Aleister Crowley Does Detroit

Aleister Crowley, for those who aren't familiar with him, was either an occult-clothed conman, a deeply evil black magician, or godfather of New Age enlightenment. Or perhaps all three. In any case, he arguably casts an even longer shadow than Richard Shaver, so I'll refrain from summarizing his more general personal history.

1.  "The Detroit Working" - Crowley and the Detroit Freemasons


Aleister Crowley in Masonic regalia, circa 1904.

Crowley spent much of the first two decades of the 20th century pursuing occult knowledge by making links with Masonic organizations around the world. He was inducted into lodges in continental Europe and Mexico, as well as joining the masonically-derived Order of the Golden Dawn just before it came apart at the seams in 1900. However, Crowley wound up hitching his cart to "fringe" branches of the Masonic tree (at least from the perspective of some sources; after all, the heretics are always the other guys). Regardless of whether he was buying off-brand or not, Crowley did manage to acquire a large number of titles, and managed to achieve de facto leadership of the Ordo Templi Orientis, which he then attempted to use as a springboard for taking control of the entire world of Freemasonry. Crowley came to Detroit in 1919 with an eye towards conquest. He made connections with Detroit Masons, and convened a "Supreme Grand Council" to negotiate a trade of Masonic degrees (in the various fringe branches over which he had control) for positions on the Supreme Council of the regional jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite Masons. According to a newspaper story written in 1948, during Crowley's time in Detroit, he

announced plans to build a headquarters patterned after the sun temples of the ancient Chaldeans, with exotic furnishings, fountains spraying jets of perfumed water amid burning jars of incense, silken divans for the faithful to "worship and recline on."

Apparently, discussions went poorly, and the Supreme Grand Council fell apart by the end of the year. Crowley left town, and more or less gave up on the project of absorbing the Masonic world into the O.T.O.

2.  Other Activities

Beyond his involvement in Masonic maneuvering, Crowley appears to have had a few other things to occupy his time.

  • While the Supreme Grand Council was underway, Crowley was apparently able to convince Albert W. Ryerson, a 32nd degree Mason and manager of the Universal Book Company, to publish an issue of Equinox, Crowley's irregularly produced journal of occult speculation. This issue in particular is notable for including The Manifesto of the O.T.O. Based on Crowley's own recollections in The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, this apparently didn't go too smoothly. The 1948 newspaper article cited above claims that Crowley eventually filed suit against Ryerson. Crowley may not have had much to complain about; Equinox got published and Universal's shareholders accused Ryerson of spending $35,000 of the firm's money in connection with Crowley.
  • In 1918, again according to his Confessions, Crowley apparently consulted with Parke, Davis in Detroit in their development of a concentrated mescaline preparation

3.  Stories and Speculation

So, Crowley came to Detroit for a year, didn't gain any traction, and left. So what? Well, first, any story in Detroit during or immediately WWI might reasonably feature Crowley making waves in the occult/fraternal community. Second, one could reasonably imagine a world where Crowley had succeeded in absorbing the Valley of Detroit branch of the Scottish Rite into his sphere of influence. This could lead to Detroit becoming the Paris of the occult underground.

4.  Sources

One of the innumerable branches of Crowley's O.T.O. has provided a brief biographical sketch for your edification. The good folks at Mastermason.com have provided a terrific summary of Crowley's interactions with Freemasonry around the world, and his Detroit efforts in particular, can be found in Forbidden. Finally, Hermetic.com presents a complete copy of The Confessions of Aleister Crowley; Chapter 72 covers Crowley's views on Freemasonry.