Actor and writer JOHN BURNS talks about his arduous journey to inhabit the mind of Aleister Crowley, one of the most notorious occultists of the 20th Century
What does a man see in his life time? What experiences shape and mould him from the outside and, perhaps more importantly, what happens within his own mind that drives him and makes him become the man he is? These are the questions any writer has to ask himself about anyone he is trying to recreate on the stage. Writing my one man play about Crowley was a journey, a journey to some dark and terrifying places.
They call him The Beast and thousands still follow him today, Crowley lives on in his writings and his influence and is one of the towering figures of his age. He was a leading mountaineer, a poet, a novelist, his experiments with drugs and sexual accesses led him to be reviled in Victorian England. So much so that the Daily Mail dubbed him The Wickedest Man in the World and campaigned for him to be hung.
It was his exploration of the occult that gave Crowley his greatest notoriety. Son of a Plymouth Brethren preacher he grew up as a devout Christian but, when his father died, when Crowley was 11 years old, he cast aside his religion and went in search of a different faith. He explored many of the world’s religions only to reject them finally finding solace in what he called Magick, an old faith with its roots in paganism.
Crowley was hedonistic in the way he lived and fearless in his search for the truth. His life is surrounded by myth, half-truths and complete lies, many of them created by Crowley himself. Finding out who he was led me into a labyrinthine world, just as I got close to him he would slip away into another dark corner and present me with another facet of his character.
Standing back stage, about to go on and become Crowley, is an eerie experience. I try to let all the things that he would have seen and experienced in his life flood through my mind. It’s at times like that I feel he is close, sometimes very close indeed. This is a man the world should not forget, a man who teetered on the divide between genius and madness. Which side did he fall? That’s something you must decide.