Aleister Crowley classified his form of spiritualism as ‘magic’. Crowley’s magic is unique, but owes its origins to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which he was a member.
This order apparently owes its practises to Dr John Dee and Edward Kelley who in the 1500s used mirrors and crystal balls to obtain a very complex set of mantras and diagrams from various 'spirit helpers'. But this is only one technique and a technique that even Dr John Dee was unable to use – he had to rely on Kelley - and Kelley was a magician.
Neither Crowley nor the Order of the Golden Dawn members used mirrors, so really although so called Enochian magic is interesting from an academic point of view, Cowley did not actually use this system.
There are those who find that 'pentagram rituals', 'tarot card reading', ‘qabalistic path working’, so called ‘chakra work’, invocations and ‘spirit evocation’ have some kind of effect. But this is not Enochian magic, and it is not Crowley magic as we shall see. It isn’t Golden Dawn magic either.
No, Crowley’s system is far more complex than this and owes far more to eastern methods – the Chinese systems, Yoga, Shinto, ancient Egyptian systems and the Kabbalah. And it is true magic within the definition – it both involves coded practise and high levels of emotion.
Crowley put all his beliefs into one form that he called the Principles of Thelema. Thelema is not a religion, but it is a set of descriptions of what Crowley perceived to be universal truths about the spiritual world. He first announced it in 1904, but worked on it for the remainder of his life. It is a system and a set of principles.
Crowley, in his day – the early and mid 1900s, was despised and derided by religious leaders and political authority, and adored by his followers. He stood up to this barrage of criticism, and to a large extent is now equated with magic in the west.
His ‘system’ is well documented, with numerous books you can turn to. Aleister’s Tarot cards for example, are themselves a masterpiece of encapsulated symbolism – once you have deciphered them you have the system, the method, the mechanisms and the spiritual path all in one. His cards are on this site together with an explanation, under the Tarot system heading.
Crowley was a brave man, his Order of the Oriental Templars [OTO] was founded at the turn of the last century, it closed its doors in 1937. Not a happy time to be a magician.
Crowley is possibly fortunate, he was British. A brave lady, one Ida C. Craddock (1857 –1902) who was a 19th-century American advocate of free speech and women's rights, also attempted to introduce magic in the USA. In the 1880s, Craddock left her Quaker upbringing and turned to magic. She tried in her writings to synthesize translated mystic literature and traditions from many cultures into a scholarly, distilled whole. Craddock became a student of “religious eroticism and declared herself a Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga”. Her mother responded by threatening to burn Craddock's papers and unsuccessfully tried to have her institutionalized.
Craddock wrote many serious instructional tracts on sexuality and spirituality. The titles show her interest in the combination of sexual energy and spiritual experience Heavenly Bridegrooms, Psychic Wedlock, Spiritual Joys. Aleister Crowley reviewed Heavenly Bridegrooms in the pages of his journal The Equinox, stating that it was:
...one of the most remarkable human documents ever produced…. . Her learning is enormous. ...This book is of incalculable value to every student of occult matters. No Magick library is complete without it.
The Sexual techniques from Craddock's Psychic Wedlock were later reproduced in Sex Magick by Louis T. Culling and they are, in turn, now on this site.
They were the basis of everything Crowley was later to use.
The poor lady was hounded by various authorities. Her books were labelled as obscene, she was jailed numerous times, she was committed to a hospital for the insane.
The judge declared at one trial that The Wedding Night, was so “obscene, lewd, lascivious, dirty” that the jury should not be allowed to see it during the trial [so how did the jury manage to come to a verdict, one asks, if they could not see the only evidence there was? What a strange fish is the American judicious system].
At age forty-five, she was again sentenced to prison and saw her five-year sentence as a life term and so committed suicide, by slashing her wrists and inhaling natural gas from the oven in her apartment, on October 16, 1902, the day before reporting to Federal prison.
Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947), fared a little better. Also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast 666, he is variously classed as a ceremonial magician, and poet. He was also a mountaineer and this has its own level of interest, as this is a classic way of getting experience [see climbing mountains]. Born into a wealthy upper-class family, he was brought up as a Quaker, but later rejected this in favour of his own brand of magic.
His interest in spirituality started very early and it was while on a winter holiday in Sweden in December 1896, that he had his first significant spiritual experience.
Later, whilst he was in Egypt in 1904, he had a very profound experience in which a spirit helper - an entity that became known as Aiwass, gave him information that would lead to The Book of the Law. He subsequently founded the ‘philosophy of Thelema’.
Crowley experimented with just about anything that he thought would give him a spiritual experience from drugs to yoga and from magic to sex.
A Golden Dawn associate, Allan Bennett (1872–1923), who lived with him and became his personal tutor, taught him about the usage of drugs. A number of Crowley’s spiritual experiences were achieved using hashish. Crowley also experimented with mescaline and ether. Crowley was a habitual drug user and also maintained a meticulous record of his drug-induced experiences. Other drugs he used included cocaine, cannabis, alcohol, morphine and heroin. In Paris during October 1908, however, he claimed to have ‘produced Samadhi’ by the use of ritual, and this time did so without drugs. He published an account of this success, in order to show that his method worked and that one could achieve great 'mystical' results without drugs and without living as a hermit.
But overall his conclusions appear to be that sex was by far the most effective method. In his books, he very early on concludes that many drugs are destructive and almost counter to true spirituality. He became addicted to heroin, after being prescribed morphine for his asthma and bronchitis.
Crowley is generally described as ‘promiscuous’, and maintained a “vigorous sex life” involving prostitutes, girls he picked up at local pubs and cigar shops, and other men. For a time he was married and he had children, but eventually other forms of sexual activity took over. In June 1915, Crowley met Jeanne Robert Foster [see below] in the company of her friend Hellen Hollis, a journalist; Crowley would have affairs with both women. In early 1916, Crowley had an illicit liaison with Alice Richardson [see above], the wife of Ananda Coomaraswamy. Just before this affair, Crowley was practising sex magick with Gerda Maria von Kothek, a German prostitute.
Before leaving the USA he formed a sexual and magical relationship with Leah Hirsig, whom he had met earlier. Hirsig was known as Soror Alostrael, Crowley's Scarlet Woman, the name Crowley used for his female sex magick practitioners.
He took part in same-sex activities including receptive anal sex, despite the fact that homosexual acts were illegal and punishable with imprisonment at that time. Crowley would eventually introduce the practice of male homosexual sex magick into O.T.O. as one of the highest degrees of the Order, for 'he believed it to be the most powerful formula' for squashing the ego.
In July 1913, in Moscow Crowley met a young Hungarian girl named Anny Ringler. Crowley went on to practice sado-masochistic sex with Ringler. According to Crowley,
"... She had passed beyond the region where pleasure had meaning for her. She could only feel through pain, and my own means of making her happy was to inflict physical cruelties as she directed. The kind of relation was altogether new to me; and it was because of this, intensified as it was by the environment of the self-torturing soul of Russia, that I became inspired to create by the next six weeks."
While in Moscow, Crowley wrote two of his most memorable works, the Hymn to Pan and the Gnostic Mass or Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Canon Missae, which symbolises the act of sex as a magical or religious ritual.
Many misquote him using his phrase ‘Do what thou wilt’. But Crowley followed as far as he could the code of all magicians, which is ‘do as you will as long as no one or no thing is hurt’ - 'do as you would be done by'. And ‘let love be the driver to your actions’.
In one of the strange ironies of life, whilst he was alive, he was denounced in the popular press of the day as "the wickedest man in the world". In 2002, however, 55 years after his death, a BBC poll described him as being the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time. And he has been a huge influence on writers, musicians and filmmakers.
Lon Milo Duquette - 1993 The Magick of Aleister Crowley
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.
I am not at all sure however, that Aleister would have been happy with the society that has emerged from all these years of repression, for instead of sexual energy.... and LOVE ..... being used to provide spiritual experience and enhance people’s lives, all we have gained is a free for all – a sort of animal rush for sexual gratification, with women being the losers.
Commentaries on The Book of the Law - Crowley
We of Thelema say that "Every man and every woman is a star." We do not fool and flatter women; we do not despise and abuse them. To us, a woman is herself, absolute, original, independent, free, self-justified, exactly as a man is.
A cautionary note
It is worth adding a criticism of Crowley’s approach, to balance any praise I may have lavished on his system. The main problem, as I see it, is that Crowley was just too clever. The only people likely to understand what he wrote with all its symbolism, are people like me who have retired and have spent years studying this as a hobby, or those whose intellect and ego is so high that it will defeat any chance of them ever getting a spiritual experience.
In effect, although Crowley quite correctly states that to get spiritual experience one has to abandon beliefs, logic and reason, the only people likely to understand what he wrote are people with a super abundance of logic, beliefs and reasoning capability – the super clever who will look on this as a sort of game for their intellectual pleasure – the egotistical intelligentsia and the egotists. So all these people will no doubt be happy to spend hours cracking the code and the symbolism, but they will never in a month of Sundays ever get a spiritual experience. The irony is, that if they don’t get the experience, they won’t truly know what about half of what he wrote means, even though they may think they do.
The truly simple – the very ‘fools’ that Crowley wants us all to become, those within a hair’s breadth of getting the most profound experiences of all, will not understand a word of Crowley. So in the end, I think he was maybe just a bit too clever for his own and our good.
Maybe my descriptions will help a bit, there is little reason now why his work should be so secretive, no one is going to get ostracised for making love – unless of course you do it on St Pancras station in full view of your fellow travellers – then a few heads may turn.
But being Britain, that is probably all.
And being Britain you may even get a few helpful people coming up to tell you where you’re going wrong – the English are like that.
Books by Aleister Crowley
- The Book of the Law (1904
- The Holy Books of Thelema
- Magick (Book 4) (1912),
- The Vision and the Voice
- The Book of Lies (1912),
- Little Essays Toward Truth (1938
- The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1929).
- Magick Without Tears.
- The Equinox (subtitled "The Review of Scientific Illuminism")
- Moonchild (1917),
- Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922)
- The Stratagem and other Stories (1929).
- Hymn to Pan (1929).
For iPad/iPhone users: tap letter twice to get list of items.
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Law - Behold! These be grave mysteries
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Buttons and Rosettes
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Candles
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Caviar
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Dewdrops
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Dust Devils
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Onion peelings
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Peaches
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Pilgrim talk
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Samson
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Steeped horsehair
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Ante Primal Triad
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Battle of the Ants
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Branks
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Cry of the hawk
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Dinosaurs
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Dragon Flies
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Drooping Sunflower
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Glow-worm
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Gun Barrel
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Leopard and the Deer
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Oyster
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Sabbath of the Goat
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The swan
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Vigil of St Hubert
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - The Wound of Amfortas
- Crowley, Aleister - Book of Lies - Windlestraws
- Crowley, Aleister - Divine synthesis
- Crowley, Aleister - Example Tarot cards
- Crowley, Aleister - from Yoga for Yahoos
- Crowley, Aleister - from Yoga for Yahoos - Mantra yoga
- Crowley, Aleister - from Yoga for Yahoos - Yama and Niyama
- Crowley, Aleister - The Vision and the Voice (Aethyr 14)
- Crowley, Aleister - Yoga for Yahoos
- Dr William Sargant – The Sex Magick and drug based practises of Aleister Crowley 01
- Dr William Sargant – The Sex Magick and drug based practises of Aleister Crowley 02