The Woman Who DumpedAleister Crowley(And the Man She Left Him For.)by Simon Jester
We always read about Aleister Crowley's successes with women. And there were quite a few! Rose Kelly (whom he married,) Leila Waddell and Leah Hirsig are only three of the women who figure most prominently in Crowley's legendary tale of lust, excess, and debauch, but countless other women succumbed to the charms of the man who called himself the Great Beast.
One of these women is rarely mentioned, perhaps because she became one of Crowley's few romantic failures. In fact, she dumped him for another man! This incredible woman was the red-haired Irish poet and artist named Althea Gyles, who became a member of the Golden Dawn and illustrated the works of W. B. Yeats.
From the scant records available online, Althea appears to have been a remarkable woman who was a personal friend of Oscar Wilde and traveled in the same social circles with Irish literary luminaries like W. B. Yeats, James Joyce, and George "AE" Russell. Jerome Reilly, a journalist for the Dublin based Independent.ie, described her as "the wild red-headed poet who was to design and illustrate Yeats's great masterpieces and who, like Yeats, dabbled in the occult in a life punctuated by excess and sexual shenanigans." (Independent.ie May 27, 2007.)
She sounds wonderful! Just like the kind of woman the insatiable Beast would go for! And go for her he did, during the last tumultuous days of his stormy association with the Golden Dawn. By 1900, the famous order was split between two warring factions, one headed by the original founder, MacGregor Mathers, the other led by W. B. Yeats. Since Mathers was willing to promote Crowley ever higher in the order's hierarchy, the Beast naturally sided with him. It was apparently during this period of in-fighting that Crowley had his little fling with Althea Gyles. And, after Yeats expelled him from the Golden Dawn, the plucky Althea ended her affair with the ejected Crowley and took up with (of all people!) Leonard Smithers, the infamous publisher of late Victorian pornography!
Crowley was apparently enraged with jealousy, and blamed this romantic disaster on W. B. Yeats, whom he believed was using black magic to cast evil spells his way. But the ever-resilient Beast soon recovered from this blow to his immense ego, and went on to happily seduce many other innocent (and not-so-innocent) fin de siècle women.
The occasion for this little excursion into the turgid soap opera of late Victorian occult society was my recent discovery of a photograph of Althea Gyles, possibly the only one in existence. I have never been able to find another photo of her online, and when I ran across it last night I immediately wanted to share it with you. It's not a very good photo, I'm afraid, but it's better than nothing, and shows Althea sitting with another famous woman of the period: Countess Constance Markiewicz, who later played a role in the bloody Irish rebellion known as the Easter Rising of 1916 and ended her days in prison. Althea Gyles is the woman on the right. The two ladies are seated in the studio of an artist friend, trying hard to look like starving Bohemians. Below this is a photo of Leonard Smithers, the man who stole Crowley's girl…and lived to tell the tale!
Constance Markiewicz (left) and Althea Gyles (right.)Leonard Smithers--the man who stole Crowley's girl! I wonder if that blurry figure behind Smithers could be Crowley, waiting in the shadows with a knife?