Aleister Crowley: the occult, Thelema

Who was Aleister Crowley?

Aleister Crowley was known for his practice of the occult. Crowley founded a religious philosophy called Thelema, which espoused the teaching "do what thou wilt." He was an extensive writer, publishing fiction and poetry, yet he's most well-known for his books on the occult, which includes the sacred text of Thelema, The Book of the Law, and various works on magic, or black magic.

A brief biography

Crowley's Youth

Crowley was born Edward Alexander Aleister on October 12, 1875 in Warwickshire, England. His father Edward had a brewery business, but spent a lot amount of time as a traveling evangelist on behalf of the Exclusive Brethren, an offshoot of the Plymouth Brethren Christian denomination. Edward Sr. died of tongue cancer in 1887. Crowley and his mother had a contentious relationship, so when Aleister's father died, he was sent to a boarding school in Cambridge. He later attended Malvern College and Tonbridge School, both of which he left after only a few terms.

Crowley at Trinity College

In 1895 Crowley enrolled in Trinity College in Cambridge where he majored in English literature. While he'd already been questioning the Christian faith in which he was raised, during his time at Trinity, he grew to despise the denomination of his father. He also formed the opinion that the Church of England was full of hypocrisy and thus he refused to attend chapel services. Also while attending Trinity, Edward Jr. changed his name to "Aleister." He reasoned that the Gaelic spelling of his middle name, Alexander, was more memorable than "Edward."

It was known that while at Malvern and Tonbridge, Aleister frequented male and female prostitutes. While he continued to see female prostitutes in his time at Trinity, he also had homosexual relationships. In 1896 Aleister had a homosexual experience that he described as a spiritual awakening, which served to grow his interest in the occult. After an illness caused him to question his career path, Aleister decided to devote himself to the occult. He left Cambridge in 1897 without a degree.

Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn

In 1898 Aleister met Julian L. Baker, a chemist, who was also interested in the occult. The two met together with Englishman George Cecil James, who was a member of the occult society, Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Aleister joined the order and was given the name Father Perdurabo. While in the group, he was advised in the use of magic and drugs for the purpose of enhancing his spiritual experiences.

When the Golden Dawn experienced internal conflict, Aleister sided with leader S.L. MacGregor Mathers, opposite a group of angry members (which included the poet W.B. Yeats) who were disturbed by the order's politics. Aleister soon left the Golden Dawn, but his interest in the occult was still strong.

More Occult Activity

1904 was the year Aleister said he first heard the voice of Aiwass, an entity that claimed to be a messenger from the god, Hoor-Paar-Kratt. He wrote down everything the voice said to him, a work he later titled, The Book of the Law. Aleister also said he was assigned to be a prophet of a new age characterized by the motto "do what thou wilt."

He was also introduced to the Ordo Temple Orientis in 1912 by its leader Theodor Reuss.

Death of Crowley

Aleister died on December 1, 1947 at the age of 72. Drug use is thought to have contributed to his death.

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Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2005) The Journal of Thelemic Studies