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Today in History: Aleister Crowley Writes ‘The Book of the Law’

At noon on April 8, 1904, Aleister Crowley, the famous peripatetic English occultist, began to transcribe the first chapter of The Book of the Law as told to him by a powerful spirit named Aiwass. The book, also known under the title Liber AL vel Legis, is the central text for Thelema, the religious philosophy Crowley espoused when he returned from a transformative journey to Egypt that year. Its adherents are commanded to follow their True Will, which will guide them to a connection with the divine. The three parts of the book each describe a different period in history, from the ancient age of Isis to the Aeon of Horus — the latter which would occur in the same year Crowley published his seminal text, and was to be an age of spiritual enlightenment and self-realization.

Crowley, né Edward Alexander, was the scion of a wealthy English family that owned a highly profitable brewing company. Crowley never took to school, though he did end up at Cambridge in 1895, only to leave two years later to pursue an interest in mountain climbing, alchemy, and “magick.” He lived in Mexico, India, France, Egypt, and China before arriving in Italy to begin a spiritual retreat in Sicily, named the Abbey of Thelema after an “anti-monastery” mentioned in one of François Rabelais’s satirical novels. The Fascist government at the time didn’t share Crowley’s views, and he was deported in 1923, where he eventually made his way back to England. He died in 1947, at the age of 72.

In 1972, Kenneth Anger, a filmmaker heavily influenced by Crowley’s work, completed Lucifer Rising. The short features attractive actors and musicians in what appears to be an attempt at period garb delivering sacrifices to Egyptian gods, wandering around in nature, and taking a relaxing bath to get rid of all that blood after the sacrifice. (They’re certainly messy.) In one scene near the end of the film, a red cloak with a pentagram is taken down to reveal a dramatically lit image of Crowley, who is depicted with appropriately mystical framing around him. The first part (of three) is below:

Did you ever read any of Crowley’s work or use his tarot card set? What do you think of him? Was he a spoiled rich boy on a quest for importance or did he actually have something to say about humanity? Share your comments below.

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