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Aleister Crowley's rendition of the unicursal hexagram, perhaps the best known symbol of, and certainly one of the most important symbols in Thelema, equivalent of the ancient Egyptian ankh or the Rosicrucian Rosy Cross but first derived in 1639 from Blaise Pascal's hexagrammum mysticum theorem Crowley unicursal hexagram.svg
Aleister Crowley's rendition of the unicursal hexagram, perhaps the best known symbol of, and certainly one of the most important symbols in Thelema, equivalent of the ancient Egyptian ankh or the Rosicrucian Rosy Cross but first derived in 1639 from Blaise Pascal's hexagrammum mysticum theorem

Thelema ( /θəˈlmə/ ) is an esoteric and occult social or spiritual philosophy and religious movement developed in the early 1900s by Aleister Crowley, an English writer, mystic, and ceremonial magician. [1] The word thelema is the English transliteration of the Koine Greek noun θέλημα (pronounced  [θéleema] ), "will", from the verb θέλω (thélō): "to will, wish, want or purpose".


Crowley asserted or believed himself to be the prophet of a new age, the Æon of Horus, based upon a spiritual experience that he and his wife, Rose Edith, had in Egypt in 1904. [2] By his account, a possibly non-corporeal or "praeterhuman" being that called itself Aiwass contacted him (through Rose) and subsequently dictated a text known as The Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis, which outlined the principles of Thelema. [3]

The Thelemic pantheon—a collection of gods and goddesses who either literally exist or serve as symbolic archetypes or metaphors—includes a number of deities, primarily a trio adapted from ancient Egyptian religion, who are the three speakers of The Book of the Law: Nuit, Hadit and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. In at least one instance, Crowley described these deities as a "literary convenience". [4]

Three statements in particular distill the practice and ethics of Thelema:

Among the corpus of ideas, Thelema describes what is termed "the Æon of Horus" (the "Crowned and Conquering Child")—as distinguished from an earlier "Æon of Isis" (mother-goddess idea) and "Æon of Osiris" (typified by bronze-age redeemer-based, divine-intermediary, or slain/flayed-god archetype religions such as Christianity, Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Mandaeism, Odin, Osiris, Attis, Adonis, etc.). Many adherents (also known as "Thelemites") emphasize the practice of Magick (glossed generally as the "Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will").

Crowley's later writings included related commentary and hermeneutics but also additional "inspired" writings that he collectively termed The Holy Books of Thelema. He also associated Thelemic spiritual practice with concepts rooted in occultism, yoga, and Eastern and Western mysticism, especially the Qabalah. [6]

Aspects of Thelema and Crowley's thought in general inspired the development of Wicca and, to a certain degree, the rise of Modern Paganism as a whole, as well as chaos magick and some variations of Satanism. Some scholars, such as Hugh Urban, also believe Thelema to have been an influence on the development of Scientology, [7] but others, such as J. Gordon Melton, reject any such connection. [8]

Historical precedents

The word θέλημα (thelema) is rare in Classical Greek, where it "signifies the appetitive will: desire, sometimes even sexual", [9] but it is frequent in the Septuagint. [9] Early Christian writings occasionally use the word to refer to the human will, [10] and even the will of God's created faith tester and inquisitor, the Devil, [11] but it usually refers to the will of God. [12]

One theme of the Gospel is the importance of doing not one's own will, but the will of God. One well-known example is in the "Lord's Prayer", "Thy kingdom come. Thy will (θέλημα) be done, On earth as it is in heaven." It is used later in the same gospel, "He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cup of sorrow cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done." And perhaps most clear in the book of John, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me."

In his 5th-century Sermon, Augustine of Hippo gave a similar instruction: [13] "Love, and what thou wilt, do." (Dilige et quod vis fac). [14] Source:,-Relation-To-Father The context is that one's actions should spring forth from love, as Augustine continues, "... whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good." [15]

In the Renaissance, a character named "Thelemia" represents will or desire in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of the Dominican friar 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. [16] Colonna's work was a great influence on the Franciscan friar François 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 . [17] [18] 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, [19] where it served as the motto of the Hellfire Club. [19] Rabelais's 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).

Definition of "Thelema"

In Classical Greek

In Classical Greek there are two words for will: thelema (θέλημα) and boule (βουλή).

  • Boule means 'determination', 'purpose', 'intention', 'counsel', or 'project'
  • Thelema means 'divine will', 'inclination', 'desire', or 'pleasure' [20]

'Thelema' is a rarely used word in Classical Greek. There are very few documents, the earliest being Antiphon the Sophist (5th century BCE). In antiquity it was beside the divine will which a man performs, just as much for the will of sexual desire. The intention of the individual was less understood as an overall, generalized, ontological place wherever it was arranged. [21]

The verb thelo appears very early (Homer, early Attic inscriptions) and has the meanings of "ready", "decide" and "desire" (Homer, 3, 272, also in the sexual sense).

"Aristotle says in the book de plantis that the goal of the human will is perception - unlike the plants that do not have 'epithymia' (translation of the author). "Thelema", says the Aristoteles, "has changed here, 'epithymia'", and 'thelema', and that 'thelema' is to be neutral, not somehow morally determined, the covetous driving force in man." [22]

In the Old Testament

In Septuaginta the term is used for the will of God himself, the pious desire of the God-fearing, and the royal will of a secular ruler. It is thus used only for the representation of high ethical willingness in the faith, the exercise of authority by the authorities, or the non-human will, but not for more profane striving. [23] In the translation of the Greek Old Testament (the Septuaginta), the terms boule and thelema appear, whereas in the Vulgate text, the terms are translated into the Latin voluntas ("will"). Thus, the different meaning of both concepts was lost.

In the New Testament

In the original Greek version of the New Testament thelema is used 62 or 64 [24] times, twice in the plural (thelemata). Here, God's will is always and exclusively designated by the word "thelema" (θέλημα, mostly in the singular), as the theologian Federico Tolli points out by means of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament of 1938 ("Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"). In the same way the term is used in the Apostle Paul and Ignatius of Antioch. For Tolli it follows that the genuine idea of Thelema does not contradict the teachings of Jesus (Tolli, 2004).

François Rabelais

Francois Rabelais Francois Rabelais - Portrait.jpg
François Rabelais

François Rabelais was a Franciscan and later a Benedictine monk of the 16th century. Eventually he left the monastery to study medicine, and moved to the French city of Lyon in 1532. There 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. [25] The Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin notes this when contrasting the French author's beliefs with the Thelema of Aleister Crowley. [26] In the previously mentioned story of Thélème, which critics analyze as referring in part to the suffering of loyal Christian reformists or "evangelicals" [27] within the French Church, [28] the reference to the Greek word θέλημα "declares that the will of God rules in this abbey". [29] Sutin writes that Rabelais was no precursor of Thelema, with his beliefs containing elements of Stoicism and Christian kindness. [26]

In his first book (ch. 52–57), 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's day, as opposed to a modern utopian text that seeks to create the scenario in practice. [30] It is a utopia where people's desires are more fulfilled. [31] Satirical, it also epitomises the ideals considered in Rabelais's fiction. [32] 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 who 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. [17]

Some modern Thelemites consider Crowley's work to build upon Rabelais's summary of the instinctively honourable nature of the Thelemite. Rabelais has been variously credited with the creation of the philosophy [33] of Thelema, as one of the earliest people to refer to it, [34] or with being "the first Thelemite". [35] 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 [36]

Aleister Crowley wrote in The Antecedents of Thelema (1926), an incomplete work not published in his day, that Rabelais not only set forth the law of Thelema in a way similar to how Crowley understood it, but predicted and described in code Crowley's life and the holy text that he received, The Book of the Law . Crowley said the work he had received was deeper, showing in more detail the technique people should practice, and revealing scientific mysteries. He said 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. [37]

Rabelais is included among the Saints of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. [38]

Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire Club

Portrait of Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer, by William Hogarth from the late 1750s Hogarth Dashwood.jpg
Portrait of Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer, by William Hogarth from the late 1750s

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). [19] An abbey was established at Medmenham, in a property which incorporated the ruins of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1201. The group was known as the Franciscans, not after Saint Francis of Assisi, but after its founder, Francis Dashwood, 11th Baron le Despencer. John Wilkes, George Dodington and other politicians were members. [19] There is little direct evidence of what Dashwood's Hellfire Club practiced or believed. [39] The one direct testimonial comes from John Wilkes, a member who never got into the chapter-room of the inner circle. [39] [40] He describes the group as hedonists who met to "celebrate woman in wine", and added ideas from the ancients just to make the experience more decadent. [41]

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. [42] Sir Nathaniel Wraxall in his Historical Memoires (1815) accused the Monks of performing Satanic rituals, but these reports have been dismissed as hearsay. [39] Gerald Gardner and others such as Mike Howard [43] 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. [44]


Aleister Crowley

Thelema was founded by Aleister Crowley (18751947), who was an English occultist and writer. In 1904, Crowley received 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. [3] [45]

The Book of the Law

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 said he had written in exactly one hour, beginning at noon, on April 8, April 9, and April 10, 1904. Crowley wrote that he took dictation from an entity named Aiwass, whom he later identified as his own Holy Guardian Angel. [46] Disciple, author, and onetime Crowley secretary Israel Regardie prefers to attribute this voice to the subconscious, but opinions among Thelemites differ widely. Crowley stated that "no forger could have prepared so complex a set of numerical and literal puzzles" and that study of the text would dispel all doubts about the method of how the book was obtained. [47]

Besides the reference to Rabelais, an analysis by Dave Evans shows similarities to The Beloved of Hathor and Shrine of the Golden Hawk, [48] a play by Florence Farr. [49] Evans says this may result from the fact that "both Farr and Crowley were thoroughly steeped in Golden Dawn imagery and teachings", [50] and that Crowley probably knew the ancient materials that inspired some of Farr's motifs. [51] 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. [52]

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 discussing the book's 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. [53]

True Will

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. [54] Others follow later works such as Liber II, saying that one's own will in pure form is nothing other than the divine will. [55] 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. [54] According to Lon Milo DuQuette, a Thelemite is anyone who bases their actions on striving to discover and accomplish their true will, [56] when a person does their True Will, it is like an orbit, their niche in the universal order, and the universe assists them. [57]

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. [58] [59] 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. [60] He identified the True Will of each individual with the Holy Guardian Angel, a daimon unique to each individual. [61] The spiritual quest to find what you are meant to do and do it is also known in Thelema as the Great Work. [62]

The Stele of Revealing [front] depicting Nuit, Hadit as the winged globe, Ra-Hoor-Khuit seated on his throne, and the creator of the Stele, the scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu Stelae of Ankh-af-na-khonsu.jpg
The Stèle of Revealing [front] depicting Nuit, Hadit as the winged globe, Ra-Hoor-Khuit seated on his throne, and the creator of the Stèle, the scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu


Thelema draws its principal gods and goddesses from Ancient Egyptian religion. The highest deity in the cosmology of Thelema is the 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. [63] 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. [63] 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". [64] 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. [63]

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, [63] Babalon, the goddess of all pleasure, known as the Virgin Whore, [63] and Therion, the beast that Babalon rides, who represents the wild animal within man, a force of nature. [63]

God, deity, and the divine

Thelemites differ widely in their views of the divine, and these views are often tied to their personal paradigms, including their conceptions of what demarcates objective and subjective reality, as well as falsehood and truth: some hold unique, or otherwise very specific or complex views of the nature of divinity, that are not easily explained; many are supernaturalists, believing that the supernatural or paranormal in some way exist, and incorporate these assumptions into their spiritual practices in some way; others are religious or spiritual naturalists, viewing the spiritual or sacred—or whatever they feel is, or may be, in reality, analogous to them, or their equivalents—as identical to the material, natural, or physical. Naturalists, whether religious or spiritual, tend to believe that faith in, or experience of, the supernatural is grounded in falsehood or error, or can be explained by delusion or hallucination.

The Book of the Law can be taken to imply a kind of pantheism or panentheism: the former is the belief that the divine, or ultimate reality, is coterminous with the totality of the cosmos, interpenetrating all phenomena, the sacred identical with the universe; the latter is the same but moreover holds that the divine, sacred, or ultimate reality in some way transcends the mundane.

The new commentary on III.60 in the Book of the Law states, "there is no god but man", [65] and many Thelemites see the divine as the inner, perfected individual state—a "true self" or "higher self" often conceived of as the Holy Guardian Angel (although certain Thelemites view the Angel as a separate entity)—that forms the essence of every person. But also in the Book Nuit says, "I am Heaven and there is no other God than me, and my lord Hadit".

Some Thelemites are polytheists or henotheists, while others are atheists, agnostics, or apatheists. Thelemites frequently hold a monistic view of the cosmos, believing that everything is ultimately derived from one initial and universal state of being, often conceived of as Nuit. (Compare the Neoplatonic view of The One.) The Book of the Law states that Hadit, representative, in one sense, of motion, matter, energy, and space-time—i.e. physical phenomena—is a manifestation of Nuit. (The Book of the Law opens with the verse, "Had! The manifestation of Nuit.") In other words, the cosmos and all its constituents are a manifestation of, and unified by their relationship to, the underlying divine reality, or monad. (Analogous to the Tao of Taoism.)

IAO131 writes, quoting 'the Book of the Law, "Thelema asserts in its own Bible ('The Book of the Law) that “Every man and every woman is a star” and that godhead is “above you & in you” and [that Hadit is] “the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star.”"

In Thelemic rituals, the divine, however conceived, is addressed by various names, particularly mystical names derived from the Qabalah, including IAO (ιαω; the phrase is uttered during the Gnostic Mass)—an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton—and Ararita (אראריתא): A Hebrew notarikon for the phrase "Achad Rosh Achdotho Rosh Ichudo Temurato Achad", meaning, roughly "One is the beginning of his unity, the beginning of his uniqueness; his permutation is one." (אחד ראש אחדותו ראש יחודו תמורתו אחד. The phrase is uttered when performing the Lesser Ritual of the Hexagram, a ritual found in Crowley's Liber O.)

IAO is of particular importance in Thelemic ceremonial magick, and functions both as a name for the divine and a magical formula. Crowley associated this formula with yoga, and noted that its letters can signify the attributes of Isis, Apophis, and Osiris, or birth, death, and resurrection, respectively, stages of change which he believed, and many Thelemites believe, is analogous to the processes constantly undergone by the physical universe.

Crowley wrote in his Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 , that IAO is "the principal and most characteristic formula of Osiris, of the Redemption of Mankind. "I" is Isis, Nature, ruined by "A", Apophis the Destroyer, and restored to life by the Redeemer Osiris."

Crowley also created a new formula, based on IAO, that he called the "proper hieroglyph of the Ritual of Self-Initiation in this Aeon of Horus": VIAOV (also spelled FIAOF), which results from adding the Hebrew letter vau to the beginning and end of "IAO". According to Crowley, VIAOV is a process whereby a person is elevated to the status of the divine, attaining his or her True Will, and yet remains in human form and goes on to "redeem the world": "Thus, he is Man made God, exalted, eager; he has come consciously to his full stature, and so is ready to set out on his journey to redeem the world." (Compare the role of the bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism.)

Magick and ritual

Thelemic magick is a system of physical, mental, and spiritual exercises which practitioners believe are of benefit. [66] Crowley defined magick as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will", [67] and spelled it with a 'k' to distinguish it from stage magic. He recommended magick as a means for discovering the True Will. [68] Generally, magical practices in Thelema are designed to assist in finding and manifesting the True Will, although some include celebratory aspects as well. [69] Crowley was a prolific writer, integrating Eastern practices with Western magical practices from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. [70] He recommended a number of these practices to his followers, including basic yoga; (asana and pranayama); [71] 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; [69] Liber Samekh , a ritual for the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; [69] eucharistic rituals such as The Gnostic Mass and The Mass of the Phoenix; [69] and Liber Resh , consisting of four daily adorations to the sun. [69] 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. [72] 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. [73]

The qabalistic tree of life, important in the magical order A[?]A[?] as the degrees of advancement in are related to it. Tree of life wk 02.svg
The qabalistic tree of life, important in the magical order A∴A∴ as the degrees of advancement in are related to it.

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 the A∴A∴, or Ordo Templi Orientis, 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 or the purpose thereof using the Holy Books of Thelema and/or Crowley's more secular works as a guide, along with their own intuition. Thelemites, both independent ones and those affiliated with an order, can practice a form of performative prayer known as Liber Resh .

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. [74] The chief task for one who has achieved this goes by the name of "crossing the abyss"; [75] 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. [76] According to Crowley, the Black Brother slowly disintegrates, while preying on others for his own self-aggrandisement. [77]

Crowley taught skeptical examination of all results obtained through meditation or magick, at least for the student. [78] He tied this to the necessity of keeping a magical record or diary, that attempts to list all conditions of the event. [79] [80] Remarking on the similarity of statements made by spiritually advanced people of their experiences, he said that fifty years from his time they would have a scientific name based on "an understanding of the phenomenon" to replace such terms as "spiritual" or "supernatural". Crowley stated that his work and that of his followers used "the method of science; the aim of religion", [81] 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 magic 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, [82] in which they may see as evidence of success things which a non-magician would not define as such, leading to confirmation bias. Crowley believed he could demonstrate, by his own example, the effectiveness of magick in producing certain subjective experiences that do not ordinarily result from taking hashish, enjoying oneself in Paris, or walking through the Sahara desert. [83] 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". [84]


Liber AL vel Legis does make clear some standards of individual conduct. The 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, [85] 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". [86] Crowley wrote several additional documents presenting his personal beliefs regarding 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. [87]

Duty is described as "A note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema." [88] 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. [88] There are four sections: [89]

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. [90]

Contemporary practice


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, [91] 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. [92] Thus, contemporary Thelemites may practice more than one religion, including Wicca, Gnosticism, Satanism, Setianism and Luciferianism. [91] 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. [91] 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 Hermetic Qabalah. [93] [94] [95] [96]

There are some Thelemites who do 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 Andahadna and Kenneth Grant.[ citation needed ] And one category of Thelemites are non-religious, and simply adhere to the philosophical law of Thelema.

Crowley encouraged people to think for themselves, making use of what ideas they like and discarding those they find inessential or unreasonable. In Magical and Philosophical Commentaries on The Book of the Law, Crowley wrote, "It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth."


The Book of the Law gives several holy days to be observed by Thelemites. There are no established or dogmatic ways to celebrate these days, so as a result Thelemites will often take to their own devices or celebrate in groups, especially within Ordo Templi Orientis. These holy days are usually observed on the following dates:


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 several who wrote on the subject, including U.S. O.T.O. Grand Master Charles Stansfeld Jones, whose works on Qabalah are still in print, and Major-General J. F. C. Fuller.

Jack Parsons was a scientist researching the use of various fuels for rockets at the California Institute of Technology, and one of Crowley's first American students, for a time leading the Agape Lodge of the Ordo Templi Orientis for Crowley in America. He wrote several short works during his lifetime, some later collected as Freedom is a Two-edged Sword. He died in 1952 as a result of an explosion, and while not a prolific writer himself, has been the subject of two biographies; Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons (1999) by John Carter, and Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons (2006) by George Pendle.

Since Crowley's death in 1947, there have been other Thelemic writers such as Israel Regardie, who edited many of Crowley's works and also wrote a biography of him, The Eye in the Triangle, as well as books on Qabalah. Kenneth Grant wrote numerous books on Thelema and the occult, such as The Typhonian Trilogy .


A Thelemic organization is any group, community, or organization based on or espousing Thelemic philosophy or principles, or the philosophy or principles put forth in The Book of the Law.

Several modern organizations of various sizes follow the tenets of Thelema. The two most prominent are both organizations that Crowley headed during his lifetime: the A∴A∴, a magickal and mystical teaching 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 ecclesiastical and religious arm, and Mysteria Mystica Maxima as an initiatory order.

Since Crowley's death in 1947, other organizations have formed to carry on his initial work: for example, the Typhonian Order of Kenneth Grant and The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn. 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 Sanders Peirce, Martin Heidegger and Niklas Luhmann.

The Temple of the Silver Star (not to be confused with the third or "inner order" of A∴A∴) is an academic or educational organization which prepares students to join the A∴A∴ proper. It was founded by Phyllis Seckler "in service to A∴A∴".

Other Thelemic organizations include Ordo Astri, Ordo Sunyata Vajra, the Temple of Our Lady of the Abyss, Axis Ordo Mundi Saturna,

Order of Chosen Priests and the self-initiatory Thelemic Order of the Golden Dawn (founded by Christopher Hyatt).

Thelemites can also be found in other organizations. The president of the Church of All Worlds, LaSara FireFox, identifies as a Thelemite. A significant minority of other CAW members also identify as Thelemites. [91]

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>The Book of the Law</i> Central sacred text of Thelema

Liber AL vel Legis, commonly known as The Book of the Law, is the central sacred text of Thelema. Aleister Crowley claimed it was dictated to him by a preternatural being calling himself Aiwass. Rose Edith Kelly, Crowley's wife, wrote two phrases in the manuscript. The three chapters of the book are spoken by the Egyptian gods Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit.

Aleister Crowley, the founder of Thelema, designated his works as belonging to one of several classes. Not all of his work was placed in a class by him.

A∴A∴ Syncretic, initiatory magical order also known as Argenteum Astrum

The A∴A∴ is a spiritual organization described in 1907 by occultist Aleister Crowley. Its members are dedicated to the advancement of humanity by perfection of the individual on every plane through a graded series of universal initiations. Its initiations are syncretic, unifying the essence of Theravada Buddhism with Vedantic yoga and ceremonial magic. The A∴A∴ applies what it describes as mystical and magical methods of spiritual attainment under the structure of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, and aims to research, practise, and teach "scientific illuminism". A∴A∴ is often held to stand for Argenteum Astrum, which is Latin for Silver Star, however, see section on Name below.

Choronzon is a demon that originated in writing with the 16th-century occultists Edward Kelley and John Dee within the latter's occult system of Enochian magic. In the 20th century he became an important element within the mystical system of Thelema, founded by Aleister Crowley, where he is the "dweller in the abyss", believed to be the last great obstacle between the adept and enlightenment. Thelemites believe that if he is met with proper preparation, then his function is to destroy the ego, which allows the adept to move beyond the abyss of occult cosmology.

The number 93 is of great significance in Thelema, founded by English author and occultist Aleister Crowley in 1904 with the writing of The Book of the Law.

True Will is a term found within the mystical system of Thelema, an occult society founded in 1904 with Aleister Crowley's writing of The Book of the Law. It is defined either as a person's grand destiny in life or as a moment-to-moment path of action that operates in perfect harmony with Nature. True Will does not spring from conscious intent, but from the interplay between the deepest Self and the entire Universe. Thelemites in touch with their True Will are said to have eliminated or bypassed their false desires, conflicts, and habits, and accessed their connection with the divine. Theoretically, at this point, the Thelemite acts in alignment with Nature, just as a stream flows downhill, with neither resistance nor "lust of result". Crowley's ideas on the subject partly originated with the teachings of Eliphas Levi, whose magical books emphasize the magician finding their magical identity – his or her 'true self', which Levi referred to as the "True Will".

Abrahadabra is a word that first publicly appeared in The Book of the Law (1904), the central sacred text of Thelema. Its author, Aleister Crowley, described it as "the Word of the Aeon, which signifieth The Great Work accomplished." This is in reference to his belief that the writing of Liber Legis heralded a new Aeon for mankind that was ruled by the god Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Abrahadabra is, therefore, the "magical formula" of this new age. It is not to be confused with the Word of the Law of the Aeon, which is Thelema, meaning "Will".

William Breeze, also known by his neo-Gnostic bishop title of Tau Silenus is an American author and publisher on magick and philosophy. He is the Sovereign Patriarch, or supreme governing cleric, of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.), the liturgical arm of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), of which he is the current Outer Head of the Order (OHO), also known as Frater Superior, as well as caliph, the order's international leader. In this capacity he is a leading editor of the occult works of Aleister Crowley, the founder of the philosophy and religion of Thelema, who is regarded as its prophet.

Lon Milo DuQuette American writer, lecturer, musician, and occultist

Lon Milo DuQuette, also known as Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford and by his neo-Gnostic bishop title of Tau Lamed, is an American writer, lecturer, musician, and occultist, best known as an author who applies humor in the field of Western Hermeticism.

Aiwass is the name given to a voice that English occultist Aleister Crowley reported to have heard on April 8, 9, and 10 in 1904. Crowley reported that this voice, which he considered originated with a non-corporeal intelligence, dictated The Book of the Law to him. That word means Eihwaz.

In Thelemic mysticism, the Abyss is the great gulf or void between the phenomenal world of manifestation and its noumenal source.


Nuit is a goddess in Thelema, the speaker in the first Chapter of The Book of the Law, the sacred text written or received in 1904 by Aleister Crowley.

Within the modern system of Thelema, developed by occultist Aleister Crowley in the first half of the 20th century, Thelemic mysticism is a complex mystical path designed to do two interrelated things: to learn one's unique True Will and to achieve union with the All. The set of techniques for doing so falls under Crowley's term Magick, which draws upon various existing disciplines and mystical models, including Yoga, Western ceremonial ritual, the Qabalah, and several divination systems, especially the tarot and astrology.

<i>The Book of Thoth</i> (Crowley)

The Book of Thoth: A Short Essay on the Tarot of the Egyptians is the title of The Equinox, volume III, number 5, by English author and occultist Aleister Crowley. The publication date is recorded as the vernal equinox of 1944 and was originally published in an edition limited to 200 numbered and signed copies.

Marcelo Ramos Motta (June 27, 1931 – August 26, 1987), also known by his magical names of Parzival X0, and Parzival XI0, was a Thelemic writer from Brazil, and member of A∴A∴.

<i>The Blue Equinox</i>

The Blue Equinox, officially known as The Equinox: Volume III, Number I, is a book written by the English occultist Aleister Crowley, the founder of Thelema. First published in 1919, it details the principles and aims of the secret society O.T.O. and its ally the A∴A∴, both of which were under Crowley's control at the time. It includes such topics as The Law of Liberty, The Gnostic Mass, and Crowley's "Hymn to Pan".

Therion is a deity found in the mystical system of Thelema, which was established in 1904 with Aleister Crowley's writing of The Book of the Law. Therion's female counterpart is Babalon, another Thelemic deity. Therion, as a Thelemic personage, evolved from that of "The Beast" from the Book of Revelation, whom Crowley identified himself with since childhood, because his mother called him that name. Indeed, throughout his life he occasionally referred to himself as “Master Therion” or sometimes “The Beast 666”. He wrote:

Before I touched my teens, I was already aware that I was THE BEAST whose number is 666. I did not understand in the least what that implied; it was a passionately ecstatic sense of identity.

English Qabalah refers to several different systems of mysticism related to Hermetic Qabalah that interpret the letters of the Roman script or English alphabet via an assigned set of numerological significances. The spelling "English Qaballa," on the other hand, refers specifically to a Qabalah supported by a system of arithmancy discovered by James Lees in 1976.

James Wasserman American writer

James Wasserman was an American author and occultist. A member of Ordo Templi Orientis since 1976 and a book designer by trade, he wrote extensively on spiritual and political liberty.


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Further reading