A post requested by Piglet.
Born Edward Alexander Crowley, Aleister Crowley was a British writer, occultist and mystic with interests such as chess player, mountain climber, poet, painter, astrologer, hedonist, drug experimenter, and social critic. His father Edward Crowley maintained a lucrative family brewery business while his mother drew roots from a Devon and Somerset family. Both were Exclusive Brethren, a radical wing of the Plymouth Brethren. He was raised strictly in the Christian faith which provoked his skepticism.
In 1895, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, after schooling at the public schools Malvern College and Tonbridge School, and originally had the intention of reading Moral Sciences (philosophy, psychology, and economics), but switched to English literature. His three years at Cambridge were happy ones, due in part to considerable fortune left by his father.
In December of 1896, following an event that he describes in veiled terms, Crowley decided to pursue a path in occultism and mysticism and began reading books by alchemists and mystics and books on magic. During the year of 1897, Aleister further came to see worldly pursuits as useless. A brief illness triggered considerations of mortality and "the futility of all human endeavor," or at least of the diplomatic career that Crowley had previously considered. He published Aceldama, a book of poetry and left Cambridge. He then met Julian L. Baker who introduced him to Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers (who would later become his enemy) and the Golden Dawn.
Involved as a young adult in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he first studied mysticism and made enemies of William Butler Yeats and Arthur Edward Waite, who were also members. Like many in occult circles of the time, Crowley voiced the view that Waite was a pretentious bore through searing critiques of Waite's writings and editorials of other authors' writings. In his periodical The Equinox, Crowley titled one diatribe, "Wisdom While You Waite", and his note on the passing of Waite bore the title, "Dead Waite".
Several decades after Crowley's participation in the Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers claimed copyright protection over a particular ritual and sued Crowley for infringement after Crowley's public display of the ritual. While the public trial continued, both Mathers and Crowley claimed to call forth armies of demons and angels to fight on behalf of their summoner. I wonder which was which. Both also developed and carried complex Seal of Solomon amulets and talismans.
While he did not officially break with Mathers until 1904, Crowley lost faith in this teacher's abilities soon after the 1900 schism in the Golden Dawn (if not before). Later in the year, Crowley travelled to Mexico and continued his magical studies in isolation where he supposedly discovered the word Abrahadabra.
Crowley said that a mystical experience in 1904, while on holiday in Cairo, Egypt, led to his founding of the religious philosophy known as Thelema. This religion existed long before Aleister Crowley in different forms, but he revived it when he dictated the words from a voice who he thought to be Aiwass or Horus. The text became known as The Book of the Law. He took Thelema as the name of the philosophical, mystical and religious system which he subsequently developed, which includes ideas from occultism, Yoga, and both Eastern and Western mysticism (especially the Qabalah).
Alesiter and his wife Rose had a daughter, whom Crowley named Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith Crowley, in July of 1904. This child died in 1906, during the two and a half months when Crowley had left her with Rose (after a family trip through China). They had another daughter, Lola Zaza, in the summer of that year, and Crowley devised a special ritual of thanksgiving for her birth. Aleister and Rose divorced in 1909.
Crowley was notorious in his lifetime — a frequent target of attacks in the tabloid press, which labelled him "The Wickedest Man in the World". At one point, he was expelled from Italy after having established a commune with Leah Hirsig, the organization of which was based on his personal philosophies, the Abbey of Thelema, at Cefalù, Sicily.
The name was borrowed from Rabelais's satire Gargantua, where the "Abbey of Theleme" is described as a sort of anti-monastery where the lives of the inhabitants were "spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure". This idealistic utopia was to be the model of Crowley's commune, while also being a type of magical school, giving it the designation "Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum", The College of the Holy Spirit. The general program was in line with the course of training, and included daily adorations to the Sun, a study of Crowley's writings, regular yogic and ritual practices (which were to be recorded), as well as general domestic labor. The object, naturally, was for students to devote themselves to the Great Work of discovering and manifesting their True Wills.
To Be Continued...