Crowley, Aleister Edward (1875-1947)
British occultist and magician, who described himself as the 'Beast of the Apocalypse' and was called by the media 'The Wickedest Man in the World'.
Crowley both infuriated and fascinated people with his rites of sex magic and blood sacrifice. Despite his excesses some regard him as one of the most brilliant magicians of modern times.
He was born Edward Alexander Crowley in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. His parents were members of a fundamentalist sect, the Plymouth Brethren, and raised him in an atmosphere of repression and religious bigotry. He rebelled to such an extent that his mother started calling him 'the Beast', after the Antichrist.
Crowley was attracted to the occult at an early age, and was also fascinated by blood, torture, and sexual degradation. He studied at Trinity College at Cambridge but never earned a degree, instead devoting his time to writing poetry and studying occultism. In 1898, he joined the London chapter of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (HOGD) and quickly advanced to the highest grade in the Order.
After leaving Cambridge he named himself Count Vladimir and pursued his occult activities full time in London. Stories of bizarre incidents disseminated, perhaps fueled in part by Crowley's mesmerizing eyes and aura of supernatural power. Some individuals alleged to see a ghostly light surrounding him, which he said was his astral spirit. His flat was said to be permeated by an evil presence, and people who crossed him were said to suffer accidents.
Following his expulsion from the HOGD, Crowley traveled and delved into Eastern mysticism. He lived for a time at Boleskin Manor on the southern shore of Loch Ness in Scotland. He had an enormous sexual appetite, and his animal vitality and raw behavior attracted an unending stream of willing women. In 1903 he married Rose Kelly, the first of two wives, who bore him one child. He had a steady string of mistresses, and also tried fruitlessly to produce a child by magic, the efforts of which he fictionalized in a novel, Moonchild (1929).
In 1920, while driving through Italy, Crowley had a vision of a hillside villa. He found the place on Sicily, acquired it, and renamed it the Sacred Abbey of the Thelemic Mysteries. Envisioned as a magical colony, the villa served as the site for frequent sexual orgies and magical rites, many attended by his illegitimate children. The behavior led Benito Mussolini to expel Crowley from Italy in May 1923.
Crowley's later years were beset with poor health, drug addiction, and financial problems. He earned a meager living by publishing his writings. Much of his nonfiction is incoherent and jumbled, but continues to have an audience. In 1934, desperate for money, Crowley sued sculptress Nina Hammett for libel in her biography of him, Laughing Torso (1932), in which she stated that Crowley practiced black magic and indulged in human sacrifice. The testimony given at the trial so nauseated the judge and jury that the trial was stopped and the jury found in favor of Hammett.
In 1945 Crowley moved to a boarding house in Hastings, where he lived the last two years of his life, dissolute and bored. Crowley's published books include The Book of the Law (1904), Magick in Theory and Practice (1929) and The Book of Thoth (1944).
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Sources: (1) Shepard, Leslie (editor), Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, Thomson Gale; (2) Dictionary of the Occult, Caxton Publishing; (3) Steiger, Brad and Sherry Hansen, The Gale Encyclopedia of the Unusual and Unexplained, Thomson Gale.
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