In 1919 , Aleister Crowley - a mystic and occultist known as "The Great Beast - had a revelation: he and his followers had to create a sanctuary, a holy place that would enable them to live through the Law of Thelema on a daily basis. This ideal temple, the Thelema Abbey as he would call it, had to be settled in Cefalù, a small fishing town of the Sicilian coast.
Crowley is a major figure of modern occultism, and was already well known at the turn of the century. Famous for introducing sex and drugs as sacramental rituals into a complex syncretic system he called Magick, Crowley believed in finding ones "True Will." "True Will", famously summed up in Crowley's quote "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.", was an overall part of his mystical system of Thelema. To follow one's True Will was to be in perfect harmony with Nature while also following one's grand destiny.
Your True WIll was you without the hang ups of society nor desire for specified results. Thelemic values such as the quest of True Will and its inherent individualism were later to be absorbed into the sixties counter-culture, and would turn the British occultist into a pop icon, the Oscar Wilde of Esoterica. However a full fifty years before the lukewarm mysticism of the Age of Aquarius, Crowley was busy creating his occult temple in Sicily.
For a small amount of money, Crowley rented the Villa Santa Barbara, a one story house facing the Mediterranean sea. The common room was dedicated to ritual practices and held a scarlet "Magick" circle marked with the sign of the major Thelemic deities. Crowley’s own bedroom, labeled by himself as "La chambre des cauchemars" or the room of nightmares, was entirely hand-painted by the occultist with explicitly erotic frescos, hermaphroditic goblins, and vividly colored monsters. This private room was used for specific night initiations involving psychoactive drugs which gave terrifying cinematic life to this Bosch-like vision of Hell.
Crowley considered his temple a sort of school of Magik and gave it an appropriately university like motto "Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum", or "A College towards the Holy Spirit."
Crowley’s Cefalù period was one of the most prolific and happy of his life, even as he suffered from drug addiction and had to write the scandalous "Diary of a Drug Fiend" to finance his community. But in 1922, the experience in monasticism ended when Raoul Loveday, a young disciple tragically died from typhoid fever after drinking spring water.
Crowley and his people were evicted by Mussolini who had no sympathy for either pornographic art or mysticism. Once the Abbey closed, the villagers whitewashed the murals, which they somewhat rightly saw as demonic. This erased much of the history and work of Crowley. Afterwards, the house was considered haunted and remained abandoned until 1955, when Kenneth Anger- an experimental filmmaker- and the sexuality Professor Alfred Kinsey located the ruins of the villa and attempted to restore the Chambre des Cauchemars. This helped to reveal the past of Crowley’s community, but the lack of money and the sudden death of Kinsey, who had financed the project, caused an abrupt halt to their efforts.
The Thelema Abbey is still there, a hidden monument of mysterious, magickal decay. Even as the old farmhouse crumbles down after decades of abandon, it's still possible to visit and witness a few scant remains of the wall paintings, giving you a glimpse into Crowley’s transgressive cosmology...provided you don't mind trespassing on the property and risking a visit from the Cefalu Police!
As of 2010 the Abbey was up for sale for 1.5 Million Euro. There are currently no reported buyers.