Aleister Crowley and Thelema

Much of the fame of Boleskine House centers around the mystique of Aleister Crowley, who owned the estate between 1899 and 1913. We anticipate that much of the future lure to the house will in a large part concern the communities that place importance on Crowley and his spiritual legacy known as Thelema. We therefore understand that the estate and the surrounding land hold a great deal of spiritual import for Thelemites (those who follow Thelema), just as they once did for Aleister Crowley. That being so, the owners of the estate and volunteers of the Boleskine House Foundation wish to honour Crowley’s historical and spiritual legacy with regard to the integrity of Boleskine House.

We therefore consider Thelema—as a legitimate new religious movement—to be part of the estate’s lasting legacy and we wish to uphold this to the best of our ability. The following page provides some information about Aleister Crowley and Thelemawhile also attempting to dispel any misunderstandings about him and his movement that has been propagated and reinforced for decades by popular culture and mainstream media.

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley (born Edward Alexander Crowley, October, 12 1875) is most well-known for his involvement with advancing the spiritual movement known as Thelema. “Thelema” is a Koine Greek word (θέλημα), its usage having origins in the New Testament, and roughly translates to “Will.” Thelema in the New Testament refers to the “Will of God,” but was also sometimes used to indicate the “Will of people.”

Thelema as a spiritual philosophy was started by Aleister Crowley in the 20th-century and is known for its central tenant: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Crowley identified this message as an injunction to each and every individual to seek out and find their own true purpose in life, their “spiritual calling” so-to-speak. In order to do this, Crowley claimed that each and every person must contact the “Holy Guardian Angel,” a messenger of the divine (i.e., “God”). The Holy Guardian Angel, Crowley taught, has a unique relationship with each individual seeker. It was only through a set of austere and disciplined devotional practices that one could contact the Angel.

It was the seclusion of Boleskine House sitting amidst the bucolic landscape of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands that initially prompted Crowley to purchase the estate so that he could perform this difficult and demanding exercise. This practice was so important for Crowley that he believed the end result (“Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”) to be the next step for humanity’s spiritual evolution. He thought that when each and every person was fully aware of who they were in relation to the world around them, and how their purpose could play out as an expression of the divine consciousness, the world would be changed unequivocally for the better. This is one of the main reasons why Boleskine House holds so much spiritual importance still for various communities around the world.

Black Magician or Holy Fool?

Aleister Crowley as “Prince Chiao Kahn” in Cairo, Egypt

Both during Aleister Crowley’s lifetime and since his death, the popular press has sought to label Crowley as a dark figure associated with devil worship and black magic. We at the Boleskine House Foundation would like to say that these sorts of associations for Crowley and Thelema are highly misunderstood.

Many biographies on Crowley have been written, the most recently well-researched works include Perdurabo by Richard Kaczynski and several authored by Tobias Churton. These biographies show Crowley as an artistically-spirited and well-humoured eccentric personality. He often took on different personas, whether he was attempting to embody the spirit or soul of an image for a specific intent or simply indulging in exoticism for its own sake. As a teacher of yoga, he was “Mahatma Guru Sri Paramahansa Shivaji,” and during his travels in Cairo in 1904, he took the pseudonym “Prince Chioa Khan,” dressing in a lavish silken jacket and wearing a long oriental beard.

Aleister Crowley imitating Winston Churchill in the 1940s.

During his ownership of Boleskine, he was known to tour the estate in full Scottish attire (kilt and all) and refer to himself as “Laird Boleskine.” He even gave his own “Winston Churchill” impression in his later years.

In short, despite many of the popular portrayals of him in popular culture as a diabolical villain, Crowley was in fact a quirky artistic intellectual who lived a lifestyle that undoubtedly deviated from the mainstream culture at the time.

Thelema today

Due to Crowley’s mysterious lure over the last century, Thelema has been popularised in many artistic circles, within music, novels, and films. Many groups and organisations have emerged since the 1960s that adhere to Thelema as a spiritual movement. In the last two decades academic work on Crowley and Thelema continues to grow, and history and religious studies programs all over the world are studying his work and life. As such, we consider that there is no time more important than the present for Boleskine House to be available to all who wish to visit and learn more about its history, which includes Aleister Crowley and Thelema.