Since I published my latest book A Comment on the Verses of the Book of the Law, I have come into contact with more than the usual number of Thelemites keen to make their comment on my work. This was to be expected, of course, and is as it should be. Time will decide the true value of my contribution, but it has led me to spending a bit more effort investigating Thelemites and Thelemic resources on the internet and this in turn has raised in my mind the question of where Thelema is at now and how that relates to what is actually said in the Book of the Law. To understand this, first we must look at the history of the development of Thelema as a religion as well as at the works of Thelema’s first prophet on order to determine how much is Thelemite and how much is Crowleyanity.
Crowley and the Book of the Law- a man and his religion
Too many Thelemite historians view the history of Crowley and Thelema through the rose-colored glasses of his ‘autohagiography’ and Crowley’s version of events (as he saw them in 1929 whilst he was trying to cash in on the ‘wickedest man in the world’ title bestowed on him by the press of the day). Whilst Confessions is a great read and a helpful insight into Crowley and his work, the Great Beast’s story is only one side of the coin and a lot of clarity can be gained by looking at events using common sense rather than sentimentalism.
The history of Thelema begins and ends with the dictation of the Book of the Law in 1904. The book claims that its philosophy is summed up completely in the creed Do What Thou Wilt. There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.-Ch. 3 vs. 60. As the book says: The word of the Law is Θελημα.- Ch. 1 vs. 39 and also; Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong- Ch.1 vs. 40, it would seem to indicate that for Thelemites there is no other obligation than to Do What Thou Wilt. The book itself supports such a strict interpretation of its edicts throughout the text and in fact the rest of the tenets of Θελημα are all variations and developments of the central creed. For instance, the often quoted injunction against restriction: The word of Sin is Restriction- Ch. 1 vs. 41, can only be interpreted to mean that for someone to expend energy in restricting another he is not Doing What Thou Wilt, and thus the injunction against restriction. It is irrelevant if you injure someone else and, in fact, you cannot injure anyone who is doing their True Will: Beware therefore! Love all, lest perchance is a King concealed! Say you so? Fool! If he be a King, thou canst not hurt him. Ch. 2 vs. 59. This can be said equally about all of Thelema’s tenets, that they are all expressions of Do What Thou Wilt.
Many passages in the Book of the Law indicate that Crowley would little understand Thelema, its rituals were hidden from him and he would never live to see the child who would expound his creed. He was originally so unimpressed by the book that he misplaced the original MSS for five years! Far from taking up the banner of his new religion, Crowley spent these years almost entirely away from magick, but when he finally lost his disputes with the Golden Dawn (mostly over publishing their secret documents) he decided to start his own order, the Argentum Astrum or A.A., and was under immediate pressure to produce material to back up the Book of the Law. The result was one of Crowley’s greatest magickal works, the Visions of the thirty Enochian Aethyrs and an outpouring of some of the most incredible magickal books ever written, which Crowley later grouped together at the Holy Books. Later, his Book of Lies would be used as a pretext for Crowley’s rapid advancement in OTO circles and his creed was forever after connected with that organization, but was it really Thelema?
The beginning of Crowleyanity
Whilst Crowley’s Holy Books are masterful works of High Magick and mysticism, they bear scant reference to the Book of the Law or Θελημα and Crowley acknowledged that they formed a different class of books to the Book of the Law altogether. The set of practices that were developed from and around these works went on to be the central practice of A.A. and influenced OTO towards being a Thelemite style of Hermetic Order. Central to the theme of these works is the worship of the beast which the Book of the Law prophecies but never defines as strict Thelemite practice. From 1909 onwards Crowley shamelessly promoted himself as the prophet of his own new religion but given the Book of the Law’s statements about Crowley’s inability to fully comprehend the Law it came about that he had begun a cult of Crowleyanity rather than Thelema, and although it accepts much that is Thelemite it is essentially focused on Crowley more than on the Book of the Law.
After Crowley’s death his magickal orders continued his practices and in doing so firmly established the cult of Crowley, offering to guide students in Thelemite practices even though they were still following the work of the prophet who’s own prophecy states that he would never plumb the mysteries of his own creed. In these circumstances it would seem that the best that these magickal orders could offer is a continuation of the creed of Crowleyanity. I am not in any way questioning the validity of these cults and their practices, but I don’t connect them to the purest Thelema either. Nor do I think that Thelema is being sublimated into Crowley’s cult.
Thelema began as a prophetic cult and I imagine its development will come from further prophets and their prophecies. The enlightened interpretation of those kinds of works will be secondary to the results that come from actual practice. As the Book of the Law gives up its secrets and as Horus inspires more of his prophets, Thelema will develop in ways undreamt of by Crowley and whilst the Great Beast will always be held in the highest regard by Thelemites the relevance of his personal cult and its exponents will diminish.
Change not as much as the style of a letter; for behold! thou, o prophet, shalt not behold all these mysteries hidden therein.
The child of thy bowels, he shall behold them.
Expect him not from the East, nor from the West; for from no expected house cometh that child. Aum! All words are sacred and all prophets true; save only that they understand a little; solve the first half of the equation, leave the second unattacked. But thou hast all in the clear light, and some, though not all, in the dark. Ch. 1 vs. 54-56