Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Deathday: Poet & Occultist Aleister Crowley 1947
Aleister Crowley (12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947), born Edward Alexander Crowley, and also known as both Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast, was an influential English occultist, mystic and ceremonial magician, responsible for founding the religious philosophy of Thelema. Through this belief he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in 1904, a time when old ethical and religious systems would be replaced. Widely seen as one of the most influential occultists of all time, he was a member of the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, as well as a co-founder of the A∴A∴ and eventually a leader of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.). He is known today for his magical writings, especially The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema, although he also wrote widely on other subjects, including a large amount of fiction and poetry.
Crowley was also a bisexual, recreational drug experimenter and social critic. In many of these roles he "was in revolt against the moral and religious values of his time," espousing a form of libertinism based upon the rule of "Do What Thou Wilt." Because of this, he gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, and was denounced in the popular press of the day as "the wickedest man in the world." Alongside his esoteric activities, he was an avid chess player, mountaineer, poet and playwright, and it has also been alleged that he was a spy for the British government.
Crowley has remained an influential figure right up till this day, and in 2002, a BBC poll described him as being the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time. References to him can be found in the works of numerous writers, musicians and filmmakers, and he has also been cited as a key influence on many later esoteric groups and individuals, including Kenneth Grant, Gerald Gardner and, to some degree, Austin Osman Spare.
An old Aleister CrowleyIn January 1945, Crowley moved to Netherwood, a Hastings boarding house where in the first three months he was visited twice by Dion Fortune; she died of leukemia in January 1946. On 14 March 1945, in a letter Fortune wrote to Crowley, she declares: "... The acknowledgement I made in the introduction of The Mystical Qabalah of my indebtness to your work, which seemed to me to be no more than common literary honesty, has been used as a rod for my back by people who look on you as Antichrist."
Crowley died at Netherwood on December, 1 1947 at the age of 72. According to one biographer the cause of death was a respiratory infection. He had become addicted to heroin after being prescribed morphine for his asthma and bronchitis many years earlier. He and his last doctor died within 24 hours of each other; newspapers would claim, in differing accounts, that Dr. Thomson had refused to continue his opiate prescription and that Crowley had put a curse on him.
Biographer Lawrence Sutin passes on various stories about Crowley's death and last words. Frieda Harris supposedly reported him saying, "I am perplexed," though she did not see him at the very end. According to John Symonds, a Mr. Rowe witnessed Crowley's death along with a nurse, and reported his last words as "Sometimes I hate myself." Biographer Gerald Suster accepted the version of events he received from a "Mr W.H." who worked at the house, in which Crowley dies pacing in his living room. Supposedly Mr W.H. heard a crash while polishing furniture on the floor below, and entered Crowley's rooms to find him dead on the floor.
Patricia "Deirdre" MacAlpine, who visited Crowley with their son and her three other children, denied all this and reports a sudden gust of wind and peal of thunder at the (otherwise quiet) moment of his death. According to MacAlpine, Crowley remained bedridden for the last few days of his life, but was in light spirits and conversational. Readings at the cremation service in nearby Brighton included one of his own works, Hymn to Pan, and newspapers referred to the service as a black mass. The Brighton council subsequently resolved to take all the necessary steps to prevent such an incident from occurring again.