Edward Alexander Crowley was born in Leamington Spa, Warwick County (United Kingdom) on 12 October 1875 and died in Hastings on 1 December 1947. He was an English occultist, poet, painter, novelist and mountaineer.

Italian version

His was a wealthy family in which both parents were of fundamentalist Christian faith, belonging to the Plymouth Brethren [1]. After the death of his young sister at the age of eight, the family moved, and Crowley began attending private elementary and middle schools in Cambridge.

At the age of 11, following his father’s death, to whom he was devotedly attached, Crowley inherited a third of his fortunes. His school record began to deteriorate, and he became more sceptical of Christianity and its morality. Reached the age of majority, his interests

started to range from chess to poetry, from mountaineering to the frequentation of prostitutes.

In 1895 Crowley enrolled at Trinity College in Cambridge, focusing on Humanities and English Literature; in the meantime, he continued his mountaineering career, climbing some peaks of the Swiss Alps. In 1897, according to some biographers, he became aware of his bisexual tendencies. Still in the same year, considering a diplomatic career in Russia for his future, he stayed in St. Petersburg to learn the language.

In 1898 he abandoned his studies at Cambridge, and after a brief illness, which forced him to meditate on the pointlessness of existence, he approached the occult sciences. In the same year, he met Julian L. Baker in Zermatt, Switzerland, a chemist interested in alchemy who later introduced him to the circle of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in London [2]. Crowley began his learning path on ceremonial magic and the ritual use of drugs, progressing into the lower grades of the Golden Dawn. Still, because of his libertine attitudes and his declared bisexuality, he was refused entry to the Inner Circle. The group leader, MacGregor Mathers, will later admit him to the Grade of Adeptus Minor, but this will cause the split of the Order.

In 1900 he embarked for Mexico. In Mexico City, he continued his practices of ceremonial magic and Enochian evocations [3], wrote some poetic compositions and climbed numerous peaks in the country, all above 5000 meters. In the following two years, he continued his travels, stopping in San Francisco, Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In India, he devoted himself to the practice of Raja Yoga [4] and to frequenting monasteries. Reached by some mountaineers, he attempted to climb K2, but due to the ailments affecting the group, the expedition, having reached 6200 meters, gave up the summit.

Towards the end of 1902, Crowley was in Paris, where he frequented the artistic milieu of the city, continuing to write poetic compositions. In 1903, on his return to his Scottish home in Moleskine, he married Rose Edith Kelly, daughter of the English portrait painter Sir Gerald Kelly, provoking the opposition of the bride’s family.

In 1904 Crowley and Rose arrived in Cairo. Crowley invoked the ancient Egyptian gods while studying Arabic and Islamic mysticism. During his stay, following the visions of his wife, he thought he was about to meet the god Horus [5]. Sometime later, Crowley heard a disembodied voice named Aiwass, a messenger of Horus. He dictated The Book of the Law in the following three days, proclaiming that humanity was entering a new aeon of which Crowley would be the prophet. The Book of the Law will be the cornerstone of the religion he will found, Thelema (transliteration of the Greek θέλημα, will).

In 1905, the couple’s first daughter, Lilith, was born. In 1906 Crowley decided to climb Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world. Still, the expedition failed due to disagreements between Crowley and the participants and the death of two climbers. He travelled to southern China, Hanoi and Shanghai with his family, always practising his daily rituals and smoking opium. After the family’s return to Europe, he continued on to Japan, Canada and the United States. Upon his return, he learnt that his daughter had died of typhoid fever. In 1907 Rose gave birth to another daughter, Lola Zaza.  

After some experiences with Abramelin rituals [6] and with hashish, following which he declared to have achieved samadhi, Crowley claimed to have been contacted again by Aiwass, who dictated two other texts to him. In November 1907, Crowley founded the A∴A∴ [7], an occult order based on the teachings of the Golden Dawn revised according to the dictates of Thelema. In 1909 he began the publication of the biannual The Equinox, the official magazine of the order. In the same year, he divorced his wife due to persistent alcoholism that would lead her following hospitalisation.

Between 1909 and 1911, Crowley travelled to Algeria with his disciple and sexual partner Victor Neuburg, an English poet and writer, practising the rituals of Enochian magic. Meanwhile, his fame grew in his homeland due to the public representations of Rites of Artemis and Eleusis.

In 1912, Crowley met Theodor Reuss, head of the German occult order Ordo Templi Orientis; together, they decided to reform the order by associating Thelemic elements. Fascinated by the OTO’s emphasis on sex magic, Crowley chose to incorporate rituals for anal sex. In 1913 he became a producer for a group of violinists who would perform in Moscow; according to some, it was a cover to spy on the revolutionary elements on the orders of British intelligence.

In 1914 Crowley was in New York. He wrote for the American edition of Vanity Fair to earn a living and worked as a freelance for a famous American astrologer, Evangeline Adams. In 1915 he was employed as a writer by a Germanic spy for his pro-German propaganda activities. Still, Crowley was supposed to act as a double agent for British intelligence to retrieve information on the German situation. In the meantime, he continued to make propaganda for Thelema.

Returning to London in 1920, he soon left for Paris; consulting the I Ching, he decided to found an abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily, which soon saw numerous followers gather. The days passed between evocative rituals and sexual magic practices; Crowley became addicted to heroin and cocaine, initially prescribed by his doctor for asthma problems. In 1923, following a smear campaign by the English press, the Mussolini government decided to expel him from Italy, and the abbey was abandoned.

Between 1923 and 1929, Crowley, undermined in health, moved between Tunis and France to free himself from his addiction. In the meantime, he continued his sexual magic practices with numerous partners, both men and women. In 1928 he wrote his most significant work, Magick, choosing the old version of the word to distinguish true magic from illusionistic one.

In 1929 he was expelled from France for his bad reputation, and the same year he married Nicaraguan Maria Teresa Sanchez in London. In 1930 he moved to Berlin, then to Lisbon to meet the poet Fernando Pessoa [8]; here, he staged his death, only to reappear in Berlin a few weeks later to attend one of the exhibitions of his paintings. In 1935 he returned to London to undergo a further operation on his nasal cavities; in the same year, the London court declared his bankruptcy due to continued insolvency.

In 1937 a female friend offered to have a son with him, whom he will nickname Aleister Atatürk (he will die in 2002). He wrote a moderately successful book, The Equinox of the Gods, lectured and gave private yoga and magic lessons. It is the time in which he thought that Hitler could be a good candidate for Thelema, only to change his mind when the dictator abolished the German section of the OTO.

On the eve of the Second World War, his asthma got worse; no longer able to count on the availability of German medicines, he resumed using heroin. The Tarot deck he designed was released in 1944, accompanied by the publication of The Book of Thoth. He met Gerald Gardner, the future founder of Wicca, to whom he entrusted reviving the British section of the OTO.

On 1 December 1947, at the age of 72, Crowley died of aggravated myocardial degeneration of pleurisy and chronic bronchitis. Only a dozen people attended the funeral, reading passages from the Gnostic Mass, the Book of the Law and the Hymn to Pan. His body was cremated, and the ashes were buried in New Jersey (USA) in the garden of the home of Karl Germer, Crowley’s successor at the helm of the OTO.

Bibliography of Aleister Crowley (in English)

  • 777 – And Other Qabalistic Writings, including Gematria & Sepher Sephiroth
  • Absinthe – The Green Goddess
  • A Description of the Cards of the Tarot
  • Ahab -And other Poems
  • Aha! – The Sevenfold Mystery of the Ineffable Love
  • Aceldama, a place to bury strangers in
  • Alice, an Adultery
  • A Note on Genesis and Liber LXV
  • Book Four
  • Clouds Without Water
  • Cocaine
  • Commentaries on the Holy Books – And Other Papers
  • De Arte Magica
  • Diary of a Drug Fiend
  • Eight Lectures on Yoga
  • Ercildoune
  • Essays on Intoxication
  • Gargoyles – Being strangely wrought images of life and death
  • Gematria
  • Golden Twigs
  • Household Gods
  • Illustrated Goetia (with David P. Wilson, Lon Milo DuQuette, Christopher S. Hyatt)
  • Jephthah
  • Jezebel – And other Tragic Poems
  • Konx Om Pax
  • Liber VII (Liber vel Lapidis Lazuli) and Liber IX (Liber vel Excercitiorum) – Two Short Works
  • Liber XV – Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Canon Missae (with Thomas Keith Taylor)
  • Liber XXX Aerum vel Saeculi Sub Figura
  • Liber Aleph vel CXI – The Book of Wisdom or Folly
  • Liber E and Liber O
  • Little Essays Toward Truth
  • Living Midnight (with Jan Fries)
  • Magick – In Theory and Practice
  • Magick Without Tears
  • Meditation
  • Mysticism – Meditation: The way of attainment of genius or Godhead considered as a development of the human brain
  • Moonchild
  • Oracles – The Autobiography of an Art
  • Orpheus – A Lyrical Legend
  • Portable Darkness
  • Rosa Coeli Rosa Mundi Rosa Inferni (under the pen name of H.D. Carr)
  • Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden
  • Songs of the Spirit
  • Tannhäuser; A Story of All Time
  • The Argonauts
  • The Book of the Goetia of Solomon the King
  • The Book of the Law
  • The Book of Thoth – A short essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians
  • The Confessions of Aleister Crowley – An Autohagiography
  • The Drug & Other Stories
  • The Equinox (Equinox Series)
  • The Equinox of the Gods
  • The General Principles of Astrology (with Evangeline Adams)
  • The Greater and Lesser Keys of Solomon the King (with S.L. McGregor Mathers)
  • The Handbook of Geomancy
  • The Heart of the Master
  • The Holy Book of Thelema
  • The magical Record of the Beast 666
  • The Practice of Enochian Magick
  • The Psychology of Hashish
  • The Revival of Magick – And Other Essays
  • The Rites of Eleusis
  • The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz
  • The Scrutinies of Simon Iff
  • The soul of Osiris – Comprising The temple of the Holy Ghost and The mother’s tragedy
  • The star and the garter
  • The Stratagem and other Stories
  • The Sword of Song – Called by Christians, The book of the beast
  • The Vision & The Voice – With Commentary and Other Papers
  • The Winged Beetle
  • The World’s Tragedy
  • Thoth Tarot Deck (with Frieda Harris)
  • White Stains