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Introduction to Thelema
The religion known as Thelema was founded in 1904
by the English poet and mystic Aleister Crowley (1875 - 1947), who is
regarded as its prophet. Those who follow the path of Thelema are called
Thelemic Religious Texts
The book The Holy Books of Thelema includes most of the books which
Thelemites consider to be Crowley's "inspired" texts, and which form the
canon of Thelemic Holy Scripture. The chief of these is Liber AL vel
Legis, sub figura CCXX, commonly called The
Book of the Law. The contents of this book are rather cryptic,
and Crowley has prepared a number of commentaries thereto for clarification
Thelemites are expected to interpret the book for themselves, based on Crowley's
commentaries and other writings; but are enjoined from promoting their personal
interpretations to others. Another book which forms an important part of
the Thelemic canon, but which is not included in The Holy Books of Thelema
for technical reasons, is Liber XXX Aerum vel Saeculi, sub figura CDXVIII,
commonly called The Vision and the Voice. The I Ching and the
Tarot (considered as a book of mystic illustrations rather than as a fortune-telling
device), though of Pre-Thelemic origin, are also considered to be part of
the informal Thelemic canon.
Theology and Essential Tenets of Thelema
The following notes on Thelemic theology
are based primarily on the writings of Aleister Crowley. These notes are
not intended as interpretation or commentary on The
Book of the Law outside the bounds of the Prophet's writings,
nor do they represent a definitive statement of Thelemic belief.
The theology of Thelema postulates all manifested existence
arising from the interaction of two cosmic principles: the infinitely
extended, all-pervading Space-Time Continuum; and the atomic, individually
expressed Principle of Life and Wisdom. The interplay of these Principles
gives rise to the Principle of Consciousness which governs existence.
In the Book of the Law, the divine Principles are personified by a trinity
of ancient Egyptian Divinities: Nuit, the Goddess of Infinite Space; Hadit,
the Winged Serpent of Light; and Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Horus), the Solar, Hawk-Headed
Lord of the Cosmos.
The Thelemic theological system utilizes the divinities
of various cultures and religions as personifications of specific divine,
archetypal and cosmic forces. Thelemic doctrine holds that all the diverse
religions of Humanity are grounded in universal truths; and the study
of comparative religion is an important discipline for many Thelemites.
With respect to concepts of the individual soul, Thelema
follows traditional Hermeticism in the doctrine that each person possesses
a soul or "Body of Light" which is arranged in "layers" or "sheaths" surrounding
the physical body. Each individual is also considered to have his or her
own personal "Augoeides" or "Holy Guardian Angel"; which can be considered both as the "higher self" and as a separate, sentient, divine being. With
respect to concepts of the afterlife, life itself is considered as a continuum,
with death an integral part of the whole. Mortal life dies in order that
mortal life may continue. The Augoeides, however, is immortal and not
subject to life or death.
Parallel to Buddhist doctrine, the Body of Light is considered
to be subject to metempsychosis, or reincarnation, after the death of
the body. The Body of Light is generally considered to evolve in wisdom,
consciousness and spiritual power through cycles of metempsychosis for
those individuals who dedicate their lives to spiritual advancement; to
the point that its fate after death may ultimately be determined by the
Will of the individual.
Thelema incorporates the idea of the cyclic evolution
of Cultural Consciousness as well as of Personal Consciousness. History
is considered to be divided into a series of "Aeons", each with its own
dominant concept of divinity and its own "formula" of redemption and advancement.
The current Aeon is termed the Aeon of Horus. The previous Aeon was that
of Osiris, and previous to that was the Aeon of Isis. The neolithic Aeon
of Isis is considered to have been dominated by the Maternal idea of divinity,
and its formula involved devotion to Mother Earth in return for the nourishment
and shelter She provided. The Classical/Medieval Aeon of Osiris is considered
to have been dominated by the Paternal Principle, and its formula was
that of self-sacrifice and submission to the Father God. The modern Aeon
of Horus is considered to be dominated by the Principle of the Child,
the sovereign individual; and its formula is that of growth, in consciousness
and love, toward self-realization.
According to Thelemic doctrine, the expression of Divine
Law in the Aeon of Horus is "Do what thou wiltv. This "Law of Thelema", as it is called, is not to be interpreted as a license to indulge every
passing whim, but rather as the divine mandate to discover one's True
Will or true purpose in life, and to accomplish it; leaving others to
do the same in their own unique ways. The "acceptance" of the Law of Thelema is what defines a Thelemite; and the discovery and accomplishment of the
True Will is the fundamental concern of all Thelemites. Achieving the
"Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel" is considered
an integral part of this process. The methods and practices to be employed
in this process are numerous and varied; and are grouped together under
the generalized term "Magick".
Not every Thelemite utilizes all the practices available,
there is considerable room for each individual practitioner to choose
practices which are suitable to his or her individual needs. Some of these
practices are the same as, or similar to, the practices advocated by many
of the great religions of the past and present; such as prayer, meditation,
study of religious texts (those of Thelema and of other religions as well),
chanting, symbolic and initiatory ritual, devotional exercises, self-discipline,
etc. However, some of our practices have been traditionally associated
with what has generally been known as "occultism"; i.e., astrology, divination,
numerology, yoga, tantric alchemy, and discourse with "angels" or "spirits"
are all taken by Thelemites as potentially effective means for obtaining
spiritual insights into the nature of one's being and one's place in the
universe; and for the fulfillment of such insights through harmonious,
Thelema considers any action which is not directed toward
the discovery and accomplishment of the True Will to be "black magic".
This includes acts of interference with any other individual's lawful
exercise of their right to discover and accomplish their own True Will.
Thelemic doctrine holds that the disharmony and imbalance created by such
actions results in a compensatory, equilibrating response from the universe;
a doctrine similar to that of the Eastern conception of "Karma". Thelema
has no direct parallel to the Judaeo-Christian concept of the devil or
Satan; however, a pseudo-personification of confusion, distraction, illusion
and egotistical ignorance is referred to by the name "Choronzon".
The Thelemic Calendar
The Thelemic calendar counts years from 1904 e.v. (the
year Liber AL was received). Each Thelemic year starts on March
20th of the civil calendar, at (approximately) the northern-hemisphere
Rather than simply giving the year count from 1904, the
Thelemic calendar uses a two-tiered system. The "upper" level gives a
count of twenty-two year periods since 1904; the "lower" level gives the
years since the start of the current twenty-two year period. Both are
zero-based, with nonzero numbers being represented as upper and lower
case Roman numerals, respectively. So, for example, the civil year 1996
is (after March 20) Thelemic year IViv (because 1904 + (4 * 22) + 4 equals
Some Thelemites assign the twenty-two years of each cycle
to the twenty-two Trumps of the Tarot. The 22-year period numbers themselves
are also assigned in this way. Hence, 1996 is doubly linked to Trump IV
of the Tarot, the Emperor.
Within each year, dates and times are often expressed
by the positions of Sun and Moon in the Tropical zodiac. For example,
May 12, 1996 e.v. at 6pm PST would be expressed as "IViv, Sol
22° Taurus, Luna 29° Pisces." This specifies the precise date
and time to within about two hours.
When giving dates in the civil calendar, Thelemites will
often append "e.v." This is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "era vulgaris,"
or "common era."
Thelemic Observed Holy Days
The official holy days of Thelema are set forth in The
Book of the Law, Ch. II, v. 36-41. The specific dates attributed
to them are given in Crowley's commentaries, and are summarized below:
- The Rituals of the Elements and Feasts of the
Times are observed at the Equinoxes and Solstices.
- The Feast for the First Night of the Prophet
and His Bride is observed on August 12.
- The Feast for the Three Days of the Writing
of the Book of the Law is observed on April 8, 9 and 10, beginning
at noon on each day.
- The Feast for the Supreme Ritual (the
Invocation of Horus) is observed on March 20, and represents the opening
of the Thelemic new year.
- The Feast for the Equinox of the Gods
is held on the Vernal Equinox of each year to commemorate the founding
of Thelema in 1904.
Three points of passage in the life of each Thelemite
are observed. Birth is celebrated in a Feast for Life;
puberty is celebrated in a Feast for Fire (for a boy),
or a Feast for Water (for a girl); and the death of the
individual is commemorated in a Greater Feast for Death.
Various anniversaries commemorating major events and
figures in the history of Thelema and O.T.O. are also celebrated informally
by some Thelemic groups.
Nearly all Thelemites keep a record of their personal
practices, and their progress therein, in a Magical Diary. Most Thelemites
also practice a particular form of prayer four times per day, which is
specified in a book called Liber Resh vel Helios. Thelemites often take mystic
names or magical mottoes for themselves as a sign of commitment; and
customarily greet each other with the phrase, "Do what thou wilt shall
be the whole of the Law"; to which the customary response is, "Love is
the law, love under will". Sometimes these phrases are abbreviated by
the simple statement of the number "ninety-three", which number signifies
both "Will" and "Love" through a particular form of numerology of significance within Thelema.
The Chancellor of AA
What is This New System?
Liber 27, English Qaballah and Cipher X
The Cube in the Circle
The Procession of the Equinoxes