Aleister Crowley Reads Occult Poetry in the Only Known Recordings of His Voice (1920)


Image by Jules Jacot Guil­lar­mod, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Last week, we brought you a rather strange sto­ry about the rival­ry between poet William But­ler Yeats and magi­cian Aleis­ter Crow­ley. Theirs was a feud over the prac­tices of occult soci­ety the Her­met­ic Order of the Gold­en Dawn; but it was also—at least for Crowley—over poet­ry. Crow­ley envied Yeats’ lit­er­ary skill; Yeats could not say the same about Crow­ley. But while he did not nec­es­sar­i­ly respect his ene­my, Yeats feared him, as did near­ly every­one else. As Yeats’ biog­ra­ph­er wrote a few months after Crowley’s death in 1947, “in the old days men and women lived in ter­ror of his evil eye.”

The press called Crow­ley “the wickedest man in the world,” a rep­u­ta­tion he did more than enough to cul­ti­vate, iden­ti­fy­ing him­self as the Anti-Christ and dub­bing him­self “The Beast 666.” (Crow­ley may have inspired the “rough beast” of Yeats’ “The Sec­ond Com­ing.”) Crow­ley did not achieve the lit­er­ary recog­ni­tion he desired, but he con­tin­ued to write pro­lif­i­cal­ly after Yeats and oth­ers eject­ed him from the Gold­en Dawn in 1900: poet­ry, fic­tion, crit­i­cism, and man­u­als of sex mag­ic, rit­u­al, and symbolism—some penned dur­ing famed moun­taineer­ing expe­di­tions.

Through­out his life Crow­ley was var­i­ous­ly a moun­taineer, chess prodi­gy, schol­ar, painter, yogi, and founder of a reli­gion he called Thele­ma. He was also a hero­in addict and by many accounts an extreme­ly abu­sive cult leader. How­ev­er one comes down on Crowley’s lega­cy, his influ­ence on the occult and the coun­ter­cul­ture is unde­ni­able. To delve into the his­to­ry of either is to meet him, the mys­te­ri­ous, bizarre, bald fig­ure whose the­o­ries inspired every­one from L. Ron Hub­bard and Anton LaVey to Jim­my Page and Ozzy Osbourne.

With­out Crow­ley, it’s hard to imag­ine much of the dark weird­ness of the six­ties and its result­ing flood of cults and eso­teric art. For some occult his­to­ri­ans, the Age of Aquar­ius real­ly began six­ty years ear­li­er, in what Crow­ley called the “Aeon of Horus.” For many oth­ers, Crowley’s influ­ence is inex­plic­a­ble, his books inco­her­ent, and his pres­ence in polite con­ver­sa­tion offen­sive. These are under­stand­able atti­tudes. If you’re a Crow­ley enthu­si­ast, how­ev­er, or sim­ply curi­ous about this leg­endary occultist, you have here a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to hear the man him­self intone his poems and incan­ta­tions.

“Although this record­ing has pre­vi­ous­ly been avail­able as a ‘Boot­leg,’” say the CD lin­er notes from which this audio comes, “this is its first offi­cial release and to the label’s knowl­edge, con­tains the only known record­ing of Crow­ley.” Record­ed cir­ca 1920 on a wax cylin­der, the audio has been dig­i­tal­ly enhanced, although “sur­face noise may be evi­dent.” Indeed, it is dif­fi­cult to make out what Crow­ley is say­ing much of the time, but that’s not only to do with the record­ing qual­i­ty, but with his cryp­tic lan­guage. The first five tracks com­prise “The Call of the First Aethyr” and “The Call of the Sec­ond Aethyr.” Oth­er titles include “La Gitana,” “The Pen­ta­gram,” “The Poet,” “Hymn to the Amer­i­can Peo­ple,” and “Excerpts from the Gnos­tic Mass.” (Find a com­plete track­list at All­mu­sic.)

It’s unclear under what cir­cum­stances Crow­ley made these record­ings or why, but like many of his books, they com­bine occult litur­gy, mythol­o­gy, and his own lit­er­ary utter­ances. Love him, hate him, or remain indif­fer­ent, there’s no get­ting around it: Aleis­ter Crow­ley had a tremen­dous influ­ence on the 20th cen­tu­ry and beyond, even if only a very few peo­ple have made seri­ous attempts to under­stand what he was up to with all that sex mag­ic, blood sac­ri­fice, and wicked­ly bawdy verse.

Aleis­ter Crow­ley The Great Beast Speaks 1920 — 1936 is avail­able on Spo­ti­fy. If you need to down­load Spo­ti­fy’s soft­ware, get it here. It will be added to our list, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Aleis­ter Crow­ley & William But­ler Yeats Get into an Occult Bat­tle, Pit­ting White Mag­ic Against Black Mag­ic (1900)

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

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

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Comments (10)
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  • Bill W. says:

    So…that’s what he looked like when he was [briefly] skin­ny!

  • Frater Orpheus says:

    These record­ings took place over sev­er­al record­ing ses­sions — most in the thir­ties not twen­ties… nor are they wax cylin­der…

  • Frater Orpheus says:

    Vive la France isn’t Crow­ley at all…

  • michael smith says:

    Do you by any chance know who it is singing Vive La France in that case, inter­est­ed to know.….thanks

  • Boodiba says:

    Must’ve been the hero­in years?

  • Michael Whyte says:

    Am inter­est­ed in Aleis­ter Crow­leys books. Please advice on what’s on offer.
    Many thanks
    Michael Whyte

  • Ron Fiasco says:

    Mag­ick in The­o­ry and Prac­tice also known as Book 4 com­plete should be your first Crow­ley book. I also high­ly rec­om­mend The Book of Thoth, The Book of Lies, Mag­ick with­out Tears, Diary of a Drug Fiend and final­ly The Equinox. Your get­ting ready to enter a fas­ci­nat­ing and mys­ti­fy­ing world, my friend! Enjoy!

  • Truth Collins says:

    My impres­sion is that too much has been attrib­uted to him in this arti­cle. He appeared with­in pre­ex­ist­ing move­ments. The con­cept of the aquar­i­an age came before him too. The hip­pies of the 60’s and 70’s inher­it­ed many influ­ences. The Gold­en Dawn itself was basi­cal­ly a west­ern focused ver­sion of the theo­soph­i­cal soci­ety. The empha­sis on the occult which sim­ply means hid­den and syn­chro­tism was also pre­ex­ist­ing in the 1800’s schol­ar­ship. While he was notably unique it’s not respon­si­ble schol­ar­ship to attribute all of the above to his influ­ence.

  • Erin says:

    But.. Is he Bar­bara Bush’s father? That’s the ques­tion, and that would explain every­thing.

  • Frater Orpheus says:

    Sor­ry Michael just now see­ing this — years lat­er… I go over this in detail in my book on Liber Oz enti­tled, “The Rights of Man” — the fel­lows name was Lau­rence Holmes.

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