Thelema: Wikis


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The Unicursal Hexagram is one of the common symbols of Thelema

Thelema is a religious[1] philosophy that was developed[2] by the early 20th century British writer and ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley. He believed himself to be the prophet of a new age, the Aeon of Horus,[3] based upon a religious experience that he had in Egypt in 1904.[1] During this, he claimed that a non-corporeal being known as Aiwass contacted him and dictated a text that was known as The Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis, which outlined the principles of Thelema.[1][4]

Thelema is essentially a polytheistic religion, with the deities adopted from Ancient Egyptian religion, namely Nuit, Hadit and Horus. The faith follows the idea that the 20th century marked the beginning of a the Aeon of Horus, in which a new ethical code would be followed; "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law". This libertarian statement indicated that followers, who are known as Thelemites, should seek out and follow their own True Will[5] rather than their ego's desires.[6] The religion also emphasises the ritual practice of Magick as well as mysticism.

The word "Thelema" itself is the English transliteration of the Koine Greek noun θέλημα: "will", from the verb θέλω: to will, wish, purpose. As Crowley developed the religion, founding an organisation known as the A∴A∴ to propagate it,[7] he wrote widely on the topic, producing what are collectively termed the Holy Books of Thelema. He also included into it ideas from occultism, Yoga and both Eastern and Western mysticism, especially the Qabalah.[8] Nonetheless, Thelemites and other people have interpreted and applied Crowley’s work in widely different ways,[9] sometimes leading to harsh disagreements.[10][11]


Historical antecedents

The word θέλημα (thelema) is rare in classical Greek, where it "signifies the appetitive will: desire, sometimes even sexual",[12] but it is frequent in the Septuagint.[12] Early Christian writings occasionally use the word to refer to the human will,[13] and even the will of God's opponent, the Devil,[14] but it usually refers to the will of God.[15] One well-known example is in the "Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:10), “Your kingdom come. Your will (Θελημα) be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” It is used later in the same gospel (26:42), "He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done." In his 5th century Sermon on 1 John 7-8, Augustine of Hippo gave a similar instruction:[16] "Love, and do what you will" (Dilige et quod vis fac).[17]

In the Renaissance, a character named "Thelemia" represents will or desire in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili of the Dominican monk Francesco Colonna. The protagonist, Poliphilo has two allegorical guides, Logistica (reason) and Thelemia (will or desire). When forced to choose, he chooses fulfillment of his sexual will over logic.[18] Colonna's work was a great influence on the Franciscan monk Francois Rabelais, who in the 16th century, used Thélème, the French form of the word, as the name of a fictional Abbey in his novels, Gargantua and Pantagruel.[19] 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,[20] where it served as the motto of The Hellfire Club.[20] Rabelais' Abbey of Thelema has been referred to by later writers Sir Walter Besant and James Rice, in their novel The Monks of Thelema (1878), and C.R. Ashbee in his utopian romance The Building of Thelema (1910).

Francois Rabelais

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. It was there that he wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel, a connected series of books. They tell the story of two giants—a father (Gargantua) and his son (Pantagruel) and their adventures—written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein.

Most critics today agree that Rabelais wrote from a Christian humanist perspective,[21] as Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin says when he contrasts this religious view with the Thelema of Aleister Crowley.[22] In the previously mentioned story of Thélème, which critics analyze as referring in part to the suffering of loyal Christian reformists or "evangelicals"[23] within the French Church,[24] the reference to the Greek word θέλημα "declares that the will of God rules in this abbey".[25] Sutin writes that in his opinion, Rabelais was no precursor of Thelema, with his beliefs containing elements of Stoicism and Christian kindness.[22]

It is in the first book (ch. 52-57) that Rabelais writes of this Abbey of Thélème, built by the giant Gargantua. It is a classical utopia presented in order to critique and assess the state of the society of Rabelais' day, as opposed to a modern utopian text which seeks to create the scenario in practice.[26] It is a utopia where people's desires are more fulfilled.[27] However, as well as being satirical, it also epitomises the ideals considered in Rabelais' fiction.[28] The inhabitants of the abbey were governed only by their own free will and pleasure, the only rule being "Do What Thou Wilt." Rabelais believed that men that are free, well born and bred have honour, which intrinsically leads to virtuous actions. When constrained, their noble natures turn instead to remove their servitude, because men desire what they are denied.[19]

Some modern Thelemites consider Crowley's work to build upon Rabelais' summary of the instinctively honourable nature of the Thelemite. Rabelais has been variously credited with the creation of the philosophy of Thelema, as one of the earliest people to refer to it,[29] or with being "the first Thelemite."[30] 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[31]

Aleister Crowley himself wrote in The Antecedents of Thelema, (1926) an incomplete work not published in his day, that Rabelais, as far as he goes, set forth the law of Thelema in a way similar to how Crowley understood it, forecasting the text Crowley claimed to have received, The Book of the Law. However, Crowley said the work he had received was deeper, showing in more detail the technique people should practice, revealing scientific mysteries, and that Rabelais confines himself to portraying an ideal, rather than addressing questions of political economy and similar subjects, which must be solved in order to realize the Law.[32]

Rabelais is included among the Saints of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica along with 73 other saints, such as Virgil, Catullus, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and William Blake.[33]

Francis Dashwood and the Hellfire Club

Portrait of Francis Dashwood, 15th 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).[20] An abbey was established at Medmenham, in a property which incorporated the ruins of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1201. The group were known as the Franciscans, not after Saint Francis of Assisi, but after its founder, Francis Dashwood, 15th Baron le Despencer. John Wilkes, George Dodington and other politicians were members.[20] We have little direct evidence of what Dashwood's Hellfire Club did or believed.[34] The one direct testimonial comes from John Wilkes, a member who never got into the chapter-room of the inner circle.[34][35] He describes them as hedonists who met to "celebrate woman in wine," and added ideas from the ancients just to make the experience more decadent.[36]

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."[37] Sir Nathaniel Wraxall in his Historical Memoires (1815) accused the Monks of performing Satanic rituals, but these claims have been dismissed as hearsay.[34] Gerald Gardner and others such as Mike Howard[38] 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.[39]

Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley, developer of Thelema as it is usually practiced today.

Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) was an English occultist and writer. In 1904, Crowley claimed to have 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.[4][40]

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 wrote in exactly one hour, beginning at noon, on April 8, April 9, and April 10, 1904. Crowley claims that he took dictation from an entity named Aiwass, whom he later identified as his own Holy Guardian Angel.[41] Disciple, author, and onetime Crowley secretary Israel Regardie prefers to attribute this voice to the subconscious, but opinions among Thelemites differ widely.[9]

Besides the reference to Rabelais, an analysis by Dave Evans shows similarities to The Beloved of Hathor and Shrine of the Golden Hawk,[42] a play by Florence Farr.[43] Evans says this may result from the fact that "both Farr and Crowley were thoroughly steeped in Golden Dawn imagery and teachings,"[44] and that Crowley probably knew the ancient materials that inspired some of Farr's motifs.[45] 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.[46]

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.[47]

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.[48] Others follow later works such as Liber II, saying that one's own will in pure form is nothing other than the divine will.[49] 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.[48] According to Lon Milo Duquette, a Thelemite is anyone who bases their actions on striving to discover and accomplish their true will,[50] when a person does their True Will, it is like an orbit, their niche in the universal order, and the universe assists them.[51] 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.[52][53] 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.[54] He identified the True Will of each individual with the Holy Guardian Angel, a daimon unique to each individual.[55] The spiritual quest to find what you are meant to do and do it is also known in Thelema as the Great Work.[56]

The Stèle of Revealing, 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 in fact a goddess, Nuit. She is the night sky arched over the Earth symbolized in the form of a naked woman. She is conceived as the Great Mother, the ultimate source of all things.[57] 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.[57] 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."[58] 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.[57] 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,[57] Babalon, the goddess of all pleasure, known as the Virgin Whore.[57] and Therion, the beast that Babalon rides, who represents the wild animal within man, a force of nature.[57]

Magick and ritual

Thelemic magick is a system of physical, mental, and spiritual exercises which practitioners believe are of benefit.[59] Crowley defined magick as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,"[60] and spelt it with a 'k' to distinguish it from stage magic. He recommended magick as a means for discovering the True Will.[61] Generally, magical practices in Thelema are designed to assist in finding and manifesting the True Will, although some include celebratory aspects as well.[62] Crowley was a prolific writer, integrating Eastern practices with Western magical practices from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.[63] He recommended a number of these practices to his followers, including basic yoga; (asana and pranayama);[64] 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;[62] Liber Samekh, a ritual for the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel;[62] eucharistic rituals such as The Gnostic Mass and The Mass of the Phoenix;[62] and Liber Resh, consisting of four daily adorations to the sun.[62] 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.[65] 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.[66]

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 Ordo Templi Orientis or A∴A∴, work through a series of degrees or grades via a process of initiation. Thelemites who work on their own or in an independent group try to achieve this ascent 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. Books and papers detailing the rituals of Ordo Templi Orientis of the past do appear or come up for sale second-hand, but the modern organisation seeks to prevent them being sold, using the successful legal argument that such works violate their copyright.[67] The papers they seek to protect include those containing instructions detailing the sexual rituals of the later degrees.[68]

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.[69] The chief task for one who has achieved this goes by the name of "crossing the abyss";[70] 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.[71] According to Crowley, the Black Brother slowly disintegrates, whilst preying on others for his own self-aggrandisement.[72]

Crowley taught skeptical examination of all results obtained through meditation or magick, at least for the student.[73] He tied this to the necessity of keeping a magical record or diary, that attempts to list all conditions of the event.[74][75] 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," [76] and that the genuine powers of the magician could in some way be objectively tested. This idea has been taken on by later practitioners of Thelema, Chaos magick and magick in general. They may consider that they are testing hypotheses with each magical experiment. The difficulty lies in the broadness of their definition of success,[77] 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.[78] But in the matter of external results, the James Randi Educational Foundation in 1996 offered US$1 million to anyone who can produce such by magical or "paranormal" means under scientific conditions, and more than a decade passed without anyone successfully claiming the prize.[79][80] (After this point the Foundation added a requirement to reduce the number of claims needing examination.) 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."[81]


There are no "standards of Right". Ethics is balderdash. Each Star must go on its own orbit. To hell with "moral principle"; there is no such thing.[82]

Liber AL vel Legis does make clear some standards of individual conduct. The most primary of these is "Do what thou wilt" which is presented as the whole of the law, and also as a right. Some interpreters of Thelema believe that this right includes an obligation to allow others to do their own wills without interference,[83] 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."[84] Crowley wrote several additional documents presenting his personal views on individual conduct in light of the Law of Thelema, some of which do address the topic interference with others: Liber OZ, Duty, and Liber II.

Liber Oz enumerates some of the rights of the individual implied by the one overarching right, "Do what thou wilt." For each person, these include the right to: live by one's own law; live in the way that one wills to do; work, play, and rest as one will; die when and how one will; eat and drink what one will; live where one will; move about the earth as one will; think, speak, write, draw, paint, carve, etch, mould, build, and dress as one will; love when, where and with whom one will; and kill those who would thwart these rights.[85]

Duty is described as "A note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema."[86] 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.[86] There are four sections:[87]

  • A. Your Duty to Self: describes the self as the center of the universe, with a call to learn about one's inner nature. Admonishes the reader to develop every faculty in a balanced way, establish one's autonomy, and to devote oneself to the service of one's own True Will.
  • B. Your Duty to Others: An admonishment to eliminate the illusion of separateness between oneself and all others, to fight when necessary, to avoid interfering with the Wills of others, to enlighten others when needed, and to worship the divine nature of all other beings.
  • C. Your Duty to Mankind: States that the Law of Thelema should be the sole basis of conduct. That the laws of the land should have the aim of securing the greatest liberty for all individuals. Crime is described as being a violation of one's True Will.
  • D. Your Duty to All Other Beings and Things: States that the Law of Thelema should be applied to all problems and used to decide every ethical question. It is a violation of the Law of Thelema to use any animal or object for a purpose for which it is unfit, or to ruin things so that they are useless for their purpose. Natural resources can be used by man, but this should not be done wantonly, or the breach of the law will be avenged. For instance, deforestation can cause soil erosion.

In Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion, the Law of Thelema is summarized succinctly as "Do what thou wilt--then do nothing else." Crowley describes the pursuit of Will as not only with detachment from possible results, but with tireless energy. It is Nirvana but in a dynamic rather than static form. The True Will is described as the individual's orbit, and if they seek to do anything else, they will encounter obstacles, as doing anything other than the will is a hindrance to it.[88]

Contemporary Thelema

Diversity of Thelemic thought

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,[89] 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.[90] Thus, contemporary Thelemites may practice more than one religion, including Discordianism, Wicca, Gnosticism, Satanism, Setianism, and Luciferianism.[89] 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.[89] For example, Nu and Had are thought to correspond with the Tao and Teh of Taoism, Shakti and Shiva of the Hindu Tantras, Shunyata and Bodhicitta of Buddhism, Ain Soph and Kether in the Qabalah.[91][92][93][94]

Some Thelemites accept The Book of the Law in some way, but not the rest of Crowley's "inspired" writings or teachings. Others take only specific aspects of his overall system, such as his magical techniques, ethics, mysticism, or religious ideas, while ignoring the rest. Other individuals who consider themselves Thelemites regard what is commonly presented as Crowley's system to be only one possible manifestation of Thelema, creating original systems, such as those of Nema, and Kenneth Grant. Maggie Ingalls (Nema) has described a system called Maat Magick.[95]

Contemporary Thelemic literature

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 by John Carter, and Strange Angel by George Pendle.

The Lamen and tradmark of the Ordo Templi Orientis, a Thelemic organization

Since Crowley's death in 1947, there have been other Thelemic writers. These include Israel Regardie, who not only edited many of Crowley's works, but wrote a biography of him, The Eye in the Triangle, and penned many books on ritual and Qabalah, such as the Garden of Pomegranates, Golden Dawn, Middle Pillar, and The Tree of Life. Kenneth Grant has written several books on Thelema and the occult, such as The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, Outside the Circles of Time, and Hecate's Fountain. Lon Milo DuQuette's books are mostly dedicated to analyzing and exploring Crowley's system, including such books as Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot, The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford, The Magick of Aleister Crowley, and The Key to Solomon's Key.

Nema discusses a form of Thelema with Ma'atian elements. She now has several books on Ma'atian Thelema including her book, Maat Magick.

Other notable contemporary writers who address Thelema include Jerry Edward Cornelius, Gerald del Campo, J. Daniel Gunther, Allen H. Greenfield, Christopher Hyatt, Richard Kaczynski, Marcelo Ramos Motta, Jason Augustus Newcomb, Rodney Orpheus, James Wasserman, Sam Webster, and Robert Anton Wilson. There are also numerous journals which print original Thelemic writing.

Thelemic organizations

Several modern organizations of various sizes claim to follow the tenets of Thelema. The two most prominent are both organizations that Crowley headed during his lifetime: the A∴A∴—an Order founded by Crowley, based on the grades of the Golden Dawn system; and Ordo Templi Orientis—an order which initially developed from the Rite of Memphis and Mizraim in the early part of the 20th century, and which includes Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica as its religious arm.

Since Crowley's death in 1947, other organizations have formed to carry on his initial work—for example, Phyllis Seckler's College of Thelema, the Temple of Thelema, the Typhonian Order of Kenneth Grant, Society O.T.O. of Marcelo Ramos Motta, Thelemic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Holy Order Of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn, and The Order of Thelemic Knights. Other groups of widely varying character exist which have drawn inspiration or methods from Thelema, such as the Illuminates of Thanateros and the Temple of Set. Some groups accept the Law of Thelema, but omit certain aspects of Crowley's system while incorporating the works of other mystics, philosophers, and religious systems. The Fraternitas Saturni (Brotherhood of Saturn), founded in 1928 in Germany, accepts the Law of Thelema, but extends it with the phrase "Mitleidlose Liebe!" ("Compassionless love!"). The Thelema Society, also located in Germany, accepts Liber Legis and much of Crowley's work on magick, while incorporating the ideas of other thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles S. Peirce, Martin Heidegger, and Niklas Luhmann. Horus-Maat Lodge combines the ideas of the occultist Nema with those of Crowley.

Thelemites can also be found in other organizations. The president of the Church of All Worlds, LaSara Firefox, identifies as a Thelemite and sex magician. A significant minority of other CAW members also identify as Thelemites.[89]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "From this (The Book of the Law) he developed the religion of Thelema." Greenwood, Susan. p. 176, 177. The Encyclopedia of Magic & Witchcraft: An illustrated historical reference to spiritual worlds. Lorenz Books 2001.
  2. ^ Moore, John S. Aleister Crowley as Guru in Chaos International, Issue No. 17.
  3. ^ Ascension Magick, Christopher Penczak, Llewellyn, ISBN 0738710474 p.41
  4. ^ a b Wilson, Robert Anton. The Illuminati Papers. And/Or Press, 1980. ISBN 1579510027
  5. ^ Orpheus, Rodney. Abrahadabra. Weiser, 2005, ISBN 1578633265, p.64
  6. ^ Penczak, Christopher. The Temple of High Witchcraft. Llewellyn, 2007. ISBN 073871165 p.53
  7. ^ A Syllabus of the Official Instructions of A∴A∴
  8. ^ Crowley, Aleister.Liber XIII vel Graduum Montis Abiegni: A Syllabus of the Steps Upon the Path, retrieved July 7, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Wilson, R. A. with Miriam Joan Hill, Everything is Under Control: Conspiracies, cults and cover-ups, HarperPerennial 1998. ISBN 0-06-273417-2. Kenneth Grant vs Israel Regardie p. 134. Grant's alien claim "widely shared in occult circles," p. 212.
  10. ^ Wilson, Robert Anton Cosmic Trigger I: The Final Secret of the Illuminati p166.
  11. ^ Miller, Jason. Rabelaisian Rebuttal in Silver Star: A Journal of New Magick, Issue 8, Fall Equinox, 2007, p. 32
  12. ^ a b Gauna, Max. The Rabelaisian Mythologies, pp. 90-91. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996. ISBN 0838636314
  13. ^ e.g. John 1:12-13
  14. ^ e.g. 2 Timothy 2:26
  15. ^ Pocetto, Alexander T. Rabelais, Francis de Sales and the Abbaye de Thélème, retrieved July 20, 2006.
  16. ^ Sutin, p. 127.
  17. ^ The Works of Saint Augustine: A New Translation for the 21st Century, (Sermons 148-153), 1992, part 3, vol. 5, p. 182. ISBN 1565480074
  18. ^ Salloway, David. Random Walks, p. 203. McGill-Queen's Press, 1997. ISBN 0773516794
  19. ^ a b Rabelais, François. Gargantua and Pantagruel. Everyman's Library. ISBN 978-0679431374
  20. ^ a b c d Encyclopedia Britannica (1911). Buckingham,
  21. ^ Bowen, Barbara. Enter Rabelais, Laughing, p. 2. Vanderbilt University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8265-1306-9.
  22. ^ a b Sutin, Lawrence. Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, p. 126. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin, 2002. ISBN 978-0312288976.
  23. ^ "Rabelais, like his protectress Marguerite de Navarre, was an evangelical rather than a Protestant," definition follows. Catharine Randall, "Reformation" entry in The Rabelais Encyclopedia, edited by Elizabeth Chesney Zegura. p. 207. Greenwood Press, Westport, CT. 2004. ISBN 0–313–31034–3
  24. ^ E. Bruce Hayes, "enigmatic prophecy" entry in The Rabelais Encyclopedia p. 68.
  25. ^ Marian Rothstein, "Thélème, ABBEY OF" entry in The Rabelais Encyclopedia p. 243.
  26. ^ Stillman, Peter G. "Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Rousseau's Thought" in Rubin & Stroup (1999), p. 60
  27. ^ Stillman, Peter G. "Utopia and Anti-Utopia in Rousseau's Thought" in Rubin & Stroup (1999), p. 70
  28. ^ Rothstein, Marian. "Androgyne, Agape, and the Abbey of Thélème" (PDF) p. 17, n. 23, in French Forum, V. 26, No. 1.
  29. ^ Edwards, Linda. A Brief Guide to Beliefs: Ideas, Theologies, Mysteries, and Movements, p 478. Westminster John Knox Press, 2001. ISBN 0664222595.
  30. ^ Rabelais: The First Thelemite
  31. ^ National Grand Master General Sabazius X°. Address delivered by National Grand Master General Sabazius X° to the Sixth National Conference of the U.S. O.T.O. Grand Lodge, August 10, 2007
  32. ^ Aleister Crowley, 1926, The Antecedents of Thelema. Published in The Revival of Magick, edited by Hymenaeus Beta & R. Kaczynski.
  33. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Liber XV, The Gnostic Mass.
  34. ^ a b c Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon. The Hell-fire Clubs, retrieved July 22, 2006
  35. ^ Coppens, Philip (2006). Hell, no damnation. Retrieved July 21, 2006.
  36. ^ quoted in Sainsbury (2006), p.111
  37. ^ Towers (1987) quoted in Coppens (2006)
  38. ^ Howard, Mike. The Hellfire Club, retrieved July 22, 2006
  39. ^ Willens, Daniel. The Hell-Fire Club: Sex, Politics, and Religion in Eighteenth-Century England in Gnosis, summer 1992. Retrieved July 22, 2006
  40. ^ Crowley, Aleister. "De Lege Libellum", in The Equinox III(1) (Detroit: Universal, 1919).
  41. ^ Crowley, Aleister. The Equinox of the Gods. New Falcon Publications, 1991. ISBN 978-1561840281
  42. ^ Farr, F., & Shakespear, O. The Beloved of Hathor and the Shrine of the Golden Hawk. Croydon. Farncombe & Son. Dating uncertain, approx. 1902
  43. ^ Evans, Dave. Aleister Crowley and the 20th Century Synthesis of Magick, p. 10, pp. 26-30. Hidden Publishing, Second Revised Edition, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9555237-2-4
  44. ^ Dave Evans, "Strange distant Gods that are not dead today," p5
  45. ^ Evans, Strange Gods p3
  46. ^ Sutin p 68, 137-138
  47. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis
  48. ^ a b Frater U.D. High Magic: Theory & Practice. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2005. p. 214. ISBN 0738704717
  49. ^ "But the Magician knows that the pure Will of every man and every woman is already in perfect harmony with the divine Will; in fact they are one and the same" -DuQuette, Lon Milo. The Magick of Aleister Crowley: A Handbook of the Rituals of Thelema, p. 12. Weiser, 2003. ISBN 1578632994.
  50. ^ Duquette, Lon Milo, Angels, demons & gods of the new millennium, Weiser, 1997, ISBN 157863010X, p.3
  51. ^ Duquette, Lon Milo, The Magick of Aleister Crowley, Weiser, 2003, ISBN 1578632994, p.12
  52. ^ Morris, Brian. Religion and anthropology, Cambridge University Press, 2006, ISBN 0521852412, p.302
  53. ^ Harvey, Graham. Listening People, Speaking Earth, C. Hurst & Co., 1997, ISBN 1850652724 p.98
  54. ^ Sutin, p. 294.
  55. ^ Hymenaeus Beta (ed.) in Crowley, Aleister. The Goetia: The Lesser Key of Solomon the King, p. xxi. Red Wheel, 1995. ISBN 087728847X
  56. ^ Kraig, Donald Michael. Falorio, Linda. Nema. Tara. Modern Sex Magick, 1998, Llewellyn, ISBN 1567183948, p.44
  57. ^ a b c d e f Orpheus, Rodney. Abrahadabra: Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thelemic Magick, pp. 33-44. Weiser, 2005. ISBN 1578633265
  58. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II,6.
  59. ^ DuQuette, Lon Milo in Orpheus, Rodney. Abrahadabra, p. 1
  60. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Magick, Book 4, Introduction to Part III
  61. ^ Gardner, Gerald Brosseau. The Meaning of Witchcraft, p. 86. Red Wheel, 2004. ISBN 1578633095
  62. ^ a b c d e DuQuette, Lon Milo. The Magick of Thelema
  63. ^ Pearson, Joanne. A Popular Dictionary of Paganism, p. 44. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0700715916
  64. ^ Orpheus, pp. 9-16, 45-52
  65. ^ Urban, Hugh. Magia Sexualis: Sex, Magic, and Liberation in Modern Western Esotericism. University of California Press, 2006. ISBN 0520247760
  66. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Magick, Book 4
  67. ^ Ordo Templi Orientis (2008-06-17). "News from International Headquarters". Retrieved 2009-08-05. 
  68. ^ Kraig, Donald Michael. Falorio, Linda. Nema. Tara. Modern Sex Magick, 1998, Llewellyn, ISBN 1567183948, p.319
  69. ^ Whitcomb, Bill. The Magician's Companion. Llewellyn, 1993, ISBN 0875428681, p.51
  70. ^ Whitcomb, Bill. The Magician's Companion. Llewellyn, 1993, ISBN 0875428681 p.483
  71. ^ Kaczinski, Richard. Wasserman, James. Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley Weiser, 2009. ISBN 1578634563, p.41
  72. ^ Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts, Taylor & Francis, 1977, ISBN 0330251406, p.130
  73. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Liber O, I.2-5
  74. ^ Liber E vel Exercitiorum, section I in its entirety.
  75. ^ Wasserman, James. Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary. Weiser, 2006. ISBN 1578633729
  76. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Liber ABA (Magick (Book 4) Part 1 (written 1912-1913)
  77. ^ Luhrmann, Tanya. Persuasions of the witch's craft, p. 124. Harvard University Press, 1991. ISBN 0674663241
  78. ^ Crowley, John St. John, entries for 2.5 and 2.22 on the Eleventh Day.
  79. ^ "The Write Factor" for 1 December 2009, Lindsey Mason writing for
  80. ^ Jeff Wagg and James Randi, Foundation's online FAQ for the challenge. Retrieved December 27, 2009.
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  82. ^ Crowley, Aleister. The Old and New Commentaries to Liber AL, II,28.
  83. ^ Suster, Gerald. The legacy of the beast W.H. Allen, 1988, ISBN 0491034466 p.200
  84. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Symonds, John. Grant, Kenneth. The confessions of Aleister Crowley Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979, p.400
  85. ^ Crowley, Aleister. Liber OZ
  86. ^ a b Crowley, Aleister. Magick, Book 4, Appendix I: "Official Instructions of the O.T.O", p. 484
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  89. ^ a b c d Rabinovitch, Shelley; Lewis, James. The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism,, pp. 267–270. Citadel Press, 2004. ISBN 0806524065
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  91. ^ Orpheus, p. 124 (Qabalah) and p. 131 (on Liber 777).
  92. ^ Suster, p. 184 for Nuit and Tao, p. 188 for Hadit, Kether and Tao Teh, p. 146 & 150 for link to Tantra.
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  95. ^ Evans, Dave. The History of British Magick After Crowley, pp. 229-284. Hidden Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9555237-0-0


  • Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2005). Thelema. Retrieved March 12, 2005.
  • Thelemapedia. (2004). Thelema. Retrieved April 15, 2006.

Further reading

  • Del Campo, Gerald. Rabelais: The First Thelemite. The Order of Thelemic Knights.
  • Melton, J. Gordon (1983). "Thelemic Magick in America." Alternatives to American Mainline Churches, ed. Joseph H. Fichter. Barrytown, NY: Unification Theological Seminary.
  • Starr, Martin P. (2004) A Hundred Years Hence: Visions of a Thelemic Future (Conference Paper presented at the Thelema Beyond Crowley )
  • Starr, Martin P. (2003). The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites. Bolingbrook, IL: Teitan Press.
  • van Egmond, Daniel (1998). "Western Esoteric Schools in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." in van den Broek, Roelof and Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Gnosis and Hermeticism From Antiquity To Modern Times. Albany: State University of New York Press.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

Wikipedia has an article on:





Transliteration of Ancient Greek θέλημα (will).




Thelema (uncountable)

  1. A spiritual and social philosophy calling each person to act in alignment with his or her True Will (which may or may not be the same as personal wishes) as a basis for spiritual growth.

Derived terms

  • Thelemite
  • Thelemites
  • Thelemic
  • Thelemically


Simple English

Thelema is the English spelling of the Greek noun θέλημα: "will", from the verb θέλω: to will, wish, purpose. Early Christian writings use the word to refer to the will of God,[1] the human will,[2] and even the will of God's opponent, the Devil.[3]

Thelema is also a way of life first written about by François Rabelais (16th century) in his famous books of fiction, Gargantua and Pantagruel.[4] The core of this way of life was summed up in the phrase "Do what thou wilt" ("fay çe que vouldras" in the original French). This idea was later put into practice in the mid 18th century by Sir Francis Dashwood at Medmenham.[5]

This Thelemic Law of Rabelais was revived by Aleister Crowley[5] in 1904 when Crowley wrote The Book of the Law. This book contains both the word Thelema in Greek as well as the phrase "Do what thou wilt." From this, Crowley took Thelema as the name of his own religion. Thus Shri Gurudev Mahendranath wrote that Rabelais, Dashwood, and Crowley must share the honor of perpetuating Thelema.[5]


Modern Thelema

Breadth of Thelemic thought

The core of Thelemic thought is "Do what thou wilt." However, people understand and apply this in different ways. For example, some people accept Crowley as a prophet. Other people regard Crowley's system to be only one form of Thelema. Crowley himself shared this view:

I admit that my visions can never mean to other men as much as they do to me. I do not regret this. All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.[6]

Many followers of Thelema are learn and use other systems of spiritual thought, blending them according to their own will with Thelema. Most borrow freely from other traditions. For example, Nu and Had are thought to be the same as or similar to the Tao and Teh of Taoism, Shakti and Shiva of the Hindu Tantras, Shunyata and Bodhicitta of Buddhism, Ain Soph and Kether in the Qabalah.[7][8][9] Like Crowley, other followers of Thelema make free use of the methods and practices of other traditions, including alchemy, astrology, qabalah, tantra, tarot, and yoga, according to their own wills.

Some groups say that they are true to Crowley's system (such as A∴A∴ and Ordo Templi Orientis). Some groups build upon his teachings, expanding upon and extending them. For example, 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 also including the ideas of other thinkers, such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles S. Peirce, Martin Heidegger, and Niklas Luhmann. In America, the writings of Maggie Ingalls (Nema) have started a movement called Maat Magick, along with a group called the Horus-Maat Lodge, founded in 1979. This movement combines elements of Thelema with Nema's system based on the Egyptian goddess Ma'at. She wrote her own holy book titled "Liber Pennae Praenumbra." The HML aims to combine the current Aeon of Horus with the future Aeon of Ma'at in which mankind will achieve balance.

Modern Thelemic writings

Most of Thelemic writing was written by Aleister Crowley. He wrote many books. Many of them were on the subject of Thelema. During his time, there were a few other people who wrote on the subject, including Charles Stansfeld Jones and J.F.C. Fuller. Since his death in 1947 only a few new writers have written on the subject, such as:

  • Israel Regardie, who not only edited many of Crowley's works, but wrote a biography of him—The Eye in the Triangle—and penned many books on ritual and Qabalah, such as Garden of Pomegranates, Golden Dawn, Middle Pillar, and Tree of Life.
  • Kenneth Grant, who has written many books on Thelema and the occult, such as The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, Outside the Circles of Time, and Hecate's Fountain.
  • Nema, whose Liber Pennae Praenumbra announces and explains the Ma'atian current has influenced Thelemites for over 25 years. She now has several books on Ma'atian Thelema including her book, Maat Magick.

Thelema in comparative religion

Thelema has been attracting more attention in recent years from scholars of religion, especially those interested in new religious movements, contemporary Gnosticisms and Hermeticisms. References at the end of this article supply a few such sources. Perhaps the most unusual attempt was made by bishop Federico Tolli, in his German book Thelema — Im Spannungsfeld zwischen Christentum, Logentradition und New Aeon [10] For Tolli, Thelema is to be regarded as the dialectical consequence of Christianity. Christianity for Tolli exists as a community in Christ, whereas Tolli sees Thelema as a necessarily individualistic response to the world.

Taken from a 1938 theological dictionary (to the New Testament), the concept of 'salvation history' (Heilsgeschichte) has a great effect on Tolli's thought, and it is in this context that he discusses Crowleyan Thelema. Tolli regards Crowley's Heilsgeschichte as one in which the whole Universe (ergo the Will of God) is to combine (analogous to the Alchemical formula 'coagula'). "Love", in the form of combinatory attraction ("Love is the law, love under will"), is a universal principle — therefore akin to the concept of Natural religion. The main difference (for Tolli) is that in Christianity salvation of the entire Universe ("Ganzheit") cannot be made by 'solipsistic' man. The bishop sees Crowley as a failed – however talented – artist or "Mystagogie", but not as a "Satanist". The merit and contribution of bishop Tolli to Thelemic studies lies in the fact that it was he who first expresses that the genuine meaning and idea of Thelema does not necessarily contradict the teachings of Jesus, as Crowley himself affirms.[needs proof]

Other pages


  1. Rabelais, Francis de Sales and the Abbaye de Thélème by Alexander T. Pocetto, O.S. F.S., Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, citing other writers. Online version here, retrieved from July 20, 2006.
  2. e.g. John 1:12-13
  3. e.g. 2 Timothy 2:26
  4. Chappell, Vere. What is Thelema?. Retrieved July 7, 2006.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Mahendranath (1990).
  6. Crowley 1979, ch.66
  7. De Lupos
  8. Voxfire (2004)
  9. Webster
  10. Leipzig, 2004.


  • Coppens, Philip (2006). Hell, no damnation. Retrieved July 21, 2006.
  • Crowley, Aleister. (1997). Magick: Book 4. 2nd ed. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser.
  • Crowley, Aleister (1979), The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, London;Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul
  • De Lupos, Rey. The Golden Topaz of Radiant Light in Silver Star, No. 1. Retrieved April 5 2005.
  • Del Campo, Gerald. Rabelais: The First Thelemite. The Order of Thelemic Knights.
  • Free Encyclopedia of Thelema (2005). Thelema. Retrieved March 12 2005.
  • Kaczynski, Richard (2002). Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley. Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Publications.
  • Mahendranath, Shri Gurudev (1991). The Scrolls of Mahendranath. Seattle: International Nath Order. LCCN 97132342.
  • Melton, J. Gordon (1983). "Thelemic Magick in America." Alternatives to American Mainline Churches, ed. Joseph H. Fichter. Barrytown, NY: Unification Theological Seminary.
  • Starr, Martin P. (2003). The Unknown God: W.T. Smith and the Thelemites. Bolingbrook, IL: Teitan Press.
  • Sutin, Lawrence (2000). Do What Thou Wilt. New York, NY: St. Martin's Griffin.
  • Towers, Eric (1987). Dashwood: The Man and the Myth. Crucible. ISBN 0-85030-427-X
  • van Egmond, Daniel (1998). "Western Esoteric Schools in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." in van den Broek, Roelof and Hanegraaff, Wouter J. Gnosis and Hermeticism From Antiquity To Modern Times. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Voxfire, Thomas (2004). "Something from Nothing: the Essence of Creation" in Essays for the New Aeon. Retrieved April 5 2005.
  • Webster, Sam. Entering the Buddhadharma. Retrieved April 5 2005.
  • This article includes text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica. Please add to the article as needed.

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