Thelema (/θəˈliːmə/) is a social or spiritual philosophy derived from Western esotericism. The word thelema is the English transliteration of the Koine Greek noun θέλημα (pronounced [θélɛ:ma]) "will", from the verb θέλω "to will, wish, want or purpose". While Thelema is most often regarded as a religion—a new religious movement and contemporary mystery religion in particular—it is also referred to as a philosophy, "religious philosophy", "spiritual philosophy", or "religious matrix". An adherent of Thelema is traditionally referred to as a Thelemite, and all phenomena within the scope of Thelema are termed Thelemic.
The fundamental axiom, tenet, or boilerplate underlying Thelema—known as the "Law of Thelema"—is "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law". The traditional corresponding phrase is "Love is the law, love under will." Other common phrases, coined by Aleister Crowley, which are associated with Thelema are, "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“, and "For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.“ These expressions can be characterized as having moral, mystical, and socio-political implications. In the Thelemic worldview or model, each person has a "True Will" and (insofar as each person acts in accordance with his or her Will) the nature of a person's interactions with the world (or universe) is a form of "love" or harmony. This is expressed further by a third metaphor, "every man and every woman is a star," which portrays the distinct nature of every individual as residing in a non-overlapping point of space and time; collisions between different persons being infrequent if each is aware of—and acting in accordance with—their true purpose in life.
Thelema was developed in the early 1900s by Aleister Crowley, an English writer, mystic, and ceremonial magician. He 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. By his account, a possibly non-corporeal or "praeterhuman" being that called itself Aiwass contacted him and dictated a text known as The Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis, which outlined the principles of Thelema.
The Thelemic pantheon 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. Crowley described these deities as a "literary convenience". The religion is founded upon the idea that the 20th century marked the beginning of 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 statement indicates adherents, known as Thelemites, should seek and follow their true paths in life, known as their True Wills. The philosophy also emphasizes the ritual practice of Magick.
As Crowley developed the religion, he wrote widely on the topic, as well as producing more 'inspired' writing that he collectively termed The Holy Books of Thelema. He also included ideas from occultism, yoga, and both Eastern and Western mysticism, especially the Qabalah.
Aspects of Thelema and Crowley's thought in general provided inspiration for the development of Wicca and, to a certain degree, the rise of Modern Paganism as a whole, as well as, chaos magick, and Satanism. Additionally, aspects of Thelema are believed by scholars such as Hugh Urban to have been an influence on the development of Scientology, however, other scholars such as J. Gordon Melton deny any such connections.
The word θέλημα (thelema) is rare in Classical Greek, where it "signifies the appetitive will: desire, sometimes even sexual", but it is frequent in the Septuagint. Early Christian writings occasionally use the word to refer to the human will, and even the will of God's opponent, the Devil, but it usually refers to the will of God.
One well-known example is in the "Lord's Prayer" (Matthew 6:10), "Thy kingdom come. Thy 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, Thy will be done." In his 5th-century Sermon on 1 John 4:4–12, Augustine of Hippo gave a similar instruction: "Love, and what thou wilt, do." (Dilige et quod vis fac).
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. 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. The only rule of this Abbey was "fay çe que vouldras" ("Fais ce que tu veux", or, "Do what thou wilt").
In the mid-18th century, Sir Francis Dashwood inscribed the adage on a doorway of his abbey at Medmenham, where it served as the motto of the Hellfire Club. Rabelais'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).
As the forerunner of today's concept of will, the Greek boule (βουλή) is considered by classic philology, not thelo (θέλω) or 'thelema'.
The verb thelo appears very early (Homer, early Attic inscriptions) and has the meaning 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.
In Septuaginta the term is used for the will of God himself, the religious 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. 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 Koine 'thelema' is used 62 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 Thema does not contradict the teachings of Jesus (Tolli, 2004).
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. The Crowley biographer Lawrence Sutin notes this when contrasting the French author's beliefs with the Thelema of Aleister Crowley. In the previously mentioned story of Thélème, which critics analyze as referring in part to the suffering of loyal Christian reformists or "evangelicals" within the French Church, the reference to the Greek word θέλημα "declares that the will of God rules in this abbey". Sutin writes that Rabelais was no precursor of Thelema, with his beliefs containing elements of Stoicism and Christian kindness.
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. It is a utopia where people's desires are more fulfilled. Satirical, it also epitomises the ideals considered in Rabelais's fiction. The inhabitants of the abbey were governed only by their own free will and pleasure, the only rule being "Do What Thou Wilt". Rabelais believed that men 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.
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 of Thelema, as one of the earliest people to refer to it, or with being "the first Thelemite". However, the current National Grand Master General of the U.S. Ordo Templi Orientis Grand Lodge has stated:
Saint Rabelais never intended his satirical, fictional device to serve as a practical blueprint for a real human society ... Our Thelema is that of The Book of the Law and the writings of Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley 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 claimed to have 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.
Rabelais is included among the Saints of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.
Sir Francis Dashwood adopted some of the ideas of Rabelais and invoked the same rule in French, when he founded a group called the Monks of Medmenham (better known as the Hellfire Club). An abbey was established at Medmenham, in a property which incorporated the ruins of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1201. The group 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. There is little direct evidence of what Dashwood's Hellfire Club practiced or believed. The one direct testimonial comes from John Wilkes, a member who never got into the chapter-room of the inner circle. He describes the group as hedonists who met to "celebrate woman in wine", and added ideas from the ancients just to make the experience more decadent.
In the opinion of Lt. Col. Towers, the group derived more from Rabelais than the inscription over the door. He believes that they used caves as a Dionysian oracular temple, based upon Dashwood’s reading of the relevant chapters of Rabelais. Sir Nathaniel Wraxall in his Historical Memoires (1815) accused the Monks of performing Satanic rituals, but these claims have been dismissed as hearsay. Gerald Gardner and others such as Mike Howard say the Monks worshipped "the Goddess". Daniel Willens argued that the group likely practiced Freemasonry, but also suggests Dashwood may have held secret Roman Catholic sacraments. He asks if Wilkes would have recognized a genuine Catholic Mass, even if he saw it himself and even if the underground version followed its public model precisely.
Thelema was founded by Aleister Crowley (1875–1947) who 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.
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 claimed to have written 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. Disciple, author, and onetime Crowley secretary Israel Regardie prefers to attribute this voice to the subconscious, but opinions among Thelemites differ widely. Crowley claimed 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.
Besides the reference to Rabelais, an analysis by Dave Evans shows similarities to The Beloved of Hathor and Shrine of the Golden Hawk, a play by Florence Farr. Evans says this may result from the fact that "both Farr and Crowley were thoroughly steeped in Golden Dawn imagery and teachings", and that Crowley probably knew the ancient materials that inspired some of Farr's motifs. Sutin also finds similarities between Thelema and the work of W. B. Yeats, attributing this to "shared insight" and perhaps to the older man's knowledge of Crowley.
Crowley wrote several commentaries on The Book of the Law, the last of which he wrote in 1925. This brief statement called simply "The Comment" warns against 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.
According to Crowley, every individual has a True Will, to be distinguished from the ordinary wants and desires of the ego. The True Will is essentially one's "calling" or "purpose" in life. Some later magicians have taken this to include the goal of attaining self-realization by one's own efforts, without the aid of God or other divine authority. This brings them close to the position that Crowley held just prior to 1904. Others follow later works such as Liber II, saying that one's own will in pure form is nothing other than the divine will. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law for Crowley refers not to hedonism, fulfilling everyday desires, but to acting in response to that calling. The Thelemite is a mystic. According to Lon Milo DuQuette, a Thelemite is anyone who bases their actions on striving to discover and accomplish their true will, when a person does their True Will, it is like an orbit, their niche in the universal order, and the universe assists them.
In order for the individual to be able to follow their True Will, the everyday self's socially-instilled inhibitions may have to be overcome via deconditioning. Crowley believed that in order to discover the True Will, one had to free the desires of the subconscious mind from the control of the conscious mind, especially the restrictions placed on sexual expression, which he associated with the power of divine creation. He identified the True Will of each individual with the Holy Guardian Angel, a daimon unique to each individual. The spiritual quest to find what you are meant to do and do it is also known in Thelema as the Great Work.
Thelema draws its 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. The second principal deity of Thelema is the god Hadit, conceived as the infinitely small point, complement and consort of Nuit. Hadit symbolizes manifestation, motion, and time. He is also described in Liber AL vel Legis as "the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star". The third deity in the cosmology of Thelema is Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a manifestation of Horus. He is symbolized as a throned man with the head of a hawk who carries a wand. He is associated with the Sun and the active energies of Thelemic magick.
Other deities within the cosmology of Thelema are Hoor-paar-kraat (or Harpocrates), god of silence and inner strength, the brother of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Babalon, the goddess of all pleasure, known as the Virgin Whore, and Therion, the beast that Babalon rides, who represents the wild animal within man, a force of nature.
Thelemic magick is a system of physical, mental, and spiritual exercises which practitioners believe are of benefit. Crowley defined magick as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will", and spelled it with a 'k' to distinguish it from stage magic. He recommended magick as a means for discovering the True Will. Generally, magical practices in Thelema are designed to assist in finding and manifesting the True Will, although some include celebratory aspects as well. Crowley was a prolific writer, integrating Eastern practices with Western magical practices from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He recommended a number of these practices to his followers, including basic yoga; (asana and pranayama); rituals of his own devising or based on those of the Golden Dawn, such as the Lesser ritual of the pentagram, for banishing and invocation; Liber Samekh, a ritual for the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; eucharistic rituals such as The Gnostic Mass and The Mass of the Phoenix; and Liber Resh, consisting of four daily adorations to the sun. Much of his work is readily available in print and online. He also discussed sex magick and sexual gnosis in various forms including masturbatory, heterosexual, and homosexual practices, and these form part of his suggestions for the work of those in the higher degrees of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley believed that after discovering the True Will, the magician must also remove any elements of himself that stand in the way of its success.
The emphasis of Thelemic magick is not directly on material results, and while many Thelemites do practice magick for goals such as wealth or love, it is not required. Those in a Thelemic magical Order, such as 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. The chief task for one who has achieved this goes by the name of "crossing the abyss"; completely relinquishing the ego. If the aspirant is unprepared, he will cling to the ego instead, becoming a Black Brother. Rather than becoming one with God, the Black Brother considers his ego to be god. According to Crowley, the Black Brother slowly disintegrates, while preying on others for his own self-aggrandisement.
Crowley taught skeptical examination of all results obtained through meditation or magick, at least for the student. He tied this to the necessity of keeping a magical record or diary, that attempts to list all conditions of the event. Remarking on the similarity of statements made by spiritually advanced people of their experiences, he said that 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", 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, 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. 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".
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, but Liber AL makes no clear statement on the matter. Crowley himself wrote that there was no need to detail the ethics of Thelema, for everything springs from "Do what thou Wilt". Crowley wrote several additional documents presenting his personal 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.
Duty is described as "A note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema." It is not a numbered "Liber" as are all the documents which Crowley intended for A∴A∴, but rather listed as a document intended specifically for Ordo Templi Orientis. There are four sections:
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.
The core of Thelemic thought is "Do what thou wilt". However, beyond this, there exists a very wide range of interpretation of Thelema. Modern Thelema is a syncretic philosophy and religion, and many Thelemites try to avoid strongly dogmatic or fundamentalist thinking. Crowley himself put strong emphasis on the unique nature of Will inherent in each individual, not following him, saying he did not wish to found a flock of sheep. Thus, contemporary Thelemites may practice more than one religion, including Wicca, Gnosticism, Satanism, Setianism and Luciferianism. Many adherents of Thelema, none more so than Crowley, recognize correlations between Thelemic and other systems of spiritual thought; most borrow freely from the methods and practices of other traditions, including alchemy, astrology, qabalah, tantra, tarot divination and yoga. For example, Nu and Had are thought to correspond with the Tao and Teh of Taoism, Shakti and Shiva of the Hindu Tantras, Shunyata and Bodhicitta of Buddhism, Ain Soph and Kether in the Hermetic Qabalah.
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 and Kenneth Grant. And one category of Thelemites are non-religious, and simply adhere to the philosophical law of Thelema.
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 by John Carter, and Strange Angel 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.
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, 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.
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.
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 (also known as Liber AL vel Legis).The central philosophy of Thelema is in two phrases from Liber AL: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" and "Love is the law, love under will." The two primary terms in these statements are "Will" and "Love", respectively. In the Greek language, they are Thelema (Will) and Agape (Love). Using the Greek technique of isopsephy, which applies a numerical value to each letter, the letters of each of these words sum to 93:
Thelema: Θελημα = 9 + 5 + 30 + 8 + 40 + 1 = 93
Agapé: Αγαπη = 1 + 3 + 1 + 80 + 8 = 93Abbey of Thelema
The Abbey of Thelema is a small house which was used as a temple and spiritual centre founded by Aleister Crowley and Leah Hirsig in Cefalù (Sicily, Italy) in 1920.Abrahadabra
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 (another name for "The Book of the Law") heralded a new Aeon for mankind that was ruled by the god Ra-Hoor-Khuit (a form of Horus). 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".Abyss (Thelema)
In Thelemic mysticism, the Abyss is the great gulf or void between the phenomenal world of manifestation and its noumenal source.Aeon (Thelema)
In the religion of Thelema, it is believed that the history of humanity can be divided into a series of aeons (also written æons), each of which was accompanied by its own forms of "magical and religious expression".
The first of these was the Aeon of Isis, which Thelemites believed occurred during prehistory and which saw mankind worshipping a Great Goddess, symbolised by the ancient Egyptian deity Isis. In Thelemite beliefs, this was followed by the Aeon of Osiris, a period that took place in the classical and mediaeval centuries, when humanity worshipped a singular male god, symbolised by the Egyptian god Osiris, and was therefore dominated by patriarchal values. And finally the third aeon, the Aeon of Horus, which was controlled by the child god, symbolised by Horus. In this new aeon, Thelemites believe that humanity will enter a time of self-realization and self-actualization.
Within the Thelemite religion, each of these aeons is believed to be "characterized by their [own specific] magical formula", the use of which "is very important and fundamental to the understanding of Thelemic Magick".Aleister Crowley
Aleister Crowley (; born Edward Alexander Crowley; 12 October 1875 – 1 December 1947) was an English occultist, ceremonial magician, poet, painter, novelist, and mountaineer. He founded the religion of Thelema, identifying himself as the prophet entrusted with guiding humanity into the Æon of Horus in the early 20th century. A prolific writer, he published widely over the course of his life.
Born to a wealthy family in Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, Crowley rejected his parent's fundamentalist Christian Plymouth Brethren faith to pursue an interest in Western esotericism. He was educated at the University of Cambridge, where he focused his attentions on mountaineering and poetry, resulting in several publications. Some biographers allege that here he was recruited into a British intelligence agency, further suggesting that he remained a spy throughout his life. In 1898 he joined the esoteric Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, where he was trained in ceremonial magic by Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers and Allan Bennett. Moving to Boleskine House by Loch Ness in Scotland, he went mountaineering in Mexico with Oscar Eckenstein, before studying Hindu and Buddhist practices in India. He married Rose Edith Kelly and in 1904 they honeymooned in Cairo, Egypt, where Crowley claimed to have been contacted by a supernatural entity named Aiwass, who provided him with The Book of the Law, a sacred text that served as the basis for Thelema. Announcing the start of the Æon of Horus, The Book declared that its followers should "Do what thou wilt" and seek to align themselves with their True Will through the practice of magick.
After an unsuccessful attempt to climb Kanchenjunga and a visit to India and China, Crowley returned to Britain, where he attracted attention as a prolific author of poetry, novels, and occult literature. In 1907, he and George Cecil Jones co-founded an esoteric order, the A∴A∴, through which they propagated Thelema. After spending time in Algeria, in 1912 he was initiated into another esoteric order, the German-based Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), rising to become the leader of its British branch, which he reformulated in accordance with his Thelemite beliefs. Through the O.T.O., Thelemite groups were established in Britain, Australia, and North America. Crowley spent the First World War in the United States, where he took up painting and campaigned for the German war effort against Britain, later revealing that he had infiltrated the pro-German movement to assist the British intelligence services. In 1920 he established the Abbey of Thelema, a religious commune in Cefalù, Sicily where he lived with various followers. His libertine lifestyle led to denunciations in the British press, and the Italian government evicted him in 1923. He divided the following two decades between France, Germany, and England, and continued to promote Thelema until his death.
Crowley gained widespread notoriety during his lifetime, being a recreational drug experimenter, bisexual and an individualist social critic. He was denounced in the popular press as "the wickedest man in the world" and a Satanist. Crowley has remained a highly influential figure over Western esotericism and the counterculture, and continues to be considered a prophet in Thelema. He is the subject of various biographies and academic studies.Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu i
Ankh-ef-en-Khonsu i (Egyptian: ꜥnḫ-f-n-ḫnsw), also known as Ankh-af-na-khonsu, was a priest of the Egyptian god Mentu who lived in Thebes during the 25th and 26th dynasty (c. 725 BCE). He was the son of Bes-en-Mut I and Ta-neshet. Among practitioners of the modern religion of Thelema, he is best known under the name of Ankh-af-na-khonsu, and as the dedicant of the Stele of Revealing, a wooden offering stela made to ensure his continued existence in the Netherworld now located in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.Great Work
The term Great Work (magnum opus) is a term used in Hermeticism and in certain occult traditions and religions such as Thelema. The Great Work signifies the spiritual path towards self-transcendence in its entirety. This is the process of bringing unconscious complexes into the conscious awareness, in order to integrate them back into oneself. Accomplishing the Great Work, symbolized as the creation of the Philosopher's Stone, represents the culmination of the spiritual path, the attainment of enlightenment, or the rescue of the human soul from the unconscious forces which bind it.Leila Waddell
Leila Ida Nerissa Bathurst Waddell, also known as Laylah, (10 August 1880 – 13 September 1932) was a violinist, daughter of Irish immigrants to Australia, David Waddell of Bathurst and Randwick. She became a famed Scarlet Woman of Aleister Crowley, and a powerful historical figure in magick and Thelema in her own right. While Creswell states Leila was part-Maori, he provides no evidence of this; in fact NSW birth deaths and marriages records show she was the granddaughter of John Crane (Coventry) and Janet McKenzie (Fort William Inverness) and John Waddell (Monaghan) and Elizabeth McAnally (Monaghan).Magick (Thelema)
Magick, in the context of Aleister Crowley's Thelema, is a term used to show and differentiate the occult from performance magic and is defined as "the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will", including both "mundane" acts of will as well as ritual magic. Crowley wrote that "it is theoretically possible to cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature". John Symonds and Kenneth Grant attach a deeper occult significance to this preference.Crowley saw Magick as the essential method for a person to reach true understanding of the self and to act according to one's true will, which he saw as the reconciliation "between freewill and destiny." Crowley describes this process in his Magick, Book 4:
One must find out for oneself, and make sure beyond doubt, who one is, what one is, why one is ...Being thus conscious of the proper course to pursue, the next thing is to understand the conditions necessary to following it out. After that, one must eliminate from oneself every element alien or hostile to success, and develop those parts of oneself which are specially needed to control the aforesaid conditions. (Crowley, Magick, Book 4 p.134)Mass of the Phoenix
The Mass of the Phoenix is a single person ritual within Thelema, a philosophy and religion created and organized by author and occultist Aleister Crowley. The Mass was first printed as Chapter 44 in Crowley's The Book of Lies, published in 1913.
Within this ritual, the practitioner consumes a Cake of Light (a wafer made from meal, honey, olive oil, Oil of Abramelin and blood/bodily fluids).Nuit
Nuit (alternatively Nu, Nut, or Nuith) 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.
Nut is an Egyptian sky goddess who leans over her husband/brother, Geb, the Earth God. She is usually depicted as a naked woman who is covered with stars. She represents the All, pure potentiality both as it flowers into the physical universe and as it resides beyond embodiment.Obeah and Wanga
The terms Obeah and Wanga are African diasporic words that occur in The Book of the Law (the sacred text of Thelema, written by English author and occultist Aleister Crowley in 1904):
Also the mantras and spells; the obeah and the wanga; the work of the wand and the work of the sword; these he shall learn and teach. (AL I:37).Obeah is a folk religion and folk magic found among those of African descent in the West Indies. It is derived from West African Igbo sources and has a close North American parallel in African American conjure or hoodoo.
A wanga (sometimes spelled oanga or wanger) is a magical charm packet found in the folk magic practices of Haiti, and as such it is connected to the West African religion of Vodun, which in turn derives from the Fon people of what is now Benin.
In his Commentaries, Crowley explains:
The obeah is the magick of the Secret Light with special reference to acts; the wanga is the verbal or mental correspondence of the same. [...] The "obeah" being the acts, and the "wanga" the words, proper to Magick, the two cover the whole world of external expression.It is possible that Crowley was not referring to literal Jamaica Obeah practices or to actual wanga.
He goes on to say:
Magick is the management of all we say and do, so that the effect is to change that part of our environment which dissatisfies us, until it does so no longer. We "remould it nearer to the heart's desire."Magick ceremonies proper are merely organized and concentrated attempts to impose our Will on certain parts of the Cosmos. They are only particular cases of the general law.But all we say and do, however casually, adds up to more, far more, than our most strenuous Operations. "Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves." Your daily drippings fill a bigger bucket than your geysers of magical effort. [...]The Holy Books of Thelema
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.
Class A consists of works that are not to be changed, even to the letter. The Holy Books fall in this category.
Class B consists of works of scholarship and enlightenment.
Class C consists of material that suggests things other than the obvious.
Class D consists of official rituals and instructions.
Class E consists of manifestos, broadsides, epistles and other public statements.Therion (Thelema)
Therion (Greek: θηρίον, beast) 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.
The word "therion" is mentioned in several Thelemic rituals, such as The Star Ruby. In total, there are five mentions of The Beast in Liber AL vel Legis, the first being in 1:15, and the remaining four are all in the third chapter—verses 14, 22, 34, and 47, respectively—although the word “beast” can be found elsewhere therein. Aleister Crowley believed that the references to The Beast and the Scarlet Woman (Babalon) in the book “do not denote persons but are titles of office”. The first mention reads thus:
Now ye shall know that the chosen priest & apostle of infinite space is the prince-priest the Beast; and in his woman called the Scarlet Woman is all power given.Thoth tarot deck
The Thoth Tarot () is a divinatory tarot deck painted by Lady Frieda Harris according to instructions from Aleister Crowley. Crowley referred to this deck as The Book of Thoth, and also wrote a book of that title intended for use with the deck.True Will
True Will is a term found within the mystical system of Thelema, a magical 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".Unicursal hexagram
The unicursal hexagram is a hexagram or six-pointed star that can be traced or drawn unicursally, in one continuous line rather than by two overlaid triangles. The hexagram can also be depicted inside a circle with the points touching it. It is often depicted in an interlaced form with the lines of the hexagram passing over and under one another to form a knot. It is a specific instance of the far more general shape discussed in Blaise Pascal's 1639 Hexagrammum Mysticum Theorem.William Breeze
William Breeze (born August 12, 1955) is an American author and publisher on magick and philosophy. He is a Patriarch of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, the liturgical arm of Ordo Tempi Orientis, of which he is the current 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. Under the name Hymenaeus Beta he is a successor of Grady McMurtry (Hymenaeus Alpha), who was the first of the caliphs to succeed the Thelemic prophet Aleister Crowley, and served as the Outer Head of Ordo Templi Orientis from 1971 until 1985.
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