In the late 19th century, the world was primed and ready for a boom in mass media. Radio and television would be invented within just a few years of each other, and these instruments would truly change the world forever.
It just so happened to be at this crucial point that a man named Alexander Crowley was born.
Alexander grew up the only child of a wealthy English family. His father was a lay preacher of a Christian sect called Plymouth Brethren, a group that believed very strongly in the imminent return of Jesus and the Bible as literal truth (sound familiar?). The Crowley family believed strongly that Jesus was coming soon, and that we were to resist all temptations so we would be ready to meet Him.
One biographer writes, “It was in this highly charged atmosphere–set between the fervent expectation of Christ’s second coming and the vigilant shunning of Satan–that the boy was raised.”
Needless to say, Alexander’s childhood was sheltered. He came to resent how restrictive his parents could be, and moreover, the religion that motivated their actions. Through his own reading of the Bible as a child, he began to identify more and more with the descriptions of evil. He himself states that he “preferred the Dragon, the False Prophet, the Beast, and the Scarlet Woman” and “reveled in the descriptions of torment.”
At some point, his mindset moved so far from the family religion that his mother took to calling him “the Beast.”
As he grew from child to teenager to young adult, the ideals that would guide the rest of his life began to take shape. He took a new name–Aleister–to match his new lifestyle. He embarked on what he called a “mystical quest,” leaving Christianity entirely behind and embracing alchemy, mysticism, and ritual magic. He saw the forces of good as increasingly oppressive, saying that the first step to realizing his own spiritual realm was to “get into personal contact with the devil.”
THE NEW AGE
In 1903, Crowley married a woman named Rose Kelly, and the two traveled to Egypt for their honeymoon the following year. While there, Aleister’s new wife entered a trance, and told him that she had been contacted by the ancient Egyptian god Horus. Crowley was skeptical, however, and asked her to show him the god she claimed contacted her. He took her to the local Cairo museum, where there were displays of every major Egyptian deity. Having no previous knowledge of Egyptian mythology, Rose led her husband straight to the exhibit of a funeral stele depicting Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a god who was, according to the myth, a combination of Ra and his son Horus. Aleister was stunned, but the surrealness of the experience didn’t end there. Crowley glanced down at the number of the exhibit, and, not one to believe in coincidence, what he saw sent a chill up his spine. The exhibit number was 666.
That very weekend, as he sat in his apartment in meditation, Crowley felt the air grow cold. A voice filled with power spoke behind him from the corner of the room, claiming to be a messenger for Horus. The entity, who called itself Aiwass, told Crowley to take dictation. Crowley pulled out an old journal, dipped a pen in ink, and did as instructed.
Over the next few days, Aiwass dictated what would become the basis for Crowley’s belief system and, eventually, religion. He called this new belief system Thelema, the Greek word for will. Aiwass claimed that “every man and woman is a star,” that “the word of the Law is Will,” and perhaps most important to Crowley, that “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Aiwass told Crowley that it is every human’s duty to pursue their purpose, their True Will, to the exclusion of all else. The means of reaching one’s Will, of reaching self-actualization, was through the power of magick. These teachings would eventually become the precise tenets of Thelema.
Lastly, Aiwass communicated to Crowley that their meeting marked the first day of a new age of religious thought. The previous age, represented by Osiris, was the age dominated by religions such as Christianity, which worships a God who redeemed humanity through His death. According to the entity who contacted Crowley, this age has given way to the Aeon of Horus, an era in which people will fulfill their true purpose through Will and regard the notion of sin as antiquated. This new age will be dominated, above all else, by reason and logic.
Crowley was now the self-proclaimed prophet of Thelema. In 1910, Crowley was inducted into the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a secretive religious organization modeled after Freemasonry. He soon rose through the ranks, becoming the head of the order by 1925. Crowley eventually integrated his own philosophy into the O.T.O.–so much so that its central creed became the same as Thelema: Do what thou wilt. The O.T.O. is still alive and well today, with branches in nearly every major country in the world.
Despite what one may think of Aleister Crowley, it can hardly be denied that he lived an influential life. His efforts to legitimize magick and its practical use gained him many followers, both during his life and after his death. By the time of his death in 1947, he had written over 60 books, poems, and novels, and had catapulted magick and mysticism into mainstream awareness.
To understand the influence of occult on modem media, knowledge of Crowley and his teachings is very important. A disturbingly high number of modern entertainers tip their hats to Crowley in one way or another, and it’s very important that we are able to recognize that symbolism for what it is.