Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Writer in the World
Known as “the wickedest man in the world,” English occultist and author Aleister Crowley actively embraced and contributed to his own notoriety. He delighted in shaking up social status quos, and used his infamy to draw a veil over, and at the same time draw attention to his esoteric work.
Crowley (b. 1875) died in 1947, leaving 61 books, some published during his lifetime — others published posthumously in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Crowley’s books enjoyed a revival, and Crowley himself achieved cult status during the expanding consciousness revolution beginning in the late 1960s.
Crowley was a prolific writer, and during his life wrote about the Qaballa, yoga, and the “Goetia,” attributed to the biblical King Solomon. He also penned commentaries on Thoth, “the Tarot of the Egyptians,” and the esoteric use of drugs to name but a few.
Crowley the Drug Fiend
The 1922 novel, “Diary of a Drug Fiend” was, according to Crowley, “A true story, rewritten to conceal personalities.” In his quest to understand the influence of different types of drugs on the mind, Crowley was captured by heroin, documenting that struggle in “Diary of a Drug Fiend.” He also experimented with and wrote about psychoactive substances, including absinthe (The Green Goddess, 1917), hashish (The Psychology of Hashish, 1909), and cocaine (Cocaine, 1917). Crowley also published “A Pharmaceutical Study of Cannabis Sativa” by E.P. Whineray in his March, 1909 issue of his journal The Equinox.
Ever in search of peak experiences, epiphanies, and absolute insight, Crowley advocated incorporating drug use into all magickal ceremonies, demonstrating his drive to experience expanded consciousness by any means necessary. He believed that the use of these substances would succeed where religion and science had failed to solve the rubric of the true nature of reality.
Published in 1929, “The Moonchild” was another work of fiction based on actual people and events. Characters based on the famous and infamous of the time were given fictitious names — Dancer Isadora Duncan appeared as Lavinia King, and inventor of the Rider-Waite tarot, A.E. Waite, appeared as Arthwaite.
The work is the story of a war between dark and light magicians over an unborn child imbued with a special soul — the moonchild. The book embraces the WWI geopolitics of the time — in the end, the white magicians become associated with the Allied forces and the dark sorcerers affiliate with the “Central Powers.”
Thelema and the Book of the Law
While Crowley was a prolific writer and commentator, it was the mystery religion Thelema that he viewed as his most significant legacy. Adherents were known as “thelemites,” and their “bible” was “The Book of the Law.” Famously, the fundamental message of Thelema was, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” The only modifier was “Love is the law, love under will.”
The Thelemic concept of “true will” in the context of “Do what thou wilt” was seen as the impulse and drive created by inborn destiny; the blueprint of the divine. The goal was to defeat and eliminate habitual unconsciousness, false perceptions and desires, and any other distractions from the divine will within. Crowley sought a method to discover a child’s true will at the time of birth, believing that if this was accomplished, it was a simple thing to establish a “correct” social order based on divine will.
Crowley stated that the Book of the Law was dictated by an entity named Aiwass, but Nuit, Hadid, and Ra-hoor-Khuit appear to give dictation as well. Later, Crowley asserted that Aiwass was, in actuality, his “Holy Guardian Angel.”
The Holy Guardian Angel
Crowley’s Holy Guardian Angel (HGA) is borrowed from Catholicism — one Catholic prayer reads,
“Dear angel at my side, you have been with me since I was born.
You are my own personal guardian given me by God as my guide and protector.”
The HGA is mentioned again in a German 15th century ceremonial magic text written by Abraham of Worms, known as a Cabalist. Later the text, titled “The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage,” was translated by members of the Order of the Golden Dawn — Crowley had been a member prior to founding his own Order of Thelema.
When Crowley left the Golden Dawn, he took the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel with him, embracing it as, “The central and essential work of the magician.” As far as he was concerned, to meet the HGA was to also have clear insight into one’s predestined “will.” Crowley sought “knowledge and conversation” with the HGA, and taught that it could take a lifetime of work to discover and communicate with the HGA.
Crowley believed that the complex methods of reaching the HGA from the Abramelin the Mage text were overly intricate and time-consuming, although he admitted that his methods were devised to “intoxicate and anaesthetize him [the practitioner] so that he may not feel and resent the agony of this spiritual vivisection.” He gave his instructions for contacting the HGA in his work “Magick Without Tears.”
Some have likened Crowley’s HGA to the daimon of Greek mythology — a guiding spirit that brought a protective presence. To Plato, daimons were spirits that watched over their human, corresponding to the idea of a higher self.
Aleister Crowley's Famous Thelemites and a Misunderstood Magick
“Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the Law.” Those were the words Aleister Crowley opened every letter with, whether writing to one of his famous Thelemites, or just his wife. The words are the foundation of the Law of Thelema, his esoteric, spiritual philosophy that was, to some a religion, and to others the antithesis.
To this day, there are few, if any, occult personalities who had the same impact on modern culture as Crowley. And fewer who became so vilified or misrepresented, even if those dark denunciations may have been intentionally incited and embraced.
But what was Thelema and the occult belief system Crowley cultivated? Why was it so controversial and who were the Thelemites who became devotees to the teachings of the “wickedest man in the world?” And even more intriguing, was Crowley’s embrace of this “evil” persona a façade to hide a career as a British intelligence agent?