Wouldn't it be great if Aleister Crowley were a fraud?
Now before you all start firing up your wands for a rousing game of Smite the Heathen, let me finish.
Uncle Al wrote a lot of books about magic (or magick, if you insist) as well as forming, joining or leading three or more separate major magical organizations (to say nothing of his poetic and philosophical works). He has shaped the direction of Western magic, whether pagan, ceremonial or other. He has left a tremendous legacy as the result of a turbulent life, and is widely considered one of the most influential magicians of all time. Heck, many people would insist on the removal of the "one of the" qualifier from the preceding sentence.
With the substantial amount of writing he did, supplemented by the writings of such luminaries as Israel Regardie, Kenneth Grant and others, a great deal is known about what Crowley had to say.
But none of us, not one of us, can honestly claim to know what Crowley thought. The closest we can get involves relying on the observations of those who knew him. The problem inherent in such reliance is twofold: 1) the personal feelings of the observer inevitably influenced the perceptions and 2) Crowley was masterfully charismatic which would tend to bias all observers. Hence, their testimony would be hard to take as objective.
If we don't know what Crowley thought, we don't know how he really felt about any of the ideas he espoused. He might have been completely forthright and honest, he might have been lying through his teeth or any moderate point between the extremes.
The most common portrayal of Crowley seems to presume that he was closest to the former, at least in his writing. I have met those who say that he laid traps for the unwary in his books, those who consider them gospel to be worshipped, those who take his work as allegory to be interpreted and those who treat them like any other grimoires: to be mined for gold but not accepted wholeheartedly. I have never to date, in the magical community at least, met anyone who would publicly (or privately) claim to think that Crowley was a fraud.
But what if he were? What if he read some of the older work such as that of Eliphas Levi and John Dee, and improvised a line of complete garbage to see how far he could take it? He seemed possessed of immense creativity and combined with his personal magnetism he certainly could have pulled it off. One thing is certain, that his pursuit of magic, whether real or façade, brought him what he seemed to crave most: drama and attention. He became internationally famous in his own lifetime after all.
What if that noteriety was all he really sought? What if he was a poseur, capitalizing on the glamour of magic to take him where he wanted to go?
I can already hear the counter-arguments starting:
None of that matters. What I speak of here is less his accomplishments than his intent. We do not know his intent, which means that it is entirely possible that old Uncle Al never believed in magic.
The best part is that whether he did or not does not make one whit of difference. His legacy is plain, its followers innumerable and its influence ubiquitous. Many people who have never heard of, to limit myself to one example, Austin Spare know about Crowley. I have heard his works debated in a Religious Studies class at Cal (U.C. Berkeley, if you don't know). Almost all modern magicians have had their lives touched by Crowley one way or another.
There's also this: if Uncle Al was a fraud, any success that people have with "his" system of magic comes not from the system but from themselves.
Four Winds Bar