56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
This is an Enthralling Perspective of the life of Aleister Crowley.... "the rest of the story."
"Do What Thou Wilt" fills-in numerous gaps in Crowley's own writings and maintains an open perspective until the last few chapters. This is good balancing material to add to a Crowley research library.
Throughout most of the book, the author seems to have an (almost) non-judgmental perspective--giving us a "here's the facts" biography. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It was very nice to read-about all the things Crowley sort-of Glossed-over in his own works. Also, I found it interesting that the author began the book with a list of Crowley's accomplishments that would have been well-recognized, if not for his "Beastly" reputation and eccentric (self-destructive / self-defeating) behavior. The author had access to a wealth of information, including access to individuals in the O.T.O.
I felt that the author maintained his mostly non-judgmental view until the last few chapters--when it becomes evident that the author had pretty-much written Crowley off as a "Dirty Old Man"--a sad case of Self-deception and a delusory drug addict.
However, unlike most of the biographical material I have read about Crowley, this book tries very hard to show the positive achievements of "The Beast" as well as the more scandalous aspects of the man. Yet, it is very difficult to perceive Crowley in a positive light, when the Misogynistic (wife-beating) scenarios are brought to light--which, if true, obviously makes Crowley a criminal worthy of little respect.
Over-all, the book is quite impressive and it seems to give a more-or-less positive outlook on Crowley's life, although it does tend to dispel illusions of Crowley's grandeur and "Prophet" status. However, this book also leaves one with the impression that Crowley did, in fact, follow the "Do What Thou Wilt" philosophy to the utmost.... The man never had to work an honest day's labor, yet always had enough money or duped enough people into taking care of him, and he *Always* had plenty of sex, women, men, etc. to keep himself "happy" in that department.
I was a bit disappointed that this author doesn't really cover the Occult aspects of Crowley's life very well....he mostly seems to concentrate on Crowley's disreputable behavior, abusive relationships, and the more Tabloid aspects of his life....and seems to gloss-over the details of the writing of "The Equinox" (a 5 year project, skimmed-over in this biography) --I would have enjoyed a detailed break-down of the formation of that work and the people involved. The author sort-of skips-over Crowley's connections with Blavatsky, with minor references.
Although this is an amazing, and well-written, biography of Crowley, one is left with the impression: "So....when did he do Occult stuff ?" (the Occult workings almost seem mere footnotes). This book details his "Book of The Law" workings and the related occult workings, but one gets the impression that the O.T.O. was just something Crowley wrote letters about as an afterthought, occasionally, when he needed money from the members (yet, wouldn't touch L500 of OTO $ under his bed, while lying on the same bed in extremely poor health).
As a member of various organizations, I know that it takes a tremendous amount of work to keep any kind of Masonic or Occult group operational....so, it seems a bit odd that this aspect of Crowley's life seems almost like a background story, or basic framework for Crowley's Love Life.
A more appropriate title for this book would be: "Do What Thou Wilt: The Life and Loves of Aleister Crowley."
Don't get me wrong--I loved this book and learned a lot--but, I feel a large aspect of Crowley's life was given the back shelf to his enormous sex drive. Yet, considering the fact that Crowley and others have covered the "Occult" territory numerous times, this book makes a fine addition to a Crowley collection and fills-in many gaps that Crowley's admirers or apologists would not care to reveal--one would be hard-pressed to portray Crowley as a "Spiritual Leader" if one included the extremely Misogynistic / Abusive behavior (depicted in this book) of Crowley in a biography extolling his virtues as "Prophet of The New Aeon."
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2007
This book is certainly not for those who are merely curious or casually interested in Crowley. Let's be frank, Sutin's biography is not light reading by any means. He gives us nearly 500 pages of details; no fluff, no sensationalism, and very little speculation beyond that which is evident by actual facts. Because of this, Do What Thou Wilt will surely disappoint those who prefer to think that Crowley was a Satan-worshipping black magician, those who place him on a pedestal as a perfected spiritual master and those who are looking for juicy tales of sex, drugs, and blasphemy. But anyone who has read Crowley's autobiographical Confessions of Aleister Crowley should read Do What Thou Wilt to balance out Crowley's own one-sided version of his life. Also, those who are already familiar with Crowley's contributions to the study and practice of the occult and who are hungry for a thorough, detail-oriented study of his life would appreciate this book. At any rate, I would not recommend this as a Crowley bio for beginners.
Sutin gives us a carefully researched book. He makes no claims without verifiable sources. Unlike any other bio (or auto-bio) I have encountered concerning Crowley, Sutin seems to have no agenda beyond telling us the story of his subjects life as well as can be gathered from the source material available (which he seems to have studied well). He also does a fine job of carefully and fairly pointing out inconsistencies and differing accounts from different sources (or sometimes from different works by Crowley himself). This is refreshing, as most writers on Crowley seem to want to condemn, apologize or praise Crowley.
Sutin displays considerable insight when he makes his case for the subconscious motives behind Crowley's strong need to promulgate his new creed and religion, Thelema, how he sought all his life to transcend his deeply ingrained puritan sense of sin and guilt with regards to sex, and a few other aspects of his life. But Sutin does this with a cool, detached, non-judgmental and elegantly minimalist fashion. He tastefully points out a few connections between what must have been strong psychological imprints in Crowley's childhood and strong tendencies in his adult life and then lets readers think these out for themselves.
Sutin makes it exhaustively clear that Crowley could often be petty, cruel, dishonest, egotistical to the point of megalomania, bigoted, sexist, boastful, obscene, conniving, and - in the latter half of his life - hopelessly addicted to cocaine and heroin and dependent on the generosity or gullibility others for money. Since Crowley himself downplayed these traits and because his auto-bio Confessions was written about halfway through his life, I again strongly suggest that one does not read Confessions without reading Do What Thou Wilt. Having reiterated that, I also suggest that one does not read Do What Thou Wilt without reading Crowley's Confessions, Isreal Regardies's Eye in the Triangle, or some other book that explains Crowley's magical practice, philosophy and Thelema because - and this is the main fault of Do What Thou Wilt - Sutin gives us almost no understanding of this.
Because his magical philosophy and Thelema was central to his life, Sutin's book tells us only about half of what one needs to know in order to get a good understanding of Crowley. It is somewhat like telling the story of Einstein without telling us about the physics that occupied his genius or his revolutionary discoveries. Beyond a sentence here and there, the only passage in which Sutin does Crowley's life work justice is short enough to quote here. While mentioning that the famous occultist Dion Fortune acknowledged Crowley's great work, Sutin says that, "Fortune is correct in her judgment of Crowley's `contribution to occult literature.' Magick is a watershed in the history of that literature - the first work to strip the subject of its gothic trappings and bring it fully into the modern world. Its arguments are ruthlessly practical - assuming, of courses, that the reader will allow that there is such a thing as the `Great Work' that is attainable by human consciousness. There is, indeed, a religious belief at the heart of the book: a conviction that the life of fulfillment of the inmost spirit - the Will - is the highest form of life. Scoff at this and you not only scoff at Magick but at religion itself. Grant it as a nondenominational goal and Magick may have something to teach you. After all, the definition of `Magick' offered in the Introduction is catholic enough: `MAGICK is the Science and Art of Causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.' "
Oddly, this passage displays one of the few places where Sutin directly gives us his own opinion when he could have discussed this more objectively in terms of the impact that this work had on students of the occult. Still, Sutin barely gives us an understanding of Crowley's work and how he is almost undeniably the single most important writer on occultism. Let's face it, if Crowley was merely a promising Cambridge chess champion, a minor poet and a man who came close to being the first to reach the peak of the world's third highest mountain (which would have made him placed him in the position of being the climber to have reached the highest peak ever before climbed) he would likely have been merely a footnote in the history of mountaineering and Sutin would almost surely not have written a book about him.
But, to be fair, Sutin has given me what I was seeking when I bought this book; a more objective view of Crowley's life and (more importantly for me) details on his experimentation with drugs. Although, Sutin gives us very little understanding of what Crowley experienced with these substances (as he does with Crowley's experiences with magical and mystical practices) he does tell us what substances he experimented with, when, and in combination with what magical and mystical practices.
Sutin gives us no real sense of Crowley's role as a pioneer in the re-emergence of psychedelics Western civilization. The short passage by Suster quoted above gives us a greater sense of Crowley's place in this re-emergence than Sutin does in his entire book. But then again, Suster does not tell us the details that Sutin does. Also, Sutin adequately shows us (through evidence, not opinion) Crowley's struggle over whether the use of consciousness-altering substances are legitimate or counterfeit aids in the exploration of the mind and spirit. He also shows us how in one account of a given event Crowley frankly admits the use of a particular drug in addition to a particular magical operation to gain entry into a particular "plane" or state of mind whereas in another account of the same event Crowley omits the fact that he used a drug without which the result would likely not have occurred at all.
Sutin also gives us what little there is to know regarding the legend that Crowley turned Aldous Huxley on to mescaline, resulting in Huxley's monumentally influential Doors of Perception. Sutin shows us how although it is possible that this could be so, there really is no evidence that this is the case. Crowley was experienced with peyote years before Huxley, the two men met once through a mutual acquaintance and that is about all we know for sure beyond the fact that if Crowley had turned Huxley on to peyote, both men would very likely have written about it at length. As Sutin shows in his book, Crowley merely noted in his diary that, "Huxley improves on acquaintance."
Over the course of the book, we see that Crowley devolved from a young man with seemingly boundless enthusiasm to find truth and to gain new ground in consciousness, to build a sound body of knowledge Crowley called Scientific Illuminism ("The method of science, the aim of religion") with determination and perseverance (mirrored in his considerable achievements in the field of mountaineering and rugged hiking across thousands of miles in various parts of the world) to a derailed and self-deluded older man who spent the later half of his life preoccupied with sex and self-promotion and hampered by hard drug addiction and by poverty all the while attempting and failing to establish his new religion and to gain a large body of disciples. But then again, many of Crowley's best works were written during this period - perhaps this was a time when he was able to reflect upon and write about what he discovered earlier in life - and Sutin barely gives us any sense of this.
In summary, Sutin's book is valuable in that it provides a good detailed and well researched biography of Crowley's mundane life but it tells us far too little about Crowley's spiritual, creative and intellectual pursuits. I would only recommend this book to those who are already well acquainted with Crowley's work and who are ready to tackle a long, dry, detailed biography on his all-too-human side.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2000
If you are looking for a book to reinforce your beliefs about Crowley as a Beast or as a Saint, don't read this book. This is the first apparently unbiased biography of Crowley. Yet the author has done extensive and exhaustive research, examining Crowley as a man who had an enormous impact on modern culture, like it or not. It shows the heroic and superhuman side of Crowley as well as the depraved and self-hating side, even-handedly, without exaggeration or sensationalism. The book is beautifully written in general.
This is a mainstream biography, and I feel it will open the gate to further discovery and analysis by mainstream culture. It is remarkable that such a man as Crowley until now had no biography which was ever filed in the biography section.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2005
I approached this book with little knowledge of the occult or of Aleister Crowley. I had previously read The Book of the Law, and was intrigued enough by its poetry, radical ideas, and mysterious conception that I wished to know more of the author.
Lawrence Sutin does a splendid job at delving beyond the myths and legends of Crowley's life to reveal his humanity, with all accompanying flaws and strengths. He also presents Crowley's various beliefs and philosophies in an astute and evenhanded manner. Mr. Sutin is neither an apologist nor an ardent opponent of the Beast, but a thorough and incisive biographer who balances the varied aspects of Crowley's life.
Sutin's writing style is fluid and articulate, and his subject is so fascinating that the reader can't help but be propelled through the book. I was continually compelled to discover what happened next, and left wanting to read more when the story was over.
This isn't simply a book for occultists or Crowley devotees, but for anyone interested in cultural history. Love him or hate him, Crowley's continued influence and impact on Western society is undeniable.
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2000
How many people imagined, I wonder, huddled together in the dismal damp of the British crematorium in which Aleister Crowley's bodily remains were cremated, that the significance of Aleister Crowley's literary and spiritual legacy would still be being debated more than half a century after his death in 1947? He died, bankrupt, disreputable, ostracized and virtually friendless, a prematurely aged asthmatic heroin addict. The lesser of his spiritual organizations, the Ordo Templi Orientis, fell apart after his death (his major organization, the A.'.A.'., had fallen apart decades earlier).
Since John Symonds, Crowley's literary executor, tried to complete the job of the tabloids by completing vilifying his subject in a series of brilliantly researched but abjectly bigoted revised biographies, culminating in the now hard to find *King of the Shadow Realms," we have been waiting for a biography which actually does what a biography is supposed to do: understand its subject. Our wait has not been in vain. Lawrence Sutin's biography, *Do What Thou Wilt*, somewhat tediously titled, perhaps, is nevertheless an accurate, insightful, and well-researched expose of a complex and brilliant man whose contribution to the contemporary counterculture cannot be underestimated. Only Sutin's account rivals the meticulous factual research of John Symonds, but, unlike Symonds, Sutin looks at both sides of Aleister Crowley, and actually seeks to communicate, so far as possible in a biographical rather than an intellectual study, the meaning of Crowley's message without ignoring or understating the complexities of the man himself. Whereas John Symonds pompously declares that Aleister Crowley was merely a psychotic, thus begging the question of why he has written so profusely about him and published several editions of his most important works, Sutin takes his subject seriously and in the process provides numerous original insights and new factual information concerning Crowley's life which makes *Do What Thou Wilt* an invaluable addition to the Crowley legacy.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2004
If you've never read ANYTHING about Crowley (I hadn't), this is the place to start. This biography leaves out no detail, no matter how small. This book puts Crowley under a microscope with unstinting clarity that is completely balanced - the biographer gives Crowley credit where credit is due but never tries to whitewash the mess that the man made of his life (and of other's lives). Crowley's innovations are not easy ones to understand, and his impact is complex. Mr. Sutin gets it just right.
If you're the type of person who wants a biography that draws the big picture by supplying all the minute details (journal entries, letters, receipts, financial records, decorating schemes, sexual partners, travel plans, etc), this is the Crowley book for you.
Really, my only complaint is that there weren't more photos. However, for all I know, there are few existing photos, given the time in which Crowley lived. This book inspired me to read more by and about Crowley, which is the best praise a biography can be given.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2000
Overall I enjoyed this book, it is objectively written neither glorifying Crowley or reviling him. As at least one other reviewer has pointed out it is not as entertaining a read as Symonds' "Great Beast" but it does shed a bit of new light on aspects of Crowley that others have neglected. His mountaineering and bisexuality for instance. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter deling with his last years and showing his influence on subsequent developments in Magick.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2001
This book is basically a chronicle of the places that he lived,the women and men he was with and his finacial problems;with only a most surface account of his magical practices or his philosophies. A dry,boring book that took some effort to finish.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2002
I always knew Crowley was the "bad boy" of Western occultism, but this book really uncovers all the dirt. No wonder he shocked his contemporaries! At the same time, Crowley was obviously gutsy and a genius. He lived his life like a rock and roll star, but was crazy about religion.
I think this book also gives me better insight into Liber Legis, or the Book of the Law. I can now see more of Crowley in the Book of the Law, but unlike the complete skeptic I can also see the authentic "channeled" aspect of that book. To disregard Crowley's influence in the Book of the Law is to misread certain passages; to disregard the "otherwordly" aspect of the Book of the Law and blame it all on Crowley, or on a scam, is to ignore the real role of authentic visionary experiences in religion. I also think it would be a mistake to favor Eastern visionary transmissions as more "pure" than Western visionary transmissions like Dee's Enochiana or Crowley's Book of the Law and Holy Books.
As McCluhan said, the medium is the massage.
I used to think it would be impossible for disincarnate entities to use inferior (or disgusting, in the case of Crowley) beings for transmission of their messages/rants/teachings. Now I think disincarnate beings are in the same pickle as we, the practitioners, are on the other side: we each have to take what we can get in terms of bridging the communications gap, and keep our guards up, while sacrificing everything.
I find it hard to believe Sutin got such apparently full assistance from Hymenaeus Beta, current head of the OTO, Crowley's outer organization for keeping his message alive. No punches are pulled, and the picture of Crowley is pretty darn ugly at times...no excuses for a "misunderstood" saint. On the other hand, no diminishment of Crowley's awesome accomplishments.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2002
Apart from being a first class scoundrel, there are some notable qualities about this man, and Sutin manages to portray these qualities, along with Crowley's defects with admirable equilibrium.
As Lawrence Sutin points out, Aleister Crowley was a genius at self-promotion, but most of his life received the wrong kind of publicity to sell his books. (Which apart from his spiritual pursuits, was his major motivation in life) It seems, above all else, Crowley wanted to be a recognized 'man of letters' in the 19th century sense of the term. That is, in the Romantic tradition, positioning himself with the likes of Shelly and Byron. If one can ignore the hoopla that continues ad nauseam about the man, and takes the time and trouble to read his voluminous works, can recognize these Romantic influences. He was also a Modernist writer that ranks with the authors we associate with that tradition: Ezra Pound, D.H. Lawrence and many others. The problem with Crowley, however, is that his reputation always preceded him, influencing the public into premature and hasty judgements. This is a common problem with large personalities. Granted, though, 'the beast' deserved some of the slanderous publicity that was continually thrown his way -he also, at times, consciously created it.
As is the case with many famous and infamous personalities, such as Sigmund Freud, Aaron Burr, and R.F. Burton, for example, is that the public will cast judgement on them without investigating their lives or reading their works. I cannot even count the numerous instances where people would dismiss Freud and his works, without having read anything about psychoanalysis; basing their judgements on some personal bias or dubious secondary source. Sutin's fair biography of Aleister Crowley gives the reader the opportunity to investigate the many facets of the man, and at last dispel the 'tabloid' generated myths surrounding him.
Aleister Crowley was an eccentric of the first order. His unusual personality evoked fascination, awe, puzzlement, disdain and pure hatred from many noteworthy people of his time. Any way you look at it, however, his 'spiritual-calling' was quite real; remove the innuendo and gossip mongering, he truly believed that his 'Book of the Law' was the spiritual message for a new age. And the message is a simple one: "...devoting oneself earnestly to one's true work on earth, which could be discovered through self-examination guided by advice of wise men." (P.370) Through dogged persistence and intense self-examination, one may discover their true will, and by following it, will develop as a human being. This of course echoes the advice of the philosopher, Socrates - "Know thy self", which is one of our main tasks in life. As Socrates went on to say, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Interestingly, Crowley's 'Book of ther Law', essentially proposes the same thing.
This is a wonderfully detailed account of one of the most notorious characters of the twentieth century. Sutin has approached the subject in a scholarly and balanced manner, giving us the chance to assess Aleister Crowley at his best and diabolical worst - an excellent biography.