Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Theatre

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History book series (PSTPH)


Aleister Crowley’s (1875–1947; see figure 4.1) Rite of Saturn premiered at London’s Caxton Hall in 1910. This was the first of seven magical rituals that were performed between October 19 and November 30, as part of a larger work titled Rites of Eleusis.1 Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis were a mixture of poetry, ecstatic dance, music, and ceremonial magic that he had developed with the initiates of the Argenteum Astrum, a secret society whose members studied and practiced ceremonial magic. The elements of ceremonial magic were plentiful within the Rites of Eleusis: the performers were actual magicians who performed incantations and magical gestures, the costumes included hooded robes, the stage was decorated with an altar bearing a collection of occult symbols, and the audiences were encouraged to wear specific colors that corresponded to the nature of the god being evoked in each of the rituals. Some audience members were sympathetic to Crowley’s theatrical aesthetic. For others, the performance, which was staged in semidarkness, suggested something diabolical or perverse. A critic from one periodical, the Penny Illustrated Paper, accused Crowley of using the Rites of Eleusis to “suggest an elusive form of Phallicism or sex worship” and to compel audiences to witness a “Black Mass.”2


Spiritual Experience Audience Member High Altar Symbolist Drama Photo Courtesy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Richard Kaczynski, Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010), 224.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Aleister Crowley, The Book of the Law (1904; reprint, n.p.: Ordo Templi Orientis, 2007), 17.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    For more information on Neitszche’s distinctions between “master morality” and “slave morality,” see Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, e-book version (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 154–155..Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Aleister Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An Autohagiography, corrected edition (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), 52–53.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Israel Regardie, The Golden Dawn: A Complete Course in Practical Ceremonial Magic (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1995), xvii–xxx, 1–25, rear cover;Google Scholar
  6. see also Mary K. Greer, The Women of the Golden Dawn: Rebels and Priestesses (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1995), xx;Google Scholar
  7. see also Lawrence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 23.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Lawrence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), 5.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Brenda Maddox, Yeats’s Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats (New York: Perennial, 1999), 12.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Crowley, The Book of the Law (1904; reprint, Tumwater, WA: Capital City Press, 1989), 9.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice (1929; reprint, New York: Dover, 1976), xiv–xv.Google Scholar
  12. 22.
    Lon Milo DuQuette, Magick of Thelema (York Beach, MA: Samuel Weiser, 1993), 133.Google Scholar
  13. 35.
    Anthony Kubiak, “Cyber-ecstasy and the Visionary in American Politics,” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 31 (January 2009): 113.Google Scholar
  14. 39.
    Georg Feuerstein, Holy Madness: The Shock Tactics and Radical Teachings of Crazy Wize Adepts, Holy Fools, and Rascal Gurus (New York: Arkana, 1990), 59.Google Scholar
  15. 40.
    John Symonds, The Great Beast: The Life and Magick of Aleister Crowley (1971; reprint, Frogmore, St. Albans: Mayflower Books, 1973), 13.Google Scholar
  16. 50.
    Ronald Hutton, Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, paperback edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 79.Google Scholar
  17. 72.
    Jane Goodall, Artaud and the Gnostic Drama (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994), 8–11.Google Scholar
  18. 78.
    Lon Milo Duquette, The Magick of Aleister Crowley: A Handbook of the Rituals of Thelema (York Beach, MA: Weiser, 2003), 25.Google Scholar
  19. 97.
    J. F. Brown, “Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis,” Drama Review 22 (June 1978): 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 102.
    Crowley, The Rites of Eleusis (Thame and Oxon: Mandrake Press, 1990), 66.Google Scholar
  21. 109.
    Aleister Crowley, Book 4 (1980; reprint, York Beach. MA: Samuel Weiser, 1996), 60, 70.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Edmund B. Lingan 2014

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations