Aleister Crowley, the singular character who esoterically defined himself the "Great Beast 666" (and was foolishly called "the wickedest man in the world",) was indeed a novelist, painter, mountaineer, chess player, spiritual seeker, ceremonial magician, 'ante litteram' western tantrist and drug experimenter (and probably - as sometimes happens with shamans and healers - also a trickster, if not a "half charlatan".)
Controversial, disturbing, maybe sometimes even pathetic, Crowley is nonetheless one of the most interesting and intriguing protagonists of the past century, one who brilliantly created his own myth and made a legend.of his whole life.....
Now Gary Lachman has published a new book on Crowley and his influence on rock musicians, Aleister Crowley. Magick, Rock'n Roll and the Wickedest Man in the World.
I first came across the name Aleister Crowley, the twentieth century’s most infamous magician and self-styled “Great Beast 666,” in 1975, when I was nineteen and playing in a rock and roll band in New York City. I was living in a rundown loft space on the Bowery with the guitarist and singer, not far from CBGB, the club that a year or so later became famous as the birthplace of punk rock. My band mates had a kitschy interest in the occult, which manifested in the pentagrams, voodoo trinkets, skulls, crossbones, swastikas, crucifixes, talismans, and other magical bric-a-brac that jostled for space with photographs of the Velvet Underground, posters for the Ramones, and Rolling Stone album covers on the bare brick walls. We had an eerie statue of a nun standing in front of a fireplace, which was itself covered in occult insignia. A cross was painted on the nun’s forehead and rosary beads hung from her hand. Tibetan tantric paintings, one of which depicted a monk being eaten by his fellows, hung on the walls, and an old doll that Chris, the guitarist, had found in the trash and had transformed into a voodoo ornament was perched over the drum kit. Debbie, the singer, was interested in UFOs, and after rehearsals she would often consult the I Ching about the next band move.
We shared the space with an eccentric artist, an older hipster who had a dangerous passion for the Hell’s Angels and often dressed in biker gear. Like myself, he was a fan of H. P. Lovecraft and the Weird Tales set, but he was also interested in magic, and he often painted his own version of the tarot deck, modeling his images on Crowley’s then rare Thoth Tarot. He would also give impromptu readings, and I was struck by the seriousness with which he treated the cards. I could tell that for him they were more than just an eccentric form of entertainment, that they presented something more like a philosophy of life. He related the tarot to other things like art and music, and to people I had read, such as Jung and Nietzsche. But the person he mentioned most was Crowley. He held up Crowley as a model of what a magical life should be like, and at one point he introduced me to someone who claimed to be an illegitimate son of Crowley. I can’t remember who this was, or what we talked about, and I never discovered if he really was Crowley’s son or not.
The artist read from The Diary of a Drug Fiend, Crowley’s sensational novel about heroin and cocaine addiction, which was also an advertisement for his ill- fated Abbey of Thelema in Sicily, where initiates would learn how to do their “true will.” Like practically everyone else then, I was interested in drugs, and the cover of the book, with a sheik of sorts luxuriating in an opium-induced Oriental repose, certainly caught my eye. I had seen the book in the window of the old St. Marks Bookshop on St. Marks Place, just up from the famous Gem Spa, and I wondered when I would have enough cash to buy a copy.
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