1988 – Kerrang: The King Of Depravity

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He’s been dead over 40 years and he’s still cool! He was into sex n’ drugs before rock n’ roll was born! He liked boiled eggs and looked like one! He’s a cannibal at large! He’s Aleister Crowley! By Giovanni Dadomo.

When Aleister Crowley was asked to join the Beatles in 1967 he did not say no. He had, after all, been dead for 20 years. Nevertheless there’s no doubt that the most notorious magician of the 20th Century would have relished being on the cover of “Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” alongside the group who once boasted to be “bigger than Christ”.

10 years later came a resurrection of his image Crowley probably wouldn’t have relished, when his picture appeared on posters and T-shirts promoting Eddie and the Hot Rods’ hit record “Do Anything You Wanna Do”- only in Michael Beal’s collage The Great Beast was wearing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. Why would a notorious magician, dead since 1947 and once reviled by the gutter press as “The Wickedest Man In The World”, wind up as a pop culture icon whose name and words would be taken up by such diverse figures as David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne and Genesis P. Orridge? There are probably as many answers as there were Aleister Crowleys. He was, at various times in his life; magician, poet, drug-fiend, mountaineer, bankrupt, sex-pervert, novelist, cultist, mystic….the list goes on.

Perhaps most importantly Crowley was at once an outlaw and a pioneer, an adventurer in the use of sex and weird drugs. In the intro to the best Crowley book to date,”The Great Beast”, John Symonds includes a telling quote from the London hippie newspaper International Times circa 1966/67. Crowley said IT, was “the unsung hero of the hippies”.

And, like it or not,nearly everything that’s happened since in popular music and culture has it’s roots in hippiedom, even the raising of Aleister Crowley to the mythic proportions he’s continued to enjoy ever since. Clearly by 1967, Aleister Crowley was a man who’s time had come. Too bad he missed it!

THE BEAST GOES ON

Or did he? crowley was a big believer in reincarnation,describing a host of other lives including a debauched Pope, traveller-magician Count Cagliostro, a hermaphrodite, a visionary who talked with the angels, and so on back in time.

So is Crowley still around, merely sporting different flesh? Did he re-emerge as punk-poet Jim Carrol, author of the dope-ridden “Basketball Diaries” who sang the Crowley adapted advice: “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” on his “Catholic Boy” album debut? Or did he come back as Peter Perret, sensual lead singer of The Only Ones, singing items with titles like “The Beast” and “The Whole Of The Law”? And even if reincarnation’s just a load of tosh in Crowley’s case (and biographer John Symonds says as much when he points out how vague AC tends to be about specifics in his past lives, his “knowledge” being largely confined to what any bod might have read in existent records), even if it was all hype, well, they do say possession is nine-tenths of the law….

So let’s say Mick Jagger was possessed by Crowley when he wrote “Sympathy For The Devil”, as was doomed organist Graham Bond when he recorded “Holy Magick”(he later died on a Picadilly Line tube rail after what was said to have been a particularly messy exorcism);and Bowie the ex-hippie with magical leanings(“Width of a Circle” on The Man Who Sold The World) writing about being “wrapped in Crowley’s uniform” in the “Hunky Dory” song “Quicksand”.

Not to mention Jimmy Page ,who once owned an occult bookshop, had a Crowley maxim engraved on th run-out groove of a Led Zep album, published Crowley material and even managed to buy Crowley’s Scottish home of Boleskine, on the banks of Loch Ness.

Crowley’s influence remains as persistent as ever, recent manifestations including the work of Coil(who did music for Clive Barkers possession saga “Hellraiser”); Genesis P Orridge, with his various music and lifestyle experiments and the recent subject of a Sunday People shock- expose that reads remarkably like what the yellow press of his day said about the Beast; to the veritable plethora of Metal bands with occult leanings.

Aleister Crowley’s alive and well but he’s still dead. And even if he ain’t, it’s most unlikely he’s formed his own rock band, says former rock scribe and all time Crowley freak Sandy Robertson, author of the recent “Aleister Crowley Scrapbook”. “He wouldn’t be in a Heavy Metal band but he’d probably utilise them to play at his fetes and things.”

Given this response it’s hard not to imagine Crowley fulfilling a similar role to the thousand-year hero of Anne Rice’s brilliant novel “The Vampire Lestat”, who enjoys the thrills of stardom at second-hand by adopting a group to sing about the joys of being Undead. So kids, be extra careful the next time someone promises you fame and foreign – it could be the reincarnated Mr. C……

ONE HELL OF A GUY

Edward Alexander Crowley was born in 1875 to a family of well-established brewers. Paradoxically the Crowley’s were also devoted members of the neo-Puritan Plymouth Brethren sect; Crowley’s father would travel around preaching the “true religion”, and from that age of four the young “Aleck”would be required to take his turn at the daily readings from the Good Book.

It’s no real surprise that Crowley’s main pseudonym in later years would be that of “The Great Beast 666”.No he wasn’t a Demis Roussos fan in a time-warp (the Human Kebab would make his debut with a disc of that name as part of Aphrodite’s Child way forward in the ’60s); on the contrary, this Beast was one of the stars of St. Johns hallucinatory “Book Of Revelation” psyche-out grand finale of the “New Testament”

An ever more fantastical liar, Crowley would claim to have had a traumatic boyhood. In fact, he enjoyed a fairly normal Victorian childhood: Christmas was banned as a Pagan festival, the Spectre of Sin was everywhere, and school was a 50/50 mixture of Bible and birch.

No wonder Crowley grew up with strong masochistic tendencies, a self-styled Antichrist whose partners in debauch were a series of Scarlet Women.

But first a fairly average English upbringing – the usual public school stuff, all floggings and buggery – followed by a place at Cambridge. He did very little course work, preferring to indulge the twin passions of poetry and mountaineering while doing all the whoring he could in-between.

He traveled extensively across Europe and into pre-revolutionary Russia. Here, as throughout his busy life, Crowley never did anything by halves. These early indulgences were made possible by the generous inheritance left by Crowley Snr, who was silenced by a mouth cancer when AC was 10.

Already the young man hungered for recognition, tellingly adopting the first name Aleister to conform to a formula which said this would greatly enhance his quest for fame. His self-published poetry didn’t achieve this, although a pornographic collection of verse entitled “White Stains” was later described by an expert in erotica as “the filthiest in the English language”.

Then, on the last day of his 21st year, Aleister Crowley had an intensely moving experience in a Stockholm hotel : he realised his magic destiny.

In due course an alchemist friend led him to the Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret magical sect whose members included fantasy writer Arthur Machen and the poet W.B. Yeats. Crowley was entranced by the elaborate rituals and regalia of the secret society, but what impressed him even more was the it’s leader, Samuel Liddell Mathers, an obscure Englishman who enjoyed playing the part of a noble Scot.

Taking his lead the young Crowley adopted a Russian accent and became to all intents and purposes Count Vladimir Svareff. When he purchased his Highland home of Boleskine he became a Scot’s laird.

It was in this period that Crowley began to practice magic in earnest. Together with his alchemist pal he succeeded in materialising the helmeted head and left leg of a “healing spirit”. On another occasion an army of half-seen demons spent the night tramping about his London flat.

This can’t have pleased the neighbours overmuch and we next hear of Crowley’s conjuring in the more private environs of Boleskine, where he nevertheless managed to drive one of his servants into a mad frenzy and learned to make his reflection all but disappear from a mirror.

HOLY GURU

That Crowley took his magic seriously is beyond doubt. Travelling extensively once more, he studied the “Cabbalah” in Mexico and Eastern mysticism in Ceylon. Along with his first wife he went on a whirlwind tour that took in Paris, Cairo and Ceylon.

In Cairo he appeared in eastern robes and impersonated a Sultan. Urged by his wife Rose, it was here that Crowley first managed to invoke Aiwass, the guardian angel figure who dictated “The Book Of The Law”, the writings that would form the knub of Crowley’s self-styled religion in years to come.

It’s two key phrases : “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”,and “Love is the law, love under will”.

By 1910 Crowley was in full swing. He’d broken with the Golden Dawn and founded his own order, Silver Star; published a twice-yearly booklet of magical writings The Equinox, opened a Satanic Temple in Fulham Road; and shaved his head – an act which, emphasised his piercing eyes, only added to the power of his physical presence.

Crowley had also discovered drugs by now and performed an elaborate ritual (accompanied by his latest mistress on violin) utilising the psychedelic mescalin. The “show” got lousy reviews.

Crowleys satanic image was further enhanced when he filed his incisor teeth to points to administer what he dubbed his Serpent’s Kiss. He also took to crapping on the temple carpets, convinced that, like the Dalai Lama of Tibet, even his faecal matter was holy.

Crowley spent the First World War in America, where he adopted the persona of an Irishman and fulminated against the British, an action which would later earn him the title of “a minor traitor”. His fortune was long gone by now but his reputation as a mage was at it’s peak. Consequentially Crowley was rarely short of funds by the well-off admirers he attracted.

He was equally okay with the ladies, enticing a succession of (frequently well-heeled) Scarlet Women to his side, all of whom he treated abominably. But as Crowley preferred masochistic females anyway, these hapless individuals were doubtless ecstatic.

The height of Crowley’s infamy came about between the wars. By now the magician had established himself in Sicily, where he lead beleivers through the rituals at the “abbey” ( in reality a rather squalid peasant cottage) of Thelema. He had two regular Scarlet Women with him and took his pleasure with others at will, regardless of gender.

But the crunch came when a follower named Raoul Loveday died – either form drinking tainted water or the blood of a sacrificed cat. Loveday’s wife fled to England and told her story to The Daily Express, which delighted in exposing the “black magician” and hid nefarious deeds.

Another periodical named John Bull took up the case and it was here that Crowley earned such headlines as “The Wickedest Man In The World” and “The Man We’d Like To Hang”. Doubtless reports were exaggerated – there was talk of a baby disappearing – but it’s true that a wide variety of “sex magic” was practiced and that cocaine and heroin were freely available, Crowley believing that his followers could only prove their superiority to drugs by taking them in huge quantities!

The bad press leaked back to Italy where dictator Benoti Mussolini duly ejected Crowley. He spent a lot of time in Paris, down and out and living off the generosity of his friends, but hit the headlines again when he faked a “Reggie Perrin”-style mock suicide. The uproar in the press was somewhat precipitate: shortly afterwards Crowley turned up in Berlin for an exhibition of his paintings.

DECLINE AND FALL

In the latter part of his life Aleister Crowley fought poverty in many ingenious ways. For a start he continued to be sustained by his believers, of which a group was now well established on America’s loony West Coast (and from which member L Ron Hubbard doubtless picked up a few hints for when he set up his Church of Scientology in later years).

Alas, Crowley’s plan to open a Black Magic Restaurant came to nothing, as did a game he developed named Thelema. But his Elixir Of Life pills – with the magical ingredients of AC’s own sperm, always an important of his rituals – brought home the bacon, as well as some amusing letters testifying to their (and their user’s) potency.

In 1937 came a crushing blow: Crowley was in a Turkish bath when one of his Serpent’s Teeth fell out . Three years later he noted a “weak erection” for the first time. Doubtless the fact that he now had a huge heroin habit contributed to this as well. Like Count Dracula, he preferred to lunch in private, discovered biographer John Symonds. But the mystery was resolved when Symonds found out Crowley’s “lunch” consisted of a boiled egg and a fix.

Aleister Crowley lived most of his life convinced he was a messiah, the harbringer of a New Age. In the end, even his own Elixir of Life failed him.

No wonder his last words were these:

“I am perplexed……….” But he’d written a far better epitaph in his glory days: “I am the Beast, I am the World of the Aeon. I spend my soul in blazing torrents that that roar into Night, streams that with molten tongues hiss as they lick.

“I am a hell of a Holy Guru.”

The Beast is dead. Long live the Beast.

Now read on:

Colin Wilson : “The Occult”
Grafton Sandy Robertson : “The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook” Foulsham.
John Symonds: “The Great Beast” Mayflower, 1973.
Pix from “The Aleister Crowley Scrapbook”

Pictures in article:

Full face pic of a bald AC – Aleister Crowley:aka “The Beats 666” Old
Crowley with staff – Crowley with his intrically carved magickal wand.
A Young AC in robes – The Young Beast in pre-Abbey days.
A Led Zep/Crowley advert for Boleskine O.T.O in California.

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