Aleister Crowley is one of the most singularly interesting figures in the 20th Century. His varied career resume alone (poet, cult leader, mountain climber, recreational drug experimenter, social critic and occult historian) warrants examination in and of itself.
I’ve long wrestled with what to make of Mr. Crowley. He’s a complicated historical figure, one who is not easily put into a single box, and it’s impossible to summarize him with a single label.
Full disclosure: I’ve never had much of an interest in Crowleyanity and the religious bullshit surrounding him. I have, however, at various points in my life, practiced yoga and ceremonial magick studied at the foot of the master.
While I don’t have a great deal of use for the latter, I do consider the former to be quite useful.
Further, Crowley’s writings on the subject are brilliantly eloquent, with no small degree of cutting, caustic humor — something that always wins points with me.
The Ordo Templi Orientis
I’ve had rare occasion to rub elbows with that elite occult conspiracy group, the Ordo Templi Orientis.
It’s not surprising to me that nearly everyone I’ve encountered through the OTO has been Catholic. Indeed, it seems to be what Catholics do instead of becoming atheists or something. You get all the smells and bells with none of the guilt… and naked chicks to boot.
The Gnostic Mass bored me to tears, and the strange devotion that people seemed to have to it struck me as forced and cult-like. I’ve never had much use for organized religion, regardless of its level diabolism and Art Nouveau iconography.
If the OTO is indeed some kind of secretive, occult conspiracy manipulating the hands of power, it would at least explain some things. For example, why all world leaders seem so clueless and square.
Other things, such as why computer programmers don’t have far more power than they do, remain unexplained.
Contrast this with the A∴A∴, Crowley’s monastic order. Completely divorced from the religion of “Thelema” (and the less said about that pile of nonsense and chicanery, the better), the A∴A∴ does little but instruct you in the system of yoga developed by Crowley.
“Yoga,” here is used in a broader sense to mean self mastery. Crowley called it “magick,” but since only babies believe in that, it’s best to use a term more grounded in reality and less pegged to wish fulfillment and silly hats and robes.
The thing about practicing Crowley’s yoga (or any other for that matter), is that belief is not a prerequisite. You don’t have to “believe” that meditation will do anything.
You just have to sit down and spend half an hour visualizing a blue triangle. Whatever “results” you get from that practice is largely a subjective matter. The journey is far more important than the destination.
I can’t stress enough that my view of this is entirely materialist. I’m not sure what consciousness is, but I know that your brain is an organ. Like any other organ, with enough attention you can train it to do things.
What those things are is largely a matter of opinion.
Further, it doesn’t seem controversial to suggest that one’s perception of reality certainly colors the reality in which one lives. However, you can’t simply imagine a brick that’s coming at your face disintegrating into dust and causing it to happen.
The degree to which your perceptions actually do influence reality is largely an unsettled question, one which science has provided us with only the most basic of answers.
In his own crude way, Crowley expressed the mystical understanding of malleable reality. The man’s life provides an interesting tale, with elements of both wish fulfillment and caution. It makes for interesting drama and stands as a powerful testament to the idea that one should be careful what one wishes for.
Still, when delusions of grandeur and a propensity for self-deception set in, it’s generally time to cut bait.
Crowley’s thinking and writing is often done more lucidly by his students (Israel Regardie and Robert Anton Wilson are perhaps the two best examples), though the great unwashed masses of followers don’t do much to strip him and his corpus of its more problematic elements.
Even if he had done nothing else but climb mountains, take drugs and talk to angels in the African desert, Crowley would still be worth your time and attention.
See if after some study you don’t come out with a different view of the world, yourself and of conspiracy theories — or at least with a long list of crazy stories about the Beast.