The sorcerer and his apprentice: Aleister crowley and the magical exploration of edwardian subjectivity

Alex Owen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In late 1909, two Englishmen, scions of the comfortable middle classes, undertook a journey to Algiers. Aleister Crowley, later to be dubbed the wickedest man in the world, was in his early thirties; his companion, Victor Neuburg, had only recently graduated from Cambridge. The stated purpose of the trip was pleasure. Crowley, widely traveled and an experienced mountaineer and big-game hunter, loved North Africa and had personal reasons for wanting to be out of England. Neuburg probably had little say in the matter. Junior in years, dreamy and mystical by nature, and in awe of a man whom he both loved and admired, Neuburg was inclined to acquiesce without demur in Crowley's various projects. There was, however, another highly significant factor in Neuburg's quiescence. He was Crowley's chela, a novice initiate of the magical Order of the Silver Star which Crowley had founded two years earlier. As such, Neuburg had taken a vow of obedience to Crowley as his Master and affectionately dubbed holy guru and had already learned that in much that related to his life Crowley's word was now law. It was at Crowley's instigation that the two men began to make their way, first by tram and then by foot, into the North African desert to the southwest of Algiers; and it was Crowley's decision to perform there a series of magical ceremonies which prefigured his elaboration of the techniques of sex magic. In this case, the ceremonies combined the performance of advanced ritual magic with homosexual acts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-133
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of British Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History

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