A Magick Life: A Biography of Aleister Crowley – Martin Booth

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When reviewing a biography there’s always a temptation to review its subject. I’ll get that out of the way by saying that I think of Aleister Crowley, the most famous occultist of the last century, a complex and obnoxious man with too much money. One source Booth cites, whose name I cannot remember, described him as “genius gone wrong”. Well, if you’re running around referring to yourself as The Great Beast 666, I’ll warrant that something has gone wrong with your life. Despite all that, I have a soft spot for occultists because nobody expects me to take them seriously.

My main difficulty in reading biographies is the lack of dialogue. All we ever get are summaries of complex events drawn from primary sources like interviews. Somehow this makes reading more of an endurance feat than it normally is. Booth’s loquacious and sometimes tangential prose makes the biography readable, but even then I was averaging fifty pages a day.

There was particularly chilling moment that I know plan to rip off for a story. Crowley grew up in a very Christian family, and as his mother lost her wits after her husband died she called her son a beast. Familiar with Revelations, he internalised that title which in turn set the course of his life. Such a cruel thing to call a child.

Booth’s thorough research means that this biography is vital reading for anyone interested in Crowley’s life, either for reasons of personal gratification or if they need to know about the man for some project. As biography is a genre I take little pleasure in, I cannot recommend this book to be read for fun.

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3 comments

  1. As you wrote: ‘When reviewing a biography there’s always a temptation to review it’s subject. I’ll get that out of the way by saying that I think of Aleister Crowley, the most famous occultist of the last century, as complex and obnoxious man with too much money.’, then came the absinthe–but where did Aleister really go?

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    1. I’d describe Crowley as living the rock-and-roll lifestyle, only without the rock and roll. If Booth is to believed Crowley consumed more drugs than I’m willing to think about, although he did eventually get addicted. He was luckier with all the sex, apparently only being a carrier of syphilis.

      Towards the latter end of his life he was an impoverished guy living on his wits and relying on the charity of others, still carrying on with his magick. This is the time where I feel the most pity for him. For all his flaws, there’s something tragic about seeing someone so pompous – and relatively harmless – become destitute.

      Generally, I can’t help but feel that Aleister Crowley wasted his life. Crowley was a capable mountaineer, good painter, excellent chess player and with good editing he had could have been a great writer. (In the last respect his fortune held him back. If he published instead of self-published he’d have gotten the editorial oversight he needed.) Instead he focused all his energies into quixotic occultism, which while entertaining is of a lesser benefit to humanity than all the other things he could do with his time. Still, magick was what Crowley wanted his life to be about. I daresay that if he was reading this comment from some unspeakable afterlife he’d scoff, and perhaps quote Frank Sinatra by saying “I Did It My Way!”

      So basically Crowley went to a place where I wouldn’t want to go, where I wouldn’t want someone I care about to go, but where he wanted to go. And that place somehow involved being one the creepiest men of the last century, second to Rasputin. Like that Russian monk Crowley was a relatively harmless mystic who inexplicably appealed to women, and whom the general public projected their dark fantasies on and blamed for events in which they were largely incidental.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 2 people

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