NOTE: This article first appeared on July 20, 2014 on the Baltimore Post-Examiner. It has been republished with the author’s permission.
“It was sex that rotted him. It was sex, sex, sex, sex, sex all the way with Crowley. He was a sex maniac!”- Vittoria Cremers
John Lennon, Timothy Leary, Iggy Pop, the Jonas Brothers and the Rolling Stones’ rock group all were influenced in one way or another by him. He was into sex, ceremonial magic, yoga and the occult, like no other so-called “spiritual seeker” of his time. His name was Aleister Crowley and he was British to the core. His motto was: “Do What Thou Wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will.”
Crowley followed his own mantra right to the very end of his Christianity-hating, drug-abusing and higher consciousness-seeking life. If you want to know what Crowley looked like in his prime, check out that famous cover of the Beatles’best-selling album – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He’s the dude with the shaven head and bulging eyes. Crowley, a hero then to many in the “Pop Culture,” is swished in between two other fabled icons of the ’60’s, Marilyn Monroe and Che Guevara.
Author Gary Lachman has done an excellent job profiling Crowley, aka “The Great Beast 666.”
He came by his interest in this unusual man with a monstrous ego via an interesting route. Back in the 1970’s, Lachman was playing in a Rock and Roll band in New York. One of his bandmates had a thing for the occult.
The musician also had a copy of one of Crowley’s novels, The Diary of a Drug Fiend. This led Lachman to lodge onto another of Crowley’s literary efforts, Moonchild. It’s “roman a clef” showing members of the London-based “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn,” in a very negative way. William Butler Yeats and Crowley were members of that group, even so, Crowley despised the Irish poet.
The title of Lachman’s book is: Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, the Wickedest Man in the World.
Crowley’s huge mug is on the cover. He was born in England in 1875 and despite a life of extreme excess, including lots of booze, drugs, hookers and sex, and later on a serious addiction to heroin, Crowley managed to live till 1947. At one time, he was even into serious mountaineering and proved himself very adept at it. The Alpine mountaineering community held him in the highest esteem.
Crowley loved women and he was also an active homosexual. He married twice and had three children. He wrote poems, novels and books. Much of his work, because of its shocking nature, was self-published. He may even have been a spy for the Brits and/or the Nazis. Who knows?
Like William S. Burroughs of American notoriety, (think Naked Lunch) who emerged during the post-WWII “Beat Generation,” Crowley came from wealth. He never had to work a day in his life. Crowley also got a solid education, which included the best prep schools and a degree from Cambridge University. As a result, Crowley was able to dedicate his life to his “religion.” He called it, “Thelema.” A religion/philosophy needs a sacred text. So, Crowley made one up by way of his contact with a “Higher Power.” He then bestowed on it the moniker — The Book of the Law.
Talking about addictions, I’m into the forensic crime shows on the cable networks. I couldn’t help but notice on several programs, that when relating the bio on an individual who suddenly went way off the tracks into a life of crime, the turning point was when the father of the bad guy unexpectedly died. Is this what happened in Crowley’s case, too?
Crowley’s father was out of the upper class and a fervent evangelical, bible-belting Christian. He died of “cancer of the tongue,” when Crowley was only eleven. The young Crowley scorned his mother. Of that transformative period, he recalled, “I simply went over to Satan’s side; and to this hour I cannot tell why … and I felt passionately eager to serve my new master. I was anxious to distinguish myself by committing sin.”
Well, Crowley, often an arrogant character, sure did dedicate his life to the goal of sinning. Traveling widely, there were few major cities on the globe where he hadn’t left a sample of his sperm. And, author Lachman captures just about every one of his sins, including disgusting acts of sadomasochism, in every awful, smelly detail. Crowley also made several visits to the U.S. New Orleans was “his favorite city.”
Crowley was into documenting too, via letter-writing, books and pamphlets, his often weird ideas, outrageous behavior and quest for hedonistic thrills. This was particularly so when he formed an Abbey of Thelemalites at Cefalu, Sicily. Eventually, Italy’s then-dictator, Benito Mussolini was offended. He gave Crowley and his groupies the boot.
By the way, author Lachman was a founding member of the rock group, “Blondie.” He also wrote the excellent book, Jung, the Mystic.
In this well-researched tome, Lachman also does a masterful job demonstrating Crowley’s far-reaching legacy. It extends today into many areas of our counter-culture, such as magic, painting, mysticism, esotericism, filmmaking, punk and rock music, heavy metal, death-loving goths and the occult.
With respect to filmmaking, I think some of the iconic director John Waters’ bad taste flicks have a noticeable Crowley influence. Take his Dirty Shame movie for instance, in which I had a cameo role. The plot centers around a city neighborhood that is divided between the “puritans” and the “sex perverts.” The latter clique of crazies engage shamelessly in their “unique fetishes.” (Think,“Do What Thou Wilt!”).
Waters, now a best-selling author, thanks to the popularity of his tome, Carsick, just happens to keep an electric chair in his Tudor-styled house in Baltimore. So Crowleyish!
Back to Lachman’s book. It’s a terrific read containing a wealth of credible information on what caused the British’s tabloid, John Bull, to tag the wanna-be prophet Crowley as the “wickedest man in the world!”
Finally, whatever the final word on the controversial Crowley will be, his portrait today does hang in London’s prestigious National Gallery.
His cult, for better or worse, lives on.