During a two weeks stay in Sicily I had the opportunity to visit the Abbey of Thelema, also known as the house which was used as a temple and spiritual centre founded by Aleister Crowley and Leah Hirsig in Cefaly-Sicily in 1920.
Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947); born Edward Alexander Crowley.
He was an English occultist, mystic, ceremonial magician, who founded the religious philosophy of Thelema. The Thelemites should seek out and follow their own true path in life, their True Will rather than their egoic desires.
In his role as the founder of the Thelemite philosophy, he came to see himself as the prophet who was entrusted with informing humanity that it was entering the new Aeon of Horus in the early 20th century.
The name was borrowed from François Rabelais’s satire Gargantua and Pantagruel, where an Abbaye de Thélème is described as a sort of “anti-monastery” where the lives of the inhabitants were “spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure.
This idealistic utopia was to be the model of Crowley’s commune, while also being a type of magical school, giving it the designation “Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum”, a college towards the Holy Spirit. The general program included daily adorations to the sun, a study of Crowley’s writings, regular yogic and ritual practices (which were to be recorded), as well as general domestic labor.
The object was for students to devote themselves to the Great Work of discovering and manifesting their True Will.
Crowley had planned to transform the small house into a global center of magical devotion and perhaps to gain tuition fees paid by acolytes seeking training in the Magical Arts; these fees would further assist him in his efforts to promulgate Thelema and publish his manuscripts.
In 1923, a 23-year-old Oxford undergraduate by the name of Raoul Loveday (or Frederick Charles Loveday) died at the Abbey. His wife, Betty May, variously blamed the death on his participation in one of Crowley’s rituals (allegedly incorporating the consumption of the blood of a sacrificed cat) or the more probable diagnosis of acute enteric fever contracted by drinking from a mountain spring.
(Crowley had warned the couple against drinking the water, as reported in biographies by Lawrence Sutin, Richard Kaczynski and others.)
When May returned to London, she gave an interview to a tabloid paper, The Sunday Express, which included her story in its ongoing attacks on Crowley. With these and similar rumors about activities at the Abbey in mind, Benito Mussolini’s government demanded that Crowley leave the country in 1923.
After Crowley’s departure, the Abbey of Thelema was eventually abandoned and local residents whitewashed over Crowley’s murals. Mussolini’s Fascist government expelled Crowley from the country at the end of April 1923.After abandoning the Abbey amid widespread opposition, Crowley returned to Britain, where he continued to promote Thelema until his death.
The villa still stands today, but in very poor condition. You can find it next to the football stadium,on the upper part of Cefalu. Park your car and cross the road. Climb over the barriers, and make your way through the bushes, I strongly advise wearing trousers and boots. The only way in is by a window facing the sea view which leads straight in what could have been the living room. Original paintings are still clearly visible, mainly green ones with portraits and writings, alongside graffiti are made by the people visiting the place over the years. It could easily be a squat as empty cans of beers lie here and there but no more than that.
It is a very strange feeling to be inside of the house, I visited it twice with the same emotion: not scary but something heavy is in the air, something that gives you the thrills and the hair on your arms rise up.
Filmmaker Kenneth Anger, himself a devotee of Crowley, later uncovered and filmed some of its murals in his film Thelema Abbey now considered a lost film. Recently other murals were uncovered, and pictures of them were posted on the Internet.
“Abbey of Thelema” remains a popular name for various magical societies, Witchcraft covens, and Satanist grottoes.
It is also the name of a fan club for controversial rock star Marilyn Manson, who included the line “We’re gonna ride to the Abbey of Thelema, to the Abbey of Thelema…” in his song “Misery Machine”. Experimental musicians Coil, known to be fascinated by mysticism, went a step further in “The Sea Priestess” on Astral Disaster, whose lyrics are a bizarre interpretation of the murals in the Abbey.
The German/Swiss painter and conceptual artist René Luckhardt built after a visit at the Abbey a replica of the interior paintings and showed them on various occasions.
Crowley has remained an influential figure and is widely thought of as the most influential occultist of all time. In 2002, a BBC poll described him as being the seventy-third greatest Briton of all time.
References to him can be found in the works of numerous writers, musicians and filmmakers, and he has also been cited as a key influence on many later esoteric groups and individuals, including Grant Morrison, Marilyn Manson, Alan Moore, Kenneth Grant, Kenneth Anger to name a few!
We spent maybe twenty minutes inside but it felt like two hours. The house is on sale if you are ever interested and have one million euros to spare!