This is the story of the man who was once considered "The Wickedest Man in the World." But were they that evil?
I’ve always thought that religions can become strict and demanding activities that demand most of our time. But perhaps they should be more than just pouring all your faith and hopes into a doctrine that tells you how life is supposed to be through a set of guidelines you must fulfill devotedly. At least that’s what the man who was known as “The Wickedest Man in the World”, “Master of Darkness”, and “Traitor to the British People” believed when he decided to devote his life to shatter all the denominations and foundations of Christian faiths to create his own religion. But one can’t just wake up one morning and decide to create a complex system of belief. This man’s story is as interesting as the myth he became. We’re going to unveil this to get to the core of a mind whose rebellious attempt to shatter all that had failed him, resulted in the creation of one of the most flexible and appealing religions out there; well, besides the Star Wars-based Jediism.
Born in 1875, Edward Alexander Crowley was raised in a wealthy house in England, with very strict norms and traditional points of view. His family belonged to a fervent Evangelical Christian movement called Plymouth Brethren, a very conservative group that believes that the Bible is the supreme authority of religion and faith. Throughout his first years of life, he grew to admire his father, who was a preacher in his congregation and taught him the basic keys to become the best speaker to inspire people. Crowley was truly a very devoted child who would follow all the religious precepts taught by his father. But then his mentor passed away when he was only eleven years old.
His mother then enrolled him in a religious school but the devastated young Crowley needed someone to help him move on from his grief. Not finding that comfort nor support, he became a bitter child who started questioning all those rules and precepts he once had devotedly and blindly followed. He devoted his time to studying the Bible and other religious texts to find inconsistencies and pointed them out to his religious teachers. Soon, this activity became an obsession and the key to the development of his own religion.
He decided that life shouldn’t follow any rules. That the most important thing was free will and the right to pursue it without anyone telling you what’s right or wrong. He was convinced that this kind confrontation toward authority figures (mainly religious) was his mission in life. He would engage in sexual activities that were, and still are at some point, considered as perverted, to the point that at some point he was actually banned from Italy by Benito Mussolini for his libertine ways.
When he turned 20 he decided it was time to leave all those things he hated behind. He changed his name to Aleister, a name he thought fitted better with this new life he wanted to pursue and decided to enroll in Cambridge University to get more acquainted with all the lore of religions in the world. This is where he became familiar and obsessed with the occult by devouring text after text every time wanting to know more about it and actually embracing this “science” that gave him way more answers than the doctrines he was raised with. By that time he met a chemist called Julian L. Baker who was a member of a very strange group called the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. They focussed on the study of the paranormal and the occult, a subject he was very interested in, and obviously ended up being part of it. He had a tutor who taught him everything the Order believed in and even wanted him to reach an important place in the order. However, his life was seen as too promiscuous and didn’t really match the standards of the leader of the group.
For some years he used the fortune his father had left him to travel the world in search of all those secrets of life that many cultures in the world had in their religious beliefs. At some point after traveling a lot, he decided to settle in Paris where he became acquainted with many of the most important intellectuals and artists of the turn of the century. That’s where he met the British painter Gerald Kelly and his sister Rose, who would become his wife and basically the encouragement he needed to actually pursue his goal of creating a religion that fitted his interests. One day while meditating in Egypt, he recorded a vision in which Rose, his wife, announced him that the Egyptian deities were waiting to meet him. Days after he claimed Aiwass, the messenger of Horus (who is often associated in Christian faiths as an evil character), approached him during a spiritual meditation and dictated what became The Book of the Law which would eventually set the foundations of his religion he named Thelema.
Taken from the Ancient Greek term "thelo" or "thelema", which means “will”, the idea of Crowley’s religious philosophy is to encourage his followers to discover and perform what he calls true will. With a motto that states “Do what thou wilt”, the way to achieve this true will was through a system he called magick (with a “k” to differentiate from the common interpretations of magic), understood as the means and power to change, achieve, and understand our inner will. This hedonistic way of perceiving life, was of course accompanied by a series of occultist symbology and religious precepts adapted and reinterpreted to fit with his ideology.
Since the publication of his book, he got a lot of attention and followers who were seeking for a more flexible faith system to believe in. After a terrible divorce provoked mainly by the death of his first daughter, which he blamed on Rose’s alcoholism, he decided to travel once again to gain more followers and inspiration. He published several other manuscripts and books that many still look after. By 1947 he got bronchitis that ended his life. No matter how many followers of Thelema he had inspired, only 12 people attended his funeral. However, even when he was pretty much alone during his last years of life, at the end of the day he created a myth of his persona that still intrigues and attracts many with his libertine and free lifestyle and belief.
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