ing most of his life in the early 20th century,rnand no modern poet seems to havernpaid any attention to him.rnCrowley joined up with a secret grouprncalling itself the “Hermetic Order of thernGolden Dawn,” which has been the subjectrnof far more romance and intriguernthan it ever merited. The Golden Dawnrndid harbor some writers of note, includingrnthe young W.B. Yeats, and for a timernalso sported the actress Florence Farr, thernmistress of Bernard Shaw, but mainly itrnwas a sect of middle-class shopkeepersrnwho fascinated themselves with the outlandishrnrituals and robes they affected.rnFrom the Golden Dawn, Crowley movedrnto a more mature preoccupation withrnBuddhism, where he might have remainedrnhad he not experienced what herntook to be a supernatural visitation inrnCairo in 1904. Exactly what happened isrnunclear (it was unclear to Crowley asrnwell), but he claimed that a supernaturalrnbeing named “Aiwass” had dictated tornhim a book destined to be the holy text ofrna new religion for a new era, or the “NewrnAeon,” as Crowley began to call it. DevoutrnChristians may regard “Aiwass” as arndemonic or Satanic figure, while morernsecular minds would take him to bernmerely an hallucinatory phantasm ofrnCrowley’s own sex- and drug-besottedrnmind (next to—and perhaps even morernthan —magic and poetry, sex and drugsrnwere his favorite obsessions). One way orrnthe other, Crowley devoted much of thernrest of his life to evangelizing on behalf ofrnthe new faith.rnThe religion itself he called “Thelema,”rnafter a Greek word for “will,” andrnthe basic commandment of the cultrnwas “Do What Thou Wilt Shall be thernWhole of the Law,” both name and lawrnbeing adapted from Rabelais. There arernobvious libertarian and libertine interpretationsrnof this creed, expounded by Crowleyrnin the manuscript dictated by Aiwassrnand published as The Book of the Law,rnbut there is also supposedly a magicalrnmeaning to it, although Mr. Sutin fails tornexplain this very clearly. (That may representrnno failing on his part, however,rnsince there may not be any meaning to itrnat all.) Crowley, who began affecting arnshaven head to make himself look morernsinister, did attract a number of followers,rnmainly lonely and vacuous women andrnfoolish young men, both of whom becamernthe objects of his voracious sexualrnexploitation. By the 1920’s, virtually drivenrnfrom England and France by his notoriety,rnhe had established an “Abbey ofrnThelema” in Sicily where he and hisrnband sodomized and flagellated eachrnother to their heart’s content until Mussolini’srngovernment got wind of them andrnbooted the Great Beast out of the country.rnBy the 1930’s, having exhausted thernfortune he had inherited and squanderedrnwhatever else he managed to get hisrnhands on, Crowley found himself addictedrnto heroin and facing both povert}-‘ andrnobscurity as his followers abandonedrnhim, his friends saw through him, andrnthe yellow press tired of him. He finallyrndied in 1947, the New Aeon of which hernclaimed to be the prophet as yet unnoticedrnby mankind.rnFor all the sensation he excited duringrnhis lifetime, Crowley’s mind, his writings,rnand his life offer little interest. His notorietyrnwas based mainly on his outspokenrndefiance of Victorian sexual and moralrnnorms, which is one of the reasons anyonernhas paid any attention to him sincernhis death. Yet those normal people whornhad much contact with Aleister Crowleyrnregarded him as anything but heroic. Inrn1912, for example, Crowley and one ofrnhis female companions were cavorting inrna villa outside Naples while his lover’srnteenage son lived with them for a summer.rnThe son was the young PrestonrnSturges, later famous as the director ofrnsuch film comedies as SuUivan’s Travelsrnand possessed of more real talent thanrnCrowley could imagine. Sti^irges’s assessmentrnof the Great Beast was more devastatingrnthan any curse Crowley’s magicrncould concoct:rnThe practitioner and staunch defenderrnof every form of vice historicallyrnknown to man, generally acceptedrnas one of the most depraved,rnvicious, and revolting humbugsrnwho ever escaped from a nightmarernor a lunatic asylum, imiversallyrndespised and enthusiasticallyrnexpelled from every country hernever tried to live in, Mr. Crowleyrnnevertheless was considered by myrnmother to be not only the epitomernof charm and good manners, butrnalso the possessor of one of the veryrnfew genius-bathed brains she hadrnbeen privileged to observe at workrnduring her entire lifetime. Ask mernnot why!… Reading about somernof his subsequent exploits, I realizernthat my mother and I were lucky tornescape with our lives. Ifl had beenrna little older, he might not have escapedrnwith his.rnSturges’s characterization of Crowleyrnis somewhat akin to that offered by Americanrnarts patron John Quinn, whomrnCrowley tried to impress. “Frankly,”rnQuinn wrote to Yeats, “his ‘magic’ and astrologyrnbored me beyond words. Whateverrnhe may be, he has no personality. Irnam not interested in his morals or lack ofrnmorals. He may or may not be a good orrnprofound or crooked student or practitionerrnof magic. To me, he is only arnthird- or fourth-rate poet.” Yet anotherrnliterary figure wrote that, “when you gotrnused to his eccentricities, and so long asrnyou were not impressed by his mysticalrnpretensions, he was apt to become a fearfulrnbore.”rnWhy then is Aleister Crowley importantrnenough to warrant serious attentionrnat all, let alone a 400-page biography?rnHis significance lies in the fascination hernexercised over the entire century inrnwhich he flourished, from the mediocrernnovel that Maugham wrote about him tornthe attention splattered on him by thernBeatles and Led Zeppelin and his adoptionrnby the counterculture of the 1960’s.rnThe reason for that fascination lies not sornmuch in any talents possessed by the tediousrnGreat Beast as in his genuine abilityrnto project and even incarnate some ofrnthe most characteristic features of therncentury itself. Crowley’s New Aeon isrnnothing more than the illusion of modernity,rnthe “New Age” that the last part ofrnthe 20th century and the first part of therncurrent one chatters about so much, anrnage in which human beings have succeededrnin “emancipating” themselvesrnfrom the moral, religious, social, and politicalrnbonds of the old era and now imaginernthat they—or some of them —arernabout to become as gods because of theirrnemancipation. Crowley believed humanrnbeings could transcend and escape theirrnown nature through his synthesis of magic,rnsex, and drugs. He was not the last tornbelieve so, though a more typical route tornsecular perfection has been political action.rnYet, whichever path to liberationrnone chooses, the inevitable result is thernsame ruin and wreckage at the social levelrnthat Crowley inflicted on himself onrnthe personal one. Someone should havernexplained to the Great Beast that his NewrnAeon was neither new nor true and thatrnany era for which this pathetic charlatanrnis as fitting a symbol, as Crowley is ofrnours, is likely to wind up being as muchrnof a failure, a fraud, and a bore as he himselfrnturned out to be.rn28/CHRONICLESrnrnrn