelings about Alastair Crowley. Often they praise his Genius and his Mystical expertise, some can accept his sense of humour but almost all cannot accept his behaviour and often racial and vulgar expressions.
He was a man that studied the teachings of the Jews including their language, Buddhism, Egyptology and many other cultural religious studies but Crowley was also known to make rather racist remarks about the cultures who’s teaching’s he adopted to create his Religious Philosophy known as ‘Thelema’.
He despite his racial remarks employed a Jewish secretary Israel Regardie and resided most of his time abroad. Many of his actions contradict his statements. One line of thought as to why?
We can look a the reputation of Alice Bailey, the author of amongst others: ‘Education in the New Age’, The Destiny of nations’ and ‘the problems of humanity’. Her writings were also accused correctly or incorrectly so as ‘racial’ and are suspected to have influenced Adolf Hitler. Throughout the second World war, Alice Bailey has given lectures to condemn Hitler’s actions against the Jews.
In her books, she was describing the evolutions and comparing them against the many cultures. She highlighted the problems these cultures still had to overcome for progressing with their evolutionary path. A quote by Alice Bailey may give a better understanding to her line of thought. She believed that an individual's primary allegiance is to humanity and not to any subgroup within it: "I call you to no organizational loyalties, but only to love your fellowmen, be they German, American, Jewish, British, French, Negro or Asiatic."
The work by Alice Bailey claims that the Caucasian race is ‘elite’ or more ‘evolved’ then other races. This understanding was probably shared by many others including Madam Blavatsky and Alastair Crowley. This frame of mind was shared amongst many British Imperialists and may well have been the 'sign of those times'.
So, was Alastair Crowley a racist? Well, let’s say he certainly felt ‘Elite’ and I would say in the context of today's understanding: yes.
A Jewish lady Catherine Yronwode with an interest in the occult wrote:
I've always liked Crowley's writing, even when i thought someone else had done it. But he's still a racist. That's just all there is to it, in my opinion.
The duality of this statement says much about the man.
Crowley was also accused of having sacrificed humans which is an assumption made by the media, he was also accused of the murder of one of his disciples. This turned out to be an untruth.
The biographer Lon Milo Duguette wrote in his 1993 work The Magick of Aleister Crowley that:
"Crowley clothed many of his teachings in the thin veil of sensational titillation. By doing so he assured himself that one, his works would only be appreciated by the few individuals capable of doing so, and two, his works would continue to generate interest and be published by and for the benefit of both his admirers and his enemies long after death. He did not - I repeat not - perform or advocate human sacrifice. He was often guilty, however, of the crime of poor judgment. Like all of us, Crowley had many flaws and shortcomings. The greatest of those, in my opinion, was his inability to understand that everyone else in the world was not as educated and clever as he. It is clear, even in his earliest works, he often took fiendish delight in terrifying those who were either too lazy, too bigoted, or too slow-witted to understand him."
Although Israel Regardie had fallen out with Alastair Crowley, he has always praised Crowley's work and edited some of his writings to take out the racial and vulgar remarks. In the defense of Alastair Crowley's reputation he has published the book 'The Legend of Alastair Crowley', In this book he has published many of the press releases made about Alastair Crowley.
What stood out in this book was, Regardie's appreciation of Crowley's mystical work, and a regret for not having stood up in court against the many false and rather bad accusations made, such as being a murder or the hosts of the titles given to him like 'the wickedest man in the world' or 'the beast'.
Crowley's mystical work
Above I have discussed some points about Crowley's reputation which is indeed questionable. But if you sift through what many people have said that actually have studied his mystical work. They cannot fault him about that.
Unfortunately his reputation puts a lot of people off for taking an interest in his work.
Those that do, often publsih their own books based on Crowley theories and practical expertise.
For example did you know that almost all rituals performed by the two major Wiccan strands (Garderian and Alexandrian) have been derived from Crowley's rituals?
Gerald Gardner was an initiate of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) under Crowley and Alex Sanders was an ex-Garderian.
Look in the bibliography of many a New Age or Occult book and you'll find references to some of Crowley's work.
So...was Crowley an evil beast?
Well, in my opinion he wasn't a very likable character but a person who showed throughout his life his sexual frustration of not being able to express his homo-sexuality. His racist remarks would have caused as much effect in those days as Alice Bailey or Madame Blavatsky's but both of these people's work doesn't seem to be effected by it when discussed. If we look at the interaction of people of their life-time with different cultures we see a common denominator, regrettably a European Superiority over all other Nations. It is only the last few decades that the attitude towards other nations has changed.
He was certainly not 'the wickedest man in the world' or a beast.
I can think of a few personalities that would fit this bill better.
I think if he was born in this age of 'Political correctness, Sexual freedom and medicine that actually treats Astma', we would not have the benefit of his mystical teachings. I am of the opinion that his frustration of being born in the 19th century has led him to the Occult path in search for answers, to find an acceptance of his sexuality and a religion that would not condemn him for it.
In each and every religion he took under the loop, he found something that would not give him enlightenment and is probably one of the reasons he created Thelema.
What do you thing?