“English occultist, bohemian and author Aleister Crowley defined magick as ‘the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’. Crowley’s will was aided by the inheritance age 11 of a tidy fortune, and took him on a hedonistic ride through a life of sex, drugs and occult practice. Member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, founder of the mystery religion of Thelema, self declared spiritual master and Magus and, significantly, accomplished chess player, Crowley revelled in his notoriety as “the wickedest man alive”. The Great Beast’s polyamorous lifestyle would barely contend for such a title in today’s more liberal and permissive world, and the philosophy of ordering your world in line with your will is one that seems entirely accepted in our individualist society.”
“No writer today is more associated with Englishness and magic than Neil Gaiman. Aleister Crowley makes a caricature appearance in the very first issue of The Sandman, as the magus Roderick Burgess, whose failed attempt to summon Death herself launched Gaiman’s comic series.”
“Magic seems to live at the heart of English identity, as much today as millennia ago if the hordes reading Harry Potter are any indication. But even if we assume, as most rational Guardian-reading folk no doubt will, that magic is nothing but hokum, poppycock and superstition, it’s interesting to ask why it has such a profound hold over our popular imagination. Perhaps Crowley, magus and chess master, provides a possible answer. As any good player knows, the strategies of chess are as relevant in the real world as on the playing board, and many a politician has studied that game to understand the larger games of politics and power.
Perhaps magic is another kind of game, where the symbols and theatricality of the occult mask metaphors for power to help us understand the ‘science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’. No wonder we English, living with the lingering ghosts of Empire, an unreformed class system, and the complexities of a post-industrial economy, find such fascination in it.”