It is not uncommon to read the name Aleister Crowley linked to Satanism or Devil-worship. Various statements made by Crowley, or attributed to him, are used as proof that he was the archetypal Satanist. This stance is taken by many Christians, and it is no surprise that many Satanists claim Crowley as one of their diabolic brethren. However, there are many occultists who reject the belief of Crowley-the-Satanist. Many of these occultists are Thelemites, followers of Crowley’s magickal system of Thelema, however there are some Satanic groups who also reject the idea of Crowley being a Satanist.
Born Edward Alexander Crowley on 12 October 1875 in Warwickshire, England, he went on to become an influential member of several occult organizations, including the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the Ordo Templi Orientis. He was a prolific writer who has had an undisputed impact on modern occultism, and in his time garnered a great deal of notoriety as the self-professed Great Beast of Revelations.
Many of the people claiming that Crowley was a Satanist base their assumptions on literal interpretations of his writings. It is clear that some of Crowley’s writings were extremely anti-Christian, and Crowley claimed that Friedrich Nietzsche, a vehement anti-Christian, could be considered one of the prophets of Thelema. In Liber AL vel Legis, Crowley’s central holy book for Thelema, we find the lines:
“51. With my Hawk’s head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.
52. I flap my wings in the face of Mohammed & blind him.
53. With my claws I tear out the flesh of the Indian and the Buddhist, Mongol and Din.
54. Bahlasti! Ompehda! I spit on your crapulous creeds.
55. Let Mary inviolate be torn upon wheels: for her sake let all chaste women be utterly despised among you!”
To many Christians this is clearly “Satanic” and highly offensive, as it is to Muslims and Buddhists also. However, to be anti-Christian doesn’t make someone a Satanist per se, and doesn’t indicate that the person identifies with the popular conceptions of Satanists.
There are various apologists for Crowley’s cruder writings and anti-Christian sentiments. In The Eye in the Triangle, Israel Regardie, a student of Crowley, suggested that “anyone who says Crowley was a Satanist and a devil-worshipper should have his head examined.”
Julius Evola, in his book Mask and Face of Contemporary Spiritualism, suggested that:
“It is however necessary to see that Crowley did not put Satan in the place of God, given the high regard in which he held traditions, like the Kabbalah, which venerated a divinity… Finally, … the ostentatious Satanism of Crowley is explained only in terms of an antithesis to Christianity whose doctrine condemned the senses and the integral achievement of man, however, in his case, with an initiatic and ‘magical’ basis rather than naturalistic.”
The claim of Crowley as Satanist is exemplified by Crowley’s literary executor and biographer, John Symonds, writing his book The Great Beast, that:
“Crowley’s philosophy takes a bit from here and a bit from there… but… he was more a Satanist than anything else. ‘I serve my great Master Satan’, he wrote in one of his franker confessions, ‘and that august Council composed of Beelzebub, Lucifuge, Asmodeus, Belphegor, Baal, Adrammelech, Lilith and Nahema.'”
Crowley wrote of being the servant of Satan, “the Devil, our Lord … whose number of magick is 666, the seal of his servant the Beast” in his ritual for the Attainment of Knowledge and Conversation of his Holy Guardian Angel (Shaitan-Aiwaz). Kenneth Grant, another student of Crowley, wrote that: “this whole ritual is an invocation of Shaitan (Satan) or Set”. It is easy to see how The Great Beast 666 gained the reputation as a Satanist and hardcore anti-Christian.
Aleister Crowley died in a Hastings boarding house, 1 December 1947 aged 72. He was cremated in Brighton and his funeral service included the reading of Crowley’s own poem, Hymn to Pan. Local newspapers called the service a black mass, furthering the Great Beasts image as a Satanist.
The simple answer to the question of Aleister Crowley having been a Satanist is that there is no definitive answer. It is not possible to ask Crowley how he viewed himself (except perhaps at a séance), and even if he made one claim or another, it would be difficult to determine whether he simply wanted to create an image and reputation for himself or whether he genuinely upheld these views. Crowley was a complex figure, whose writings where often unclear or veiled in symbolism and metaphor. It is left up to the reader to decide how they choose to view Crowley, the man, the myth, the occultist.
Part 2 of this article will examine how some leading modern Satanic groups view Aleister Crowley.