What’s Crowley Got To Do With Thelema, Anyway?
Published in Fireheart, Fall 1988
by Sam Webster ©1988
It’s strange being a magickian among the witches. Stranger still being a Thelemite magickian, a member of the OTO and other Orders and always getting blamed for Uncle Al’s misbehavior. Really! What does Aleister Crowley have to do with Thelema anyway?
He’s only its founder…
In 1904, in a small hotel room in Cairo the end of the world occurred. The Apocalypse happened and only a middle aged cynical rationalist Buddhist was there to see it. He did not want to be there but after his pregnant wife started telling him “They’re waiting for you,” he took some interest. He asked “Who are They, What are They like, What are their Attributes?” And she, neither initiate nor studied, rattled off the secret and unpublished traditional Golden Dawn correspondences for Horus: His color, planet, station in the temple her husband’s relationship with the god and many another attribute. The Buddhist, formerly an adept of the Golden Dawn, calculated the odds of correctly guessing the right combination and it was astronomical. Horus was calling.
He was still skeptical. “Show me his image,” he demanded of his wife, and off they went to the Cairo Museum. He secretly smirked as she walked right past image after image of Horus until she stopped and pointed, “That one!” It was the Funerary Stele of the Priest Ankh-af-na-Khonsu. In the Museum catalogue it was numbered Stele #666. Crowley, whose mother used to always call him “You Beast!” was dumbfounded. He had the curators make a copy and a translation and went back to the hotel.
Rose, his wife, told him to do an invocation to Horus, but the way she wanted him to do it broke all the rules. He was to invoke the archetype and force that is Horus among the Egyptians from among four other cultures all at the same time! Although common in modern practice in his day this was unheard of. He went and invoked the Patron of all Magicks, Thoth, who told him to obey his wife.
On March 20, 1904 Crowley was told by the image of Horus he invoked to enter the emptied room of their hotel suite with only paper and pen and wearing a simple white robe on April 8, 9, and 10 at the stroke of noon.
He sat down at the desk facing the wall of the room with paper and pen in hand. As the twelfth bell was tolled, a Voice behind the scribe began to speak, “Had, the manifestation of Nuit…” This was Aiwaz, the minister of Hoor-Paar-Khraat; the babe in the lotus, the god of innocence and silence. He had come to announce the end of the reign of Osiris, the Slain God, and the enthroning of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, the Risen Lord. Very much like the angel of the Apocalypse of John, who came bearing a little book to be kept sealed until the end times, Aiwaz came bearing words of a new testament of the relationship of Humanity with the Divine.
The central image of this relationship is Ra-Hoor-Khuit, which means in Egyptian the Illuminated Solar Hero. Horus is the only god among the Egyptians who is, dies, and is born again forgetting all of his godly wisdom but with all of its unguided power. Through His struggles against Set (read Matter) and with the help of his teachers Isis and Thoth, he remembers Who He Is. He awakens from His dreamlike ignorance and chooses to war no more against His Twin as He now remembers Set to be. No longer needing to fight with Matteriality, educated in Art, by Isis, and Science, by Thoth, He is suitable now to rule.
Without an adversarial attitude toward the world what of the Buddhist doctrine “All is Sorrow?” Chucked. What of the Christian attitude of suffering? Not necessary. “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy, that all the sorrows are but as shadows, they pass & are done; but there is that which remains. (AL II, 9)” What Aiwaz was saying Crowley would not accept but he was forced to write on, “I see thee hate the hand and the pen but for me in thee which thou knewest not…” For three days from Noon until the stroke of One, Crowley wrote the two hundred and twenty verses of the Book of the Law.
For nine years the manuscript gathered dust in the attic of Crowley’s Scottish Highland home. Until one day, while looking for skis for a guest he found the manuscript. He had avoided magick and all things related since the time in Cairo. No yoga, no meditation, just being a husband. I think his marriage ended at this point or he chose to go on an excursion to the Sahara for some particular reason. During his sojourn in the desert he was inspired to perform the Enochian Calls of the 30 Æthers. During this visionary experience he became convinced of the profound importance of the Book of the Law and determined to promulgate its way.
In essence Thelema is a call to radical individual Liberty and Responsibility. It is summed up in the axiom “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Thelema is Greek for will in its creative, magickal or primogenital sense. Thus for an incarnate being one’s will is the intent for which one incarnated. The working hypothesis is that if all things did their Will, did what they are “supposed” to do, there would be no Accidents. The model to describe this is the orderly Solar System, each planet following its own orbit. However, stars, some times whole galaxies, collide. “As brothers fight ye,” we are counseled. There will be conflicts of will, perhaps from a greater perspective the conflict itself is the central act and not the apparent ends, and so with the awareness that we are essentially all family let us enter into our conflicts with justice, fairness and honor in our hearts.
This brings us to the phrase, “Love is the law, love under will.” This is the principle which is expressed in physics as gravity. In the Egyptian and Hermetic philosophies there is no separation between the forces of nature and the actions of the Humanity and the Divine. The apparent differences are a question of scale. Love is seen at the natural attraction of all things for each other as gravity binds all matter together over vast distances. The place of will is then a matter of determining the right relationship to have with other bodies. We are at the correct distance from the Sun for our kind of life to flourish on Earth. Not much closer or farther would kill us. Thus is Earth in a state of love under will towards the Sun, prolonging its rightful existence. We choose to be near our friends and lovers, we choose to be far from places of pestilence and decay. The law is love, we must have relation, but we get to choose how to relate, placing our love under will.
Throughout the Book of the Law there are little messages to Crowley telling him he will never fully understand that which he has written. An ego blow for sure, but when we look at the declaration made in the third verse, “Every man and every woman is a star,” and look at Crowley’s life it is obvious that he never out grew the Victorian misogyny he was raised with. Although he intellectually comprehended the equality of the sexes he never lived it. Unfortunately, some who follow this path follow in Aleister’s footsteps, others are simply blamed for it…
I was raised by stern Irish-Polish Catholic parents. It was wrong to say “no” to them; obedience was a virtue. I was expected to follow out the program set down for me by parents in education, then grow up and get a “respectable” job. However, the world my parents grew up in is not the one I’m living in and they simply don’t have the experience necessary to advise me. With the way I was raised I was very uncertain of myself. I did not know what I really wanted to be when I grew up. To Know Your Will is to know Who You Are and What You Want. This is the essence of the practice of Thelema.
Using classical and self-created rituals and meditations I seek and attain to knowledge of my Will daily, ever knowing that my Will is not a dead static thing but a living process. Perhaps in an ultimate sense one’s will is always perfect, yet from our limited perspective we don’t always see how. Many ‘accidents’ become windfalls, if viewed in this light. This is the central teaching of Thelema, that everything is already perfect, if we should just awaken from our ignorant slumber and see.
When Crowley returned from his trip in the desert, several books of verses came spontaneously to his mind and pen and, having written them, he was as yet uncertain of the author. They came to be known as the Holy Books of Thelema, recently published by Samuel Weiser & Co. These cover in greater detail the Cosmogony of Thelema as a recension of the Egyptian Gnosis and as an extension of Hermetic Philosophy. These texts show the Great Work as the working towards ending of Sorrow, Sickness and Death: Hedonic Immortalism; learning through pleasure, through love, creativity and cooperation. No longer is it necessary to have a ruler high upon his or her throne to tell us all what to do. “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.” Each of us is a sovereign with the right and the power to create the world we wish to live in, and also the responsibility.
Responsibility is the key to practicing Thelema. By being willing and able to respond to the needs of the times, we as humans fulfill our role in the world as the causers of change and growth. No animal on this planet has the tool making and using skills that we have to transform our environment into a living Heaven or Hell.
Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand and I shall move the world.” If working the path of causing responsible change is your heart’s desire, then Thelema might give you the Lever Long Enough and a Place to Stand.
Oh, yes, what’s Crowley got to do with Thelema any way?
Well, he wrote it down…
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