“What Einstein did for physics and Joyce for the novel (and Picasso for painting, and Pound for poetry, and Wright for architecture), Crowley did for the mystic tradition.”

Robert Anton Wilson. Introduction to Israel Regardie The Eye in the Triangle.

In the nineteen-twenties, during his lifetime, the British press described Aleister Crowley as the “wickedest man in the world.” “A man we’d like to hang.” Here was the King of Depravity. A bisexual drug addict who practised the worst forms of black magic. Since his death the reputation has expanded still further until it’s easy to find accounts describing him as a practitioner of human sacrifice.

One particular quote seems to represent the hardcore of the legend of infamy. It’s in Crowley’s book Magick, from a chapter entitled “On the Bloody Sacrifice.” “For the highest spiritual working one must accordingly choose that victim which contains the greatest and purest force. A male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory and suitable victim.” In a footnote Crowley then says “he made this particular sacrifice on an average about 150 times a year between 1912 and 1928.” The quote is thrown up again and again in exposes by Christian authors and even allegedly serious occult writers. The very last sentence of Crowley’s “Bloody Sacrifice” chapter says “you are likely to get into trouble over this chapter unless you truly comprehend its meaning.”

So let’s think about this one. We’re being asked to take this passage as evidence that Crowley murdered 150 children a year from 1912 to 1928. That’s 2,400 of them. This would make him unique in the annals of crime. It’s strange how he got away with it really. Rather odd that we have no record of any of the victims. No witnesses. No evidence. Although expelled from some countries and refused entry to others, he was never arrested for any offence, let alone served a jail sentence. Some of his books were banned, even burned as pornographic. He lost a libel action in Court. The little matter of those 2,400 child murders seems to have been ignored.

Crowley was a great jester who loved to write in code in a way that only those with commitment to the subject could understand. He didn’t mind being shocking in some of his poems but Magick was a serious work which he hoped would reach a wide audience. He had seen himself condemned in a cultural climate that was making works like James Joyce’s Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover unavailable through their use of material related to sex. Crowley’s magickal practices involved sex. The ‘blood’ was semen. He was referring to ejaculation in the context of ‘the sacrifice of oneself spiritually’, one’s creative power, without ‘lust of result’, as a further footnote explained. The ‘male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence’ was likewise clarified as ‘the perfect understanding of the magician’, the aim of the process. It was an unfortunate choice of metaphors however and substituted an even more controversial topic for the original.

Yes he did, here and there in rituals during his career, kill an animal, and I personally don’t approve of that.

It does rather seem that the legend of infamy is some kind of smokescreen of nonsense. What lies behind it?

Crowley was a poet hailed in numerous literary journals as a genius. His work was included in the Oxford Book of Mystical Verse but he was also responsible for what has been considered to be some of the vilest pornography in the English language.

He has also been considered to be either a monstrous degenerate or pioneer of sexual freedom for the endless lovers, both and female and male, that he had throughout his life.

At one time he held some of the world mountaineering records having climbed higher in the Himalayas than anyone else.

He played chess to the standard approaching that of a Grand Master and was able to manage two games at once blindfolded, thus displaying extraordinary abilities of visualisation and concentration.

Crowley was one of the first westerners to immerse themselves in the study of eastern religion, having travelled extensively in Arab countries, India, and China. Beyond the studies of the many translators of the time, in the first decade of the twentieth century, he practiced physical and mental yoga with great dedication. Many works that later became famous in the West were familiar to him such as the I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad Gita, Dhammapada and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

He was the first person of any note in the West to systematically experiment with the full range of consciousness expanding drugs ie, hashish, mescaline, ether, cocaine and heroin. For better or for worse, the psychedelic revolution of the sixties was inspired more by him than anyone else.

First and foremost though, Crowley comes down to us as the magician. A member of the most famous occult group of the nineteenth century, theGoldenDawn, he went from there to believe he had received a communication from a non-human entity, an angel for want of better terminology, who gave him a new Bible for a new age or Aeon. This work was The Book of the Law and it contains the phrase which is most strongly associated with him, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

This indeed is the enigma of Aleister Crowley. We all have different facets to ourselves but in Crowley they are written large. Very large. Any one of his different aspects would serve most people for a life’s work. How can we get to the essence of the man?