Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thelemic Magick
(First Edition – Chapter 6)
Well, you’ve been performing Thelemic magick for some time now, but as yet I haven’t really described just what Thelema essentially is. This has been intentional, because Thelema is essentially an active system, rather than a passive set of beliefs. Thelema is much better understood by doing, not reading; though ironically most of the Thelemites I know are obsessive bookworms (myself included).Most books dealing with “New Age” beliefs start off by reassuring you that their system is “NOT A RELIGION!”, but some sort of scientific super-psychology. Well, I’m not afraid to say that Thelema is a religion of a sort, though ironically it is much less of a traditional religion than almost any other belief system (including most “scientific” systems). The motto of Aleister Crowley’s famous magical periodical The Equinox was: “The method of science, the aim of religion,” which I think sums up the Thelemic attitude perfectly. Let’s examine just what a religion is anyway.Most people these days have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to the word religion, brought on by forced over-exposure to such insane beliefs as conventional Christianity and Islam. The word “religion” has been hi-jacked and debased by the priests of faiths like these, until now it has become a dirty word amongst intelligent, right-thinking people in the Western world. The word “religion” springs from roots meaning piety, the Latin religio, the opposite idea to negligens, negligent, uncaring, unaware. It also springs from a root meaning to join together things that are separate, which in fact is the same meaning as the word “yoga” (compare the English word yoke, which ties oxen together, for example). So religion is a word which describes the process of becoming aware and unified, of joining together all things which are diverse; it is the union of body and spirit, self and not-self, human and god. This is the aim of Thelema. As I pointed out in the last chapter, true Thelemic magicians live their magick 24 hours a day. I have already described some exercises that will help you increase your daily awareness, now it’s time to talk about the morality that goes with them.
Morality – there’s another very unfashionable word – and with good reason. Practically every religion since the dawn of mankind has imposed a set of commandments on its adherents. Thelema has one commandment only: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” That’s it. It’s that simple.
You have only two choices in life: do you think that you should do what others think is right, or do you think that you should do what you think is right? If you think the first way, then you should ask yourself why you think that someone else should know more about what is right for you than you do yourself – how can they get inside your skin and know what it feels like? If on the other hand you think the second way, then you are a Thelemite.
Now you have probably one of two reactions here: either you nod sagely, and say ” Of course, what other way could there be?” or your eyes open wide and you say “But – that could never work!” If you are of the first type, fine, you’re a natural Thelemite; but you still have a lot of thinking to do. If you are of the second, I have to tell you that you are wrong; I know from my own experience and that of many of my friends that it works very well. Still, at least you are aware enough to see the difficulties inherent in such a seemingly simple proposition.
Let’s examine this phrase: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Notice that we do not say: “Do whatever you like.” We are talking here about your True Will. This is a concept that you have come across in earlier chapters. The word Thelema itself is Greek for Will. What is your True Will? It is your destiny, the Way through life which leads to your Great Work. Each of us is individual and unique: as Liber AL puts it: “Every man and every woman is a star.” Each of us has our own light to give to the world; each of us has our own orbit, our path through the universe; a way which is right for us, and us alone. Moral codes which spell out a set of rules for every person to follow identically lower each person’s capacity for their own development in their own way.
By definition, to evolve is to become different from what has gone before. All things must change and grow, and a fixed moral code can not grow with you. Only you can judge what action is right for you at any one time. To stop growing, to become rigid and unbending, is to start dying. As the ancient Chinese classic, the Dao De Jing puts it: “Rigidity and hardness are the stigmata of death; elasticity and adaptability, of life.” And as Thelemites we embrace Life in our arms, we live to the fullest manner we are capable, and we extend our capabilities as much as possible, in order to be able to experience even more in the future. “Wisdom says: be strong! Then thou canst bear more rapture.” – Liber AL.
Note that this idea of “Do what thou wilt” may be simple, but it is not EASY. Fixed moral codes have one “advantage” in that in any given situation believers always know precisely what they are supposed to do and not do. Thelemites do not have this crutch to lean on. We must decide for ourselves what we must do, and it is this that is one of the greatest stumbling blocks for many who attempt this way. Thelemites cannot take the lazy way of simply following God’s orders. We are Gods, we MAKE the orders for ourselves to follow. This can be very hard work, but ultimately it is much more fulfilling than just accepting the teachings of another. As Robert Anton Wilson says: “Convictions cause convicts,” and Thelemites want to breathe the air of liberty, we are masters of our own fate.
For many people the Thelemic way is too hard at first, they do not want to accept the responsibility of looking after themselves without a “big daddy” in heaven to tell them what to do. Remember that normally you cannot persuade them to change, nor should you, for perhaps this way is their Will – if they grow to accept our way in their own time, we should rejoice, but we must not interfere too much. You can inform people of Thelemic principles if they wish to know of them (that’s what this book is about after all), but you must never try to force them into doing what you think is right. The line between teaching and preaching is a fine one – be careful that you don’t step over it! If in doubt, keep silence, and respect the beliefs of others, even when you disagree with them. Just make sure that they respect your beliefs too This question of mutual respect is one reason why Crowley always advised aspirants to greet others in letters and conversations with the salutation “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” By beginning like this you are establishing the ground rules for the coming interaction. You are stating that you will respect the other person’s point of view, and that you expect them to respect your point of view also. Of course, starting conversations like this will get you some funny looks! Mind you, people do have a surprising capacity for tolerating what they will consider to be an amusing eccentricity. Many Thelemites abbreviate this greeting to the simple “93,” a reference to the numerical value of the word Thelema in Hebrew. Personally, I sometimes think that this just sounds silly, though I am sure that the majority of Thelemites disagree with me. One advantage to saying “93″ is that people often ask what it means, which can lead to really interesting conversations with total strangers.
Perhaps I should now confess that for years I did not use any form of Thelemic greeting, mainly because I did not want to force my own beliefs down someone else’s throat. However, while writing this book, I thought I’d better check it out before passing judgment, and I must say the result was a pleasant surprise. It is a really good exercise in “everyday” magick (see last chapter), and it’s a great way of irritating some of the assholes you meet.
Now the obvious criticism of the doctrine of the True Will is the classic: “But if everyone just does what they want, what’s to stop some one raping me / shooting me / stopping me from watching television, etc.” This is a very short-sighted view, based on the typical Old Aeon morality of the monotheistic slave religions like Christianity. These religions teach that humans are intrinsically evil, that we are all horrible monsters inside, only holding back our nasty impulses thanks to the guidelines that God has kindly given to us. Thelemites have no concept of “Original Sin”; we do not believe that people are basically Satanic glove-puppets. Rather the Thelemite realizes that each person is a pure and perfect star, each an essential part of the universe. We know that when we do our Wills, we have no desire to hurt others indiscriminately, for to do so is to destroy part of our universe, to reduce the complexity and wonderment of our lives. Each star is beautiful, and we are concerned with maximizing the beauty of life, not reducing it.
When you have an impulse to interfere with the way that others live their lives, you are not allowing them the liberty to follow their True Wills, and you must remember “the Law is for All.” All people have the right to do their Wills, so True Wills should never come into conflict with each other. If a conflict does arise, you should examine yourself closely, for at least one person is not doing their True Will. In a non-Thelemic society this person will probably not be you, but if the fight is between Thelemites, then you may well be at fault. Conflict in this case can be a very useful thing, for it can be a pointer towards possible problems in your own development.
Liber AL states that “Love is the law, love under will.” This shows that the nature of our True Wills must always be Love. Love is the yearning for things which are apart to become unified. Love is how we reach out beyond ourselves to that which we desire. Although we are individual stars, we must never make the mistake of assuming that we are alone within ourselves; we must not shut ourselves up in ivory towers of self-absorption. We shine with our own inmost light, it is true, but the universe is full of other stars too, each shedding many-hued radiance towards us. Through Love we perceive many more possibilities than we already have, through Love we gain some understanding of the magnitude of this enormous cosmos we inhabit.
Note that Love must be under Will, however. Love is a function of the True Will, and our Love should never be used as a weapon or tool to manipulate the Will of others – nor should we allow others to restrict our Will, no matter how dearly we love them. Thelemic loving relationships are a great deal different from the norm. Emotional game-playing, one-upmanship, jealousy, all these things spring from lack of respect for the Will of others, and should be absent. Honesty, trust, shared feelings, freedom should charachterize the Thelemic partnership. This is not easy, I know (I speak from experience…), and can take great effort to achieve. But at least it never gets boring!
You can see now that this simple formula of “Do what thou wilt” has huge ramifications to the way that you approach your life. It is a charter for universal liberty, but it is not easy to put into practice. We live in a sick society, a society whose rules and laws are frequently contrary to Thelemic belief. Even our own minds can rebel against us when we try to put Thelemic ideals into practice. We have been educated away from our natural, instinctive Godhood, and the repressions which have been sinking into our minds from an early age have twisted our consciousness, making it hard to accept our True Wills fully – and often making it even harder to accept the True Wills of others. You must endeavor to examine your actions and reactions carefully; try to see if what you are doing each moment is really what you Will to do. You must be very honest with others, but more than that, honest with yourself. The human mind has an almost infinite capacity for self-delusion, so watch out for this! The exercises that I have given in the previous chapters will help you develop a better understanding of yourself. Use them.
In order to make it easier to understand some of the ideas implicit in Thelema, Aleister Crowley wrote Liber OZ, reproduced here. Although still simple and easy to understand, Liber OZ develops the concepts in a little more detail.
LIBER 77 – OZ
“the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world.” – AL II:21
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” – AL I:40
“thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.” – AL I:42-43
“Every man and every woman is a star.” – AL I:3
There is no god but man.
1. Man has the right to live by his own law – to live in the way that he wills to do:to work as he will:
to play as he will:
to rest as he will:
to die when and how he will.
2. Man has the right to eat what he will:
to drink what he will:
to dwell where he will:
to move as he will on the face of the earth.
3. Man has the right to think what he will:
to speak what he will:
to write what he will:
to draw, paint, carve, etch, mould, build as he will:
to dress as he will.
4. Man has the right to love as he will:
“take your fill and will of love as ye will,
when, where, and with whom ye will.” – AL I:51
5. Man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights.
“the slaves shall serve.” – AL II:58
“Love is the law, love under will.” – AL I:57
If you have gotten this far in the book, you should have no objections to any thing expressed in Liber OZ, except perhaps to section 5: “Man has the right to kill those who thwart these rights.” Most people who read this for the first time are deeply shocked – I myself was no exception. But after thinking the whole thing through, I began to realize that this was an essential part of the system too; for without the capacity to defend our rights, we have no real liberty. It is all very well to preach “love your enemy” (and I believe we should love our enemies) but when some asshole comes along to stick you in a concentration camp, simply following his orders is not going to help you achieve your True Will (unless following orders is your True Will – somehow, in this case, I doubt it). Our enemies must be aware that we follow our True Wills, come what may, and that we will fight to defend our right to live in our own way. We mean no harm to others who respect our rights – we encourage them to free themselves also – but we will not bow down to any man or woman. Life is the most precious gift we possess, but if someone thwarts our rights they take away our life; for eating, thinking, loving – these things are our lives. And if my enemy feels that human life is unimportant, he condemns himself, for he is human too.
Thelema is not a peaceful religion – but then again how many peaceful Christians do you know? At least we are not hypocritical about our beliefs. We state what we think; we do not try to hide from the truth. Christians say “thou shalt not kill,” but they have the bloodthirstiest history of any religion.
If you still feel uncomfortable about all this, remember that all that Liber OZ says is the you have the RIGHT to kill those who would thwart your rights – just because you have that right does not mean that you HAVE to exercise it. There is no Thelemic law that states that you have to go out and blast everyone in sight with a .44 Magnum (please don’t!) – don’t forget that the biggest enemy standing in the way of your True Will is usually your own ego.
The phrase below section 5 in Liber OZ, “the slaves shall serve,” is also often the cause of some confusion. It does NOT mean that we should enslave other people – quite the opposite in fact (“the Law is for All,” remember). The phrase does not say that some people should be slaves for us – it implies that the slaves shall become servants. Slaves are those who are forced to do something against their Will; servants are those who voluntarily assist others, and are rewarded for doing so. If it is someone’s Will to serve, then by all means they can do so – but they should never be FORCED into serving others. Even if they wish to be slaves, we cannot enslave them – they serve through their own choice. Be wary of making the mistake of assuming that those who wish to serve are somehow inferior. The person who paints the house is in no wise inferior to the person who owns the house. If they are performing their True Will, who are you to criticize them? Better for you to concentrate on doing your own Will, rather than interfering in the Will of others. And if it is your Will to serve others – do it! “Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.”
Read this phrase in Liber OZ again, carefully. There is an important lesson here. Never allow yourself to take any phrase at face value in the world of magick. Think about its content and meaning carefully. This is doubly important when you are reading Liber AL or one of the other Thelemic Holy Books, which frequently have hidden messages buried within seemingly innocuous sentences.
I have gone into the subject of the True Will in some depth here, and have been treating it very seriously, but when all’s said and done, the great thing about being a Thelemite is that it’s fun! “Do what thou Wilt” DOES mean that you can go out and do all those things you always wanted to do, and you won’t spend eternity burning in hell as a punishment for your sins. To the Thelemite “the word of Sin is Restriction.” You sin against yourself when you hold back from fulfilling your Will – so don’t hold back any longer. As psychology teaches us, repression of natural instincts is the major cause of neurosis, and the most natural instinct of all is to have a good time. As a friend of mine once put it: “At the end of the day, it’s all just sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, isn’t it?” I had to agree that he had summed it up pretty succinctly.
To the Thelemite, the sexual impulse is practically a sacred thing in itself. Our sexuality is the most fundamental expression of our Will: we have no taboos or mores restricting sexual activity. Any sexual act between mutually consenting adults is a wonderful thing – in fact it is a holy thing, for it is the living embodiment of our Love under Will.
Drugs are a subject a little more tricky to deal with. Liber AL says: “take wine & strange drugs whereof I will tell my prophet; be drunk thereof! They shall not harm ye at all,” which is pretty clear. Or is it? Notice the phrase “strange drugs.” The drugs we take must be strange; in their strangeness lie new experiences. But once we have assimilated these new sensations, the drugs are no longer strange to us. We must be especially wary of becoming addicted to drugs, for to the addict the drug has become an intrinsic part of existence – it is not at all strange any more. And we have only been promised that STRANGE drugs cannot harm us. The addict who is using drugs that are no longer strange has no such safeguard. Be careful, people! By all means experiment, but do not let your Will be taken from you.
As for the rock’n’roll, that’s another story…
“Magick” – Part I, Chapter 3: Yama and Niyama
“Magick without Tears” – Chapter 15: Sex Morality
“Magick without Tears” – Chapter 31: Religion – Is Thelema a “New Religion?”
“Magick without Tears” – Chapter 78: Sore SpotsCopyright © 1995 Rodney Orpheus