Magazine article The Spectator

Possessed by Demons

Magazine article The Spectator

Possessed by Demons

Article excerpt

Aleister Crowley was expelled from my school for crucifying his housemaster's cat on the chapel altar. That was the popular rumour, anyway, and I can understand its genesis: when your only vaguely famous old boys are C.S. Lewis and Jeremy Paxman you do start yearning for alumni a touch more outre. But the story wasn't true. As we were reminded on Masters Of Darkness (Channel 4, Tuesday), Crowley went to Tonbridge.

Apart from the fact that he wasn't at the same school as me, my other main Crowley claim to fame is that I once held his wand. It belongs to this splendid fellow with three nipples whom I shan't name in case his house is invaded by black magicians. He owns it because Crowley used to sponge off one of his relatives. This man also owns a really crappy picture Crowley did of some cowled figures walking up a hill. It's called `Pilgrims on the Road to Nowhere'.

Now the thing that struck me when I held Crowley's wand was just how unstriking the experience was. It looked mildly sinister - about the size of a small sword stick, made of dark metal, with carvings on it - and I was reluctant to touch it, but when I did, I felt no evil vibes or anything. This, the owner explained, is because wands are very personal things and only have power for the person for whom they were created.

Even so, I was quite disappointed. I do believe in the existence of powers of darkness but the impression I was left with was that Crowley was more of a decadent poseur than the genuine Beast 666. And subsequent reading seem to confirm this. If he was really so powerful, how come he achieved so little? How come he died in squalid penury?

This was the problem facing Masters Of Darkness. How could it reconcile `The Wickedest Man in the World' legend with the sordid reality of a man whose worst crimes were: abandoning his wife and child; encouraging his mistress to copulate with a goat; sodomising his boyfriend while invoking demons in the Tunisian desert; eating poo; not going to help four mountaineering colleagues caught in an avalanche on Anapurna; accidentally poisoning one of his disciples with cat's blood? All jolly naughty things, obviously, but hardly the acme of evil in a century which yielded Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Pol Pot.

But the programme got round this pretty well, I thought. Rather than twist the facts more than they could bear, it simply got Brian Cox (the original Hannibal Lecter) to do the voiceover, it recruited various spooky looking occultist types with brilliant names like Aron Paramor to act as expert witnesses, and it shot almost everything by lurid torchlight with the same wobbly camera that was used to make The Blair Witch Project. …

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