How Did Aleister Crowley 'Get Away' With It?

I was interested in studying the occult about 30 years ago. But I didn’t read too much about English occultist Aleister Crowley (1875-1947). From what I understand, he was rumored at least, to be a Satanist. (Maybe that’s why I didn’t read too much about him.)

Anyways, he was at least a neo-pagan and witch, you have to admit. And there is one thing I don’t understand.

How did he get away with it, in Victorian England, and with the laws against witchcraft still in force? I don’t have a cite. But I do recall reading somewhere that the English witchcraft laws were valid into the 20th century, even. And apparently prosecution was not unheard of. At the very least, he risked ending up in a mental institution, from what I understand.

How did he do it?


Witchcraft trials were long out of fashion by Crowley’s time. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 essentially made it illegal to claim to have magical powers (and set the maximum penalty at one year of imprisonment) but it also declared that magic wasn’t real. Once people stopped believing in witches, they lost interest in prosecuting them. People like Crowley were seen as deluded or deceitful rather than dangerous.

Occultism was a very big deal in late Victorian England. Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer.

There was a conviction under the Witchcraft Act of 1735 that happened during WWII:


Crowley’s family was rich and well-connected. According to Wikipedia, he blew through his inheritance by 1914, but for the first 40 years of his life, he never had to work for a living.

As Rick Kitchen said, the occult was popular in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century. In some respects, the pre-World War One era was more tolerant than the post-World War Two era.

I’m not surprised that he got away with the mysticism. I’m surprised that he got away with the sex and drugs.

Just a guess, but I suspect he wasn’t taken that seriously by the people who would be in a position to launch criminal prosecutions. He might make a lot of noise about being wicked, but unless and until someone went to the police with concrete evidence of specific acts, why bother giving him more publicity? (And come to think of it, was he within the jurisdiction, or nipping off to the continent a lot?)

Exactly. He was “that crank who dresses in robes and performs weird rituals”. To the authorities, he inspired more eye-rolling than fear.

Since the OP has been answered:


Thinking about it further, it occurs to me that much of his notoriety was posthumous. His rebellions were mostly conducted in private. He hated Christianity, but he did not crusade against creches. His drug activity was as a buyer, not a dealer. His sexual escapades were with consenting adults. Years later, you might hear rumors of strange things going on behind closed doors, but at the time, he didn’t disturb the neighbors.

I dunno about the sex, but I don’t think many drugs were illegal at the time.

Sex wasn’t illegal either.

He did get kicked out of fascist Italy, though. Some one died from ritualistically drinking cat blood.

I’m more interested in how he got away with being an enemy agent in the first world war.

The important point was that she wasn’t convicted of witchcraft. She was convicted of falsely claiming to be able to practice witchcraft.

If only she had turned someone into a newt, she’d have gotten off.

Wikipedia seems to have some answers on that one:
TLDR - it seems like he was working with the full knowledge of British and American counterintelligence.–1919

Led Zeppelin guitarist owned Boleskine House for a while.

I feel compelled to point out some of the sex was in fact illegal. Crowley took part in ritual gay sex too, which was quite illegal in England at the time. I don’t know about the heterosexual sex though. I know the US was experimenting with fornication laws at the time. But I don’t know what Britain was doing though.


Until he got better…

IIRC from what I read about the trial of Oscar Wilde… he ignored the basic legal concept, don’t sue when you are guilty. A father of one of his young “friends” left a letter addressed to him “Oscar Wilde, Notorious Sodomist” on the desk of a posh club, apparently. He sued for libel. If he’d left it alone, there would have been some tut-tut whispering and that’s it. he figured his friend would deny it, and the father would lose through lack of evidence. Instead the father recruited a detective, they found several of the young male prostitutes he and his friends had employed, and the court was treated to several days of explicit testimony about his activities, all faithfully reported in the tabloids as explicitly as the times would allow… (His flights of fancy about artistic love etc. were shown to be hollow, he and friends enjoyed hedonistic orgies with very young male prostitutes…)

As the result of such testimony, the prosecution had no choice but to follow up that civil lawsuit with a criminal proceedings. Even then, the authorities gave him plenty of lead time to escape from the country before they came for him - he simply declined to run for it.

The moral of the story being - such activities were perfectly fine, it seems, even in A-list society, as long as they were kept behind closed doors. The crown did not go out of its way to find and prosecute unless they were “out to get” someone anyway, or public attention demanded a trial.

So presuming Alistair didn’t publish photos and lurid accounts in the popular press, I assume the authorities were more likely inclined to sweep it allunder the carpet.

The character Dr Trelawney in A Dance to the Music of Time is supposed to be based on Crowley. Trelawney is never taken seriously, it’s basically an attitude of “whatever floats your boat.”

One of the character’s functions is to show that a lot of the weird stuff that happened in the 1960s was also going on in the 1900s. In the books, weird stuff mostly means people ritualistically running around the countryside in strange Greek style smocks, or no clothes at all.

What if later he…