Was the spookiest man of the twentieth century also a homo? Born Edward Alexander Crowley, Aleisetr Crowley was an English occultist, writer, mountaineer, poet, yogi, and possible spy.
He was an influential member of occult organizations, including the Golden Dawn, the A?A?, and Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) and is known today for his magical writings, especially The Book of the Law, the central sacred text of Thelema. He gained notoriety during his lifetime, and was pleased to be denounced in the popular press of the day as “The wickedest man in the world.”
Wikipedia notes that “Crowley was also a chess player, painter, astrologer, hedonist, bisexual, drug experimenter, and social critic. …
After the death of his father to whom he was close, he drifted from his religious upbringing. His mother’s efforts to keep her son in the Christian faith only served to provoke his scepticism. When a child, his rebellious behaviour displeased his mother to such an extent that she would chastise him by calling him “The Beast” (from the Book of Revelation), an epithet that Crowley would later adopt for himself.”
Crowley objected to the labelling of what he saw as life’s most worthwhile and enjoyable activities as “sinful”.
In 1895, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge,with the intention of reading Moral Sciences (philosophy), but he switched to English literature, and “his three years at Cambridge were happy ones, due in part to coming into the considerable fortune left by his father…. It is there that he broke with the Church of England:
The Church of England […] had seemed a narrow tyranny, as detestable as that of the Plymouth Brethren; less logical and more hypocritical.
When I discovered that chapel was compulsory I immediately struck back. The junior dean halled me for not attending chapel, which I was certainly not going to do, because it involved early rising. I excused myself on the ground that I had been brought up among the Plymouth Brethren. The dean asked me to come and see him occasionally and discuss the matter, and I had the astonishing impudence to write to him that ‘The seed planted by my father, watered by my mother’s tears, would prove too hardy a growth to be uprooted even by his eloquence and learning.’”
In December 1896 Crowley decided to pursue a path in occultism and mysticism. By the next year, he began reading books by alchemists and mystics, and books on magic. Biographer Lawrence Sutin describes the pivotal New Year’s event as a homo-erotic experience (Crowley’s first) that brought him what he considered “an encounter with an immanent deity.”
A year later, he published his first book of poetry (Aceldama), and left Cambridge, only to meet Julian L. Baker (Frater D.A.) who introduced him to Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Crowley allegedly maintained a vigorous sex life, largely conducted with prostitutes and girls he picked up at local pubs and cigar shops, but he also took part in same-sex activities in which he played a passive role.
During his life, Crowley practised sexual magic rituals with both men and women, Sutin recounts. For example, Crowley had lasting feelings for Herbert Charles Pollitt, whom he met at Cambridge. Pollitt did not share Crowley’s mystical leanings, and so:
I told him frankly that I had given my life to religion and that he did not fit into the scheme. I see now how imbecile I was, how hideously wrong and weak it is to reject any part of one’s personality.
At that time British law officially forbade homosexuality. The arrest, conviction and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde took place in Crowley’s first year at Cambridge. And while, in his autobiographical preface to The World’s Tragedy he included two pages on “Sodomy” where openly admitting his bisexuality and praising sex between men, the section was removed from all copies of the book except those given to close friends.
Later, in a January 1929 letter, he wrote
“There have been about four men in my life that I could say I have loved… Call me a bugger if you like, but I don’t feel the same way about women. One can always replace a woman in a few days.”
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