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Overview

Born into a preacher's family in England, the young Crowley grew up admiring his minister father and was drawn to the possibilities of priesthood for himself. His father's early demise, however, devastated Crowley and left him in the care of his mother, whose more strict religious interpretations disillusioned Crowley with Christianity.

Self-depiction of Crowley summoning the demon Paimon.

In college, Crowley attended Cambridge University where he joined the British secret society The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a controversial order in Victorian British society due to its occult practices. Crowley was seen as a maverick in the order, which was to dissolve shortly after he joined. Still attracted to the mystical and occult, Crowley then embarked on a worldwide journey seeking and absorbing different belief systems and, among those, stimulants and hallucinogens.

After marriage and honeymooning in Egypt with his wife, she began to receive visions and hear voices from whom she claimed was the Egyptian god Horus. Under her instruction, Crowley then began to write down alleged dictations from a higher spirit. These writings became The Book of the Law, the cornerstone of Crowley's mystical and occult career and the founding of his order of Thelema.

Crowley's Thelema emphasized the freedom of the self, and of expression and sexuality, as punctuated by its mantra, "Do What Thou Wilt." Decades after Crowley's death, this mantra would resonate in the ears of the 1960's freethinkers.

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