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Meher Baba and Yazd The Kundalini Phenomenon Aleister Crowley


Aleister Crowley in Golden Dawn costume


1.      Introduction

2.      Israel  Regardie

3.      Biographer John Symonds

4.      Attitude to Women   

5.      Magick, Drugs, and Yoga

6.      First  Marriage and Victor Neuburg

7.      Peyote  and Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)

8.      Secret  Agent  666 and Nietzsche

9.      The Abbey of Thelema and Heroin

10.    Sexual Magick and Complications

11.    Bankruptcy and Hitler

12.    Lectures on Yoga

13.    Last Years

14.    Crowley's Drug Addiction



1.  Introduction

The magician Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) is a controversial figure. It is not necessary to regard him as the most wicked man in the world (a 1920s stigma). However, he was definitely not a charity. The self-declared Beast became fashionable amongst rock musicians from 1967 onwards (Lachman 2014). John Lennon suggested an image of Crowley for a well known "psychedelic" album cover that started fanmania. The Beatles knew little about the Great Beast 666.

Biographies of Crowley vary from those of the critical John Symonds to apologist versions (certain of which do contain extra factual detail). His drug addiction has been elevated by enthusiasts to the status of a surpassing countercultural achievement. His very numerous sexual relationships are viewed by admirers as a magical accomplishment, rather than any form of excess.

The strangely ambiguous admissions of flawed behaviour are perhaps encapsulated in a comment of Colin Wilson (1931-2013): "It is true that he [Crowley] could be an extremely nasty man, that he was totally self-centred, nursed lifelong grudges, and had a sadistic sense of humour. But, as he once told Frank Harris, he was, for all his 'rottenness,' a great magician" (Wilson 1988).

Another format of admission reads: "His selfishness, when it came to the treatment of his various mistresses and pupils, or his sloth, are not pretty sights, but, then, he did not intend his Diaries for publication" (Skinner 1999:xi). The ugly sights appear in diaries maintained for many years until Crowley's death. "In the Diaries, we see Crowley valiantly recording both his bad trips and his good trips - in his case using cocaine, ether, and heroin" (ibid). A claim which has annoyed some critics is the partisan attribution to Crowley of a scientific approach, deemed to be exhibited in the disconcerting diaries and some of his books.

One partisan biography was forthright in describing the subject as "a shameless scoffer at Christian virtue, a spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family who embodied many of the worst John Bull racial and social prejudices of his upper class contemporaries, a blisteringly arrogant opportunist who took financial and psychological advantage of his admirers, a sensualist who relished sex in all forms, a hubristic experimenter in drugs who was addicted to heroin for the last 25 years of his life" (Sutin 2000:2).

2. Israel Regardie

The fame of Crowley was facilitated via (a) the elevation created by Israel Regardie, and (b) Colin Wilson’s qualified promotion of “the Beast.” Wilson referred to Crowley as a mountebank, but stated that this figure “deserves serious consideration” (Wilson 1971:400). A noticeable difference between these two supporters is that Regardie was averse to the early biographer John Symonds, whereas Wilson regarded the predecessor as relevant. 

Israel Regardie

The American occultist Israel Regardie (1907-1985), as a young man of twenty-one, became Crowley’s secretary in 1928. He initially witnessed a scene in Paris, at the end of an introductory meal, when Crowley pounced on his latest mistress Kasimira and commenced sexual intercourse (Wilson 1971:426). After several years, Regardie distanced himself from Crowley, whom he came to regard as “the nasty, petty, vicious louse that occasionally he was” (Wilson 1987:12). Some accounts are very abbreviated.

Upon request, the young Regardie gave Crowley his entire savings of 1200 dollars. The magus spent this donation on champagne and brandy; he was accustomed to followers paying for his consumption. The disciple remained frustrated that Crowley did not teach him magic. Crowley was only interested in a homosexual relationship, and is said to have raped his young male secretary. Regardie later divulged this detail to his associate Chris Monnastre. The belated report dates to 2017, and informs: "Regardie was so harmed by his relationship with Crowley, that it took him years to recover, led him to psychotherapy, and ultimately to become a Reichian therapist himself."

When the Beast became bankrupt in 1934, he could no longer afford Regardie as his secretary, and closed the connection. The details are obscure. Regardie was very offended and disillusioned. Many years afterwards, the estranged disciple chose to view Crowley as “a great mystic,” and was influential in his aversion to the Symonds biography. Crowley became very popular in the late 1960s amongst psychedelic enthusiasts like Timothy Leary. Regardie then presented Crowley as a talented mystical precursor of the psychedelic era. Colin Wilson implied opportunism in this portrayal. 

Regardie was now a Reichian therapist, and believed to be an occult adept. His apologism appeared in three influential books, including his introduction to a new edition of Stephensen's The Legend of Aleister Crowley (1930), a vintage work which countered press attacks of the 1920s. Regardie's The Eye in the Triangle (1970) is an interpretation of Crowley, to some extent countering the Symonds version, which now became unpopular. The predominant impression conveyed to uncritical readers is that Regardie was the American disciple of a great British mystic. A recent analyst has pointed to the romantic nature of Regardie’s retrospective publicity in Roll Away the Stone (1968): 

Throughout his discussion, his estimation of Crowley is almost entirely lacking in critical distance and, indeed, approaches hagiography. For example, not only does he [Regardie] claim that his [Crowley’s] “fine classical and scientific education at Cambridge” (omitting to mention that he failed to complete his studies) and “his mountaineering exploits” equipped him to “tackle the problem of psychedelic drugs” (how, he does not say), but he goes on to insist that: “Crowley was an experimental mystic of the highest magnitude. He had practiced yoga and magical techniques assiduously for many years until he had achieved a thoroughgoing mastery over both Eastern and Western methods. All of these rare skills were eventually brought to bear on his experimentation with a variety of drugs.” Moreover, Crowley’s writings, he claims, “bear witness, and provide massive evidence of, his objective and scientific attitude to the whole process.” This is actually very far from being the case. (Partridge 2016:151 note 10) 

The Crowley myth has misled numerous readers. The self-designated Beast constructed “a magical system out of his Golden Dawn and OTO experiences, and in particular out of his own sexual tastes and obsessions” (Symonds 1989:431).

3.  Biographer John Symonds

John Symonds

A sober source is John Symonds (1914-2006), the British literary executor of Crowley. This author actually met the Beast. Symonds made many critical observations which contradict more glamorous or condoning preferences. For instance, "there was no love or kindness in Aleister Crowley" (Symonds 1989:x). Partisans of the magician have reacted to Symonds as a negative biographer. The issue is accuracy. Symonds cannot be dismissed because he was critical of his subject.

The occultist Israel Regardie effectively wanted to bury Symonds, an alien to the magical network. The Eye in the Triangle (1970) counters emphases and omissions of Symonds, whom Regardie saw as a major rival. In his Introduction to Stephensen's Legend, the abused secretary of the Beast described the first Symonds book on Crowley (The Great Beast, 1951) as "a malicious contemptible piece crammed with deliberate misrepresentation." The desire of magicians was for magical eulogy, or hagiography. Symonds was not a magician, a basic point of difference. This does not mean that he was malicious. The hippy era American market was not ripe for a conservative British author whose first book on Crowley appeared only four years after decease of the magical hero. Crowley apologists have since mocked that early presentation.

Regardie did not disclose, in print, what really happened when he was secretary and lover to the magician (whom he is said to have privately described in terms of sodomising his associates). This convenient reticence may amount to a substantial misrepresentation. Romanticism now invested the unrepressed Beast with surpassing characteristics in the new age of Reichian therapy. In Eye, Regardie praised the "colossal genius" of Crowley.

Symonds is not the last word on some factual episodes amplified in other sources. He is certainly not definitive on every point. Nevertheless, he is remarkable for a realistic portrayal that can strike readers as being refreshingly different from the enthusiast literature. The "Crowley hagiographies" are regarded with much caution by critics. Symonds was not a hagiographer or an apologist. For instance, this forthright commentator wrote of Crowley: "He would never admit to any failing; he did not see that he was in any way at fault. It was always the fault of the other person, whom he described in the vilest way" (Symonds 1989:viii).

The critic wrote of late 1920s Crowley: "He was in ill shape and ill health generally; his reputation for infidelity was notorious; with his drugged stare and fumes of ether [ethyl oxide], which announced his presence, he looked like the Wanderer of the Waste. He was obviously incapable of love as the word is generally understood" (ibid:461).

The above quote is one of those attesting that Symonds was not a drug advocate. Crowley believed in ether as a medium for magical visualisation. He sniffed that substance from a flask. Ether can cause hallucinations. The use of ethyl oxide can also create a sweet odour lasting for 24 hours or more. Medical dangers are potentially involved for users.

In contrast to Symonds, the far less restrained Regardie claimed that Crowley would have greeted LSD as "the drug of choice." This contention appeared in his Roll Away the Stone (1968). We need not doubt that Regardie participated in the psychedelic explosion of the 1960s. He applauded Crowley's integration of drugs into a magical system. He argued for the convergence of Crowley with both Timothy Leary and Aldous Huxley. The Leary mania proved disastrous in many instances. Regardie is still very influential, and in America has completely eclipsed Symonds. The Beast clearly relied extensively upon drugs for his "magical" and "mystical" experiences. Some critics describe him as a complete stranger to authentic mystical experiences.

The biography by John Symonds

4.  Attitude to Women

Born in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, Crowley was an upper middle class Englishman who never did any work. His father Edward (d.1887) was one of the gentry, receiving income from property and dividends. This pater had shares in the family brewery, and also the railway. An Anglican clergyman, Edward became a member of the evangelical Plymouth Brethren. He preached to crowds on walking tours throughout the country (Kaczynski 2010:10-13). He was idolised by his son and died when the boy was twelve. Aleister underwent a phase of emotional upset at the pater’s decease.

The affluent family had four servants (ibid:15). Aleister was not well disposed to his mother, being “normally aloof toward her, regarding her as just another one of the servants” (ibid). His class consciousness and masculine complex were evidently quite pronounced. Emily Crowley (1848-1917) was the daughter of a farmer. The adult Aleister Crowley is known to have described her as a "brainless bigot" (Lachman 2014:24).

The youthful Crowley seduced a parlour maid on his mother’s bed. The servant afterwards complained that he had taken advantage of her, but was dismissed by her employers. Aleister denied the accusation, contriving a story that he had been visiting the local tobacco shop with schoolmates who had led him astray (Kaczynski 2010:25). This episode has been described as “a victory over religious oppression” (ibid), a reductionist verdict of the partisan literature. In Britain, there was a huge social gulf between servants and gentry; the menials were too easily abused by their superiors.

The seduced maid was apparently left on the streets, or soon reduced to that predicament. Crowley said that she became a prostitute. This is very feasible. Working class girls could face disaster in such situations. Even in subsequent decades, young models in Europe too often became prostitutes, and some resorted to suicide.

The boy of wealthy background liked to play games of “aristocrats,” in which he and his chums would scheme against less privileged children they called “cads.” More daringly, Aleister contemptuously knocked over a labourer working in a pit, quickly running away. At the age of fourteen, he conducted the extremely violent murder of a cat. “In page after page of the Confessions he emerges as a liar, a sneak, a bully and a hypocrite” (Wilson 1987:31). The document known as  Confessions is an “autohagiography,” covering the author’s life until the mid-1920s, and including his early mountaineering activities.

While an undergraduate at Cambridge, Crowley’s indecent conversation resulted in his being dragged out of the dining hall by a porter (Symonds 1989:vii). Servant girls and prostitutes were the focus of his lecherous attention. His predatory tendencies provoked disapproval. A group of Trinity College undergrads threw him into the college fountain “for being dirty – all round” (ibid:156-157). Crowley later implied that, during his Cambridge phase, he resorted to prostitutes about every forty-eight hours.

As he grew older, Crowley revelled in being a horrible man. This facet of his character has been explained by supporters in terms of his reaction to Christianity. He gained a Christian family legacy of many thousands of pounds, and lived in affluence until he had squandered the money. Crowley’s attitude to women is not praiseworthy; there is strong indication that he regarded them merely as instruments of gratification. He wrote in his Confessions:

Women were for me beneath contempt. They had no true moral ideals…. Intellectually, of course, they did not exist…. Their attainments were those of the ape and the parrot. Those facts did not deter me. On the contrary, it was highly convenient that one’s sexual relations should be with an animal with no consciousness beyond sex. (Symonds and Grant 1979:141-2)

His early pursuit of women never ceased until the time he became impotent many years later. He soon contracted gonorrhoea from prostitutes (Booth 2000:26-7). Crowley became a bisexual in 1896 (Symonds 1989:155; Wilson 1987:37-38; Kaczynski 2010:36-40). Some readers have considered the Confessions rather incredible. This work was written under the influence of drugs, and may not be completely reliable. According to Symonds, the Confessions "only skim the surface of his [Crowley's] deeds and thoughts; there the story of the Beast seems a mere shadow-play compared with the full tide of his priapic cries in The Magical Record" (Symonds 1951:164). The Magical Record here refers to diaries of an early period, meaning 1914-20. The diaries continue into much later years of Crowley's life.

5.  Magick,  Drugs,  and  Yoga


In 1898, Crowley joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, becoming an enthusiast of ritual magic and astrology. The older members of this organisation believed that a magician “should abstain from sex, drink and drugs to keep his mind clear” (Kaczynski 2010:65). Crowley broke all the rules. “His promiscuity quickly became legend” (ibid). In company with Allan Bennett, “he drank and took all manner of drugs” (ibid). Another Golden Dawn member was the poet William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), who met Crowley in 1899, assessing him as a black magician “who had prostituted the Great Work” (ibid).

Probably in 1899, Crowley was starting to ingest cocaine, opium, and cannabis. His addiction to various drugs was accompanied by an obsession with magic, or “magick,” a word indicating “the sexual technique that Crowley used in his magical operations” (Symonds 1989:432). Eventually, peyote gave him hallucinatory visions which he regarded as proof of his elite magical status. In the long term, he became a heroin addict.

He [Crowley] went to fantastic lengths to be stimulated. He was not turned on by music, which he did not care for anyhow, or paintings or literature or any other ordinary things; he needed perverse stimuli – human excreta, menstrual blood and especially drugs – to make the message come through. He could never get enough stimulation…. Every five minutes he thought of himself as someone different: “Perdurabo,” Count Vladimir Svareff, Lord Middlesex, Prince Chioa Khan, “Baphomet, the Supreme and Holy King,” Mahatma Guri Sri Paramahamsa Shivaji. (Symonds 1989:viii)

These grand identity tags may indicate a personality disorder created by drugs. Certainly, Symonds concluded that Crowley was no  Paramahamsa, a title denoting the highest grade of Hindu renunciate. Crowley had “a hundred names,” including the Beast 666. Some readers have been confused at the sheer number of exotic appellations found in biographies of Crowley.

In 1901, Crowley travelled to Ceylon, where he practised  Yoga exercises. He had not the slightest affinity with the Yoga tradition of celibacy enjoined in antique Sanskrit texts. He nevertheless claimed that he “succeeded in attaining the first state of trance, known as Dhyana” (Wilson 1987:58). He believed "that within a few months he reached the state of Dhyana, in which the ego is annihilated" (Symonds 1989:44). Soon after, he was an enthusiast of  big game hunting and annihilated a buffalo with his shotgun. Discrepant lifestyles were completely blurred by the Western Yogi. The claimant to Dhyana was a killer. In authentic Yoga, this discrepancy does not occur, non-violence being a cardinal precept. The ego can be very persistent, despite resort to the ingenious belief that this obstacle is quickly overcome.

The magician reflected a number of social and racist prejudices found in upper class British society. However, many of his biases were far less typical of British convention. In 1904 at Cairo, he wrote The Book of the Law, which he attributed to his Holy Guardian Angel, named Aiwaz. This antinomian text contains such injunctions as: “Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be despised among you!” Crowley maintained that his new Law superseded all religions. He was now the prophet of a new age.

A few years later, he was performing Abramelin rituals at the Ashdown Park Hotel in Surrey, and claiming that as a consequence, he attained Yogic samadhi, in the sense of a union with ultimate reality. He made a substantial use of hashish in those rites. Crowley did not see any discrepancy, and instead wrote an essay championing the drug as an aid to mystical achievement. In that same period, he surfaces as a wifebeater.

6.  First  Marriage  and  Victor  Neuburg

Rose and Aleister Crowley with daughter Lola after the divorce, January 1910

In 1903, Crowley married Rose Kelly (1874-1932), the daughter of a vicar. The relationship did not prove successful. An apologist refrain is that Crowley became increasingly frustrated with her alcoholism. There is another side to the situation. "Their marriage was flawed even before alcohol became an issue" (Kaczynski 2010:195).

After she gave birth to a girl, Rose found that Aleister distanced himself from her. In 1906, he abandoned his wife and baby in China; Rose had to get back to England using her own ingenuity. Her daughter Lilith died of typhoid in Rangoon. Aleister blamed Rose for the tragedy. Rose afterwards lived with him at Boleskine House in Scotland, enduring his violent outbursts, aggravated by her loss of interest in his magic and his obsession with Aiwaz.

“It was said that he [Crowley] entertained his mistresses at home and, at times, hung her [Rose] up by the heels in the wardrobe” (Symonds 1989:131). In 1907, “he kicked his mother-in-law downstairs” when this lady came to visit her daughter (ibid:104).

In 1904, Crowley wrote a short pornographic novel that Colin Wilson considered “an attempt to rival Sade” (Wilson 1987:153). This was composed for Rose and their guests, apparently during his wife's convalescence after childbirth. The novel was "purposely vulgar and shocking to parody what Crowley considered the only type of book Rose would enjoy" (Kaczynski 2010:132). The situation is not commendable.

The novel was prefaced by a brief biography of the imaginary author, including the detail that he was too strained by the devotion of his young wife, and therefore took her to a notorious club in Cairo where orgies were committed by the dissolute membership. “He gave her to their tender mercies and saw her violated a dozen times before his eyes. In a month no more debauched woman walked the streets than this dainty English girl” (Symonds 1989:74). Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden has been described as juvenile stuff, based on Rabelais, with a side glance at Sade (ibid:75). There is also an obscene poem called Rosa Mystica, on the subject of Crowley’s wife; this vulgarity has aroused strong doubts that Crowley cared for his spouse. All the World’s a Brothel is the title of a related parody by her husband.

Later, Crowley expressed an eccentric conclusion about his marriage: "The gods killed her [his daughter Lilith] because Rose had failed in her role as Crowley's magical partner" (Kaczynski 2010:161). By 1908, Rose had started to lock Aleister out of the house and generally became hysterical (ibid:178). One may conclude that Aleister's bisexual and magical lifestyle was not ideal for domestic life.

In November 1909, while Aleister was conducting homosexual magic in Algeria with Victor Neuburg, Rose was in a courtroom at Edinburgh pleading for a divorce. The presiding judge learned that Aleister was eccentric, resorting to pretentious names like Lord (Laird) Boleskin. Rose had left her husband in the summer "because he had been beating her" (ibid:194). Furthermore, he was a womaniser who had fathered a child by another woman. Rose was granted a divorce and awarded custody of her second daughter Lola. Aleister had no money to offer as a settlement, having exhausted his inheritance. This situation is misleadingly depicted, by some writers, in terms of Aleister divorcing his hopelessly alcoholic wife.

The alcoholism of Rose was aggravated by subsequent events. She made the mistake of remaining friends with Lord Boleskine. Crowley committed her to Colney Hatch asylum in the autumn of 1911. That was when she finally escaped from him. She recuperated, being released from the asylum in 1912. She married Lt. Col. Joseph Gormley (1849-1925), who had been a visitor to Boleskine House; he is said to have made regular proposals of marriage. Gormley was also a doctor; his religious background was Roman Catholic. Rose eventually died of liver failure.

More is known about Victor Neuberg (1883-1940), a prominent homosexual partner of Crowley. In November 1909, Crowley took Neuburg into the Algerian desert, there indulging in what seems to have been the first of his "sexual magic" rituals. The Beast was ideologically influenced by the magical system of John Dee (d.1608) and his scryer Edward Kelley (Shepherd 2004:215-218). Crowley believed that he was a reincarnation of Kelley; his preference for scrying derived from the same figure. In a related context, he described "thirty Enochian Ethers" associated with Dee. This curiosity passes muster as Crowleyan "astral travels" (Crowley 1998). Even some of his supporters concede that Crowley's drug experiences, profiling his varied former incarnations, cannot be taken seriously. Kelley was an unsavoury character who had his ears cropped for the crime of forgery, and who dug up a corpse for purposes of necromancy.

In the desert, Crowley went far beyond Elizabethan occultism, devising a homosexual rite dedicated to Pan that featured his sodomisation by Neuburg (Owen 2004). These two astral travellers used peyote to create much psychedelic confusion for themselves. In a physical context, Crowley led Neuburg by a chain attached to a metal collar around his assistant's neck. He introduced Neuburg to Bedouins as a captured jinn (demon).

Earlier that same year, Neuburg undertook a "magical retirement" at Boleskine House. Crowley here made the disciple sleep for ten nights on an uncomfortable bed of prickly gorse in a freezing cold room (Wilson 1987:91). Neuburg afterwards danced in the psychedelic Rites of Eleusis. These preliminaries climaxed in the "Paris working," a drama entailing six weeks of drug use and sexual magic in early 1914. Crowley and Neuburg then locked themselves inside a Paris hotel room. This magical retirement involved dark disclosures of Crowley and invocations to the gods Jupiter and Mercury.

The limit had been reached. Shortly after, Neuburg could take no more of Crowleyan ritual, a sadistic activity which included anti-Semitic verbal reprimands and whipping with a gorse switch that drew blood. Sexual magic made the already obsessive Crowley into a manic enthusiast.

In obscure circumstances, Neuburg parted company from the Beast in 1914, an action punished with a ritual cursing. The ex-disciple attributed his ill-health to that cursing. He also believed that Crowley murdered his mistress Joan Hayes by magical intention. Hayes certainly shot herself, reputedly within 48 hours of the "astral dagger" wielded by the hostile Beast (Wilson 1987:89-99, 105-107). Crowley is said to have been jealous of this woman's influence on Neuburg, whose large private income was available to the hierophant.

Neuburg relinquished magic, and became a soldier in the First World War. He afterwards claimed that Crowley had ruined his life. His years with the Beast had a disastrous effect upon his health (Fuller 2005). Crowley once visited his home in Sussex. On that occasion, Neuburg prudently went into hiding in the home of a neighbour. He feared the Beast for long after 1914.

7.  Peyote and Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO)

The Eye of Horus

A well known photograph shows the Beast wearing a robe embroidered on the hood with a triangle containing the Eye of Horus. He was very partial to ancient Egyptian symbolism and associations, as were the Golden Dawn. The belief of participants was that exotic names and regalia proved their affinity with the ancient wisdom they invoked. Some Crowleyan rites were based on this predilection, such as those named after the sun god Ra.

By 1909, Crowley created a rival organisation to the Golden Dawn, and one which regularly employed drugs. From 1909, he encouraged the use of peyote (anhalonium lewinii), a very strong hallucinogen. A basic belief in his occultist circle was that this drug facilitated astral travel or “ascent.” Crowley recorded that he made many “experiments” on others with peyote in 1910, and in subsequent years. He was keen to introduce peyote to people outside his circle. He apparently used this drug until circa 1918. He is known to have invited guests to dinner in New York, giving them food dosed with peyote, eager to watch the effects.

In 1910, one peyote initiate was persuaded to take opium and cannabis also; he departed from the Crowley scene that same year because of the disturbing effects induced by three drugs. Over forty years later, Herbert Close (1890-1971), also known as Meredith Starr, stated that Crowley swindled many people he (Close) knew personally, exerting “the most appalling influence on many” (Symonds 1989:129). Crowley always needed money, after squandering his inheritance, and while avoiding all work.

Peyote research was early conducted in 1888 by the German chemist Louis Lewin (d.1929), and more decisively, by Arthur Heffter (d.1925), who showed that mescaline was the alkaloid creating psychoactive properties of peyote (Patil 2012:335-337).  This drug can cause intense hallucinations, nausea, increased heart rate, deficient judgment, and violent moods. 

Crowley performing the Rites of Eleusis

While committing his associates to peyote hazards, in 1910 Crowley staged the Rites of Eleusis at Westminster. The pretentious Rites were advertised as the gateway to ecstasy. The fee was five guineas, targeting the affluent. “Crowley’s rites exalted Pan, the god of lust, and had no similarity to the Eleusinian mysteries” (Shepherd 2004:20).

The psychedelic magician did not meet with the success he hoped for. He tried to justify himself against media attacks, and faced a shortage of funds. At this period he was visited by Theodor Reuss, leader of a recent German occultist organisation called Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). Reuss believed that Crowley knew of his order’s “hidden sex teachings.” The parallel has been considered coincidental. Reuss made Crowley swear to secrecy, and in return, authorised him to establish his own branch of the OTO in Britain. “After a journey to Berlin, he [Crowley] was transformed with due ceremony into ‘the Supreme and Holy King of Ireland, Iona, and all the Britains that are in the sanctuary of the Gnosis’ ” (Symonds 1989:161).

The OTO claimed to have been founded by the wealthy Karl Kellner, who was strongly influenced by Hindu Tantra in the form known as vamamarga or vamachara (left hand path). This tradition favoured sexual rites, often with the wife of the practitioner, but sometimes with other women, including prostitutes. Left hand Tantra was not generally favoured by Hindus; some spokesmen of Hinduism have repudiated this approach. A contrasting tradition is known as dakshinamarga. Abuses could easily occur in vamachara. “The basis of this magic consists in the magnetic rapport between the magician and his partner, and it takes months to establish such a rapport. Crowley frequently practised what he called sexual magic with women whom he picked up, spent an hour with and never saw again” (Symonds 1989:165). Contrary to the Indian codes, Crowley commenced OTO sex magic with a male partner. He devised a “magical working” based on anal sex.

Symonds refers to the “huge joke” involved in Crowley’s diary (or Record) of his sex magic. Crowley states “in a parsonical voice that he had been attending to his devotions when all he meant was that he'd been committing fornication with a prostitute" (ibid:166). The same commentator refers to Crowley's "endless sexual opera" as a form of unbridled incitement to lust, "more or less daily." Another perpetual habit was to consult the Yi-Ching, "taking no notice whatsoever of the answers he received, and merely interpreting or misinterpreting them in accordance with his wishes at the time" (ibid:165). 

This magician filed his two canine teeth to a sharp point, for the purpose of giving nasty bites to the wrist or throat of his sexual partners. He describes a violent affair with a girl who needed to be beaten for purposes of satisfaction. Colin Wilson stated that this was not the last encounter of such a type. "Physical sadism was another taste he acquired" (Wilson 1971:417). 

Crowley's major work is considered to be Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 (1913), much of the content dictated to students. This is frequently described as a synthesis of Yoga, Hermeticism, medieval magic, Eliphas Levi, Blavatsky, and his own contributions. Another description of Book Four is that of "mysticism and magic explained." The mysticism is here Patanjali Yoga, the subject of Part 1 (the book being in four parts). The format ignores the moral teachings of Patanjali. The reductionist Yogic samadhi  supposedly enhances magic. On the basis of Book Four, varied claims have been made for Crowley as an expert on mysticism and religion, both East and West. The lavish claims do not convince critics.

Book 4 is associated with the author's support for the Jewish blood libel. This derives from a medieval Christian belief that Jews sacrificed Christian children. Another controversial text is Liber 777, a Qabbalistic composition published anonymously in 1909. "Can anything good come out of Palestine," commented the Beast, reflecting a strong Christian bias existing over centuries. The offending reflections were excised by the cosmetic editor Israel Regardie many years later. Crowley's partiality for Qabbalah was contradicted by his anti-Semitism. An online critique states that Crowley "continued to foment anti-Semitic and anti-Negro propaganda after the first decade of the twentieth century." Crowley supporters have insisted that racist bigotry is a minor element in the output of the Beast.

8.  Secret  Agent  666  and  Nietzsche

One of the British elite: Lord Boleskine, Mahatma Guri

The Beast is now presented by some writers as a spy for British Intelligence during the First World War. The major source for this recent theory states: "I must rely more on circumstantial evidence and informed speculation than I would prefer" (Spence 2008:9). The point is argued that spies of a ruthless disposition could succeed. "His [Crowley's] role as a secret agent appealed not only to his ruthless, amoral side, but also to a profound sense of Englishness" (ibid:10). Crowley here qualifies as a ruthless and unconventional quasi-Tory nationalist.

According to Professor Richard Spence (University of Idaho), Crowley was recruited into British naval intelligence in 1914 by Everard Fielding. This man was a friend of Crowley, and also Secretary of the Society for Psychical Research. Crowley gained many international contacts over the years; most of these were interested in occultism. The OTO was an initial route to the diverse German contacts achieved by the Beast.

The secret agent theory depicts Crowley as playing a major role in the fate of RMS Lusitania, the world's largest ocean liner. Spence emphasises how Crowley claimed to convince his German contacts that the British passenger ship was a man-of-war, setting out from New York. The aim of this ploy was to create German hostility and to provoke American entry into the war. In May 1915, Germany torpedoed the Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, causing the ship to sink. There were nearly 1,200 dead, including many children and over a hundred Americans. If the spy theory is taken seriously, then Crowley emerges as the instrument for over a thousand civilian deaths. Crowleyan Yoga and espionage are incompatible with ahimsa (non-violence), the well known first ethical precept (yama) in Patanjali Yoga.

American reaction was indeed aroused by the Lusitania tragedy. America eventually joined the World War in 1917, when Germany resumed the policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, and also sought Mexico as an ally. America lost over 100,000 soldiers in the ensuing conflict.

Crowley is thought to have worked for British intelligence while he was living in America during the war. Many details are not clear. Critics of the Spence theory have emphasised the difference between the role of a secret agent and that of an informant to the British intelligence service. The speculations about a secret agent can easily become fantasy.

Many years later, Crowley claimed an affiliation with British intelligence in the light of his being incapable of active service during the First World War (Kaczynski 2010:506). He suffered from phlebitis in 1914, and was not a gun-toting James Bond, instead wielding a barbed pen. In America, Crowley edited a German-funded magazine, which he made a vehicle for anti-British agitation. In 1915, he tore up his British passport in front of the Statue of Liberty, proclaiming the independence of the Irish Republic (as reported in the New York Times). These tactics have been viewed in terms of a double agent liaising with Germans, However, one objection is that Crowley had been calling himself Irish, and predicting the downfall of England, since the year 1900. He danced with joy when receiving news of Queen Victoria's death. Moreover, his discernible fascist affinities were subsequently in process.

A critical appraisal of many Crowley actions and statements is needed. See Spencer Dew, review of Marco Pasi 2014, accusing Pasi of "skipping over critical engagement." In this evocative disagreement between academic professors, the statement is made:

Pasi presents Crowley's career as a progression with "two main phases," an "individualistic and romantic" phase followed by a mature phase devoted to spreading his new religion. Denouncements of democracy and other personal "idiosyncrasies" of Crowley are superseded, in this reading, by a move toward the "democratisation of magic" as Crowley evangelises for his religion's "universalistic message".... With Pasi's thesis, the most outlandish statement or action becomes the early twentieth century equivalent of click-bait. That time he [Crowley] wrote an open letter to the German air command, urging them to bomb his aunt's house? That time he urged a goat to copulate with a woman for a bit of magic? His typologies of Jews (active and passive, with different size noses) or the effects of the tropic climate on the sexual drives of Anglo women? All of this is in the service of the gospel of the new age. Pasi is far more parsimonious with his examples, avoiding all of the ones above, but with Crowley the examples are endless - and Pasi's formula is presented as having applicability across the board.

The same online source informs that Crowley believed "humans are either masters or slaves." A due assessment of "master" speech and action is surely called for in relation to gospel magic.

A philosophical factor is relevant. The Nietzschean dimensions of Crowleyan rhetoric are noticeable. The master and slave dichotomy is strongly associated with Friedrich W. Nietzsche (1844-1900). "Crowley saw himself as Nietzsche's true heir" (Wilson 1987:87). One does not have to agree with the attendant excuse for violence. "Kicking his mother-in-law downstairs was more than a burst of bad temper; it was a symbolic gesture" (ibid). Aiwaz, the Holy Guardian Angel of Crowley, has been described in terms of Nietzsche and his ideas (Symonds 1989:68; Shepherd 2004:21).

Nietzsche relegated the Indian untouchables in one of his well known books. Crowley was disdainful of "niggers" (Negroes), and also Jews (even his disciple Victor Neuburg was not spared the rod of aspersive speech). Some readers were shocked when Colin Wilson informed: “Among Crowley’s papers, there is a description of tying a negro to a tree, cutting a hole in his stomach, then inserting his penis” (Wilson 1987:153). This offensive reference is symptomatic of a racist outlook, and can arouse strong reactions.

9.  The  Abbey  of  Thelema  and  Heroin

The Abbey of Thelema, Cefalu

In 1920, the Beast arrived at the village of Cefalu, on the north coast of Sicily. Here he rented the Villa Santa Barbara, living with both male and female partners in sexual magic, creating a small commune. He gave an exotic name (taken from Rabelais) to this rural habitation: the Abbey of Thelema. The commune basically signified: “Do what thou wilt.” The inmates wore robes and performed rites to the Egyptian sun god Ra. Crowley adorned the walls with paintings of sexual activities. The Abbey became insanitary; the necessity for cleaning operations was not recognised by the director.

Crowley smoked opium, sniffed cocaine, ate cannabis, and resorted to large quantities of heroin. He favoured other drugs also, and kept wine in his room (Symonds 1989:255-257). He had contracted the unwise belief that a magical adept could only become free of the need for drugs by ingesting these uninhibitedly. The consequences were predictable; he could not break the drug habit, despite periodic attempts to do so. Supplies of cocaine were freely accessible in the Abbey; heroin was acquired from a mainland trader. One version says that he first used heroin in 1919, when his doctor prescribed this drug for asthma (Kaczynski 2010:505). 

There were mishaps afflicting various persons who stayed with him at the promiscuous Abbey. Two of his female partners in sexual magic became jealous of each other, and one resorted to brandy in the friction that resulted (Symonds 1951:154). This toper was the American Leah Hirsig (1883-1975), who wrote in her diary of 1921 that she dedicated herself "wholly to the Great Work." That activity is described in terms of: "I will work for wickedness. I will freely prostitute my body to all creatures." Crowley incited her to sexual intercourse with a goat. The victim later wrote in her diary that Crowley's "rasping voice so jarred me that I wanted to scream." Her lurid association with Crowley has been considered notable in Wikipedia, where these details can be found (accessed 01/09/2018).

Leah became critical of the Beast. She subsequently wrote to him in a letter: "I do not for a moment believe that the Gods are responsible for the continuation of this silly financial mess" (Symonds 1989:400). She now "recognised at last that her love for Crowley was an illness of mind" (ibid:401). She referred to him in terms of "the rottenest kind of creature" (ibid). Leah sent a last letter to Crowley in 1930, repudiating all oaths or promises she had made to him. She returned to America, and now in obscurity, resumed her role of schoolmistress. She was rumoured to have become a Roman Catholic prior to her death (ibid:404-405).

The rites of sexual magic supposedly facilitated "health, money, success, youth, progress in the Great Work" (Symonds 1989:400). A member of the male personnel at the Abbey had to depart for America because of the strain on his sanity. This sufferer had gained the name of Brother Fiat Lux, a bestowal from Crowley not sufficient for comfort. Another recruit, magically named Genesthai, left the Abbey after his aversion to homosexual activity that he was required to perform with the Beast (ibid:271-2).

Crowley called himself the Master Therion, in which capacity he devised new magical rites, accomplished the Great Work, summoned and banished devils, invoked the gods, and conversed with Holy Guardian Angels (ibid:258). He was a presumed expert in casting horoscopes. He visited Tunis, disporting his feminised role as Alys Crowley, and paying an Arab male to be his partner in sexual magic (ibid:260). There were substantial drawbacks.

He behaved as if he believed that through sexual activity he could find his way to freedom, but his sexual magic achieved nothing except the opposite of what he wanted – illness instead of health, poverty instead of wealth, isolation instead of recognition, impotence instead of magic power. (Symonds 1989:261)

An American visitor to the Abbey was Jane Wolfe (1875-1958), an actress. She informs that the Abbey “was physically filthy, and as the day wore on, I became aware of the foul miasma enveloping the place” (ibid:264). She could not breathe, and collapsed. Magically named Metonith by the heroin addict, she soon consented “to help in the Great Work of liberating mankind” (ibid). She was given a razor for the purpose of cutting herself on the arm every time she said “I.” Crowley was supposedly egoless, and not subject to a razor.

Metonith practised Yoga postures and pranayama, smoked opium, and kept a magical diary like Crowley. She contracted a mood of acute irritation, wishing to violently strike another woman (ibid:265). Master Therion would run screaming into the Abbey, and “went all but insane” (ibid:268). One of his mistresses (Ninette Shumway) threatened him with a revolver (ibid:269). The new age of “do what thou wilt” could be stressful.

The heroin addict was suffering from “vomiting, insomnia, lassitude” (ibid). He waved his magic wand and struck his magic bell. He was covered in boils, but reputedly had a hypnotic stare. One of his mistresses went “temporarily insane” (ibid:270). He banished the French ritualist Ninette Shumway, who was later allowed to return, looking fearful of him rather than adoring. “She was obviously the type who could be dominated” (Wilson 1987:118). Crowley’s sickness and depression must have been something difficult to endure. The imagined remedy of cocaine and heroin sometimes failed to revive him, and evidently contributed to illness.

Crowley considered himself to be a Holy Guru. He achieved an “almost uninterrupted use of heroin,” and “suffered intensely from nervous pain and insomnia” (Symonds 1989:276). The permissive actions of sexual magic were described as Operations of the Gnosis. A section of his diary “is like the chart of a hospital patient: he can’t sleep, he can’t eat, he can’t breathe, his bowels won’t stir” (ibid).

Master Therion was in need of funds. However, he had “no experience whatsoever of earning a living or of doing any work” (ibid:280). He compensated for all the drawbacks with an audacious claim. At the Abbey in 1921, he “took the Oath of Ipsissimus, the highest possible Grade in the whole hierarchy of the Great White Brotherhood of Light, a stage beyond the gods, beyond all mental concepts” (ibid:281). After taking this oath, the heroin addict “described himself as [being] in Samadhi, ecstasy, the state of highest bliss, detachment, and enlightenment…. Crowley had surpassed God Himself” (ibid:281-282). The commentator also words this event in terms of: “He ceased to be Aleister Crowley and became God” (ibid:347).

The following year, God or Master Therion was contemptuous of the new Dangerous Drugs Act passed in 1920. He resorted to a memorable ruse, composing a very misleading article on drugs, published in The English Review. Crowley here adopted the fictitious identity of “a New York Specialist.” He presented himself as a detached drug experimenter who “was always able to abandon the drug without a pang.” He included the statement that, in his “private clinic” (the Abbey at Cefalu), patients “are subjected to a process of moral reconstruction; as soon as this is accomplished, the drug is automatically forgotten” (ibid:310).

The addict wrote a sequel article that was included in the same journal the following month. This time he posed as “a London Physician” responding in agreement with the New York Specialist. The purpose of that deceit was to deride the Dangerous Drugs Act as an irrelevant consequence of ignorance. Such feats illustrate Crowley’s prodigious capacity for deception.

He now dictated The Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922), a novel taken up by a commercial publisher, and glamorising King Lamus (Crowley) as a healer of drug addiction. “Three months earlier he had been almost dead from heroin poisoning” (ibid:313). Crowley and his Abbey were soon exposed by The Sunday Express in terms of licentious conduct. The publisher Collins dropped the novelist as a complication.

One of Crowley’s mistresses at the Abbey grew thin, sweated at night, and coughed blood. She was apparently suffering from the effects of drug poisoning (ibid:309). In February 1923, the Oxford graduate Raoul Loveday died at the Abbey. This enthusiastic new recruit had become ill, along with Crowley himself. A generally accepted version is that Loveday drank from a polluted stream, contracting a liver infection. The Beast himself believed that Loveday invited death by leaving a magic circle during a ritual (Guiley 2006:64).

Loveday's wife Betty implicated another event. Only Crowley was allowed to use the word ‘I’ at the Abbey. Everybody else had to say “one.” If this rule was broken, the miscreant had to inflict a razor cut on their arm. The ego was a hindrance to spiritual development. Crowley was presuming a lack of egotism. Betty threw away the razor she was given, but her husband proved loyal, with the consequence that both of his arms were quickly covered with cuts. Raoul was not very strong, and Betty complained that loss of blood undermined his health. The heroin sick Crowley was prostrate in bed for a month after the death of Loveday, suffering a high temperature (Symonds 1989:322-327).

The Loveday episode is enlivened by the account of his wife, known as Betty May, a reluctant inmate of the Abbey because of her husband. This "tiger woman" opposed Crowley when she left Cefalu. Her report was serialised in the press, and a book in her name later appeared (May 1929), assisted by a journalist. Chapter 7 is an evocative report of events at the Abbey. At the advice of Crowley, Loveday had been taking a large quantity of hashish, a development which Betty resisted; she believed that this resort rendered Raoul prone to infection. She says that Raoul drank bad water in a nearby stream. Meanwhile, a friction occurred between Betty and Crowley, who once picked up a "sacrificial knife" and told the Abbey inmates: "We shall sacrifice Sister Sibyline [Betty] at eight o'clock tonight." Nobody queried this threat. Betty fled into the hills, hiding there until after midnight, subsequently returning and finding no further menacing action.

Betty refers to Crowley as "the Mystic." She accompanied him on occasional outings for rock-climbing. Despite his bulk, he still possessed a "surprising agility." She describes his colleague Ninette Shumway (Shummy) as looking frightened, apparently in constant fear of a blow from the Beast. Betty depicted herself as "a heathen in a nest of fanatics." Crowley eventually expelled her for receiving English newspapers from her mother-in-law. A dramatic incident was involved. She fired a pistol at the Beast. Betty missed, and the gun jammed on the second shot. Crowley then ejected her from the Abbey.

Betty explains the episode. Her husband was still sick at the time. There were several loaded revolvers in the Abbey, a precaution against possible attack from brigands. Crowley would shoot wild dogs that came near, being a competent marksman. Betty May used one of those revolvers in frustration.

The "tiger woman" also relates the episode of a sacrificed cat. This animal had scratched Master Therion, whose retribution was death by sacrificial knife at the Abbey altar. Crowley ordered Loveday to drink a cup of the sacrificial blood (Symonds 1989:493). Betty May again recounted details of the sacrificed cat during a lawsuit in 1934, when she was part of the defence against Crowley. He always denied the accusations, but there is reason to believe that such a sacrifice did occur. Crowley was not especially sympathetic to animals, ever since he tortured and killed a cat in his youth.

10.  Sexual  Magick  and  Complications

The mature Beast with the drugged or hypnotic stare

Crowley was expelled from Sicily by the Mussolini government in 1923. He continued to believe that he was guided by Secret Chiefs of the magical realm. He certainly achieved bad press coverage at that period. Moving to France, in 1924 he visited Gurdjieff, who proved averse to him. This episode has received differing explanations. Some say Crowley may have hoped that Gurdjieff could cure his addiction, or provide a source of urgently needed funds. Crowley certainly viewed himself as a great psychologist, and believed that he would be able to cure people with whom Gurdjieff had failed (Symonds 1989:288 note 3, having only a partial record of events; cf. Moore 1991:219-220).

The Irish writer Frank Harris (1856-1931) was one of Crowley's contacts. They met at Paris in January 1924. Harris subsequently asked for repayment of a loan. The Beast replied in a letter explaining that repayment was impossible in his condition of insolvency. A justifying passage from this letter reads:

Rotten as I am in a thousand ways, I have been chosen by the 'Gods' - 'Masters' - 'Secret Chiefs' - 'Guardians of Mankind' - what you will, the idea is the same - to bring to earth the Formula of the New Aeon, the basic Word in which Mankind will work for the next 2000 years or so - the Word 'Do what thou wilt' with all the implications given in The Book of the Law (dictated to me by an unseen personage in Cairo twenty years ago). (Symonds 1989:363)

In the ongoing situation of diverse fundings for a World Teacher, the wife of a new benefactor wrote a letter to Crowley, complaining that he had spent 15,000 dollars on cigars, cognac, cocktails, dinners, women, and other desires of the moment (Wilson 1987:140).

The prominent Abbey disciple Norman Mudd "turned against Crowley, whom he believed to have betrayed the Secret Masters, and at one stage announced himself to be the new World Teacher" (ibid:139). His new status did not help, because Mudd afterwards committed suicide in 1934.

Meanwhile in 1929, Crowley married his second wife, a Nicaraguan. This was Maria Teresa Ferrari de Miramar. The marriage soon collapsed. A former mistress warned Maria of the Beast, but she at first believed in his powers. Crowley departed for Berlin, leaving her behind in London. Having no income, she became very upset and talked to everyone of suicide. She developed an alcoholic tendency.

Crowley planned a divorce without alimony, and diverted money sent for Maria to himself. She was short of food, and could not forgive her callous husband. The memoranda he wrote in 1930 to his London solicitor is a very dubious document. The victim ended up in a London workhouse, where she was certified insane, and soon committed to Colney Hatch asylum, in New Southgate. Crowley could not then sue for divorce (Kaczynski 2010:455). His behaviour “in this whole affair reveals an atrophy of feeling” (Symonds 1989:463). He wrote in his diary: "Dismissed wife, without notice" (Symonds 1951:272). Maria had been his wife "for exactly one year" (ibid). There was never a divorce, the reason being that Crowley feared a financial count against him, and he was bankrupt. Maria remained in the asylum until her death many years later.

While Maria found a haven in Colney Hatch asylum, her German successor Hanni Jaeger met with other sufferings. Crowley encountered Hanni in Berlin; she was nineteen years old, a model and artist. The relationship proved typically fraught. Like other Scarlet Women of the Beast, Hanni had to assist Crowley to perform rituals and stare into a crystal to obtain visions, which were considered important. The scryer could get exhausted (Symonds 1951:278).

At Lisbon in September 1930, Crowley was keen to ascend with Hanni to the Astral Plane by the use of drugs; as a consequence she had "astral visions," or rather hallucinations, which frightened her. He performed a rite of sexual magic with Hanni after drinking much brandy. The consequence was "a very long fit of hysterical sobbing" on the part of Hanni. A few days later, another rite was designed for success with money via the Astral Plane. When she experienced more hallucinations after drinking alcohol, Hanni again began to sob, and became hysterical. She said that she was sick of magic, and now wanted to kill herself. The rite ended in a violent scene, causing the hotel manager to intervene and order the magical pair to leave (Symonds 1989:453; Kaczynski 2010:450).

Sordid details of this period are not impressive. In Berlin, The Beast had four mistresses at the same time (March-April 1931), Hanni being one. He called her Anu, meaning "anus," reflecting his sodomising preference (Symonds 1989:452). Hanni frequently moved out of his apartment for the night, returning the next day. She went into hospital with a kidney infection. She suffered depression, and threatened suicide. Crowley moved Hanni out of his accomodation, and was indifferent to her "selling herself on the streets" (ibid:466). She apparently became involved with drug dealing. Soon after their separation, Crowley heard that Hanni had killed herself. A reinterpretation of the suicide has occurred. "It is entirely possible that Crowley (along with his biographers) was tricked by her own version of the suicide stunt" (Kaczynski 2010:454). This verdict is proffered in the light of a 21-year old Hanni Jaeger arriving in New York from Hamburg in late 1931.

Crowley was even less attached to Louise Zschaetzche, of whom he wrote: "Soon she will be a shapeless stupid lump of meat with a hole in it" (Symonds 1989:467). Proving his basic aversion, he "laid her out" in a restaurant, an "act of brutality" condoned by his secretary Israel Regardie, whom she had apparently insulted. Soon after, he made Louise "cry by sincere sadistic work," a reference which has made some female readers shudder.

The next day was the birthday of Louise. Crowley "made her cry again by beating her up in the street at one o'clock in the morning" (ibid). His diary contains such objectionable comments as: "That was a snapper on the snoot I snitched her [Louise] on Saturday!" Sexual magic was a dangerous arena for victims. "How superior is the Eye of Horus" he wrote in May 1931, after sodomising Pola for the ninth time (ibid). Pola was another obscure lady doubtfully honoured by "Do what thou wilt." She gained her fifteenth ritual in August 1931, the purpose of which was Crowley's "rededication of myself to my prophetic mission" (ibid:468). The Eye was blind to incongruities of violence and sensuality.

In May 1931, Crowley wrote: "Made myself invisible on two occasions" (ibid:467). His belief in the occult power of invisibility can read like an escape from reality. A partisan view states: "As scientists kept lab notes, Crowley advocated keeping a magical record to facilitate tracking the success of magical rituals" (Kaczynski 2010:560). Critics cannot find scientific proof of success in the available record.

The basic objective of Crowley, in his sexual magic of the 1930s, was apparently his personal rejuvenation in the face of old age. He was afflicted with persistent asthma and bronchitis. Some say that he was effectively seeking a form of psychic blood transfusion. This might be considered a form of vampirism, and may have been successful, but is not recognised as any form of science.

Many of Crowley’s female partners in sexual magic suffered some form of coercion, stress, depletion, or derailment. One mistress (Bertha Busch) was found drugged and tied up with ropes in the flat he was sharing with her. Dorothy Olsen received a black eye from the Beast, and in 1925 she wrote: "I am in the worst of health and under the care of three doctors in Paris" (Symonds 1989:401). Later, the victim "resolutely drunk herself to death" (ibid:505). Even a famous admirer has written: “It is difficult not to feel that Crowley went through life trailing some cloak of death and insanity behind him” (Wilson 1987:149).

His follower Kenneth Grant stated that Crowley selected his female partners in sexual magic because of an "aptitude for getting on to the astral plane more easily than the average, better integrated person" (Symonds 1989:505). Access to the desired astral plane was facilitated by drugs and alcohol, the staple initiatory diet of the hierophant. In terms of clinical psychology, the "astral plane" decodes to acute confusion and detrimental symptoms not assisted by the Eye of Horus.

A resistant American woman (not one of his mistresses) found that Crowley turned her husband against her, persuading him to have his wife certified as insane. Frances Wilkinson escaped this bizarre situation, but when she returned to her home in New York, she found the Beast at the top of the stairs. He referred menacingly to a silly woman who had not approved of his friendship with her husband, and who returned home to find her two babies with their heads cut off. “This was clearly an attempt by Crowley to drive Frances Wilkinson mad by a form of hypnotic suggestion” (Wilson 1987:148). This episode of intimidation occurred a few years before the Abbey phase at Cefalu.

Many years later, the drawbacks were ongoing. Gerald Hamilton lived with Crowley in Berlin, and witnessed "the constant and frequently violent relationship" between the Beast and his Swiss mistress Bertha Busch (Kaczynski 2010:459). In 1932, Crowley gave Bertha “the biggest kick that [Gerald] Hamilton had ever seen anyone give” (Symonds 1989:479). The helpless victim was lying naked on the floor of Crowley’s Berlin flat. Bertha was known as Bill or Billie. Hamilton reports that the flat was “strewn with broken crockery, plate-throwing being one of Bill’s means of defence.” The victim got up to struggle with her tormentor, and Crowley reached for a rope that he kept for the purpose of binding her. Hamilton retreated, but called the doctor “who soon arrived, prepared his hypodermic syringe, and administered a much-needed narcotic [morphine] to poor Bill” (ibid:479-480). Relating to this instance, Hamilton also reported that Crowley “was supported by involuntary contributions from his friends” (ibid:479).

Bertha was 36 years old, and at first called Crowley her Darling Boy. She seems to have been stronger than some of the other victims, and once managed to stab the Beast with a kitchen knive, causing him to lose much blood while he struggled with her (Symonds 1951:283). The date was December 1931. On another occasion, when the two partners in sexual magic quarrelled in the street, “the Beast held Billie against the wall with one hand and beat her with the other” (Symonds 1989:480). These relationships were anything but loving. “The records of his fornications make monotonous reading because he rarely described what his partners did or said as if he were relieving himself with a woman made of rubber” (ibid:487).

Frau Bertha Busch "spent much of her time in suicidal tears" (Kaczynski 2010:461). Partisan Gerald Yorke "was aghast, thinking he was seeing Crowley destroy Bill [Bertha] the way he did Marie" (ibid). The Beast was evicted from his Berlin flat in June 1932, when he returned to England. By January 1933, Bertha was deteriorating further, frequenting London pubs and becoming an inmate of Grosvenor Hospital for women. She emerged from medical care to run off with a former boxing champion, whom Crowley dismissively described as a pimp (ibid:465-466).

At London in 1933, Crowley met Pearl Brooksmith (1899-1967), who became another of his Scarlet Women (Kaczynski 2010:470-1). Her partiality for alcohol appears to have been considered a desirable qualification, but eventually Crowley concluded that she was "near the borderline." In May 1936, he recorded that Pearl was suffering "almost constant hallucinations" and "showing serious symptoms of insanity" (Sutin 2000:366-67, 384-85). She became subject to violent moods when Crowley had a relationship with another woman resulting in a baby (Kaczynski 2010:472). Pearl, "was removed either from Crowley’s flat or her own to a mental hospital, from which place she wrote pitiful letters to the Beast, begging him to rescue her” (Symonds 1989:505).

11. Bankruptcy and Hitler

A well known book of Crowley is Magick in Theory and Practice (1929). This has been described in terms of “a technique whereby one can make Nature obey one’s will by bringing the power of phenomena to heel with appropriate [magical] words uttered, and actions performed” (Symonds 1989:430).

Crowley was here fixated upon “transferring one’s consciousness to the Astral Plane, the banishing and invoking rituals of the Pentagram and Hexagram, and the Cabalistic method of communicating with discarnate intelligences, spirits and demons, and the testing of them when evoked; in addition, he gives his own technique for arousing the Kundalini Shakti at the base of the spine” (ibid). The Yogic subject of kundalini is notorious for arousing fantasies amongst Westerners.

Crowley depicted his new ideology of Thelema in terms of “aristocratic communism.” In 1930, he moved for two years to Berlin, where his communist associate Gerald Hamilton introduced him to members of the German far left. However, there is no evidence that he had any contact with the Nazi party. Returning to London, Crowley launched court cases against persons whom he targeted as libellers. He was in chronic need of money; he lost his second legal confrontation, which rebounded upon him in 1934. As a consequence, his creditors forced him into the Bankruptcy Court.

Very rashly, the Beast had sued for libel the publishers Constable and Company. He reacted to a few lines, in a Constable book, focusing upon a rumour of black magic at Cefalu. The episode “soon turned into the trial of Aleister Crowley for leading an immoral life” (ibid:493). Eyewitness Betty May described “lurid scenes” she had witnessed at the notorious Abbey of Thelema. Crowley insisted that he was an exemplar of white magic. On the second day, one of his erotic poems was read out on behalf of the Defence. On the fourth day, the presiding judge stated:

I have never heard such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man who describes himself to you [the jury] as the greatest living poet. (Symonds 1989:493)

Crowley had strong fascist leanings. One of his supporters was the German occultist Martha Kuntzel. They both believed that Hitler might become converted to Thelema. Kuntzel was delighted when Hitler became Fuehrer in August 1933; she regarded the dictator as her "Magical Son" (encouraged by Crowley). Kuntzel considered the Beast to be a prophet of National Socialism. She hoped that Crowley would become a secret adviser of the Fuehrer. The expectations came to nothing. The Nazi party soon confiscated occult books, imprisoned occultists, and outlawed secret societies. In 1935, they confiscated all the papers of Kuntzel (Kaczynski 2010:484; Symonds 1989:511). The Beast now decried Hitler as a black magician. Nevertheless, he did retain some fantasy about Hitler.

In the 1930s, he had dreams of serving Hitler, and even running Germany on behalf of the Fuehrer. Crowley persisted in a belief that he had influenced Hitler. He made this unenviable claim in 1942-44, in his notes to a copy of Hitler Speaks, a well known compendium of 1930s Nazi table talk (Sutin 2000). Crowley believed that Hitler had plagiarised his own work in the table talk. There is no evidence to support his contention.

The British occultist had a copy of his Book of the Law sent to the Fuehrer, feeling that his own work was superior to Mein Kampf. The notorious Mein Kampf (1925) proves that Hitler early created a doctrine of hate and violence completely independent of the Beast; some passages of that anti-Semitic work are of genocidal emphasis. The delusion of Crowley (that he had influenced Hitler) tends to reveal the extent of his affinity with fascist doctrine, even if the convergence was not complete.

12.   Lectures on Yoga

A disputed Yogi

The impecunious occultist prepared his Eight Lectures on Yoga (1939). These were public lectures delivered in 1937. They bore the pretentious author name of Mahatma Guru Shri Paramahansa Shivaji. Crowley treats his readers to Yoga for Yahoos and Yoga for Yellowbellies. He states in the first lecture: “It is especially important not to bedevil ourselves with Oriental jargon; we may have to use a few Sanskrit words.” The scholarship is missing.

In the second lecture, he refers to Patanjali in terms of: “Not more than ninety or ninety-five percent of what he writes can be dismissed as the ravings of a disordered mind.” Referring to yama, Crowley scorns the traditional injunction to refuse gifts, “which means that if anyone offers you a cigarette or a drink of water, you must reject his insidious advances in the most Victorian manner.” He adds derisively: “The Hindu mind is so constituted that if you offer a man the most trifling object, the incident is a landmark in his life; it upsets him completely for years.” A personal estimation follows. “If someone gives me 200,000 pounds sterling, I automatically fail to notice it. It is a normal circumstance of life. Test me!” This invitation can be interpreted as a ruse to gain money.

The third lecture fails to appreciate a basic word like niyama, which the author associated with “virtue,” a taboo for sexual magic. Crowley here replaces Patanjali with astrology, including a reference to “the flaming energy of passion.” He also inserts: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” The Eight Lectures frequently talk about subjects having nothing to do with the misappropriated Yoga. The next lecture refers to “the refuse heap of Hindu pedantry,” while the subsequent item claims to be studying Yoga “from a strictly scientific point of view.”

The last lecture refers to a “drawing together of the path of Yoga which is straight (and in a sense arid) with that of Magick, which may be compared with the Bacchic dance or the orgies of Pan.” The author misleadingly asserts that “the old antinomies of Magick and Yoga have been completely resolved.” By comparison with his own presumed achievement, he invoked “a pox on all these formalistic Aryan sages.” His elevation over Hindus was accompanied by a typical contempt for Christians: “We may dismiss altogether from our minds every claim to [mystical] experience made by any Christian of whatever breed of spiritual virus as a mere morbid reflection, the apish imitation of the true ecstasies and trances.”

Followers of Indian Yoga affirm that Crowley distorted Patanjali Yoga. They say that he wrongly emphasised pain in adopting an asana (posture). The element of sadomasochism in the psychology of Crowley has been viewed as a drawback to his approach. In a broader context, critics maintain that Crowleyan Yoga was closely attended by megalomania, destructive rage, pseudoscience, fascist leanings, and magical/religious bias.

13.  Last Years

At London In 1938, Crowley conducted a short-lived enterprise in alternative medicine. He sold Elixir of Life pills, osteopathic treatment, and body vibrators. During the early 1940s, he was still daily consulting the Yi-Ching, and interpreting this text in the light of his own preferences. The Beast "lusted after, and picked up, many women of all ages he saw in street, pub, on bus or in restaurant" (Symonds 1989:537). This pursuit did not grant happiness.

In his diary of 1941, Crowley wrote: “It is quite certain, in particular, that I have always been insane” (ibid:ix). The Mahatma was injecting himself with heroin, while complaining of maladies like asthma and vomiting. “He sought desperately for women, ate the best of food, declined to pay his bills…. He was constantly in the midst of some frightful row with people whom it is sometimes difficult or impossible to identify” (ibid:537-538). Crowley moved between different lodgings in London. He suffered a heart attack but recovered. He was often depressed and irritable. His dreams were frequently nightmares. “His cries of alarm when his supply of heroin was exhausted, and no new supply was in sight, run through his journal” (Symonds 1989:552).

As always, he needed money. A new follower was Frieda Harris, who supplied him with a regular stipend. She also assisted him with The Book of Thoth, published in 1944 in a signed limited edition of 200 copies. Crowley gained £1,500 from the sale of this work in less than three months (Sutin 2000:400-401). The contents became celebrated in occultist circles as an essay on the "Egyptian" Tarot; the author designed a pack of Tarot cards that eventually gained a strong popular profile, being revived in the late 1960s. The ancient Egyptian context is mythical. The Tarot system of divination is European; some researchers urge that this resort dates no earlier than the eighteenth century.

A partisan view is: "Crowley's summation of his lifelong study in a new interpretation of the Tarot resulted in a deck that remains unchallenged as the deepest ever produced" (Kaczynski 2010:559).

In January 1945, Crowley moved to Netherwood, a boarding house in Hastings that proved to be his last abode. He soon decided that he needed a secretary, choosing the twenty year old Kenneth Grant, who arrived in March, staying at a lodge cottage in the grounds of Netherwood. Crowley became impatient with Grant, and exclaimed during an argument: "You are the most consummate bore that the world has yet known" (Kaczynski 2010:534). Grant resigned as secretary in May 1945, returning to London. He never encountered Crowley again. He had not received any wage, but instead some instruction in magic. Crowley wrote that Grant could not be trusted to do anything. The junior subsequently became famous in the world of ceremonial magic, and at one period, became a follower of the deceased Ramana Maharshi.

The artist Augustus John visited in 1946, not having seen Crowley for decades. "The sight of his shrunken friend, with vacant eyes staring out of his wrinkled, grey head, frightened John" (Kaczynski 2010:541). The magician was evidently not in good shape. He was still able to buy brandy and cigars as the consequence of donations. His variable moods are reflected in the statement: “Between his black rages and tears he would jest like a schoolboy” (Symonds 1989:575).

John Symonds met the Beast in May 1946 at Netherwood, accompanied by the astrologer Rupert Gleadow. Crowley came downstairs to meet them. He was of medium height, slightly bent, and looked exhausted. "In his eyes was a puzzled, pained look." Symonds further comments that "the Logos of the Aeon of Ra-Hoor-Khuit had shrunk into his clothes, and all the fleshiness had vanished from his face" (Symonds 1989:573). He wore a Thoth brooch on his tie, and on his finger a large seal ring engraved with Ankh-f-n-Khonsu, the name of a Late Period Egyptian priest whom Crowley claimed as his former incarnation.

In the conversation that followed, Crowley said that there was only "a fraction of one per cent of truth in astrology." Symonds remarks: "I found this opinion, from a man who had been casting horoscopes all his life, rather unexpected" (ibid). While his two guests went to the dining room, Crowley ate alone in his room; Symonds afterwards learned that this repast consisted of a boiled egg and a heroin injection.

Symonds made further visits to the boarding house. He informs that Crowley's "cryptographic jottings on many little squares of paper show exactly how ill and vexed he was in his last years; they help to explain his threatening, insane letters to tradespeople and friends” (Symonds 1989:575). Crowley feared the long and boring evenings in solitude; only the injection in his armpit brought relief. “His daily intake of heroin rose from two to three grains to as many as eleven grains, which is sufficient to kill a roomful of people, one-eighth of a grain being the largest usual dose” (ibid).

Thirty years later, Crowley's landlady described his stay at Netherwood. The gaunt inmate was not the strongest seventy year old, but did take walks on some days, and joined the Hastings Chess Club (retaining his proficiency at chess). On other days, he spent much of the time sleeping in his room; he would get up as darkness fell, and then sit up all night reading, writing letters, and using heroin. His tolerant landlady often watched him stick the heroin needle in his arm. He also smoked tobacco with a strong aroma. His visitors included Germans with an interest in magic. Many parcels arrived from American wellwishers containing boxes of chocolates, a commodity at that time rationed in England.

Crowley exhibited peculiarities. He kept a number of gold coins, which he declared to have magical powers. He still relied upon the Yi-Ching, even for dental appointments. He once asked his landlady to cancel an appointment on this basis, a factor puzzling the dentist. However, the landlady and her eccentric husband (Vernon Symonds) appreciated his genial conversation. The housekeeper, Miss Clark, nearly lost one of his treasured magical coins. She told visitor John Symonds (no relation to the landlord) that "the sooner he [Crowley] died, the better, for she could not bear the sight of him" (Symonds 1989:578). The apparent reason was that the boarder had jestfully called her a witch, perhaps because she displaced his magical coin.

Crowley would greet everyone with the refrain: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." He failed to grasp that this adamant perspective had led him into the trap of heroin addiction. Despite the dogmatism, there was no sexual magic in evidence at Netherwood. Impotence had caught up with Crowley. He did not experience any samadhi, as is quite obvious from his diary. He wrote at this period:

Certainly I want heroin; but almost anything else would do just as well! It's boredom and AD (Anno Domini). A girl or a game of chess would fill the gap [of boredom]. But I've just not enough pep to start revision or research. (Symonds 1989:575)

At Netherwood in January 1946, he was visited by Professor Eliza M. Butler (1885-1959), who desired an interview. She was "repulsed by his sickly appearance and pretentious demeanour" (Guiley 2006:65). Crowley was not an instance of discretion. He "offered to prove his magical ability by making himself instantly invisible, but he was unable to do so" (ibid). His delusion was no doubt contracted from certain forms of drug experience.

Professor Butler described the magician as a wreck living "in penury on the charity of friends, speaking of himself in all seriousness as an 'instrument of Higher Beings who control human destiny' " (ibid). The Secret Chiefs were not a convincing argument.

The visitor had considerable academic status. She was a senior Professor of German at Cambridge University. Her interests included the occult, and she was then preparing her book The Myth of the Magus (1948). She was evidently prepared to give Crowley a benefit of the doubt by seeking him out at Hastings. This despite the bad publicity for which he was notorious. The Professor was scrupulously fair, including the Beast in her new book (although some say she would not have made the inclusion if she had known more about sordid background details of sexual magic). The relevant passage reads:

Cagliostro was the emissary of Elijah; Blavatsky was the servant of the Mahatmas; Aleister Crowley claims to be the amanuensis of Aiwaz. It may be objected that they do not speak so well nor so greatly as the magi of old, and the objection is just. But they prove at least that the magician, after a long degradation, is aspiring to the priesthood again. (Butler 1948:266-267)

Crowley wrote that the Professor talked to him "with such sympathy, consideration, and understanding" (Churton 2011:413). He wrote a letter to her afterwards, stating that persons like Rasputin, Eliphas Levi, and Blavatsky "are not Magi, they are merely Magicians with subsidiary functions, sometimes apparently disconnected from the main work of the Order, which is to send forth Magi from time to time uttering a certain Word" (ibid). Crowley was elevating himself as one of the Magi in this communication.

He was increasingly frail from illness during the summer of 1947. Towards the end of the same year, his health deteriorated further. He remained in bed during his last days. There were a number of visitors, including his young son Aleister Ataturk McAlpine and his mother Patricia Doherty, with whom Crowley talked for some while. The invalid was very quiet on his day of decease (01/12/1947). His death is reported to have been the consequence of myocardial degeneration and chronic bronchitis aggravated by pleurisy (Symonds 1989:577; Kaczynski 2010:548).

Frieda Harris reported that Crowley died “unhappily and fearfully.” She held his twitching hands while tears flowed down his cheeks. Crowley admitted "I am perplexed." Frieda was not present at the very end, when a Mr. Rowe attended with a nurse. The last words of Crowley were reported by Rowe as: “Sometimes I hate myself.”

His early biographer comments: “He had come, for the first time, face to face with himself, saw the whole man, and did not like what he saw” (Symonds 1989:578).

14.  Crowley’s Drug Addiction

Professor Christopher Partridge (of Lancaster University) has focused upon Crowley’s drug addiction. I here quote from his article dated 2016 (available in PDF). “Only a small percentage of the Crowleyan corpus specifically addresses the subject.” The magical lore tends to camouflage basic matters. “He obscured the tyranny of his addiction in much of his writing.” Crowley believed that resort to drugs should precede all magical rituals “because they made access to mystical experiences all the easier.” However, Crowley “would discover that drugs can lead to a dulled and diminished will.”

Partridge contradicts the exegesis of Israel Regardie, who was influential in the spread of Crowleyan magic. Regardie wished to believe that his early inspirer never intended “to use drugs as a substitute for the body-mind discipline.” Crowley did indeed give this impression, which was very misleading. He was not dedicated to spiritual discipline, as his biography attests. There are huge contradictions in Crowley. He believed in development of the will, and emphasised that “only weaklings fell victim to a drug.” The discrepancy is so often overlooked.

Partridge duly observes: “There were times when, like most addicts, he simply denied that he had a problem and insisted to his followers that drugs had no power over him.” Crowley “frequently repeated nonsense,” including his fond theme that, “in the service of science, he had attempted to induce addiction through persistent use, but failed, such was the strength of his will.” This was a massive delusion or pretence. Partridge contradicts the claim of apologist Kaczynski (2010) that the intention of Crowley was not to encourage drugs at Cefalu, but to remove all temptation by making drugs so accessible. Partridge cites an early 1920s diary entry of the Beast, revealing the major problem of heroin addiction:

This was a real indulgence [on my part] in the worst sense of the word…. There is not the slightest discomfort to be removed, or the faintest wish to reach some still superior state. It is an absolutely perverse impulse. There has been a constantly decreasing indifference [on my part] to matters of ordinary health, cleanliness and vanity. I seem hardly to know what the state of affairs is, as to defecation, etc…. There are numerous very alarming mental symptoms. (Crowley diary, quoted in Partridge 2016)

The biographer Symonds knew at firsthand the extent of Crowley’s heroin addiction in the 1940s, reporting: “More than once I had steadied him while he injected himself in the armpit.” Kaczynski has argued that Crowley achieved freedom from heroin in the mid-1920s, and only resumed this drug in 1940 when a doctor prescribed heroin for asthma (Kaczynski 2010:508). Partridge is sceptical, supporting a doubt that Crowley ever freed himself from addiction after his failed attempt at Fontainebleau (Partridge 2016, note 7).

A realistic implication is that Crowley used heroin until his death. Partridge comments: “It would be naïve to believe that he entirely escaped his longing for heroin once it had found its way into his system.”


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Butler, Eliza Marian, The Myth of the Magus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948).

Churton, Tobias, Aleister Crowley: The Biography (London: Watkins, 2011).

--------Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2014).

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Patil, Popat N., Discoveries in Pharmacological Sciences (Singapore: World Scientific, 2012).

Regardie, Israel, Roll Away the Stone (St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1968).

-------The Eye in the Triangle: An Interpretation of Aleister Crowley (St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1970).

-------Introduction to P. R. Stephensen, The Legend of Aleister Crowley (second edn, St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn, 1970).

Shepherd, Kevin R. D., Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (Dorchester: Citizen Initiative, 2004). 

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Symonds, John,  The Great Beast: The Life of Aleister Crowley (London: Rider, 1951). 

--------The Magic of Aleister Crowley (London: Frederick Muller, 1958).

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--------The Beast 666: The Life of Aleister Crowley (London: Pindar Press, 1997).

--------and Kenneth Grant, eds., The Magical Record of the Beast 666: The Diaries of Aleister Crowley 1914-1920  (London: Duckworth, 1972).

--------and Kenneth Grant, eds., The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1969; revised edn, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).

Wilson, Colin, The Occult (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1971).

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--------Foreword to Sandy Robertson, The Illustrated Beast: The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook (1988; Boston, MA: Weiser, 2002).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

September 2018