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social sciences

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Crowley, Aleister (1875-1947)  
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In 1920 Crowley moved to the city of Cefalu, on the northern coast of Sicily. There he purchased a villa, which he dubbed "Abbaye de Theleme" (Thelema Abbey). Crowley planned to make this site a magnet for those interested in learning about the occult and sexual magic. However, a young man named Raoul Loveday died at the abbey under mysterious circumstances, and Crowley was expelled from the island by Italian authorities in 1923.

Back in England, Loveday's widow, understandably bitter, told the newspapers shocking stories about what had supposedly gone on at Thelema Abbey. The sensationalistic articles that resulted featured reports of orgies, human sacrifices, and satanic rites. Labeled "the wickedest man in the world" by the press, Crowley developed a notorious reputation. As the years passed, however, he found that his notoriety did not translate into a sustainable living, as his literary work garnered less and less interest from publishers.

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Crowley married a second time in 1929, to Maria Ferrari de Miramar. That same year he published Magick in Theory and Practice, one of his major philosophical works. Crowley preferred the particular spelling of "magick" in order to differentiate his unique ritual occult system from common stage magic.

By 1932 Crowley, now physically addicted to the morphine he had originally begun using to treat his asthma, was forced into bankruptcy. His survival depended on monetary gifts from friends and students. Yet it was during this late period of his life that Crowley developed his final major work.

From 1938 to 1943, Crowley worked with artist Lady Frieda Harris to create the Thoth Tarot. This highly influential divination system, as outlined in The Book of Thoth (published in 1944), was a groundbreaking tarot deck as a result of its inclusion of sexuality, as well as its fantastic, surreal imagery.

Three years after this crowning achievment, on December 1, 1947, Crowley, penniless and dependent on heroin and alcohol, died of a respiratory infection in a British boarding house. He was 72 years old.

Aleister Crowley greatly influenced twentieth-century practitioners of esoteric magic, through both word and deed. One of his most notable contributions to the occult world was his emphasis on sexuality and the free expression of gender roles. Crowley was a larger-than-life visionary, widely reviled yet also greatly respected, who privileged sex, both homosexual and heterosexual, as a central, meaningful component in his philosophy and ritual.

Andrew Matzner

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Kaczynski, Richard. Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley. Tempe, Ariz.: New Falcon Publications, 2002.

Owen, Alex. The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2002.


    Citation Information
    Author: Matzner, Andrew  
    Entry Title: Crowley, Aleister  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated November 13, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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