As you all may have noticed, I like to hear the sound of my own written voice. That is why I write such long posts (that and I have a hard time focusing and don’t actually read them over to see if I can cut anything out BECAUSE I KNOW IT’S ALL GOLD). So this week is an exercise in brevity for me. Also, I’m not saying I’m phoning this in, but I’m not not saying that I don’t have a shitton of other stuff to do.
(That link was shameless. Again, I know, I’m sorry, get over it. )
Thus ends my preamble, and so begins the part that is not the preamble. Question: What do you get from a country when Protestant morals are so deeply ingrained in the values and society that the collective consciousness resembles something akin to a four hour reflective prayer session in a Puritan meeting hall? You get England, and the culturally inherited (but not totally untrue) stereotypes of the stiff-upper-lip, willingness to submit to an unflinchingly ridged hierarchical structure, and a healthy sense of rebellious deviance.
You also get the religious entrepreneur, Aleister Crowley. Born in 1875 as Edward Crowley, he was perfectly poised (because the stars aligned, WHAT WHHUT) to ensnare the already willing imaginations of the Edwardians and post-Great War Bright Young Things. His parents were fairly wealthy, and extremely devout members of the Protestant religious sect known as the Exclusive Brethren, who I can most easily described as the Amish of Britain. This led Edward to do as every good teenagers does and hate the thing they valued most: Christianity.
After attending multiple private schools and universities, he increasingly challenged the Protestant values and teachings prevalent in education at the time. He also started to nail a lot of girls. ‘Cause, you know, The Bible says you shouldn’t.
He didn’t discriminate though, seeking out both prostitutes as well as girls he met off the street. Sort of like a Starz series, all full of passion, illicitly casual sex and mediocre production values. Annnnnnd he got gonorrhea before he was 20.
Along with dipping his wick in a lot of wax, young Edward engaged in many other pastimes including mountaineering, playing chess, writing and publishing erotica, and having lots of hetero and homosexual encounters (which were illegal, as you may recall until the Michael Pitt-Rivers trial of 1954, great-grandson of Lt.Gen. A.H. Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, whose ethnographic collection formed the basis of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford. NOW you know why that name sounded so familiar!). Oh, and he changed his name to Aleister. Rad.
He had a real nice boy-fran for a while, named Herbert Charles Pollitt, but they broke up because of Aleister’s increasing interest in the esoteric. For those of you who pretend to know the meanings of lots of words you actually don’t to sound smart, and may be wanting to quick search the interwebs for what esoteric actually means, I’ll oblige you (because let’s face it, I’m the queen of pretending I know more than I actually do). In the case of Aleister Crowley, when we talk about esoteric beliefs, we’re talking about mysticism, magic, and a fake religion Crowley made up about himself.
He attributed his first mystical experiences to sexual activity, which brought him closer to an “immanent diety.” Clearly a formative experiance, so, hey, why not make that the basis of a faith? He studied alchemy and became a member of various cults religious societies in his mid twenties, as well as learning about the ritualistic use of drugs in magical ceremonies. He took a flat in London in which he had two rooms, one devoted to ‘White Magic,’ and the other to ‘Black Magic.’ As in, the type of magic from THE BLACK CAULDRON THE CLASSIC 1985 ANIMATED FILM BASED ON THE BOOK SERIES BY LLOYD ALEXANDER AND THE WELSH MYTHOLOGICAL TRADITION YES I LOVE ALL THE THINGS I JUST LISTED.
He then set sail to Mexico, India, China, America, Hawaii (NOT PART OF AMERICA), Hong Kong, Eygpt and Ceylon (SRI LANKA BITCES), tasted the local flavors (IF YOU KNOW WHAT IM SAYIN’ YEAH YA DO), did some mountain climbing (YEAH HE DID), tried yoga (SO MANY POSITIONS) and got married to Rose Edith Kelly (CAPITAL LETTERS).
He decided to call it Thelema, derived from the Greek for ‘True Will,’ and the religious text was called The Book of the Law (it’s number 4 on Oprah’s summer reading list). It was associated with ideas of Sun worship, reverence to a goddess of ‘all pleasure’ called Babalon, or “The Virgin Whore,” wild animals, and magick (the k makes it kool). Practices included masturbation, hetero and homosexual encounters, blood sacrifice, hallucinogenic drug use, and sunbathing (???). Oh yeah, and shortly after he created Thelema, Aleister was climbing and fell from 40 feet only to survive unscathed, making him think he was Mark Walhberg. So that happened.
He traveled around Britian and the US drumming up interest, mostly amongst a string of religious nutjob slorebags, and eventually founded (with one of his main sausage-wallets) his culminating achievement, the Abbey of Thelema in rural Palermo. It was this wholesomely named establishment that earned him the title, “The Most Evil Man in Britain,” since Tony Blair hadn’t been born yet. I have to stress how effing out there it was to be Aleister Crowley in the teens and twenties. I mean, you may be thinking he’s pretty strange right now, but there is no way to underrepresent the effect of his behavior in England, the most morally conservative country in Western Europe. He was news. He was crazy. He was corrupting the youth and challenging the morals and ideas his country had held for over 300 years FOR NO SEEMINGLY GREATER REASON OTHER THAN HE WANTED TO TAKE DRUG BONE SOME BITCHES AND BE WORSHIPPED.
One of his critics called his religious views and practices “a steaming pile of shite, replete with corpulent flies, buzzing hither and thither.” BUT, his supporters said of him that “Crowley clothed many of his teachings in the thin veil of sensational titillation. By doing so he assured himself that his works would only be appreciated by the few individuals capable of doing so.” Yup, only a few people can appreciate promiscuous sex.
His ‘anti-monastery’/magickkkkkk school at Thelema, where e’rybody did whatever and whoever they wanted, was populated by a bunch of wealthy, gullible, younger children of the English uppercrust who wanted to escape the reality of a war-ravaged Europe, have free sex and drugs disguised as spiritual enlightenment, and be on the forefront of the supposed ‘post-Bloomsbury’ cultural movement (since they were encouraged to write about their feelings after coitus. Like Poetry Orgy Summer Camp!).
But, as with all good things, it was merely a fleeting moment in time, like a season of Mad Men, or Daniel Craig’s beard. While at the Abbey, Aleister fathered at least 2, possibly 3 children by multiple women (none of them his wife who he drove to alcoholism, and that pissed some people off back home). There were rumors that a man had died because of a sacrificial ceremony involving drinking the blood of a cat (what?????), and, of course, petty jealousies and gossip served to fracture the community of believers Crowley had gathered around him. The press had a fieldday with this crap, and called it a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah…. which is pretty apt.
The Italian Prime Minister, you might have heard of him, Benito Mussolini, didn’t like that shit, ’cause he was a fascist and they hate everything, so he kicked the Abbey out in 1923. And to cut what was, in fact, not an exactly a short story short, Aleister got remarried, but kept boning like all these chicks, fathered at least 2 more children on top of the 4 or more attributed to him, became bankrupt after he lost like all these lawsuits (and after he tried to fake his own death), and then became a spy for Ian Fleming (yup) during the WWII. Go figure.
So from devout Chrisitian upbringing, to religious sex zealot; from “Most Evil Man in Britain” to working espionage for the government, I give you Aleister Crowley. Boy, it sure would be hard to top him.