He joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in 1898 and featured prominently in the events which ultimately led to its destruction.
As a young man, Aleister was mountain climbing in Switzerland when he met an Englishman named Julian Baker. Crowley stated that he was interested in finding a master. Baker said that he himself was not a master, but there was someone whom Crowley should meet. This man proved to be George Cecil Jones of the Golden Dawn. Crowley entered the outer order of this famed magical society on 18 November 1898. He did describe his first meeting which his would-be magical colleagues as somewhat of a shock.
There was Florence Farr the actress and Arthur Macken the novelist. Aleister said “It was such an assemblage of nonentities.”
But he did enter the order and accept all of their vows and responsibilities. He stood before the altar with the robe covering his face as the voice within the hall cried: Child of earth: Wherefore hast thou come to request admission to this order?
“My soul is wandering in the darkness seeking the light of occult knowledge and I believe that in this Order the knowledge of that light may be attained.”
Child of Darkness: long has thou dwelt in darkness. Quit the night and seek the day.
The poet William Butler Yeats was a member of the Golden Dawn. He and Crowley seemed to take an instant dislike to each other. Crowley’s version: One night Crowley called on Fr. Demon Est Deus Inversus (Yeats) to show him his (Crowley’s) book of poems. He had expected that Yeats would claim him as the great fellow-poet. Instead, “…he forced himself to utter a few polite conventionalities, but I could see what the truth of the matter was. I had by this time become fairly expert in clairvoyance, clairaudience and clairsentience. But it would not have been a very dull person indeed who failed to recognize the black, bilious rage that shook him to the soul.
I instance this as a proof that Yeats was a genuine poet at heart, for a mere charlatan would have known that he had no cause to fear an authentic poet. What hurt him was the knowledge of his own incomparable inferiority.”
Less than two years later, the Golden Dawn blew sky high. There was a tremendous schism after which it was never again the same Order. Who was at the root of all this contentiousness? Aleister Crowley. Crowley advanced in his Golden Dawn studies. The grades were identified with the Kaballistic Tree of Life. You started at Malkuth, the bottom, and worked your way up the tree. In the earliest grades, the member was only in the outer order. You had to complete several grades before you were admitted to the inner order. The neophyte started at grade zero. John Symonds writes that Crowley certainly did better in the Golden Dawn than he did at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he spent three years and was given no degree at all! After advancing through several preliminary degrees, Aleister was entitled to be admitted to the inner order of the Golden Dawn. The London adepti refused, citing moral turpitude.
McGregor Mathers was living in Paris, where he was still the overall head of the Order. Crowley shuttled over to Paris where Mathers initiated Crowley himself, a figurative slap at the London Isis-Urania lodge. At the same time, Mathers was declaring his superiority over the other main founder, William Wynn Westcott.
This controversy went back to the old issue of the Secret Chiefs (who had not actually shown themselves in material form). Mathers claimed that he himself was the highest chief.
He then sent Aleister Crowley himself over to London to weed out the dissenters and anyone who would not sign complete loyalty to Mathers. Any who might be loyal to Mathers still was to take a personal oath to that effect. The result of this effort was a big battle at the London temple’s door at 336 Blythe Road. Crowley appeared at the door in mask, sword and full Highland dress. Yeats was the man who confronted Crowley at the door. The police received a very unusual appeal to straighten it all out. Crowley wanted the police to evict the London lodge. Yeats wanted Crowley arrested as an interloper.