A prolific writer, he published widely over the course of his life. Born to a wealthy family in Royal Leamington Spa , Warwickshire , Crowley rejected his parents' fundamentalist Christian Plymouth Brethren faith to pursue an interest in Western esotericism.
He was educated at Trinity College at the University of Cambridge , where he focused his attentions on mountaineering and poetry, resulting in several publications. Some biographers allege that here he was recruited into a British intelligence agency , further suggesting that he remained a spy throughout his life.
He married Rose Edith Kelly and in they honeymooned in Cairo , Egypt, where Crowley claimed to have been contacted by a supernatural entity named Aiwass , who provided him with The Book of the Law , a sacred text that served as the basis for Thelema. After an unsuccessful attempt to climb Kanchenjunga and a visit to India and China, Crowley returned to Britain, where he attracted attention as a prolific author of poetry, novels, and occult literature. After spending time in Algeria, in he was initiated into another esoteric order, the German-based Ordo Templi Orientis O.
Through the O. Crowley spent the First World War in the United States, where he took up painting and campaigned for the German war effort against Britain, later revealing that he had infiltrated the pro-German movement to assist the British intelligence services. His libertine lifestyle led to denunciations in the British press, and the Italian government evicted him in He divided the following two decades between France, Germany, and England, and continued to promote Thelema until his death.
Crowley gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, being a recreational drug experimenter, bisexual , and an individualist social critic. Crowley has remained a highly influential figure over Western esotericism and the counterculture , and continues to be considered a prophet in Thelema. He is the subject of various biographies and academic studies. Crowley's father had been born a Quaker , but had converted to the Exclusive Brethren , a faction of a Christian fundamentalist group known as the Plymouth Brethren , with Emily joining him upon marriage.
Crowley's father was particularly devout, spending his time as a travelling preacher for the sect and reading a chapter from the Bible to his wife and son after breakfast every day. Habershon's evangelical Christian boarding school in Hastings , and then to Ebor preparatory school in Cambridge , run by the Reverend Henry d'Arcy Champney, whom Crowley considered a sadist.
In March , when Crowley was 11, his father died of tongue cancer. Crowley described this as a turning point in his life,  and he always maintained an admiration of his father, describing him as "my hero and my friend".
Crowley developed interests in chess , poetry, and mountain climbing , and in climbed Beachy Head before visiting the Alps and joining the Scottish Mountaineering Club. Having adopted the name of Aleister over Edward, in October Crowley began a three-year course at Trinity College, Cambridge , where he was entered for the Moral Science Tripos studying philosophy.
With approval from his personal tutor, he changed to English literature, which was not then part of the curriculum offered. These feats led to his recognition in the Alpine mountaineering community. Aleister Crowley, on his name change. Crowley had his first significant mystical experience while on holiday in Stockholm in December They broke apart because Pollitt did not share Crowley's increasing interest in Western esotericism, a break-up that Crowley would regret for many years.
In , Crowley travelled to Saint Petersburg in Russia, later claiming that he was trying to learn Russian as he was considering a future diplomatic career there. In October , a brief illness triggered considerations of mortality and "the futility of all human endeavour", and Crowley abandoned all thoughts of a diplomatic career in favour of pursuing an interest in the occult. Baker, and the two began discussing their common interest in alchemy. Crowley moved into his own luxury flat at 67—69 Chancery Lane and soon invited a senior Golden Dawn member, Allan Bennett , to live with him as his personal magical tutor.
Bennett taught Crowley more about ceremonial magic and the ritual use of drugs, and together they performed the rituals of the Goetia ,  until Bennett left for South Asia to study Buddhism. He developed a love of Scottish culture, describing himself as the "Laird of Boleskine", and took to wearing traditional highland dress, even during visits to London.
Crowley soon progressed through the lower grades of the Golden Dawn, and was ready to enter the group's inner Second Order. When the case was taken to court, the judge ruled in favour of the London lodge, as they had paid for the space's rent, leaving both Crowley and Mathers isolated from the group. In , Crowley travelled to Mexico via the United States, settling in Mexico City and starting a relationship with a local woman.
Developing a love of the country, he continued experimenting with ceremonial magic, working with John Dee 's Enochian invocations. Eckenstein joined him later that year, and together they climbed several mountains, including Iztaccihuatl , Popocatepetl , and Colima , the latter of which they had to abandon owing to a volcanic eruption.
On the ship he had a brief affair with a married woman named Mary Alice Rogers; saying he had fallen in love with her, he wrote a series of poems about the romance, published as Alice: An Adultery The pair spent some time in Kandy before Bennett decided to become a Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition, travelling to Burma to do so.
He spent much of this time studying at the Meenakshi Temple in Madura. At this time he also composed and also wrote poetry which was published as The Sword of Song He contracted malaria , and had to recuperate from the disease in Calcutta and Rangoon. Pfannl, V. Wesseley, and Jules Jacot-Guillarmod. Together the Eckenstein-Crowley expedition attempted K2 , which had never been climbed. On the journey, Crowley was afflicted with influenza , malaria, and snow blindness , and other expedition members were also struck with illness.
Having arrived in Paris in November he socialised with friend and future brother-in-law, the painter Gerald Kelly , and through him became a fixture of the Parisian arts scene. Whilst there, Crowley wrote a series of poems on the work of an acquaintance, the sculptor Auguste Rodin.
These poems were later published as Rodin in Rime Somerset Maugham , who after briefly meeting Crowley later used him as a model for the character of Oliver Haddo in his novel The Magician Heading on a honeymoon to Paris, Cairo, and then Ceylon, Crowley fell in love with Rose and worked to prove his affections.
While on his honeymoon, he wrote her a series of love poems, published as Rosa Mundi and other Love Songs , as well as authoring the religious satire Why Jesus Wept In February , Crowley and Rose arrived in Cairo. Claiming to be a prince and princess, they rented an apartment in which Crowley set up a temple room and began invoking ancient Egyptian deities, while studying Islamic mysticism and Arabic. She led him to a nearby museum, where she showed him a seventh-century BCE mortuary stele known as the Stele of Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu ; Crowley thought it important that the exhibit's number was , the Number of the Beast in Christian belief, and in later years termed the artefact the "Stele of Revealing.
According to Crowley's later statements, on 8 April he heard a disembodied voice that claimed to be that of Aiwass , the messenger of Horus, or Hoor-Paar-Kraat.
Crowley said that he wrote down everything the voice told him over the course of the next three days, and titled it Liber AL vel Legis or The Book of the Law.
It stated that a supreme moral law was to be introduced in this Aeon, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law," and that people should learn to live in tune with their Will. This book, and the philosophy that it espoused, became the cornerstone of Crowley's religion, Thelema.
Often resenting it, he said that he ignored the instructions which the text commanded him to perform, which included taking the Stele of Revealing from the museum, fortifying his own island, and translating the book into all the world's languages. According to his account, he instead sent typescripts of the work to several occultists he knew, putting the manuscript away and ignoring it. Returning to Boleskine, Crowley came to believe that Mathers had begun using magic against him, and the relationship between the two broke down.
The winner of this was J. Fuller , a British Army officer and military historian, whose essay, The Star in the West , heralded Crowley's poetry as some of the greatest ever written. Crowley decided to climb Kanchenjunga in the Himalayas of Nepal, widely recognised as the world's most treacherous mountain. Rigo de Righi, the expedition was marred by much argument between Crowley and the others, who thought that he was reckless.
They eventually mutinied against Crowley's control, with the other climbers heading back down the mountain as nightfall approached despite Crowley's warnings that it was too dangerous.
Subsequently, Pache and several porters were killed in an accident, something for which Crowley was widely blamed by the mountaineering community. Spending time in Moharbhanj , where he took part in big-game hunting and wrote the homoerotic work The Scented Garden , Crowley met up with Rose and Lilith in Calcutta before being forced to leave India after non-lethally shooting two men who tried to mug him.
On the way he spent much time on spiritual and magical work, reciting the "Bornless Ritual", an invocation to his Holy Guardian Angel , on a daily basis. While Rose and Lilith returned to Europe, Crowley headed to Shanghai to meet old friend Elaine Simpson, who was fascinated by The Book of the Law ; together they performed rituals in an attempt to contact Aiwass. Crowley then sailed to Japan and Canada, before continuing to New York City, where he unsuccessfully solicited support for a second expedition up Kanchenjunga.
Under emotional distress, his health began to suffer, and he underwent a series of surgical operations. Crowley claimed that in doing so he attained samadhi , or union with Godhead, thereby marking a turning point in his life. Crowley's inheritance was running out. In November , Crowley and Jones decided to found an occult order to act as a successor to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, being aided in doing so by Fuller.
The group's headquarters and temple were situated at Victoria Street in central London, and their rites borrowed much from those of the Golden Dawn, but with an added Thelemic basis.
Crowley had become increasingly frustrated with Rose's alcoholism, and in November he divorced her on the grounds of his own adultery. Lola was entrusted to Rose's care; the couple remained friends and Rose continued to live at Boleskine.
Her alcoholism worsened, and as a result she was institutionalised in September During the trip he invoked the thirty aethyrs of Enochian magic , with Neuburg recording the results, later published in The Equinox as The Vision and the Voice.
Following a mountaintop sex magic ritual, Crowley also performed an invocation to the demon Choronzon involving blood sacrifice , considering the results to be a watershed in his magical career. The case was widely reported in the press, with Crowley gaining wider fame. Various members of the press attended, and reported largely positively on it.
In October and November , Crowley decided to stage something similar, the Rites of Eleusis , at Caxton Hall , Westminster ; this time press reviews were mixed. In early , Crowley published The Book of Lies , a work of mysticism that biographer Lawrence Sutin described as "his greatest success in merging his talents as poet, scholar, and magus".
Crowley convinced Reuss that the similarities were coincidental, and the two became friends. Reuss appointed Crowley as head of the O. Fascinated by the O. O's emphasis on sex magic , Crowley devised a magical working based on anal sex and incorporated it into the syllabus for those O. They subsequently performed in Moscow for six weeks, where Crowley had a sadomasochistic relationship with the Hungarian Anny Ringler. As part of the ritual, the couple performed acts of sex magic together, at times being joined by journalist Walter Duranty.
During this time the First World War broke out. Professing to be of Irish ancestry and a supporter of Irish independence from Great Britain, Crowley began to espouse support for Germany in their war against Britain. He became involved in New York's pro-German movement, and in January German spy George Sylvester Viereck employed him as a writer for his propagandist paper, The Fatherland , which was dedicated to keeping the US neutral in the conflict.
Many of his articles in The Fatherland were hyperbolic, for instance comparing Wilhelm II to Jesus Christ; in July he orchestrated a publicity stunt—reported on by The New York Times —in which he declared independence for Ireland in front of the Statue of Liberty ; the real intention was to make the German lobby appear ridiculous in the eyes of the American public.
In Vancouver , headquarters of the North American O. There, he made heavy use of drugs and undertook a ritual after which he proclaimed himself "Master Therion". He also wrote several short stories based on J.