Who was Aleister Crowley?
He shrouded himself in so much myth that it’s hard to know him, particularly since he delighted in calling himself the wickedest man in the world. So I suspect Crowley was delighted by The Magician, a novel written by Somerset Maugham and based on Crowley.
Maugham met Crowley in Paris. In the introduction to The Magician, Maugham writes of this encounter:
“I took an immediate dislike to him, but he interested and amused me… He had fine eyes and a way, whether natural or acquired I do not know, of so focusing that, when he looked at you, he seemed to look behind you. He was a fake, but not entirely a fake… He was a liar and unbecomingly boastful, but the odd thing was that he had actually done some of the things he boasted of… At the time I knew him he was dabbling in Satanism, magic and the occult. There was just then something of a vogue in Paris for that sort of thing… Crowley told fantastic stories of his experiences, but it was hard to say whether he was telling the truth or merely pulling your leg.”
Crowley became the model for Maugham’s evil magician Haddo, who lures his victims into a world of dark magic and seduction. First published in 1908, the novel has all the stylistic hallmarks of its time and paints a vivid portrait of turn-of-the-century Paris.
The Magician is an entertaining read if you’re interested in Crowley – even a fictionalized version – and a bit of occult history. And there are ebook versions out there for only $1.99 — well worth it for this occult classic.