Thelema is larger than Crowley
It is not an uncommon thing to hear the phrase “moving beyond Crowley” within the Thelemic community. On one side are those who generally recognize that times have changed since AC’s day and that we need to continue developing Thelema to be relevant for the modern adherent.
On the other side are those who use it to disparage anyone who questions any statement made by him—no matter how ludicrous, contradictory, discriminatory, or scientifically unlikely—generally as an accusation that they are trying to eliminate AC from Thelema altogether. Although I am a proponent of the former and a common target of the latter, I do not believe that the phrase “moving beyond Crowley” is apt. We need another way of framing what’s going on.
Crowley was able to create a compendium of East and West religious traditions, spiritual practices, occult technologies, political philosophies, and cultural constructions (e.g. secret societies) and boil them down to a reasonably coherent system of thought and practice. He was certainly not the only one doing this during his day, but he did it better than most and with a great deal more flair and notoriety. It is useful to remember that Crowley really created nothing new—it was the combination of elements that was original. The reason this is useful is because all of those components remain “available” in their original state…we do not need to have them filtered through Crowley in order to integrate them into one’s Great Work. Further, beneficial ideas, discoveries, and technologies have manifested since Crowley’s day, some of which fit nicely within his system, and others that do not.
The good news is that there is no need to throw out the Beast with the bathwater. It is certainly possible to go with Crowley’s system precisely as he laid it down a la A∴A∴—with not even an ounce of snark, I call this system Aleisterianism, and consider it to be a sect within the larger domain of Thelema. At this time, there are no other Thelemic sects that are nearly as robust (although a Maatian might disagree with me). But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be.
The other result of seeing AC from this angle is that it is possible to use a modular approach. Although some Aleisterians see their system as the only legitimate form of Thelema, I suspect that others are far more flexible. For many of the members of this silent majority, the one indisputable, requisite element is Will—as long as there is a recognition of a unique, personal Will, along with a desire to apprehend and express it, then you’ve got Thelema.
Of course, Will is but the spine (or might we say the brain?)—fleshing out the rest of a Thelemic system requires elements similar to what Crowley used (i.e. practices, philosophies, etc). Naturally, there is no reason why a Thelemite couldn’t integrate as many aspects from Crowley’s work as she sees fit. The first priority will always be the personal Work, not the conservation of a single system of thought. Through this process, some constructions will look very similar to Aleisterianism, and others will look quite different—but as long as Will remains at the center, it will be Thelema.
But this is not “moving beyond” Crowley, any more than the Roman Catholics have “moved beyond” Paul or than Buddhism has “moved beyond” Siddhartha. It is simply impossible for any healthy religion to stay bound to the teachings of a single individual without turning into a static, fundamentalist cult. Crowley is instead being integrated into a movement larger than himself. As certain of his ideas, especially his social ideas, become more and more dated, there will be increasing pressure to make adjustments to Thelemic beliefs and practices to keep it relevant, meaningful, and useful…not only is this unavoidable, it is necessary to keep Thelema a dynamic, potent movement. At the same time, more and more Thelemites will bring in new or modified ideas, both from before and after AC.
This process can be seen both as destructive and creative, and indeed, it is both. Along the way, individual Thelemites will find a comfortable position along the spectrum, from the conservative to the bleeding edge. Sometimes the need to form or align with clans will lead to conflict among various social clumps along this spectrum, but this too can serve the important purpose of generating new ideas.
Thelema is a relatively new system, and even adherents who don’t recognize Crowley as the final or only authority are rarely inspired to openly challenge the Aleisterian hegemony. Such is the way of things. But as with all dynamic systems, change is inevitable, and soon someone will cry, “Thelema is dead! Long live Thelema!”