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  • Writer's pictureValeria Pugliese

The Abbey of Thelema: Aleister Crowley in Cefalù


After frustrating months locked in my London flat, my flights have FINALLY not been cancelled; I traveled to Sicily, where I spent two weeks of sultry weather and sirocco breeze sweeping away my city-life grey torments, plenty of siren time in the sea depths, fantastic food and precious family time.

As I usually do every time I go during the summer period, I visited Cefalù, a quite popular Sicilian historic coastal town and seaside resort.


The Cefalù visit started with a pleasant walk around the historical center, continued with a swim in the crystalline sea and should have ended with a giant pizza for lunch although… it did not.

My young and wild sister is an urbex passionate and I happened to be aware of Crowley’s magick in Cefalù; my Madame conservative refusal for dangerous explorations resisted slightly, my curiosity to see in person the forgotten drawings of “Wickedest Man in the World” was rather uncontrollable.


So we did it, we paid a visit to the abandoned Abbey.


Once we parked, the crumbling Abbey was already visible: here a decaying monument of English magick surrounded by a beautiful Mediterranean panorama, suffocated by the thick vegetation.

A civil guard was walking around the parking area; we befriended the gentleman and established a positive engagement, stating our status of Londoners on holiday who would like to do some harmless urbex and our disappointment in ascertaining the status of decay of Crowley’s temple of Magick; he explained to us that the Abbey site is private property and no-one seemed to have cared about it for decades; he told us about Magick enthusiasts coming from all around the world to visit the Abbey, with a prevalence of visitors from Germany, Great Britain and New Zealand.


The temple of Thelema is falling apart; apparently, he heard a night-time roar the previous week; another wall collapsed, a piece of Sicilian esoteric history is sadly falling into oblivion.


After some drama, of course justified by me wearing a girly pink dress and flip flops and seeing ominous thorns within the bushes in the descent path, I managed to approach the Abbey and move around as Gollum would have (my Gollum moves have been documented in so much detail that I even became a GIF).


Let me tell you the fascinating story of the Abbey of Thelema.

 

The Abbey of Thelema, founded by Aleister Crowley and located in Cefalù, is a now permanently closed house which was used as a temple for the occult cult of Thelema.

Aleister Crowley

The three statements of Thelema:

"Do what thou wilt" shall be the whole of the Law.
Love is the law, love under will.
Every man and every woman is a star.

Aleister moved to Cefalù in 1920, after consulting the Chinese divination book “I Ching” (Book of Changes), together with his latest mistress Leah Hirsig, their newborn and an international entourage of followers.


The name of the Abbey was inspired to François Rabelais's satire “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, where the “Abbaye de Thélème” is described as the "anti-monastery" where the inhabitants spent their existence “not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing”.


Aleister gave to the Abbey the designation of "Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum", a school of magick towards achieving the holy spirit: the Thelemites’ entourage (including a dog called “Satan”) lived in a utopic commune which included practices and rituals such as meditation, study of Crowley's writings, daily adorations to the sun god Ra, yogic and ritual practices, sex magick (with minors allowed to take part), bestiality, animal sacrifices and drugs consumption (mainly hashish, opium and cocaine).


In 1921, Leah wrote in her diary:

"I will work for wickedness,
I will kill my heart,
I will be shameless before all men,
I will freely prostitute my body to all creatures"

(While I am writing this, picturing these images of debauchery and turpitude in the sensual Sicilian breeze, the song “Principles of Lust” by Enigma comes to my mind… especially the lyrics:

"The principles of lust
Are easy to understand
Do what you feel
Feel until the end."

Thelemite song? Maybe. Let's continue with the story of the Abbey).


The Cefalù retreat represented for Crowley a prolific production period although the magus was, at this point, completely addicted to drugs.


In the year 1923, a member of Crowley's Sicilian crew, the 23 year-old Oxford undergraduate Raoul Loveday, died at the Abbey, after, allegedly, drinking the blood of a sacrificed cat.

A more accurate analysis, referred to enteric fever contracted by drinking from a mountain spring, which may have been worsened by the scarce hygiene conditions at the Abbey.

His wife, Betty May, escaped from the Abbey and galvanised the rumors against the magus after the interview with the British tabloid The Sunday Express,: Crowley was now in the middle of an international scandal, acquiring the infamous reputation of being "the wickedest man in the world".


Exploring the web, I actually found a copy of the 25/02/1923 article published by The Sunday Express; click HERE.


HERE a further interesting article from 26/11/1922 about Crowley in Sicily.


It was Benito Mussolini who expelled Aleister Crowley and what remained of his entourage from Sicily in the year 1923.


Since Crowley's departure, the Abbey of Thelema has been left in a state of dereliction and vandalisation.

 

Reading and writing about Crowley touches something in my unconscious, stimulating the thrill of the forbidden which, I know, is caused by my Sicilian strict Catholic upbringing. Cefalù locals, under the divine sight of their Byzantine Christ Pantokrator, still consider the Abbey of Thelema a cursed place, condemned to fall into forgetfulness.


Before letting us go, the civil guard even said "stati attenti... unnu sacciu e unnu vogghiu sapiri chi successi da rintra..." ("pay attention... I do not know and I do not want know what happened there...").

"I am the light of the world, who follows me will not wander in the darkness but will have the light of life"

I never read a biography about Aleister Crowley and it would be interesting to know if any Sicilian locals were part of Crowley's Thelemites crew.


I am now back in London; following the Preface, this is my first article really.


Should I or should I not explore more Crowley's teachings and learn about Thelema?


Here in London his fame is still strong, although controversial and highly contrasting; he is considered both a weirdo and the greatest occultist and magus, with copies of his writings being available in the occult London bookshops.


The Thoth Tarot Deck is part of my tarot deck collection; it is not advisable to use the Thoth Deck if you are a tarot neophyte; it needs, in fact, an interpretation of its own (absolutely fascinating, I am sure), with reading guidance provided by Aleister Crowley himself in the 1944 in "The Book of Thoth" which has been in my books wish-list for a while.


I have got a visual epilogue, the Thoth Deck Magus card, ending dedication to who, it is said to be, the last great magus of the West.










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