Biography Aleister Crowley
- Time Period1875 - 1947
Edward Alexander Crowley was born at 30 Clarendon Square in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, England, between 11:00pm and midnight on October 12, 1875.
His father, Edward Crowley, was trained as an engineer but according to Aleister, never worked as one. He did, however, own shares in a lucrative family brewery business, which allowed him to retire before Aleister was born. Through his father's business he was an acquaintance of Aubrey Beardsley. His mother, Emily Bertha Bishop, drew roots from a Devon and Somerset family. Both of his parents were Exclusive Brethren, a more conservative faction of the Plymouth Brethren.
Crowley grew up in a staunch Brethren household and was only allowed to play with children whose families followed the same faith. His father was a fanatical preacher, travelling around Britain and producing pamphlets. Daily Bible studies and private tutoring were mainstays in "Alick's" childhood.
On February 29, 1880, a sister, Grace Mary Elizabeth, was born but lived only five hours. Crowley was taken to see the body and in his own words (in the third person):
The incident made a curious impression on him. He did not see why he should be disturbed so uselessly. He couldn't do any good; the child was dead; it was none of his business. This attitude continued through his life. He has never attended any funeral but that of his father, which he did not mind doing, as he felt himself to be the real centre of interest.
On March 5, 1887, his father died of tongue cancer. This was a turning point in Crowley's life, after which he then began to describe his childhood in the first person in his Confessions.
After the death of his father to whom he was very close, he drifted from his religious upbringing, and his mother's efforts at keeping her son in the Christian faith only served to provoke his scepticism. When he was a child, his constant rebellious behaviour displeased his mother to such an extent that she would chastise him by calling him "The Beast" (from the Book of Revelation), an epithet that Crowley would later adopt for himself. He objected to the labelling of what he saw as life's most worthwhile and enjoyable activities as "sinful".
Aleister Crowley died in a Hastings boarding house on 1 December 1947 at the age of 72. According to one biographer the cause of death was a respiratory infection. He had become addicted to heroin after being prescribed morphine for his asthma and bronchitis many years earlier. He and his last doctor died within 24 hours of each other; newspapers would claim, in differing accounts, that Dr. Thomson had refused to continue his opiate prescription and that Crowley had put a curse on him.
Biographer Lawrence Sutin passes on various stories about Crowley's death and last words. Frieda Harris supposedly reported him saying, "I am perplexed," though she did not see him at the very end. According to John Symonds, a Mr. Rowe witnessed Crowley's death along with a nurse, and reported his last words as "Sometimes I hate myself." Biographer Gerald Suster accepted the version of events he received from a "Mr W.H." who worked at the house, in which Crowley dies pacing in his living room. Supposedly Mr W.H. heard a crash while polishing furniture on the floor below, and entered Crowley's rooms to find him dead on the floor. Patricia "Deirdre" MacAlpine, who visited Crowley with their son and her three other children, denied all this and reports a sudden gust of wind and peal of thunder at the (otherwise quiet) moment of his death. According to MacAlpine, Crowley remained bedridden for the last few days of his life, but was in light spirits and conversational. Readings at the cremation service in nearby Brighton included one of his own works, Hymn to Pan, and newspapers referred to the service as a black mass. Brighton council subsequently resolved to take all necessary steps to prevent such an incident from occurring again.