Maybe we’ll never know exactly what happened during September 1930 when Edward Alexander (a.k.a. Aleister) Crowley was visiting Lisbon and the nearby areas, in the company of Fernando Pessoa. The esoteric and occult aspects of the Portuguese poet’s life are, until today, shrouded in questions to which there may not be any answers. One of these questions is connected to his friendship with this eccentric Englishman, whose fame disturbs the distinction between real and mistified facts.
Born in 1875, from a wealthy family, Aleister studied greek, latin and hebrew in Cambridge, was a chess and a whist champion, became a great hunter (it is told that he killed three lions with three great shots), climbed some vulcans in Mexico and the infamous K2 assassin mountain in the Himalayas, travelled all across the world, and was also a painter and a poet of doubtful taste. He met the great artists of the start of the century and inspired Somerset Maughan in his creation of the main character of “”The Magician””, mainly because Aleister was a great specialist in black magic, a summoner of spirits, a satanic cultist, and, judging from what is known of him, a member of almost all of the secret societies – Golden Dawn, Masonry, Rosenkraut and The Templars. His rituals used sex and drugs in order to achieve the so-called Astral Plane. He was accused of driving his followers mad, particularly the women, of whom he had a very weak opinion. According to the legends surrounding him, he was immune to poisons and his curses often worked. He was considered “”Persona non grata”” in France and Italy, and was very different from the peaceful and insightful Fernando Pessoa. It is known that they traded correspondence for some time but, there is not any sound evidence that explains his visit to Portugal.
Still, the fact remains that he was in Sintra (near Lisbon) accompanied with a woman, and found it a gorgeous village, and he strolled and bathed in Estoril beach. His young female escort however, left him for no apparent reason and without any warning. To annoy her, Aleister planned a false suicide – he disappeared mysteriously leaving a suicide letter in the crags of Boca do Inferno (“”Hell’s Mouth”” – a feared ravine that leads to the Sea between Sintra and Estoril, near Lisbon). During some time, the local Newspapers mentioned the subject and there was some police investigation. It was known, some time later, that the farce was created with the precious help of Fernando Pessoa, who presented the case as a homicide: some fanatic catholic would have pushed the devilish figure literally into Hell’s Mouth (Boca do Inferno). Privatelly, the Portuguese poet would confess that he was still corresponding with the mage, but in public, he would maintain the original disappearance version.
It is possible that Crowley had come to Sintra in order to perform some ritual, which, after his female partner ran away, could not be terminated. Another possibility is an international police man hunt – apart from his infamous behaviour, he was also known for not paying his expenses at hotels and what’s worse, some years before he used to brag about being a counter-spy for British Intelligence during the Great War. Finally, the possibility of role-playing some kind of magic/crime fiction, in order to shake the ever sleepy Lisbon society, appealed to both Crowley and Pessoa. Pessoa suggested the place, which was very convenient due to its spooky name and atmosphere. Crowley selected the date of his preference: 23rd of September, at 18 hours, 36 minutes – the time of the Autumn Equinox. Symbolically, just like the Sun, the mage plunged in the ocean abyss of Europe’s westernmost country, in the day when darkness wins over light.