Was Aleister Crowley Really "The Wickedest Man In The World?"

March 29, 2024 1:00 AM ‐ Black Magic
Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley, the infamous occultist, was given the title "the wickedest man in the world" by the British press, and there's no denying he was controversial, but was he really as wicked as claimed, or is this a case of historical sensationalism?

The exact origin of the phrase is unclear, as it was part of the sensationalist media coverage that Crowley received during his lifetime, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s.

Crowley was born in 1875 and became an influential figure in the early 20th century. He was best known for his occult practices and ceremonial magic, but he was also a prolific writer covering a wide range of topics from magic to philosophy to poetry, a mountaineer, and the founder of the religious philosophy of Thelema. The press was fascinated and appalled by Crowley's unconventional lifestyle, which included ritualistic magic, sex magic, and the use of drugs.

Crowley did not shy away from this reputation, often embracing and even amplifying the scandalous image the press portrayed of him, using it to his advantage in promoting his work and philosophy, which were poorly understood and considered deeply immoral.

Crowley's notoriety stems from his deep involvement in the occult and the founding of the religion of Thelema, which championed the philosophy "do what thou wilt." Many interpreted this message as a green light for hedonism, but Crowley actually meant it as an encouragement to follow your true will or purpose.

His practices included ceremonial magic and rituals intended to invoke entities or communicate with higher spiritual planes. These practices, particularly the use of sex magic, along with his use of drugs like heroin and cocaine and his bisexual orientation, were scandalous to the early 20th-century public. As were his use of drugs like heroin and cocaine and his bisexual orientation. Crowley also challenged societal norms through his writings and public persona, intentionally using provocative themes to stir up controversy.

Crowley died almost 80 years ago, in 1947. Since then, societal norms have evolved, and many aspects of Crowley's life are less shocking and, in some respects, align with present-day values of personal freedom and spiritual exploration.

Some of Crowley's practices, including the use of sex magic and his symbolic, not literal, ritual sacrifices would still be controversial and misunderstood by the general public. However, his exploration of alternative spiritual paths is similar to today's mainstream interest in New Age spirituality. Interest in the occult, witchcraft, and alternative spiritual paths has seen a resurgence in recent years, with many seeking spirituality outside traditional religious structures.

Crowley's approach to sex was revolutionary for his time, incorporating activities with both men and women into his magical practices as a form of ritual and a means to spiritual enlightenment. Based on what is known, Crowley's sexual activities were generally within the bounds of what would be considered consensual by the standards of his time. His advocacy for sexual freedom predated the current acceptance of LGBTQ+ rights.

When judged by today's standards, perhaps the most controversial aspect of Crowley's life is his drug use. Drug abuse is still rightly seen as harmful, but there is a growing recognition of the potential spiritual and therapeutic benefits of some drugs. But we're talking about heroin and cocaine here, which fall foul of the law even today. Although illegal, his drug use was more of a public scandal than a legal problem for him.

Of course, we're not condoning drugs, but the use of heroin and cocaine hardly means you're evil, after all, even the great Sherlock Holmes had a cocaine habit, according to the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, which were set during Crowley's lifetime. So, is the label "the wickedest man in the world" really warranted?

After all, the late 19th and first half of the 20th centuries were an era that saw individuals whose actions were far more "evil" by conventional standards. Serial killers, war criminals, and leaders of oppressive regimes committed acts that had direct, devastating impacts on the lives of countless individuals.

It was the period that witnessed Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Benito Mussolini rise to power. Hitler's regime in Nazi Germany was responsible for the Holocaust, which led to the genocide of six million Jews, along with millions of others deemed undesirable by the Nazi ideology. During Stalin's time, there were harsh crackdowns, forced changes in farming, terrible famines, and brutal prison camps, all leading to millions of deaths. Mussolini's fascist regime in Italy also caused numerous atrocities, including the use of chemical weapons, concentration camps, and mass executions. Crowley's actions, on the other hand, did not lead to widespread suffering or loss of life.

Crowley's contributions to ceremonial magic and the occult, as well as his role in founding Thelema, might be viewed with curiosity and respect within alternative and spiritual communities today. The New Age movement, which blends elements of different mystical traditions, including some of Crowley's ideas, has become more mainstream.

If Aleister Crowley were alive today, he would likely still be a polarising figure, but the context in which his life and work are judged would be very different. There would be more understanding and perhaps appreciation for his contributions to occultism and spirituality. Whether he was truly evil is a matter of perspective and personal beliefs.

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