Aleister Crowley, the protagonist of our issue today, is a figure shrouded in an aura of mystery still today. Also known as Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, Crowley was an influential English occultist, mystic, magician, poet and mountaineer, responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema.
Let’s try to shed some light on Crowley’s life, his relationship with many prominent celebrities in the music world and how he became a cult figure after his death on December 1, 1947.
Life of Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley, was born on 12 October 1875 in England.
Crowley’s father became an evangelist for the Plymouth Brethren, a nonconformist religious division. Young Crowley, however, formed an aversion to Christianity early in his life. As a student at Trinity College, Cambridge University, he began using the name Aleister.
In 1898 he left the university without graduating and the inheritance left by his father allowed him to travel extensively and organize the publication of his writings. His first book of poetry appeared in that very year, followed by numerous books.
Around that time, Crowley honed his cliff-climbing skills in Britain before taking part in pioneering attempts to climb Earth’s second and third highest mountains, K2 and Kanchenjunga.
Also in the same year, 1898, like many other 19th-century religious skeptics, Crowley became interested in occultism and joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization derived from the Rosicrucians. One of Crowley’s rivals within the London Golden Dawn group was poet William Butler Yeats. In recent years he also became interested in Tarot and this interest never disappeared, as we will see in the next paragraphs.
The birth of Thelema
During a visit to Egypt, 1904, Crowley reported having mystical experiences, which led him to write The Book of the Law, a prose poem that was dictated to him by a disembodied being called Aiwass. The Book of the Law is accepted as official writing by the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O), a mystical group of German origin.
In the Book of the Law, Crowley formulates his most famous teaching: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” This thought was not entirely new. The French author François Rabelais had expressed it more than 300 years earlier in Gargantua and Pantagruel – but Crowley made it the basis of a new religion called Thelema, (thelēma is the Greek word for “will”).
Thelema is an atheist and magical philosophy, which denies the existence of God and the Devil and states that “there is no other god but Man”. For Crowley, Satan becomes a symbol of the ego: rebellious against an authority he does not recognize, in search of freedom and space, in search of self-determination that can only be certified with the awareness of having the power to influence, if not to impose one’s will on others. In other words we speak of Ego Supremacy. And we can understand how this philosophy is married with our time, with Capitalism, with the idea of rock stars in the 70s and with the cult of success at any cost, including the loss of oneself, up to self-destruction. As we shall see, it happened with Crowley’s career and fortune while he was alive.
This religion is also characterized by holidays such as Crowley’s birthday, the two solstices and equinoxes. Crowley in creating Thelema was inspired by the theories of Friedrich Nietzsche, Eliphas Levi, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and James Frazer.
Aleister Crowley’s order
Around 1907 Crowley founded his own order, A∴A∴, using the initials that stood for the Latin words for “silver star”. We need to note two other cornerstones of Crowley’s philosophy: sexual magic and access to mystical ecstasy through the use of chemical and psychedelic means, rather than harsh spiritual exercises and grueling traditional practices. We can thus understand why the hippies, the flower power and the beat generation have counted him among their spiritual fathers.
A few years later, during the First World War, Crowley resided in the United States, where he collaborated with the pro-German newspaper The Fatherland.
Aleister Crowley, Cefalù and his last years
After the war he moved to Cefalù, Sicily, where he transformed a house into a sanctuary which he called the Abbey of Thelema. During this time he wrote Diary of a Drug Friend (1922), which was published as a novel, but was said to be based on his personal experience.
The death of a young follower in Sicily, presumably after participating in sacrilegious rites, led to Crowley’s denunciation in the British popular press as “the most evil man in the world” and his expulsion from Italy in 1923. Having exhausted his legacy among a thousand extravagances, Crowley returned to England in the early 1930s.
His last noteworthy achievement was the publication of the Book of Thoth (1944), in which he played a new deck of tarot cards, called Thoth, which he had designed in collaboration with artist Frieda Harris. It is not the first time that we talk about tarot in this blog, do you remember the Tarot Garden by Niki de Saint Phalle?
Crowley died in poverty and obscurity in an English pension in 1947 of chronic bronchitis aggravated by pleurisy and myocardial degeneration, after becoming the most famous wizard of the twentieth century. Scandals, excesses, sex and drugs had also driven him into oblivion before and after self-destruction.
After his death he became a fascinating figure in popular culture, due to his interest in magic, occultism and other practices, including (erroneously) Satanism.
Stay with us, we tell you in detail about Crowley’s influence on music. Obviously his legacy extends not only to this art, but for today we will only pull the “Crowleyan” rock stars out of the hat.
The influence of Aleister Crowley in the world of music
We begin to tell you about how popular Crowley is in music circles, especially rock, by showing you his face first, featured on the cover of the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Crowley is the top second from the left. We can also clarify the relationship between the Beatles and Crowley in a few paragraphs, because there is something more obscure than a visual quote.
We continue the tribute of music to Aleister Crowley talking about one of the major collectors of “Crowleyan” materials, Jimmy Page, of Led Zeppelin.
In various interviews Page clarified Crowley’s influence of Crowley on his music and on his life, defending him from his detractors.
“Crowley was pretty much misunderstood. His message was about personal liberation. He encouraged people to ask themselves what they really want from life, and pushed them to pursue that. For example, he wrote about gender equality, a shocking theme for his time. He did not wave a flag, but he knew that the women’s liberation movement was an inevitable phenomenon “.
Page also opened a bookstore, from 1973 to 1978, in London specializing in occult, magic and related texts. The chosen name was Equinox, like the editorial series edited by Crowley.
Speaking of collections, Page acquired in 1970 a manor previously owned by Crowley from 1897 to 1918 near Loch-Ness in Scotland, Boleskine House.
He also asked and obtained that two of Crowley’s phrases be written on the vinyl of the 1970 Led Zeppelin III album. About this, Page stated: “… I have inserted several connections to his work in my songs. I have always provided explicit references to the sources of my ideas. For example, in my imaginary sequence in The Song Remains the Same, I wanted to state clearly what was happening at that moment in my life, with reference to tarot cards and in search of the truth.
For the most superstitious we remember that from 1976 to 1980 a series of nefarious events hit the entire band, including a series of deaths: a member of the group, the wife of the tour administrator, a former member, Plant’s 5-year-old son and also John Bonham, leading to end of Led Zeppelin.
All David Bowie’s works are steeped in gnosticism, mysticism, esotericism, symbolism, religion, so much so that it is often accused of a satanist. Especially during the period of the White Duke, a particularly dark period in the artist’s life as emerges from Bowie’s autobiography: “I was immersed up to my neck in esoteric magic, but it was a really bad phase”.
But with respect to today’s protagonist he continues: (…) “I have not deepened Crowley, because he uses Greek too much. I always distrust those who say they are Crowley’s experts because, unless they have a good command of Greek and some Latin, they’re talking bullshit. ” The interviewer then reminds Bowie that he mentions Crowley in Quicksand. And Bowie says, “Yeah … Ha ha! Caught! Well that was before I tried to read it. Ha Ha! I had his autobiography in my raincoat. And that’s where the song came from. It was a subway reading.”
Ozzy Osbourne and Mr. Crowley
Mr. Crowley is a song composed by singer Ozzy Osbourne, along with Randy Rhoads and Bob Daisley. It was released on September 20, 1980 as a track on the Blizzard of Ozz album.
The anecdote about the birth of the song and the title holder was clarified by Ozzy himself in 1997: “I read several books about Aleister Crowley. He was a very strange guy and I always wanted to write a song about him. While we were recording Blizzard of Ozz, there was a Crowley-designed tarot deck lying around the recording studio. Well, one thing led to another and Mr. Crowley was born.
And here we read some verses of the song:
Mr. Crowley Won’t you ride my white horse?
Mr. Crowley It’s symbolic, of course
Approaching a time that is classic
I hear that maiden’s call
Approaching a time that is drastic
Standing with their backs to the wall
Was it polemically sent?
I wanna know what you meant I wanna know
I wanna know what you meant, yeah!
For the record we must add that Randy Rhoads, one of the most influential heavy metal guitarists in rock history will die 2 years after the release of the album at just 25 years old in a plane crash.
Marilyn Manson claimed to have been “obsessed” with Crowley, even though the British occultist’s theories were mediated by the satanist Anton La Vey before arriving to Manson. This could be another reason why Crowley is mistakenly associated with Satanism.
Bruce Dickinson, singer of Iron Maiden, has always counted Crowley as one of his myths, so much so that he collaborated on the script of a documentary produced in 2007 and focused on his figure, The Chemical Wedding.
Staying on the subject of rock icons, Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is a Crowley fan, apparently initiated by underground director Kenneth Anger. The director had commissioned Jimmy Page to write the Lucifer Rising soundtrack in 1967, although it later involved Jagger himself and a certain Bobby Beausoleil. There were artistic problems between Page and Anger and in the end it was Beausoleil who wrote the music from behind bars. The charge for the uninitiated was voluntary murder. The murder was one of those perpetrated by the (Charles) Manson Family and Beausoleil was one of the adepts.
Last but not least the Death SS who dedicated an entire album to him, Do What Thou Wilt.
We conclude the excursus on Aleister Crowley’s influence by talking to you about the Dakota Building. The Dakota was included in the list of historic buildings in New York in 1972 and was declared a National Monument in 1976. Some legends have been created around the building that have fueled its reputation as a cursed place and which involve today’s protagonist .
In 1918, the year Aleister Crowley left Boleskine House and moved to America, he stayed on Manhattan’s Upper West Side right at the Dakota. Here he led the magical evocations, called Amalantrah Operations which were part of the so-called Great Work, that is, the voluntary cultivation of spiritual growth. The purpose of the invocations, by Crowley’s own admission, was to open an interdimensional portal that would allow him to enter other planes of existence and encounter beings from other dimensions.
One of the beings who appeared to Crowley through this portal was called LAM, although it should be considered as a generic non-personal entity. The face immortalized by the magician in a drawing bears a striking resemblance to today’s popular concept of “gray alien” so similar to those same creatures that John Lennon had seen in his room, inside the Dakota Building, at night, a few months before being killed by Chapman on December 8, 1980.
The building was also chosen as the film setting by Roman Polanski for his 1968 horror masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby.
Charles Manson, the instigator of the murder of Sharon Tate in 1969, would have declared that he was inspired by the Beatles song Helter Skelter taken from the Sergent Pepper album which, we told you earlier, had Crowley on its cover.
It almost seems that Crowley, since his passage to the Dakota in 1918, has accompanied some “residents” with a curse, generating the doubt that there is more than the official news. For the unofficial news maybe we will reserve a separate article!
We will never know what the truth is, but what fascinated Crowley first of all , and then the plethora of artists who were inspired by him remains the same: the search for the occult, the obscure, what is not visible to most part of the people. But, above all, the charm of believing in oneself and in one’s power remains: something that, like the occult and obscure, is not visible to most people.