Tuesday, 12 September 2006

Possibly the evillest man in East Sussex

His own mother called him the Great Beast and he rather enjoyed being described as the wickedest man in the world. This of course was an exaggeration; in a century which saw Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot operating on a grand scale and Fred West, Paul Dutroux and Ian Brady on a smaller one, such a title is not easy to earn.

However, Aleister Crowley was certainly an extremely nasty character. He inherited a fortune and spent most of it on self-publishing books on the occult and disseminating his racist and sexist views. Some of his poems were banned, dealing lyrically as they did with such themes as paedophilia, bestiality and necrophiliac cannibalism.

Wandering the world for some years, he got up to various often silly but always unpleasant activities (such as naming his daughter Nuit Ma Ahathoor Hecate Sappho Jezebel Lilith) in Sicily, Egypt and the Far East. During the First World War he lived in New York and found employment in writing propaganda for pro-German periodicals.

Aleister Crowley died in a Hastings boarding house in 1947 at the age of 72, penniless and addicted to heroin. An obscure local magazine recently had an article about him asserting that before he died he cursed the town, though it is not known what this pleasant seaside resort had done to upset him.

As it was a quiet week for news in the south-east the BBC sent a reporter to question Hastings residents about their feelings towards Crowley and his curse. It was not clear how many people were approached and said “Who?”, but eventually some were found who were prepared to testify that they were conscious of his continuing malign influence on Hastings and even one man who said he was frightened to speak Crowley’s name, and another who thought it "incredibly likely" that there is still a dedicated army of his followers in the town. A couple, looking distinctly embarrassed, demonstrated some allegedly sinful but rather feeble-looking satanic ritual and, accompanied by some creepy sound library music and with some awed comments from the presenter, all this piffle made up an item which the BBC astonishingly thought was worth broadcasting several times last week.

Although his cursing had no discernible effect and his books and his general carryings-on are now of little interest, he apparently had and still has an influence on modern popular culture, which perhaps says more about modern popular culture than it does about this dreary charlatan.

He's behind you!
He chose this photo for the cover of one of his books, obviously not realising that you do not cut much of a figure as the Great Beast 666 if you wear a comic pantomime hat. But the British love comedians and this might be why, in a poll conducted by the BBC in 2002 to find "the 100 Greatest Britons", Crowley was voted number 73. This put him forty-one places behind Eric Morecambe but only seven places behind Charlie Chaplin.

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