ALEISTER Crowley, whose womanising, drug-taking and love of the occult earned him the label of "the wickedest man in the world", was simply misunderstood, a new documentary claims.
Crowley scandalised Edwardian society with his claim to be a master of black magic and his penchant for seducing young women, many of them while he lived in Scotland.
He left a trail of mysterious deaths behind him, including a Cambridge student who died shortly after apparently being forced to drink cat’s blood during a ritual.
But Crowley experts and biographers now claim he was a preacher of free love and experimentation with drugs decades before they became fashionable.
The claims form part of a documentary to be aired on Channel 4 later this month which traces the huge cult following that Crowley has amassed since his death in 1947.
Gavin Baddley, the author of a number of books devoted to the history of satanism, and who is featured in the programme, said: "Crowley’s devotees believe that he was a true prophet. Christianity’s grip over what we can and can’t do, what we can and can’t say has, as he foresaw, diminished.
"He foresaw a society which has now embraced the idea of sexual and spiritual free love."
Baddley added: "For followers of Crowley it is difficult not to stand in awe of his appetite for life and his vigour. He was not afraid of anything or anyone. He just became obsessed with sex".
He added that Crowley’s life was a forerunner of what, by the 1960s, had become almost routine, with its free love and drug culture. "These were the ideas that Crowley had been trying to push 40 years earlier, they just came too early," he said.
Another Crowley expert featured in the television programme is Aaron Paramour, a writer and occult researcher who went on a pilgrimage in 1996 following in the footsteps of Crowley and visited the Abbey of Thelema in Sicily.
He said: "To Crowley this was a big experiment, an experiment in a different way of living. Performing sex magic rituals under the influence of hash and cocaine, letting the children roam about and observe the rituals.
"One particular evening Crowley forced his then mistress, a young American, Leigh Hirsig, to perform a sex ritual with a billy-goat."
He added: "He truly believed that the absolute freedom could do nothing but good. He tried to push boundaries, it was all an experiment."
Born in Leamington in 1875 to a wealthy Quaker brewing family, Crowley was spoiled but soon rebelled against his repressed upbringing.
He began his occult career in the Rosicrucian Order of the Golden Dawn alongside literary greats such as Bram Stoker and WB Yeats, who referred to him as "a person of unspeakable life".
Following a series of confrontations with Yeats and having inherited a vast sum of money, Crowley left the Golden Dawn and moved to Scotland where he became intent on invoking the spirit of Abra-Melin, a spell which is regarded by occultists as one of the most dangerous to perform.
In 1899 he purchased Boleskine House overlooking Loch Ness, which he thought would be ideal for his unusual tastes and rituals. Assuming the ancestral title Lord Boleskine, he quickly became known locally as the ‘Beast of Boleskine’ for his heroin addiction and reputation as a debaucher of vulnerable women, several of whom committed suicide.
Despite his hundreds of lovers, in his later years Crowley found himself alone, embittered and addicted to drugs.
It was not until the 1960s that he started to become a cult figure, even appearing on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album next to Mae West as one of great icons of the 20th century.
Among those who have claimed to take an interest in the ‘Beast’ are the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who bought Boleskine House in the 1970s.
Crowley’s life will feature in an episode of Masters of Darkness on Tuesday, February, 26 on Channel 4.