Aleister Crowley, the father of modern occultism, is a fascinating creature. Born into an evangelical family, he broke off to become a follower of Hinduism, Buddhism and several esoteric religions and cults. He was a mountain climber, a bisexual, a magician, a novelist; he was also an avid experimenter with recreational drugs. Apparently, his spicy curries were something of a party favorite – they were not only tasty, but usually laced with a whole slew of psychoactive drugs. Much of his fame came from his connection with mysticism. He joined the Order of the Golden Dawn early on, but moved on when his lifestyle became too repellent for its other followers, including poet William Butler Yeats. While in Cairo in 1904, he and his wife Rose practiced their own brand of mysticism which ended up with Crowley writing “The Book of the Law” – the “Bible” for his new religion, Thelema. He would practice rituals, lecture and evangelize various forms of his religion for the rest of his life. L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, was a follower of Thelema for a time, and it is arguable that many of the rituals in Scientology were heavily influenced by Crowley’s work. His influence was heavy: contemporary press called him “the wickedest man in the world”, and to this day, Crowley and his work are lauded by followers of the occult.
Crowley may also have been an agent for British intelligence, and possibly other nations as well. It was not unlikely: many of the powerful politicians of that era were sympathetic to occultism – Winston Churchill himself was a Freemason and was initiated into the Albion Lodge of the Ancient Order of Druids at Blenheim Palace, and Queen Elizabeth II’s cousin, the Duke of Kent, is still the Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England – and the intelligence agencies of Britain, Russia and Germany had considered using occult experts to infiltrate occult communities that had people of importance. In any case, Crowley seems to have likely been recruited during his time at Cambridge. Directly after graduation, he was able to make fortuitous trips through Russia, China and India, where he would have been well able to report on Bolshevik progress and opium smuggling throughout Asia. While in the United States in 1915, he was heavily involved in pro-German propaganda, having been hired by Nazi agent George Sylvester Viereck to help encourage US neutrality. For his pains, he was derided as a traitor to Britain. However, he actually was a British double agent the whole time. His paymasters had ordered him to infiltrate German propaganda machines in the United States and subvert their efforts. This he did, by writing overblown and cartoony editorials that succeeded in making the pro-German lobby appear a ridiculous farce. It has been argued that his attempt to persuade the Germany Navy to bomb the Lusitania was part of this plan; the outrage, they hoped, would force the United States into the war as a British ally. His employment by the German security services did not help him when he moved to France in the late 1920s. Many high-level politicians and military officers moved in occult circles in France, and the French authorities feared Crowley’s influence. They deported him.
His next posting was Berlin in 1930. Through his occult connections, he became great friends with the Berlin far left; many biographers suggest that he was spying on the Communist movement in Germany, as he was extraordinarily well placed to do so. This speculation goes further: Crowley may have met high-level Nazi politician Rudolf Hess and/or helped arrange Hess’s escape/defection to Scotland in 1941. Rudolf Hess, during his time in the German government, had been a rigorous supporter of mysticism, as were Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. They had all spent an inordinate amount of resources into establishing a new German mystic tradition. One of their efforts was the SS-sponsored expedition to Tibet in 1938. Our own Academy of Natural Sciences here in Philadelphia even contributed $1,000! Supposedly for scientific knowledge, it actually had completely different goals. Goebbels, in a secret warning to German newspapers in 1940, said that “the chief task of the Tibet expedition [was] of a political and military nature [and] had not so much to with the solution of scientific questions.” They were not to publish anything about that, of course, and no details were provided. The first reason was important enough: they were to ascertain Tibet’s fitness for a staging ground for assaults against the British in India. Their second goal, however, was to verify that pure-blooded Aryans had settled in Tibet, to “prove” Himmler’s Nazi racial theory. In any case, Hess, Hitler and Himmler regularly consulted with mystics and clairvoyants, and there was an extremely high possibility that Crowley had come into contact with Hess during his time there. In 1941, a few days after Hess’s defection and during a time when Hitler was too involved in war to be enthusiastic about mysticism, Joseph Goebbels issued “an order against occultism, clairvoyancy, etc.” and privately mused that “this obscure rubbish will now be eliminated once and for all. The miracle men, Hess’s darlings, will now be put under lock and key.”
Crowley’s expertise was duly noted by James Bond creator Ian Fleming, then a lieutenant commander in Naval Intelligence and one of Hess’s interrogators. In a letter to Fleming, Crowley writes: “If it is true that Herr Hess is much influenced by astrology and Magick, my services might be of use to the Department in case he should not be willing to do what you wish.” In a note to his superior, Rear Admiral John Godfrey, Fleming asked “that Crowley should be allowed to interview Hess about the role of the occult in Nazism.” Higher-ups eventually put the kibosh on this plan, fearing that Crowley wasn’t completely loyal and may learn things he shouldn’t from Hess. That didn’t mean they didn’t consult other mystics. Rudolf Hess spoke at length on occult topics while being interrogated, and deciphering his ruminations required the work of experts familiar with those areas.
Crowley eventually died in 1947 of chronic bronchitis aggravated by pleurisy and myocardial degeneration. He was cremated in Brighton and his ashes were sent to his long-time disciple Karl Germer, who buried them in his garden in Hampton, NJ.
[Hess's end was curious. Just prior to his supposed suicide in 1987, there was public speculation that Mikhail Gorbachev might reverse the Soviet Union's veto on any possiblity of Hess's release from Spandau Prison, where he was the only prisoner. The veto had also dictated an unusual regime for Hess: apparently, he was forced to wash his hands in a toilet bowl. A document released by Scotland Yard under the UK Freedom of Information Act in September of 2013 confirmed that a detective chief superintendent at Scotland Yard had received reports from a former Special Air Service operative that Rudolf Hess had been murdered in prison by two British agents, and that they should not pursue any investigations into the death. Medical reports had claimed that he was too infirm and crippled with arthritis to commit suicide (he was 93, after all). It would have been interesting to see exactly why governments feared what he might say.]