As if Aleister Crowley’s intermingling of sex, drugs, and mysticism weren’t controversial enough, numerous urban myths surround “the Great Beast” and the organizations he led. Here are the top 10, republished from the November, 2003 edition of High Times in conjunction with the anniversary of Crowley’s death on December 1, 1947.

Crowley was a Satanist/black magician.

Although Crowley’s magickal philosophy did not require faith in Jesus, he wasn’t anti-Christian or Satanic. Defending himself in 1934, Crowley described black magick as “not only foul and abominable, but, for the most part, criminal. To begin with, the basis of all black magick is that utter stupidity of selfishness which cares nothing for the rights of others. People so constituted are naturally quite unscrupulous…. I say black magick is malignant.”

His philosophy was “Do whatever you feel like doing.”

This is a common misunderstanding of “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Training in magick, mysticism, and introspection provide insight into one’s true nature or purpose in the world. This Crowley called the “true will,” and he believed that, once discovered, one ought to pursue this goal to the exclusion of all else. Rather than being hedonistic, the idea is actually very disciplined.

He was a lifelong drug addict.

Crowley had two bouts of addiction to heroin. In 1919, when Crowley was 44, his doctor prescribed heroin to relieve his asthma. England outlawed heroin in 1920; Crowley remained addicted until 1925. He did not use heroin again until 1940, at the age of 65, when World War II prevented him from obtaining his German anti-asthma medication. Crowley’s doctor once again prescribed it as an asthma treatment. Until his death in 1947, he received government-prescribed heroin in the mail for medicinal use.

He drove his wives and girlfriends insane.

No more than you or I do, probably. Crowley was sometimes attracted to women with problems—his first wife was treated for alcoholism, and his second was committed to a mental institution, though she was well on her way to that end when he met her. His other lovers were fairly normal, and most lived to a healthy (and sane) old age.

He was a murderer.

An Oxford student who visited Crowley in Italy drank water and died, and the English gutter press unfairly blamed Crowley. Also, in his textbook Magick in Theory and Practice, he wrote with tongue in cheek on “blood sacrifice” that “it appears from the magickal records of Frater Perdurabo [Crowley] that he made this particular sacrifice on an average about 150 times every year.” This refers to a decidedly ill-chosen euphemism for sex.

He was a German spy.

Were this true, the English would have arrested and hanged him. This myth stems from his writing for the German propaganda newspaper The Fatherland during World War I, acting as what is today called an “influence agent.” Crowley’s diaries record his efforts to write articles so ridiculous as to discredit the Germans and draw America into the war. Crowley claimed to have received the blessings of the US Justice Department for these activities. For more, see Richard B. Spence’s “Secret Agent 666: Aieister Crowley and British Intelligence in America, 1914-1918” [International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence 13, fall 20001: 359-371.

He loved all publicity, even if it was bad.

Crowley hated the bad press he received. He ignored it at first, refusing to dignify the tabloids’ name-calling with a response. When the English yellow press began calling him “a man we’d like to hang” and “the wickedest man in the world,” he was living in Italy and had no money to sue. Years later, when he eventually decided to bring an action for libel, his reputation had been so damaged by the press that a judge ruled that he had no reputation to lose.

Ordo Templi Orientis was a Nazi organization.

True, Ordo Templi Orientis was originally founded in Germany around the turn of the 20th century, but when Hitler came to power the Nazis banned the OTO and put its German leader in a concentration camp. The Nazi political creed—and fascism generally—are diametrically opposed to the philosophy of OTO, which emphasizes individual freedom. Closer fits to OTO philosophy are the US Bill of Rights or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

OTO is a CIA front.

Some modern conspiracy buffs have alleged that the OTO is controlled by the CIA. For people predisposed to this sort of thinking, the complete lack of evidence is often viewed as further evidence. This was news to the OTO, and no doubt to the CIA as well—if they even noticed when this red herring first appeared. While some OTO members have held government posts and a few held security clearances, this is also true of numerous religious groups of all sizes.

OTO has connections with murderous cults.

While in the past a few misguided people tried to appropriate Crowley’s name and reputation to justify their own agendas, they are no more legitimate representatives of Crowley and his OTO than Charles Manson was a representative of the Beatles. Groups like the Solar Lodge and the Process Church of the Final Judgment had no connection whatsoever to OTO, and OTO has reportedly successfully litigated several such false claims. To quote their own texts, the OTO is all about “life, love, liberty, and light,” and certainly not death, hate, slavery, and darkness. See oto-usa.org for more information.

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