The legendary Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) is a tantalizing and bizarre subject. As an occult leader, heroin addict, sexual adventurer, misogynist, and visionary, he is the inspiration for many vile Gothic protagonists. Author W. Somerset Maugham even devoted a novel, The Magician
, to this chilling figure of indulgence and religious mockery. Like any good biographer, Lawrence Sutin set out to discover the man behind the myth. After considerable research, Sutin admits that Crowley was "a shameless scoffer at Christian virtue" and "a spoiled scion of a wealthy Victorian family," but he also sees him as a 20th century figure as "protean, brilliant, courageous, and flabbergasting as ever you could imagine."
Consider these facts about the man who named himself "The Great Beast": He was one of the first Westerners to seriously study Buddhism and Yoga. He radically redesigned the traditional Tarot deck (thus the "Crowley deck"). Contrary to common belief, he was never known to participate in satanic ritual--to do so would acknowledge the Christian church, which he was loathe to do (although he nicknamed his son "The Christ Child"). These are but a few of the surprising morsels one can glean from this excellent biography. Don't expect to find Crowley a likable figure. Do, however, expect to meet a flamboyant man who challenged all forms of religious, sexual, and social oppression and hence became a revered visionary and a reviled demon. --Tara West
From Library Journal
The name Aleister Crowley has generally been associated with hedonistic, self-absorbed, occult-infatuated Victorian English intellectuals. Sutin (creative writing, Hamlin Coll.; A Postcard Memoir) does much to expand upon this simplistic perception, showing that while Crowley was indeed all these things, he was also much more. Crowley was an arrogant misogynist, yet he was also a very gifted poet and visionary who painfully drove himself to seek deeper visions through drug-induced vision quests and rampant sexual experimentation. He was prominent in the movement to bring Eastern philosophies into Christian England and America and sought enlightenment in the rawness of nature. Sutin wonderfully details the eccentricities of this puzzling man while being careful not to overburden his narrative with academic psychological theories or personal observations and conclusions. The result is a fascinating, easily readable narrative about one of the most interesting cultural phenomena of the late Victorian period. Recommended for all libraries.DGlenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ., Honolulu, HI
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