Aleister Crowley, 1875-1947, was born Edward Alexander to Edward and Emily Crowley
Leamington, Warwickshire. His father died when Aleister was eleven, and the boy and
mother went to live with relatives. Supported by a legacy left by his father, Crowley
entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1895. Though he rarely attended lectures and
without taking a degree, his time at Cambridge was not wasted. He began a program
self-education which involved reading everything he could get his hands on, becoming
extremely proficient at chess, and enjoying the social venue available to a wealthy
young college man of the times. Crowley traveled a great deal during school holidays,
taking trips to St. Petersburg, Holland, and Scandinavia. It was in Stockholm on New
Year's Eve 1896 that he had his first mystical experience, which was to shape his
pursuits for the rest of his life.
After his mystical experience Crowley began to take his writing seriously and in 1898
privately published the long poem Aceldema: A
Place to Bury Strangers In. Though he had changed his name to Aleister early
in his Cambridge career, he published this work anonymously under the moniker "A Gentleman of the University of Cambridge."
Aceldema was followed by several other
long poems including a mildly pornographic publication White Stains (1898).
Crowley left Cambridge in 1898 and in November became an initiate in the Order of
Golden Dawn, under the tutelage of Samuel Mathers, one of the founders of the Order.
progressed rapidly through the ranks and his efforts to assume a leadership role in
London chapter of the Order, against the firm opposition of fellow member W. B. Yeats,
sparked a power struggle which eventually destroyed the Order in 1900. After the
dissolution of the Golden Dawn Crowley traveled to America, Mexico, Hawaii, and India,
returning to England in 1903 where he married Rose Kelly. The couple took an extended
honeymoon which took them back to India in 1904 where their daughter was born.
The Crowleys were in Cairo in the spring of 1904 when Rose, who had previously shown
little or no interest in the occult, became possessed by an entity named Aiwass. Over
the course of three days Aiwass dictated a text to Crowley which became known as Liber AL vel Legis or The Book of the Law. In this work Crowley
was named as the Prophet of a New Aeon which would end the Age of Osiris and usher
the Age of Horus.
Between 1907 and 1911 Crowley, under the direct influence of a spirit, wrote twelve
Books. During these years he also worked on nonmagical manuscripts and published several
long poems including Clouds Without Water
(1908) and began expanding his literary efforts to prose in the form of Knox Om Pax (1907). In 1909 Crowley
announced in the first issue of his new publication The Equinox, the formation of a magical order, the Argentum
Astrum or Silver Star, also called A.A. Though Crowley had done his best to ignore
dictates of The Book of the Law, the
slim volume quickly became the central core of Crowley's magical system. By 1913 the
A.A. was no longer flourishing and Crowley had been inspired by the Ordo Templi Orientis
(O.T.O.), a fringe Masonic order. He took the name Baphomet and became the head of
English speaking branch of the order.
Crowley spent the duration of World War I in America, returning to England in 1919.
next went to Sicily where he began an abbey and battled a growing heroin addiction.
1923 a disciple died of fever and his widow accused Crowley of murder, bringing unwanted
notoriety to the abbey and leading to Crowley's expulsion from Italy. In 1925 he was
elected World Head of the O.T.O., and 1929 saw the publication of his seminal work
Magik: In Theory and in Practice.
Crowley traveled between England and Germany a good deal during the 1930s. He initially
admired aspects of the Nazi system, but by the time World War II started, he was
disillusioned and spent the years of the war on the south coast of England. He battled
frequent bouts of ill health and a recurrence of his heroin addiction. He also finished
a number of writing projects, including the Book of Thoth and a redesign of the 78 cards of the Tarot deck. In 1945 he
moved to his last home, a residential hotel in Hastings, and died on December 1,