Most people aren’t aware that Aleister Crowley – bad boy occultist extraordinaire – in fact visited the Hudson Valley in summer of 1918 after staying in Manhattan. For roughly 40 days he inhabited Esopus Island, 100 miles or so north of Manhattan, where he undertook a series of rituals and even bizarre activities such as painting “Do what thou shalt” in big capital letters on the cliffs of the island.
According to Gary Alexander’s article ‘Crowley in the Valley’:
“Rhinebeck author, William Seabrook, who met Crowley through novelist Frank Harris, was among a sympathetic group that staked the financially embarrassed Great Beast that summer to a tent, a ‘sailing canoe,’ and cash for his trip’s provisions. It was Seabrook who introduced the word “zombie” to the English lexicon and a careful reading of his works leaves the impression of a well-informed and level-headed skeptic in matters occult. He described Crowley as “a strange Englishman who devoted a great part of his life to ‘white magic’ and was accused ignorantly by his many enemies of practicing black magic too.”
On the occasion of Crowley’s departure to Esopus on an Albany day boat, Seabrook made much of Crowley’s poverty of pocket, noting that when friends saw AC off that morning they were distressed to find that, having spent every cent of his provisions money on large brushes, thick rope and 50 gallons of red paint, he expected to be “fed by ravens” as was the biblical Elijah who disappeared in a chariot of fire. (This also as the appearance of a Crowleyish joke –for the consonants of the Hebrew word for Ravens, as AC must certainly have been aware, are the same as for Arabs, the equivalent in Elijah’s situation of ‘local yokels.’ So, in context, what AC seemed to be saying was he would count on area farmers for sustenance as the record indicates he did successfully. Or, stretching his glee with obscure wordplay another tad to the “crow” in his name, he may have been saying something about self-sufficiency.)
One of Crowley’s more celebrated accomplishments was the acquisition of several world records in mountain climbing, so it was little bother for him to rig a sling upon his arrival and paint his favorite slogans in enormous letters on the cliffs around Esopus to bedazzle and provoke the passing day boats. It also had the effect of stimulating the curiosity of neighboring families who took to bringing him fresh eggs, milk and sweet corn throughout his stay as he sat endlessly by the roadside in an unshifting lotus position.
On the cliffs, his trademark libertarian sayings rang out: EVERY MAN AND WOMAN IS A STAR! which he explained to mean a sacred and sublime nature existed in every human being which was to be respected. DO WHAT THOU WILT SHALL BE THE WHOLE OF THE LAW, a vital principle of his philosophy which Susan Roberts’ biography of the Beast defines as a declaration of rights for that inward star; “-the internal stability of every human being was regulated by its own nature, and when compulsory, arbitrary man-made codes were imposed, the result was a warped human soul. Thus, the phrase was the expression of the right of every person to live, not as an outlaw, but by his or her own internal integrity.” Consummate conversationalist that he was, AC could weave compelling dialogues around the farmers’ inquiries, smile, and accept an unsolicited entertainment tax.”
Crowley’s visit was the direct inspiration for “By Summer’s Last Twilight”, as was his book “777 and other Cabalistic Teachings of Aleister Crowley”. In addition to Gary Alexander’s article there are plenty of other references to his visit here: