The Secret Door
Thoughts on Thelema

Review of Aleister Crowley: Legend of the Beast (2013)

Cast: Matthew Sheppard, John Symes, Val Monk, Jullian Lamorrel Roberts, Kathryn Carpenter, Henry Amphleet

Director: Dom Lenoir

Aleister Crowley Legend of the Beast - YouTube - Opera_2016-07-01_00-18-14Official Synopsis: Since the onset of the human race there have been those who have instinctively understood the nature of reality and sought to impose their will upon it by cooperating with and honouring the forces that governed it. Though history has left a rich legacy of Magick, magicians, and wizards with such names as Pythagoras, Paracelsus, John Dee, Cagliostro, Israel Regardie, and Eliphas Levi, in the modern era there is only one whose name is still spoken with fearful reverence as the most powerful and influential magician who ever lived – Aleister Crowley. Hailed as the Wickedest Man in the World and called the Great Beast 666 by his own mother, Crowley was also one of the most accomplished philosophers, poets, authors, mountain climbers, chess players, and sensationalists of his or any other time. Aleister Crowley was a magnet to all; many were drawn to his presence and exceptional wisdom but there were also those that he repelled. This film looks back on one man’s amazing journey from his death-bed. From his devout Christian upbringing through his many aspirations as he looks back on his life, the sadness, the triumphs, the glory, and the pain of how he lived and loved, the myth of the satanist is dispelled and the true nature of a flawed but great man is left. A man who dared to live by his own true will in a time of ignorance, a man with many demons who invoked and manifested unimaginable spiritual forces, a man who truly understood the realms beyond our reality and proclaimed, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Reality is what you make it.


In recent years, a sad tendency has grown in Thelemic circles to whitewash the person of one Aleister Crowley, probably deriving from the abject mediocrity of his contemporary disciples. Crowley himself was never ashamed of his diverse perversions and excesses, and would have despised this pious reclamation of his reputation by the middle class that he also despised. This movie, crippled by a meandering pseudo-plot and lack-lustre script, is hardly redeemed by its pleasant photographic interludes. The death-bed Crowley hardly has any personality at all, and certainly does not suggest the brilliant but drug-ravaged wreck that he became. The young Crowley is a tedious chess-playing pontificating bore who bears no resemblance to the man, neither in his appearance nor in the cadence of his speech. The whole project is tedious, sad, whimsical, and unwatchable, a series of disingenuous platitudes that have nothing of the fire and, dare I say, magick of the original. The premise of the movie is also flawed, both conceptually and historically, based on a dubious rumour of Crowley and Bennett’s early association with the George Pickingill New Forest coven in 1899 or 1900, falsely conflated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, referred to vaguely and unhistorically as “the sect.” Why the writer took such liberties with the facts I cannot say, but there seems to be a Gardnerian influence on the film. Sybil Leek even makes an appearance (she was 16); Crowley was 58, far older than the actor who plays him! (Leek’s claim to have known Crowley is also doubtful. Much more interesting would have been an exploration of Crowley’s relationship with Dion Fortune.) Even if it is true that Crowley briefly joined a coven in 1899, at the age of 24, its significance in his life is vastly overstated. The characterization of Allan Bennett, a great mage who became a greater monastic and the leader of the first Buddhist mission to the West, is equally tedious, as are all of the characters in this trivial wannabe pseudo-drama. Unaccountably, the role of William Butler Yeats as the leader of the London rebellion is ignored completely, his character being replaced by a woman!

monks2After having Crowley passing many years wandering the world, always in the same red robe (often climbing mountains barefoot!), the film’s depiction of the Cairo Working is a total travesty. Not only does it unaccountably distort the sacred text of the Book of the Law, audibly spoken to Crowley by his daemon, Aiwaz, but it suggests that the text was recited to Crowley by Rose in a mediumistic trance – not merely false but actually blasphemous. The fragment of text, invented by the script-writer, is as tiresome as the rest of the film and conveys nothing of the numinous intensity that must have characterized the original experience.

As to Crowley’s later experiences, at the Abbey of Thelema and elsewhere, we will only say that Leah Hirsig is laughable and the sex magick insipid, which is too bad, because Matthew Sheppard  is not an unattractive man. The most animated scene in the movie is Rose’s drunken tirade. Unfortunately, it is far too little far too late.

If you want to watch a fictionalization of the life of Aleister Crowley, Iron Maiden’s Crowley (a.k.a. Chemical Wedding) (Julian Doyle, dir., Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2009) is far more clever and entertaining. The script is brilliantly written. It sizzles with a deep understanding of the man and the magick of Aleister Crowley, but makes no pretence of historicity. Legend of the Beast neither sizzles nor is it historical.

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