(special tanks to commenter Mikey Blayze for suggesting this article)
Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) was a British occultist, writer and mountaineer. Calling himself “the Beast 666”, he founded the religion Thelema, which may have paved the way for New Age, Wicca, Discordianism, Chaos Magick and Satanism.
Arguably the most influential religious leader of the last century, he’s been credited with inspiring a 1960s counterculture characterized by “hippies, social justice warriors, free love, rock music and copious amounts of psychedelic drugs, particularly cannabis and LSD” and is cited as an influence by such counterculture figures as Timothy Leary, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Doors, David Bowie, the Beatles and sexual revolutionary Alfred Kinsey.
Dubbed the wickedest man in the world by the British press, Crowley practiced “every form of sexual deviancy known to man”, in addition to “eating feces, cannibalism and promoting human and animal sacrifice” according to blogger Matt Frohlich.
Crowley also had a very sadistic side. According to historian Gary Lachman, when on a mountain climbing trip, Crowley would whip the South Asian servants to remind them the white man was in charge. When his fellow climbers got tired of this sadistic racism and decided to dump him, Crowley warned that they could never survive the trip down without him, and then sat in his tent drinking tea, as he listened to them die.
Lachman describes an “autistic exactitude” and literalism that caused Crowley to debunk the saying “a cat has nine lives” by killing a cat nine times.
So what was his IQ?
I typically try to estimate people’s IQs from their most salient biological or demographic traits, and then see if there’s any psychometric data to confirm or debunk the statistical prediction. The most salient bio-demographics for Crowley were his incredible influence (as commenter Gypsy advised me), his elite education, and his sexual deviance.
Influence is hard to measure, but in 2002, the British public worshiped Crowley enough to elect him one of the 100 greatest Britons of all time. He was the 73rd most worshiped Brit of all time and the 42nd most worshiped of the 20th century (at least at the time the poll was taken).
To understand how impressive that is, consider that about 11.5 billion people lived in the 20th century. Assuming about one in 114 of them were Brits (that’s the current ratio), then nearly 101 million Brits lived during the 20th century, so ranking 42nd is a one in 2.4 million level achievement!
If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and popular influence, we’d expect Crowley to have an IQ 74 points above the British mean of 100 (the one in 2.4 million level) but the correlation between IQ and worldly power is kind of like the correlation between height and physical power. There’s a noticeable connection between the two, but lots of huge noticeable exceptions as well. With a correlation coefficient of only about 0.4, instead of having an IQ 74 points above 100, we’d expect Crowley to have an IQ 0.4(74) points above 100. In other words an IQ of 130.
However this is likely an underestimate because Crowley was not just spectacularly powerful (in terms of popular impact on society) but highly educated. Even when you compare him to other 20th century Brits that ranked among the most worshiped Brits of all time, Crowley’s Cambridge credential puts him behind only 3% of these super elites [Alan Turing (who graduated from both Cambridge and Princeton), Stephen Hawking (who graduated from both Cambridge and Oxford)] and comfortably ahead of the 84% who have neither an Oxbridge nor Ivy League background.
Thus even when compared to the most worshiped Brits of the 20th century, the greatest of the great, Crowley’s in the 91st percentile academically.
If there were a perfect correlation between IQ and academic credentials, we’d expect Crowley to be 20 IQ points smarter than the average IQ 130 super influential person, since in typical samples, the 91st percentile is 20 IQ points above the mean and assuming elites have similar variability, that should be the case for them too. However the correlation between IQ and education is far from perfect, though until recent decades, it was a potent 0.7, just like the correlation between height and basketball ability.
But because super elites are slightly restricted sample in terms of both IQ and education, the correlation would be slightly less; around 0.64.
So instead of being 20 IQ points smarter than the average most worshiped 20th century Brits, Crowley would be 0.64(20) points smarter, and since the most influential Brits of the 20th century likely average about IQ 130, that would put his expected IQ at incredible 143!
On the other hand, Crowley was a sexual deviant, and these tend to have IQs about 10 points lower than their non-deviant counterparts, so we might expect Crowley’s IQ to be 133 instead of 143. Whatever biological damage messed up the sexual part of his brain, likely hurt the cognitive parts of his brain as well, making him somewhat dumber than other equally educated 20th century icons.
I often estimate IQs from drawings, since this is a readily available way people have demonstrated cognition for tens of thousands of years, and drawing a person is one of the oldest and simplest psychometric tests. Commentary gypsy informed me that Crowley left behind such drawings and so I found one here:
I would give this about a 9 out of 12 on the “Quality scale” of the Goodenough-Harris Draw-a-Person test, which is about 1.35 standard deviations above the sex-combined norms of 15-year-olds (roughly on adult level); equating to an IQ of 120.
But since the above norms are from circa 1962 and Crowley’s drawing is from circa 1921, and the Flynn effect increased scores on this test by 0.26 IQ points per year (at least in Brazil), Crowley’s score likely would have equated to an IQ 131 if measured by the norms of his era. It’s also possible that Crowley’s drawings were deliberately primitive for stylistic reasons.
Of course Draw-a-Person is one of the least accurate IQ tests ever made, so we should supplement it with another measure of ability, this time preferably a verbal one to add variety. Although Crowley never took a verbal IQ test that I’m aware of, he did leave behind his writings.
According to historian Gary Leachman, Crowley’s poetry was “derivative”. From this we might guess he had only average verbal IQ for a writer, but since writers average superior IQs of 120, we might tentatively assign him a verbal score of 120.
So if writing samples gives an IQ of 120, and a drawing sample gives an IQ of 131, it’s tempting to average these to an IQ of 126 (top 5%). However it’s much more rare to average in the top 5% on multiple tests than it is to score in the top 5% on any one test. On the WISC-R IQ test for example, people who average in the top 5% on all subtests, score above the top 1% (IQ 137) on the composite score. Thus I tentatively assign Crowley an IQ of 137. This is 4 points higher than the 133 I predicted from bio-demographic data above, but both suggest an IQ in the mid 130s.
Such an IQ is above the average at even the most prestigious universities in the World, and may help explain why a young Crowley beat the President of the Cambridge chess club at chess.