The former home of the infamous occultist, writer, and mountain climber Aleister Crowley has burned again, according to Scottish firefighters who tended to the blaze.
The fire erupted Wednesday afternoon, according to a statement from the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service provided to the BBC. “Police Scotland said it believed the fire was started deliberately,” the report read, “and has appealed for witnesses.”
It is not the first time that the former home of the occult practitioner, who boasted such self-proclaimed titles as “The Wickedest Man Alive” in his day, has been damaged by fire. In 2015, a blaze that erupted at the site caused extensive damage to the home. The ruins of the site, which had not yet been reconstructed, were sold thereafter.
Known as Boleskine House, Crowley’s former residence has a famous history. Standing on the shores of Loch Ness, it was in close proximity to the famous alleged home of Nessie, the “monster” of Scotland’s largest land-locked water body. Several scientific studies that sought to identify mysterious animals that have been reported there over the decades have turned up empty-handed.
Crowley’s former home was also once owned by guitarist Jimmy Page, who professed to have a fascination with Crowley, and the occult in general. Page’s interest in the dark arts over the years was sometimes blamed for the ill-fortune suffered by his Led Zeppelin bandmates; in July 1977, singer Robert Plant’s son Karac passed away after contracting a stomach virus, and in 1980, drummer John Bonham died of aspiration of vomit after heavy alcohol consumption.
Crowley had been very calculating in his choosing of the home, which had been intended to be more than a mere residence: it would become the birthplace of Thelema, the religion which sprang from the magickal undertakings Crowley performed at the location.
Of the place, which was purchased by Crowley in 1899, he wrote in his autobiographical (or “autohagiographical”, as he preferred) work The Confessions of Aleister Crowley:
“The first essential is a house in a more or less secluded situation. The should be a door opening to the north from the room of which you make your oratory. Outside this door, you construct a terrace covered with fine river sand. This ends in a ‘lodge’ where the spirits may congregate. It would appear the simplest thing in the world for a man with forty thousand pounds, who is ready to spend every penny of it on the achievement of his purpose, to find a suitable house in a very few weeks. But a magical house is as hard to find as a magical book to publish. I scoured the country in vain. Not till the end of August 1899 did I find an estate which suited me. This was the manor of Boleskine and Abertarff, on the south-east side of Loch Ness, half way between Inverfarigaig and Foyers. By paying twice as much as it was worth, I got it, gave up my flat and settled down at once to get everything in order for the great Operation, which one is told to begin at Easter.”
“The house is a long low building,” Crowley wrote. “I set apart the south-western half for my work. The largest room has a bow window and here I made my door and constructed the terrace and lodge. Inside the room I set up my oratory proper. This was a wooden structure, lined in part with the big mirrors which I brought from London.”
Having arrived and properly established himself as “Laird of Boleskine and Abertarff,” he went about magickal work there, which lasted until about 1913. His most notable undertaking at Boleskine had been the “Abramelin Operation,” a ritual for which the purpose had been to make contact with one’s own guardian angel or higher self (a concept similar to the “Overself” described by later practitioners of meditation like Paul Brunton). Crowley had likely learned of the Abramelin Operation from MacGregor Mathers’ translation of The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.
In addition to the stories about the property that relates to Crowley’s time at Boleskine House, there are other peculiar legends pertaining to its past: perhaps the most striking and ironic is a local tradition that tells of a church that once stood at the site. According to legend, a fire broke out at the church, trapping and killing the entire congregation in the blaze that ensued.
Whether based on actual historical events or not, it is a tradition that is made only more unsettling by the fires that have continued there in recent years.
As to what, or more likely who is responsible for this week’s fire, investigators are looking for information from people in the area.
“We would encourage anybody may have seen any activity around Boleskine House or nearby to come forward as soon as they can.
“It should go without saying that deliberately setting fires is incredibly dangerous as you have limited control over how they may develop.”
Image (top) credit: Scottish Fire and Rescue Service