I can’t tell you how many interviews I saw with Keith Olbermann back when he did the Worst Person in the World segment where he felt the need to point out that these people weren’t REALLY the worst in the world. Apparently some people couldn’t figure that out themselves. I bring this up because today’s post is about a guy whom the press deemed “the wickedest man in the world,” despite the fact that he was a contemporary of Adolf Hitler. I’m talking about this guy in the funny hat:
Edward Alexander Crowley, who went by “Aleister” so he wouldn’t have to share his father’s name and because it fit some mystical pattern that he saw in famous names, is perhaps the most famous occultist in recent history. Having grown up in a straight-laced, well-to-do Christian household (although their money was from a brewery, which doesn’t sound quite so straight-laced to me), he rebelled against his upbringing, becoming a skeptic and a hedonist. It’s generally agreed that his motto, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” (apparently based partially on the works of Francois Rabelais, which I really do need to research; anyone know of good translations for the Pantagruel books?) is not simply blanket permission to do whatever the hell you want, but Crowley was nonetheless quite keen on indulging his urges. According to this biographical sketch, he lost his virginity at fourteen, and contracted gonorrhea from a prostitute at seventeen. So was he really as wicked as advertised? Well, he was a drug addict, notoriously antisemitic, and apparently regarded women as secondary to men. He was also said to have tortured cats in his youth. Interestingly, he was vehemently anti-abortion, which came as kind of a surprise to me. For the most part, though, I think he was kind of a dork who knew how to push people’s buttons and reveled in the attention, sort of like Marilyn Manson. Come to think of it, both of them were involved with women named Rose. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. Anyway, Crowley was in the chess club in college, so I have to suspect he was a nerd.
While skeptical of traditional religion, Crowley had no problem creating his own religion, Thelema, which is sort of a hodge-podge of different occult beliefs. Really, that’s basically the occult in general, isn’t it? Thelema includes elements of Egyptian mythology, Yoga, and Kabbalah. Crowley considered himself the prophet of the new age, the Aeon of Horus. He also claimed to be a Freemason, but he was apparently never an official member. In addition to his influence on occultism, Crowley also inspired several rock musicians, and was apparently the originator of spelling “magic” with a K at the end.