Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
“Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief.”
Aleister Crowley, Chapter XXXI, Magick Without Tears
The following is a part of a public talk given in Toronto in September, 2018.
The Book of the Law declares not just a new set of spiritual principles, but an historic event: the start of a new Aeon. The text explains some of what this will mean, and Aleister Crowley’s own commentaries elucidate it further. He spent the last four decades of his life working to understand it, while admitting there were always parts of it he personally disliked.
We need to remember that he was frustrated by the Book for several years, and only began teaching it privately around 1907, three years after it was dictated. It was only published six years after that, when he’d had some time to come to terms with what it said.
“My equable nature is congenitally hostile to extreme measures, except in imagination,” he wrote in chapter 31 of Magick Without Tears, composed in his last three years of life, 1944-7. “I cannot bear sudden violent movements. Climbing rocks, people used to say that I didn’t climb them, that I oozed over them! This explains, I think, my deep-seated dislike of many passages in The Book of the Law. ‘O prophet! thou hast ill will to learn this writing. I see thee hate the hand & the pen; but I am stronger.’ (Liber AL II, 10-11) ”
My own view has long been that it marks a specific nexus-point in the evolution human consciousness, and that various indicators demonstrate this, even if we can’t ay they “prove” it empirically. Among other things, the last untouched literate spiritual culture, that of Tibet, was invaded by a British military expedition in December 1903, and actual fighting began just eight days before Aiwass dictated the text to Crowley the following April. The result was to begin opening Tibet to the world and, more important, to begin opening the world to the treasures from within Tibet. I find the coincidence of dates suggestive.
If you read the Book and much of Crowley’s ample comments on it, you’ll form the impression that Thelema’s primary goal is to displace Christianity entirely, replacing it with worship of Ra-Hoor-Khuit, a modernised version of the Egyptian god Horus. That isn’t incorrect, at least as far as Crowley’s earlier writings on the topic. He had come through a forbidding and claustrophobic upbringing, among strict, Bible-fundamentalist Christians, and was then educated in a school with strict Anglican piety. He had good reasons to detest Protestant Christianity.
Today, while it is still kicking hard and desperately at a world that takes less and less intelligent interest in it, Christianity in developed nations is declining in membership and, most importantly, in its depth of ideas. Christians talk about deepening their prayer and commitment, without actually having anything new to say that would assist this. The faith is stuck in complaint.
Yet my own root teacher, if I can borrow that Buddhist term, always insisted that if we still had Thelemic orders and such a century from now, we would have failed. The assumption he made, following decades of commitment to Thelema and study of its primary texts, was that the Aeon of Horus wasn’t something related to a specific religion or organisation. Rather, it represents an archetypal shift in human consciousness, and nobody could be unaffected.
To cut to the chase, therefore, if there’s anything substantial to this idea that a new Current was started just over a century ago, it’s going to be something that permeates all levels of our understanding, and for everybody. At this point the Aeon is well on its way.
Crowley felt the previous period, the 2500 years or so of the Aeon of Osiris, only realised part of its goals, and was hijacked by its own tendency to weaken the instincts and the basic liberty of the individual. It did its job in advancing human consciousness to the next set of markers. The question, therefore, is: Will this one be more successful, or will it be derailed? In a hundred years, or maybe two hundred, we’ll know. But the more constructive support it receives, the better.
Re-formulating all spiritual paths sounds like an immense job. It is … yet it doesn’t need to be done by a specific organisation, or organisations. The Thelemic current is not specific to one society, one sect, or an elite group of fraternities. It has been let loose upon the world, and it’s transforming all of the existing paths. There is far more individualism emerging, and being stressed, in all the traditions. Strict, monastic structures are creaking under the strain, so that various senior Tibetan reincarnates have left their orders, and Indian gurus are less able to isolate their ashrams from the westernising cultures around them. Many Christians, and some Jews and Muslims, affirm an individualistic attitude that would have scandalised their forebears.
But mostly, there is a kind of unconscious drift towards more of a realisation that the individual must be an individual. You need to read what some of the more articulate spiritual teachers out of Asia are saying to grasp the point, but the Buddhist, Hindu and Sufi worlds are definitely having to come to terms with the shift in “consumer demand,” which is leading them to reconfigure their teachings in ways that speak to a changing audience.
Crowley again, in Magick Without Tears, noted: “…. the theory of religion, as such, being a tissue of falsehood, the only real strength of any religion is derived from its pilferings of Magical doctrine; and, religious persons being by definition entirely unscrupulous, it follows that any given religion is likely to contain scraps of Magical doctrine, filched more or less haphazard from one school or the other as occasion serves.”
Religion, then, is a derived thing rather than an authentic encounter with divine truth, or whatever phrase we can choose to designate That which we can’t reduce to contradictions. You can make Thelema into a religion, but the critical aim is to derive a religion from Thelema for yourself alone.
It is assumed and understood that the shift in current does not require everyone to declare themselves Thelemic. It does, though, push all of us towards a more Thelemic perspective. The extent to which we embrace this and allow ourselves to evolve is the degree to which we can ride along with so much that is happening and changing.
So … having navigated the first century of the Thelemic Aeon, and seen wide use of psychedelics, sexual liberation, concepts to personal freedom amid a crazed world and the idea of religion no longer being remotely concerned with middle-class values … we get to the point where it is essentialy a practice, and one that, for the foreseeable future, aims at claiming its place among other major mystical paths and also among social movements. And beyond that, it is a weltanschaung: a worldview, with the “world” in question being not just the physical one we see with our physical eyes.
The Book’s core message comes from the phrase with which we open all these talks: that each of us is here to do the Will that drives our lives, and that we have no other task or right but to align with that. This Will is seen as individually specific, all-embracing, and determinant over a person’s entire nature and life-course. You can’t simply figure out what that Will is, since while you can observe your own preferences and hopes, the level of beingness in which it has its roots is beyond conscious access. You have to transmute a lot of manure to get to the philosopher’s stone and the essential significance of your own life.
Doing this produces an expansion of awareness, an elevation of consciousness. As anyone with serious experience of such matters can tell you, such things are often wrenching and emotionally disturbing. Sure, you can visualise white light to your mind’s content, but an actual encounter with the Divine that speaks from within us can be more disturbing than it is uplifting. Some people begin immediately to make prophetic statements: a lot of others spend months or years privately coming to terms with the inner shift that happens.
While you can have amazing realisations and life-changing visions, maturing those realisations and visions is a difficult and often discouraging adventure. I always stress that one function of a mystery school such as our own is help us socialise such experiences, so that we don’t get too attached to the high of the vision or the insight, or become paralysed about moving on after a dark encounter.
The last chapter of the Book has warning from Ra-Hoor-Khuit: “I am a god of war and of vengeance. I shall deal hardly with them.” The “war” metaphor is prevalent throughout the chapter. A decade after the Book was dictated to Crowley’s furiously scribbling hand in that Cairo apartment, World War I started the largest slaughter humanity had ever known to that point, apart from various pandemics. Two decades after that was done, and with a few million people killed in incidental wars in Ethiopia, China and elsewhere, World War II broke out. The death-toll has dropped in the last half-century, but we have found no way to lessen international conflicts. We have approximately 40 of them active at this very moment.
More than just war, we know we’re in an enormous upheaval. Democracy, of which Crowley was highly skeptical, is an imperilled project in the Western nations right now, and has a tenuous hold elsewhere. The various nationalisms that have emerged seem to have little in the way of long-term plans, beyond excluding outsiders.
If we’re going to come through the stage we’re now in, we need not just a prophet or a leader or a moral exemplar (plenty of people have offered themselves up for that role), but a wide range of people moving up to the stage the Book predicts, having some measure of Knowledge and Conversation, over and above whatever concerns there might be, and that they might have, about external conditions. Only such people will be able to rise constructively above paranoia and anger. Simply by being identified with an innate Big Something beyond partisan resentments, they can crystallise a different movement, a different possibility. We might not even know who such people are: “Let my servants be few & secret: they shall rule the many & the known.” (Liber AL, I, v. 10)
The key thing, though, is that Thelema and Thelemites don’t offer a solution or a remedy for our present plight. The old world is in the process of being swept away, and the new Aeon is still being born. It will continue that birth process as an essential part of its character throughout its term, however long that might be.
Different organised spiritual constellations will come up in response, some explicitly embracing Thelemic ideas and some largely unaware of them. The physical world might be in very bad shape by then, and I remain deeply skeptical about uploading my consciousness (or some digital imitation of it) into a digital network.
Thelema isn’t concerned with greater consumption, higher GDP or five-year plans. It aims to push consciousness development along to a new point. It posits that K&C conditions will prevail, in due course, in a significant proportion of people. We don’t offer happy pills, or unicorn-infested visions. Thelemic practice and experience aren’t necessarily fun. They do, though, offer an increasing sense that the individual’s existence has intrinsic worth, and a connection to meaning and authenticity. This is where Thelema “fits.” In other words, it doesn’t fit at all, but steers around – or over – the obstacles. It is not about displacing existing spiritual techniques with new ones, necessarily. The old tricks still work fine, and the actual experience in each case might be very close to what mystics and Adepts of all times and places have encountered.
What is different is the approach to such attainment, in terms of changing the sense of selfhood and its worth.
Love is the law, love under will,