Esopus Island – Staatsburg, New York - Atlas Obscura

Esopus Island

Staatsburg, New York

An unassuming island in the middle of the Hudson that hosts campers, including Aleister Crowley. 


In 1918, Crowley undertook a Jesus Christ-style hermitic retreat of 40 days and nights. He canoed out to tiny Esopus Island in the middle of the Hudson River to spend his mystical vacation.

The purpose of the island retreat was to translate the Tao Te Ching, a 4th century Chinese philosophical text. He hadn’t brought much food but had packed plenty of red paint, and also put himself to work painting Thelemic graffiti on the island’s rocks. Curious families watching the bald, robed man on the island from the banks of the Hudson began bringing him rations. He was also visited by fans and artists, who brought him food, drugs, and company. Much later Crowley reported experiencing visions of his past lives during his stay on Esopus Island, all of which were somehow very influential figures. His former selves included legendary Taoist Ge Xuan, Renaissance Pope Alexander VI, alchemist Alessandro Cagliostro, and the magician Eliphas Levi. 

Today, the island is open to the public so long as they can reach it by boat. There are even camping amenities for those who wish to follow in the footsteps of the infamous occultist. Crowley’s graffiti is long gone, but the memory of his weird jaunt on Esopus Island lives on.

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