By Aleister Crowley

Chapter XLIX: Thelemic Morality

Cara Soror,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Right glad am I to hear that thy have so astutely detected the bulk of my remarks on morals as little better than plain sophistry.

"After all," you tell me, "there is for every one of us an instinct, at least, of what is 'right' and what is wrong,"  And it is plain enough that you understand the validity of this sense in itself, in its own right, wholly independent of any Codes or systems whatsoever.

Of what, then, is this instinct the hieroglyph? Our destructive criticism is perfect as regards teleology; nobody knows what to do in order to act "for the best."  Even the greatest Chess Master cannot be sure how his new pet variation will turn out in practice; and the chessboard is surely an admirable type of a limited "universe of discourse" and "field of action."  (I must write you one day about Cause and Effect in magical practice.)

I seem to have started up this rock chimney with the wrong leg!  What I am trying to write is a sort of answer to your remark about "Does the end justify the means?"  and I had better tackle it straightforwardly.

Cesspools in every theologian's back garden: sewers in every legislator's garden city: there is no end to the literature of the subject.  But one point is amusing; the Jesuits have always been accused of answering that question in the affirmative, apparently for no better reason than that their doctrine is unanimously adverse to admitting it.  (People are like that!  They say that I spent months in Yucatan—the only province in Mexico that I did not visit. They say that my home is a Tibetan monastery; and Tibet is almost the only country in East and Central Asia that my feet have never trodden.  They say that I lived for years in Capri—the only town in Italy, of those that I know at all, where I spent less than 48 hours.)

The Law of Thelema helps us to deal with this question very simply and succinctly.  First, it obviates the need of defining the proper "End;" for with us this becomes identical with the "True Will;" and we are bound to assume that the man himself is the sole arbiter; we postulate that his "End" is self-justified.

Then as to his "Means:" as he cannot possibly know for certain whether they are suitable or not, he can only rely on his inherited instincts, his learning, his traditions, and his experience.  Of these all but the first lie wholly in the intellectual Sphere, the Ruach, and can accordingly be knocked into any desired shape at will, by dint of a little manipulation: and if Thelema has freed him morally, as it should have done, from all the nonsense of Plato, Manu, Draco, Solon, Paul (with his harpy brood), John Stuart Mill and Kant, he can make his decision with purely objective judgment.  (Where would mathematics be if certain solutions were a priori inadmissible?)  But then, what about that plaguy first weapon in his armoury?  It must be these instincts, simply because we have eliminated all the other possibilities.

What are they?

Two are their sources: the spiritual (Neschamah) and the physiological (Nephesch).  Note that both these are feminine.  They pertain to H and H final in Tetragrammaton respectively.  That implies that they are, in a sense, imposed on you from the beginning. Of course it is your own higher principles, Yechidah and Chiah, that have saddled you with them; but the "Human Consciousness," being in Tiphareth, cannot control Neschamah at all; and it has to be admirably unified, fortified, and perfected if it is to act efficiently upon Nephesch.

(How exquisitely keen is the Qabalah!  How apt, how clear, how simple, how pictorially assimilable are its explanations of the facts of Nature!  If you will only learn to use it, to refer your problems to it, you will soon need no Holy Guru!)

In practice, we most of us do act upon Nephesch a great deal.  All learning, training, discipline, tend to modify our physiological reactions in a thousand minor manners.  A complete branch of Yoga, Hatha Yoga, is occupied with nothing else.  And you can have your face "lifted."  Apart from this, we nearly all of us attend to matters like our waistline, our hours of sleep, our digestion, or our muscular development.  Some men have even taught themselves to reduce the pulse-beat both in rate and in volume: so much so that they have sometimes been credited with the power to stop the heart altogether at will.  (Wasn't it Colonel Somebody—not Blimp—who used to show off to his friends, after dinner?  Did it once too often, in any case!)

Neschamah is an entirely different proposition.  One of Tiphareth's prime assets is the influence, through the path of "The Lovers," from Binah. The son's milk from the Great Mother.  (From his Father, Chiah, Chokmah, he inherits the infinite possibilities of Nuit, through the path of H, "The Star;" and from his "God," Kether, the Divine Consciousness, the direct inspiration, guidance, and ward of his Holy Guardian Angel, through the path of Gimel, the Moon, "The Priestess.")1

Neschamah, then, will not be influenced by Ruach, except in so far as it is explained or interpreted by Ruach.  These "instincts" are implanted from on high, not from below; they would be imperative were one always sure of having received them pure, and interpreted them aright.

But this is a digression, though an essential one; the point is how to decide when one's equation is solved by "a + b," and one feels that "a + b" is abhorrent to one's nature.

Now do you see the point of the digression?  By "wrong" we mean anything that evokes dissent or protest from either Neschamah or Nephesch, or both.

People spoke to me, people whose experience and judgment in all matters of Sacrifice to Dionysus had my very fullest assent and admiration; they told me that of all drinks, the best was Beer.  So I have wanted for many years to drink it.  I can't.  I once tasted a few drops on the end of a teaspoon.  They told me that wasn't quite the same thing!2

That's Nephesch.

I cannot bear to do any unkind action, however wise, necessary, and all the rest of it.  I do it, but "it hurts me more than it hurts you" is actually true for me.  (This only applies where the other party is unable to retaliate: I love hurting a stout antagonist in a fair fight.)

That's Neschamah.

What one really needs to know is whether the protest of the Instinct should override the decision of the Reason.  Obviously, one must assume that both are equally "right;" that one's interpretation of one's Instinct is full and accurate, that one's solution of "how shall I act for the best?" is uniquely correct.

First of all, one is tempted to argue that, that being so, there can be no disagreement; that is, on our general Theory of the Universe.  True enough!  The farther one goes in initiation, the rarer will such incidents become.  Even a quite uninitiated person—always provided that Thelema has freed him morally—should find that nine times in ten, the inhibiting antagonism is accidental, or at least apparently irrelevant.

(Notice, please, that our conditions of the "rightness" of both sides are rigid: the usual inhibition is a threat to vanity, or some instinct equally false, and to be weeded out.)

Wilkie Collins has an excellent episode in Armadale; his "girl-friend" or wife or somebody wants to poison him, and gives the stuff in brandy, not knowing that the mere smell of it is enough to make him violently sick.  So he won't touch it.  I'm not sure that I've got this quite right, but you see the idea.

Occasionally it happens that an infinity of minute and meticulous calsulation is necessary to decide between the duellists.

This is the sort of thing.

Suppose that by what is hardly fraud, but "undue influence" (as the lawyers say) I could persuade a dying person to leave me a couple of hundred thousand in his will.  I shall use every penny of it for the Great Work; it sounds easy!  "Of course!  Damn your integrity!  Damn you!  The Work is all that matters."

All the same, I say NO.  I should never be the same man again.  I should have lost that confidence in myself which is the spine of my work.  No need that the fraud should be discovered openly: it would appear in all my subsequent work, a subtle contamination.

But suppose that it were not the matter of gulling a moribund half-wit; suppose that the price was a straightforward honest-to-God Bank Robbery under arms on the highway, should I hesitate then?  Here I should risk my head, and the dice are loaded against me; nor does the deed imply "moral turpitude."  Stalin's associates regarded him as a martyred hero when the law of the country, less cogent that Thelema, sat heavily on his devoted head.

It would really be a little difficult; my rough-and-tumble life was the best possible training for such desperate adventures, so that Nephesch could not enter a protest.  As to Neschamah, we nearly all of us (Thank God!) have a secret sympathy, with the nobler type of criminal, whence the universal appeal of Arsène Lupin, Black Star, Raffles and Stingaree.  When they can make some show of justice-on-their-side, it is easier still: Scarlet Pimpernel and his tribe.  We are now almost within the marches of those heroes of romance that enchanted our adolescence: Hereward the Wake, Robin Hood, Bonnie Prince Charlie.  And there are, on the other hand, few of us who do not secretly gloat over the discomfiture of "Money- Bags."

My retort, however, is convincing and final.  Robbery in any shape is a breach of the Law of Thelema.  It is interference with the right of another to dispose of his property as he will; and if I did so myself, no matter with what tactical justification, I could hardly ask others to respect my own similar right.

(The basis of our criminal law is simple, by virtue of Thelema: to violate the right of another is to forfeit one's claim to protection in the matter involved.)

So much for my own position; but let us look at the original case with another protagonist: let us say a young Thelemite, fanatically enthusiastic and not very far advanced in the Path of Initiation.  Suppose he argues: "To hell with my integrity, to hell with my spiritual development: I don't give a hoot what happens to me: all I know is that I can help the Order, and I'm jolly well going to do it."

Who is going to balance that entry in his Karmic account?  Might not even his willingness to give up his prospects of advance justify his title to go forward? The curious, complex, obscure and formidable path that he has chosen may quite conceivably be his best short cut to the City of the Pyramids!

I have known strange, striking cases of similar "vows to end vows."  But not by any means such macabre fabrications as those of the ghouls at Colonel Olcott's death-bed, or the patient web of falsehood spun by the astrological-Toshophical spider about the dying dupe on whom he had fastened, Leo—I've forgotten the insect's name.  Well, who hasn't?  No, I haven't: Alan Leo he called himself.

I need hardly say that these cases may be multiplied indefinitely; nothing is easier, and few games more amusing, than to devise dilemmas calculated to stump the Master, or to catch him bending.

In fact, the "Schoolmen" wasted several centuries on this agreeable pastime; and they enjoyed the additional pleasure of torturing and burning anybody who happened not to be quite up-to-date with his views on Utrum Virgo Maria in congressu cum Spiritu Sancto semen emiserit, or some equally critical tickler.

Don't tease your pretty little head about it!  Now you know the principles upon which one must make one's decisions, you will not go very far wrong.

But—one has to take all these things into consideration.

Then—you ask—am I saying that the End does not justify the means?

Hardly that.

What I really mean is that these two terms are unconnected.  One decides about the "End" in one way: about the "Means" in another.  But every proposition in your sorites has got to justify itself; and, having done so, to estimate its exact weight in relation to all the other terms of your problem.

"Confusion worse confounded?"  I dare say it is; it's the best I can do with such a difficult question.

But I am perfectly happy about it; the one important thing (as Descartes —and Francis Bacon—saw) is that you should acquire and assimilate the METHOD of Thelemic thinking.

Love is the law, love under will.

Yours fraternally,


1: Note that in this paragraph Crowley settles an often asked question about allocation of Tarot and Hebrew Letters on the Tree of Life in his modified system.  The letters stay in their traditional positions, and the Tarot Atu's of "Star" and "Emperor" switch places.  Crowley identifies the influence of the HGA with the path of Gimel, and this is more remarkable in some ways than the Tarot attribution.  If the K & C of the HGA comes from Neschamah, it would be expected to flow by the path of "The Lovers."  Perhaps there is a distinction between unconscious influence and conscious Knowledge and Conversation.  Crowley never completely resolved some questions related to Aiwass and some related to the objective existence of the HGA.  Speculation on these matters is not closed, and this might be a good issue for resumption of the discussion – WEH.

2: This from the son of a Brewer! – WEH.

© Ordo Templi Orientis.  Original key entry by W.E. Heidrick for O.T.O.  HTML coding by Frater T.S. for Nu Isis Working Group.

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