Credit: Shutterstock/Aleister Crowley

Modern morality and manners suppress all natural instincts, keep people ignorant of the facts of nature and make them fighting drunk on bogey tales.

Magician, occultist, religious leader, poet, artist, philosopher, spy, mountaineer, ‘the wickedest man in the world’; Aleister Crowley’s life was full of new horizons and he refused to be categorised. Best known for founding the religion of Thelema and spreading a variety of esoteric and occultist knowledge, he was a man who defied the conventions of his time and is still regaled and reviled in equal measure.

Born and raised as Edward Alexander Crowley in a Christian fundamentalist household, Aleister had a privileged but strained upbringing. His father had retired early, earning money through a successful financial venture, and became a travelling preacher. It seemed that young Edward would follow in his footsteps, but when his father died when he was 11, he began to question the Christian teachings that had formed his early morality, and later began smoking and soliciting regular sex from prostitutes.

It was during his university years that he first began to experiment with both mysticism and sexuality. Over the next decade he would spend time travelling the world (often travelling to countries with which the British government had disputes) and developing his own brand of mysticism, culminating in 1904 when he and his wife, Rose, travelled to Egypt. During a meditative trance Rose claimed that the Egyptian God Horus waiting to speak to Aleister. Crowley then heard a disembodied voice speaking to him, and he dictated what was said in a book that would become ‘Liber AL vel Legis’ or The Book of the Law, the founding text of Thelema, the religion of which he was a self-proclaimed prophet.