Arch Stanton Guest Post: Episode 7 of Today I Learned – Aleister Crowley

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Aleister Crowley is another one of these historical figures who’s brief biography always lists an array of bullshit before getting to the thing everyone knows them for. Mr Crowley was identified as a mountaineer, a poet, a theologian, a spy, a traitor to the British people, a sex addict, a drug experimenter, a magician and, FINALLY, an occultist. You may recognize him as, not really the ‘father’ of the metal genre, but more like the creepy distant uncle who you suspected brews meth in his trailer of the metal genre; Aleister Crowley would LOVE some meth while we’re on the subject.
Born in 1875, Crowley was famous for more or less the same reason Marilyn Manson is – being an edgy and outrageous contrarian propelled by deviant rumors despite lacking any real talent. (On a related note – consider how strange it is that, regardless of where in the country you went to high school, you almost certainly heard a rumor about how Marilyn Manson got one of his ribs removed so he could suck his own dick. HOW DID THIS BECOME A UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE?) Once called “the Wickedest Man in the World” by British tabloids, Crowley was essentially a rock star before there was such a thing. He loooooooved doing tons of drugs and fucking anything that would let him, male or female.
He developed his own religion, the tenants of which I’m not going to really delve into because like Jay Cutler once said, “whooooooo caaaaaaares”, and there’s more interesting parts to get into. He developed the religion of “Thelema” which is basically a specific branch of Western esotericism which is basically just a grab bag of all the bits of pieces you like of various religions; he was the original West coast neo-hippie. The basic premise of this whole religion was “do what thou wilt.” Whoa hey I want to do boat loads of cocaine and have orgies with tons of prostitutes – how nuts is it that God spoke to me and told me this was cool?!? This is basically modern Satanism – most people think it’s about devoting yourself to the actual devil, but its basically hippies who wear too much black and hate their parents for sending them to private school. He basically embraced the bad publicity the press gave him for doing a ton of drugs and made a career out of it, giving himself delightfully malevolent nicknames like “the Great Beast 666”. Again, you and I roll our eyes at how cheesy this all is, but people between the World Wars were TERRIFIED. This was a time when people were still scared of Catholics, so imagine what they thought about a guy who said he was talking to Satan.
His life is pretty interesting in a nonsecular way – he was actually a well-respected mountaineer and hiked K2 and Kanchenjunga, traveled around the world, dabbled in the same circles as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming (one source said Fleming based James Bond arch villain Blofield on Crowley), made yoga a thing before it was a thing, was considered a notorious spy, then wasn’t, and did TONS of drugs, like enough to make Keith Richards blush. No one cared about any of that shit then, and didn’t until he died. But somehow, Aleister Crowley became part of rock lore. Let’s look at his role in rock decades after his death:
– Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page lived basically the same life Crowley did – traveling, fucking, doing drugs, fucking some more, being a weirdo – and eventually bought Crowley’s Scottish castle (OF COURSE this asshole lived in a castle).
– The Beatles put his image on the album cover of “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and members of Wings remarked that Paul McCartney and then-wife Linda had more than a passing interest in Aleister Crowley’s iteration of the occult. While we’re here, you guys should really be listening to more Wings, because “Band on the Run” really is an incredible album.
– The Rolling Stones indicated Crowley and his faux-religion were a source of inspiration for songs “Goat’s Head Soup” and “Sympathy for the Devil” as well as the album “Her Majesty’s Satanic Request” where they mimicked hand gestures he had made famous in the liner notes. What a time when liner notes were essential to appreciating music.
– H.I.M. (or His Infernal Majesty), made famous after Bam Magera got their logo tattooed on his treasure trail, have tons of references to ‘666’ and the occult in their music but claim this is all coincidence since they are merely a Finnish gothic rock group, which totally doesn’t make them Satanists. Later, front man Ville Valo claimed to have read dozens of biographies on Crowley and his beliefs.
– Ozzy Osbourne had a song called “Mr Crowley”. He was less subtle in his appreciation.
– Iron Maiden released a whole album called “The Number of the Beast”. I never listened to the full album, but the title single bangs.
– David Bowie’s song “Quicksand” from the album “Hunky Dory” makes multiple references to Crowley and his pretend order of evil, the Golden Dawn (what a rad name for your cult. I’m so bummed I’m going to have to select something different once my cult-building takes off).
– Metal bands Ministry, Behemoth, Exhorder, Samael, Mercyful Fate, and Vital Remains all have songs that explicitly reference Crowley’s ideas. I’m sure there are dozens more since metal bands are not especially original and, really, how many famous Satanists can you write songs about?
– Obviously, Marilyn Manson, because he had to pay homage to the original edgy goober; his song “Misery Machine” opens with the lines “we’re gonna ride to the abbey of Thelema” and uses “do what I will” for the verse. He presumably wrote this song in between sessions of sucking his own dick.
– Taylor Momsen, originally Cindy Lou Who in the Jim Carey “How the Grinch Stolen Christmas” and Little J from “Gossip Girl”, but now famous for flashing her tits on stage as part of her metal gig, regularly wears shirts with Crowley’s face and dabbles in Satanic imagery. When I think edgy, I think supporting cast of Gossip Girl.
– Band 311 has a song called “Offbeat Bare Ass” where they repeat “do what thou will shall be the whole of the Law”, and the bassist has the same motto tattooed under the Egyptian god Horus, another of Crowley’s favorite bits of iconography.
We started with the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and made it all the way down to 311 – we truly traversed the expanses of modern music. In our time, this dork would have been the snarkiest dungeon master of the Scottish Dungeons and Dragons circuit, but instead he became something of a folk icon. Hide your children, because the Devil is everywhere, and he wants to take your kids hiking.
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