We include two essays which describe
Law Of Thelema -
An essay by Alexander
Introduction To Thelema
- An essay by the
U.S. Grand Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis. "O.T.O."
stands for Ordo Templi Orientis, the Order of Oriental
Templars, or Order of the Temple of the East. "O.T.O. is
an Outer Thelemic Order", and is the "first of the great
Old Æon orders to accept The Book of the Law, received
by Aleister Crowley in 1904 EV.
THE LAW OF THELEMA
by Alexander Duncan
B.A. (Hon.), York University
Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947)
contributed greatly to the "magical revival,” as it has been called,
during the first half of the 20th Century. His written works have
had a profound effect on the practice of Magick. In addition,
Satanism, as currently practiced by the Church of Satan and similar
groups, have relied heavily on a sensationalistic interpretation of
There are even marks of his influence in the writings
of Gerald Gardner, the individual most responsible for the
recreation of Wicca circa 1950.
Unfortunately, many conservative Christian authors have associated
Crowley's beliefs and practices with Mediaeval Satanism. The latter
was a form of Satan worship that did not exist in reality. The
Christian church invented it in order to provide the theological and
legal justification for the Witch burnings of Western Europe.
Because of this association, most of the writings by Fundamentalist
and other Evangelical Christians about the Law of Thelema and
Crowley are hopelessly inaccurate, and may be safely ignored.
The following accurate material was provided by Alexander Duncan,
B.A. (Hon.) (Dept. of English, York University, North York, Ontario,
Canada) Permission to copy, reproduce, or distribute this material
is freely granted provided there is no charge and the name and
e-mail address of the author is included in every copy. Alexander
Duncan can be contacted by email at
The Law of Thelema was revealed to the world by a praeterhuman
Intelligence calling himself Aiwass in Cairo, Egypt in March
and April, 1904 e.v. Aiwass appeared first to Rose Edith
Kelly nee Crowley, in an altered state of consciousness (ASC),
and subsequently to the British poet and magical adept, Aleister
Crowley (born in Leamington, England on October 12, 1875 e.v.).
Aiwass proceeded to demonstrate his objective existence
independently of the psyches of both Crowley and Rose, by leading
them to the stele of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, a Theban Egyptian priest of
the 8th century B.C.E., in the Boulak Museum, where they had never
been. He then dictated a sacred text to Crowley called the Book of
the Law. For five years thereafter Crowley resisted the Law of
Thelema and the mission of Thelemic prophet laid upon him by Aiwass,
regarding the Cairo Working, as it is called, as an "astral vision"
(i.e., a purely imaginative – but not "imaginary" – experience).
However, Crowley’s subsequent attainment
of the grade of Master of the Temple in the Supreme College of the
Great White Brotherhood resulted in his acceptance of the Law of
Thelema and of his own prophetic role as described in the Book of
Crowley proclaimed himself as the prophet of a new eon for
humanity for the first time in his long mystical poem, Aha! (1909),
which has been compared in beauty and profundity to the
Bhagavad-Gita. Thereafter he signed his correspondence and formal
instructions with the two main slogans of the Book of the Law, “Do
what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and “Love is the law,
love under will.”
Crowley founded a magical society,
the A. ..A. .., took over the
leadership of another,
the O.T.O. (Ordo Templi Orientis), and wrote a series of formal
instructions promulgating the Law of Thelema, as well as teaching
Scientific Illuminism and Magick. Many of these formal instructions
were published during his lifetime in his Equinox periodical and
Crowley believes that the Law of Thelema resolves all
spiritual quandaries, harmonizes science and religion, and
supersedes all historical dispensations, establishing a new cultural
epoch for humanity, which he calls the New Aeon of Horus, the
Crowned and Conquering Child. According to Crowley, the New Aeon
will endure for at least several hundred years, possibly for as long
as two thousand years.
During his lifetime Crowley succeeded in attracting a small
following, mainly in Germany and America, of no more than one or
perhaps two hundred souls (counting all those who adhered to Crowley
at any time, for any length of time; a much smaller number remained
faithful to Crowley at the end of his life). Crowley lost many
followers due to his troublesome personality and libertine
lifestyle, especially after he came to the attention of the British
tabloid press following the First World War.
After his death, Crowley left behind him
a disorganized and demoralized O.T.O. movement which has since split
up into several competing factions, notably the American Caliphate
founded by McMurtry, the Swiss O.T.O. founded by Metzger, the
English O.T.O. under the leadership of Kenneth Grant, and a
Brazilian O.T.O. founded by Marcelo Ramos Motta. A very few members
of the original A. ..A. .. also carried on the work in a very
limited way, but the A. ..A. .. organization qua organization did
not survive Crowley, at least not openly.
A larger number of revivals of the O.T.O., A. ..A. .., and other
self-professed Thelemic groups, without any clear historical link to
Crowley, with various, sometimes divergent points of view, have also
come into existence since a revival of interest in Crowley’s work
associated with the counterculture revolution of the 1960s and
Today the Law of Thelema has attracted several thousand
adherents worldwide, as well as a larger following of curiosity
seekers, including several prominent rock stars. The Law of Thelema
has a strong presence on the Internet, and many of Crowley’s
writings are available online. Crowley first editions are in demand,
and fetch high prices in the rare book market.
Introduction – History:
The Law of Thelema, also called Scientific Illuminism and Magick
(spelled with a terminal 'k' to distinguish the authentic science of
the Magi from sleight of hand), originated in the Cairo Working. At
the time, Crowley interpreted the Cairo Working as an astral vision.
At this time, Crowley was a Minor Adept of the Hermetic Order of the
Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn
was the most distinguished occult
society of recent times, which included such luminaries as the poet
William Butler Yeats and the Buddhist bhikkhu, Allan Bennett (Bhikkhu
Ananda Metteyya) - click image right.
Thus, at the time of the Cairo Working Crowley was
an advanced experimental occultist in his own right, although Rose,
who was pregnant with their only child, had no experience as a
clairvoyant. Crowley was also a published and fairly well known
minor poet of controversial verse, yogi, world-class traveler and
mountaineer, pornographer, drug taker, and wealthy libertine.
Crowley’s father, Edward Crowley, used the leisure that the small
brewing fortune that he inherited from his father provided him to
spread the gospel of Jesus Christ according to the fundamentalist
teachings of the Plymouth Brethren sect. Crowley reacted against
this fundamentalist and evangelical upbringing but his interest in
religion, which, despite his promiscuous lifestyle, was serious and
sincere, persisted. Because of his wife's and his contact with Aiwass, Aiwass dictated to Crowley a sixty-five-page document,
called the Book of the Law, in length about equal to Lao-tse’s Tao-te
Crowley came to regard the Book of the Law as having nothing
whatever to do with himself, despite the similarity of style and
sentiment to Crowley's previously published writings (despite these
similarities, the Book of the Law is also very different, being far
more disorganized and ecstatic than anything Crowley produced before
or after, and referring to events in Crowley’s future that
subsequently occurred). During this dictation Crowley "saw" Aiwass,
who appeared as an Assyrian or Persian aristocrat with veiled eyes.
Crowley also stated that Aiwass’ English was devoid of any accent.
Book of the Law is written in a flamboyant style, punctuated by
innumerable exclamation points as well as powerful passages of real
sublimity, profundity, and beauty, addressing a host of real
spiritual problems, and prophesying various events, most notably the
advent of the Second World War in the 1940s, which was fulfilled
thirty-five years later. The Book of the Law is both a radical
postmodernist critique and an endorsement of religion, which claims
to go beyond all previous historical dispensations and reveal to
humanity nothing less than the basis of a new spiritual epoch, the
New Aeon of Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child.
In Egyptian mythology, Horus is the son of Isis, the Great Mother
goddess, and Osiris, the Dying God. After Osiris is slain by his
murderous brother Set, Horus rises up against Set and assumes the
throne and place of his father, Osiris. In the Thelemic exegesis,
Horus represents the inauguration of a new spiritual way, which will
be preceded by a transitional period of unprecedented disaster and
suffering (Set), in the very beginning of which we are now (Crowley
believed that this period would last several centuries, and would
ultimate in the destruction of Judaeo-Christian civilization, which
he identified with Osiris, the Dying God).
In fact the Book of the Law is heavily indebted to various literary
precedents, including the Judaeo-Christian apocalyptic writings,
Gnosticism, Zoharic Cabala, magic, the Enochian writings of Dee and
Kelly, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Hindu and Buddhist
Tantra, Taoism, and even Vodou, and, more recently, the writings of
Francois Rabelais, Max Stirner, Friedrich Nietzsche, and others.
word "Thelema" is derived from the Greek θελημα, meaning "will," and
is believed to conceal various symbolic allusions in the letters and
their numerical values (like Hebrew and Arabic, Greek letters are
also numbers). Will is preeminently, however, not free, but true,
thus raising the Law of Thelema above simple libertarianism.
Thelemites are divided into two main spiritual schools or orders,
Astrum Argentium, or Silver Star), and
(Ordo Templi Orientis, or Order of the Temple of the Orient)
(there are at least two more
Thelemic organizations authorized by Crowley, viz., the
L.I.L. and the G.B.G., and a few that appeared posthumously,
but the former are the main ones).
The A...A... is a temporal manifestation
of the Great White Brotherhood, and not necessarily the only one,
one of the three fundamental spiritual schools of humanity, the
the Black School, associated mainly with
the Yellow School, associated mainly with
the White, Black, and Yellow Schools, there is a fourth
group called the Black Brotherhood, not to be confused with the
Black School, whose adherents consist of high ranking adepts who,
through fear and selfishness, failed to transcend the limitations of
the human personality and hence “fall back into” or “remain in” the
abyss, where they morally disintegrate
The Black Brothers are at
odds with all true spiritual schools, and seek to dominate the human
race, subjecting them for their own purposes. They are closely
associated with the exoteric systems based on priest craft and
rules, which almost completely reject the pursuit of personal
spiritual experience in favour of a rule-based ethic of obedience,
conformity, and vicarious salvation.
The Black Brothers interfere with human
history in pursuit of their own agenda, precipitating wars, chaos,
and social strife, promoting authoritarianism, materialism,
rationalism, industrialism, urbanism, scientism, and collectivism,
and repressing all authentic spirituality in the pursuit of global
domination and the subjection of the human race. The White School
also involved in human history, much more so than either the Black
or Yellow Schools, which avoid worldly involvements.
Many of the
greatest historical spiritual teachers, as well as many artistic and
scientific geniuses, have actually been Secret Chiefs of the
White Brotherhood, who have entered into incarnation in order to
help guide humanity towards the realization of the ultimate goal,
the attainment of universal enlightenment. Aleister Crowley himself
claimed to be a Secret Chief of the White School, and not a Black
Brother, although in a moment of pique he described himself as a
The A...A... is divided into ten grades, plus four intermediate
grades (shown below in square brackets), divided into three orders,
which altogether comprise a complete system of spiritual attainment,
as follows (from highest to lowest):
The Order of the Silver
Star (The S.S.)
Ipsissimus 10° =
Magus 9° = 2□
8° = 3□
The Order of the
Rose-Cross (The R.C.)
The Order of the Golden
Dawn (The G.D.)
Philosophus 4° =
Practicus 3° = 8□
Zelator 2° = 9□
Neophyte 1° = 10□
The ten main grades correspond to the
Cabalistic Tree of Life, a diagram that represents the
correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, reality and
As in the A...A..., the O.T.O. is divided into three sets of three
grades, the three main grades being (from lowest to highest) the Man
of Earth, Lover, and Hermit, based on the grades described in the
Book of the Law. However, unlike the A...A..., these grades are
ritually conferred in the style of Freemasonry and correspond to
increasing degrees of intelligence not tied to actual magical or
mystical tasks or attainments.
The Law of Thelema is a system of experiential spirituality. This
means that Thelemites engage in various spiritual practices in order
to realize the truth of the spiritual life in and for themselves.
The ultimate goal of the spiritual life is to identify with and
actually become a spiritual being, free of the constraints and
constrictions of conditioned existence. The state of being a
spiritual being is an ecstatic, powerful state of union with
everything (Thelemic "compassion"). The Law of Thelema also teaches
that all religions are variations of one fundamental underlying
spiritual truth, which become fragmented into different religious
traditions as a result of variations of place, time, and degree of
realization and mutual isolation and hostility as, with the passage
of time, religions become increasingly diversified and exclusive.
Religions thus harden into increasingly
exoteric systems, based on devotion to priest craft and rules, in
which individual spiritual experience is increasingly repressed in favour of an official orthodoxy, ultimately the prerogative of the
Black Brothers, which becomes increasingly metaphorical and
vicarious. Thus, the Law of Thelema rejects “religiosity”
altogether, and actively seeks to destroy it, since the religious
attitude in this sense is harmful to the spiritual life and impedes,
blocks, restricts, and interferes with real spiritual progress.
Consequently, Thelemites incorporate practices from all religious
traditions without distinction, in order to reconstitute the
primordial tradition that underlies them all. Crowley compared this
process to recombining the colours of the spectrum into white light.
This reconstruction is the special task of Scientific Illuminism,
which is one aspect of the Law of Thelema, the operative branch of
which is Magick.
Spiritual practices are pursued in the context of various systems of
attainment, which are appropriate to different types of aspirant,
differentiated by race, culture, personal psychology, and degree of
realization or "grade." Consequently, not all practices are suitable
for all aspirants at all stages of development. Recognizing which
practices are suitable to which aspirants at different stages of
their spiritual development is the special skill of a spiritual
In the system of the A...A..., the grades correspond to specific
tasks and corresponding attainments, arranged in an hierarchy. Many
of these tasks and attainments have become the special study of
parapsychology and transpersonal psychology in recent years. In the
system described by Crowley, these are the main attainments of the
Outer Order (collated from the three main documents describing these
attainments, Liber XIII, Liber CLXV, and "One Star in Sight"):
¨ The Neophyte formulates the
Body of Light (popularly known today as "astral
¨ The Zelator masters Hatha Yoga, specifically, Asana and
Pranayama, resulting in the experience of “psychic opening.”
¨ The Practicus achieves Kundalini Awakening, so-called (see
Lee Sanella, The Kundalini Experience).
¨ The Philosophus masters Rising on the Planes (popularly
known as the "out of body experience" or "OBE").
¨ The Dominus Liminis acquires the power of mental
¨ The Adeptus Minor attains the Knowledge and Conversation
of the Holy Guardian Angel, so-called, corresponding to the
Hindu trance-state known as Atmadarshana, but with important
differences as well.
The work of an aspirant to the A...A...
is so subtle and advanced that it is beyond the ability of most
people, although a few aspirants attained high grades in the
A...A... during Crowley’s lifetime. The tests, some of which are
published, which Crowley applied to aspirants in order to qualify
were very stringent, and Crowley did not grant grades casually. For
one has to "astral travel" through an abstract symbol that
one has never seen before and describe a vision the character of
which is consistent with the symbol's meaning in order to pass the
test for "rising on the planes."
Crowley was promoted to the leadership of the English branch of the O.T.O. in 1912 e.v., and he used this order ever afterwards as a
vehicle for popularizing the Law of Thelema, as well as the practice
of the Supreme Secret of the O.T.O. During his lifetime, this secret
was zealously guarded, although it is not always discreetly hinted
at in the esoteric literature of the day and by Crowley himself.
However, since Crowley’s death the cat has long been out of the bag.
The Supreme Secret of the O.T.O. is nothing other than the use of
sex in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, equivalent in fact to
a Western Tantra. Sex is, of course, the single most powerful
psycho-physiological energy in man, so pressing it into the service
of spiritual development is a natural evolution, once one overcomes
the restriction of shame. From the Tantric point of view, sexual
abstinence is really a form of "sex magick," so-called, since sexual
abstinence modifies the sexual instinct.
Exotericism sees in sexual abstinence
the rejection of sexuality per se as contrary to the spiritual life,
but the Tantric view is more subtle and profound. Rather than
rejecting sex, the Tantric practitioner seeks to sublimate the
sexual energy, inhibiting its outflow so that the energy accumulates
in the brain, its original source, where it induces the state of
illumination (the physiological precursor of enlightenment). Once
one realizes that this is how sexual abstinence actually works, the
possibility of a contrary methodology presents itself to the
discerning consciousness. Instead of repressing the sexual energy,
one can intensify it to the point where the sheer excess of sexual
arousal causes the energy to ascend the spine and, once again,
"illuminate" the brain. In the latter case, however, the body is
also "illuminated." Thus, the formulae of sexual abstinence and
orgiastic excess are realized to be essentially identical,
variations of the same underlying energy-economy.
The members of the O.T.O. are encouraged to engage in practical
experimentation, and many members pursue various tasks connected
with the Great Work. This is especially true of the followers of
Kenneth Grant (click image right), who has created a system of Thelemic attainment
strongly suggestive of Vodou, the primal religion of Africa and
humanity, since, according to current archaeological research,
humanity originated in Africa.
In addition to the major tasks of the Great Work described above,
committed Thelemites are enjoined to engage in a number of regular
daily practices that have the effect of disciplining and directing
the mind and regulating one’s life according to objective natural
cycles. These include (based on the Official Publications of the
¨ A short reminder of one’s
dedication to the Great Work, spoken before meals.
¨ Rituals of purification and empowerment, performed at the
beginning and end of each day (see Liber V, XXV, and XXXVI).
¨ A daily eucharist (see Liber XLIV).
¨ The adoration of the Sun, followed by one hour of
meditation, repeated four times daily; thus, the truly
committed Thelemite, like the followers of the Sant Mat,
meditates four hours per day (see Liber CC).
¨ Adoration of one’s Star, performed as it rises above the
horizon (see Liber CMLXIII)
In addition to the foregoing, members of
the O.T.O. observe the Gnostic Mass (see Liber XV), in which the
Supreme Secret is rehearsed and an eucharist consumed by the
celebrants, and various visualization practices. The Book of the Law
also refers to the spiritual use of drugs, which informed the
spiritual practice of many significant spiritual teachers before
their criminalization, including Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff
(according to Timothy Leary), Julius Evola, Aldous Huxley and
others. Drugs are also an integral part of many different South
American aboriginal shamanic cultures. The traditional cultures of
the Quiches, Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs bears many striking
affinities to the Law of Thelema, more so even than Africa.
The Book of the Law was written when Aleister Crowley was a
Adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Subsequently he
underwent an experience, called the "ordeal of the abyss," similar
to the "dark night of the soul" of the mystics, in which he
completely annihilated his human personality and achieved an extreme
state of "psychic opening." He became completely open and receptive
to the influx of the divine consciousness, an intense, intuitive, transrational, and ecstatic state of self-perfection and realization
of reality in its fundamental and ultimate aspects.
In this state, intermittently over a
period of five years, Crowley wrote a series of books, ranging in
length from several hundred to several thousand words, concerning
which he declares that they are beyond rational criticism, i.e.,
absolutely and indubitably true. These books were written
"automatically," i.e., without rational reflection, in a state of
trance. These works constitute the revelatory foundation of the Law
of Thelema, and are referred to, including the Book of the Law, as
the Holy Books of Thelema. In order of writing, they are:
Liber AL vel Legis (1904
Liber Liberi vel Lapidis
Lazuli (1907 e.v.)
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente
Liber Stellae Rubeae (ibid)
Liber Porta Lucis (ibid)
Liber Tau vel Kabbalae Trium
Liber Trigrammaton (ibid)
Liber Ararita (1907 or 1908
Liber Arcanorum των Atu του
Tahuti, etc. (1907 and 1911 e.v.)
Liber B vel Magi (1911 e.v.)
Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus
Hermeticus (1911 e.v.)
Liber Cheth vel Vallum
Abiegni (1911 e.v.)
Liber A’ash vel Capricorni
Pneumatici (1911 e.v.)
In addition to the foregoing, Crowley
wrote (or, rather, dictated to his disciple and lover, the poet
Victor Neuburg, in an ASC) The Vision and the Voice.
The Vision and
the Voice (properly, Liber XXX Aerum vel Saeculi) is a series of
visions based on the Enochian magical workings of famed Elizabethan
scholar John Dee and his skryer Edward Kelley, to which Crowley traces the beginning of the process culminating in the advent of the
New Aeon in 1904 e.v. Crowley claimed to be Edward Kelley’s
reincarnation. All but the first two visions were received in the
Sahara Desert in 1909 e.v., to which he ascribed a combined
classification, viz., A-B, Class 'A' being a "holy book" as
discussed above, and Class 'B' an ordinary work of rational
A prefatory note to The Treasure House
of Images, published in The Equinox in 1910 e.v., was assigned the
'A' classification. Liber NU and Liber HAD also contain instructions
received directly from V.V.V.V.V., Crowley's motto as a Master of
the Temple of the A...A..., which are presumably also Class 'A,'
since V.V.V.V.V. corresponds to Crowley’s neschamah, the soul in its
Finally, in 1925 e.v., after a hiatus of more than a decade, Crowley
penned the last and the shortest of the Holy Books of Thelema, a
short preamble to the Book of the Law of only 77 words (plus 27
words of quotation from the Book of the Law), in which both the
study and discussion of the Book of the Law are specifically and
absolutely prohibited. Most Thelemites today follow Crowley’s lead
in interpreting The Comment to mean that no one may publicly
interpret the Law of Thelema, and that those who do so are to be
shunned, despite the fact that the prohibition is only applied to
the text of the Book of the Law itself, and not any other holy book.
Consequently, little critical literature on the Law of Thelema (as
distinct from biography) has appeared since Crowley’s death in 1947
e.v., the only notable exception being the writings of Kenneth Grant
The Magical Revival,
Aleister Crowley and the
Hidden God, and
However, Grant and his followers are
shunned as heretics by many Thelemites, especially the followers of
the American Caliphate, who accuse him of collaborating with John Symonds. Symonds, who many Thelemites believe exploited the “old
man” for personal profit and gain by hypocritically maneuvering
himself into the position of Crowley's literary executor, is the
author of several extremely hostile biographies of Aleister Crowley,
as well as the co-editor with Kenneth Grant of a number of Crowley's
writings. In his final Crowley biography, King of the Shadow Realm, Symonds claims that Crowley was actually psychotic (similar
assertions are sometimes made about Carl Gustav Jung as well, and
are clearly ideologically motivated).
The Holy Books of Thelema are remarkable by any standard, especially
the two longest books,
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente and
vel Lapidis Lazuli, although personal hostility towards Crowley has
caused them not to be as widely regarded as they should. Except the
Book of the Law, the Holy Books of Thelema represent the high water
mark of Aleister Crowley's literary career for sustained
philosophical sublimity, lyric and symbolic beauty, and structural
elegance. Often obscure, they are nevertheless potent and profound
testaments to the ecstatic integrity of Aleister Crowley’s spiritual
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente
is an account of the
Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian
Angel. Crowley also wrote a long and interesting commentary on this
particular holy book.
Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli
describes the Ordeal of the Abyss from an universal perspective,
The Vision and the Voice documents Crowley’s own attainment
of this grade as well as offering innumerable insights into the Law
of Thelema and the New Aeon in general. These two attainments, the
Angel and the Abyss, constitute the two critical events in the life
of the adept in Crowley's system, by which the aspirant becomes a
Major Adept and a Master of the Temple respectively, and have
considerable resonance with the perennial philosophy from which all
authentic spiritual insights derive.
Another holy book, Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni, describes the
grade of Babe of the Abyss, and
Liber B vel Magi describes the grade
Liber Porta Lucis and Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus
describe Crowley’s mission as Thelemic prophet and the task of
initiation in the New Aeon.
Liber Tau vel Kabbalae Trium Literarum
explains the ordeals of the grades.
Liber Ararita is a description
of the spiritual path in extremely subtle and abstract language.
Liber Trigrammaton describes the process of cosmic devolution.
Arcanorum interprets the Tarot trumps as an initiatory sequence.
Liber A'ash and Liber Stellae Rubeae offer practical instruction in
Liber AL vel Legis, the Latin rendering of the "Book of the Law," is
of course Aiwass' proclamation of the advent of the New Aeon and its
(Even although Crowley had not crossed the abyss
when Aiwass revealed the Book of the Law, he classifies it as an
holy book because it represents the dictation of Aiwass himself, who
holds the rank of Ipsissimus, i.e., the highest possible grade.
Crowley himself only attained this grade seventeen years later, in
1921 e.v., at which time he and Aiwass became one being: thus the
relationship with the Holy Guardian Angel represents in the Thelemic
view a kind of spiritual marriage).
Part of the spiritual discipline of a Thelemite consists in the
coordination of his personal, individual, terrestrial life with the
great cosmic cycles that regulate the life of the earth and
humanity. Accepting the Law of Thelema is itself such an act of
coordination or alignment with the cosmic cycle known as the
precession of the equinoxes. Crowley implies that the New Aeon of
Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, which began with the
self-revelation of Aiwass at the Vernal Equinox, 1904 e.v.,
corresponds to the advent of the astrological Age of Aquarius. By
aligning one’s personal life with the universal life mediated by
these cycles one becomes a vehicle of the manifestation of the
universal life, thus making oneself a channel of higher spiritual
forces which in turn accelerate one’s natural spiritual evolution
and affect the karma of the planet.
Other cycles with which the Thelemite aligns his life are the
diurnal motion of the Sun, specifically, sunrise, noon, sunset, and
midnight; the diurnal rising of the star or constellation rising in
his horoscope; the diurnal rising of the lunar orb; the monthly
lunar cycle, especially the new and full moons; the monthly entry of
the sun into the signs of the zodiac; the annual
solar cycle of the
equinoxes and solstices; and an annual calendar of holy days
prescribed in the Book of the Law, as follows:
¨ The First Night of the Prophet and
His Bride, corresponding to the consummation of the marriage of
Aleister Crowley and Rose Edith Crowley
(click image right) on August 12, 1903 e.v.
¨ The Writing of the Book of the Law, on April 8, 9, and 10,
¨ The Supreme Ritual, commemorating the successful Invocation of Horus on March 20, 1904 e.v.
All these times are celebrated by means
of rituals, in which energy is generated, and feasts, in which
energy is both discharged and absorbed. In addition, Aiwass’ directs
that the birth, puberty, and death of Thelemites and their children
are to be celebrated.
Many Thelemites also observe the
"quarter-days" of the Wiccan religion, viz.,
Samhain (November 1
Imbolc (February 1 eve)
Beltaine (May 1 eve)
(August 1 eve)
Finally, the Book of the Law alludes to a mysterious
feast of Tahuti, which has never been satisfactorily explained.
The Problem of Aleister Crowley’s
Many criticisms of the Law of Thelema are based on a moral critique
of the personal character and conduct of Aleister Crowley. These
accusations generally resolve themselves into seven basic
assertions: that he was a pornographer, traitor, sexual deviant,
sado-masochist, womanizer, drug addict/alcoholic, or even psychotic.
Each of these accusations can be discussed in the context of the
evidence. It is certainly true that Crowley published or wrote
pornographic poems and stories, and was extremely interested in
extreme sexual experimentation; that he wrote apparently pro-German
propaganda in America during the First World War; that he engaged in
sexual relationships with both men and women; that he engaged in
physically and psychologically abusive sexual relationships; that he
professed contempt for women; that he drank heavily and became
severely addicted to heroin in middle-age; and that he experienced ASCs, generally induced rather than spontaneous.
Strictly speaking, however, the truth or falsehood of any of these
claims is unrelated to the truth or falsehood of the Law of Thelema,
just as the truth or falsehood of the Tractatus Philosophicus is
unrelated to the fact that Wittgenstein was an homosexual. As every
first year philosophy student learns, truth or falsehood is not a
moral quality or a function of the personal psyche, and it is quite
possible for a morally mean or even psychologically dysfunctional
person to experience and express insights that are both beautiful
and true. The history of Western civilization provides numerous
examples, many of whom are studied in universities. Crowley himself
regards the pursuit of spiritual realization as a science, in which
moral considerations are either secondary or entirely irrelevant.
Crowley himself writes,
"Since the ultimate truth of teleology is
unknown, all codes of morality are arbitrary. Therefore the student
has no concern with ethics as such."
Philosophically, then, Aleister
Crowley is an amoralist.
Nevertheless, the Law of Thelema does imply an ethical teaching. The
doctrine of the Black Brothers itself implies a kind of moral
judgment. The essential ethical teaching of the Law of Thelema is
that each and every individual has an absolute and inalienable right
to pursue his own True Will without restriction by others, and that
no one has the ethical or moral right or duty to compel another to
pursue any other path, or even the capacity to criticize them. A
Thelemite who knows his True Will can however guide others in
accordance with universal principles, but the relationship should
not be one of imitation. If Aleister Crowley violated his own or any
other individual’s True Will at any time, he simply violated his own
law and paid the karmic price, but this does not invalidate the Law
Great art and true philosophies are both created by scoundrels, but
we balk when a scoundrel creates a true religion. The imitative
tendency, which Crowley despised, is deep. Since imitating the moral
example of a founder is not the ethical teaching of the Law of
Thelema, every Thelemite is free to imitate Aleister Crowley's
personal lifestyle or not as they choose, although Crowley himself
advises against it, warning that those who try to do so will be
possessed or obsessed by the "vision of the demon Crowley" (Crowley,
who was an amateur artist, even drew a sketch of this particular
demon). Unfortunately, as the history of the Law of Thelema shows
with great clarity, Crowley’s advice was accurate, and numerous
heedless Thelemites have been devoured as a result.
The True Will represents the inertia of the universe, and is
irresistible (if not, that simply proves that it is not the True
Will). However, no one may restrict the True Will of another, unless
another chooses, without coercion, to be so restricted.
Aleister Crowley should be understood as a natural phenomenon,
without moral judgment. A prophet is himself merely a symptom of
the zeitgeist. A storm is not "evil." Aleister Crowley was a storm,
which may yet sink the ship of the Judaeo-Christian civilization
that he despised.
INTRODUCTION TO THELEMA
by The U.S. Grand Lodge Of The Ordo
The religion known as Thelema was
founded in 1904 by the English poet and mystic Aleister Crowley
(1875 - 1947), who is regarded as its prophet. Those who follow the
path of Thelema are called Thelemites.
Thelemic Religious Texts
The book The Holy Books of Thelema (8) includes most of the books
which Thelemites consider to be Crowley's "inspired" texts, and
which form the canon of Thelemic Holy Scripture. The chief of these
is Liber AL vel Legis, sub figura CCXX, commonly called The Book of
the Law. The contents of this book are rather cryptic, and Crowley
has prepared a number of commentaries thereto for clarification (3).
Thelemites are expected to interpret the book for themselves, based
on Crowley's commentaries and other writings; but are enjoined from
promoting their personal interpretations to others. Another book
which forms an important part of the Thelemic canon, but which is
not included in The Holy Books of Thelema for technical reasons, is
Liber XXX Aerum vel Saeculi, sub figura CDXVIII, commonly called The
Vision and the Voice (11). The I Ching and the Tarot (considered as
a book of mystic illustrations rather than as a fortune-telling
device), though of Pre-Thelemic origin, are also considered to be
part of the informal Thelemic canon.
Theology and Essential Tenets of
The following notes on Thelemic theology are based primarily on the
writings of Aleister Crowley. These notes are not intended as
interpretation or commentary on The Book of the Law outside the
bounds of the Prophet's writings, nor do they
represent a definitive
statement of Thelemic belief.
The theology of Thelema postulates all manifested existence arising
from the interaction of two cosmic principles: the infinitely
extended, all-pervading Space-Time Continuum; and the atomic,
individually expressed Principle of Life and Wisdom. The interplay
of these Principles gives rise to the Principle of Consciousness
which governs existence. In the Book of the Law, the divine
Principles are personified by a trinity of ancient Egyptian
Divinities: Nuit, the Goddess of Infinite Space; Hadit, the Winged
Serpent of Light; and Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Horus), the Solar, Hawk-Headed
Lord of the Cosmos.
The Thelemic theological system utilizes the divinities of various
cultures and religions as personifications of specific divine,
archetypal and cosmic forces. Thelemic doctrine holds that all the
diverse religions of Humanity are grounded in universal truths; and
the study of comparative religion is an important discipline for
With respect to concepts of the individual soul, Thelema follows
traditional Hermeticism in the doctrine that each person possesses a
soul or "Body of Light" which is arranged in "layers" or "sheaths"
surrounding the physical body. Each individual is also considered to
have his or her own personal "Augoeides" or "Holy Guardian Angel";
which can be considered both as the "higher self" and as a separate,
sentient, divine being. With respect to concepts of the afterlife,
life itself is considered as a continuum, with death an integral
part of the whole. Mortal life dies in order that mortal life may
continue. The Augoeides, however, is immortal and not subject to
life or death.
Parallel to Buddhist doctrine, the Body of Light is considered to be
subject to metempsychosis, or reincarnation, after the death of the
body. The Body of Light is generally considered to evolve in wisdom,
consciousness and spiritual power through cycles of metempsychosis
for those individuals who dedicate their lives to spiritual
advancement; to the point that its fate after death may ultimately
be determined by the Will of the individual.
Thelema incorporates the idea of the cyclic evolution of Cultural
Consciousness as well as of Personal Consciousness. History is
considered to be divided into a series of "Aeons", each with its own
dominant concept of divinity and its own "formula" of redemption and
advancement. The current Aeon is termed the Aeon of Horus. The
previous Aeon was that of Osiris, and previous to that was the
of Isis. The neolithic Aeon of Isis is considered to have been
dominated by the Maternal idea of divinity, and its formula involved
devotion to Mother Earth in return for the nourishment and shelter
She provided. The Classical/Medieval Aeon of Osiris is considered to
have been dominated by the Paternal Principle, and its formula was
that of self-sacrifice and submission to the Father God. The modern Aeon of Horus is considered to be dominated by the Principle of the
Child, the sovereign individual; and its formula is that of growth,
in consciousness and love, toward self-realization.
According to Thelemic doctrine, the expression of Divine Law in the
Aeon of Horus is "Do what thou wilt". This "Law of Thelema", as it
is called, is not to be interpreted as a license to indulge every
passing whim, but rather as the divine mandate to discover one's
True Will or true purpose in life, and to accomplish it; leaving
others to do the same in their own unique ways. The "acceptance" of
the Law of Thelema is what defines a Thelemite; and the discovery
and accomplishment of the True Will is the fundamental concern of
all Thelemites. Achieving the "Knowledge and Conversation of the
Holy Guardian Angel" is considered an integral part of this process.
The methods and practices to be employed in this process are
numerous and varied; and are grouped together under the generalized
Not every Thelemite utilizes all the practices available, there is
considerable room for each individual practitioner to choose
practices which are suitable to his or her individual needs. Some of
these practices are the same as, or similar to, the practices
advocated by many of the great religions of the past and present;
such as prayer, meditation, study of religious texts (those of
Thelema and of other religions as well), chanting, symbolic and
initiatory ritual, devotional exercises, self-discipline, etc.
However, some of our practices have been traditionally associated
with what has generally been known as "occultism"; i.e., astrology,
divination, numerology, yoga, tantric alchemy, and discourse with
"angels" or "spirits" are all taken by Thelemites as potentially
effective means for obtaining spiritual insights into the nature of
one's being and one's place in the universe; and for the fulfillment
of such insights through harmonious, evolutionary works.
Thelema considers any action which is not directed toward the
discovery and accomplishment of the True Will to be "black magic".
This includes acts of interference with any other individual's
lawful exercise of their right to discover and accomplish their own
True Will. Thelemic doctrine holds that the disharmony and imbalance
created by such actions results in a compensatory, equilibrating
response from the universe; a doctrine similar to that of the
Eastern conception of "Karma". Thelema has no direct parallel to the
Judaeo-Christian concept of the devil or Satan; however, a
pseudo-personification of confusion, distraction, illusion and
egotistical ignorance is referred to by the name "Choronzon".
The Thelemic Calendar
The Thelemic calendar counts years from 1904 EV (the year Liber AL
was received). Each Thelemic year starts on March 20th of the civil
calendar, at (approximately) the northern-hemisphere Vernal Equinox.
Rather than simply giving the year count from 1904, the Thelemic
calendar uses a two-tiered system. The "upper" level gives a count
of twenty-two year periods since 1904; the "lower" level gives the
years since the start of the current twenty-two year period. Both
are zero-based, with nonzero numbers being represented as upper and
lower case Roman numerals, respectively. So, for example, the civil
year 1996 is (after March 20) Thelemic year IViv, because 1904 + (4
* 22) + 4 equals 1996.
Some Thelemites assign the twenty-two years of each cycle to the
twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot. The 22-year period numbers
themselves are also assigned in this way. Hence, 1996 is doubly
linked to Trump IV of the Tarot, the Emperor.
Within each year, dates and times are often expressed by the
positions of the Sun and Moon in the Tropical zodiac. For example,
May 12, 1996 EV at 6pm PST would be expressed as "IViv, Sol 22°
Taurus, Luna 29° Pisces." This specifies the precise date and time
to within about two hours.
When giving dates in the civil calendar, Thelemites will often
append "e.v." This is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "era
vulgaris," or "common era."
Thelemic Observed Holy Days
The official holy days of Thelema are set forth in
The Book of the
Law, Ch. II, v. 36-41. The specific dates attributed to them are
given in Crowley's commentaries, and are summarized below:
The Rituals of the Elements and
Feasts of the Times are observed at the Equinoxes and
The Feast for the First Night of
the Prophet and His Bride is observed on August 12.
The Feast for the Three Days of
the Writing of the Book of the Law is observed on April 8, 9
and 10, beginning at noon on each day.
The Feast for the Supreme Ritual
(the Invocation of Horus) is observed on March 20, and
represents the opening of the Thelemic new year.
The Feast for the Equinox of the
Gods is held on the Vernal Equinox of each year to
commemorate the founding of Thelema in 1904.
Three points of passage in the life of
each Thelemite are observed.
Birth is celebrated in a Feast
Puberty is celebrated in a Feast
for Fire (for a boy), or a Feast for Water (for a girl)
The death of the individual is
commemorated in a Greater Feast for Death.
Various anniversaries commemorating
major events and figures in the history of Thelema and O.T.O. are
also celebrated informally by some Thelemic groups.
Nearly all Thelemites keep a record of their personal practices, and
their progress therein, in a "Magical Diary". Most Thelemites also
practice a particular form of prayer four times per day, which is
specified in a book called Liber Resh vel Helios [Included in Ref.
(1)]. Thelemites often take mystic names or "magical mottoes" for
themselves as a sign of commitment; and customarily greet each other
with the phrase, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law";
to which the customary response is, "Love is the law, love under
will". Sometimes these phrases are abbreviated by the simple
statement of the number "ninety-three", which number signifies both
"Will" and "Love" through a particular form of numerology of
significance within Thelema.
Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) is incorporated in the State of
California as a not-for-profit religious organization with tax
exemption in California and the United States under Section
501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. O.T.O. currently operates in
17 countries around the world and has approximately 3000 active
members. Within the broad context of Thelema, O.T.O. functions as a
fraternal, initiatory, social, and educational organization of a
O.T.O. includes a specifically liturgical arm which is called
Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.), the Gnostic Catholic Church,
which was originally brought into relations with O.T.O. by Dr.
Gerard Encausse (Papus) in 1908. The principal ritual of E.G.C. is
called the Gnostic Mass (6, 9 & 11). Membership in E.G.C. is
available through baptism and confirmation. Members of O.T.O. in
good standing are eligible for clerical ordination in E.G.C. Members
of II° and higher (or even I°, in some situations) are eligible for
ordination as Deacon, and those who have reached K.E.W. are eligible
for ordination as Priest or Priestess. E.G.C. also celebrates
seasonal festivals, commemorations of life passage events and other
religious functions. Many O.T.O. local bodies celebrate the Gnostic
Mass on a regular basis, and in most locations, no formal
affiliation is required to attend the Mass.
O.T.O. has long worked in close alliance with the
A.'.A.'., which first
proclaimed the Law of Thelema to the world. The AA is a teaching and
initiatory structure dedicated to the personal spiritual advancement
of its individual members. Within AA all services are rendered free
of charge, and no social activities are held. O.T.O. and AA have
jointly issued the journal The Equinox since 1912 e.v., now entering
its fourth volume. Although they are distinctly separate
organizations, O.T.O. has historically assisted AA with practical
matters that lie outside its primary mission, which is purely
spiritual in nature.
Aspirants to the AA may write to:
The Cancellarius of AA
c/o The Equinox
JAF Box 7666
New York, NY 10116
Crowley, Aleister; Eight Lectures on
Yoga , New Falcon Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1991
Crowley, Aleister; The Heart of the
Master , New Falcon Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1992
Crowley, Aleister, edited by Israel
Regardie; The Law is for All, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul,
Crowley, Aleister; Liber Aleph vel
CXI: The Book of Wisdom or Folly , Samuel Weiser, York
Beach, Maine, 1991
Crowley, Aleister; Little Essays
Toward Truth , New Falcon Publications, Scottsdale,
Crowley, Aleister; Magick in Theory
and Practice , in Magick: Book IV, Parts I-IV, edited,
annotated and introduced by Hymenaeus Beta, Samuel Weiser, York
Beach, Maine 1994
Crowley, Aleister; Magick Without
Tears , Falcon Press, Phoenix, Arizona 1982
Hymenaeus Alpha (ed.); The Holy
Books of Thelema, Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1983
Hymenaeus Beta (ed.); The Equinox,
Vol. III, No. 10, Thelema Publications, NY 1986
Melton, J. Gordon; Encyclopedia of
American Religions, 4th Edition, Gale Research Publishing,
Detroit, Michigan 1993. O.T.O. is discussed specifically under
entry no. 1310.
Regardie, Israel (ed.); Gems from
the Equinox, Falcon Press, Phoenix, Arizona 1982