It’s one of the most tantalizing rumors on the internet. Aleister Crowley, one of the most famous masters of the occult ever, was secretly the father of Barbara Bush—and thus, also the grandfather of George W. Bush and Jeb Bush. Is it true? Do we care?

The notion that Crowley could be the grandfather of one of the two or three best presidents of the 21st century has gone beyond the internet—a cursory search finds this idea in a number of books, including a recent Chuck Klosterman volume. The evidence boils down to claims that Barbara Bush’s mother, Pauline Pierce, was in Paris in the 1920s and apparently “partied” with Crowley, eight months before Barbara was born. And according to some websites, there were “sexcapades.”

After digging for a bit, you soon discover that the “Crowley is Barbara Bush’s biological father” rumor comes from a single source: an article on the website Cannonfire, whose author claims to have access to Crowley’s diaries, along with information from a “sixth-level initiate of the Ordo Templi Orientis, the organization Crowley founded in the 1920s. Even in this article, there’s no actual proof that Crowley had sex with Pierce, but apparently she may have been one of four people who helped Crowley explore sex magick, in a ritual called the rite of Eroto-Comotose Lucidity. This ritual was supposed to help Crowley reach the “Grade of Ipsissimus, the highest magickal achievement within his order.”

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I’m not going to keep you in suspense any longer—because numbers (including dates) are often significant in the world of the occult, it’s worth noting the date of the Cannonfire article: April 1, 2006.

So the only source for the “Crowley is Barbara Bush’s biological father” rumor was published on April Fool’s Day. But does that necessarily mean we must dismiss this idea out of hand? To find out if there could possibly be any truth to this notion, I contacted Tobias Churton, author of Aleister Crowley: The Biography.

Here’s what Churton told me, via email:

I did see a report of the story which caused a flutter a few years ago. It relied on a supposition that a certain lady slept with AC when he was living in Paris 1924-1929.

AC slept with quite a lot of women during the period, including photographer Berenice Abbott and others I could name, but I had not seen the name of the lady in question in his diary.

Apparently they had a mutual friend. Sex as a sacrament was very important to AC and he would record all operations or “works” as he called them (in the alchemical sense). There are, however, a few gaps in the diary.

Crowley was very well known in artistic circles in Montparnasse and was highly gregarious, so the chances of the lady being charmed by AC, as many other women were, is high; but there is no direct evidence, that I am aware of, that could lend conviction to the hypothesis that the lady’s pregnancy was the result of a passion for AC.

The fact that Crowley recorded all his sex acts in his diary as part of his mystical practice, and Pierce isn’t in there, is probably kind of a bad sign. But just because there’s no evidence that it happened, and plenty of evidence that it didn’t, doesn’t mean we can’t go on spreading it on the internet, right? Remember: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”

Image of George W. Bush via Associated Press.


Charlie Jane Anders is the author of All The Birds in the Sky, coming in January from Tor Books. Follow her on Twitter, and email her.