Born in 1875, there is perhaps no figure in history as synonymous with the occult, esoteric, and the magical as Aleister Crowley. The English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, mountaineer, and self-proclaimed prophet charged with bringing humanity into an age of greater consciousness, self-realization, and self-actualization called the Æon of Horus, would over the course of his lifetime also be called the “Great Beast” and the “wickedest man in the world,” a reputation he more than earned. Originally a member of the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was focused on ancient magic and mystic philosophy, over the course of his life he would make an indelible mark upon the occult, being instrumental to developing several alternative religious and esoteric movements such as the Ordo Templi Orientis, an order called The A∴A∴, and a semi-Satanic cult devoted to ceremonial magic called the Order of Thelema, which Crowley believed he had been ordered to form by a supernatural entity named Aiwass. Over his very strange lifetime he would be a highly influential figure over Western esotericism, travel the world, and get into all manner of strange adventures, and here we will look at some mysterious places that have become inextricably linked to Crowley’s dark legacy.
One place that is orbited with a lot of Crowley weirdness goes back to his days when he was a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which had been co-founded by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Crowley thrived in the order, making friends with Mathers and quickly working his way up the ranks, but at the same time he was also meeting resistance from the higher up members of the London Chapter of the order, who disliked his eccentric ways, open bisexualism, and his hedonistic, libertine lifestyle. It was because of this that when Crowley attempted to join the second highest rank of the order he was denied, and considering that Mathers fully supported Crowley this caused quite a rift within the organization. Mathers would defy the London chapter’s verdict and not only promote Crowley to the rank of “Adeptus Exemptus,” the highest echelons of the second rank, but he also pronounced that the London chapter was not a true, official part of the Golden Dawn, which they countered by dismissing Mathers as their leader. This caused quite a fracture within the order, and Crowley came to the conclusion that the only way to fix it was to launch a full-on magical assault on the London temple of the Hermetic Order, located at the time at 36 Blythe Road.
The London chapter of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was at the time headed by the famous Irish poet, dramatist, writer, Nobel Prize laureate, and luminary of literature William Butler Yeats, but this meant little to the incensed Crowley. In 1900, Crowley got dressed in full Highland dress and kilt, a mask of Osiris for some reason, armed himself with a gilt dagger and launched what he would call “an astral seige” on the London Chapter’s temple, breaking in and casting spells as he waved his dagger around. The plan at the time was to retake the temple as their own, but it did not go according to plan, as whatever spells Crowley was casting did not include a “keep the police away" spell. The authorities arrived, Crowley was arrested, and the London chapter won the court case. In the present day, the site holds a nondescript café called George’s Café, and there is nothing to indicate that the magical “Battle of Blythe Street” ever occurred.
A perhaps more well-known location associated with Crowley’s antics is the Boleskine House, a stately manor on the south-east side of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. Constructed in the 1760s by Colonel Archibald Fraser as a hunting lodge, the Boleskine House had a sinister aura about it from the beginning, having allegedly been built atop the ruins of a 10th century church that had burned down to kill everyone inside, and it was also said to have once been the haunt of an evil sorcerer who went around reanimating corpses at a nearby cemetery. In other words, the perfect place for Crowley, who aquired the manor from the Fraser family in 1899 with the aim of using it as a place to perform a series of dark rituals taken from a grimoire called The Book of Abramelin that he believed could actually summon one’s Guardian Angel.
The complete ritual is supposed to be a grueling 6-month process that not only involves all manner of abstinence from worldly pleasures, but also the conjuring of the 12 Kings and Dukes of Hell, which are supposed to be bound to the magician in order to make them remove negative influences from his life, but which can also break free and run amok if the ritual is done the wrong way or they are not properly dispelled when the ritual is over. According to Crowley, he failed to do this, leaving the demons there in the house to cause all manner of misfortune in and around Boleskine House when he was done. His lodge keeper, Hugh Gillies, suffered a number of personal tragedies, including the loss of two children, another of his employees tried to murder his entire family, and there were numerous reports of ghostly apparitions and phantoms lurking in the area. Crowley would freely admit that his spells at the house had gotten out of hand and he had lost control of the demons, and subsequent owners would also experience hauntings, misfortune, and tragedies including madness, suicides, and inexplicable fires. The Boleskine House has maintained its ominous reputation right up to the present day, and it remains a major stop for anyone looking to tour Crowley’s most notorious places.
Another place that Crowley managed to imbue with strange stories is a small, uninhabited island in the Hudson River of New York called Esopus Island. It is a mostly unremarkable overgrown slash of rock, but for some reason Crowley thought it was the perfect location to translate the Chinese text for both philosophical and religious Taoism called the Tao Te Ching. In 1918, Crowley got a canoe and traveled out to the island with nothing but paint, brushes, and rope for rappelling, bringing little food with him because he declared he would be fed by ravens. He then spent the next 40 days and nights meditating, conducting rituals, wandering about in a robe, painting symbols and messages in red paint on the island’s rocks, and basically freaking everyone out, and although camping on the island was illegal at the time no one was about to tell him that. He would claim that while on the island he had received numerous visions of his past lives, including the Taoist Ge Xuan, Renaissance Pope Alexander VI, alchemist Alessandro Cagliostro, and the magician Eliphas Levi, among others, and it is yet another weird chapter of Crowley’s bizarre life.
Another odd stunt pulled off by Crowley took place at a locale called the Boca do Inferno, or “The Mouth of Hell,” located on the seaside cliffs along the coast west of Cascais, in Portugal. The Boca do Inferno is a chasm leading into a cave system, and gets its name from the rough waves that violently crash against the opening and spray from an opening above, creating a churning whirlwind of water and flying sea spray that leads off into the darkness below. In 1930, Crowley made his way here with the intention of faking his own death for reasons not totally understood. The mad magician apparently made it seem as though he had hurled himself into that frothing, churning chasm, and for good measure left behind a suicide note with the poet Fernando Pessoa. The scrawled, barely legible note, written in terrible Portuguese and adorned with numerous arcane symbols that no one could understand, was widely published in Portuguese newspapers at the time, and read “Can’t live without you. The other mouth of hell that will catch me won’t be as hot as yours.” Although it was thought that he had killed himself over a mistress of his, Crowley reappeared three weeks later at an art expedition in Berlin, and so it seems it was likely just a prank and publicity stunt.
Joining the ranks of strange places associated with Crowley is a small, unassuming one story villa facing the Mediterranean Sea in Cefalù, on the scenic Sicilian coast of Italy. Crowley and his lover, Leah Hirsig, rented the place out in 1920 for the purpose of using it as a temple and spiritual center for Crowley’s followers, which he called the “Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum,” where they could live through the Law of Thelema on a daily basis. Envisioned as an idealistic utopia that would serve as a magic school, temple, a place for rituals, and place of spiritual healing, Crowley liked to refer to it as an “anti-monastery,” and his edict for all who came there was “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” so of course it became a place of hedonism, orgies, psychoactive drug use, sex-magic rituals, and all manner of debauchery. Adorned with numerous murals of pornographic artwork and various paintings and frescoes of demons and monsters, it was hoped by Crowley that this place would become a global destination for his followers, where people from all over the world would come to practice magic and lead a hedonistic, libertine lifestyle. However, by 1923 the locals had had enough of all of the rituals and sex parties going on there, and Crowley and his followers were kicked out by Mussolini’s regime, after which most of the artwork was destroyed and painted over, leaving much of Crowley’s work in Cefalù lost to history. What has come to be known as the Abbey of Thelema is still there, but it is a rundown shadow of its former self and there is very little remaining to show that Crowley and his followers were ever here.
Finally, we come to the end of Crowley’s days, and an entire town that he supposedly magically cursed out of spite. In 1944, Crowley moved to a guest house called Netherwood House, in a large seaside town and borough in East Sussex on the south coast of England called Hastings, where he immediately continued his eccentric behavior. Although Crowley was reported as being charming and personable during his stay there, he would often introduce himself as ”666” or “The Beast,” he paid his secretary in magical teachings rather than money, his room was, as one newspaper put it “hung with mysterious, oppressive paintings like ‘totem poles’, the purpose of which could not be understood,” and he was visited by a procession of well-known sorcerers, illusionists, alchemists, and other occultists. Other than this, by all accounts Crowley led a fairly normal life (for him) during his stay there right up until his death in 1947, but his reputation had preceded him, he was seen as deviant, degenerate drug user, and demon-worshipper, and the city of Hastings refused to allow him to be cremated there, with even his funeral being called a Black Mass. It would seem that Crowley would have the last laugh, though, as a persistent rumor is that before he died he performed a ritual to curse the entire town.
Despite the fact that Crowley seemed to be happy at Hastings, there was the persistent rumor that he secretly loathed this place, perhaps because he was ostracized for his past deeds here. Whatever the reason is, the popular story goes that he went about focusing a huge amount of magical energy into cursing the town so that those who lived here could never free themselves from it, always compelled to come back no matter how much they tried to move away, making them a slave to this place they could never leave. The only way to break the curse’s effects is said to be to carry a pebble from Hastings beach in your pocket at all times. Netherwood House itself ceased to be a boarding house around 1970, and the abandoned building quickly earned a reputation as a creepy place possibly haunted by Crowley’s ghost. There were rumors that Crowley had left behind furniture made of human skin and all manner of spooky occult objects, symbols, and gear for his rituals, and one account from the book The Tregerthen Horror reads:
One youthful marauder recalled entering the Victorian ruin and creeping down to the cellar where a startling sight awaited him. Strewn around the darkness were what might be termed ‘cardboard sculptures’, cut-outs, man-shaped and emblematic, heavily crayoned and held together by string. They were ‘relics’ Crowley had used for ritual purposes. It was indefinably creepy, seeing them forlornly hung up on rusty nails and over the backs of broken chairs in that static, dust-filled silence. The magician had long passed on, yet his eerie, slightly childish devices lingered like vestiges of an arcane purpose beyond resurrection.
What was going on here? Crowley was certainly a major figure in the world of the occult, and he definitely left his mark upon all things to do with magic. His life was so bizarre and has been so talked about and speculated upon that it is sometimes difficult to disentangle fact from fiction, but he most certainly probably would have liked it that way. Here we have seen some of the more famous, or perhaps infamous places associated with him, and they give a glimpse into the strange history of this enigmatic individual, reminders of a very odd piece of history that will forever be enwined with the esoteric and paranormal.