The Daily Mail, conspiracy nut-jobs and the born-again Christians make a big deal about the Golden Dawn because the so-called Black Magician Aleister Crowley was a member. Crowley’s own followers claim that the Great Beast was an influence on the Golden Dawn and was the living embodiment of the system, which only he had the power to change.

The source of most of these various claims are Crowley himself. He was the only person to write down some events connected to the Golden Dawn and for some reason is seen by the people above as being truthful about what he saw. In fact, Crowley was spinning a story in which he was the central character and what is amazing is that many people actually buy it. I saw how extensive his fantasy was  when I researched my book King over the Water where a court transcript that Crowley published into the Looking Glass Case was seen as being an accurate description of what took place (even by the journalist Waite who should have known better).

Crowley unimportant

Crowley was extremely unimportant to the Golden Dawn. He was introduced by George Cecil Jones, and initiated in 1898. On paper, he was just what the Golden Dawn recruited – rich, educated and well connected.

He was also just 23 something that many people forget completely. If you look at an occult group and see someone under the age of 30, you know they are in the process of still being a kid and occult learning takes a while to drip into their consciousness. Like many kids, Crowley had a fantasy version of magic. However Allan Bennett (who was later to quit magic and become a Buddhist saint) took a shine to the young boy and made sure that he got some kind of training.

We are not sure how effective that training was. Bennett, as a magician, is always venerated as knowing what he was doing BECAUSE Crowley said he was and the respect he was accorded by Florence Farr. An example of one of his rituals (his ritual to get Mercury to physical manifestation) shows that he really did not get the Golden Dawn system particularly well and tended to make stuff up to cover the holes in his knowledge. Crowley invited Bennett, to live with him as his personal magical tutor and there were some claims that Bennett “taught Crowley more than he should” however there is no indication that he taught him Golden Dawn material. He did teach him about ritual use of drugs, and but they might have performed Goetic and Key of Solomon rituals

In fact, there is nothing to suggest that Crowley was anything more than a bog standard young Golden Dawn student. He did not shoot up the grades (he went at the same speed as everyone else of the period).  It is also interesting that he was involved in the Golden Dawn during a time when standards of testing for each grade were slipping. The head of the London Order Florence Farr was a bit slack when it came to testing.  Personally, I think it likely that Crowley did things “by the book” if he hadn’t then this would almost certainly have been used against him later.

A later picture of Crowley which should give an indication of the kid who was involved in the Battle of Blythe Road.

The kid plays politics

Crowley had a keen eye for GD politics and could see that a split was developing between the order and his founder Samuel Mathers. He may have written to him, but again there is no indication that there was any friendship between them (as has been suggested). However if you believe the Crowley version of events he was unpopular in the group because of his bisexuality and libertine lifestyle. He developed feuds with W.B. Yeats who he claimed was envious of his poetic genius.  This is of course rubbish. He was too small potatoes to be a factor in any group politics. Bennett was respected as a member of the Isis temple’s inner circle, but Crowley was not. It was likely that he was seen as an arrogant fantasist, but he was largely protected by Bennett, who almost everyone liked. In November 1899 Bennett left for Asia to train as a Buddhist and left Crowley on his own. Crowley moved to Scotland and finished his 4=7 work.

Not really suffering for his sexuality

The problem came when it was time for his Portal. Technically this would have placed Crowley into the Second Order, but it also coincided with a police raid on a London gay club which Crowley had been known to frequent. Homosexuality was strongly opposed within some esoteric orders even into the end of the last century. The fear of a gay scandal had come close to the Order before when one of its more famous outer members Constance Wilde resigned when her husband Oscar was arrested.

Modern readers have the idea that Crowley was forbidden to join the second order because of his sexuality. However, this was only partly true. The letters of the time is that most thought Crowley was a young twat who was “just experimenting” and as WB Yeats said, “the second order is not a reform school.” The idea was that for you to handle magic you needed to be a bit more grown up and Crowley had not sorted that out yet. It is telling that Crowley was not expelled, but was refused entry to the Second Order (at least for now).

It is then that Yeats and the chiefs were proved correct in their judgement – because Crowley had his 4=7 moment and went completely off the rails. One of the challenges of the 4=7 is that it opens the candidate up to their “inner anger issues” and ego problems which are often projected upon the initiator or the hierarchy of the Order. Crowley then conspired to use the political nonsense that was already erupting between the London temple and the founder of the Order. Crowley’s ego would not allow him to believe that he was not a super-magician so he must be being conspired against. So in January 1900 he went to Paris to meet with Samuel Mathers.


Crowley and Mathers

His time with Mathers cannot have been more than a few days. The two had a lot in common. Both were fantasists, ego-driven individuals with a measure of occult talent. Both had Daddy issues and a tendency to mistake occult stories for literal facts and both believed in their own bullshit. Together, Mathers and Crowley created for themselves a fantasy where the London temple had been magically taken over and corrupted by the con-woman Madam Horos.

Horos had taken in Mathers and but had been snubbed by the London temple. Nevertheless, it made a good story and it did mean that Mathers had to take drastic action to prevent the vault falling into the hands of the forces of darkness. There was a problem here. While Crowley would make a loyal tool, he needed to be a 5=6 to protect the vault. Mathers did not conduct a portal or 5=6 ritual within his own Paris temple. He might have done the 5=6 ritual at his house, or might just have taught Crowley the passwords with the idea that the full ritual would be carried out later. In Crowley (and Mather)’s minds he was a full 5=6. Mathers did not give Crowley any of his 5=6 course material and this was unusual. It might have been that he did not trust the boy yet, or that he wanted to see if the London temple would obey him on the matter of Crowley’s initiation.

Crowley went back to Scotland and wrote to the London temple to ask for his 5=6 course material and was refused.  Farr, already of the opinion that the London temple should be closed, wrote to Mathers expressing her wish to resign as his representative, though she was willing to carry on until a successor was found. The breakdown of the Golden Dawn was not only because of Crowley, nor was he really the last straw which created the revolt. It might have been one of the (minor) factors that lead to the Battle of Blythe Road in March.

blythe road
Blythe Road as it is today. The only time Crowley really had a direct impact on GD history

Blythe Spirit

The Battle of Blythe Road really was something where Crowley was a the main player and he managed to temporarily seize the Vault and lead a revolt of students loyal to Mathers.    Crowley did point his name in the roll of adepts during the revolt and might have taken the papers which he considered that he was entitled to. Certainly there are some very nice 5=6 papers copied by Crowley in the Warburg  and these were the English GD papers NOT the later AO ones (or those of the French Temple).

Mathers formed his AO Order with Crowley as a member. The group was small, but what was telling was that Crowley was not made a chief, or even Mather’s representative in Albion. He remained a junior member of the new order (as he had been in the old one).  Despite his 15 minutes of fame in the Battle of Bythe Road he was still seen for what he was by Mathers. It was a state that miffed Crowley because he left the UK and went on a world tour and when he returned he fell out with Mathers.


From then on Crowley became a bugbear to the AO and the GD. Not  only was his public life and falling out with the tabloids a problem, but also he insisted on publishing its material. Any anger he felt towards his father was now well and truly projected onto Mathers and he dedicated himself to making his life a misery in any way he could. This included publishing Mathers material with his name on it and, of course, publishing redacted Golden Dawn rituals in his Equinox. Even his 777 book was a slightly tinkered with list of correspondences paper which circulated among the second order members.

No doubt, Crowley benefited from the Golden Dawn as it provided an intellectual framework for what he was going to go on to do. There was also some measure of him “pushing against” that system in some of the ideas he later had. However, the concept that he was ever a Golden Dawn adept is something which is a matter for dispute. Knowing stuff is not enough to make you an adept – even doing stuff is not enough. There are certain key GD elements which were lacking in Crowley – one was one of balance. That is not saying all GD adepts were balanced – Mathers certainly was not, but the idea of going to excess was unique to Crowley.

The Golden Dawn did not get anything from its Crowley experience – other than grief. So identifying Crowley with the GD is a bit like claiming that The Leeds School of Medicine is responsible for Harold Shipman. He might have learnt the basics from the GD, but everything else he did by himself.