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.
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"):
Neophyte formulates the Body of Light (popularly known today as "astral
Zelator masters Hatha Yoga, specifically, Asana and Pranayama, resulting in the experience of “psychic opening.”
Practicus achieves Kundalini Awakening, so-called (see Lee Sanella, The Kundalini Experience).
Philosophus masters Rising on the Planes (popularly known as the "out of
body experience" or "OBE").
Dominus Liminis acquires the power of mental Concentration (ekagrata).
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.
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...):
reminder of one’s dedication to the Great Work, spoken before meals.
of purification and empowerment, performed at the beginning and end of
each day (see Liber V, XXV, and XXXVI).
eucharist (see Liber XLIV).
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).
of one’s Star, performed as it rises above the horizon (see Liber
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.
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
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
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.)
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).
All of the following books are available in print (based on a search of Amazon.com.)
They are written by Aleister Crowley unless otherwise noted: