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Aleister Crowley

The Crowley Influence
Aleister Crowley's reputation through the 20th century has grown and expanded beyond fact and since his death in 1947. Some myths vilify him, others set him to be a pagan saint. The truth is actually some where in between. He is to many pagans a folk hero, to others an icon. And to some a once wise, but eventually crazy man.
Crowley's teachings on magik rested between high ceremonial magik and nature based systems of neo-paganism magik. He wasn't a Satanist as many try to make him out to be. Crowley's founded the tradition of Thelema (The Crowleian pronunciation is Theh-LEE-mah, the accent on the vowel of the second syllable, ThEH-lee-mah). Today some pronounce the word Thel-ma, which is said to lose the 'lee' referring to [free] Will.
Those who choose to follow this path aim to de-condition themselves in a manner to develop independence of spirit and ultimately to become their very own self. One of the many attractions of Crowley's type of magik, was the advice to follow one's own way and to create your own life style. You don't need a priest or judge to tell you how to act - work it out for yourself. Between yourself and your higher spiritual self.
One of the main controversy issues around Crowley was not only his use of sex in magik, but his perceptions of male vs female importance. Often seen as a chauvinist, stating that the male sex organs are superior, thus the male is superior to women gave many people cause to believe this. But there is another side of the story that I can't cover here fully. The basic premise is that Crowley was not speaking literally of the male and female species; but rather in psychological terms based on his readings and study of Freud and Jung.
According to Tim Maroney in "Facts and Phallacies" (1998):
The Outer Head of the Order, Hymenæus Beta, printed Crowley's Address to the Women’s Conference. According to the Address, Crowley’s phallicism does not exclude women, because “phallus” is a gender-neutral term. We are told that Crowley was using a woman-inclusive meaning of “phallus” derived from psychology. “Crowley read his Freud and Jung very thoroughly. He didn't use capital P Phallus without assuming that his readers knew what was meant. Unfortunately few today do. He was referring to the psychoanalytic stage of full genital organization, which is the third of a series. The first state is infantile, undifferentiated, and of course generally chaste. The second stage is narcissistic, usually corresponding to adolescence, and masturbatory. In the third, the phallic as they chose to call it, the individual psychology is so organized as to integrate the psyche with the genital consciousness and its associated instincts, and is then prepared to enter the world, to have intercourse.”
There's no doubt Crowley incorporated sex into his practices and teachings of Thelema. But then so do other traditions. They may not be as overt as Thelema, but there are some covens who take this practice to the extreme as well. In the modern day of American purity, anything that ties sex to life and spirituality is deemed immoral and improper. Thankfully, modern neo-paganism sees this as just another part of life, an important part that should be and can be equally celebrated in the spiritual path of ones belief, with honor respect and morality.
The next controversy deals with his concepts of magik. The history of magik is the history of human beings. Many of the things that are now part of our culture, began as experiments in ritual and magik. From music and dance, art and poetry to philosophy and of course theology. Magik has played a key role in the evolution of our history. For instance, many believe the discovery of fire began as early man witnessed a lightening strike that set some vegetation on fire. Early man tried to duplicate, what to them was magik from the skies, and accomplished that feat. Thereby controlling the magik themselves. The inspiration of divine influence during the Renaissance to create great masters of art, is another example. And there's no doubting the early ritual drumming and dance of ancient people lead to the progression of music and dance in all societies around the world.
Perhaps because of this influence or his vision of this influence, Crowley advocated the practice of magik to assist in the light of self discovery of the inner spiritual self. He defined magik (which he spelt in the archaic form as magick) as 'the science and art of causing change in conformity with will.'
As quoted by the Golden Dawn Occult Society in Oxford:
"The modern generation of Thelemites, admire the spirit of Crowley rather than the word. He could be a interesting writer but as is often the case, the present day re-working of his material is often easier to follow and less peppered by some of Crowley's offensive cultural baggage. Writers such as Jan Fries in "Visual Magick" and Jack Parsons in "Freedom is a Two Edged Sword", seem to have a better understanding of the magical philosophy for which Crowley was a conduit."
Crowley's Life
Aleister Crowley aka: Edward Alexander Crowley was born October 12, 1875 and contrary to legend, he died December 1, 1947 at the age of 72. He was born the same year as the foundation of the Theosophical Society was established.
During his life, Crowley traveled extensively. He was very fond of nature and some said he felt more at home in the outdoors than he did inside, especially in the confines of a robust city. He attempted to write about his journey's but as anyone who has read Crowley, he wasn't the great at drawing a picture with his words. But there's no doubt that he didn't respect and even honor the majesty and breath of nature. Whenever a plant, tree or stone stood out to his attention, he raised his hat and greeted it with respect.
In 1925 he took over the leadership of the Fraternitas Saturni. One story reports his reverence for nature through a long walk up the garden path and into the forest. Following his practice to greet nature, some of his fellows seemed shocked. A novice is said to have whispered, "What is the master doing?" "The elemental spirits of nature have come to see the master" was the reply "and Sir Aleister is acknowledging their greeting." The whole incident including a rather nice ritual is to be found in an article on 'Pentagramme magik' in Praxis (1963).
According to the Golden Dawn:
"Crowley began to lose interest in the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and other organizations he had fashioned as potential vehicles for the dissemination of the great work. He met Gerald Gardner and together they may have devised a plan to transform the OTO into a more popular witchcraft cult. Gardner duly bought a charter and rose rapidly through the grades, even traveling to America to meet other OTO initiates. Fred Lamond, one of Gardners first acolytes, recalls that American adept Jack Parsons looked very favorably on the idea of a new witch cult. If Crowley had lived long enough to complete Gardner's training, modern paganism would undoubtedly look quite different."
Gerald Gardner takes his experiences with Crowley, the OTO and other organizations he learned from to establish the tradition of Wicca in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But that's a different story.
The Crowley Books
No matter what you think of Crowley, he offered a great deal of work on the subject of magik, Thelma and neo-paganism. Most of his books have been reprinted and about 100 tiles are available to the modern practioner today. Not to mention the many years of commentary by other authors about his life and practices since his death. But in this sea of work, there are a few publications that should give any reader a good idea of the man and his magik. In 1993, Crowley made it to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations for the first time, with his motto 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.'
Unfortunately there are many biographical works about Crowley. But few are honestly objective to his work and many seem to work to vilify his life and his ideas. But there are a few worth noting.
  • Jean Overton Fuller's "Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg" is somewhat objective and written with a good deal of inside information.
  • Do What Thou Wilt by Lawrence Sutin for St Martin's Press, is said to be the best offering.
  • Martin Booth, A magik Life
  • A 2004 reissue of Megatherion by Francis King, published by Creation Press, which was originally published in 1977 under the title The Magical World of Aleister Crowley.
  • Two 2003 offerings are worth note. "The Unknown God" by W.T. Smith and "Thelemites" by Martin P. Starr are both excellent studies of Aleister Crowley's followers in America during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
If you can stand the read, Crowley's some what long autobiography offers a good insight into his ideas, and his way of looking at life. As well as, his introspection into his own life. But again, it's not an easy read.
In addition to the work about Crowley and his life, are Crowley's literary offerings themselves. The following are a few of his works that are recommended for those interested in approach he took to spirituality and magik.
  • Liber O. Considered to be one of the best books for Crowley Beginners.
  • 777 and other Qabalistic Writings. A of his symbol system, which also contains a reprint of Mathers' instructional essay on Qabalah.
  • Holy Books of Thelema. All in one cover, including Liber al vel Legis - Book of the Law. The mystical poem that formed the core of Crowley's magical system. This was channeled to him by the spirit Aiwass during one of the most important mystical experiences of his life.
  • The Book of Thoth & Tarot Cards. Considered to be a brilliant study of the tarot. But like many of his books, it's difficult to follow in parts if you have no familiarity with his 'Thelemic' imagery. The tarot deck he created with English 'surrealist' Lady Frieda Harris.
  • Magick (also titled, Magick in Theory and Practice -or- Book Four). This is his textbook of magik, which covers basic yoga techniques to Golden Dawn type rituals and his own unique gnostic rituals, many of them with veiled sexual content. This is not a book for beginners.
For additional reading online:
    You will find much of his work, essays by his followers and fairly good interpretations of teachings.
  • The Hermetic Library - Libri Of Aleister Crowley
    You'll find a fairly extensive list of his work, and what is within each section.
  • The US Grand Lodge of Ordo Templi Orientis - Aleister Crowley
The Crowley Bottom Line
Like anything else on a spiritual path, everyone must make up their own mind about Crowley. But do so with some factual understand of the man, his teachings and principles. Frankly, he's not my cup of tea, and there are many items in his teachings that I do not agree with. But there's no denying the influence he has had on neo-pagan practices and principles. Even if you don't like his work, some of what you do prescribe to, may have indeed come from or has been influenced by his teachings.
Sometimes it's worth getting to know the real story behind a controversy and that's what lead me to the research of Crowley. I wanted to find out for myself what he brought to the table, how it differed from what I believed and what is in his teachings that earned him the controversial reputation. Understanding brings about tolerance, it doesn't mean you have to convert to what you study.
There's no denying there are similarities in Thelema and other craft traditions. After all, we're all pagans and we do have similar concepts. We may not practice those in the same way, but we're all trying to get to the same general destination. There's no way I can provide a more extensive overview of Crowley. But I hope this article gives some general information and suggestions for those who would like to continue their own research.

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Created: 02/02/2008         Updated: 04/19/2008


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