Chapter

Aleister Crowley and the Left-Hand Path

Nevill Drury

in Stealing Fire from Heaven

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199750993
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894871 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199750993.003.0005
Aleister Crowley and the Left-Hand Path

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Arguably the most influential occultist of the twentieth century, Aleister Crowley was initiated as a Neophyte in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn on 18 November 1898. He passed quickly through the introductory grades of the Order and then sought initiation into the spiritual rebirth ritual that would admit him to the Inner, or Second Order. Following his initiation into this Order in France in January 1900, Crowley returned to England, where he challenged the authority of William Butler Yeats, hoping to displace him as head of the Golden Dawn in England. Crowley was unsuccessful in his bid to dislodge Yeats and then suddenly switched course, withdrawing from the Golden Dawn and embarking upon a series of travels through Mexico, the United States, Ceylon, and India before finally arriving in Cairo. It was here, in 1904, that he received a mediumistic revelation from a metaphysical entity called Aiwass (transcribed as a text later known as The Book of the Law) that would lead to the establishment of his magical cult of Thelema. Crowley’s doctrine of Thelema (Greek: “will”) was based on the practice of sacred sex magick (Crowley’s unique spelling of the word) and claimed to herald the arrival of a new cosmic Aeon. Crowley (as the Great Beast 666) and his Scarlet Woman, or Whore of Babalon (sic) would be the principal players in an ongoing sacred magical saga intended to replace the world’s major religions. Events in Crowley’s magical career took an unexpected turn in London in May 1912, when Crowley was contacted by Theodor Reuss, head of the German branch of the Ordo Templi Orientis—an esoteric organization similarly dedicated to the practice of ritual sex magic. As a result of their meeting, Crowley became head of a new magical order known as the Mysteria Mystica Maxima, effectively an English subsidiary of the German Ordo Templi Orientis. In 1922—following Reuss’s retirement—Crowley replaced Reuss as the head of the O.T.O. itself, a position he held until his death in 1947. Crowley left behind an enormous outpouring of magical writing, much of it related to his central magical dictum: “Do what thou wilt, shall be the whole of the Law.” Among the most enduring aspects of Crowley’s esoteric perspective are his systematic approach to magical consciousness and his emphasis on self-empowerment. Crowley celebrated the cause of the individual throughout his life, despite the controversy he attracted through his own, unique approach to ritual magic.

Keywords: Aleister Crowley; Neophyte; Golden Dawn; William Butler Yeats; Thelema

Chapter.  21478 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Religious Studies

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