Creepy Crowley

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.

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12 Responses to Creepy Crowley

  1. N says:

    It’s generally agreed that his motto, “Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”…is not simply blanket permission to do whatever the hell you want

    Thank you for this. I get tired of explaining that to people.

  2. vilajunkie says:

    Crowley choose his magic(k)al name through the letters in his full name adding up to 666 in Ancient Greek numerology. He also called himself “The Great Beast” (aka Satan or one of the Apocalyptic Beasts, which represent Satan/the Antichrist anyway), that in the Greek language is Megatherion, again adding up to 666 in Ancient Greek numerology. He also wrote The Book of Thoth and designed the Thoth Tarot (derived from the Golden Dawn Tarot but altered to fit his theology). But why Thoth and not Horus? Thoth was combined with his counterpart Hermes in later magic and alchemy systems as Hermes Trismegistis, who supposedly wrote the Emerald Tablet, which is described as basically “The Study Guide to the Questions and Answers of Life, the Universe, and Everything: The Ultimate Edition”. Kinda like Glinda’s Book of Records I guess. The whole point of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was discovering and translating the Emerald Tablet. And since Crowley eventually became a rival of the Golden Dawn, I assume he figured he could find it before they did.

    There are probably more rumors and urban legends about Crowley than even the JFK Assassination Conspiracy–most of them started by Crowley himself of course.

    Project Gutenberg has a copy of all five books about Pantagruel:
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1200/1200-h/1200-h.htm

    (Disclaimer: Rabelais was making more of a raunchy satire than a record of “true” legends about Pantagruel and Gargantua. Be prepared for the kind of humor in the “National Lampoon” movies.)

    • Nathan says:

      The Wikipedia page on Crowley also mentions something he said about liking “Aleister” because it has a dactyl followed by a spondee. Not that I’m really sure what that means. “Spondee” always makes me think of spongecake.

      I’ll be sure to check out the Pantagruel books at some point. Were he and Gargantua legendary characters before Rabelais wrote about them?

      • vilajunkie says:

        Dactyl and spondee are terms used in poetry and certain plays like those by Shakespeare for determining the pauses and inflection of the words when spoken in front of an audience. That’s probably one of the reasons why Shakespeare “fails” to get people’s attention these days; not many people know how to read the lines in the plays in the way he intended them to be performed on stage.

        Pantagruel was a giant in French, Spanish, and Portuguese legends that sound a lot like the legends of Paul Bunyan (and therefore probably more fictional than mythological). Gargantua is a giant from some of the British Jack the Giant-Killer tales (yes, the Jack who went up the beanstalk), but I’ve only seen him mentioned in books that make the tales more like chapters than individual stories, so these may be entirely fictional and not part of folklore either. The “real” Jack tales are found in legends from Cornwall and from the Cornish immigrants who settled in the Appalachian Mountains.

  3. Just curious, can you tell me what sources you got your biography of Crowley from? Was there any particular book or documentary?

    I’ve read Gargantua & Pantagruel by Rabelais – The passages about the “Abbey of Thelema” are described in about three pages of the whole text. The rest of the book consists of a lot of social satire and physical(i.e. bodily function) humor from what I recall.

    • Nathan says:

      The Crowley stuff was from Internet sources that I found with a quick search. I usually don’t do a whole lot of research for my posts, but I do try to double-check on the parts that sound weird.

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