Most Wiccans know that much of the material in Gerald Gardner’s various Books of Shadows was borrowed (but never published) from the writings of Aleister Crowley. He is often affectionately referred to as “Uncle Al” by us, as Gardner is considered the Father of Wicca, and Doreen Valiente the Mother. It’s quite a cool family.
But today is all about Crowley. The first syllable of his last name is not pronounced the way Ozzy pronounced it in “Mr. Crowley,” by the way, but like the bird. So who was this man who made such a huge impact on Wicca, Magick, Tarot, Meditation, Human Rights, and Mysticism?
I’m glad you asked, because there are a lot of rumors out there concerning him; rumors that are almost as crazy as the reality of his amazing life. In this case, as in so many others, Fact is far more interesting than Fantasy. His life was so full and multifaceted that it would be impossible to cram it all into an article like this. Thankfully, there are several good biographies of him to be read, and of course his own tens of thousands (at least) of pages of written words.
Briefly, Aleister Crowley was a: World Traveler several times over, Expert Mountaineer, Poet of no small renown, Ceremonial Magician, Band Manager, Prophet of Thelema, Perfumer, Bisexual Hero of Sexuality, Author, Yogi, British Naval Intelligence Asset, Astrologer, and yes, BFF of Gerald Gardner.
That last bit is what I want to talk about most. Some of the most beautiful parts of a Wicca Circle were written by our Uncle Al. To wit:
These are just the parts ICS still uses in our Sabbat rings, and Gardner’s earlier Books of Shadows contains far more material from AC, which later editions had replaced with Doreen Valiente’s more “Witchy” work.
It is my opinion that to separate the new religion of Witchcraft from Crowley’s Thelema, Doreen Valiente softened the tone of the Law (Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.) to that of the Wiccan Rede (An it harm none, do what ye will).
In 2018, an unpublished notebook of Alex Sanders, founder of the Alexandrian Tradition of Witchcraft, was published by Hell Fire Club. The story goes that many years ago, Sanders had ripped the notebook in half, chucked it in the trash, whereupon an Initiate retrieved it and taped it back together. It is mostly Aleister Crowley’s work, a lot of it, hand copied by Sanders.
Crowley published Golden Dawn documents in his Equinox series of books twenty years before Israel Regardie did so in his book, “The Golden Dawn.” He printed the Order’s Tarot teachings right about the time Pamela Colman Smith’s Tarot deck was published, which revealed the same teachings pictorially.
He founded a Magical Order named A:.A:. (not to be confused with Alcoholics Anonymous, which was a later creation), revamped an existing fraternal Order named O.T.O. which is now quite large, well known, and well established around the globe, and set into motion a Magical Renaissance the likes of which humanity desperately needed.
Which brings us to The Book of the Law; three chapters of “received” information, that has proven to be prophetic in the worldly sense, and proven to be of immense utility for spiritual evolution in the human sense. It is one of the few (maybe the only) holy books ever written that declares humankind (all humankind) is free, and encourages us to live life to the fullest. I still find reading it to be an exhilarating experience after all these years.
The Book of the Law can also be quite a confusing read, and my suggestion is: consider the confusing parts as Zen Koans, meant to blow your mind. It is a fascinating Book to study and meditate upon. I am hoping for an official, full color reproduction someday before I die.
The Thoth Tarot deck (and his book The Book of Thoth) should be in every Witch’s collection. Both have been hugely influential in the world of Magick and the Tarot. Thank goodness Lady Frieda Harris talked him into the project, and painted the cards! They are classic.
Aleister Crowley died peacefully on December 1, 1947, after living one of the most fascinating lives ever. Wiccans owe him a huge debt of gratitude. The practice of Witchcraft and the philosophy of Thelema are quite compatible, so a great way of observing the Beast’s birthday is to read something Thelemic, and do some Magick. If it is your Will, of course.
O.T.O. International website http://www.oto.org/index.html
A very thorough survey of works by Crowley in Gerald Gardner’s early Book of Shadows http://geraldgardner.com/dearnaley.php?fbclid=IwAR3E5XkYd2ijw9m_Ym0B_VXx4AfgI4o7wisi_moumxYx3heLb3iw4r4hEjI
The most thorough biography of Aleister Crowley https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/perdurabo-revised-and-expanded-richard-kaczynski/1111350334?ean=9781556438998
via Lord Tanys
Inner Circle Sanctuary
Inner Circle Sanctuary is a school for traditional style Wicca and holds eight sabbat festivals every year.