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Aleister Crowley

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With Crowley's mug on your wall, who needs a burglar alarm?
As performed by
Tim the Enchanter

By the powers of woo
Sit still. Stop thinking. Shut up. Get out!
—Aleister Crowley, on the subject of yoga

Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), also Frater Perdurabo, The Great Beast of 666, The Wickedest Man in the World, Crazy Uncle Al and Uncle Fester, was a British occultist, magician, mystic, and the founder of the religion Thelema. He was also a fan of esoteric societies, achieving high rank both in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and in Ordo Templi Orientis, as well as founding his own Thelemic society, the ambiguously-titled A∴A∴. Furthermore, he was a chess player, mountaineer, poet, painter, yogi, drug-enthusiast, and free-lover[1] — in other words, a hippie over half a century too early. His name is frequently mispronounced as rhyming with "how-ly"; as he put it, it rhymed with "holy".

Golden Dawn[edit]

In his college years, Crowley became interested in alchemy, a curiosity that eventually put him in contact with George C. Jones, who introduced him to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.[2] Referred to simply as the Golden Dawn (no relation to the Greek neo-fascist political party of the same name), the society was founded in 1888 and considered itself an "outer order" of the Rosicrucians.[3][note 1] After being initiated in 1898 and taking the name Frater Perdurabo (Latin for "I will endure to the end"), Crowley quickly found himself part of a power struggle between leader S. L. MacGregor Mathers and a group of London adepts. When the London adepts refused to advance him to the Second Order, Crowley turned directly to Mathers who acquiesced. Crowley in turn attempted to "retake" the London temple on behalf of Mathers by storming in while dressed in Scottish regalia and wearing a mask on his face,[2] though he was ultimately unsuccessful. Crowley left the Golden Dawn soon afterwards. While some modern-day Golden Dawn groups attempt to downplay Crowley's role in the society,[2] others accuse him of betraying the order by publishing its secrets.[4] Furthermore, Crowley would continue to be strongly influenced by the Golden Dawn throughout his life.


We're gonna ride to the Abbey of Thelema, to the Abbey of Thelema. Blood is pavement!
Marilyn Manson

In 1904, Crowley traveled to Egypt on a honeymoon with his wife, Rose Kelly. While there, Rose supposedly entered into some kind of connection with the Egyptian god Horus. To test this, Crowley supposedly subjected her to tests involving arcane and Qabalistic knowledge of Horus which she apparently passed with flying colors.[5] After performing a ritual, a shadow known as Aiwass[6] supposedly[note 2] dictated to Crowley for an hour.[5] Crowley titled the result The Book of the Law, later given the name Liber AL vel Legis.[note 3] The book was subtitled "sub figure CCXX as delivered by XCIII = 418 to DCLXVI."[note 4] This book would become the central tenet of Crowley's new religion, Thelema (Koine Greek for "will").

The central belief behind both The Book of the Law and Thelema can be summed up in three sentences from the book:

  • “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
  • “Love is the law, love under will.”
  • “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.”[6]

No, you're not on acid. (Unless by some chance you are, in which case get off here and go outside 🙂)

Crowley in the robes of the O.T.O.


In 1907, Crowley, along with his friend Jones, founded the A∴A∴[note 5] as a society to promote Thelema. Various meanings to A∴A∴ have been offered, including Arcanum Arcanorum[7] (Latin for secret of secrets), and Astrum Aregentum[8] (Latin for silver star).[note 6] The grades available to initiates (0=0, 1=10, 2=9, 3=8, 4=7)[9] match those in the Golden Dawn.[10] The A∴A∴ is divided into three groups: The Order of the Golden Dawn, The Order of the Rosy Cross, and the Order of the Silver Star.[note 7] Crowley was the leader of A∴A∴ until his death.


In 1910, Crowley joined the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), which was at that time built around freemasonry, and like he did with the Golden Dawn, quickly rose up through the grades. Relations between him and Theodore Reuss — the then-head of O.T.O. and the man who had brought Crowley in — deteriorated by the 1920s, and Crowley soon usurped Reuss as head of the O.T.O. In his new position of power, Crowley turned the organization away from masonry and towards Thelema, making A∴A∴ a sister society.[11]


Was it polemically sent? I want to know what you meant!
—Ozzy Osbourne, Mr. Crowley, Blizzard of Ozz

Crowley was very open about certain parts of his life, including his drug use, his bisexuality, his use of both drugs and sex in rituals, and his fascination with ritual magic and the occult. As such, Crowley offended the sensibilities of his time, and the press hated him. Crowley relished the negative attention, often saying or doing things for the sole purpose of shock. For instance, Crowley would claim that he sacrificed 150 children a year, as an obtuse way of counting the number of ejaculations that did not result in pregnancy, i.e., masturbation.[12] The press dubbed him "The Wickedest Man in the World" — a name Crowley thoroughly enjoyed — and reported on supposed orgies and rituals, often entirely fictional, that happened at his Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu.[13]

No matter how wicked he was, he ranked at #73 in the list of top 100 Greatest Britons.[14]

In the very popular Japanese light novel/anime series, A Certain Magical Index, he is pictured as a real master of metaphysics. He feigned his own death, founded a city-state for supernatural research, and… grew an impressive head of hair.[15]

Scientology, Wicca, and Illuminati (Oh my!)[edit]

Crowley was perhaps the world's preeminent occultist by the time of his death in 1947. Various fringe groups of A∴A∴ and O.T.O. live on, as do many Thelemic Temples. Jack Parsons continued Crowley's legacy in the US, which in turn influenced L. Ron Hubbard. Wiccans and Neopagans continue to be influenced by works of Crowley, such as his Gnostic Mass written for O.T.O. The A∴A∴ and Crowley are heavily referenced in Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's seminal Illuminatus! Trilogy. In the music world, Crowley appears on the cover of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and was a person of great interest to Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne. Some religious fundies, however, including David J Stewart of the website Jesus Is Savior and Mark Dice,[16] have been very critical of Crowley and regarded him as a "Satanic scumbag" and accusing him of having connections to the Illuminati because of his occult beliefs. The latter of the two, Dice, continuously mentions a quote by Crowley in his YouTube videos, which allegedly advocated child sacrifice, when in fact it advocated no such thing (Crowley is obliquely referring to masturbation, including two footnotes hinting at it).[17] Crowley also comissioned and published the Thoth TarotWikipedia deck, which is still in print.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. William Butler Yeats was also a member, though he and Crowley never got along.
  2. The only source for any of the events surrounding the origins of Thelema come from Crowley's diary (written by Crowley); The Book of the Law (written by Crowley); and The Equinox of the Gods (written by Crowley). Thus, the veracity of these events is doubtful, at best, and is exacerbated by Crowley's penchant for exaggeration and elaborate falsehoods.
  3. The AL is probably an acronym; Crowley loved cryptic, unexplained abbreviations (as evidenced by his journal), and the original title was "Liber L vel Legis."
  4. DCLXVI is 666, the supposed number of Satan, but here represents Crowley himself. While growing up, Crowley felt a connection to Satan as an outsider, and dubbed himself The Great Beast.
  5. Sometimes written A.'.A.'. to avoid finding the symbol on a computer
  6. While many of the possible names are plausible, there is also the chance that A∴A∴ has no meaning, and Crowley just wanted to mess with people (a pastime he did have a fondness for).
  7. The connections to other secret societies has obviously led to no end of conspiracy theories connecting the group to the Illuminati.