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?
What or Who do Thelemites Worship?
One of the core tenets of Thelema is that it is syncretic and more philosophical than religious. Crowley was famous for telling Thelemites to take the core truth from all belief systems, while removing the unnecessary, no matter how appealing or seemingly perfect one ideology may be.
His doctrines stemmed from his studies under the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and incorporated elements of Jewish Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Buddhism, and Vedic philosophy. These underpinnings led to his famous associations with the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) and the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (EGC), which is also why Thelema has been relevant to disparate worldviews, including occultists, alchemists, and yogis.
Crowley’s entire philosophy centered on the idea that one should live, love, and exist exactly as they wanted without following the oppressive dictates of any central authority, but while also bearing the consequences of one’s actions.
With that sentiment one might see Thelema as having no direct ties to any one religion or group, though much of its imagery and inspiration stems from ancient Egyptian deities and cosmology.
Crowley’s divine pantheon of Thelema came through a channeled entity called Aiwass; an ambassador of the Egyptian deity Horus. Aiwass came to Crowley and his wife Rose when he attempted to perform a ritual in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid, before Rose fell into a trance and began repeating “they are waiting for you.”
Crowley was instructed to take dictation at a later hour where he channeled The Book of the Law, a.k.a. the Liber AL vel Legis.
Nuit was the high goddess of Thelema and narrator of its edicts, depicted in the form of a star-spangled naked woman. Nuit represents potentiality in its essence in this physical plane and beyond.
The male counterpart to Nuit is Hadit, who symbolizes the central core of everything. Hadit is described as the unique point in everything; “the flame that burns in the heart of every man and in the core of every star.” Hadit is depicted as a winged disk of the sun.
Beyond these two primary deities were Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Hoor-paar-kraat, and several others, along with a number of now recognized symbols and numbers representing Thelemic magick. Many of these became misconstrued with Satanism, often due to Crowley’s ironic embrace of such negative attention.
Crowley as a British Spy?
While some historians view Crowley’s antics as a contrived attempt to stick out and leave a legacy for Thelema, some believe he may have used it to cover his tracks working as a spook for English intelligence agencies.
This idea was explored in Richard B. Spence’s investigative biography Secret Agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence and the Occult. In the book Spence examines documents from English, French, American and Italian archives, finding that Crowley likely played a role in many intel operations including the sinking of the Lusitania and plots to overthrow foreign governments.
These accounts have been debated, though it’s widely acknowledged that Crowley’s influence during WWII reached the highest ranks of English government in the form of the “V for victory” gesture. Picked up by the BBC and Churchill himself, the gesture has maintained its dominance in politics since, and was considered by Crowley to be a magick counter to the Nazi swastika.
And even in years prior there is evidence of Crowley’s involvement in international politics, most notably seen in 1914, when he moved to New York and began writing for The Fatherland, a German propagandist publication that tried to keep the U.S. neutral during WWI. Crowley wrote articles for the paper that were absurdly exaggerated and intended to make the Germans appear fanatical and silly.
It’s believed this faux charisma and Crowley’s undercover persona played a large role in hyping the false flag Lusitania attack which subsequently encouraged the U.S. to become involved in the war as England’s ally.
A List of Famous Thelemites
Though Crowley passed away in 1947, his influence continues today and was highly influential to a number of famous musicians, philosophers, occultists and luminaries. Though some only dabbled in Thelema, renouncing it later or losing interest, others indefinitely incorporated his laws into their lives. Below is a short list of famous Thelemites one might recognize today:
- David Bowie
“I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
I’m not a prophet or a stone age man
Just a mortal with potential of a superman”
- The Beatles
“The whole Beatle idea was to do what you want, right? To take your own responsibility.” – John Lennon
- Robert Anton Wilson
It comes as no surprise that Robert Anton Wilson, the pope of Discordianism, would have ascribed to similar beliefs as Crowley. After all, the tenets of Discordianism hold that there is order, disorder, and the notion they are both illusory. In that case, “Do what thou wilt” seems to make a lot of sense.
- Timothy Leary
Leary’s “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out” certainly took some inspiration from the countercultural movements and boundary pushing pioneered by Crowley. Leary even believed himself to be a “continuation” of Crowley after pulling the Ace of Disks from Crowley’s “Thoth Tarot Deck.”
- Jack Parsons
Founder of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and modern day rocket science, Jack Parsons was also a devout follower of Aleister Crowley and the Law of Thelema. Parsons is said to have invoked Crowley’s Hymn to Pan – the god of fertility – before conducting rocket experiments.
- Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page
Page is said to have been fascinated with Crowley and the Ordo Templi Orientis, and in 1970 purchased Crowley’s former home, the Boleskine House, on Loch Ness in Scotland.
Though most continue to describe Crowley and his followers as members of a Satanic cult, these descriptions ignore the true nature of Thelema and Crowley’s intent with the esoteric. But if one digs a little deeper they’ll find a man ahead of his time, who attempted to push the boundaries of individual social freedom.
And in doing so, a man who embraced the puritanical and conservative shunning of his unique worldview, by accepting monikers like “the Beast” and “666” to attract attention for what may have been any number of reasons, except the one that seemed most obvious.
For more on the misunderstood life of Aleister Crowley, check out this episode of Beyond Belief with Lon Milo Duquette: