Book Review: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence, and the Occult by Richard B. Spence

Updated: Oct 20

By: A. W. Finnegan #BookReviews #AleisterCrowley #Espionage #Occult






This was a very well-researched, respectable work that really sealed the idea, for me, on the reality underlying the widespread activities and history in occult organizations that span the entire globe and the deeper activities of espionage and intelligence taking place within them. I have additional research that also parallels with some of what Spence has laid out in this intricate web of occultists, spooks and spy networks. Spence's book followed the life of who is perhaps the most well-known, albeit infamous Occultist, Aleister Crowley, who earned the name of "The Great Beast 666" and the "Wickedest Man in the World."


Crowley made his way into the game during the the Occult Revival of the late-Nineteenth Century and its rapid expansion flourishing into the Twentieth Century, making a name for himself in the midst of many magical orders, secret fraternities, occultists, spiritualists, and the avant-garde lifestyle in which he operated from. Spence's work not only follows him through this journey, but overlays another aspect most would have overlooked, the dark, mysterious world of espionage and intelligence work.


Most of the occultists interested in Crowley are not aware of the nature or scope of operations in espionage or intelligence, and suspect none of this in occult societies. Likewise, many knowledgeable in the intelligence communities see the word "occult" and think it is nothing but fiction, fraudsters, and pseudo-science with no significant influence in the intelligence world. The very word itself serves as almost an instant recollection of some taboo topic that most don't want to cover or explore. However, its very nature serves as the perfect cloak for intelligence work, as a deterrent for onlookers and a mysterious realm that few understand. We can thank Spence for taking the time to put credible research on the subject into objective terms.


I must admit, while I had heard of the possible ties between Crowley and British Intelligence, I certainly wasn't expecting it to be as chock-full of activity and associations to other spooks, spies, and the intelligence authorities of several countries, who had him in the unofficial loop, not just at any given period of his life, but throughout the entirety of it. The journey of his career in intelligence work began following his tenure at Cambridge University, and begins to pickup momentum in the United States in the years preceding the First World War.


The amount of activity and the importance of his inclusion is very well-hidden to the outsider, that is, until Spence begins to unravel the deep connections, listing name after name of Crowley's associates, having one or many associations with intelligence networks and occultists connected to political figures. Crowley's travels may seem random and occult-driven to the average occult aspirant or Thelemite, but when one reconsiders those trips in light of the extenuating circumstances of intelligence activity Spence details out, his nomadic life takes on new meaning and context. There can only be so many coincidences, after all.


Even within the first chapter, Spence recalls Crowley's quote from his novel Moonchild, where Crowley's character 'Lord Anthony Bowling' reveals the reality that "investigation of spiritualism makes a capital training-ground for secret service work, one soon gets up to all the tricks." Crowley went further, to compare the Secret Chiefs, the Ascended Masters of the Great White Lodge to the Admirals of the Naval Intelligence Service. Also of great interest to me, was Crowley's early trip to Moscow, Russia. There was also a notable event back in England in which Crowley put on a show by drugging his audience with mescaline, and this earned him some of the early infamy that would only continue throughout his life and activities.


Crowley's occult career was influenced early on by the well-known occultist, A. E. Waite's book The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts. As a mountain climber, Crowley came into contact of other occultists and found some associates to open the door to the secret organizations. Soon Crowley inches his way into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  Spence presents the possibility that this may have been one of his early intelligence assignments, and may be reflective in the way Crowley tore it in half with provocation and antagonistic behavior in a divide & conquer framework. Its mouthpiece and leader, Samuel L. MacGregor Mathers, may have himself been trying his hands at intelligence work as well, as Spence reveals his participation in plots against several governments like Spain's Portugal and Britain. 


After the Golden Dawn fiasco, Crowley deepened his occult skills from the house at Lochness and then roamed the world for several years, traveling to places like Mexico, India, and all in between. Spence also points out some of the other affiliates of Crowley, such as Gerald Kelly and William Somerset Maugham to being equally tied up with British Intelligence. Crowley also had associations with the creator of the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), Theodor Reuss, who had an interest in Crowley and his brand of sex magick rites. These groups had their origin and association to German occultism, and by extension, German Intelligence.


By 1914, Crowley was on his way to the United States, claiming himself an Irishman, aboard the Lusitania. Crowley gets his foot in the door with some of the important players in New York and elsewhere in the United States, in the early days of the German sabotage program which used germs, explosives to sabotage ports, railroads, and vessels carrying munitions to allied countries and enemies of Germany. The list of names Crowley comes into association with is extensive, but Spence reveals name after name, all of whom are either directly or by association connected to intelligence work. This, I would say, is no coincidence. He also comes into association with some of the heavy-hitters of Wall Street. One of the women Crowley gets himself cozy with is a Miss Greene, an employee of the Morgan Library, a library owned by J. P. Morgan, Sr.

It was in these circles that Spence reveals that some of the plans to sink the Lusitania may have originated with the help of Crowley and Greene, with an idea of sending out civilians on a harmless trip to form a new colony while tipping the Germans off to a ship full of arms, a pretext the Germans used for sinking it. One of the alarming bits of information Spence revealed in this book, was through a British Intelligence Admiral Hall's foreknowledge of the coming German attacks in America, not stopping any of the plots, but allowing them to happen, and more than that, lending a helping hand. Crowley even boasts of convincing the Germans that the Lusitania was a warship, before it was blown to bits by a German submarine shortly before America's entry into the First World War. Interesting was Crowley's association with German-American poet, novelist, and pro-German propagandist, George Viereck, who gained international fame and interviewed such historical figures as Sigmund Freud and Adolf Hitler.


Crowley's time in America saw several theatrics for foreign propaganda purposes, though not always clear who he was serving or trying to impress. In some cases, British Intelligence did not seem happy about the events. Sexual escapades seem to follow Crowley throughout his journey, which may have been for the occasional blackmail. In fact, much of his activities, especially after his excursions in the United States, seem to have a lot to do with blackmail, as well as drugging. Crowley even took a trip to Detroit to stop by a pharmaceutical firm, possibly to retrieve refined mescaline.

Crowley's time in Italy at the Abbey of Thelema as a madhouse of depraved activity in orgies and drug use. Eventually, the Italian authorities under Mussolini gave Crowley the boot, which Spence points out, not for his decadence, but rather because they felt he was up to something more, probably the blackmail of Italian officials, which put Italy in an unfavorable p0sition if true. Crowley then leaves Italy for France. At this point, the Beast has a vicious heroin habit, but finds a comfortable spot to settle and continue his drug use and occult workings. However, his stay would be short-lived, because like Italy, the French were also weary of his true purpose there. It is interesting to note, Spence reveals that the French had broken up a Soviet spy ring shortly before giving Crowley the boot. Crowley tried to reach out to his associates in British Intelligence, who would not intervene and vouch for the Beast to remain in France, so once again, Crowley is forced to flee. Amidst the variable responses from his British management throughout his life, the question remains, who was Crowley really working for? For instance, MI5 denounced Crowley as a communist, and indeed had crossed paths with many revolutionaries and communist causes.


Soon enough, Crowley starts mixing with the Germans and Nazis, some being close associates of Hitler and other higher-ups in the Reich. Some had already made accusations of Crowley being a German operative. Interesting to me was that Spence brought up Eugen Grosch, also known as Gregor A. Gregorius, the founder of the Fraternitas Saturni, or the Brotherhood of Saturn, possibly an offshoot of the O.T.O. Spence also recalls Crowley's claim to be the one who influenced one of Hitler's close associates to use the swastika as the emblem of Nazi Germany. Whether this was a Crowley fabrication or the truth, it is an interesting claim made by the Beast himself.


Crowley's associations do not stop there, the remainder of the book brings up such important names as Aldous Huxley, pioneer of the drug-culture and psychedelics, Ian Flemming of the James Bond series, and even the mentor of Cambridge Five spy, high-level official in British Intelligence, Kim Philby, who penned a 1942 report to Moscow about large blackmailing operations using occultism, sex, and drugs. To quote from the book:


"...They surface in a report Soviet mole Kim Philby sent to his Moscow control in 1942. [10] Philby noted that SIS was investigating a “complicated racket” that linked RAF officers and members of British high society to drug smuggling, sexual orgies (hetero and homo), and black masses. Behind this scheme was the German Embassy in Dublin, which ran drugs into England with the aid of Welsh fishermen and corrupt nightclub owners. The dope, orgies, gambling, and black masses were used to blackmail officers into supplying information. Mingling in this weird milieu, along with a colorful throng of ladies, countesses, wing-commanders, and pornographers, were Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maiskii and “the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley.”[11] Unfortunately, the charts mentioned by Philby, which might have clarified these connections, are missing." [1]


Yet, the list of names goes further to include high-profile names such John Whiteside "Jack" Parsons, who worked in Top Secret American jet propulsion programs, and L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology. In light of the voluminous names Crowley associated within the book, his name being found in official documents by American and British files, I think we can conclusively say Crowley was working as an intelligence operative, even if unofficially.


For me, the question is not whether Crowley was working in intelligence, we know he was, because Spence sources to official documentation in British files and abroad, but the question of how many hats he was wearing and who he was ultimately serving, is still the debate we must explore more deeply. Spence certainly opened the door for that to be considered a further study. This book was a truly enlightening work on the cloak of occultism for intelligence channels. I don't want to give too much of the book away, it is better for the reader of this review, to read it for oneself, to see the underworld of occult networks and the father of New Age and modern occultism in a new context, as the word occult itself, implies things may not be as they appear on the surface...


Amazon link: Aleister Crowley, British Intelligence, and the Occult.


references:


[1] Spence, R. B. (2008). Secret agent 666: Aleister Crowley, British intelligence and the occult. Port Townsend, WA: Feral House. digital copy, pages 263-264


from book quotation:


[10] Oleg Tsarev and Nigel West, The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1999), 316-318.


[11] Ibid., 316.


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