In Episode 311 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore a small cottage in Hebron, New Hampshire, searching for the summer retreat of Aleister Crowley: The Wickedest Man in the World. During the summer of 1916, Crowley came to this cottage to conduct secret and arcane magick. He performed rituals, he wrote about his religion Thelema, he described a visit from a strange fireball, and he communed with nature around Hebron. He left a mark on this small town.
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RAY: Hebron, New Hampshire, Jeff. Population 627 people.
JEFF: This is a small town. It sits on the north shore of Newfound Lake. It’s the kind of town where everyone knows everyone.
RAY: Yup. Small town New England. A white steepled church, a town green, and not much else.
JEFF: It’s the kind of place a person could fly under the radar. I mean, who would look for you here?
RAY: I could see how no one would pay much attention in a town like this.
JEFF: So imagine, if you will, that someone so notorious that he’s known the world over moves into a cottage in town and stays here for months working on some dark dark magic. Ray, we’ve come to Hebron, New Hampshire, to search for Aleister Crowley. The Wickedest Man in the World.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 311 of the New England Legends podcast. Thank you for joining us on our quest to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. And we can’t do it without you! If you’ve got a story lead for us, contact us anytime through our Web site. And while you’re on our Web site you can find access to all of the past podcast episodes, plus video segments from the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime, and see all of the upcoming dates for my band the Pub Kings, and Jeff’s Fall story tour.
JEFF: We’ll go searching for the Wickedest Man in the World in Hebron, New Hampshire, right after this quick word from this sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. We’re looking for the Wickedest Man in the World?
JEFF: That’s right. That’s what Aleister Crowley called himself.
RAY: So not “wicked” in the New England sensed.
RAY: So he’s not the WICKEDEST man in the World. He’s the wickedest man in the world.
JEFF: Now you get it.
RAY: Got it.
RAY: So I’ve heard of Aleister Crowley. And NOT just because of the 1980 Ozzie Osbourne song.
JEFF: Mr. Crowley… What went on in your head?
RAY: Oh, Mr. Crowley… Did you talk to the dead?
JEFF: You fooled all the people with magic / Yeah, you waited on Satan’s call. I wanna know what you meant… And here Randy Rhodes would slay a guitar solo.
RAY: Classic song.
JEFF: About a real guy named Aleister Crowley.
RAY: I thought Crowley was British?
JEFF: He was. Born in 1875 in Warwickshire, England. But he’s got a New England connection through a cottage here in Hebron. Let’s head down Church Lane.
RAY: Okay, we just passed the Hebron Library.
JEFF: Yup, and our destination is the next house here on the left.
RAY: So there’s a white house with a white picket fence out front. And what looks like a smaller guest house next to it.
JEFF: The house was built in 1803, and it’s under private ownership, so we’ll have to observe from the street here.
RAY: And this house has a connection to Aleister Crowley?
JEFF: It does. Between 1913 and 1918, the house was owned by a psychic medium named Evangeline Adams. She and Crowley collaborated on writing some books on astrology. Crowley stayed at this house for four months during a period of his life that he called “magick retirement.” He claimed he did secret and arcane things inside this house during that time.
RAY: So God knows what he opened up in there?
JEFF: God knows is right. To find out more, let’s head back to 1916 and meet Aleister Crowley.
RAY: It’s May of 1916 here in Hebron, New Hampshire. Woodrow Wilson is president of the United States, and the World is at War. Though there’s pressure on the United States to enter the war, so far America has remained neutral.
JEFF: Hebron is a small, quiet, and peaceful town. It’s the perfect place for a retreat, especially from war-torn Europe. Enter Aleister Crowley.
RAY: A little more about Aleister Crowley. He was born to a wealthy family in England. He grew up privileged and devoted himself to poetry, painting, writing, climbing mountains, philosophy, and occultism.
JEFF: Those are exactly the kinds of things you can do when you don’t need to have a real job.
RAY: Right? He founded a religion called Thelema (tha-lee-mah). The word is the English translation to a Greek word that means “to will, wish, want or purpose.” The tenant of the faith comes from Crowley’s most famous quote: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” So basically, do anything you want whenever you want.
JEFF: Well, not exactly. I mean sure, follow your bliss is a big part of the point. But that doesn’t mean there’s no repercussions for your actions, words, and deeds. If you punching me in the face is what thou wilt, I may punch back.
RAY: That’s fair.
JEFF: Crowley studied the occult. He practiced ceremonial magick. He traveled the world studying various form of mysticism and alchemy. He used drugs, he was openly bisexual, he spoke out against what he saw were social ills. Misfits of all kinds were drawn to him. He became a member of the Golden Dawn, and actively promoted his writing and his new religion called Thelema.
RAY: What is ceremonial magick?
JEFF: Crowley would tell you it’s the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will. So basically it’s part psychology, part philosophy, and part alchemy. You have intent on something you want or a specific outcome, and you focus that intent through rituals, actions, and so on.
RAY: Okay, what I know about alchemy is that it’s this medieval sorcery where they tried to turn lesser metals into gold.
JEFF: Right, that was the beginning. If I could take some iron and turn it into gold by mixing it with chemicals and forcing my magical will on the metal, I would be rich beyond belief.
RAY: As far as I know no one was successful making lesser metals into gold or we would have heard about it.
JEFF: True. Over the centuries people like Crowley loved the idea of alchemy as a metaphor. So instead of trying to turn iron into gold, how about trying to turn parts of yourself into something better? Or trying to forge a new relationship with someone through ritual and magick? Or tapping into your own creativity?
RAY: Got it.
JEFF: To many, Crowley is a prophet. A visionary. But to most others he’s a kook at best, and a dangerous devil worshipper at worst. And now he’s moving into this cottage here in Hebron, New Hampshire, to stay with his friend, Evangeline Adams.
RAY: Being a small town, folks around here mostly keep to themselves. Many have never even heard of Aleister Crowley. So they pay Evangeline’s guest little mind.
JEFF: Crowley quickly settles into his summer get away. He spends time canoeing on the lake.
[ROW ROW ROW]
JEFF: He’s taking in nature, pondering the universe, and working on rituals.
[WALKING IN WOODS]
RAY: He’s heading into the woods. Let’s follow him.
RAY: Huh… what’s he going to do with that frog?
RAY: I don’t like the looks of this…
JEFF: He’s making a wooden cross out of some branches.
[HAMMER HAMMER HAMMER]
RAY: Oh man… this is awful.
JEFF: Oh! He’s nailing the frog to the cross. He’s literally crucifying the frog!
[CHEWING SLURPING SOUNDS]
RAY: I think I’m gonna be sick. Now he’s eating the frog.
JEFF: I don’t get what crucifying a frog will get you, but I suppose he has his reasons. Do what thou wilt. Thou may get salmonella.
[FADE IN NIGHT CRICKETS]
JEFF: Back at the cottage in Hebron, Crowley is hard at work on his craft. He’s performing sex magick, and working on a ritual to end Christianity.
RAY: End Christianity?!
JEFF: It’s a bold endeavor. I’m not sure if the frog crucifixion played any part in this ritual.
RAY: Well, I can guarantee you the frog will never become a Christian now.
JEFF: Good point.
RAY: Weeks go by, and Crowley continues his rituals, his writing, his walks in the woods, and his canoe trips on the lake. At one point, Crowly writes he was visited by a strange fireball.
RAY: Just another day in the life of a guy called the wickedest man in the world.
JEFF: After four months, Aleister Crowley packs up his things, and ends his retreat ready to go make mischief in the world again. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Aleister Crowley died n 1947. He was 72 years old. But his writings and work became an inspiration for various counterculture movements, especially in the 1960s. So his legacy and religion lives on.
RAY: And he cast some of those spells right here at this house in front of us. Do you think any of it was real?
JEFF: Ray, I know like me you were raised Catholic. You sat in church and watched the mass. Ritual magicians will tell you that you’ve seen plenty of ritual magic. You watched the priest perform it at an altar. You watched the priest say spells and incantations over wine and flat crackers, you believed those spells and incantations turned the wine into the blood of Christ and the cracker in the body of Christ. For the faithful, that magic works each and every week. And of course that’s just one example.
RAY: But I’ve never seen a priest crucify a frog.
JEFF: No. Me neither. And maybe that was Crowley’s point. To be absurd at times if not cruel. To make waves and ask if what he does is any stranger than what rabbis, priests, or imams do at their religious ceremonies.
RAY: But when you attack specific religions like Christianity, some people take that personally.
JEFF: Yeah they do. As if it’s some fragile thing that could be brought down by one person. Sometimes the faithful seem to have little faith.
RAY: I feel like there’s a lot of people today who are already on board with Crowley’s mantra of: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
JEFF: Yeah, there are some people out there who live that way and seem oblivious to the consequences part. Still, it’s worth mentioning that there are two follow-ups to that mantra. Two more tenants of the religion that don’t get mentioned enough. Part two is: Love is the law, love under will. And part three is: Every man and every woman is a star.
RAY: We think you’re a star for riding along with us every week. New legends every Thursday at noon, and From the Vault with new commentary every Monday.
JEFF: And that takes us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and often veer off course.
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If you’d like to see some pictures of Aleister Crowley and this Hebron cottage, click on the link in the episode description, or go to our Web site and click on Episode 311.
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