The religious or mystical system which Crowley founded, into which most of his nonfiction writings fall, he named Thelema. The word is the ancient Greek θελημα, "will", from the verb εθελειν, ethelein, meaning "to will" or "to wish." Thelema combines a radical form of philosophical libertarianism, akin in some ways to Nietzsche, with a mystical initiatory system derived in part from the Golden Dawn.
Chief among the precepts of Thelema is the sovereignty of the individual will: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" is, as it were, the system's first commandment. Crowley's idea of will, however, is not simply the individual's desires or wishes, but also incorporates a sense of the person's destiny or greater purpose: what he termed the "Magick Will." Much of the initiatory system of Thelema is focused on discovering one's true will, true purpose, or higher self. Much else is devoted to an Eastern-inspired dissolution of the individual ego, as a means to that end (see Choronzon).
The second commandment of Thelema is "Love is the law, love under will" — and Crowley's meaning of "Love" is as complex as that of "Will". It is frequently sexual: Crowley's system, like elements of the Golden Dawn before him, sees the dichotomy and tension between the male and female as fundamental to existence, and sexual "magick" and metaphor form a significant part of Thelemic ritual.
Thelema draws on numerous older sources, and like many other new religious movements of its time combines "Western" and "Eastern" traditions. Its chief Western influences include the Golden Dawn, Kabbalah, and elements of Freemasonry; Eastern influences include aspects of yoga, Taoism, and Tantra.
The word Thelema finds its origins in the Bible, but was first brought into common usage by Rabelais, who wrote of the Abbey of Theleme, and had the motto "Fay ce que vouldras" or "Do what you will." This theme echoed St. Augustine's "Love and do what you will" and was a part of the emerging philosophy of humanism. Others who adopted this idea were Sir Francis Dashwood and the Monks of Medmenham (better known as The Hellfire Club) as well as Sir Walter Besant and James Rice in their novel The Monks of Thelema (1878).
[ Go Back ]
Encyclopedia of Thelema
Copyright © by The Book of THOTH - The complete guide to the Tarot, Magick and the Occult - (2027 reads)