Born Edward Alexander to devout Plymouth Brethren parents, Crowley remains one of the most infamous and enigmatic figures of the early twentieth century. He rejected Christianity at a young age and began pursuing magic and esotericism while studying at Trinity College, Cambridge. He soon joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, changing his given name to Aleister and adopting the magical name of Perdurabo (meaning, I will endure). A reputation for pursuing magic through the use of psychedelic drugs and bisexually promiscuous acts soon made Crowley a divisive figure in the Golden Dawn.
As his distance from parts of the Golden Dawn grew, Crowley traveled widely, arriving in Cairo, Egypt in April, 1904 with new wife, Rose Edith Kelly. Soon Crowley reportedly received a series of supernatural messages from a disembodied voice, which Crowley claimed belonged to a being named Aiwass. This voice instructed him in the beliefs and morality of a new spirituality that was to come to replace Christianity in the west. As prophet for this new aeon, or period of religious expression, Crowley wrote down Aiwass’s teachings as the Book of the Law, summed up by the Law of Thelema: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
In 1907, with the Golden Dawn experiencing trouble, Crowley started his own brotherhood, the A[rgenteum] A[strum] (Silver Star). He then began openly pursuing sex magic and the ritualistic use of psychedelic drugs. As his work continued, he soon gained and fostered a reputation as a wicked, crazed occultist, sometimes erroneously categorized as a Satanist. After his death, Crowley had a lasting and nuanced influence on the occult and popular culture.
Perdurabo, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kacynski
Now provided in a revised edition, Kacynski’s biography of Crowley is the definitive account of this enigmatic and often misunderstood cultural figure.
Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, edited by Henrik Bogdan and Martin P. Starr
These fifteen essays published by Oxford University Press represent the first detailed academic examination of the place of Aleister Crowley in culture, learning, and spirituality.
Ronald Decker, ‘Crowley, Aleister (1875–1947)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.proxy2.library.illinois.edu/view/article/37329, accessed 14 April 2014]
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