ALEISTER CROWLEY: THE BIOGRAPHY
Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master and Spy
By Tobias Churton
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was one of the most enigmatic figures of last century.
Poet, pornographer, sexual libertine, philosopher, spy, author and magician, he is often maligned and nearly always misrepresented and misunderstood. A man way before his time, he fought against his Plymouth Brethren upbringing to become openly bi-sexual and to advocate women’s liberation well before anyone else dared consider it.
When rediscovered in the Sixties by the Hippies, Crowley’s “Do what Thou Wilt” was misinterpreted as “Do what you Want,” and a generation misused his message for mindless self-indulgence. Yet when Crowley is read in context his philosophy is surprisingly erudite and complex. His concept of “Do what Thou Wilt” was not a cavalier call to anarchy but actually a command to find your true self (Will) and to put all other concerns (including personality and ego) aside.
Crowley’s Thelema encompasses everything from philosophy to sex mysticism (tantra), Egyptology to contact with advanced spiritual beings – all very different from the sensationalist images portrayed in many biographies.
The earliest biography The Star in the West (1907) written by Captain J.F.C. Fuller can hardly be considered objective since Fuller won a competition held by Crowley to write it. The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography, was written by Crowley himself in six parts, the first two parts published in 1929. It is subtitled “An Autohagiography” which refers to the autobiography of a Saint, so that tells you exactly what to expect! It is a great read but hardly an objective biography.
The best-known biography is The Great Beast by John Symonds, and while it sold extremely well, was intolerably sensationalist and revelled in contempt and ridicule. Surprisingly, it nevertheless piqued many young magicians and researchers to look more deeply into the truth behind the legend of the “Beast 666.”
Lots of other biographies followed which vary in quality and focus. The Eye in the Triangle by Israel Regardie (1970) and The Magical World of Aleister Crowley by Francis King (1977) tend to emphasise the occultism over the history. Other more historically oriented biographies were soon to be published such as Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley by Lawrence Sutin (2000) and A Magick Life: The Life of Aleister Crowley by Martin Booth (2001) and the truly comprehensive Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski, first released 2002 and in a revised expanded edition in 2010.
While these latter works have their value and interest, time and time again researchers tend to repeat the same “supposed facts” without critically examining sources.
What is unusual and especially appealing about Churton’s new biography is that he takes nothing for granted. From rumours about Crowley’s family to details of his private life, Churton has worked through innumerable source materials to provide the most definitive and credible biography to date.
Churton also considers Crowley as a human being, not simply a magician, and this is a very significant development in the study of Crowley. Too often biographies reduced Crowley to any number of factors ranging from whitewashing his life to give credibility to his spiritual system or to demonise him and paint him as everything from a sex fiend to a Satanist.
As a character, Crowley is way too complex to be easily defined and to truly come to any understanding requires he be studied “warts and all.” Crowley was a poet, scholar and literary figure of great merit; he was also promiscuous, indulgent, drug addled and, at times, cruel and callous. To fully appreciate these many facets of his remarkable personality we need to understand how Crowley saw his spiritual mission in life and how this mission, to propagate the Law of Thelema, could encompass all such extremes.
Crowley never lived to simply exist; he had no interest in faith or logic, he wanted to experience and was willing to break any boundary needed to do so. When he gained a unique spiritual understanding of the present age, he declared the ‘Aeon of Horus’ and took on the mantle of a prophet.
While as a man he may have been flawed, as a prophet and spiritual leader he left a legacy that is still unfolding. Churton does an admirable job exploring all the myriad aspects of this unique character without ignoring the unique magickal and philosophical system Crowley left to the world.
– Reviewed by Robert Black in New Dawn 132