Podcast 91: Aleister Crowley, Hollywood’s Occult Roots, Acting as Shamanism

Mr. Crowley… dun dun dun dun… what went on in your head…

Aleister Crowley was arguably one of the most fascinating and repulsive characters (depending on your point of view) ever to come out of the 20th century. And whether you admire him or not, his influence on western culture, in particular, cannot be denied. But, apart from a few prominent pop culture references, and from those who dabble in the occult, not much is known about him. Or rather, not much is known beyond the shallow myth-making that surrounds him.

So, who was this Mr. Crowley, the one they call, “The Wickedest Man in the World”. Briefly, he was born Edward Alexander Crowley on October 12th, 1875, adopting the name ‘Aleister’ while attending Trinity College, Cambridge, and died on December 1st, 1947. During his infamous time on this so-called earth-plane, he was by turns an occultist, mountaineer, poet, Enfant terrible, and ceremonial magician who founded the religion of Thelema (Greek for “Will”), and dubbed himself, “The Great Beast 666”, not so humbly taking responsibility for inaugurating all of humanity into the Æon of Horus (the Crowned and Conquering Child) with his credo: “Do What Thou Wilt, Shall Be the Whole of the Law. Love is the Law, Love under Will”.

Okay, so that’s the Wikipedia-like synopsis.

But what the hell does, “Do What Thou Wilt”, mean exactly? Well, for Crowley, we can sum it up like this: act like a spoiled-rotten brat, live off your mummy and daddy’s money until you run out, have sex with as many people as you can, start your own religion, run around like a crazed egomaniac, do lots of drugs, treat people like shit, write about it all in a self-congratulatory pretentious manner, then die a penniless, hollowed-out shell of a human being.

In other words, he was the first Baby Boomer.

The more prosaic explanation was that he simply grew up in a privileged Christian Fundamentalist family (Plymouth Brethren) and, after his father died (whom he apparently loved and admired), cursed God and rebelled against anything and everything decent in the society. Especially his mum, who he hated, which explains his misogyny toward women. In short, he was just an angry protracted adolescent who refused to grow up and take responsibility.

Ironically, despite all the hyperbole and haughty prose surrounding him, this boring and admittedly simplistic psychological profile is probably closest to the truth. People like to embellish. It makes for a better story.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, his life was much more complex than all that. But then, isn’t everyone’s?

He did indirectly and superficially inspire some cool shit though, most of which came about in the sixties, so we’ll give him that. But like Crowley, so many from that peace, love, and happiness period, once the purple haze of hedonism wore off, the harsh reality came crashing down, leaving mostly misery in its wake. Well, at least the music was cool.

Did he open up the gates of hell and unleash demons from the abyss upon the world? Or, was he just slightly ahead of his time: a childish libertine whose “LARPing” foreshadowed the post-war nosedive into selfishness and superficiality. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

In the past several years, much more has been written about Crowley and his exploits, so we’ll leave it to you to investigate further and decide for yourself. He was, admittedly, a true iconoclast. The question is, why did he need to be such a fucking asshole to make his point? Surely there must be a better way to manifest one’s “will”.

In our final opinion, as despicable as he was, if Crowley didn’t exist, it would still be necessary to invent him. Someone had to do it. Such is the seeming paradox of this thing we call life.

For a decent (though admittedly not in-depth), synopsis of the biggest douchebag in the world, check out this short documentary:

So who was Aleister Crowley? A sexually liberated genius, a spoiled, egomaniacal dilettante, a campy charlatan, a skeptical trickster, a cruel and abusive manipulator, a racist misogynist, a Nietzschean superman and “icon of rebellion” as the narrator of his story above calls him? Some part of all these, perhaps. A 1915 Vanity Fair profile put it well: “a legend has been built up around his name. He is a myth. No other man has so many strange tales told of him.”

We also discuss the occult roots of the film industry. As many of you long-time listeners know, both of us (Adam and John) are confirmed cinephiles, so forgive us if you think we’re reading too much into the “magical” qualities of film. But, as it turns out, early cinema actually grew out of the magical tradition. Who knew.

And finally, we talk a little bit about the “actor as shaman” which, for those of you who are in-the-know, plays a supporting role in the occult tradition.

Here are the rest of your links:

Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley

A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley

Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley

No, Barbara Bush is Not Crowley’s Illegitimate Daughter

Origin of the Bush/Crowley Theory

Was Aleister Crowley an Extra-Terrestrial Medium?

Article on Crowley’s Only Known Son, Aleister Ataturk

Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage Ritual

The Secret Story Never Told