Fans of gothic literature and supernatural TV shows will be aware of the name Alistair Crowley, as it is featured heavily in pop culture such as Supernatural and Good Omens, amongst others. Usually depicted as a demon, just who was Alistair Crowley and what is his involvement with the devil that makes him such a good characterisation in the battle of good vs evil?
Unlike those that depict Crowley as a demon, he was actually a man, named Aleister Crowley (or Edward Alexander Crowley) who was born in 1875. Aleister gained notority as an English occultist, ceremonial "magician" and the founder of a religion called Thelema, which is a contemporary movement that was founded on the idea that the 20th Century marked the beginning of what is called the "Aeon of Horus" and during this timeframe the religion had to follow a new ethical law of "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law". In the Thelemic worldview the believers are noted as having a "True Will" and the nature of a person's interactions with the world is a form of "love" or harmony. Essentially, this means that believers of Thelema should seek out and follow their true path, which isn't neccessarily a bad thing. However, Aleister Crowley instead identified himself as the prophet of Thelema, entrusted with guiding humanity into the Aeon of Horus, when he was honeymooning with his wife in Egypt and was contacted by a supernatural entity called Aiwass who entrusted him with the sacred text.
Aleister Crowley had involvements in many different religions and sects, including joining the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1989, where he was trained in ceremonial magic. He studied Hindu and Buddhist practices in India, as well as joined the German-based Ordo Templi Orientis British chapter in 1912, and created a sect of Thelema called Abbey of Thelema in Sicily in 1920. His constant memberships and studies of these religions and cults were denounced by many members of the British, Italian, and German Press, who took an interest in his work as he published prolific writings on these subjects throughout his life.
His popular publishing career created widespread notoriety for Crowley and after the wife of a Thelemite named Raoul Loveday informed the John Bull Press of many sect dealings (such as being
made to drink the blood of a sacrificed cat, and that they were required to cut themselves with razors every time they used the pronoun "I") he was denounced in the press as being "the wickedest man in the world",a Satanist, a recreational drug experimenter, bisexual, and a individualist. It is said that aspects of Thelema and Crowley's cult-like worships inspired the development of Wicca and Satanism, creating a rise of modern paganism as a whole. He is still considered a prophet in Thelema today, and Thelema was credited as the influence for the Church of Scientology.
Many of Aleister Crowley's activities throughout his life included sex magic, Hindu yoga, scientific naturalism, ceremonial magic, alchemy, astrology, Kabbalah, tarot card readings and science. He was said to do sexual magic as an important part of his practices and was said to have eaten "Cakes of Light" which contained sexual bodily fluids and menstrual blood. Crowley often referred to himself as the "Beast of 666" and the "Whore of Babylon" but said he did not worship Satan and didn't believe in the Christian belief that he existed. He also was accused of advocating human sacrifice because in his book entitled Book 4, he states "A male child of perfect innocence and high intelligence is the most satisfactory victim" and that he had sacrified 150 every year (it was later determented that this actually meant ejaculation that did not result in pregnancies).
Crowley biographer Martin Booth asserted that Crowley was "self-confident, brash, eccentric, egotistic, highly intelligent, arrogant, witty, wealthy, and, when it suited him, cruel". Similarly, the biographer Richard Spence noted that Crowley was "capable of immense physical and emotional cruelty" which all added to his demonic description.
On 1 December 1947, Crowley died of chronic bronchitis aggravated by pleurisy (inflammation of the membranes around the lungs) and myocardial degeneration, aged 72