Of all the pagans, mystics and spiritualists of this Century there is none more notorious than the English magician Aleister Crowley. Born in 1875, an only child to parents who were wealthy brewers and members of the strict and puritanical Plymouth Brethren faith, he was primed to be a minister from the off. However Crowley was to turn vehemently against Christianity, the hypocrisy of which he abhorred, eventually identifying himself as the Beast 666 of Revelation. Asked why he took the name he replied, My Mother called me the beast.
Among many other things, Crowley is also remembered as a world record mountain climber, extensive traveller, prolific writer, champion chess player and debauched drug taker. Crowley's life was jammed full of incident, and much of this is recorded in his Autohagiography - Confessions of Aleister Crowley, which is an amazing read and highly recommended. But although he lead a truly extraordinary life, and was clearly a man ahead of his time, it was his life as a magician and mystic to which he owe s his lasting fame. And it was his reception of a small text known as The Book of the Law, received while on honeymoon with his first wife Rose in Cairo in 1904, from a spirit intelligence naming itself as Aiwass, that differentiated him from other occultists of the time; for it was this extraordinary event that was to dominate the rest of his life. Crowley never claimed authorship of the book, always maintaining it was taken in strict dictation, and he spent the rest of his life attempting to p ersuade people of its divine origin and relevance to humankind. This strange and powerful text named Crowley as the Prophet of the New Aeon, and in it he was commanded to establish a new religion based upon scientific principles without the moral restraint imposed by hierarchies of other faiths. The following quotes are central axioms to the message of the text. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law Love is the law, love under will and Every man and every woman is a star.
The book's philosophy was in many ways a natural development from Nieztzche's ideas of the Superhuman, with the only moral requirement of existence being that every man and woman should seek to discover their own true will or central essence. Liber Al, as it is sometimes called, accurately foretold the breakdown of old society structures and moral codes, and the catastrophic results that have inevitably followed are referred to as the birth pangs of a New Aeon, as humans grapple with new modes of cond uct and perception. But out of the debris of change, insisted Crowley, a new type of society could be formed in which each person would be encouraged to seek out and develop their natural genius and true purpose of existence. In the meantime however, and in the course of his 'experimentation', Crowley went on to enjoy a life of unbridled hedonism and adventure, crammed with all manner of sexual escapades.
The Beatles certainly got Crowley's message, placing Aleister next to Mae West on the cover of their best selling album, Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in what they described as a collection of people we like. And furthermore Crowley's free love ethos made him a natural icon with the burgeoning hippy movement, years after his death, as thousands of young people sort to discover themselves and find an identity in a new liberal climate.
Crowley during his life was the head of several magical organisations, the most notable being the Ordo Templi Orientis, or the O.T.O. as its commonly known, which he assumed control of after the death of its leader Theodore Reuss in 1922. He then incorporated the spirit of his new understandings and rewrote the grades of this masonic organisation to tally with New Aeon consciousness. When Crowley died in 1947 he left the temporary administration of the Order to one of his followers Karl Ge rmer, although he showed no hesitation in stating that he wished his spiritual successor as leader of the Order to be the young occultist Kenneth Grant. In 1955 Grant and Germer fell out, and Grant assumed leadership of the Order, which he reorganised and still heads today. It became known henceforth as the Typhonian O.T.O. so as to differentiate it from pseudo-organisations using the same name. By far the most talented of all Crowley's disciples, Grant developed Crowley's ideas intelligen tly and in the light of much new information; most notably he successfully demonstrated the similarities of Crowley's magical system with that of certain secret Tantric orders of the East. These groups follow a tradition of many thousands of years known as The Left Hand Path, which basically means the use of sexual techniques and energy to gain access to other dimensions, as well as reversing the aging process. It is because of the use of sex magic in his rituals that Crowley is sometimes referred to as a black magician. Grant's findings are recorded in a fascinating series of books known as the Typhonian Trilogies in which he demonstrates most convincingly that a common magical current of energy was instrumental in the work of such diverse characters as the American science fiction writer H.P.Lovecraft, surrealist painter Salvador Dali, rocket scientist Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare, Dion Fortune and many others. Most of Grant's book are still in print and are usually available in serious esoteric bookshops.
As for the O.T.O. today it remains a small and specialist organization, with initiates mainly concentrated in the U.K., although it retains international connections worldwide with similar organisations, naming artists, writers and scientists among its ranks. The O.T.O. also has its own publishing arm, Starfire Publishing, which as well as publishing Grant's latest books brings out the official organ of the Order., a yearly journal called Starfire. The organization does n ot advertise for membership, but anyone over 18 may apply to join if they are prepared to work through an exhaustive system of grades designed to trigger enlightenment.
Unlike other such organizations the Typhonian O.T.O. charges no fees whatsoever. Initially there is a nine month probationary period where there is no connection between probationer and Members. Its prospectus states that the O.T.O. is not a teaching Order but a unique vehicle designed to transmit a powerful magical current.
In the course of enquiry I was able to meet several of its members, and quickly gauged that they were a far cry from your common or garden new age freaks or black adorning pagans, but rather serious minded magicians who knew their stuff and meant business, claiming as they do that they have enjoyed successful traffic with higher intelligences. Such claims are inevitably met with scepticism, but I found it interesting to consider that the works of Aleister Crowley and his received text, the Book of the Law are still having a powerful effect, fifty years after his death. He was in fact listed as one of the thousand most influential people of this Century, a life made unique by his experience of things 'beyond'. The conclusion he reached as a result of such experiences are summarised perfectly in the following quotation.
My observation of the universe convinces me that there are beings of intelligence and power of a far higher quality than anything we can conceive of as human; that they are not necessarily based on the cerebal and nervous structures that we know, and that the one and only chance for mankind to advance as a whole is for individuals to make contact with such Beings.
Whether we think these are the words of an inspired genius or a devilish charlatan its good to know that at least some people are still out there trying.
For anybody interested in receiving further information on the T.O.T.O. they should in the first instance write to BCM Starfire London WC1N 3XX.