When I wrote my essay on Aleisterianism, I was motivated by the understanding that all spiritual systems are artificial (although they are meant to reflect the natural). They are constructed to help mediate the relationship between humans and reality, specifically in terms of meaning. There are of course many components to spiritual systems, including a desire for control, safety, love, power, and joy. But at the root, I believe, is the fundamental human need to be connected with something larger than or beyond the self, along with a sense of what such a connection means.
What I call Aleisterianism is a compilation of pre-existing spiritual concepts and practices that were meaningful to Aleister Crowley. They were mostly a collection of ideas gleaned from popular Victorian occult movements and eventually contextualized within the mythology Crowley constructed for himself. There was nothing especially unusual in what Crowley did; it was and remains a popular pastime with many spiritually-minded people who have strong personalities and a powerful imagination. However, few people will ever have the strength of personality that Crowley had, and his large body of works will ensure that the ideas he promoted and his mythology will live on.
My own relationship with Aleisterianism changed radically within the last three years or so. I lost interest in the hocus pocus, in the focus on Crowley the man, and in his personal philosophy. The trite master/slave mentality he promoted is especially offensive to me, both intellectually and morally. I also got tired of a system that was largely set up as oppositional—to Christianity, to society, even to basic human needs. In this way, Aleisterianism promotes rebelliousness; which is fine, of course, and can certainly be both fun and transformative, but rebelliousness is a largely an adolescent function. A fully mature system needs something more.
I fully admit that Aleisterianism’s adolescent rebelliousness was a phase I needed to go through in my own spiritual journey. Now that I’ve reached a place where I am capable, albeit imperfectly, of examining my own feelings and motivations and also of making decisions that might go against the popular grain, I have lost my appetite for Aleisterianism’s artificial (and often hypocritical) rebelliousness. Rather, I’ve come to a point where I am much more interested in integration—in the ability to be both a unique individual and a positive member of society. I am only just starting to explore that path and so I will leave that topic unfinished for now.
While many believe that Aleisterianism and Thelema are synonymous, I do not. I maintain that Aleisterianism is an expression of Thelema (just as OTO and the AA are expressions of Aleisterianism in institutional form). Once I was able to outline the nature of Aleisterianism to my own satisfaction, I was then better able to see what Thelema is. Said another way, I truly believe that there is a fundamental spiritual principle that runs not only in Aleisterianism, but throughout all the world’s religions. It is that core Thelemic principle that I am most interested in exploring.
Now then, as I said before, all spiritual systems are artificial—my understanding of Thelema is and always will be a work in progress. That said, I have come to a starting place, a beginning Thelemic Thesis, if you will:
- Thelema, at it’s heart, is about the primacy of Universal Will as the fundamental spiritual force of being. Will is both primordial and constantly emerging, eternal and fleeting. We humans arise out of this paradox and mirror it—we also have, both at the same time, a deep abiding self and a self that constantly emerges from moment to moment. The aim of the Thelemian is to align, as closely as possible, not only these two “selves”, but also one’s consciousness and behavior with the River of Universal Will. Thelema is a journey both inwards and outwards, a celebration of individuality and unity, and a connection of self with Self and self with All (thus a variation on the Hermetic Principle: as Without so Within). In seeking the flowing center of the Sacred River, the Thelemian develops exceptional character, an appreciation for and curiosity about all things, and a new-found freedom to be the genuine person he or she is meant to be.
Some will say that what I’ve just described isn’t Thelema. I respect their opinions. But please note, I have completely lost my appetite for debating it. I very sincerely do not care about the man Aleister Crowley or his status as prophet, guru, sacred scribe, or social lecturer—although some of his individual works will certainly remain on my reading list. Is my thesis “real” Thelema? Is it “reformed” Thelema? Is it something wholly non-Thelema? I honestly don’t care. My passion is now focused on integrating Will with all areas of living—relationships, work, pleasure, intellectual pursuits, culture, and with nature herself. That is a conversation I’d love to have.
”As men’s prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.” —R.W. Emerson, “Self-Reliance”