A Comment on the Comment
It seems strange that any modern-day free thinker would accept a brief document written in 1925 that (a) forbids the study of a book, (b) discourages people from discussing the contents of that book, and (c) prohibits all but one source of guidance for scriptural interpretation.
The so-called Tunis Comment was Crowley’s last ditch attempt to fulfill what he saw as his duty as prescribed in AL I:36—”My scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu, the priest of the princes, shall not in one letter change this book; but lest there be folly, he shall comment thereupon by the wisdom of Ra-Hoor-Khuit.”
In 1925, while visiting Tunis, he wrote the following:
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The study of this Book is forbidden. It is wise to destroy this copy after the first reading.
Whosoever disregards this does so at his own risk and peril. These are most dire.
Those who discuss the contents of this Book are to be shunned by all, as centres of pestilence.
All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself.
There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.
Love is the law, love under will.
The priest of the princes,
It has been argued (including by me) that what the Tunis Comment is really trying to do is prevent people from interpreting AL for other people. This is, however, a bad argument. First, individuals are responsible for their own beliefs; outside of oppressive measures, no one can force another to believe something against their will. Second, if certain people are willing to believe anything anyone says to them, then they are very unlikely to come to any meaningful understanding of AL or Thelema on their own anyway. Third, people don’t need to be protected from personal interpretations; most folks are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about things and that non-Aleisterian opinions present little danger to them or their spiritual growth.
A realistic motivation for the Comment was simply that Crowley didn’t want to be upstaged. He wanted to remain the sole voice of authority regarding AL, and therefore Thelema. But this type of control is simply not possible, especially within a religion that encourages independent thinking. But it certainly fits within Crowley’s modus operandi of self-aggrandizement and desire for spiritual authority and legitimacy.
Of course, adherents of orthodox Aleisterianism argue that the Comment keeps Thelema pure by protecting it from foreign beliefs. This idea is deeply ironic in that Thelema is itself a conglomeration of elements “borrowed” from multiple traditions. But that aside, it is a weak stance to take; it assumes that Thelema cannot survive ideas outside those of Crowley. The truth is the opposite—by keeping Thelema tied to one person, it remains static and brittle. All robust religions require the flexibility to absorb new ideas, especially in light of a rapidly changing social context.
Now then, the notion of respecting the right for people to independently interpret AL is a fine one— but the Comment doesn’t literally say that and isn’t needed to promote it anyway. The idea that we should eliminate dogmatic religious authorities is also a good one…but makes no sense if we then give Crowley a pass (and again, the Comment doesn’t say that). Ultimately, the argument that the Comment promotes religious freedom by restricting study, conversation, and interpretation is fallacious,if not outright dishonest.
Another common concept says that because the Comment was “inspired” in the way AL supposedly was, then it too is interpretable beyond its literal meaning. Of course, anything can be interpreted beyond its literal meaning. But the Comment is pretty concrete…there isn’t a lot of wiggle room there. This argument is often used as a hedge; it’s a way of saying “I accept the Comment, but I’m going to make up my own mind about what it actually means.” In other words, “I accept the Comment, but I’m going to ignore what it’s literally telling me to do.”
In the end, because of all the above issues, there is no practical benefit to the Comment—not to one’s spiritual development, not to the integrity of the Thelemic movement, and not to religious liberty in general. I myself do not require a Comment to tell me to make up my own mind about things. I do not accept a Comment that tells me what to study, what to talk about, or what sources I should use for insight, inspiration, or guidance. I do not respect a Comment that informs me who has spiritual authority and who does not. I do not follow a Comment that tries to threaten or intimidate me.
I will study AL if I so choose, regardless of any dire “risk and peril”.
I will discuss the contents of AL if I so choose, with no fear of being “shunned” by those I care about.
I will interpret AL however I choose, with or without appeal to the writings of anyone.