THE MAGICAL WORLD OF ALEISTER CROWLEY by Francis King

THE MAGICAL WORLD OF ALEISTER CROWLEY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Aleister Crowley was weird in the strictest sense of that much abused word. Self-appointed Great Beast of the occult, he spun ornate theories about mysterious forces and invented magic rituals to harness those forces to his will. John Symonds' informed and unflustered biography (1951) is now supplemented by King's shorter, more credulous account of Crowley's life and especially the fantasies that served him as ideas. The son of fundamentalist Protestants, Crowley's yen for the Spirit led him, at age 23, into the Order of the Golden Dawn, a fin-de-siècle mystical cult that numbered among its votaries Yeats and Maud Gonne. Dwelling, as he put it, amid ""a mystical haze of fairies, seal-women, glamour and magic,"" Crowley soon devised an occult system of his own with a unique vocabulary, demons, and rites. And for a time he and two mistresses ran a ""College of the Holy Ghost"" in Sicily, which attracted followers, like silent film actress Jane Wolfe, seeking enlightenment. Like a drug, Crowley's spiritualism demanded ever more of him and his adherents: the ""white magic"" of his early days lost itself in Satanism, sexual magic, and narcotics--Crowley even came to believe Hitler acquired his spellbinding powers from reading Crowley's writings. Notwithstanding Crowley's omnivorous perversity, King praises him for developing ""an occult system and philosophy which was clear, consistent and in some ways beautiful,"" an opinion he supports with references to the Crowley revival among hippies of the 1960s. Only a studious curiosity about the arcana of the occult and its exemplars of the last 75 years will carry readers through. Crowley's story was better told by Symonds.

Pub Date: Feb. 7th, 1977
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan