Thelema is a philosophy or religion based on the dictum, "Do what thou Wilt" as presented in Aleister Crowley's Book of the Law. The word is the English transliteration of the Koine Greek noun θέλημα: "will", from the verb θέλω: to will, wish, purpose.
Aleister Crowley developed the belief system of Thelema following a strange series of experiences in 1904. He claimed to have arrived at the central credo of his religion primarily via a non-corporeal being, Aiwass, which dictated Book of the Law to him during this time, although he acknowledged that earlier writers had influenced his system. This book contains both the phrase "Do what thou wilt" and the word Thelema in Greek, which Crowley took for the name of the philosophical, mystical and religious system which he subsequently developed. This system includes ideas from occultism, Yoga, and both Eastern and Western mysticism (especially the Qabalah). The Book of the Law formed part of the official syllabus of the A∴A∴, a magical order led by Crowley. Crowley referred to Thelema as the Word of the Law. He believed it formed the spiritual principle for a new aeon of humanity.
Despite the frequent assumption that "Do what thou Wilt" is solely an exhortation to hedonism or licentiousness, Thelema as it was formulated by Crowley is a path of spiritual development based on seeking and putting into practice one's True Will, or destiny, the soul's Will rather than the ego's desires.
The word θέλημα (thelema) is rare in classical Greek, where it "signifies the appetitive will: desire, sometimes even sexual", but it is frequent in the Septuagint. Early Christian writings occasionally use the word to refer to the human will, and even the will of God's opponent, the Devil, but it usually refers to the will of God. One well-known example is in the "Lord's Prayer" (Template:Bibleverse), “Your kingdom come. Your will (Θελημα) be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” It is used later in the same Gospel (Template:Bibleverse-nb), "He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." In his 5th century Sermon on Template:Bibleverse-Template:Bibleverse-nb, Augustine of Hippo gave an instruction that surprises some, "Love, and do what you will" (Dilige et quod vis fac).
In the Renaissance, a character named "Thelemia" represents will or desire in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of the Dominican monk Francesco Colonna. The protagonist, Poliphilo has two allegorical guides, Logistica (reason) and Thelemia (will or desire). When forced to choose, he chooses fulfillment of his sexual will over logic. Colonna's work was a great influence on the Franciscan monk Francois Rabelais, who in the 16th century, used Thélème, the French form of the word, as the name of a fictional Abbey in his novels, Gargantua and Pantagruel. The only rule of this Abbey was "fay çe que vouldras" ("Fais ce que tu veux," or, "Do what thou wilt"). In the mid 18th century, Sir Francis Dashwood inscribed the adage on a doorway of his abbey at Medmenham, where it served as the motto of The Hellfire Club. Rabelais' Abbey of Thelema has been referred to by later writers Sir Walter Besant and James Rice, in their novel The Monks of Thelema (1878), and C.R. Ashbee in his utopian romance The Building of Thelema (1910).
François Rabelais was a Franciscan and later a Benedictine monk of the 16th century. Eventually he left the monastery to study medicine, and so moved to Lyon in 1532. It was there that he wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel, a connected series of books. They tell the story of two giants—a father (Gargantua) and his son (Pantagruel) and their adventures—written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein.
Most critics today agree that Rabelais wrote from a Christian humanist perspective, as Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin says when he contrasts this religious view with the Thelema of Aleister Crowley. In the previously mentioned story of Thélème, which critics analyze as referring in part to the suffering of loyal Christian reformists or "evangelicals" within the French Church, the reference to the Greek word θέλημα "declares that the will of God rules in this abbey". Sutin writes that in his opinion, Rabelais was no precursor of Thelema, with his beliefs containing elements of Stoicism and Christian kindness.
It is in the first book (ch. 52-57) that Rabelais writes of this Abbey of Thélème, built by the giant Gargantua. It is a classical utopia presented in order to critique and assess the state of the society of Rabelais' day, as opposed to a modern utopian text which seeks to create the scenario in practice. It is a utopia where people's desires are more fulfilled. However, as well as being satirical, it also epitomises the ideals considered in Rabelais' fiction. The inhabitants of the abbey were governed only by their own free will and pleasure, the only rule being "Do What Thou Wilt." Rabelais believed that men that are free, well born and bred have honour, which intrinsically leads to virtuous actions. When constrained, their noble natures turn instead to remove their servitude, because men desire what they are denied.
Some modern Thelemites consider Crowley's work to build upon Rabelais' summary of the instinctively honourable nature of the Thelemite. Rabelais has been variously credited with the creation of the philosophy of Thelema, as one of the earliest people to refer to it, or with being "the first Thelemite." However, the current National Grand Master General of the U.S. Ordo Templi Orientis Grand Lodge has stated:
Saint Rabelais never intended his satirical, fictional device to serve as a practical blueprint for a real human society... Our Thelema is that of the Book of the Law and the writings of Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley himself wrote in The Antecedents of Thelema, (1926) an incomplete work not published in his day, that Rabelais, as far as he goes, set forth the law of Thelema in a way similar to how Crowley understood it, forecasting Crowley's work, The Book of the Law. However, Crowley said his own work was deeper, showing in more detail the technique people should practice, revealing scientific mysteries, and that Rabelais confines himself to portraying an ideal, rather than addressing questions of political economy and similar subjects, which must be solved in order to realize the Law.
Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire ClubEdit
Sir Francis Dashwood adopted some of the ideas of Rabelais and invoked the same rule in French, when he founded a group called the Monks of Medmenham (better known as The Hellfire Club). An abbey was established at Medmenham, in a property which incorporated the ruins of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1201. The group were known as the Franciscans, not after Saint Francis of Assisi, but after its founder, Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer. John Wilkes, George Dodington and other politicians were members. We have little direct evidence of what Dashwood's Hellfire Club did or believed. The one direct testimonial comes from John Wilkes, a member who never got into the chapter-room of the inner circle. He describes them as hedonists who met to "celebrate woman in wine," and added ideas from the ancients just to make the experience more decadent.</blockquote>
In the opinion of Lt.-Col. Towers, the group derived more from Rabelais than the inscription over the door. He believes that they used caves as a Dionysian oracular temple, based upon Dashwood’s reading of the relevant chapters of Rabelais." Sir Nathaniel Wraxall in his Historical Memoires (1815) accused the Monks of performing Satanic rituals, but these claims have been dismissed as hearsay. Gerald Gardner and others such as Mike Howard say the Monks worshipped "the Goddess." Daniel Willens argued that the group likely practiced Freemasonry, but also suggests Dashwood may have held secret Roman Catholic sacraments. He asks if Wilkes would have recognized a genuine Catholic Mass, even if he saw it himself and even if the underground version followed its public model precisely. The Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon minimizes the connection with Freemasonry.
Shri Gurudev Mahendranath on AsiaEdit
Referring to svecchachara, the Sanskrit equivalent of the phrase "Do what thou wilt" British occultist Shri Gurudev Mahendranath claimed an identical sentiment to that of Thelema was followed in India for thousands of years by Nathas, practitioners of tantra, and sadhus, and that Rabelais, Dashwood, and Crowley were perpetuating Asia's highest ideal:
First let us see the Thelemic Law in terms of Hinduism and Sanskrit: Sveccha means one's own wish or free will. Svecchachara means a way of life where one acts as one wishes and doing what is right in one's own eyes. Doing one's own Will.
Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) was an English occultist and writer. In 1904, Crowley claimed to have received Liber AL vel Legis, otherwise known as the "Book of the Law" from an entity named Aiwass, which was to serve as the foundation of the religious and philosophical system he called Thelema.
The Book of the LawEdit
Crowley's system of Thelema begins with The Book of the Law, which bears the official name Liber AL vel Legis. It was written in Cairo, Egypt]during his honeymoon with his new wife Rose Crowley (née Kelly). This small book contains three chapters, each of which he wrote in one hour, beginning at noon, on April 8, April 9, and April 10, 1904. Crowley claims that he took dictation from an entity named Aiwass, whom he later identified as his own Holy Guardian Angel. Disciple Israel Regardie prefers to attribute this voice to the subconscious, but opinions among Thelemites differ widely.
Besides the reference to Rabelais, an analysis by Dave Evans shows similarities to The Beloved of Hathor and Shrine of the Golden Hawk, a play by Florence Farr. Evans says this may result from the fact that "both Farr and Crowley were thoroughly steeped in Golden Dawn imagery and teachings," and that Crowley probably knew the ancient materials that inspired some of Farr's motifs. Sutin also finds similarities between Thelema and the work of W. B. Yeats, attributing this to "shared insight" and perhaps to the older man's knowledge of Crowley.
Crowley wrote several commentaries on The Book of the Law, the last of which he wrote in 1925. This brief statement called simply "The Comment" warns against the study of the Book and discussing its contents, and states that all "questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings" and is signed Ankh-af-na-khonsu.
According to Crowley, every individual has a True Will, to be distinguished from the ordinary wants and desires of the ego. The True Will is essentially one's "calling" or "purpose" in life. Some later magicians have taken this to include the goal of attaining self-realization by one's own efforts, without the aid of God or other divine authority. This brings them close to the position that Crowley held just prior to 1904. Others follow later works such as Liber II, saying that one's own will in pure form is nothing other than the divine will. Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law for Crowley refers not to hedonism, fulfilling everyday desires, but to acting in response to that calling. The Thelemite is a mystic. According to Lon Milo Duquette, a Thelemite is anyone who bases their actions on striving to discover and accomplish their true will, when a person does their True Will, it is like an orbit, their niche in the universal order, and the universe assists them. In order for the individual to be able to follow their True Will, the everyday self's socially-instilled inhibitions may have to be overcome via deconditioning. Crowley believed that in order to discover the True Will, one had to free the desires of the subconscious mind from the control of the conscious mind, especially the restrictions placed on sexual expression, which he associated with the power of divine creation. He identified the True Will of each individual with the Holy Guardian Angel, a daimon unique to each individual. The spiritual quest to find what you are meant to do and do it is also known in Thelema as the Great Work.
Thelema draws its principle gods and goddesses from Ancient Egyptian religion. The highest deity in the cosmology of Thelema is in fact a goddess, Nuit. She is the night sky arched over the Earth symbolized in the form of a naked woman. She is conceived as the Great Mother, the ultimate source of all things. The second principal deity of Thelema is the god Hadit, conceived as the infinitely small point, complement and consort of Nuit. Hadit symbolizes manifestation, motion, and time. He is also described in Liber AL vel Legis as "the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star." The third deity in the cosmology of Thelema is Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a manifestation of Horus. He is symbolized as a throned man with the head of a hawk who carries a wand. He is associated with the Sun and the active energies of Thelemic magick. Other deities within the cosmology of Thelema are Hoor-paar-kraat (or Harpocrates), god of silence and inner strength, the brother of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Babalon, the goddess of all pleasure, known as the Virgin Whore. and Therion, the beast that Babalon rides, who represents the wild animal within man, a force of nature.
Magick and ritualEdit
Thelemic magick is a system of physical, mental, and spiritual exercises which practitioners believe are of benefit. Crowley defined magick as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will". Crowley spelt magick with a 'k' to distinguish it from stage magic. He recommended magick as a means for discovering the True Will. Generally, magical practices in Thelema are designed to assist in finding and manifesting the True Will, although some include celebratory aspects as well. Crowley was a prolific writer, integrating Eastern practices with Western magical practices from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He recommended a number of these practices to his followers, including basic yoga; (asana and pranayama); rituals of his own devising or based on those of the Golden Dawn, such as the Lesser ritual of the pentagram, for banishing and invocation; Liber Samekh, a ritual for the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; eucharistic rituals such as The Gnostic Mass and The Mass of the Phoenix; and Liber Resh, consisting of four daily adorations to the sun. Much of his work is readily available in print and online. He also discussed sex magick and sexual gnosis in various forms including masturbatory, heterosexual, and homosexual practices, and these form part of his suggestions for the work of those in the higher degrees of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley believed that after discovering the True Will, the magician must also remove any elements of himself that stand in the way of its success.
The emphasis of Thelemic magick is not directly on material results, and while many Thelemites do practice magick for goals such as wealth or love, it is not required. Those in a Thelemic magical Order such as Ordo Templi Orientis or A∴A∴, work through a series of degrees or grades via a process of initiation. Thelemites who work on their own or in an independent group try to achieve this ascent using Crowley's works, the Holy Books of Thelema, as a guide, and their own intuition. Books and papers detailing the rituals of Ordo Templi Orientis of the past do appear or come up for sale second-hand, but the modern organisation seek to prevent them being sold, since such works violate their copyright. The papers they seek to protect include those containing instructions detailing the sexual rituals of the later degrees.
One goal in the study of Thelema within the magical Order of the A∴A∴ is for the magician to obtain the knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel; conscious communication with their own personal daimon, thus gaining knowledge of their True Will. In later life, Crowley insisted the Angel was not the magician's Higher Self, but a separate entity. The later grades aim at the task of the adept, crossing the abyss; completely relinquishing the ego. If the aspirant is unprepared, he will cling to the ego instead, becoming a Black Brother. Rather than becoming one with God, the Black Brother considers his ego to be god. According to Crowley, the Black Brother slowly disintegrates, whilst preying on others for his own self-aggrandisement.
Crowley taught skeptical examination of all results obtained through meditation or magick, at least for the student. He tied this to the necessity of keeping a magical record or diary, that attempts to list all conditions of the event. Remarking on the similarity of statements made by spiritually advanced people of their experiences, he said that in fifty years from his time they will be seen as actual events that occurred, rather than supernatural experiences. Crowley stated that his work and that of his followers used "the method of science; the aim of religion,"  and that the genuine powers of the magician could in some way be objectively tested. This idea has been taken on by later practitioners of Thelema, Chaos magick and magick in general. They may consider that they are testing hypotheses with each magical experiment. The difficulty lies in the broadness of their definition of success, in which they may see as evidence of success things which a non-magician would not define as such, leading to confirmation bias. There is still no scientific evidence of magick's effectiveness. It is not strictly necessary to practice ritual techniques to be a Thelemite, as due to the focus of Thelemic magick on the True Will, Crowley stated "every intentional act is a magickal act."
There are no "standards of Right". Ethics is balderdash. Each Star must go on its own orbit. To hell with "moral principle"; there is no such thing.
Liber AL vel Legis does make clear some standards of individual conduct. The most primary of these is "Do what thou wilt" which is presented as the whole of the law, and also as a right. Some interpreters of Thelema believe that this right includes an obligation to allow others to do their own wills without interference, but Liber AL makes no clear statement on the matter. Crowley himself wrote that there was no need to detail the ethics of Thelema, for everything springs from "Do what thou Wilt." Crowley wrote several additional documents presenting his personal views on individual conduct in light of the Law of Thelema, some of which do address the topic interference with others: Liber OZ, Duty, and Liber II.
Liber Oz enumerates some of the rights of the individual implied by the one overarching right, "Do what thou wilt." For each person, these include the right to: live by one's own law; live in the way that one wills to do; work, play, and rest as one will; die when and how one will; eat and drink what one will; live where one will; move about the earth as one will; think, speak, write, draw, paint, carve, etch, mould, build, and dress as one will; love when, where and with whom one will; and kill those who would thwart these rights.
Duty is described as "A note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema." It is not a numbered "Liber" as are all the documents which Crowley intended for A.'.A.'., but rather listed as a document intended specifically for Ordo Templi Orientis. There are four sections:
- A. Your Duty to Self: describes the self as the center of the universe, with a call to learn about one's inner nature. Admonishes the reader to develop every faculty in a balanced way, establish one's autonomy, and to devote oneself to the service of one's own True Will.
- B. Your Duty to Others: An admonishment to eliminate the illusion of separateness between oneself and all others, to fight when necessary, to avoid interfering with the Wills of others, to enlighten others when needed, and to worship the divine nature of all other beings.
- C. Your Duty to Mankind: States that the Law of Thelema should be the sole basis of conduct. That the laws of the land should have the aim of securing the greatest liberty for all individuals. Crime is described as being a violation of one's True Will.
- D. Your Duty to All Other Beings and Things: States that the Law of Thelema should be applied to all problems and used to decide every ethical question. It is a violation of the Law of Thelema to use any animal or object for a purpose for which it is unfit, or to ruin things so that they are useless for their purpose. Natural resources can be used by man, but this should not be done wantonly, or the breach of the law will be avenged. For instance, deforestation can cause soil erosion.
In Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion, the Law of Thelema is summarized succinctly as "Do what thou wilt--then do nothing else." Crowley describes the pursuit of Will as not only with detachment from possible results, but with tireless energy. It is Nirvana but in a dynamic rather than static form. The True Will is described as the individual's orbit, and if they seek to do anything else, they will encounter obstacles, as doing anything other than the will is a hindrance to it.
Diversity of Thelemic thoughtEdit
The core of Thelemic thought is "Do what thou wilt." However, beyond this, there exists a very wide range of interpretation of Thelema. Modern Thelema is a syncretic philosophy and religion, and many Thelemites try to avoid strongly dogmatic or fundamentalist thinking. Crowley himself put strong emphasis on the unique nature of Will inherent in each individual, not following him, saying he did not wish to found a flock of sheep. Thus, contemporary Thelemites may practice more than one religion, including Discordianism, Wicca, Gnosticism, Satanism, Setianism, and Luciferianism. Many adherents of Thelema, none more so than Crowley, recognize correlations between Thelemic and other systems of spiritual thought; most borrow freely from the methods and practices of other traditions, including alchemy, astrology, qabalah, tantra, tarot divination, and yoga. For example, Nu and Had are thought to correspond with the Tao and Teh of Taoism, Shakti and Shiva of the Hindu Tantras, Shunyata and Bodhicitta of Buddhism, Ain Soph and Kether in the Qabalah.
Some Thelemites accept The Book of the Law in some way, but not the rest of Crowley's "inspired" writings or teachings. Others take only specific aspects of his overall system, such as his magical techniques, ethics, mysticism, or religious ideas, while ignoring the rest. Other individuals who consider themselves Thelemites regard what is commonly presented as Crowley's system to be only one possible manifestation of Thelema, creating original systems, such as those of Nema, and Kenneth Grant. Maggie Ingalls (Nema) has described a system called Maat Magick.
Contemporary Thelemic literatureEdit
Aleister Crowley was highly prolific and wrote on the subject of Thelema for over 35 years, and many of his books remain in print. During his time, there were a few who wrote on the subject, including Charles Stansfeld Jones and J.F.C. Fuller. Jack Parsons was a scientist researching the use of rockets at California Institute of Technology , and one of Crowley's first American students, for a time leading a lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis for Crowley in America. He wrote a book, Freedom is a Two-edged Sword, practiced Crowley's sexual rituals, and is said to have achieved results. He died as a result of an explosion, and while not a prolific writer himself, has been the subject of two biographies; Sex and Rockets by John Carter, and Strange Angel by George Pendle, and was influential for some Thelemites.
Since Crowley's death in 1947, there have been other Thelemic writers. These include Israel Regardie, who not only edited many of Crowley's works, but wrote a biography of him, The Eye in the Triangle, and penned many books on ritual and Qabalah, such as the Garden of Pomegranates, Golden Dawn, Middle Pillar, and The Tree of Life. Kenneth Grant has written several books on Thelema and the occult, such as The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, Outside the Circles of Time, and Hecate's Fountain. Lon Milo DuQuette's books are mostly dedicated to analyzing and exploring Crowley's system, including such books as Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, The Magick of Aleister Crowley, and The Key to Solomon's Key.
Other notable contemporary writers who address Thelema include Jerry Edward Cornelius, Gerald del Campo, J. Daniel Gunther, Allen H. Greenfield, Christopher Hyatt, Richard Kaczynski, Jason Augustus Newcomb, Rodney Orpheus, James Wasserman, and Sam Webster. There are also numerous publications that print original Thelemic writing, such as the journals Cornelia, Journal of Thelemic Studies, Light In Extension, Lion & Serpent, and The Scarlet Letter.
Several modern organizations of various sizes claim to follow the tenets of Thelema. The two most prominent are both organizations that Crowley headed during his lifetime: the A∴A∴—an Order founded by Crowley, based on the grades of the Golden Dawn system; and Ordo Templi Orientis—an order which initially developed from the Rite of Memphis and Mizraim in the early part of the 20th century, and which includes Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica as its religious arm.
Since Crowley's death in 1947, other organizations have formed to carry on his initial work—for example, Phyllis Seckler's College of Thelema, the Temple of Thelema, the Typhonian Order of Kenneth Grant, Society O.T.O. of Marcelo Ramos Motta, Thelemic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Holy Order Of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, and The Order of Thelemic Knights. Other groups of widely varying character exist which have drawn inspiration or methods from Thelema, such as the Illuminates of Thanateros and the Temple of Set. Some groups accept the Law of Thelema, but omit certain aspects of Crowley's system while incorporating the works of other mystics, philosophers, and religious systems. The Fraternitas Saturni (Brotherhood of Saturn), founded in 1928 in Germany, accepts the Law of Thelema, but extends it with the phrase "Mitleidlose Liebe!" ("Compassionless love!"). The Thelema Society, also located in Germany, accepts Liber Legis and much of Crowley's work on magick, while incorporating the ideas of other thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles S. Peirce, Martin Heidegger, and Niklas Luhmann. Horus-Maat Lodge combines the ideas of Nema with those of Crowley.
Thelemites can also be found in other organizations. The president of the Church of All Worlds, LaSara Firefox, identifies as a Thelemite and sex magician. A significant minority of other CAW members also identify as Thelemites.
See also Edit
- Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2005). Thelema. Retrieved March 12 2005.
- Thelemapedia. (2004). Thelema. Retrieved April 15, 2006.
- Del Campo, Gerald. Rabelais: The First Thelemite. The Order of Thelemic Knights.
- Melton, J. Gordon (1983). "Thelemic Magick in America." Alternatives to American Mainline Churches, ed. Joseph H. Fichter. Barrytown, NY: Unification Theological Seminary.
- Starr, Martin P. (2004) A Hundred Years Hence: Visions of a Thelemic Future (Conference Paper presented at the Thelema Beyond Crowley )
- Starr, Martin P. (2003). The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites. Bolingbrook, IL: Teitan Press.
- van Egmond, Daniel (1998). "Western Esoteric Schools in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." in van den Broek, Roelof and Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Gnosis and Hermeticism From Antiquity To Modern Times. Albany: State University of New York Press.
- Thelema at the Internet Sacred Texts Archive — a collection of texts on the topic of Thelema
- The Law of Thelema — by Alexander Duncan
- The Journal of Thelemic Studies
- Lion & Serpent
- The Scarlet Letter
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