Episode 10: The Space that Lingers

The world of horror is littered with unnerving locations, places that both draw from and have in turn seeped into the public imagination.  Perhaps the most symbolic of them all being the forest, the archetypal liminal space of what Joseph Campbell termed ‘the hero’s journey.’  Not only is the forest dark and mysterious but it is of course profoundly symbolic being as it is a manifestation of our deep unconscious. 

As we venture deeper into the forest, so do we journey deeper into ourselves in our quest to confront our greatest fears before with any luck ultimately emerging, victorious and changed. But for all the creatures and the hidden and unknowable fears we might discover along the way, the forest in a sense remains a space that is our own.  Those fears within, our own to decipher and overcome.   

Far more chilling therefore are the places that when entering we find ourselves crossing a threshold into a world that is very much not our own. Places where no longer are we at the whim of our darkest unconscious but rather, that of somebody else’s…

God forbid you ever find yourself checking into the Bate’s motel as found in Robert Boch’s Psycho.  Or stumbling into the family home of Leatherface so disturbingly depicted in Tobe Hooper’s mesmerizingly deranged Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

What both stories have in common is a location so inextricably linked to the bad guy as to be almost inseparable from them.  There is the sense that even when empty the locations will somehow incubate the things that have happened inside.

Both stories incidentally were partly based on the life of murderer Ed Gein whose proclivity for manufacturing ornaments and furniture from human bone and skin continues to shock the world almost 60 years after the event.

After Gein’s conviction, it was decided that his house should be torn down.  So incapable were the local community from separating the location from the events that had taken place inside there was no other option but to remove it entirely.

A similar theme emerges in many cases of alleged domestic supernatural disturbances, such as those that took place at 30 East Drive in Pontefract, or at number 284 Green Street, in Enfield. In these stories we find the recurring notion that any new resident of the property is merely an invader, occupying a space that isn’t theirs to occupy.

At times it might seem that in some way or another the property has developed a soul all of its own.

For many there is one place in particular that continues to fascinate like no other in the UK. For its combination of mystery, intrigue and atmospheric location you couldn’t concoct a better setting, the name: Boleskine House.

The story of Boleskine House is inseparable from that of its most infamous former resident, Aleister Crowley.  It was a very particular journey that brought Crowley to Boleskine and it begins a short time before midnight on 12th October 1875 with his birth in Royal Leamington Spa, England. 

Crowley, who was christened Edward Alexander, was the first of two children born to Edward and Emily Crowley.  Their second, a baby girl would arrive five years later but would tragically die after only 5 hours of life.  The family was devoutly religious and belonged to a Christian sect known as the Plymouth Brethren.

The sect was renowned for their belief in the literal truth of the bible and their puritanical attitude towards sin and the dangers of temptation.  It was into this deeply rigid and conservative environment that Crowley was brought up, an environment, which many believe, contributed to his utter rejection of all such beliefs in later life.

Owing to his share in the lucrative family brewing business, Crowley’s father Edward had been able to take an early retirement and as such divided most of his time between his family and volunteering as a travelling preacher for the sect.  Despite the socially claustrophobic upbringing and unhappy childhood Crowley was utterly devoted to Edward. 

In March 1887, Crowley was devastated when his father died after a short battle with cancer.  The young Aleister was only 11 years old at the time and the death would prove to be a significant turning point in his life.  Crowley’s sorrow at the loss of his father soon morphed into to anger as Crowley began attacking the very thing that had made his life such a misery, rejecting what he saw as the zealous and authoritarian scourge of Christianity.

In the years that followed it would seem that Crowley had developed a pathological yearning to commit the sins he had so studiously been warned against.  He started to experiment sexually, dabbled with debauchery and took any opportunity to point out what he considered to be the many inconsistencies in the bible to anyone who would listen.

Crowley had the sense that he was searching for something but it wasn’t until he arrived at Cambridge University that the pieces began to shift in to place.  At some point, Crowley had become interested in the occult, in particular the study of ritual magic, an enthusiasm that was piqued after he read A.E. Waite’s The Book of Black Magic and Pacts.  An acute interest in alchemy brought him into contact with British Chemist and Occultist George Cecil Jones who in turn introduced Crowley to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 

The order had been established in 1888 and was led by the charismatic Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. Some of you may remember that it was to Mathers that the Alpha et Omega group had stayed faithful.  The same group to which Netta Fornario had belonged before her death in mysterious circumstances in 1928 as explored in Episode one.

After graduation and with the luxury of his family’s brewing dynasty inheritance, Crowley was able to untether himself from the usual constraints life. As such he was free to throw himself into his new and burgeoning obsession of ritual magick. 

A year after leaving Cambridge, Crowley had moved into a luxury London flat in Chancery Lane and hired fellow Golden Dawn member, Allan Bennett, to become his personal magical tutor.  It was Bennett who formally introduced Crowley to ceremonial magic and the ritual use of drugs but most importantly to the rituals of the Goetia, the practice of invoking what are commonly known as angels and demons.  In particular the Ars Goetia as found in the opening section of the 17th century grimoire, the Lesser Key of Solomon.  A grimoire being another term for a book of spells.

Mathers was impressed by Crowley’s dedication and rapid rise through the various grades of the Golden Dawn and the two became close friends. But Crowley was growing increasingly frustrated with the movement.  His frustration was in part due to the reticence that some of the more established members had about Crowley’s membership. In what was quite a rarity for the time, Crowley was openly bisexual, a state of affairs that many members sadly found uncomfortable.

But what irked Crowley more than anything was what he considered to be the inherent phoniness of the group. Peopled as it was by many esteemed intellects of the day such as W.B. Yeats and Bram Stoker, Crowley felt that they were merely playing at magic and treated the organisation as a glorified salon.

In what would later become a feature of Crowley’s life, he wanted more, to go further than anyone had gone before.

In 1898, Mathers introduced Crowley to a strange and mystical text called the The Secret Book of Abramelin Magic.  The book, which is said to date back to the 15th century, recounts the story of an Egyptian Kabbalistic magician known as Abramelin the mage and his pupil Abraham of Worms. 

As the story goes, Abraham ‘found the mage living in the desert outside Arachi, an Egyptian town near the River Nile.’ After agreeing to "serve and fear" the Lord, and to "live and die in His most Holy Law" Abraham was instructed by Abramelin in the "Divine Science" and "True Magic" embedded within the two manuscripts, which he was to follow and give only to those whom he knew well and trusted.  And now it was in the hands of Aleister Crowley.

Crucially the book describes an elaborate ritual known as the Abramelin operation designed to conjure up the magician’s guardian angel.  It became clear to Crowley that this was the next step he must take in his path to complete enlightenment.  It is a path that many believe to have led to fatal consequences.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the well-heeled Crowley embarked on a lengthy undertaking to find the ideal location for the operation.

As Crowley later wrote:

The house must be in more or less secluded situation. There should be a door opening to the north from the room of which you make your oratory. Outside this door, you construct a terrace covered with fine river sand. This ends in a "lodge" where the spirits may congregate. It would appear the simplest thing in the world for a man with forty thousand pounds, who is ready to spend every penny of it on the achievement of his purpose, to find a suitable house in a very few weeks.         

However, after a year of searching, Crowley had failed to find the perfect location.  That was until he found himself travelling into the Highlands of Scotland, along the haunting shores of the majestic Loch Ness.  A short time later Crowley arrived at a small gravesite by the side of the road overlooking the loch.  There, perched a short distance up the hill overlooking the graveyard, he saw it for the first time, the house that would forever become synonymous with his name: Boleskine.

The single floored mansion, located on the Eastern shore of Loch Ness, was built in the late 18th century by a Colonel Archibald Fraser. 

It is not clear what exactly brought Crowley to Boleskine though the filmmaker and Crowley aficionado Kenneth Anger has pointed out that he may have been drawn to the name and its similarity to Baal the Canaan god of gods.  Later remodelled as the Lord of the Flies in the Old Testament.  Baal is represented by the symbol of the Bull, the word Bole from Boleskine being an ancient Scottish form of the same animal – it is unlikely the connection would have been lost on the erudite Crowley.

Others believe however that Crowley had in some way been preternaturally drawn to the house.  It was said that a medieval church had once stood on the same site.  One morning, with the congregation inside, the church mysteriously caught fire.  As the congregation rushed to escape they found themselves inexplicably trapped inside.  Unable to escape, they perished as the church burnt steadily to the ground.  Had something of the event remained?  Something that Crowley was eager to tap into?

It is also said that the graveyard itself was once a meeting point of witches.  Reports of a tunnel leading from the house to the gravesite, which some claim to have been used by Crowley to conduct his own nighttime rituals, remain unsubstantiated.

So convinced was Crowley of the house’s suitability that in August 1899 he paid more than twice its value to secure the property.  A short time later, he relocated his possessions and began preparing for the great operation.

It is important at this point to draw the distinction between what many see as Crowley’s unhealthy obsession with Black Magic and Satanism and what in reality it was that Crowley hoped to achieve.

Whether there is a truth to it or not, Crowley’s intention and the sole purpose of the ritual, was to seek knowledge and conversation with his own personal Guardian Angel. It is by all accounts a ritual to invoke positive change, a force for good but there was one glaringly large catch: 

In order to do this, Crowley would have to invoke and then bring under his control the 12 Kings of Hell. 

Before beginning the ritual, which required him to start in Easter, Crowley spent the intervening months entertaining guests and readying the property in preparation for the ceremony. The final stage was to cover the outdoor terrace in fine river sand.  The reason was simple. It was so Crowley could see the feet marks of the spirits and demons he was about to invoke. 

The ritual was to last 6 months and required the utmost conviction.  It would require him to live of nothing but bread and water and to wake regularly at 3am to begin the invocations. Chastity had to be observed at all times, and complete abstinence was paramount.  For the free spirited Crowley that in itself would have proved a tall order.

However, as the winter snow of 1899 began to thaw, and with it passed the season of death, new life was bursting forth throughout the surrounding hills.  Spring had finally arrived and Crowley’s dedication had not faltered, the time had come to begin the ritual.

Crowley began by preparing the talismans essential for the ritual.  The talismans, which can be found at the back of The Book of Abramelin, are a set of magic word squares required to bring the 12 kings of hell into order. Crowley had moved to the brightest room in the house to best complete the task.  The room, located at the front of the house overlooked the terrace and down to the dark and still Loch Ness beyond. 

Crowley cut the squares from the material velum and as a bright sun flooded the room with light he began to inscribe the squares with Indian ink when something strange happened.  Despite the clear skies, the room began to darken until it had been almost entirely extinguished.  It was to become a feature of the ritual.  From this point on Crowley was required to flood the room with artificial light from a large array of candles to keep the room alight, even during the brightest times of day.

With everything in order Crowley embarked on his six-month odyssey.  Almost immediately he received confirmation that he was on the right path.  As he began to chant in the room, even with all its artificial light, it again began to darken while all around the lodge and terrace became peopled with shadowy shapes.  Or as Crowley writes:

‘The demons and evil forces had congregated round me so thickly that they were shutting off the light.’

A number of friends had declined to visit Crowley believing he was going too far, meddling with things he couldn’t understand let alone control.  The Grimoire itself begins with a warning not to attempt any of the magic contained within… 

Only a few weeks into the operation, already there were ominous stirrings.

One acquaintance named Rosher lasted only two weeks before terror forced him to flee. Crowley coming down to breakfast one day only to be informed that Rosher had taken the first boat to Inverness that morning.

At one point, Crowley returned to Boleskine one afternoon to find a Catholic Priest waiting for him in his study.  The priest informed him that the day before his lodge keeper, who had not touched alcohol for twenty years had come home raving drunk and attempted to murder his wife and children.

Already it would seem that the ritual, despite being a very personal pursuit, was provoking forces beyond Crowley’s control.

Although it may not have been going well for those around him, the ritual seemed to be working for Crowley. But all that was about to change.

Barely two months in Crowley received a letter from Samuel Mathers requesting Crowley’s immediate assistance.  In Crowley’s absence the Order of the Golden Dawn had fractured into two opposing schools of thought, with Mathers believing he was in great danger of being usurped.

Despite only being partway through the ritual, Crowley compelled to offer his assistance.  Immediately he packed his bags and headed straight to London, and with that the magic ritual was broken.

It had been Crowley’s intention to return and complete the spell but with one thing leading to another, in the summer of 1900 Crowley instead moved to Mexico, the ritual remained incomplete.

As Kenneth Anger noted, ‘if you invoke spirits to help you or teach you there is something that has to be done afterward, they must be banished.

But Crowley never did that.

It is said that soon after a dark cloud appeared over the house that failed to disperse for many months. Locals refused to go by the house, instead preferring to travel the entire circumference of the Loch rather than pass it.

As for Crowley, there are some who believe that failure to complete the ritual left him dangerously open to demonic possession, that the 12 Kings of Hell may well have somehow found their way inside him, using him for their own purpose.  Some consider what later became of Crowley to be directly linked to this moment.

And for those that came to Boleskine after Crowley it is hard to resist the temptation to think that some strange gateway had indeed been opened that has never since been closed.

Some time after 1913 the property came into the possession of Major Edward Grant.  Not a lot is known about Grant’s period of ownership except that one morning while his housekeeper Anna MacLaren had been working in the garden the family dog had come running up to her playing with something in its mouth.  It looked like some kind of bone but knowing there was nothing of that sort in the house Mrs MacLaren grabbed it from the dog and threw it away.

A short time later, Anna called in on the Major only to make a horrific discovery.  There, slumped in front of a large bedroom mirror, was the body of Major Grant lying next to a recently discharged shotgun.  His head had been completely removed by the blast.  The dog had indeed been chewing on a bone; it was a piece of Mr Grant’s skull.

In 1970, the house was bought by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.  Page had for a long time been fascinated by the occult and in particular the life of Aleister Crowley.  However, due to his rigorous touring schedule and other commitments Page rarely visited the house and had invited his friend Malcolm Dent to look after the property in his absence.  Dent and his family moved into the property soon after and it wasn’t long before they realised something in the house wasn’t quite right.

Despite Boleskine’s reputation, Dent was a confirmed sceptic and had little time for what he considered to be nothing but superstitious nonsense.  But all that was about to change.

Before long Dent and his family became plagued by a series of inexplicable noises moving throughout the house.  Doors would slam mysteriously all thorough the nigh and carpets and rugs would be mischievously pulled up.

Another regular occurrence was that the doors would suddenly spring open as if someone was running through them, even on calm days.

Dent recalled sitting in bed late at night, when something outside the room began snuffling under the door.  It sounded at first like a dog before growing in intensity, becoming louder and louder.  He snapped on the light only for the noise to become even more intense as the door began to rattle violently.  He had the sudden feeling that a huge and evil creature was trying to get in.   Then as quickly as it had begun, it stopped.

Was this one of the 12 Kings of Hell that Crowley had failed to banish, or something else that had entered through a strange gateway he had failed to close?  Dent later discovered that the room he was in at the time had been the same room that Crowley conducted his ritual.

In 1991 the house was sold again to a Ronald and Annette MacGillivray who stayed in the property event free for almost 10 years.  Following the death of Ronald in 2002 the house was again put up for sale and was later bought by a Dutch family who also reported nothing unusual in all their time staying at the house.  The demons it would seem had finally taken leave.  Or had they?

In December 2015, the owner’s daughter and partner arrived at Boleskine House intent on staying for the Christmas Holidays.  Shortly after 1pm on Wednesday 23rd, the couple had left the house to get some much-needed supplies for the days ahead.

At approximately 1.40pm a motorist on the A82 road on the opposite side of the loch reported flames and smoke coming from House.  By the time the couple had returned half the building was ablaze with flames rising over 20 ft. into the air.  Multiple crews of fireman battled the blaze until the early hours of the following day.  By the next morning 60 percent of the house had been incinerated, as it remains to this day.  After an extensive investigation the fire was found not to have been started deliberately.  The precise cause of the fire a mystery that remains to this day unexplained.

For more on the story of the greatly misunderstood Aleister Crowley please listen out for Episode 10 Extra where we’ll be delving a little deeper into the beliefs and magick of the man once described as the ‘Wickedest Man in the world…’

As for Boleskine House, whether you care to believe all the stories or not, there will forever remain something compelling about this most beguiling of places. Whether that is because of what we have projected onto it or due to something perhaps a little more unearthly, is anyone’s guess. 

In fact there is something of this in all buildings even ones without such ominous connotations.  We feel it in our fascination with ruined and abandoned places because, although they may be empty it is impossible not to sense something of those that had come before, and perhaps in some way still remain.

I will leave you with a passage from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow.  In the novel Pynchon writes of a place known as The Zone, a sort of liminal space metaphorically caught somewhere between life and death.  The novel’s protagonist Slothrop is travelling through the Zone in the aftermath of the Second World War when he finds himself inside an abandoned factory, once a throbbing heart of industry now quiet and stilled:

Though found adrift and haunted, full of signs of recent human tenancy, this is not the legendary ship Marie-Celeste-it isn't bounded so neatly, these tracks underfoot run away fore and aft into all stilled Europe, and our flesh doesn't sweat and pimple here for the domestic mysteries, the attic horror of What Might Have Happened so much as for our knowledge of what likely did happen … it was always easy, in open and lonely places, to be visited by Panic wilderness fear, but these are the urban fantods here, that come to get you when you are lost or isolate inside the way time is passing, when there is no more History, no time-traveling capsule to find your way back to, only the lateness and the absence that fill a great railway shed after the capital has been evacuated, and the goat-god's city cousins wait for you at the edges of the light, playing the tunes they always played, but more audible now, because everything else has gone away or fallen silent…

© Richard MacLean Smith




1.    The Wickedest Man In The World, (dir. Rawles, N.), Diverse Productions broadcast on Channel 4 (2002),  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt9WJy6_XZU

2.    Wilson, C. (1988), The Occult, Grafton Books: UK

3.    Crowley, A. (1969), The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, http://www.thelema.ca, http://www.thelema.ca/156/Confessions/confess.html

4.    MacGregor Mathers, S., L., (comiled by), The Lesser Key of Solomon http://www.hermetics.org, http://www.hermetics.org/pdf/grimoire/goetia.pdf

5.    Crowley, A. (1904), Liber AL Vel Legis – The Book of the Law, http://hermetic.com/legis/ccxx/

6.    Campsie, A. (2015), Jimmy Page and his Black Magic Home, The Scotsman, http://www.scotsman.com/heritage/people-places/jimmy-page-and-his-black-magic-highland-home-1-3975377

7.    Writer unknown (2006), A rock legend and Black arts figured in Malcolm’s life, The Inverness Courier, http://www.inverness-courier.co.uk/Features/Profile/A-rock-legend-and-black-arts-figured-in-Malcolms-life-1327.htm

8.    Writer unknown (2007), House of the Unholy, The Scotsman, http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/music/house-of-the-unholy-1-700265

9.    Mastin, L. (2009), Famous Witches – Abramelin the Mage, witchcraftandwitches.com, http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/witches_abramelin.html

10. Pynchon, T. (200), Gravity’s Rainbow, Vintage Books: UK

11. The Book of Abramelin Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Abramelin

12. Aleister Crowley Wikipedia entry,

13.    Writer unknown (2015), Aleister Crowley's Inverness mansion destroyed by fire, The Scotsman, http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/music/aleister-crowley-s-inverness-mansion-destroyed-by-fire-1-3983595


Episode 10 Extra: Who Aiwass

For the weeks in between episodes we look at the stories that for one reason or other didn’t make it into the show.

In last week’s episode, The Spaces that Linger, we journeyed to the grounds of Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness in the highlands of Scotland. Although the house has long been the subject of dark intrigue, it is perhaps best known for its association with author and occultist Aleister Crowley.  

The house had been selected by Crowley as the perfect place to conduct a magick ritual known as the Abramelin Operation. The operation is in principle a spell to make contact with one’s guardian angel, one that also requires calling forth the demons known as 12 Kings of Hell.  The invocation required an ascetic concentration which was to last an obligatory six months.  Failure to adhere to the correct time frame could, some believed, leave a gateway open for the demons to escape. Crowley is believed to have begun the ritual in Easter but famously left it incomplete.

Four years later, Crowley would finally make contact with his Guardian Angel, it was an event that would change his life forever and one that has established Crowley in legend far beyond any of his peers.

After breaking off the ritual, Crowley spent some time in Paris with his friend Samuel Mathers only for their relationship to ultimately turn sour.  He returned to Scotland and became friendly with a young painter known as Gerald Kelly.  Kelly would later be known as Sir Gerald Kelly, President of the Royal Academy. 

After spending some time with Kelly at his family home in Strathpeffer, Scotland, Crowley met and became close to Gerald’s sister Rose Kelly – a widower, now betrothed unhappily to another man.  In a characteristically impulsive gesture, Crowley suggested she marry him to ward off the unwanted suitor. 

The pair eloped the following day, on August 12th 1903.  Despite the apparent flippancy of the gesture, it would seem that Crowley, a man who had always been enthrall to his own heightened sense of sexuality, felt a growing magnetism between them.  Reveling in the scandalous behavior, Crowley and Rose returned to Boleskine House before embarking on an extended honeymoon to Cairo and it is there that the story takes a peculiar turn.

After arriving in Cairo, in what had become a feature of Crowley’s life Aleister adopted the pseudonym Prince Choia Khan.  The pair took up residence in an apartment which Crowley had had partially converted to mimic an Egyptian temple.  They told all who cared to listen that they had been granted the rank of Prince and Princess by an unnamed Eastern Sultan. 

At some point, Crowley attempted a ritual for the benefit of Rose who was by this point pregnant with Crowley’s first child.  The operation, known as The Bornless Ritual, the preliminary invocation to the Ars Goetia, which in turn forms the first book of the infamous Lesser Key of Solomon.  The book, also known as The Lemegeton, was compiled anonymously some time in the 17th century and is considered a primary text of demonology, with the Ars Goetia detailing no less then seventy-two demons for invocation.

It is not clear exactly what Crowley had intended with the ritual, though some suggest he had grown impatient with his new wife and had taken to teasing her with his magick obsession. However after a short bout of chanting Rose began acting strangely.  She had fallen into some kind of trance and had started to mutter something:  ‘They are waiting for you’ she said. 

The irritated Crowley, who at this point, despite years of trying had never actually made contact with any of the spirits he tried to invoke, demanded to know who Rose was talking about.  It was the ancient Egyptian god Horus, she replied.  She told Crowley he had offended the god.  An incredulous Crowley took Rose immediately to the nearby Bulaq museum, now known as the Egyptian museum of antiquities to identify the deity she claimed to be in communication with.

Arriving shortly after at the museum, Rose proceeded to lead Crowley past a number of holy and ancient Egyptian artifacts before final coming to a stop in front of an intricately decorated piece of wood known as a stele. More precisely it was the Stele of Revealing and dated from around 680 BC.  Sure enough, the beautiful piece of funerary art, on the right hand side depicts a recently deceased priest making an offering to the falcon headed god, Ra-Harakhty, an amalgamation of the sun god Ra and Horus.  Rose, at least to Crowley’s mind, seemed to be telling the truth.

Crowley was convinced further when he looked down to find the exhibition number of the artifact; the number was 666.

666 as many will know is equated with the number of the beast as depicted in the Book of Revelation. The number has latterly become synonymous with the antichrist and Satan and all their dark and evil connotations. 

To Crowley however it meant something else. 

It was Crowley’s mother who first labeled him the Beast, presumably in reaction to a young Crowley’s burgeoning rejection of the family’s puritanical beliefs.  To Crowley it was a label that he would gleefully come to embrace.  To some it was evidence of Crowley’s innate wickedness but for others it spoke of nothing more than his refusal to accept what he saw as the arbitrary labels and morals of the Christian faith.

The moniker served ultimately as a symbol of Crowley’s core belief, a belief that was soon to be articulated in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Some time after returning to their Cairo apartment after the visit to the museum, Rose is believed to have instructed Crowley on how to communicate with Horus.  On April 8th, 1904, Crowley commenced a new ritual now under the guidance of Rose.  A short time later, he heard a voice that seemed to be coming from behind his shoulder. 

Crowley later claimed the voice belonged to an entity known as Aiwass who presented itself as none other than Crowley’s own Guardian Angel.  The same entity with which he had been trying to communicate with in Boleskine House.

Aiwass told Crowley that he was the messenger of Horus and instructed Aleister to be ready at 12 Noon everyday for the next three days in order to receive his word.  

Sure enough, over the course of the next three days, Aiwass is believed to have returned to speak to Crowley who in turn wrote down every word that he received.  When the three days were over, Crowley had before him the document that would become his true legacy.  The book was titled Liber AL vel Legis, or, The Book of the Law,

Regardless of your belief, or its true provenance, the text is a fascinating document which sets out Crowley’s ideas for a brand new religion that he would later come to call Thelema, which is still followed and practiced today.

As the author Colin Wilson points out, there is nothing particularly original about the text, comparing it as he does to the far superior man and superman by George Bernard Shaw, as well as pointing out its clear indebtedness to the philosophy of Nietzsche, however it does suggest that Crowley was more than the ‘brainless charlatan’ his detractors would have him be.

Certainly for Crowley at least, the text was nothing less than the bible for his new religion.  An attempt to obliterate the reigning monotheistic religions, and usher in a new epoch for man, one based on liberation, without restriction and one that above all implored people to follow their own path.

It is a philosophy perhaps best summed up by the book’s most famous line, ‘Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole of the Law.’ 

A basic idea that is often greatly misunderstood as the justification of selfish or immoral behaviour - a situation all the more ironic since what Crowley ultimately preached was the complete control of life for one self and not to have it defined by what other people might project onto it. 

In the years that followed on from the Cairo trip it is fair to say that Crowley lived a fairly colourful life, the extent to which will not be done justice in the time we have here.  Suffice to say there are plenty of books and documentaries out there for anyone interested in finding out more about his life.  It is also fair to say that much of his life was shrouded in controversy and to many some of it will seem unpalatable, sadistic even - his voracious commitment to the practice of sex magic and the insanely chaotic attempt to form a Thelema community on the island of Sicily are just two aspects that come to mind.

But for me, it all comes back to the book of the law. Whether you believe Crowley was blessed with genuine magick powers or not, and there are many who do, there is something deeply profound at the heart of his belief that speaks to us all.

For Crowley, magick was really just an expression of the power of human will, that anybody in a sense could conduct magick provided they had a sufficient control of their own will. 

In 2004 Karla Hoff, Lead Economist of the world bank and Priyanka Pandey of Pennsylvania University conducted an extraordinary experiment for the World Bank’s Development Report on Equity and Development.

Titled, Belief Systems and Durable Inequalities, An Experimental Investigation of Indian Caste, which took place in rural North India, the experiment asked 321 low caste and 321 high caste male junior high school students to perform a number of maze solving tasks under economic incentives. 

What the examiners found was nothing short of remarkable. 

When the individual’s caste was not publicly announced, there were no caste differences in performance. However, when the test subject was required to publicly announce their caste the number of mazes solved by low caste boys dropped by a dramatic 25%.  In other words, when the lower caste individuals were freed from the stigma, or the label with which the surrounding environment and society had forced on them, they performed exactly the same as their higher caste peers.  

It’s hard not to see this as a vindication of Crowley’s beliefs, a glaring example of how often people can be made to feel they can only be the thing that they have been told they can be.

At the risk of sounding glib, it is a reminder that, for me, no religion, political party, media outlet or social movement is the arbiter of what is and what isn’t right, a reminder that we should never be afraid to be who we want to be in spite of how we feel the world might want us to be.  

Crowley’s ‘Do what thou wilt,’ is a cry to look beyond social convention and the narrow definitions with which others might attempt to define us, encouraging each of us to exercise our right to determine who we are or should be on our own terms.

If this series has been about anything in particular it is to question what the truth really is. That the truth, and in a sense the world can and will be manipulated.  And I don't say this because I want to encourage this necessarily but rather to encourage people to remain vigilant, to question everything, and not just to believe what you are told.  And above all to fight for your truth because whoever controls that story, controls you.

But I must stress, this is not a denigration of expertise or an attempt to encourage the scourge of anti-intellectualism that has been creeping into our society. If that latest report dismissing climate change is funded by a major petroleum conglomerate, you might want to think twice before quoting it to your friends.  And when politicians start telling you to ignore the experts, it’s worth considering just who might have the strongest ulterior motive…

While writing this I was reminded of a speech made by sublime author David Foster Wallace, that I believe has parallels with some of what Crowley represented.

The speech which I urge everyone to seek out online is Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech to students of Kenyon College, in Ohio in the United States.

His message reminds us to value the totally obvious every day, even in the smallest of ways.  To try to see all perspectives and to exercise control over what we think about it.

It is a reminder that we have the power to choose what we pay attention to and that it is up to us to choose how we construct meaning from our experiences.

As Foster Wallace states:

If you really learn how to think, how to pay attention then you will know you have other options.  It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot slow consumer hell type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars.  Love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down, not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true, the only thing that is capital T true is that you get to decide how you’re going to see it – that is true freedom.  You get to decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.

In short, you might say that true freedom is complete attention and awareness, for surely the alternative is unconsciousness. 

And yet, there are of course some who believe that the unconscious is the true consciousness, but that is another story…

This episode concludes the first Season of Unexplained marking the final chapter in our present journey into the strange and mysterious.

I will be back later in the year with a brand new season, where I'll be attempting something a little more ambitious so please look out online for announcements about that.

I want to once again thank each and every one of you who has found the time to listen to the show, for rating and reviewing it and especially for all your incredible messages of support, thank you.

© Richard MacLean Smith


1.    The Wickedest Man In The World, (dir. Rawles, N.), Diverse Productions broadcast on Channel 4 (2002),  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt9WJy6_XZU

2.    Wilson, C. (1988), The Occult, Grafton Books: UK

3.    Crowley, A. (1969), The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, http://www.thelema.ca, http://www.thelema.ca/156/Confessions/confess.html

4.    MacGregor Mathers, S., L., (comiled by), The Lesser Key of Solomon http://www.hermetics.org, http://www.hermetics.org/pdf/grimoire/goetia.pdf

5.    Crowley, A. (1904), Liber AL Vel Legis – The Book of the Law, http://hermetic.com/legis/ccxx/

6.    Mastin, L. (2009), Famous Witches – Abramelin the Mage, witchcraftandwitches.com, http://www.witchcraftandwitches.com/witches_abramelin.html

7. The Book of Abramelin Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Abramelin

8. Aleister Crowley Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleister_Crowley

9. Wallace, D., F., (2005), This is Water - Kenyon College Commencment Speech, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYGaXzJGVAQ

10. Hoff, K. & Pandey, P., (2004), Belief Systems and Durable Inequalities, An Experimental Investigation of Indian Caste, princeton.edu, http://www.princeton.edu/rpds/seminars/pdfs/hoff_indiancaste.pdf