Aleister Crowley’s connection with the Golden Dawn has been, over the course of over 100 years, greatly exaggerated. He was born 12 October 1875 under the name of Edward Alexander Crowley to a family that was extremely devoted to a branch of what would eventually become the Plymouth Brethren. His father, also named Edward, was a very active evangelist for the branch known as the Exclusive Brethren and regularly referred to other people, including other Christians and even other branches of his own faith, as sinners.
Aleister was home schooled until the age of eight, at which time he went to a private preparatory school that was run by strict evangelicals. Due to the transition between his home schooling and the private school, young Crowle began an intermittently miserable twelve years of institutional schooling. Alick [Aleister] Crowley was quite unprepared for such a life. He was a plump child, running fat, with chubby cheeks and a young girl’s breasts. He had a sunny, unsuspicious disposition. He knew few boys’ games and fewer tricks. He had previously inhabited a world of lonely fantasy ruled over by a God-like father. He was versed in the social requirements of a religious sect, and little else. He was entirely vulnerable, and he was consequently, inevitably, bullied” (Aleister Crowley: the Beast Demystified, p29).
Years later Crowley would recount that, “I had been the butt of every bully at school, I had suffered the agonies of feeling myself a coward and a weakling. My whole life seemed at times to be one vast and slimy subterfuge to cozen death.”
Crowley’s father died in 1887. Crowley had a dream of his father’s death on the very night that his father would die. Once his dream would be confirmed, the world as Crowley knew it was irreparably turned on its head. Crowley had, at this point in his life, created a world in which his father was all good and his mother was all evil. Now, with the death of his father, he was left with no one to look up to, no one to idolize for his own rationale for how the world around him would function. This lead him to shift from his state of being continually bullied, to a state of outright rebellion in which most things that he would do would be with the sole purpose of creating outrage. It was during this stage of his life that he dubbed himself the “Beast” based in part on his love of the anti-heroes in Paradise Lost and the Bible’s Revelations and in part on his mother spitting at him in a bitter rage that he was the “Beast.” In Crowley’s mind, the Beast, Satan, had more depth to him than any other character. From this new state of mind created from the death of his father, Crowley identified with Satan being separated from God, being the outsider, and ultimately identified with the feeling of being unwanted. Crowley would continue in this rebellious and separatist mentality throughout his years in school where he would continue his rash behavior until he would eventually drop out of Cambridge.
Link to the Golden Dawn
Throughout his time at Cambridge, Crowley began to develop an interest in areas relating to Alchemy. He would eventually ask noted chemist Julian Baker as to the efficacy of a formula of this noble art. After several discussions between Crowley and Baker about the reality of Alchemy, Baker would introduce Crowley to George Cicel Jones, and Crowley’s connection to the Golden Dawn would begin. Crowley would be initiated into the Golden Dawn in November of 1898, ten years after the inception of the Order, and given the magical motto Perdurabo which means, “He who will endure.”
Just a few years prior to Crowley’s initiation there was a beginning of dissent in the Order as S.L. MacGregor Mathers, the Chief of the Order, was living in Paris while the majority of the Adepti were living in London. Mathers, at the direction of the Secret Chiefs, sent out a directive to the Adepti of the Order stating that they were to obey him, “by abstaining to the utmost of [their] power from putting any extra hindrance in [his] way.” This directive caused dissent due to the growing thought that Mathers was out of touch with the necessities of the Order because of his absence from the London temple.
Entering into the already existing hostilities within the Order, Crowley was able to fuel his own insecurities by attributing his difficulties in progressing through the grades of the Order to the envy and hostilities of his Order brethren. In January of 1900 Crowley would take a trip to Paris to visit Mathers and to discuss his difficulties in coming into the Inner Order. Mathers quickly initiated Crowley into the Inner Order. On the 17th of April 1900 Crowley and Elaine Simpson would travel back to London, break into the temple, and, at the direction of Mathers, attempt remove the contents to be brought back to Mathers in Paris. In this attempt, Crowley would dress in full Scottish highland attire complete with plaid kilt, sash with a gilded cross, and a hefty dagger at his side, and, in addition to this, he wore a black mask, though all of the Adepti at the London temple would know his identity on sight. This attempt was frustrated by a number of the London Adepti. It was claimed by W.B. Yeats that the “storming” of the London temple was in part a retaliation by Crowley on the London Adepti for not initiating him into the Inner Order. After the attempt by Mathers through Crowley to retrieve the property of the London temple, the Adepti in London drew up papers to expel Mathers from heading the Order and from the Order itself.
With a few minor exceptions regarding some minor court cases, Crowley does not have much more dealing with anyone from the Golden Dawn. The London Adepti thought him mad to begin with, and after the “storming” of the London temple, Mathers was beginning to agree. Crowley would then go on to attempt the works of Abra-melin the Mage, as well has working with many other Orders and Societies including various forms of recognized and clandestine Freemasonry, and considerable work with the Ordo Templi Orientis, though it is at this point that his dealings with the Golden Dawn cease.
Aleister Crowley 1875 – 1947
On 1 December 1947, Crowley died at Netherwood of chronic bronchitis aggravated by pleurisy and myocardial degeneration, aged 72. His funeral was held at a Brighton crematorium on 5 December; about a dozen people attended, and Louis Wilkinson read excerpts from the Gnostic Mass, The Book of the Law, and “Hymn to Pan”. The funeral generated press controversy, and was labelled a Black Mass by the tabloids. Crowley’s ashes were sent to Karl Germer in the US, who buried them in his garden in Hampton, New Jersey.