(1875-1947) UK occultist, born Edward Alexander Crowley. He rebelled against the stern religion of his wealthy parents, members of the Plymouth Brethren, and spent his inheritance on travel and high living. He moved by degrees to an opposite extreme that established him as the most flamboyant exponent of Lifestyle Fantasy. In 1898 he joined the Order of the Golden Dawn and attempted to take it over, eventually abandoning the resultant splinters in 1908 to form his own Argenteum Astrum, whose creed and ritual he was able to organize from scratch (with the aid of his tutelary spirit Aiwass), incorporating various kinds of sex into its ceremonies. His copious associated writings are foundation stones of modern Occultism, although many became very hard to obtain after rock star Jimmy Page decided to collect them. Like all dedicated lifestyle fantasists AC drew considerable inspiration from literary sources, many of which he listed with tongue-in-cheek annotations in the Curriculum for would-be initiates of the Argenteum Astrum in Magick in Theory and Practice (1929) as by The Master Therion. He also borrowed inspiration from François Rabelais in establishing his own Thelema in a Sicilian villa, although he was ultimately expelled by the Italian authorities.
AC's early work includes many volumes of poetry, almost all with mystical and mythological themes. The longest items, both issued by his "Society for the Propagation of Religious Truth", are the verse drama The Argonauts (1904) and Orpheus; A Lyrical Legend (1905 2 vols); other substantial volumes were Songs of the Spirit (coll 1898), Tannhäuser; A Story of All Time (1902) and Ambergris (coll 1910). Pseudonyms used in this period include Khaled Khan, Frater Perdurabo, H D Carr and "A Gentleman of the University of Cambridge". His prose fantasies were the novel Moonchild (1929), a roman à clef (there are characters based on W B Yeats and Arthur Machen) in which two societies of rival magicians quarrel over an experiment to incarnate a supernatural being, and the items assembled in The Stratagem and Other Stories (coll 1930; with 1 story added 1990), most impressively the horrific Posthumous Fantasy "The Testament of Magdalen Blair".
AC left a more expansive legacy in the work of others, providing the primary model for 20th-century images of the black magician (see Black Magic). He can be found, lightly disguised, in W Somerset Maugham's vitriolic The Magician (1908), in various novels by his one-time acolyte Dion Fortune, in Adrift in Soho (1961) by Colin Wilson, and in several novels by Dennis Wheatley. The image was, however, already second-hand, having been borrowed from Eliphas Levi (Alphonse Louis Constant; 1810-1875), whose Reincarnation AC claimed to be, and one of AC's most notorious projects – a conjuration of Pan employing his Oscar Wilde-style "Hymn to Pan" – was lifted from Edgar Jepson's thriller No. 19 (1910). These literary connections have been considerably broadened in recent times through Kenneth Grant's insistence that AC's magical theories correspond very closely with the schema of H P Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. [BS]
further reading: The Confessions of Aleister Crowley (1929-1930 2 vols), autobiography; The Great Beast (1951) by John Symonds, including a bibliography by Gerald Yorke.