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Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

Was Crowley the “Wickedest Man in the World”?

Why has no Blue Plaque been awarded to Aleister Crowley – self-styled “The Beast 666”? Perhaps we may understand why when we hear that the popular press described this charismatic character as “The Wickedest Man in the World”. Gilly Metcalfe writes.

The unlikely setting for the birth of “The Beast 666” on 12 October 1875 was Royal Leamington Spa. His father, having inherited the brewery family fortune, gave up brewing to become an evangelist preacher for the Plymouth Brethren, but Aleister (originally ‘Edward Alexander Crowley’) kicked over his Christian upbringing in favour of more unconventional disciplines.

He stated that “…one would go mad if one were to take the Bible seriously, but to take it seriously one must be already mad.” He concluded that “Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people.”

He attended Cambridge University but dropped out without a degree, instead following a multi-faceted career of occultist, writer, poet, artist and mountaineer.  Increasingly interested in the occult, he became a practitioner of ‘majick’, as he called it.

At the turn of the century, the occult was fashionable and popular, and in 1898 he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, derived from the Rosicrucians. The poet William Butler Yeats, another member, befriended him, as did several other well-known and influential people. But his friends deserted him when a number of bizarre and tragic incidents were linked to his name.

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley

Following a mountaineering accident on Mount Kanchenjunga on the border between India and Nepal, when four of his companions were swept to their deaths by an avalanche, it was rumoured that he had ignored their cries for help. Aleister had always held that he had warned the four of the danger.

Later his name was associated with several deaths following the opening of Tutankhamen’s tomb; it was supposed that his interests in the occult and in magic had been partly responsible for these deaths.

It was during this visit to Egypt in 1904 that he claimed to have heard messages not only dictating poems and books, but also instructing him to found a new religion which he called Thelema, based on the ancient Greek word for ‘Will’. He envisaged a new law – that one’s self-determination and the idea of “Do what thou will” were all that mattered. From then on, Aleister held that, “Do what thou will shall be the whole of the law”. The Book of the Law was adopted by the German group Ordo Templi Orientis.

Aleister spent World War I in the United States, contributing to the pro-German newspaper The Fatherland. Although he claimed that he had been a double agent acting on behalf of the British Government, the newspapers were having none of it. He was damned for his collusion with the Germans, making his return to England after the war extremely unpopular.

He moved to Cefalu on the Italian island of Sicily, where he wrote The Diary of a Drug Fiend, published as a novel but thought to be autobiographical. In 1923 the scandal of the death of a young man, said to have been involved in some sort of sacrificial religious rite on the island, resulted in Aleister’s expulsion from Italy. It was at this point that the popular press named him “The Wickedest Man in the World”, accusing him of “sex magic.”

By the 1930s he was almost penniless. He had squandered the whole of his inherited family fortune and, having few followers, he moved to Torquay. Bored with Torquay, he moved finally to Hastings where he lived for a time in Harpsichord House, Cobourg Place, which at that time what was what is known as a rooming house or lodging house – offering single room accommodation. In 1944 his final venture was to publish The Book of Troth, which explained his designs, produced in collaboration with his artist friend, Frieda Harris, for a new version of tarot cards.

He finally moved to Netherwood House, a guest house on the Ridge run by Mr and Mrs  Symonds, an eccentric and artistic couple. Mrs Symonds was always known as ‘Johnny’. There was a beautiful garden with fine views over Hastings where Aleister walked in the mornings. Here the Symonds kept their white pet rabbits, which Aleister named the Chrysanthemums.

Feeding the Rabbits Frederick Morgan

Feeding the Rabbits Frederick Morgan

‘Johnny,’ real name Kathleen, gave an account of his time with them, finding him to be a charming and erudite guest, popular with the other residents. Aleister spent much time in his room taking heroin, which was known of and allowed by the police. It was sent down to him by Kepples, a London chemist. According to ‘Johnny’ Symonds, she often watched him stick a needle in his arm and she said that he  didn’t mind!

He had many well-known visitors and several friends from Germany who brought him wine. He also joined the local chess club and apparently never lost a game. The housekeeper didn’t like him because he teased her, accusing her of being a witch and flying past his window at night. She said that his favourite meal (he always took meals in his room on a tray) was sardines sprinkled with curry powder.

He died on 1 December 1947 of chronic bronchitis and pleurisy. Mrs Symonds was with him. His cremation in Brighton was reported in the tabloids as a Black Mass, with no service and no ceremony. Mrs Symonds said that only two or three friends were present, and that one was a German lady who laid a red rose on his coffin.

On the night of his cremation there was a violent thunderstorm over Hastings. He would probably have liked that.

So was ‘The Beast’ really ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’ – or just a victim of coincidence, circumstance and self-obsession? Were the other Blue Plaque awardees perfect angels? Or was he not much worse than anyone else? Does he, too, deserve a Blue Plaque?

We are indebted to Rodney Harrison for memories of the last days of Aleister Crowley.

Posted 18:17 Tuesday, Oct 16, 2018 In: Hastings People


Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Paul Burns

    There are already 666 blue plaques commemorating the many places Edward Crowley, later known Aleister, spent at least one night. As I am he would have wished, his plaques are invisible to most mortals.

    One group able to see the blue discs are the highest adepts of what Mr Crowley liked to spell as “magick” or “majick”. Those who are not adepts can sometimes see the plaques after ingesting powerful doses of hallucinogens, or “poughafull dozes of allyousingens” as the Great Beast with his talent for curious spellings sometimes wrote.

    And might I add here a request for blue plaques for Mystic Meg and other providers of hororscopes, or auraskopes as Mr Crowley has just chanelled as an interesting alternative.

    Comment by Paul Burns — Sunday, Oct 21, 2018 @ 23:40


    Crowley was nothing more than a drug induced cocaine and heroin addict and a student drop out not much different from many “transcendent illuminated, advanced souls”

    Most of his drivel comes from his addition

    and yes his sex majic involved all kinds of practices and more and more delving into the vile world of more filth.

    I met and help people out of cults and covens. Nothing more than sex and drugs and being made to lose your inhibitions through more and more abuse. No Majick and no advanced spirituality, Gods or devils. Just one’s own vile evil sick self on the end of self obsession and drugs.

    Not a hero Not a emblem to follow. His diary (read it) shows how he though, sought “sex majic” with prositutes, if he did not get the relief he described the woman in the most vilest terms like any unfulfilled sex abuser. It was the woman whow as at fault because she was vile and filthy.

    Nothing New, Nothing to See Here, Just move on. a drunken, drug obsessed sex addict. Like many. No Magic at all.

    His house on west hill was knocked down, hence no plaque.

    Comment by J B KNIGHT — Friday, Oct 19, 2018 @ 22:20

  3. John Baker

    Crowley was the spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family, a repellent racist, sexist fascist sympathiser. To seriously suggest blue-plaqueing him in Hastings would be as unattractive as the current campaign to get an Enoch Powell blue plague put up elsewhere.

    Comment by John Baker — Friday, Oct 19, 2018 @ 06:38

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