Aleister Crowely (born Edward Alexander Crowley; 12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947) was a British occultist, ceremonial magician, chess master, poet, painter, novelist, mountaineer, and an Ipsissimus of the A∴A∴ Crowley founded the religious philosophy of Thelema, and – with his reception of The Book of The Law in 1904 – was identified as the prophet of the new Aeon of Horus; entrusted with guiding the spiritual development of humanity.
Crowley’s father, Edward Crowley, was a devout member of the evangelical sect the Plymouth Brethren – an offshoot from the Quakers – and led his family accordingly. When Crowley was 11 years old, his father died. Crowley’s relationship with his mother was less than cordial and during this time he developed a distaste for the Plymouth Brethren and their rigorous Christian doctrines.
Crowley went to Cambridge’s Trinity College in 1895, opting to leave without graduating. Crowley began experimenting with homosexuality during his time at Trinity, and fostered his interests in poetry and mountaineering. He continued to pursue mountaineering and his interest in the occult.
In 1898 he joined the occult society the Golden Dawn, and took instruction from esteemed order member Alan Bennett. After controversy with leader S.L. MacGregor Mathers resulted in a schism in the order, Crowley left to travel the world.
Following this Crowley’s travels, and studies led him to delve into Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, yoga, Tantra, and the Eastern Mysteries.
In 1903 Crowley met Rose Kelly, whom he would marry. While on their honeymoon in Egypt, and following a ritual demonstration in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid, Crowley was instructed to perform the Supreme Ritual on March 20, 1904. This would result in the reception of the Book of The Law.
Crowley’s reception of the Book of The Law, and the dawn of the Aeon of Horus is fully documented in “Magick in Theory and Practice Part IV”, also published separately as the “Equinox of the Gods.”
Crowley would go on to found the modern iteration of the outer college of the order A∴A∴ in 1907 with George Cecil Jones, by authority of the Secret Chiefs; though the inner order of the A∴A∴ has existed since time immemorial. Crowley would publish The Equinox as an official publication of the A∴A∴ Throughout his life he would publish multiple books, pamphlets, correspondence, and works of poetry.
In 1910 Crowley was initiated into the Ordo Templi Orientis, and in 1923 he succeeded Theodor Reuss as Outer Head of the Order. Crowley re-wrote the rituals of the O.T.O. to conform to the Law of Thelema, and introduced the Gnostic Mass along with the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica as central Thelemic religious opportunities closely affiliated with the order.
Crowley moved to America in 1914, where he infiltrated the German propaganda press in WWI, in an attempt to discredit the Central Powers. Crowley continued his magical work and progressed along the grades of A∴A∴ writing and publishing extensively during this time. After WWI ended Crowley took to Sicily where he established the Abbey of Thelema along with Leah Hirsig – his Scarlet Woman du jour – where they adhered to a strict regimen of magick, study, ritual, and indulgence. During this time actress Jane Wolfe stayed with Crowley where she was instructed and took A∴A∴ initiation.
After being expelled from Italy by Mussolini, Crowley continued to prosecute the Great Work. During WWII, Crowley advised British intelligence, even going so far as to formulate Churchill’s now famous ‘V for Victory sign’ – the forerunner of the hippy ‘peace sign’ – as a magical antidote to Hitler’s swastika.
Crowley died at Netherwood, Hastings, England on 1 December 1947, aged 72.
Crowley’s storied career and colorful life left a lasting impression not only on those formally affiliated with the A∴A∴ and the O.T.O., but also on pop culture and counter culture icons including Timothy Leary, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, modern heavy metal and hip-hop artists and many more. Crowley’s influence is seen today in music, art, culture, and in the continuation of the orders A∴A∴ and O.T.O. as functioning groups – as well as multiple magical groups and initiatory bodies tracing roots back to Crowley and his direct students.