Influential member of the late 19th century occult group Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and founder of the religion of Thelema. Other hobbies included mountaineering, playing chess and seeing prostitutes. He began experimenting with magic after a break with Christianity while studying in Cambridge and left school to pursue his occult leanings.
But Aleister was a bit of a spitfire and it wasn’t long before he was picking fights and starting rivalries in the Golden Dawn order. He had an ongoing rivalry with Arthur Waite, father of the modern day Rider-Waite Tarot Deck and also had it out for poet W.B. Yeats who briefly experimented with the occult. Crowley claimed Yeats did a black magic spell on him. This, among other contentions, led him to establish his own order: Ordo Templi Orientis, which was associated with Freemasonry.
Over the years Crowley wrote a lot of strange books, took a lot of heroin, and found himself embroiled in many public scandals. One of his disciples, for example, died after drinking the blood of a cat. Aleister himself carried around a talisman called “Segelah”, stained with male and female bodily fluids. With these kinds of biographical facts surviving, one can only imagine what his private life really entailed.
One experience crucial to Crowley’s magic experiences, was a pilgrimage he made to Egypt in 1904 in which he was exposed to the jarring combination of hallucigenic drugs and Egyptian mythology. Out of that experience he came up with an interesting theory:
“Crowley claimed that mankind has lived through two great aeons: that of Isis, the prehistoric age of the dominance of Woman, and that of Osiris, the age of the dominance of the male principle and of the great religions. The present aeon was the commencement of that of Horus and self-will. The third age would be a New Age of Youth, based on union of female and male energies. Thus sex was central to Crowley’s magical practice, both in heterosexual and homosexual forms.” – Pegasos
While Crowley might have been a hot mess of drugs, sex and magic he was a very liberated free thinker in a morally stifling and conformist time. His motto was “Do What Thou Wilt” which somehow justified the hedonistic rituals that ruled his tumultuous life and explains his subsequent infamy. Truly, his extremism was a reflection of the superstitious and severe society he was living in at the time.
So maybe he didn’t do much, but at least his tarot deck is cool. As Crowley put it “I may be a black magician, but I’m a bloody great one”.