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BOOK REVIEW– JOHN SYMONDS – THE GREAT BEAST. THE LIFE AND MAGICK OF ALEISTER CROWLEY. 1973. Mayflower Books. 

 

Undoubtedly the best and most comprehensively researched biographies of Crowley available. Crowley styled and regarded himself as the most evil man who ever lived. He comes across in the reality of hindsight as a sad, seedy but highly amusing eccentric individual. Symonds’s early chapters on Crowley’s crazed mountaineering expeditions are the real highlight of the book. Crowley led an ill-prepared doomed expedition to conquer K2, the World’s second highest mountain. He tried to continue the ascent even when others wanted him to call off the climb and search for some Sherpas who had fallen to their deaths.  Eventually, Crowley was forced to abandon the climb. As he became an opium and heroin addict, he rejected his Father’s strict Plymouth Brethren teachings became embroiled in black magic, or as he spelt it, Magick (to emphasise the importance of sex in the rituals to be conducted). He became one of the leading lights of the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn. Crowley quickly fell out with the sect, and established his own hermetic order, Te Temple of Thelema, where he and his followers performed extreme rituals and led an orgiastic hedonistic lifestyle, centred on Crowley’s notorious teaching Do What Thou Wilt, an excuse for total license. Crowley became for a time a party animal, as his notoriety and his rather dull books were gaining some reputation for him. It was not unknown for him to empty his bowels on a party host’s carpet. Another charming trick was to offer a kiss to a lady admirer and then bite her   with a specially capped tooth, which he called the Devil’s kiss.  Crowley found that his circle of friends shrank as his money dwindled on his drug habits and his creativity dried up. He briefly became a spy trying unsuccessfully to sell secrets to the Nazis. He was not without humour, and his books warn that the way of Magick is not for the faint hearted. When his American followers embraced the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard, Crowley warned them to beware of the man soon destined to establish the Church of Scientology.  In the end, Crowley died in lonely forgotten isolation in Hastings, England. It was his depiction on the Beatles Album cover for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that led to a revival of interest in him, an interest that Symonds’s study goes some way to explaining, in one of the most bizarre and entertaining biographies you can hope to read. . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleister_Crowley

 

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