“The wickedest man in the world” and the poet with multiple personalities
What happens when a once-wealthy flamboyant occultist meets a shy nerdy poet? Legend and mystery!
An English, Aleister Crowley, and a Portuguese, Fernando Pessoa, two people with unique personalities, crossed paths in the early 1930’s and the result is talked about still today.
Fernando Pessoa was, at the time, not yet an internationally acclaimed author famous for his several heteronyms. He was considered a bit of a weirdo, living with female relatives, having a peculiar relationship with his always-girlfriend-never-wife Ofélia, working as a translator of, mostly, commercial letters, and moving in the artistic and occultist circles in Lisbon.
Pessoa had received the first of a total of 6 volumes of Crowley’s book “The Confessions of Aleister Crowley”. In it, was included the author’s horoscope, which Pessoa (an astrologer himself) analyzed and concluded to be wrong. When sending the payment for the remaining volumes he added a note in which he asked the editing house to let Aleister Crowley know about the mistake. A few days later Crowley sends Pessoa a letter and, after a while, announces he would like to visit Portugal and meet Pessoa.
On September 2nd 1930 Aleister Crowley arrives in Portugal to visit Lisbon, Sintra and Estoril. He meets Fernando Pessoa a couple of times and on the 23rd he goes to Sintra, where he would apparently stay for a few days. On the 25th Augusto Ferreira Gomes, a Portuguese journalist (who also happened to be interested in the occult *and* was a close friend of Pessoa) finds a cigarette case in Boca do Inferno, a spot on the shore of Cascais, famous for its violent spectacular waves and which was well known for the number of suicides that happened there. Underneath the cigarette case there was a cryptic note, which is then published in Portuguese and foreign newspapers. It read: “I cannot live without you. The other ‘Boca do Infierno’ will get me – it will not be as hot as yours! Hisos! Tu Li Yu”.
Fernando Pessoa collaborates with the Portuguese police: he claims the message was iniciatic and gives several informations which, in all honesty, nobody else could check. For example, despite the fact that Crowley’s name is not on the note, he says that Crowley had once told him that Tu Li Yu had been the name of a wise Chinese man, who had lived 3000 years before Christ and of whom Crowley claimed to be the present incarnation. Newspapers assume Crowley had committed suicide in Boca do Inferno. A few weeks later, however, Crowley appears in Berlin, just in time for the opening of his art exhibition!
Some claim Aleister Crowley committed a kind of ceremonial ritualistic “suicide” in Boca do Inferno. Others say he entered a cave there, which led him to Sintra, through a series of tunnels. Some others believe the whole episode was nothing but a publicity stunt and a way to annoy Hanni, his partner at the time: Crowley was way ahead of his time in terms of personal branding and with the help of Pessoa (and Augusto Ferreira Gomes) he had managed to illude the Portuguese police, probably didn’t pay for his hotel bills and even added yet another layer of mystery to his persona.
Today, there is still not much certainty regarding any aspect of this event. Pessoa and Crowley exchanged many letters which were kept… but not one of the three men involved ever talked about this event later, in the sense of wanting to reveal what really happened. The way I see it, Crowley saw in Pessoa someone who was intelligent enough to help him, but who was also an introvert who he could “dominate” with his personality and reputation.