Dilettante, poet, sensualist, master of the occult and member of the notorious Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Aleister Crowley went as far as possible to spin his own legend, happily identifying himself as ‘The Beast 666’ and rejoicing in the British popular press’s description of him as the ‘Wickedest Man in the World’. Yet since his death in a Hastings boarding house in 1947, the founder of the ‘religion’ of Thelema has seen his reputation grow still more various. We might have imagined Richard Kaczynski to have upturned every satanic stone in his extraordinarily detailed life of Crowley, Perdurabo, published in 2010, but since then the influence of this tweed-wearing Edwardian iconoclast has been traced in ever-more surprising places. Ex-Blondie bassist Gary Lachman’s Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World (2014) celebrated Crowley as the unwitting begetter of the rebellious force in pop music, while Tobias Churton has effectively created a one-man publishing industry devoted to Crowley, his numerous works including Aleister Crowley in India and Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin.
With such a slippery figure as Crowley, whose every energy was directed against the Christian tenets and practices that were drilled into him by his Plymouth Brethren parents during his childhood in Leamington Spa, there is much to be said for Phil Baker’s refusal to present the remarkable