From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Aleister Crowley, born Edward Alexander Crowley, (12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947; the surname is pronounced with the first syllable sounding like "crow" in English) was a British occultist, writer and mystic, who has been influential to such artists as Kenneth Anger and Donald Cammell.
The Italian historian of esotericism Giordano Berti, in his book Tarocchi Aleister Crowley (1998) quotes a number of literary works and films inspired by Crowley's life and legends. Some of the films are The Magician (1926) by Rex Ingram, based upon the eponymous book written by William Somerset Maugham (1908); Night of the Demon (1957) by Jacques Tourneur, based on a novel of M. R. James.
The Beatles featured Crowley on the front cover of their eighth album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. He's the second cut-out on the first row. Crowley has been influential to many heavy metal bands.
Crowley was a highly prolific writer, not only on the topic of Thelema and magick, but on philosophy, politics, and culture. The poems and plays written in his twenties and found in his Collected Works of Aleister Crowley 1905-1907 were alone enough to substantiate a common writer's career. He left behind a countless number of personal letters and daily journal entries. He self-published many of his books, expending the majority of his inheritance to disseminate his views.
Within the subject of occultism Crowley wrote widely, penning commentaries on magick, divinatory tarot, Yoga, Qabalah, astrology, and numerous other subjects. He also wrote a Thelemic interpolation of the Tao Te Ching, based on earlier English translations since he knew little or no Chinese. Like the Golden Dawn mystics before him, Crowley evidently sought to comprehend the entire human religious and mystical experience in a single philosophy.
Some of his most influential books include:
- The Book of the Law
- Magick (Book 4)
- The Book of Lies
- The Vision and the Voice
- 777 and other Qabalistic writings
- The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
- Magick Without Tears
- Little Essays Toward Truth
- The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King (translation of original text)
- The General Principles of Astrology (with Evangeline Adams, Hymenaeus Beta, and others)
He also edited and produced a series of publications in book form called The Equinox (subtitled "The Review of Scientific Illuminism"), which served as the voice of his magical order, the A∴A∴. Although the entire set is influential and remains one of the definitive works on occultism, some of the more notable issues are:
- III:1, "The Blue Equinox" (largely regarding the structure of OTO)
- III:2, The Gospel According to St. Bernard Shaw and other papers (proof copy only)
- III:3, The Equinox of the Gods (covering the events leading up to the writing of Liber Legis)
- III:4, Eight Lectures on Yoga
- III:5, The Book of Thoth (a full treatise on his Thoth Tarot)
- III:6, Liber Aleph (An extended and elaborate commentary on Liber Legis in the form of short letters)
- III:7, The Shih I (allegedly. An unfinished/published translation of the I Ching)
- III:8, The Tao Te Ching (a translation of the Chinese classic)
- III:9, The Holy Books of Thelema (the "received" works of Crowley)
- III:10, An issue with mostly O.T.O constitutional papers
- IV:1, Commentary on the Holy Books, and other papers (mainly Liber 65 and Madame Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence)
- IV:2, The Vision and the Voice with Commentary and other papers
Crowley also wrote fiction, including plays and later novels, most of which have not received significant notice outside of occult circles. Some of these fictional works include:
- The Scrutinies of Simon Iff
- Golden Twigs
- Diary of a Drug Fiend
- The Fish (unfinished)
- Simon Iff Abroad (unpublished)
- Simon Iff in America (unpublished)
- Simon Iff, Psychoanalyst (unpublished)
- The Stratagem and other Stories
- The Testament of Magdalen Blair
Crowley also had a peculiar sense of humour, which he often utilised as a teaching instrument. He wrote a polemic arguing against George Bernard Shaw's interpretation of the Gospels in his preface to Androcles and the Lion, which was edited by Francis King and published as Crowley on Christ. In his Magick, Book 4 he includes a chapter purporting to illuminate the Qabalistic significance of Mother Goose nursery rhymes. In re Humpty Dumpty, for instance, he recommends the occult authority "Ludovicus Carolus" -- better known as Lewis Carroll. In a footnote to the chapter he admits that he had invented the alleged meanings, to show that one can find occult "Truth" in everything. His "8 Lectures On Yoga" are written under the name Guru Sri Pramahansa Shivaji (which translates into something along the lines of "Great Exalted Guru of Shiva") and are divided into "Yoga for Yahoos" and "Yoga for Yellowbellies". In The Book of Lies, the title to chapter 69 is given as "The Way to Succeed - and the Way to Suck Eggs!" a pun, as the chapter concerns the 69 sex position as a mystical act.
Crowley was rated a good poet by G.K. Chesterton to whom Crowley later dedicated in a part a book. He wrote the 1929 Hymn to Pan, perhaps his most widely read and anthologised poem. Three pieces by Crowley, "The Quest", and "The Rose and the Cross", appear in the 1917 collection The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Crowley's unusual sense of humour is on display in White Stains, an 1898 collection of pornographic verse pretended to be "the literary remains of George Archibald Bishop, a neuropath of the Second Empire;" the volume is prefaced with a notice that says that " The Editor hopes that Mental Pathologists, for whose eyes alone this treatise is destined, will spare no precaution to prevent it falling into other hands."
Some of his published poetry includes:
- White Stains (1898).
- Alice, an Adultery (1903).
- The Sword of Song (1904).
- The Star and the Garter. (1904).
- Orpheus, a Lyrical Legend (two volumes, 1905).
- Snowdrops From a Curate’s Garden. (1904).
- Clouds without Water ("by the Reverend C. Verey", 1909)
- Amphora (Hymns to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Burns & Oates, 1909)
- The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz. ( "translated by Major Lutiy", 1910).
- Aha ! (1910)
- Ambergris: the Selected Poems of Aleister Crowley (1910)
- The Winged Beetle. (1912).
- Olla, an Anthology of Sixty years of Song (1946, his last published work)
The Greek scholar Dionysios Psilopoulos has written on Crowley as a poet (Ph.D., Edinburgh).