the beast 666


When he found himself notorious after the publication of Naked Lunch in 1959, William Burroughs wrote to calm his mother and say “I hope I am not ludicrously miscast as the wickedest man alive, a title vacated by the late Aleister Crowley”. Crowley, who liked to be known as The Beast 666 after the monster in the Book of Revelation, seems fated to be a touchstone of wickedness – particularly after his vilification by the Beaverbrook press in the 1920s, under headlines such as “King of Depravity” and “A Man We’d Like to Hang” – but inevitably this has been part of his popular appeal. The main focus of Crowley’s immense energy was magick (as he liked to spell it, distinguishing it from conjuring) and it is also the central focus of these two biographies. Magick was a synthesis and reinvention of the occult tradition, making a sacramental use of sex, and taking as its springboard the nineteenth-century occult revival in general and the Order of the Golden Dawn, in particular. W. B. Yeats was another prominent member of the Golden Dawn, and his disagreements with Crowley led to its break-up, but Crowley went beyond the Golden Dawn.

more from Phil Baker at the TLS here.