Aleister Crowley In The Occult Essay, Research Paper
Aleister Crowley in the Occult:
Natural Proclivity or the
Product of Outside Influences?
Aleister Crowley engaged in activities and wrote literature that have earned him the title of ?most evil man in the world.?(Leek, 30.) He lived a life that most people would publicly denounce as ?sinful? but secretly wish that they could live. Crowley?s background suggests that he was influenced greatly by many people and events to become the way he was. But was it the people and events more so than a natural inclination that led him to his involvement in the occult?
Born Edward Alexander Crowley on October 12, 1875,
Crowley started out with a happy though somewhat unusual childhood. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop Crowley, and father, Edward Crowley, were members of a strict religious fundamentalist group called the Plymouth Brethren. Among this group, Edward Crowley was a known and respected leader and pamphleteer. In fact, years before the birth of his son, Edward published a pamphlet titled The Plymouth Brethren (so called), Who they Are?Their Creed?Mode of Worship?etc. Edward Crowley was highly religious to the point where, ten years before Edward Alexander was born, he
foresaw the death of Christianity and the temporary accession of the Antichrist. He wrote:
There can be no doubt but that they [the religious systems] will continue their course, that they will grow worse and worse, waxing bolder and bolder against God until the Antichrist himself will be revealed, who shall oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; who shall sit in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God; whom the Lord shall destroy with the brightness of His coming, and consume with the spirit of His mouth. (Hutchinson, 19)
During his childhood years, Edward Alexander, or ?Alick,? as he came to be called, accompanied his father on many traveling sermons. As a child, he showed a natural precocity and intellect. Young Alick also had unremitting curiosity. In one instance, walking in a field, Edward told Alick to avoid a clump of nettles. Alick could not understand why, and his father asked him if he?d rather take his word for it or learn by experience. Alick chose to learn by experience and dove into the nettles. (Hutchinson, 26.)
As stern as Edward Crowley was, young Alick looked up to him. ?His father was his hero and his friend, though, for some reason or other, there was no real intimacy or understanding?(Crowley, 48). Alick spent much of his childhood with his father, accompanying him from village to village or studying the Bible with him. He was not displeased with Christianity in any way as he was growing up. Aleister Crowley himself noted later, however, that ?his sympathies were with the opponents of heaven?(Crowley, 44). He preferred the stories from The Book of Revelations, especially the Dragon, the False Prophet, the Scarlet Woman, and the Beast, whose number was 666.
For all the happiness Alick experienced in his childhood, certain events were to lead him away from the influence of the Plymouth Brethren.
When Alick was a young boy, his mother bore a second child, a girl, who lived for only five hours.
The death of Mary Grace Elizabeth Crowley in 1880 was, we may assume, a traumatic occasion for the family. It was certainly disturbing to five-year-old Alick, who deeply resented being taken to see his sister?s corpse, and during the rest of his sixty-seven years on earth, attended only one other funeral before his own. (Hutchinson,28)
Alick did not attend school until he was eight years old. Life outside the Plymouth Brethren was something of a shock to young Alick. He was sent to a strict Evangelical private preparatory school, but it was not, of course, the closely-knit family life he was accustomed to. School did not agree with Alick. Though unusually intelligent, he was chubby and not athletic. This led to many years of being bullied by other children. Alick grew to loathe this school, and was soon moved to a different institution.
While at school, Alick claimed to have had dreams about the death of his father, Edward. At this period in time, Edward Crowley really was sick, diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. The Saints of the Plymouth Brethren held prayer meetings and rejected the advice of the foremost surgeon in the country to get surgery. Instead he was treated by ?electro-homeopathy.? This was a strange and short-lived treatment that Edward Crowley did not survive. He died in March of 1887. ?After his dreams were confirmed in fact, Alick Crowley was never the same again.? (Hutchinson, 32)
Alick was devastated by the loss of his father and disgusted with his mother. He had never liked her. ?There was a physical repulsion, and an intellectual and social scorn. He treated her almost as a servant?She always antagonized him.?(Crowley, 48) The attitude of disgust worsened when Emily Bertha Crowley brought in her brother to be the patron of the family.
Tom Bond Bishop was a member of the Evangelical branch of the Church of England. He considered himself to be an expert on the development of young souls, having had founded the church?s Children?s Scripture Union and Children?s Special Service Mission. Alick was not convinced, nor was he even fond of his uncle. In his memoirs, Crowley recalls Uncle Tom as having ?the meanness and cruelty of a eunuch?perfidious and hypocritical?unctuous?odious?in feature resembling a shaven ape, in figure a dislocated dachshund?no more cruel fanatic, no meaner villain, ever walked the earth?a ruthless, petty tyrant.? (Crowley, 54-55)
Crowley blamed the Plymouth Brethren for the death of his father. It had been they who had decided to put Edward Crowley through electro-homeopathy instead of the recommended surgery. Between this fury at the Brethren and this anger towards his uncle, Crowley began to detach himself from his family?s religion.
At school he was still bullied, but he was no longer a troubled child. He was now a troublesome adolescent. Alick began causing so many problems that he had to be moved from new school to new school. He was still academically gifted and an amazing chess player. As he got older, he began writing poetry and giving pseudonyms. He disliked his given name and the ones he threw around were too exotic for everyday. He finally decided on ?Aleister? along with his own last name because he liked the sequence of syllables.
In 1891, Crowley visited Torquay with a new tutor. His name was Archibald Douglas, a former Bible Society missionary who?d been approved by Uncle Tom. Douglas turned out to be from a very liberal wing of the evangelical movement. He introduced Crowley to some of the pleasure he was known to partake in later in life, such as gambling and women.
Exactly how such a man came to be entrusted by Tom Bishop with the care of his nephew is unclear. Aleister would later suppose that Douglas got the job under false pretenses: he was an Oxford graduate, with gentlemanly manners and an impressive accent, who had traveled in Persia for the Bible society?Like any Oxford graduate, Douglas probably needed the cash. (Hutchinson, 39)
At about this time in his life, Crowley discovered mountaineering, which he became reasonably famous for. For all his athletic shortcomings, he was an excellent, skilled, and daring mountaineer. Crowley loved the fame it achieved him. This might have given him a taste for the recognition he would always crave.
One of his climbing associates was a celebrated chemist by the name of Morris Travers. Travers was, at the time, twenty-four years old and teaching at University College, London. For many reasons, Crowley greatly admired Travers. The chemist was popular with the female students, for one thing. As well as this, he had immense strength and courage. During one incident, Travers used his own body to form a human bridge across a crevasse and allowed Crowley to stand with crampons on his shoulders for a full forty minutes, while cutting out fresh handholds. The two might have moved on to greater things together had Travers not discovered krypton, neon, and xenon. His career, of course, skyrocketed.
Another influential figure was Oscar Eckenstein. This man took Crowley as a prot?g?. He actually seemed to shape Crowley into the daring man he turned out to be. Eckenstein himself was a successful mountaineer who would have made an important member of the Alpine Club had he not called it a ?retreat for self-advertising quacks who could barely climb a ladder without a guide.? (Hutchinson, 55) Eckenstein took Crowley under his wing, and as he gained Aleister?s everlasting admiration as a mountaineer, he also influenced him about speaking his mind no matter who got offended. This is a trait that Crowley carried for the rest of his life.
Probably the most prominent of inspirations to Crowley was a man by the name of Julian L. Baker. Like Travers, Baker was a chemist and mountaineer. He had also acquired for himself a name in the practice of (of all things) alchemy. This sparked the interest of twenty-three-year-old Crowley. He approached Baker to ask about the feasibility of alchemy and discovered from the man something much more interesting than that.
Julian Baker was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In 1898, Crowley was initiated into the Order, and proceeded to climb up rapidly through the grades. With his newfound status in the Order, Crowley claimed certain strange powers, such as horses bolting at the sight of him, and his rubber mackintosh catching fire. A schism broke up the Order in 1900, and Crowley traveled throughout the East. There he learned and practiced the mental and physical disciplines of yoga, as well as his western style of ritual magick and Oriental mysticism. He was on his way to gaining a name for himself in the occult, and soon came up with his Law of Thelema.
In 1903, Crowley married Rose Kelly. It was actually a business arrangement, but Crowley claims to have later fallen in love with her for a short time, at least. They went to Egypt on their honeymoon.
?After returning to Cairo in 1904, Rose (who until this point had shown no interest or familiarity with the occult) began entering trance states and insisting to her husband that the god Horus was trying to contact him. She passed several well-known images of the god and led Aleister straight to a painted wooden funerary stele from the 26th Dynasty, depicting Horus receiving a sacrifice from the deceased, a priest names Ankh-f-n-khonsu. Crowley was especially impressed with the fact that this piece was numbered 666 by the museum, a number with which he had identified since childhood.? (?Aleister Crowley?,
In 1906, Crowley joined George Cecil Jones in England, where they set off to recreate the Golden Dawn, under the new name of Astrum Argentum, meaning ?Silver Star.? This was the starting point of the life Aleister Crowley was known for. He came to be very influential to later member of the occult. In her autobiography, the famous witch, Sybil Leek, recalls Crowley having paid visits to her family home when she was growing up.
When he talked about occultism, he mesmerized his audience, and then when he had almost exhausted his listeners with the magic of his voice and his use of the English language, he would suddenly change into a deep, black mood. In the innocence of youth, I overlooked the dark moods. I remember that he always had time to talk to ?the child.? (Leek, 28-29)
Aleister Crowley was a man of many talents and great intellect, but he was not born to be the Antichrist. He was called ?the most evil man in the world,? but it was more people and events that inspired him to lead that life that he did. His natural fascination with the opponents of heaven in the Book of Revelations was nothing more than the fascination of a young boy with something ?scary.? He grew up and met many famous (and infamous) people who shaped his ideals, but he rarely formed them on his own. He was captivating and a strong leader, which is why he was so successful in convincing many people that he was the ultimate adversary of God. In reality, he craved the attention, and he would do anything to get it.
?Crowley was an unusual and involved individual and his view changed over the course of the more than 50 years of his writing career. It was not unusual to contradict himself on the same page.?(?Crowley?s Personality,? par. 1)
It seemed that his belief in his own ?wickedness? may not have been so firmly grounded. Crowley got what he wanted out of life, but he was not the man he made himself out to be. As Christopher Isherwood put it, ?the truly awful thing about Crowley is that one suspects he didn?t really believe in anything. Even his wickedness. Perhaps the only thing that wasn?t fake was his addiction to heroin and cocaine.?(Hutchinson)
Crowley, Aleister. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley.
London: Penguin Book, 1969.
?Crowley?s Personality?. Intro to Crowley Studies
?Fact Sheet on Crowley?.
Hutchinson, Roger. The Beast Demystified.
Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing Company, 1999.
Leek, Sybil. Diary of a Witch.
New York: Signet, Signet Classics, Signette, Mentor, and Plume Books, 1968.