Thelema is the name of the philosophical school and religious matrix established in 1904 with the writing of Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law) by Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and stands on the central axiom, the Law of Thelema. The Law is summed up in two phrases from the Book:
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (AL I:40) and
“Love is the law, love under will” (AL I:57).
The central goal of a Thelemite (as adherents refer to themselves) is to discover and perform his or her True Will, which is generally defined as the innermost Nature or proper life course of the individual. The techniques used to achieve this goal fall under the heading of Magick.
There are also strong political, ethical, aesthetic, and cultural aspects to Thelema. Although there is no strict literal doctrine concerning these matters, Aleister Crowley wrote many articles and essays regarding his ideas about the proper behavior of individual Thelemites and for an ideal Thelemic society. These ideas have continued to develop into modern times. However, the primary themes involve personal freedom, a recognition that men and women have an inherent divine nature, and that Love is the basis of the Great Work.
Not all adherents of Thelema consider it a religion or subscribe to the philosophy of True Will as outlined in Aleister Crowley's writings. Thelemites may or may not believe in the necessity of Canon or Theology as outlined in this article. Many require nothing more than an acceptance of the message of The Book of the Law as interpreted by the individual, each for him/herself.
The following is a list of various non-obligatory doctrines that are found in the Thelemic literature. First among these is the doctrine which describes the "Holy Books" of Thelema, where many of the other doctrines can be found.
The Book of the Law establishes a model of reality that combines two elementary forces: the infinite extension of space, which is personified by the Egyptian sky-goddess Nuit, and the infinitely contracted point, personified by the Egyptian god Hadit. It is the interaction of these two forces that results in manifested reality. Crowley often described this interaction in sexual terms: "Nuit is the centripetal energy, infinitely elastic because it must fit over the hard thrust directed against it; Hadit, the centrifugal, ever seeking to penetrate the unknown" (Magick Without Tears, Ch.38). The union of these two opposites results in the new current of the present Aeon, represented by Ra-Hoor-Khuit (lit. Horus of Two Horizons), also called the Crowned and Conquering Child.
This cosmology is interpreted literally by some Thelemites, and by others it is seen as metaphor. For others, it is a key or set of obscure instructions for practices leading to personal attainment or other change of state. Crowley himself admitted that The Book of the Law had many elements that were beyond his own comprehension.
The following list represents godforms or other significant personalities that have prominent roles within the structure of Thelema (most are found in Liber AL), and especially the writings of Aleister Crowley. How one interprets and interacts with these beings, if at all, is up to the individual.
The three primary speakers from Liber AL
Nuit (Nu) is the speaker in Chapter I. She is the eternally-extended Egyptian goddess of the night sky and the Queen of Space. Nuit is the complement of Hadit.
Hadit (Had) is presented in Chapter II. He is the winged disk, the infinitely contracted point, and the source of Life. Hadit is the complement of Nuit.
Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Horus) speaks in Chapter III. He is the Hawk-Headed Lord of the current Aeon, also called the Crowned and Conquering Child. (Ra is the Egyptian sun god).
Aiwass—This is the being that dictated Liber Legis according to Aleister Crowley—he considered Aiwass to be his personal Holy Guardian Angel.
Heru-ra-ha (Heru is another name for Horus)— a composite deity composed of Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Hoor-par-kraat.
Hoor-par-kraat (also Heru-pa-kraath, and the Greek god Harpocrates)—Identified as Horus in his form as a young child. Egyptian statues represent him as a naked boy with his finger on his mouth, a hieroglyph for "child" and the later notion of “silence.” He is also known as the Babe in the Egg. He is representative of the “silent self” and an individual’s Holy Guardian Angel.
Babalon—The Scarlet Woman, the Great Whore, and the Mother of Abominations. She is the Yoni, the archetypical Womb of all Life, the provider of material flesh to clothe our manifested Spirit, Mother Earth, and the Great Sea. Her consort is:
Chaos—the universal generative drive, unrestrained creative power, the primal unformulated substance from which all manifested matter is made, the Fire of the Life Force found in each of us.
The Beast—upon whom the Scarlet Woman rideth, alternatively identified as Aleister Crowley, the whole of Mankind, the Phallus (both masculine and feminine), and the Vehicle of Life.
Ankh-af-na-khonsu—an actual Priest who lived in Thebes during the late XXVth dynasty of ancient Egypt, around 725 b.c.e. Aleister Crowley assumed the magical identity of this Priest as the living Prophet of the Aeon of Horus, the deliverer of The Book of the Law (Sabazius, 1998).
The Prince-Priest / The Prophet —Aleister Crowley
The Prophet and his Bride—Aleister and Rose Crowley.
Asar and Isa—Asar is Osiris, the “adorant” and Isa is the Muslim form of Jesus, the “sufferer” and a prophet (though not a messiah).
Tahuti (the Greek Thoth)—the god of knowledge, writing, language, music, the Moon, magick, and occult wisdom.
Because— "Now a curse upon Because and his kin!...Enough of Because! Be he damned for a dog!" (AL II, 28-33).
Hrumachis—the Dawning Sun, another name of Horus.
Just as interpretation of Liber AL is a task left to the individual, so is the ethical system of Thelema a matter of personal choice. That being said, there are some common themes within the writings of Crowley and other Thelemic philosophers. Arguably the central Thelemic ethic is one of individual liberty and the personal freedom to fulfill one's Will. Social restriction—such as laws that make illegal certain sex acts between consenting adults—is generally seen in a negative light by most Thelemites.
Two documents in particular help to define Thelemic ethics for most adherents: Oz and Duty.
Liber Oz establishes the rights of the individual. 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 as one will; think, speak, write, dress, love, paint, carve (etc.) as one will; and kill those who would thwart these rights. The rights established in Oz are often considered to be complimented by the obligations given in Duty.
Duty is described as "A note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema." There are four sections:
Duty to Self: essentially describes the self as the center of the universe, with a call to learn about one's inner nature. Further, every Thelemite is to develop every faculty in a balanced way, establish one's autonomy, and to learn and do one's True Will.
Duty to Others: A Thelemite is called 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 recognize the divine nature of all other beings. Further, it is noble to relieve the suffering of others, but pity (seen as condescending) should be avoided.
Duty to Mankind: Thelemites should try to establish the Law of Thelema as the sole basis of conduct. Further, the laws of the land should have the aim of securing the greatest liberty for all individuals. Crime is viewed from the point of view of violating one's True Will ("Thus, murder restricts his right to live; robbery, his right to enjoy the fruits of his labour; coining, his right to the guarantee of the state that he shall barter in security; etc.").
Duty to All Other Beings and Things: Quite simply: "It is a violation of the Law of Thelema to abuse the natural qualities of any animal or object by diverting it from its proper function" and "The Law of Thelema is to be applied unflinchingly to decide every question of conduct."
Although there are communal ceremonies informed by Thelema, and organizations to support them (of which Ordo Templi Orientis is the most visible and extensive), Thelemic "religious" practice is a mainly individual affair. Crowley composed a few guidelines to the cardinal observances and programs. In Liber Aleph he lists the following "Means prescribed in our Holy Books" for constant observance:
Neglect never the fourfold Adoration of the Sun in his four Stations, for thereby thou dost affirm thy Place in Nature and her Harmonies. (Liber Resh)
Neglect not the Performance of the Ritual of the Pentagram, and of the Assumption of the Form of Hoor-pa-Kraat. (Liber O)
Neglect not the daily Miracle of the Mass, either by the Rite of the Gnostic Catholic Church (Liber XV), or that of the Phoenix (Mass of the Phoenix).
Neglect not the Performance of the Mass of the Holy Ghost, as Nature Herself prompteth thee.
Travel much also in the Empyrean in thy Body of Light, seeking ever Abodes more fiery and lucid.
Finally, exercise the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
In Magick in Theory and Practice, there is a similar regimen with slightly different emphasis. First he recommends yoga, with the method explained in "Part I" of Book Four. Then he lists "the most important drill practices" of magick, as follows:
The fortification of the Body of Light by the constant use of rituals, or by the assumption of God-forms, and by the right use of the Eucharist.
The purification and consecration and exaltation of that Body by the use of rituals of invocation.
The education of that Body by experience. It must learn to travel on every plane; to break down every obstacle which may confront it. This experience must be as systematic and regular as possible; for it is of no use merely to travel to the spheres of Jupiter and Venus, or even to explore the 30 Aethyrs, neglecting unattractive meridians.
In addition to these programs, there are some other basic practices usually involved in Thelema. The first of these is the magical record or diary. "Verily, it is better to fail in the magical ceremony than to fail in writing down an accurate record of it." (Book Four) The second is the recital of the formula of "Will" prior to the main meal of the day. This practice consists of a simple set of statements (sometimes presented as a dialog with others) declaring that it is the individual's will to eat and drink, in order to fortify his body, in order to accomplish the Great Work. Variants on this recital exist for initiates in different circumstances (see Liber 185).