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Keywords: Occult, religion, biography, new age

Title: Aleister Crowley: The Beast Demystified

Author: Roger Hutchinson

Publisher: Mainstream Publishing

ISBN: 1845961323

 

Far from merely demystifying Aleister Crowley, this books sets out to completely debunk the myth. Stripping away the layers of occult mysticism (and grandiose titles) with which Crowley clothed himself, it paints a picture of a man driven entirely by selfish and gotistical needs. The author doesn't paint a pretty picture, and the figure of Crowley which emerges is not only unlikeably but at times actively despicable. That's not to say that Crowley isn't given his due, his skills as chess player and mountaineer, for example, are clearly acknowledged. However even here Crowley's egomania outshadow his acheivements. When Crowley abandons a mountaineering expedition in a sulk, leaving behind dead and injured colleagues, it's not only the end of his career as a climber it's also an example of the petulance which stayed with him all his life.

The contrast between this biography and Francis King's 'The Magical World of Aleister Crowley' is remarkable, and in the final analysis it comes down to the authors' differing attitudes to 'magick'. Roger Hutchinson claims to be an agnostic on the matter, but it's clear that he's got no time for any occult nonsense. And where others might be tempted to apologise for Crowley's extreme hedonism and egomania as a reaction against his strict Plymouth Brethren upbringing, Hutchinson clearly shows that not only was that upbringing not as strict as would at first appear, but also that the arrogance Crowley displayed was firmly rooted in uncompromising Christian fundamentalism.

By the end of the book Crowley is shown to be a sad and lonely old man, a heroin addict with delusions of grandeur, a pathetic figure in every sense of the word.

And yet…There is nothing here to explain Crowley's continuing appeal. Mercernary, perverse, mostrously selfish, how is that he attracted so many acolytes? There's nothing here to explain why a pathetic old druggie could attract so many young, attractive women into his orbit and into his bed. And why is that all these years later Crowleyism shows no signs of abaiting? 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law' may not strike many people as a particularly deep philosophy, but it continues to resonate. So, while this book makes interesting reading, there's something clearly missing from it: Crowley's undeniable charisma.

Contents © London Book Review 2006. Published April 14 2006