Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man in the World is a Biography of the Strange Occultist, Poet, and Mountaineer.

Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man in the World is a Biography of the Strange Occultist, Poet, and Mountaineer.

Aleister Crowley, an esoteric educated at Cambridge and the creator of the religion of Thelema, is often regarded as the single most influential figure in the 20th century's countercultural movements. As far as Crowley is concerned, the job is far from done. In a thousand years, the world will be enjoying the "sunset of Crowlianity," Crowley said. Crowley, who was full of himself, gave himself a number of apocalyptic nicknames, including "the Great Beast 666." The British tabloids labelled him "The Wickedest Man in the World," which is also the name of the video linked above. It is part of a four-part BBC 4 series titled "Masters of Darkness" that examines notoriously evil people throughout history. Perhaps Crowley's most well-known saying is "Do what thou will," which, when taken out of context, might be seen as a philosophy of complete and total freedom.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the foregoing account of Crowley's biography follows the tabloid portrayal of the magician. The documentary combines the sensationalist tone of real crime shows with the low lighting and shaky camerawork of paranormal, post-Blair Witch entertainments. The eerie music and visual effects are evocative of American Horror Story's disturbing opening titles. And it might very well change important details in Crowley's life. Given the voiceover's description of Crowley as a "dark magician, drug junkie, sex addict, and traitor to the British people," we shouldn't be surprised if we don't find him to be very endearing. Without a doubt, Crowley does not want to be associated with that stereotype. Despite his open hostility to all forms of polite society, his backstory is much more nuanced and intriguing than the stereotypical bad guy this summary may lead you to expect.

Edward Alexander Crowley was born in 1875 to affluent British Plymouth Brethren brewers, but he quickly abandoned their faith for his own, a blend of Eastern faiths and contemporary demonology that led him to engage in a wide range of extreme activities from climbing mountains to performing sex magic. The findings were inconsistent. His esoteric literature (while sprinkled with humour and some insight) is mostly unintelligible to anybody who isn't an expert. The humour may be found even in his racy and hysterical poems. His domineering manner was off-putting to most people, and he spent his money carelessly, leaving him impoverished for many years. However, his life story is undeniably compelling, both scary and heroic in a Faustian kind of manner, and his imprint on the world is hard to avoid. Crowley was a global traveller who performed rituals, wrote books on magic (which he called "Magick"), founded esoteric organisations, and met with influential artists and occult philosophers.

Crowley was a climber who, in 1902, co-led the first British trip to K2 (the photo above shows him during the trek). Under George Archibald Bishop's pen name, he released some of the most controversial poetry of the day in 1898. William Butler Yeats may have gotten the idea for the "rough beast" in "The Second Coming" from Crowley, who was a member of the esoteric organisation Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn for a short time. Through his American protege and rocket scientist Jack Parsons, he is tangentially linked to the invention of the jet propulsion system and to Scientology through Parsons' partner in magic (and eventually betrayer), L. Ron Hubbard.

Although he was suspected of betraying the British during World War I, he seems to have served as a double agent and had extensive connections inside the British intelligence organisation. Crowley had a social circle that included such notable authors as Huxley, Adler, Dahl, and Fleming. Since his death in 1947, his life and ideas have influenced the works of many people, including William S. Burroughs, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary, Genesis P-Orridge, and many more. Many fictional characters have been influenced by Crowley, including those Hemingway's A Movable Feast, Somerset Maugham's The Magician, and Christopher Isherwood's A Visit to Anselm Oakes.

When asked, "Who was Aleister Crowley?" many people often pause to ask, "Who? The narrator of his narrative above considers him a sexually liberated genius, a spoilt, egomaniacal dilettante, a campy fraud, a suspicious trickster, a nasty and abusive manipulator, a racist misogynist, and an "icon of revolt." Possibly a combination of the above. The phrase "a mythology has been built up around his name" was in an article published in Vanity Fair in 1915 and sums up the situation well. He doesn't exist except in legend. There isn't another individual who has been the subject of many unbelievable stories.

What Crowley really was is debatable, as with many prominent, mythical people. My family and friends who are evangelical Christians spoke of him in hushed tones or with disdainful tones since they considered him a fervent and especially cunning foe of the religion. Like scientists may allude to Newton or Einstein, members of various New Age communities often invoke or just mention his name. Crowley, like Che Guevara, is a cool icon in various subcultures. Crowley's influence and ideas may be found in almost every current occult or neo-pagan philosophy, from Theosophy to Wicca. The legacy of "The Great Beast" provides a plethora of bizarre, repulsive, intriguing, and completely absurd vignettes that can beggar belief and compel one to learn more about the enigmatic, pan-sexual black magician and self-appointed Antichrist, whether one's interest in him is of the prurient variety, as in the investigation above, or of a more serious or academic bent.