Thursday, July 29, 2021 About Us Terms of Service © Timera Media 2017–2021
 

Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù, Sicily: The ruins of Aleister Crowley’s temple of Thelema

Bojan Ivanov

Unusual houses are sometimes a reflection of the eccentric lives and thoughts of their owners. The life path of some rich and famous people couldn’t be researched without looking into their homes. The fascinating details of the interior and exterior of their preferable places for work and relaxation are usually a manifestation of their own wishes.

Aleister Crowley’s Thelema Abbey/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Aleister Crowley’s Thelema Abbey/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

People who wanted life after death lived their life creating idols from themselves and left marks everywhere in order to make more people to tell their story. Their efforts for making idealized image of themselves can easily be seen in their homes. But, unfortunately, a lot of these buildings are today crumbling silently. They tell us the inevitable truth that nothing lasts forever.

The house is slowly crumbling/Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

The house is slowly crumbling/Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

The Abbey of Thelema is located near the coastal town of Cefalù in Sicily and it is not famous for its unconventional architecture. This small cottage was part of an old Sicilian villa, known as Villa Santa Barbara, built in typical Mediterranean style. The old farmhouse become well known at the beginning of the 1920s when the eccentric Aleister Crowley moved in. There he founded a temple and a safe place for devoted spiritual practice. The Abbey of Thelema was visited by many followers who were deeply moved by his bizarre teachings.

Crowley was well known drug addict/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Crowley was well known drug addict/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Aleister Crowley was an English mystic, occultist, poet, writer, painter and adventurous person. He was also controversial too, calling himself the Great Beast 666. But his philosophy basically was a revolt against the old-fashioned religious and moral norms in the society. It is interesting that he and his followers are considered as the pioneers of the hippy movement and the counterculture of the 1960s. For example, many music groups and legends from that era were inspired by him including the Beatles, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and David Bowie.

Fresco with heads/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Fresco with heads/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1919 he had a vision that he must found a community, in a some way an anti-monastery, where his Thelemite ideas of “Do what Thou Wilt” could be practiced on a daily basis. Crowley traveled a lot. He was even part of the British mountain expedition in Tibet and the Himalayas. In fact his journeys across the globe and the constant digging through forgotten and secret books and teachings shaped his philosophy.

Another fresco with magic spells/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Another fresco with magic spells/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

When he decided to open a temple, Crowley had three locations in mind for his future spiritual center: the coast of south France, the small island Capri, and the fishing town of Cefalù. Because he was in doubt which location should be chosen, he decided to consult the Chinese divination text, I Ching (Book of Changes), which since ancient times was used as fortune teller through various combinations of numbers.

A dark angel/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

A dark angel/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Crowley came in Cefalù and rented a house. He immediately turned the attention of the locals, mostly because he had quite liberal temperament. He was accompanied with his two american mistresses, Leah Hirsig and Ninette Shumway, and their two children. One of the children was Leah’s newborn kid. Crowley wasn’t hiding his drug addiction either. He often visited Palermo to buy drugs and to hire prostitutes. The house became a center where many of his followers came to learn from master Crowley.

Another fresco ruined by another “artist”/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Another fresco ruined by another “artist”/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

He taught them yoga, sun gazing, magic rites and the secrets of his teachings, which were primarily based on discovering and manifesting the true will through hedonistic practices. Inside the house, orgies and strange rituals, which included the sacrifice of animals, happened all the time. Crowley painted the walls with frescoes which contained snakes, naked devils, satyrs, pans, androgen monsters and explicit erotic scenes. Obviously, his frescoes were inspirited by the artistic style of the French painter Gauguin, but the themes were his own expression.

Satyr/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Satyr/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Because of the unhealthy ambience, the baby of Leah died. One of his young students also died after one ritual. That was enough for traditional Sicilians, who from the beginning thought that the place was used for satanic rituals. They warned the fascist government in Rome about the suspicious activities of Crowley, and Mussolini in 1923 expelled Crowley from Italy. The popular press of this era called him “the wickedest man in the world” and there were also rumors that he was a spy of the British intelligence.

Inside the house/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Inside the house/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

Since then the Abbey of Thelema has been left abandoned. The locals are not proud about the abbey and its former inhabitant. The old house is in very bad condition and filled with garbage. Huge parts of it are ruined and overgrown with vegetation, bushes and trees. Visits are forbidden and only with authorization of the police the house can be visited.

One of the rooms/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the rooms/ Author: Frater Kybernetes – CC BY-SA 2.0

But illegal visits have happened in the dark hours of the past decades, because his followers wanted to give respect to their spiritual teacher. Some of the frescoes are still here, but overwritten with graffiti. Even though a huge part of the roof is gone, the property has price of 1.5 million euros. There were some attempts for the house to be adapted into a museum of the life of Crowley, but there wasn’t huge interest about the idea from the local authorities.