As a culture, we have a very difficult time dealing with what is not the "norm." The Norm is actually just the parameters by which we must conform in order to be a part of society without malice towards us and the most acceptance by the collective. So, when a person shows up in our culture who is brilliant like Nikola Tesla or super talented like Van Gogh, we might not recognize them as the norm and cast them out. Their ability to concentrate (for whatever reasons, whether mental illness, genius IQ or creative eccentricity) has helped them to excel in one arena which can be seen as out of the norm, weird, or even bizarre.
Let's look at a case of someone with perhaps one of the most unusual lives ever lived, who was considered a traitor, a libertine, a freak, evil, the Devil, and more. He obviously had very serious issues, but also a great deal of talent, free thinking, creativity, and lust to do everything he could possibly tackle. His manic behavior makes one wonder, was he bipolar or was something else a driving force in his behavior?
Aleister Crowley was a British occultist, magician, poet and mountaineer who founded a religion called Thelema. This was a most unusual man. He was well educated, son of a very religiously devout father, making a family income off of shares in a brewery. He admired his father who read the Bible to them daily and when he died, Aleister was left adrift with cash and a tendency to get in trouble in school. He got into trouble for questioning inconsistencies in the Bible. He thwarted all conservative lifestyles and practiced masturbation, smoking, and sex with lots of women. He eventually became interested in alpine mountaineering. He studied philosophy and literature at Cambridge. He had an epiphany that he was bisexual after a spiritual awakening. He moved on to Russia after college, but after some illnesses, he began to question mortality and decided to pursue occultism instead of diplomatic work.
Around the turn of the century, he was in Switzerland where he met a chemist and took an interest in alchemy. He became initiated in to the Outer Order of the Golden Dawn. During this time, it was believed he was working as a spy for Britain. He began to practice rituals and the use of drugs.
At the beginning of the 1900s, he moved to Mexico City where he found a lover to live with. He claimed to have been initiated into Freemasonry. He did much mountain climbing and it was believed he might have been looking at Mexico's oil interests for the Brits.
He moved on from there to San Francisco and on to Hawaii, then Japan and Hong Kong. He began to study other religions in these exotic areas. He also wrote poetry. He ended up in Paris eventually where he continued to write.
He wed a woman named Rose and they went to Cairo where he had what he considered to be a spiritual encounter with a supernatural being named Aiwess. He supposedly wrote down everything the voice told him for 3 days and this became "The Book of Law." His wife gave birth to a little girl named Lilith and he continued to publish his poetry and do extreme mountain climbing in the Himalayas.
His wife and child returned to Europe, but Aleister continued to travel to Shanghai, Japan, Canada, and New York City. His daughter died of typhoid. Then, he underwent a period of ill health. He eventually divorced his wife in 1909.
His life became even more colorful when after WWI, he headed to America where he wrote for "Vanity Fair" and experimenting with sex magic, prostitutes, masturbation and males in Turkish bath houses. He began to espouse anti-British sentiment publicly and many called him a traitor, when in reality he was working for Britain to undermine Germany's underworld in New York.
He moved back and forth to the west, to New Orleans, back to New York, and settled in at one point to write about past lives he had lived. He ended up back in London and destitute. He then became addicted to heroin through a prescription for his asthma. He also took off on paths of pilgrimage to learn about Buddhism and Hindu beliefs in India. He married, moved around, and supposedly had a pilgrimage that led to contact with a supernatural being called Aiwass. This is when he wrote The Book of Law, a sacred text based upon Thelema. He eventually moved to Sicily where he started a commune called Abbey of Thelema. He was also ridiculed by many Brits for being bi-sexual, experimenting with drugs, and criticizing popular culture. He moved on in the 1920s to Paris and eventually started his Abbey of Thelema in Sicily. More and more followers joined, but rumors got out of blood rituals and cutting and other evil doings.
Aleister tried to stop his heroin addiction, but could not. A series of bisexual relationships and more writings later, he was deported from France for the belief he was a German spy. In the 1930s, he moved to Berlin. He had a tumultuous relationship with a woman and continued to have affairs with men and women on the side, finally leaving Berlin for London. He was interested in Hitler and hoped he would convert to the church of Thelema.
He continued his writings and practices and furthering his knowledge, moving around restlessly. At the age of 72, he passed on from bronchitis and other complications.
Books by Crowley:
"Book of Law"
"The Book of Lies"
"The Works of Aleister Crowley"
"The Diary of a Drug Fiend"
Quotes by Crowley:
"In the absence of willpower, the most complete collection of virtues and talents is wholly worthless."
"If one were to take the Bible seriously, one would go mad. But to take the bible seriously, one must already be mad."
"Paganism is wholesome because it faces the facts of life."
It would go without saying that, after reading this man's life events (and believe me, this was only an overview without details), one can assume a few things -
he was a restless vagabond
a very high-energy mind
filled with grandiosity
overindulged in drugs, sex and conquering new territories
had no personal boundaries
This is a classic case of bipolar disorder and the heroin use did not seem to curb his inability to finish anything. Religions and religious cults are based upon such people who have powerful minds and grandiose visions. They are charismatic, enthusiastic and others latch onto their light and energy and follow. By designing a belief system that would allow him uncontrolled run of his desires and needs, he felt justified and even pious about his path. He was really quite a tragic figure struggling to make sense of the madness. Ironically, some of the toughest cases of untreated mental illness produce some of the greatest works because their minds don't have the self-conscious self-editing behaviors the majority have and are fueled by lots of energy and little sleep.
Although his writings were at times quite extraordinary and his search for magic and alchemy knowledge and application industrious, we are left with a tragic cult-like figure who seemed to be impotent to complete anything in his lifetime other than a series of attempts followed by distractions.
For some, Crowley goes down in history as a great thinker outside of the ordinary, but then mental illness does help one think outside the ordinary. Reality is a liquid thing; my reality versus your reality - vastly different takes on the same world. For someone such as Aleister, surely his take would seem to many to be guided by higher powers for its extraordinary realms.
Interestingly, this drawing done by Crowley in 1919 shows a being he supposedly met named LAM during channeling to other worlds. Rather alien grey, eh?
Might another explanation for all his behaviors be one of posttraumatic stress following life-long encounters with aliens? Did his traveling ways, need to pursue the spiritual, ability to get past gonorrhea and syphilis before antibiotics were discovered, multiple illnesses and asthma, and yet mountain climbing to 20,000 feet all indicate some exceptional qualities? He traveled the world in the days of ships, was addicted to heroin for a long period of time, came in contact with lots of sicknesses and operations, and yet he survived to write more, document more, and try to convince us of another world and other beings. Was his obsession with alchemy because of his connection with the greys? Yet another consideration....
Although most people are repelled by the life and times of Aleister Crowley as a libertine and excessive deviant, his cumulative travel and experiences reads like the lives of 50 people combined in just 72 years' time. Perhaps he did know a bit of alchemy involving gathering as much human experience as possible in the time allotted by the confines of a mortal body.