Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man in the World Documents the Life of the Bizarre Occultist, Poet & Mountaineer

Perhaps no one single person has had such widespread influence on the countercultural turns of the 20th century as Cambridge-educated occultist and inventor of the religion of Thelema, Aleister Crowley. And according to Crowley, he isn’t finished yet. “1000 years from now,” Crowley once wrote, “the world will be sitting in the sunset of Crowlianity.” The self-aggrandizing Crowley called himself “the Great Beast 666” and many other tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic titles. The British press dubbed him “The Wickedest Man in the World,” also the title of the above documentary, one of a four-part BBC 4 series on famously sinister figures called “Masters of Darkness.” Crowley is perhaps most famous for his dictum “Do what thou wilt,” which, taken out of its context, seems to be a philosophy of absolute, unfettered libertinism.



It’s no surprise that the particular treatment of Crowley’s life above adopts the tabloid description of the magician. The documentary—with its ominous music and visual effects reminiscent of American Horror Story’s jarring opening credits—takes the sensationalistic tone of true crime TV mixed with the dim lighting and hand-held camerawork of paranormal, post-Blair Witch entertainments. And it may indeed take some liberties with Crowley’s biography. When we’re told by the voice-over that Crowley was a “black magician, drug fiend, sex addict, and traitor to the British people,” we are not disposed to meet a very likable character. Crowley would not wish to be remembered as one anyway. But despite his pronounced disdain for all social conventions and pieties, his story is much more complicated and interesting than the cardboard cutout villain this description suggests.

Born Edward Alexander Crowley in 1875 to wealthy British Plymouth Brethren brewers, Crowley very early set about replacing the religion of his family and his culture with a variety of extreme endeavors, from mountaineering to sex magic and all manner of practices derived from a synthesis of Eastern religions and ancient and modern demonology. The results were mixed. All but the most adept find most of his occult writing incomprehensible (though it’s laced with wit and some profundity). His raunchy, hysterical poetry is frequently amusing. Most people found his overbearing personality unbearable, and he squandered his wealth and lived much of life penniless. But his biography is inarguably fascinating—creepy but also heroic in a Faustian way—and his presence is nearly everywhere inescapable. Crowley traveled the world conducting magical rituals, writing textbooks on magic (or “Magick” in his parlance), founding esoteric orders, and interacting with some of the most significant artists and occult thinkers of his time.

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As a mountaineer, Crowley co-lead the first British expedition to K2 in 1902 (the photo above shows him during the trek). As a poet, he published some of the most scandalous verse yet printed, under the name George Archibald Bishop in 1898. During his brief sojourn in the occult society Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, he exerted some influence on William Butler Yeats, if only through their mutual antipathy (Crowley may have inspired the “rough beast” of Yeats’ “The Second Coming”). He’s indirectly connected to the development of the jet propulsion system—through his American protégée, rocket scientist Jack Parsons—and of Scientology, through Parsons’ partner in magic (and later betrayer), L. Ron Hubbard.

Though accused of betraying the British during the First World War, it appears he actually worked as a double agent, and he had many ties in the British intelligence community. Crowley rubbed elbows with Aldous Huxley, Alfred Adler, Roald Dahl, and Ian Fleming. After his death in 1947, his life and thought played a role in the work of William S. Burroughs, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Genesis P-Orridge, and countless others. Crowley pops up in Hemingway’s A Movable Feast and he has inspired a number of literary characters, in for example Somerset Maugham’s The Magician and Christopher Isherwood’s A Visit to Anselm Oakes.

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So who was Aleister Crowley? A sexually liberated genius, a spoiled, egomaniacal dilettante, a campy charlatan, a skeptical trickster, a cruel and abusive manipulator, a racist misogynist, a Nietzschean superman and “icon of rebellion” as the narrator of his story above calls him? Some part of all these, perhaps. A 1915 Vanity Fair profile put it well: “a legend has been built up around his name. He is a myth. No other man has so many strange tales told of him.”

As with all such notorious, larger-than-life figures, who Crowley was depends on whom you ask. The evangelical Christians I was raised among whispered his name in horror or pronounced it with a sneer as a staunch and particularly insidious enemy of the faith. Various New Age groups utter his name in reverence or mention it as a matter of course, as physicists reference Newton or Einstein. In some countercultural circles, Crowley is a hip signifier, like Che Guevara, but not much more. Dig into almost any modern occult or neo-pagan system of thought, from Theosophy to Wicca, and you’ll find Crowley’s name and ideas. Whether one’s interest in “The Great Beast” is of the prurient variety, as in the investigation above, or of a more serious or academic bent, his legacy offers a bountiful plenty of bizarre, repulsive, intriguing, and completely absurd vignettes that can beggar belief and compel one to learn more about the enigmatic, pan-sexual black magician and self-appointed Antichrist.

The Wickedest Man in the World will be added to our collection of 200 Free Documentaries, part of our larger collection of 635 Free Movies Online.

Related Content:

Rare 1930s Audio: W.B. Yeats Reads Four of His Poems

William S. Burroughs Teaches a Free Course on Creative Reading and Writing (1979)

How to Operate Your Brain: A User Manual by Timothy Leary (1993)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


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  • jim p says:

    Who was he? A buffoon. That he impressed the upper classes of Britain and Europe tells us more about the pathetic state the Upper Caste had fallen to, than about his abilities. He stumbled across some very basic, introductory-level, esoteric education and practices, mixed it up with his appetites and un-mastered craving for attention, and Boom! Modern Western Impressive Magus. ‘Bogus’ is more like it.

  • Gone4Good says:

    Sociopath, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, drug-induced schizophrenia and disassociation, hallucinations . . .a bizarre combination of David Koresh & Charles Manson & every other out of control, self-indulgent sicko out there. The people who bought into this were (are) just weak, suggestible and mentally/emotionally ill themselves.

  • vankelsing says:

    Yup, a showy ass. He died weeping, his last words “sometimes I don’t like myself very much.” But his laughable books will sell to Freshmen for the next century.

  • Moses Horowitz says:

    Crowley was many things, attractive and repulsive. Yet above all he was a Trickster, amused all the while at those who would condemn his antics with the same Victorian clutch-the-pearls disgust one sees in the average online Comments section. Were he to return and have a gander at the online writings pro and con I dare say he’d fly into bits from his laughter.

  • Daisy says:

    I would like to ask a question on which I have searched for long, but failed to find information…
    Is there any information on why Crowley called his son “Ataturk”? I mean, it is only said that he admired Ataturk, but is there any other evidence, from the diaries, or quotes of him or anything else..? I’d really be grateful if someone has an answer for this…

  • Abigail says:

    In case you didn’t know, Aleister Crowley was a brillant man. Crowley was influential in inspiring Gardner to establish his new pagan religion, us wiccans have many thanks to give him.
    Do what thou wilt and Blessed Be )0(

  • David says:

    He was also known to be the real father of Barbara Bush (nee Pierce or nee Crowley). So George W or current Presidental candidate, Marvin Bush, are the illegitmate sons of Aleister Edward Crowley.
    I also do astrological redings and he seemed to have a lot of astrological knowledge.

  • David says:

    And why is his daughter called Barbara Bush? I’m looking for an answer to that one too.

  • David says:

    Yeah we all can recall what an idiot his illegitimate grandson, George W Bush and his dumb-ass quotes were. So much for a ‘Skull & Bones’ Yale graduate?

  • leigh harrison says:

    she was called barbara because of abrahadabra

  • Brad says:

    Crowley is an amazing person. His writings are so in depth they are often hard to understand. However, once you do you will realize the truth he taught. Do what thy Will.

  • Christopher says:

    So anything is permissible then?

  • Robin says:

    Crowley is the biggest menance to society of the 19th and 20th centuries! What a total pig and so are his offspring!

  • Robin says:

    I hope he’s burning in hell!

  • Kevin E Dolan says:

    “Burning in Hell”? Hah!
    He’s more probably running the place as a franchise from the Abrahamic Right Wing and charging admission!

  • Jean-Paul DuQuette says:

    Not the best of documentaries, but I’m probably biased (having grown up with the O.T.O.). If you want a comprehensive look at Crowley, I’d check out Perdurabo by Richard Kaczynski.

  • Willard says:

    mental illness aside, he had some useful ideas. but, yes, people get lost in the cult of personality.

  • Josh in Champaign says:

    My admiration for this site just went down a few notches. The man was a complete waste of a life, chasing after oversized child makebelieve delusions with no productive contribution to humanity whatsoever.

  • john brucchi jr says:

    I believe his philosophy of do as thou wilt does not give license to people to behave selfishly but instead simply to follow their own moral path. No matter what is said and done in society ultimately this is the result . People are born, die and reborn in order to gradually realize their place in the universe as one with everything. Along this path of realization depending on where a person is there behavior will be different. The best way to teach someone who is yet to know what can be called god or truth or wholeiness is by example. Sadly though in the end the thing which makes a man empathetic to other living things is the knowledge of this presence. As to which comes first I truly feel their intertwined and one gives strength to the other. Laws are necessary but the good serving as an example is may be more necessary.

  • Lucifer says:

    Wow, such garbage. Funny how people judge someone they know nothing about by taking some of a mans greatest moments out of context to make him come across as a real monster. The real monsters are the ones who run your countries, the ones who baptise your childrwn, and the ones who indoctrinate your children with historical lies.

  • t'mara says:

    he was a reactionary. shocking and scandalous to fight back against the strict religiosity of his family. he didn’t create, he rebelled. his writing was obscure and dense to make it seem to be profound and deep. he never made money on his cult, because he was pandering to anti-structural people. he never understood that magic comes from the power of the individual, that it resides in the individual, and not from angel stand in substitute gophers. crowley was a fraud.

  • Dèverra Biandaesçû says:

    Crowley was nothing more than a mentally-ill, narcissistic fool. I am pagan

  • Student says:

    Any other family history available on his language? Or any suggestions as to a good resource to study up in it? Thank.

  • burn in hell crowley says:

    All those ocults based on this man are nothing but delusional psychopaths trying to run from the inescapable reality that is God.paving a way for their own destruction crowley was a stupid deranged maniacle being he is a sad excuse of a often subneglected child, he was often disregarded for his foolish antics as a child and got into rebelious activities just to piss those around him it is sad to find out people base an entire religoin or religions after such a creature surely I hope you burn in hell

  • Jj villarreal says:

    A Man that followed what he believed in evil genuise

  • Hell is where Crowley resides!! says:

    What a discusting and evil human he was and i must say today i am happy to know there are other individuals who have looked touched the surface of this mans actions and intentions and feel the same way i do. He contributed a huge amount to immoral thinking and cultures and media black arts and for people who think evil is there saviour!

    Wake up people this world is in the perfect balance it exists in and the beutiful livings things that live in it! can only exist by the will of god! and it is our god who give us life! it is our god who keeps the earth and the sun moving in the orbit they moves in, the tides in the motion they move in, so which of your lords favour do you deny? Only a man of great thinking will understand.

  • Kody says:

    Wow everybody on here seems to be such an expert on exactly who and what Aleister Crowley was. When I can guarantee you absolutely none of the people commenting on here have actually read one book written by him. Or if you actually have, you don’t understand it, because even the most add depth occultist has a hard time understanding the basics surface meanings of his a call philosophy. He wrote in situ coated way on purpose as to filter more advanced and in comprehensible knowledge from the profane. He figured that if someone were intelligent and hard-working enough to understand all the frame of reference as he was using to write down his ideas then they truly deserved to understand them. To think that he believed in any kind of Christian religious concept is extremely silly, or example the antichrist or the great beast 666. The very reason he used these words and titles on purpose is because he knew that his types of people that would be scared off by says trivial things were the very people he didn’t want understanding him in the first place, so the further away they were the better. The main thing this article got wrong was there repented of use of the term black magician. Anybody who knows anything about Crowley and his main message of light and love, knows that he despise the very notion of a black magician. A black magician was the very opposite of what Crowley taught. He was terrified of even thinking about performing black magic because magic performed in your mind and in your heart is just bad as doing it in reality. He would always say that black magic is the most disgusting and vile thing a human being could do. Hey said that any sort of negative output from the magician would come back on him tenfold. You’ve probably heard a lot of that from Wicca which was taken directly from his writings anyway.

  • Justin says:

    I strongly agree with what Kody says above. Aleister Crowley is a seriously misunderstood man (sage even). The people who have managed to create a very despising lie about him do not have whatsoever grasp of the real truths that this great man is trying to convey to us. I know for a fact that there are lots of things or rather facts that are being presented against Aleister are most likely a product of complete and utter obscurity to the truth lies behind this great man. Say what you must about him, or even in my stand to believe in this brilliant master of spiritual liberation,but I do want you to know that your complete and utter disgust to Aleister Crowley is just a concrete manifestation and proof of your ignorance. I mean, come on you lot seriously swallowed all the misconceptions that has been thrown upon you without thought. He may have done some thing unforgivable in the past, but hey everybody have done the same regardless of how “orthodox” or downright “agreeable to the norms” your background is. Most of the most infamous deeds done in the entire human history of the world are done by the actual people who writes and dictates the values of our children. Aleister Crowley is and up to this date a true liberator and a man who solely dedicated himself in heightening the frequency of our world by freeing us from the social concepts that have been indoctrinated to us by power hungry, greedy, mediocre people that sits upon the pedestal of our economy, respective countries, churches or religious sects,and people that blindly follows the entire pop culture that forcibly disfigures our own sets of being just so they can eliminate our capacity to become the greatest versions of ourselves.

  • Ky Q. H. H. says:

    He sounds like someone who is very f’ed up in the head.

  • Ky Q. H. H. says:

    Wow very funny. Ya know I hope that he is in a place much worse than hell.
    I hope he is in a place where there is infinite amount of pain and suffering in the darkness of his soul. And I hope that he has a mirror so he can look at the ugliness of his soul.

  • JYL says:

    Hello. Have you read Magick?

  • Shamanarchist says:

    He’ll always be a posh little proddy kid to me. His ‘magick’ was made-up for the sake of theatre(much like all of today’s ‘neo-pagan’ and new-age religions. Wicca being a filter to sieve out the unworthy)and he didn’t stand for anything other than self-absorption. A true narcissistic tw@t if ever their was one. If he was around today I’d seek him out, dose him up on Aminita Muscaria and kick the living shit out of it, ha, ha.

  • Truthseeker says:

    Well, look…. I for one have read one book of his “the book of the law” I don’t dare recommend it. And good luck finding it. He is no smarter or no more stupid than the rest of us. Nothing more than him trying to gain a following much like Manson did. This book is where he explains “do as tho will” much like Manson. Ridiculous ! I have to say… That book scared the Fuck out of me… But I soon realized that it only had the power that I have it ! So there.

  • Dfrid says:

    Says the person who believes a fictional character in a book written by a man who says he talked to a burning bush! All religions are bullshit propaganda to prey on weak minded people!

  • Jack meoufer says:

    Well he did somthing. You only die when the last person living speaks your name……..

  • David O. says:

    I came to this site for a honest evaluation of Crowley but most writings are filled with negative remarks. There can be no doubt that by their fruits you will know them. The fruits of Crowley’s life have largely been evil men. How many God loving and kind people have drawn inspiration from the life of Crowley? True esoteric knowledge leads to wholesome and good fruits of divine love, not evil.No depth of esoteric learning can justify evil for the sake of evil. Don’t deceive yourself, evil was never ‘hip’ it ultimately destroys. Its simple logic that the creator of this beautiful universe is divine love and not the god that Crowley passionately followed.

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