Two descriptions

from ReligiousTolerance Website




We include two essays which describe Thelema:

  • The Law of Thelema - An essay by Alexander Duncan


  • 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.








by Alexander Duncan

B.A. (Hon.), York University
July 2002

from ReligiousTolerance Website









Editor's Note


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 his writings.


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.



Summary Overview

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 the Law.


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 elsewhere.


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 1970s.


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 ching.


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.

The 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.


The 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,

  • the A...A... ( Astrum Argentium, or Silver Star), and

  • the O.T.O. (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 others being:

  • the Black School, associated mainly with Buddhism and Gnosticism

  • the Yellow School, associated mainly with Taoism

  • 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 is 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 Great 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 "black magician."

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° = 1

  • Magus 9° = 2

  • Magister Templi 8° = 3

  • [The Link—Babe of the Abyss]

The Order of the Rose-Cross (The R.C.)

  • Adeptus Exemptus 7° = 4

  • Adeptus Major 6° = 5

  • Adeptus Minor ("without" and "within") 5° = 6

  • [The Link—Dominus Liminis]

The Order of the Golden Dawn (The G.D.)

  • Philosophus 4° = 7

  • Practicus 3° = 8

  • Zelator 2° = 9

  • Neophyte 1° = 10

  • [The Link—Probationer 0° = 0]

The ten main grades correspond to the Cabalistic Tree of Life, a diagram that represents the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, reality and consciousness.

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.

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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 master.

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 projection").

¨ 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 Concentration (ekagrata).

¨ 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 example, 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 (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...A...:

¨ 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 - Ecclesiae Gnosticae Catholicae Cannon Missae), 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.


Sacred Texts

The Book of the Law was written when Aleister Crowley was a Minor 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 e.v.)

  • Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli (1907 e.v.)

  • Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente (ibid)

  • Liber Stellae Rubeae (ibid)

  • Liber Porta Lucis (ibid)

  • Liber Tau vel Kabbalae Trium Literarum (ibid)

  • Liber Trigrammaton (ibid)

  • Liber Ararita (1907 or 1908 e.v.)

  • 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 scholarship.


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 static aspect.

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 (most importantly, The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, and Hecate's Fountain).


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 Liber Liberi 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 realization.

  • 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, whereas

  • 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 of Magus.

  • 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.

  • Liber Arcanorum interprets the Tarot trumps as an initiatory sequence.

  • Liber A'ash and Liber Stellae Rubeae offer practical instruction in sexual Tantra.

  • 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 essential formulae

(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).


Holy Days

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

  • 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, 1904 e.v.

  • 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 eve)

  • Imbolc (February 1 eve)

  • Beltaine (May 1 eve)

  • Lammas (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 Reputation

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

  • 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 itself.

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.

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by The U.S. Grand Lodge of The Ordo Templi Orientis

from ReligiousTolerance Website


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 Thelema

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 many Thelemites.

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 Aeon 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 term "Magick".

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 Solstices.

  • 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 for Life

  • 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.



Characteristic Customs

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.


Thelemic Organizations

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 religious nature.

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 [1939], New Falcon Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1991

  • Crowley, Aleister; The Heart of the Master [1938], New Falcon Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1992

  • Crowley, Aleister, edited by Israel Regardie; The Law is for All, Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota 1975

  • Crowley, Aleister; Liber Aleph vel CXI: The Book of Wisdom or Folly [1962], Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1991

  • Crowley, Aleister; Little Essays Toward Truth [1938], New Falcon Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1991

  • Crowley, Aleister; Magick in Theory and Practice [1929], 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 [1954], 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

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