Religious Tolerance logo

The Law of Thelema by Max Demian - Part 2
Practices and sacred texts

horizontal rule
Sponsored link.

horizontal rule

Continued from Part 1 of this essay

horizontal rule


The Law of Thelema is a system of experiential spirituality. This means that Thelemites engage in various spiritual practices in order to realize the truth of the spiritual life in and for themselves. The ultimate goal of the spiritual life is to identify with and actually become a spiritual being, free of the constraints and constrictions of conditioned existence. The state of being a spiritual being is an ecstatic, powerful state of union with everything (Thelemic "compassion"). The Law of Thelema also teaches that all religions are variations of one fundamental underlying spiritual truth, which become fragmented into different religious traditions as a result of variations of place, time, and degree of realization and mutual isolation and hostility as, with the passage of time, religions become increasingly diversified and exclusive. Religions thus harden into increasingly exoteric systems, based on devotion to priest craft and rules, in which individual spiritual experience is increasingly repressed in favour of an official orthodoxy, ultimately the prerogative of the Black Brothers, which becomes increasingly metaphorical and vicarious. Thus, the Law of Thelema rejects “religiosity” altogether, and actively seeks to destroy it, since the religious attitude in this sense is harmful to the spiritual life and impedes, blocks, restricts, and interferes with real spiritual progress. Consequently, Thelemites incorporate practices from all religious traditions without distinction, in order to reconstitute the primordial tradition that underlies them all. Crowley compared this process to recombining the colours of the spectrum into white light. This reconstruction is the special task of Scientific Illuminism, which is one aspect of the Law of Thelema, the operative branch of which is Magick.  

Spiritual practices are pursued in the context of various systems of attainment, which are appropriate to different types of aspirant, differentiated by race, culture, personal  psychology, and degree of realization or "grade." Consequently, not all practices are suitable for all aspirants at all stages of development. Recognizing which practices are suitable to which aspirants at different stages of their spiritual development is the special skill of a spiritual master. 

In the system of the A...A..., the grades correspond to specific tasks and corresponding attainments, arranged in an hierarchy. Many of these tasks and attainments have become the special study of parapsychology and transpersonal psychology in recent years. In the system described by Crowley, these are the main attainments of the Outer Order (collated from the three main documents describing these attainments, Liber XIII, Liber CLXV, and "One Star in Sight"): 

The Neophyte formulates the Body of Light (popularly known today as "astral projection").

The Zelator masters Hatha Yoga, specifically, Asana and Pranayama, resulting in the experience of “psychic opening.”

The Practicus achieves Kundalini Awakening, so-called (see Lee Sanella, The Kundalini Experience).

The Philosophus masters Rising on the Planes (popularly known as the "out of body experience" or "OBE").

The Dominus Liminis acquires the power of mental Concentration (ekagrata).

The Adeptus Minor attains the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, so-called, corresponding to the Hindu trance-state known as Atmadarshana, but with important differences as well. 

The work of an aspirant to the A...A... is so subtle and advanced that it is beyond the ability of most people, although a few aspirants attained high grades in the A...A... during Crowley’s lifetime. The tests, some of which are published, which Crowley applied to aspirants in order to qualify were very stringent, and Crowley did not grant grades casually. For example, one has to "astral travel" through an abstract symbol that one has never seen before and describe a vision the character of which is consistent with the symbol's meaning in order to pass the test for "rising on the planes." 

Crowley was promoted to the leadership of the English branch of the O.T.O. in 1912 e.v., and he used this order ever afterwards as a vehicle for popularizing the Law of Thelema, as well as the practice of the Supreme Secret of the O.T.O. During his lifetime, this secret was zealously guarded, although it is not always discreetly hinted at in the esoteric literature of the day and by Crowley himself. However, since Crowley’s death the cat has long been out of the bag. The Supreme Secret of the O.T.O. is nothing other than the use of sex in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment, equivalent in fact to a Western Tantra. Sex is, of course, the single most powerful psycho-physiological energy in man, so pressing it into the service of spiritual development is a natural evolution, once one overcomes the restriction of shame. From the Tantric point of view, sexual abstinence is really a form of "sex magick," so-called, since sexual abstinence modifies the sexual instinct. Exotericism sees in sexual abstinence the rejection of sexuality per se as contrary to the spiritual life, but the Tantric view is more subtle and profound. Rather than rejecting sex, the Tantric practitioner seeks to sublimate the sexual energy, inhibiting its outflow so that the energy accumulates in the brain, its original source, where it induces the state of illumination (the physiological precursor of enlightenment). Once one realizes that this is how sexual abstinence actually works, the possibility of a contrary methodology presents itself to the discerning consciousness. Instead of repressing the sexual energy, one can intensify it to the point where the sheer excess of sexual arousal causes the energy to ascend the spine and, once again, "illuminate" the brain. In the latter case, however, the body is also "illuminated." Thus, the formulae of sexual abstinence and orgiastic excess are realized to be essentially identical, variations of the same underlying energy-economy.  

The members of the O.T.O. are encouraged to engage in practical experimentation, and many members pursue various tasks connected with the Great Work. This is especially true of the followers of Kenneth Grant, who has created a system of Thelemic attainment strongly suggestive of Vodou, the primal religion of Africa and humanity, since, according to current archaeological research, humanity originated in Africa. 

In addition to the major tasks of the Great Work described above, committed Thelemites are enjoined to engage in a number of regular daily practices that have the effect of disciplining and directing the mind and regulating one’s life according to objective natural cycles. These include (based on the Official Publications of the A...A...):

  A short reminder of one’s dedication to the Great Work, spoken before meals.

Rituals of purification and empowerment, performed at the beginning and end of each day (see Liber V, XXV, and XXXVI).

A daily eucharist (see Liber XLIV).

The adoration of the Sun, followed by one hour of meditation, repeated four times daily; thus, the truly committed Thelemite, like the followers of the Sant Mat, meditates four hours per day (see Liber CC).

Adoration of one’s Star, performed as it rises above the horizon (see Liber CMLXIII

In addition to the foregoing, members of the O.T.O. observe the Gnostic Mass (see Liber XV), in which the Supreme Secret is rehearsed and an eucharist consumed by the celebrants, and various visualization practices. The Book of the Law also refers to the spiritual use of drugs, which informed the spiritual practice of many significant spiritual teachers before their criminalization, including Georges Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (according to Timothy Leary), Julius Evola, Aldous Huxley and others. Drugs are also an integral part of many different South American aboriginal shamanic cultures. The traditional cultures of the Quiches, Incans, Mayans, and Aztecs bears many striking affinities to the Law of Thelema, more so even than Africa.

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule

Sacred Texts:

The Book of the Law was written when Aleister Crowley was a Minor Adept of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Subsequently he underwent an experience, called the "ordeal of the abyss," similar to the "dark night of the soul" of the mystics, in which he completely annihilated his human personality and achieved an extreme state of "psychic opening." He became completely open and receptive to the influx of the divine consciousness, an intense, intuitive, transrational, and ecstatic state of self-perfection and realization of reality in its fundamental and ultimate aspects. In this state, intermittently over a period of five years, Crowley wrote a series of books, ranging in length from several hundred to several thousand words, concerning which he declares that they are beyond rational criticism, i.e., absolutely and indubitably true. These books were written "automatically," i.e., without rational reflection, in a state of trance. These works constitute the revelatory foundation of the Law of Thelema, and are referred to, including the Book of the Law, as the Holy Books of Thelema. In order of writing, they are: 

Liber AL vel Legis (1904 e.v.)

Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli (1907 e.v.)

Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente (ibid)

Liber Stellae Rubeae (ibid)

Liber Porta Lucis (ibid)

Liber Tau vel Kabbalae Trium Literarum (ibid)

Liber Trigrammaton (ibid)

Liber Ararita (1907 or 1908 e.v.)

Liber Arcanorum των Atu του Tahuti, etc. (1907 and 1911 e.v.)

Liber B vel Magi (1911 e.v.)

Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus (1911 e.v.)

Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni (1911 e.v.)

Liber A’ash vel Capricorni Pneumatici (1911 e.v.) 

In addition to the foregoing, Crowley wrote (or, rather, dictated to his disciple and lover, the poet Victor Neuburg, in an ASC) The Vision and the Voice. The Vision and the Voice (properly, Liber XXX Aerum vel Saeculi) is a series of visions based on the Enochian magical workings of famed Elizabethan scholar John Dee and his skryer Edward Kelley, to which Crowley tracesthe beginning of the process culminating in the advent of the New Aeon in 1904 e.v. Crowley claimed to be Edward Kelley’s reincarnation. All but the first two visions were received in the Sahara Desert in 1909 e.v., to which he ascribed a combined classification, viz., A-B, Class 'A' being a "holy book" as discussed above, and Class 'B' an ordinary work of rational scholarship. A prefatory note to The Treasure House of Images, published in The Equinox in 1910 e.v., was assigned the 'A' classification. Liber NU and Liber HAD also contain instructions received directly from V.V.V.V.V., Crowley's motto as a Master of the Temple of the A...A..., which are presumably also Class 'A,' since V.V.V.V.V. corresponds to Crowley’s neschamah, the soul in its static aspect.  

Finally, in 1925 e.v., after a hiatus of more than a decade, Crowley penned the last and the shortest of the Holy Books of Thelema, a short preamble to the Book of the Law of only 77 words (plus 27 words of quotation from the Book of the Law), in which both the study and discussion of the Book of the Law are specifically and absolutely prohibited. Most Thelemites today follow Crowley’s lead in interpreting The Comment to mean that no one may publicly interpret the Law of Thelema, and that those who do so are to be shunned, despite the fact that the prohibition is only applied to the text of the Book of the Law itself, and not any other holy book. Consequently, little critical literature on the Law of Thelema (as distinct from biography) has appeared since Crowley’s death in 1947 e.v., the only notable exception being the writings of Kenneth Grant (most importantly, The Magical Revival, Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God, and Hecate’s Fountain). However, Grant and his followers are shunned as heretics by many Thelemites, especially the followers of the American Caliphate, who accuse him of collaborating with John Symonds. Symonds, who many Thelemites believe exploited the “old man” for personal profit and gain by hypocritically maneuvering himself into the position of Crowley's literary executor, is the author of several extremely hostile biographies of Aleister Crowley, as well as the co-editor with Kenneth Grant of a number of Crowley's writings. In his final Crowley biography, King of the Shadow Realm, Symonds claims that Crowley was actually psychotic (similar assertions are sometimes made about Carl Gustav Jung as well, and are clearly ideologically motivated). 

The Holy Books of Thelema are remarkable by any standard, especially the two longest books, Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente and Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli, although personal hostility towards Crowley has caused them not to be as widely regarded as they should. Except the Book of the Law, the Holy Books of Thelema represent the high water mark of Aleister Crowley's literary career for sustained philosophical sublimity, lyric and symbolic beauty, and structural elegance. Often obscure, they are nevertheless potent and profound testaments to the ecstatic integrity of Aleister Crowley’s spiritual realization. Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente is an account of the Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. Crowley also wrote a long and interesting commentary on this particular holy book. Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli describes the Ordeal of the Abyss from an universal perspective, whereas The Vision and the Voice documents Crowley’s own attainment of this grade as well as offering innumerable insights into the Law of Thelema and the New Aeon in general. These two attainments, the Angel and the Abyss, constitute the two critical events in the life of the adept in Crowley's system, by which the aspirant becomes a Major Adept and a Master of the Temple respectively, and have considerable resonance with the perennial philosophy from which all authentic spiritual insights derive.

Another holy book, Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni, describes the grade of Babe of the Abyss, and Liber B vel Magi describes the grade of Magus. Liber Porta Lucis and Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus describe Crowley’s mission as Thelemic prophet and the task of initiation in the New Aeon. Liber Tau vel Kabbalae Trium Literarum explains the ordeals of the grades. Liber Ararita is a description of the spiritual path in extremely subtle and abstract language. Liber Trigrammaton describes the process of cosmic devolution. Liber Arcanorum interprets the Tarot trumps as an initiatory sequence. Liber A'ash and Liber Stellae Rubeae offer practical instruction in sexual Tantra.  

Liber AL vel Legis, the Latin rendering of the "Book of the Law," is of course Aiwass' proclamation of the advent of the New Aeon and its essential formulae (even although Crowley had not crossed the abyss when Aiwass revealed the Book of the Law, he classifies it as an holy book because it represents the dictation of Aiwass himself, who holds the rank of Ipsissimus, i.e., the highest possible grade. Crowley himself only attained this grade seventeen years later, in 1921 e.v., at which time he and Aiwass became one being: thus the relationship with the Holy Guardian Angel represents in the Thelemic view a kind of spiritual marriage).

horizontal rule

Further Reading:

All of the following books are available in print (based on a search of They are written by Aleister Crowley unless otherwise noted:
bullet 777 and Other Qabalistic Writings
bullet Aha!
bullet Book Four
bullet Commentaries on the Holy Books and Other Papers
bullet De Arte Magica
bullet Do What Thou Wilt(Lawrence Sutin)
bullet Gems from the Equinox
bullet Konx Om Pax
bullet Liber Aleph vel CXI: The Book of Wisdom or Folly
bullet Little Essays towards Truth
bullet Magick
bullet Magick in Theory and Practice
bullet Magick without Tears
bullet Portable Darkness: An Aleister Crowley Reader
bullet The Book of Lies
bullet The Book of the Law
bullet The Book of Thoth
bullet The Confessions of Aleister Crowley
bullet The Equinox (Vol. I, Nos. 1 – 10)
bullet The Equinox (Vol. III, No. 1)
bullet The Equinox of the Gods
bullet The Holy Books of Thelema
bullet The Law Is for All
bullet The Legend of Aleister Crowley (P.R. Stephenson)
bullet The Revival of Magick and Other Essays
bullet The Vision and the Voice
bullet The Works of Aleister Crowley

horizontal rule

Continued in Part 3

horizontal rule

Copyright 2002 by the author, Max Demian, B.A. (Hon.), York University. See the note at the top of the article for restrictions on use.
Originally published here: 2002-JUL-21
Latest update: 2011-AUG-17

line.gif (538 bytes)
Sponsored link

Go to the previous page or return to the Thelema menu, or choose:


Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

Twitter link

Facebook icon

GooglePage Translator:

This page translator works on Firefox,
Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only.

After translating, click on the "show
original" button at the top of this
page to restore the page to English.