One might not ever have a reason to compare Nessie with the infamous occultist Aleister Crowley, unless of course to make the point that they’ve both been called monsters, but the two may have more in common than you think. In fact, if the mystics and monster hunters are to be believed, Crowley and the odd events at a house on the South-Eastern shore of Loch Ness in the early 1900’s may be responsible for the appearance of the legendary beast.
As a young man, Aleister Crowley’s interest in alchemy led him to be introduced to a member of the Hermetic Society of the Golden Dawn, a magical order in Great Britain that shaped the the world of Western occult beliefs in the 20th century. In no time at all, Crowley had been initiated into the society by it’s leader, Samuel Lidell MacGregor Mathers. Having the fortune of being born to a wealthy family, Crowley had the time and resources to devote to his pursuits of magical enlightenment, a journey that led him to Loch Ness in search of a spirit that he called his “Holy Guardian Angel”, or Higher Self. What Crowley didn’t know at the time is that his impending attempt at contacting this spirit would long be considered an occult disaster by any magical practitioner worth his blessed salt.
In 1889, looking for a suitable place to perform an ancient summoning ritual from The Book of Scared Magick of Abra-Melin the Mage, Crowley purchased the Boleskine House in Loch Ness. The house was considered perfect for the ceremony due to it’s relative seclusion, because, as Crowley put it, “one must have a house where proper precautions against disturbance can be taken; this being arranged, there is really nothing to do but to aspire with increasing fervor and concentration, for six months, towards the obtaining of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.” The house also sported the necessary opening to the North, where Crowley built a terrace adorned with fine river sand, a place where, as proof of the ritual’s progress, the footprints of spirits were to appear. Crowley considered this building to be the Thelemic Kiblah, a kind of esoteric Mecca or a focal point for mystical energy, making it a powerful center for performing intense magical rituals. When the preparations had been set, Crowley began the ritual, citing in his personal diary a promise not to offend God or work ill against his neighbors.
His intentions for the ceremony were simple, if misunderstood by many. Crowley intended to evoke what he called the Lords of Darkness in a painstaking six month ritual that would compel them to serve the forces of Good, a process hopefully culminating in contact by the Higher Self, a “guardian angel” of sorts, who would see Crowley through to “enlightenment”. As one can imagine, these so-called dark forces would not take kindly to being bound to the light, and were expected to put up a fight. In his diary, Crowley describes some of the odd effects the ritual was having on the property as it was performed:
“One day I came back from shooting rabbits on the hill and found a Catholic priest in my study. He had come to tell me that my lodgekeeper, a total abstainer for twenty years, had been raving drunk for three days and had tried to kill his wife and children. I got an old Cambridge acquaintance to take Rosher’s place; but he too began to show symptoms of panic fear.”
Crowley even tells of a local man he had hired for general labor going mad and attempting to kill him, and a local butcher accidentally cutting off his own hand while reading one of Cowley’s notes. Despite these “clear signs”, Crowley continued to work on the ritual, going so far as to deny visits from friends for fear of their safety.
Meanwhile, in London, the members of the Golden Dawn had become increasingly unsatisfied with Mathers’ leadership and his growing friendship with Crowley. The adepts were tired of relying on Mathers to contact the Secret Chiefs, the ancient cosmic authorities who dictate the order of the universe. The members were anxious to contact these beings themselves, to form their own temples, and to rid themselves of Mathers’ autocratic rule. Feeling the pressure building, Mathers’ sent for the assistance of Crowley, who had previously promised his financial and social resources should the need ever arise. Despite his better judgement, Crowley dropped the lengthy ritual and traveled to Paris in order to assist his friend and mentor. Interrupting his magical ceremony would later prove to be a grave mistake.
Shortly after Crowley left for Paris, the locals began to murmur about the dark black clouds hanging in the skies around the Boleskin house, many residents going far out of their way to avoid traveling near the building. Upon his return to Boleskin, Crowley immediately felt the changes in his estate; even his protege had fled the property while he was gone. He again, went to his diary:
“Besides these comparatively explicable effects on human minds, there were numberless physical phenomena for which it is hard to account. While I was preparing the talismans, squares of vellum inscribed in Indian ink, a task which I undertook in the sunniest room in the house, I had to use artificial light even on the brightest days. It was a darkness which might almost be felt. The lodge and terrace, moreover, soon became peopled with shadowy shapes, sufficiently substantial, as a rule, to be almost opaque. I say shapes; and yet the truth is that they were no shapes properly speaking. The phenomenon is hard to describe. It was as if the faculty of vision suffered some interference; as if the objects of vision were not properly objects at all. It was as if they belonged to an order of matter which affected the sight without informing it.”
Crowley spent little more time at the house, instead leaving shortly for New York, and then Egypt, where he would again attempt to contact his Holy Guardian Angel, this time claiming success. The Boleskine house then changed hands many times, the various owners all reporting strings of terrible luck. One prominent owner, British film star George Sanders, sought to build a pig farm on the property. The venture failed, his partner was sent to jail, and the animals starved to death. Another owner, a retired Army Major, committed suicide in Crowley’s old bedroom.
Anna MacLaren, his former house-keeper, describes the scene:
“When I came up, and went in the front door there was this little bone at the front door, and they had this little doggie, Pickiwig was his name. And I said, ‘where did you get that, Pickiwig,’ because they had this huge fridge and there was nothing in it. I took the bone and I just threw it. I went to look and there (the Army Major) was in front of the big mirror and his head off. So, I was so scared that I did run.. quite a distance.. and I said, ‘the Major’s shot himself!’ Anyway, the detectives, I told the detectives this, and (they said) the bone was of his skull.”
This kind of strangeness went on for years, leading believers of the mystical and the occult to believe that the house had become a sort of portal, the unfinished ceremony leaving an open gateway to worlds unknown, spreading the activity from beyond the confines of the house itself, and into the surrounding area. It was around this time in 1933 that the Loch Ness Monster began to rear it’s long, reptilian head.
Frederick William Holiday, one of the most well-publicized Loch Ness monster investigators, having published two books dedicated to the search for the creature, made an assessment in the 70’s that the monster acted itself much like a supernatural creature, leading him to re-think his stance on it’s origin. Instead, Holiday postulated that the creature’s apparent self-concealing phenomena was evidence that it could possibly be related to the aftermath of Crowley’s preternatural fuck up.
Strangely enough, the first recorded appearance of the Loch Ness Monster coincides with the beginning of the end of Crowley’s legacy.
In 1934, Crowley was declared bankrupt after attempting to sue an artist who called him a black magician. Addressing the jury, the judge said that in all his years in law, he had “never heard such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous and abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man (Crowley) who describes himself… as the greatest living poet.” In decade that followed, Crowley became addicted to heroine, and died of a respiratory infection at the age of 72. His nurse and another witness reported his last words to be, “Sometimes I hate myself.”
The paranormal happenings in the house did not cease after Crowley’s death. In fact, word of the Boleskine House’s notoriety began to spread like wildfire. One of Crowley’s most famous admirers, Led Zeppelin guitarist and occult enthusiast Jimmy Page, purchased the house in the early seventies, knowing the importance the property had played in the formative years of the magician’s career. In 1975, he gave an interview to Rolling Stone Magazine where he described some of the “bad vibes” he got from the building.
“..there were two or three owners before Crowley moved into it. It was also a church that was burned to the ground with the congregation in it. And that’s the site of the house. Strange things have happened in that house that had nothing to do with Crowley. The bad vibes were already there. A man was beheaded there and sometimes you can hear his head rolling down. I haven’t actually heard it, but a friend of mine, who is extremely straight and doesn’t know anything about anything like that at all, heard it. He thought it was the cats bungling about. I wasn’t there at the time, but he told the help, “Why don’t you let the cats out at night? They make a terrible racket, rolling about in the halls.” And they said, ‘The cats are locked in a room every night.” Then they told him the story of the house. So that sort of thing was there before Crowley got there. Of course, after Crowley there have been suicides, people carted off to mental hospitals..”
When the interviewer went on to clarify that Page himself never had contact with the spirits, Page cut in with, “I didn’t say that. I just said I didn’t hear the head roll.” He went on to tell the interviewer that he preferred not to discuss the issue further.
Though never actually residing in the building for long periods of time, Page instead had it lived in by a long time school friend by the name of Malcom Dent. Malcom describes the living situation as a constant and “definite feeling of a strong presense trying to get into you.” Despite this, Malcom lived, and raised a family in the house, while simultaneously ignoring as much of the strange activity as possible and fending off the weirder groups of Crowley devotees who would creep onto the property at all hours of the night.
Jimmy Page sold the Boleskine House in 1992, and it was, for a time, used as a Bed & Breakfast. Either the strange occurrences in the building have since settled, or the latest batch of property owners have been decidedly quiet about the activity. Likewise, the sightings of the Loch Ness Monster have dwindled to very few since their heyday in the 1900’s, culminating in the BBC’s confident proclamation of disproving the myth in 2003. But what if, as Holiday thought, that the Monster in the loch was a different kind of monster completely? Could the legendary creature have been a consequence of Crowley’s failure to properly end the ritual he had started? And further, what exactly became of the Boleskine House and it’s mystical energies?
Undoubtedly, the true believers will continue to whisper about the dark history of the house, and in turn, the skeptics will dismiss the story outright, paying it no attention. These are their respective jobs, after all. But consider for a moment a fair compromise on the matter. Perhaps Crowley did envoke something not quite understood by many. Perhaps what he invoked was a sense of hysteria that had very real effects on the reality of those that fell into it’s grasp. Living with and around the so-called “wickedest man in the world” is bound to start a few sweeping rumors. Like the scary old man who lived in the dilapidated house at the edge of town, Crowley and his experiences, whether you believe them or not, are the kinds of stories that leave ripples through time, affecting a place and the people who visit it in ways that may only be in the head, but have a tangible way of manifesting themselves in reality.
Sure, the Loch Ness Monster could have existed, it very well may still. It could have even been a projection of some dark magic that we can’t possibly comprehend. Whatever the case, I’m fairly certain of the reason many more know of the monster than of the bizarre happenings in the Boleskin House: It’s far easier to commercialize a skittish water creature than it is to commercialize the odd misdoing of a bisexual, recreational drug-using libertine.
Then again, David Bowie has had a fine career..