"Upholding all, an arm whose falchion flings, with every flash a new-fledged Soul of Things; Beholding all, with eyes whose flashes flood, the veins of their own universe, with blood; Absorbing all, each myriad mouth aflame, to utter the unutterable Name" MoonChild, Chapter XX: Walpurgis-Night.
Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley, also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, was an influential English occultist, mystic, ceremonial magician, poet and mountaineer, who was responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema.
In his role as the founder of the Thelemite philosophy, he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in the early 20th century.
Born into a wealthy upper class family, as a young man he became an influential member of the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn after befriending the order's leader, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Subsequently believing that he was being contacted by his Holy Guardian Angel, an entity known as Aiwass, while staying in Egypt in 1904, he "received" a text known as The Book of the Law from what he believed was a divine source, and around which he would come to develop his new philosophy of Thelema. He would go on to found his own occult society, the A∴A∴ and eventually rose to become a leader of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), before founding a religious commune in Cefalù known as the Abbey of Thelema, which he led from 1920 through till 1923. After abandoning the Abbey amid widespread opposition, Crowley returned to Britain, where he continued to promote Thelema until his death.
Crowley was also bisexual, a recreational drug experimenter and a social critic. In many of these roles he "was in revolt against the moral and religious values of his time", espousing a form of libertinism based upon the rule of "Do What Thou Wilt". Because of this, he gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, and was denounced in the popular press of the day as "the wickedest man in the world".
Crowley has remained an influential figure and is widely thought of as the most influential occultist of all time. In 2002, a BBC poll described him as being the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time. References to him can be found in the works of numerous writers, musicians and filmmakers, and he has also been cited as a key influence on many later esoteric groups and individuals, including Kenneth Grant, Jack Parsons, Gerald Gardner, Robert Anton Wilson and, to some degree, Austin Osman Spare.
Edward Alexander Crowley was born at 30 Clarendon Square in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, between 11:00pm and midnight on October 12, 1875. His father, Edward Crowley, was trained as an engineer but according to Aleister, never worked as one. He did, however, own shares in a lucrative family brewery business, which allowed him to retire before Aleister was born. Through his father's business he was an acquaintance of Aubrey Beardsley. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop, drew roots from a Devon and Somerset family. Both of his parents were Exclusive Brethren, a more conservative faction of the Plymouth Brethren. Crowley grew up in a staunch Brethren household and was only allowed to play with children whose families followed the same faith. His father was a fanatical preacher, travelling around Britain and producing pamphlets. Daily Bible studies and private tutoring were mainstays in "Alick's" childhood.
On February 29, 1880, a sister, Grace Mary Elizabeth, was born but lived only five hours. Crowley was taken to see the body and in his own words (in the third person):
The incident made a curious impression on him. He did not see why he should be disturbed so uselessly. He couldn't do any good; the child was dead; it was none of his business. This attitude continued through his life. He has never attended any funeral but that of his father, which he did not mind doing, as he felt himself to be the real centre of interest.
On March 5, 1887, his father died of tongue cancer. This was a turning point in Crowley's life, after which he then began to describe his childhood in the first person in his Confessions.
After the death of his father to whom he was very close, he drifted from his religious upbringing, and his mother's efforts at keeping her son in the Christian faith only served to provoke his scepticism. When he was a child, his constant rebellious behaviour displeased his mother to such an extent that she would chastise him by calling him "The Beast" (from the Book of Revelation), an epithet that Crowley would later adopt for himself. He objected to the labelling of what he saw as life's most worthwhile and enjoyable activities as "sinful".
Aleister Crowley died in a Hastings boarding house on 1 December 1947 at the age of 72. According to one biographer the cause of death was a respiratory infection. He had become addicted to heroin after being prescribed morphine for his asthma and bronchitis many years earlier. He and his last doctor died within 24 hours of each other; newspapers would claim, in differing accounts, that Dr. Thomson had refused to continue his opiate prescription and that Crowley had put a curse on him... Read more here.
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