ALEISTER CROWLEY’S OPERATIVE PHILOSOPHY
Part 1. Aleister Crowley and philosophy
Currently, the figure of Aleister Crowley is quite well studied, but his actual significance as an OPERATIVE philosopher is still not sufficiently revealed – it is hidden behind an outrageous personality with a complex language in which the rational and symbolic are intertwined.
For many reasons Aleister Crowley gets out of the rut of conventional philosophy, but it is only benefit, because such a recognition, in fact, is deeply flawed.
After the decline of Antiquity, the recognized, first of all, was that philosophy that was deprived of freedom and betrayed itself, turning into a servant of theology, then a hostage of rationalism, then a prisoner of academism.
All this is poorly reflected, which only makes the problem worse – it comes down to a suffocating atmosphere in which a recognized philosopher must either die, or emasculate himself – become socially acceptable, mired in endless compromises with himself and with the world.
Recognition does not allow you to practice real philosophy – to go mad, lose and find your head, generate inconvenient meanings, make extraordinary gestures, exist outside and above the system of established orders and rules, and even more so to change them in accordance with your intentions.
The hegemony of philosophy, which does not solve anything and does not affect anything, is an intellectual defeat, indicating that the modern world needs a simulacrum in place of philosophy. For such a philosophy, Aleister Crowley is an unacceptable figure, because he destroys its foundations.
His philosophy knows no compromise not only with the tradition of thought, but also with the entire order of existence – it requires exceeding, overcoming any restrictions that bind a man and prevent him from fulfilling himself. This requires actions which change us both inside and outside. That is why such philosophizing we call OPERATIVE.
The modern world is not ready to forgive at all Aleister Crowley for his depravity and outrageousness, but for the fact that he gave birth to the philosophy of a completely free man, the only source of law, the basis of thought and action of which is his own will.
This prioritization is certainly fraught, including a lack of proper recognition, but it is a reality in which simple solutions are not always possible. In reality, “the tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction “(William Blake), so the latter’s approval and recognition of the former is akin to consent to their own devouring.
The question of whether Aleister Crowley is a philosopher or not brings us to the problem of what exactly to recognize as philosophy. If we are talking about the old nag of tradition, over which the ghost of an early demise hovers, then no. If we are talking about the longed-for love for Sofia, then “love is the law” and “but exceed! exceed!”
Part 2. The issue of relevance
What is the relevance of Aleister Crowley? Traditionally, this question is reduced to the significance of the contribution of a particular figure to the development of a particular problem. But everything is not easy here, because the fundamental problem of his philosophy is a man who finds himself in the universe.
This is an extremely complex, open and, apparently, unsolvable problem, but this does not mean that you do not need to deal with it and try to solve it – it is important to be aware and act. This is relevant as a process and to some extent as a result, even if it is a result of the uniqueness of the case.
This result, in the end, is the solution, – private, imperfect, and perhaps completely unnecessary for someone, but with open problems there is no other way, so reproaches of this kind are untenable.
The result of working with an open problem does not have stable evaluation criteria and any objective measure. Because of this, Aleister Crowley’s relevance has an arbitrary significance.
The assessment of his contribution depends entirely on the interpretation – it is as relevant as we can make it relevant. To do this, it is necessary to understand how and what to look at.
Without such a view, much of what is associated with it is insignificant and unimportant – it is very easy to start looking in the wrong direction, at the wrong thing, and to understand everything in the wrong way.
Let’s try to place some accents necessary for developing an actual seeing.
Firstly, Aleister Crowley is not important as a mortal man – not even the ashes of the urn that was once stolen are left of him. We are important – those who live now.
Secondly, his personal biography, inherited by the culture from a life that has sunk into oblivion, is not very important. Our life is important – each has its own, which should be fulfilled.
Thirdly, it doesn’t matter what, along with adept, this brawler, a painfully drug addict, and, ultimately, bankrupt has attained. What matters is what we have attained and will attain.
Fourthly, it is not his writings that are important, but their refraction in us. Much depends on how and what we reflect.
Aleister Crowley’s OPERATIVE philosophy, reflected in us, becomes relevant, because it is already our own philosophy.
Part 3. Interpretation problem
In the historiography of modernity, it was believed that you can thoroughly study everything related to a particular man in order to know how everything really was. Subsequently, it turned out that this “reality” is nothing more than a private representation, given out by one or another interpreter as a true picture.
It is worth discarding the illusions – no one knows, or will ever know, what Aleister Crowley’s real life was like. Those who try to say so, substitute their own speculations for reality and multiply stupidity. An adequate solution here is to admit that where, in fact, nothing can be verified, we build our own representation and nothing more.
This does not mean that it is correct to present Aleister Crowley as you like – you must always proceed from the facts, but how to understand them, evaluate them and put them into a speculative image – this requires delicacy and, in fact, it is actually not science, but art.
Instead of striving to get to a reality that has been lost forever, to hang a label on it “really” and disguise it as the truth, we will build a representation of Aleister Crowley so that it was relevant to us.
The plot associated with it, is enough to represent it in very different ways. Fortunately or unfortunately, there are many difficulties along the way.
Firstly, Aleister Crowley experimented and wrote throughout his adult life, during which his ideas changed. Having proclaimed “the Method of Science, the Aim of Religion”, he did not hesitate to accept certain assumptions, to doubt them, to abandon them, and sometimes to return to them again: “I slept with Faith, and found a corpse in my arms on awaking; I drank and danced all night with Doubt, and found her a virgin in the morning.” (Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Lies.)
Because of this approach, his legacy, taken as a whole, takes a not very consistent, and sometimes even contradictory form. In his texts the “dead” and the “living” are intertwined, discarded and claimed. Looking at individual fragments can also be ambiguous, since they can reflect everything and nothing in it, and it is impossible to know for sure.
Secondly, Aleister Crowley’s ideas were not only transformed in time, but also refracted in various ways on the inner planes. A number of his statements make sense within the framework of a special meaning on one of the plans, and on the other – they take on an absurd look:
– “The Brothers of A∴A∴ are Women; the Aspirants to A∴A∴ are Men.” (Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Lies.)
– “Aiwaz is spelt Ayin, the Eye, i.e. that of Shiva or Horus, the Meatus Penis and the Anus.” (Crowley, Aleister. The Cephaloedium Working.)
To properly understand what is being said, you need knowledge of the specific means of expression and initiatic seeing. Without these prerequisites, when confronted with his texts, it is easy to get confused in gender, to find the meatus penis in the anus, to understand everything wrong or not to understand anything at all.
Thirdly, Aleister Crowley indulged in various kinds of jokes and hoaxes. What to trust and what to be skeptical about in his legacy is not always obvious and thoroughly known. Sometimes irony and seriousness are so intertwined that from one point of view something becomes funny, and from another – not quite.
For example, in the “Book of the Law” you can find a recommendation to eat beetles and creeping things to increase potency (Liber AL III:25-27). It seems to be rational-nonsense, but that suggestions, if something depends on them, work, so there will probably be a fool for whom such a recipe will have an effect. But it is unlikely to help the smart one – obvious stupidities do not pass the critical barrier, therefore they cannot inspire.
Another example is the “Initiation Ritual for certain select probationers to A∴A∴” (Liber XXVIII), according to the scenario of which the candidate immediately symbolically acquires the benefits and dignity of higher grades, and then sits on the throne as a brother of the Order of the Silver Star who has attained the initiatory peak. During the ritual, the candidate is informed that “all these host thou won by virtue of that single aspiration”!
It seems that one can only laugh at the man, who without any effort overcame all the grades in one ritual, but the problem is that this format is really suitable for some and can become the beginning of real attainments. Of course, far from everyone and not always a symbolic initiation turns into a real one, but for some, with a successful coincidence of circumstances, it is undoubtedly true.
A similar motive, but in a very tragicomic way, refers to the situation with the Liber CXXXII vel Apotheosis, in which, referring to the analysis of the natal chart, Aleister Crowley declared master of the American О.Т.О. Lodge Wilfred Smith not a man, but the God. Since this was an unknown God the nature of which is only to be discovered, W. Smith received detailed instructions according to which for him it was required a long seclusion in a remote location.
As it turned out later, in this way A. Crowley simply got rid of him, removing him from the leadership of the Lodge. But before laughing at the naivety of W. Smith, it is worth considering that the instruction could have been the same, and the motivation of its developer – any other. After all, “Homo est Deus” is a maxim of the O. T. O., so the swindle turned out to be canonical. The reader of A. Crowley may find himself in the situation of W. Smith – this is always worth remembering.
These difficulties are far from exhaustive, but they are enough to make an adequate representation of Aleister Crowley an incredibly difficult task. It is very easy, based on completely reliable sources, to take the wrong thing as a basis, start looking in the wrong direction and draw completely wrong conclusions.
This situation imposes a special responsibility on interpreters, which, as a rule, they cannot cope with. Where everything is ambiguous and dark, everything is symptomatic and clear for them. Where Aleister Crowley exposed sharp corners and revealed contradictions, they smooth them out and remove them.
His challenge to the world and the awakened spirit of the adept are now trying in every possible way to dispel the cute commentators and short-sighted mediocrity that turn him into an idol. This is a sad and obviously inevitable consequence of the collapse of any star, but what matters is its light, not what remains when it goes away.
This trend fundamentally contradicts the path that Aleister Crowley outlined for man. This path is a Great Work. The one who performs it must realize the genius in himself, attain mastery over life and transcend.
This is the essence of the OPERATIVE philosophy which is intended to be the cornerstone of Aleister Crowley’s representation. Everything else is petty or unimportant. Anyone who sees something completely different in his figure is not from us and is not on our way.
Part 4. Sign situation
Representation implies not only interpretation – hermeneutics, but also sign realization – semiotics.
The sign, despite its elementary nature, is not simple – it can be represented as a set of signs of lesser significance, or it can also indicate a set of signs of greater significance. All these connections and relationships create a sign situation and, even more broadly, a semiosphere.
Culture, first of all, fixes signs, while we collect them in a configuration, turning arbitrary signs into sign systems capable of influencing.
Aleister Crowley no longer exists as a man, but as a sign. Its content depends on your reading, which is correct if it is based on the facts and has relevance.
A trivial reading boils down to the fact that he is an occultist, a poet, a writer, an artist, a mountaineer, and even a “prophet” for faithfools. However, a personalia is a sign-memorial – a formality with details that are not relevant.
A real sign has significance! Clear evidence allows us to see only one such sign in Aleister Crowley. It, like a common denominator, characterizes him entirely and points to everything that is connected with his name, life and philosophy.
“Aleister” means “man’s defender”, “Crowley” – comes from the Irish “O Cruadhlaoich”, which means “descendant of the hard hero”. His most famous pseudonyms are Perdurabo, which means “I will endure” and Therion – “beast”.
The operative significance of the beast or monster is revealed in A. Crowley’s “The Supreme ritual”, which presents a dialogue between Isis and Osiris with the following content:
“The shrine in the gloom?
Is the Mouth of Thy Womb.
And the Priest in the Shrine?
Is this Monster of Mine!”
This monster can also be found in the signature of Aleister Crowley, so the question of his essence is settled.
Self-Portrait by Aleister Crowley
There is no reason to ignore his actual self-identification, replacing it with some insignificant characteristics of the deceased personality.
Aleister Crowley – is Ithyphallus – is not a sign of the dead, but of the living!
Ithyphallism permeates absolutely all of his worldview, which connects the physical and metaphysical: “When you have proved that God is merely a name for the sex instinct, it appears to me not far to the perception that the sex instinct is God.” (Aleister Crowley, The Equinox, III: 1)
Ithyphallus in Crowley’s philosophy creates many sign situations and is for the microcosm the same as the sun is for the macrocosm.
“Not only is the Earth but a chilled spark of the Sun, a dropt petal of the Rose of Heaven, but the source of all Light and Life upon the planet is that same Sun. Not only is he creator, but sustainer, and it is He also that destroyeth in due season, and redeemeth when the time is come. Therefore in the Macrocosm is one sole God, the Sun. Now in the Microcosm, which is Man, the viceregent of the Sun, sole giver of life, is the Phallus. He is also sole giver of Light. […] The Phallus is the physiological basis of the Oversoul. And also of His own nature is He Liberty and Love. (Liber CCXXVIII vel De Natura Deorum)
Such a symbolic situation is the key to the entire semiosphere – Aleister Crowley, through the prism of the Sun-Phallus, examines everything that exists:
“The Fire; an image of Sol, and a fable of the Phallus.
The Moon; an image of Kteis, only worshipped with Sol in his aspect as an extension of the Phallus.
The Mountain; reverenced as the home of the Gods, the visible place of the rising of Sol, and as by shape symbolical of the Phallus. Some mountains are female, from shape or tradition.
The Ancestor; revered as an incarnation of the Phallus.
The Yoni or Kteis; revered as the House of the Phallus, and his complement.
The Snake; revered as giver of Death, and as a symbol of the Spermatozoon. He has often the head of The Lion; to indicate the mighty power of the Spermatozoon.
The Egg; revered as Solar, and in itself as the vehicle of Phallic energy.
The Eagle; and many other winged creatures; also wings attached to the symbols. This represents the flight of Life from one resting-place to another, and is therefore a proper attribute of the Phallus.
The Tree; is but the flowering Phallus.
The Stars; these being the concourse of the Brethren of the Sun are venerable for the Wise even as He. And the star-universe is as it were His Mother, whence Nuit is the highest and holiest of all that may be. And her mate is Hadit, the secret and essential energy of Life whose raiment is the Phallus, wherefore is Hadit equal with Her, the highest and holiest of all that may be. And Their Child Ra-Hoor-Khuit is the visible Sol-Phallus upon earth. But this is a mystery of the Adepts of Thelema and the vulgar may not attain to it.
All other Gods should be referred to this synthesis in the Microcosmic Sun.” (Liber CCXXVIII vel De Natura Deorum.)
The phallus as the physiological basis of the oversoul defines the path of attainment and the entire operative philosophy of Aleister Crowley. This is the basis of his teaching about the True Will that must be fulfilled.
In the A∴ A∴ system, this work consists in revealing one’s own genius and ultimate expanding into the Abyss of the Universe, which implies the corresponding internal metamorphoses.
In the O. T. O. system, this work consists of attaining dominance over one’s own life, liberation, and obtaining a “Messiah”, which implies the challenge of external upheavals.
The conclusion is simple: Aleister Crowley is a Phallus! Whoever is able to understand this sign – let him understand, who is not able – let him at least find out.
Part 5. Scientific Illuminism
“The work of the A∴A∴ is called Scientific Illuminism.”
(А. Crowley, The Equinox III: 1)
Scientific progress in the era of modernity naturally led to attempts to apply the scientific method not only to the physical, but also to the metaphysical plane. One of the manifestations of this trend was Scientific Illuminism, the essence of which is briefly expressed by the motto A∴ A∴: “The method of Science: the aim of Religion.”
Announcement of this concept, presented by Aleister Crowley in the editorial of the first issue of the first volume of “The Equinox”, promises a fundamentally new adventure in human history!
Scientific Illuminism postulates:
– skeptical attitude towards beliefs and authorities
– explicit knowledge instead of “mystery”
– the need for research, experimentation and verification
– focus on experience
– striving for supernormal consciousness.
In practice, such attitudes are a carte blanche to reformat the entire traditional paradigm. Scientific Illuminism, while maintaining its efficiency and metaphysical focus, allows you not to recognize authority, to deny faith, to reject miracles, to expose secrets and to draw knowledge from everywhere.
A detailed description of Scientific Illuminism Aleister Crowley gives in the editorial of the second issue of the first volume of “The Equinox”:
“The Ratiocinative Faculty or Reason of Man contains in its essential nature an element of self-contradiction. Following on this, we say: If any resolution there be of these two problems, the Vanity of Life and the Vanity of Thought, it must be in the attainment of a Consciousness which transcends both of them. Let us call this supernormal consciousness, or, for want of a better name, “Spiritual Experience.”
Faith has been proposed as a remedy. But we perceive many incompatible forms of Faith founded on Authority – The Vedas, The Quran, The Bible; Buddha, Christ, Joseph Smith. To choose between them we must resort to reason, already shown to be a fallacious guide.
There is only one Rock which Scepticism cannot shake; the Rock of Experience. We have therefore endeavoured to eliminate from the conditions of acquiring Spiritual Experience its dogmatic, theological, accidental, climatic and other inessential elements.
We require the employment of a strictly scientific method. The mind of the seeker must be unbiased: all prejudice and other sources of error must be perceived as such and extirpated. We have therefore devised a Syncretic-Eclectic Method combining the essentials of all methods, rejecting all their trammels, to attack the Problem, through exact experiments and not by guesses. For each pupil we recommend a different method (in detail) suited to his needs; just as a physician prescribes the medicine proper to each particular patient.
We further believe that the Consummation of Spiritual Experience is reflected into the spheres of intellect and action as Genius, so that by taking an ordinary man we can by training produce a Master.”
In the same place, Aleister Crowley provides an alternative explanation:
“There is no hope in physical life, since death of the individual, the race, and ultimately the planet, ends all. There is no hope in reason, since it contradicts itself, and is in any case no more than a reflection upon the facts of physical life. What hope there may be in Investigation of the physical facts of Nature on Scientific lines is already actively sought after by a powerful and well-organized body of men of perfect probity and high capacity.
There is no hope in Faith, for there are many warring Faiths, all equally positive.
The adepts of Spiritual Experience promise us wonderful things, the Perception of Truth, and the Conquest of Sorrow, and there is enough unity in their method to make an Eclectic System possible. We are determined to investigate this matter most thoroughly on Scientific lines.
We are Mystics, ever eagerly seeking a solution of unpleasant facts. We are Men of Science, ever eagerly acquiring pertinent facts. We are Sceptics, ever eagerly examining those facts. We are Philosophers, ever eagerly classifying and coordinating those well-criticised facts. We are Epicureans, ever eagerly enjoying the unification of those facts. We are Philanthropists, ever eagerly transmitting our knowledge of those facts to others. Further, we are Syncretists, taking truth from all systems, ancient and modern; and Eclectics, ruthlessly discarding the inessential factors in any one system, however perfect. (A. Crowley, Editorial, The Equinox I: 2)
Scientific Illuminism (a skeptical theurgy or doctrine of what lies beyond) implies transcendence. People who are able to move towards a higher level of awareness of humanity are called to do it. Of course, they should prove their attainment by their own success.
“For he alone who has climbed the summit can speak with truth of those things that from there are to be seen, for HE KNOWS. But he who stands afar off, and jests, saying: “It is not a Mountain, it is a cloud; it is not a cloud, it is a shadow; it is not a shadow, it is an illusion; it is not an illusion, it is indeed nothing at all!” – who but a fool will heed him? for not having journeyed one step, HE KNOWS NOT concerning those things of which he speaks.” (A. Crowley, Editorial, The Equinox I: 2)
By now, Scientific Illuminism does not look as romantic and convincing as at the beginning of the twentieth century, but its initial message is correct and relevant. At that time, scientific methodology was in its infancy, so Aleister Crowley could not have realized that the scientific method based on facts is more suitable for physics than for metaphysics.
In metaphysics, many things are variable and are not subject to any verification at all, or it is capable of confirming and refuting anything, that is, not proving anything. But this does not mean that Scientific Illuminism should be abandoned – it should be transformed, moving from strict scientific knowledge to a special form of rationality accessible to those who are engaged in attainment. At some planes, this transformation has already taken place, since OPERATIVE PHILOSOPHY implies such a form.
It should be noted that against the background of Scientific Illuminism, another key concept of Aleister Crowley looks very ambiguous is Thelema, which is characterized by many religious attributes – a prophet, divine revelation, the New Aeon, sacred calendar, ceremonials, etc.
Scientific Illuminism allows us to understand all this skeptically – as a private experiment, beyond which a prophet is not a prophet, a revelation is not a revelation, the New Aeon is not an Aeon. Such an understanding, of course, is significantly different from the blindness of religious fanaticism or obscurantism, which accepts everything indiscriminately as a result of faith.
Aleister Crowley apparently understood the acuteness of the problem, and in the Editorial of the tenth issue of the first volume of “The Equinox”, which precedes the first typed publication of “The Book of the Law”, wrote:
“It is of course common knowledge that the A∴ A∴ and the Equinox and all the rest of it are a stupid joke of Aleister Crowley’s. He merely wished to see if any one were fool enough to take him seriously. Several have done so, and he does not regret the few thousand pounds it has cost him.
Few people are ignorant of the fact that the A∴ A∴ and the Equinox and all the rest of it are a dishonest device of Aleister Crowley’s to pile up an enormous fortune in a few months. With the three-and-a-half millions sterling he has made he will now retire to Paris, and emulate Nero, Caligula, Vitellius, Messalina, Heliogabalus and others.
It may be a relief to some to learn that there is no such person as Aleister Crowley. He is probably a sun-myth.”
Part 6. Eager Scepticism vs the Book of the Law
The Book of the Law was written in April 1904 in Cairo. Its first printed version appeared in the tenth issue of the first volume of the Equinox (1913), while the facsimile was published a year earlier – in the Appendix to the seventh issue. The Editorial of the latter states that The Book of the Law is “the base of all our Work”, but it also postulates the need for “eager Scepticism”, which is declared to be the “unsullied sword” of Aleister Crowley.
The rhetoric that accompanies the first publications does not proclaim the author a prophet of a new religion and the Book of the Law – the Holy Scripture. This text is offered as a subject for study, which requires Skepticism, which we will be guided by.
According to the myth, Aleister Crowley was the incarnation of an ancient Egyptian priest Ankh-af-na-Khonsu, to whom the gods gave a revelation – a law for all; the revelation declared him a prophet and marked the beginning of a new era – the Aeon of Horus.
What is wrong with this myth, in theory, should already be clear at the initial stage of A∴ A∴, which implies acquaintance with the main religious texts of the world and the list of relevant literature, but, alas, as practice shows, not everyone is given the ability to make elementary comprehension of what is perceived.
Let’s pose the question – what, in principle, do the gods of a long-dead civilization have to do with a new stage in the life of mankind?
Without understanding the historical context, their appearance is incomprehensible.
At the very end of the XVIII century, Napoleon made a campaign to Egypt, which brought numerous artifacts to Europe. In the 19th century, the scientific study of the Egyptian heritage began (S. Birch, E. A. Wallis Budge), and the ancient Egyptian language was deciphered (J.-F. Champollion) and from the middle of the XIX century, previously inaccessible sources began to be translated.
The discovery of ancient Egyptian civilization caused egyptomania in high society, which spread to Western occultism. Ancient Egyptian descent was attributed to Qabalah, Tarot, and some Masonic rites. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn created Egyptian-style outfits, magical tools, practices, and ceremonials.
Against this background, it becomes clear in what situation the personality of Aleister Crowley was formed and why, at the age of 28, being a rare tourist in Egypt, he received a revelation attributed to ancient Egyptian deities. All this was a consequence and continuation of the tendency that had developed by that time.
“Revelation” turned out to be ambiguous, since the impressionability of the young “prophet” was at odds with his knowledge. He did not finish his studies at the University, had a superficial understanding of ancient Egyptian culture and did not know its language. As a result, the content of the transmission was completely outside of the framework of the ancient Egyptian canon.
According to the myth, the gods convey a message not just to Aleister Crowley, but to the priest’s incarnation of Ankh-af-na-Khonsu, depicted on the Stele of Revelation. The belief in the possibility of such a reincarnation is not an invention of the Egyptian, but of the Eastern tradition, which has passed into Theosophy and Western spiritualism. In the mythology of Ancient Egypt, there was no reincarnation, so the case turns out – Ankh-af-na-Khonsu, being a priest of one tradition, is reincarnated in accordance with the beliefs of another!
We go further – according to the myth, Aleister Crowley is considered a prophet, and The Book of the Law is a revelation. The tradition of prophets and prophecies is not an Egyptian invention, but a Jewish one. Polytheistic cults and oracles were widespread in Ancient Egypt. Instead of sacralization of the prophets, the scheme of addressing to various deities responsible for certain spheres of life in specific situations was used.
According to the myth, the Book of the Law – is a revelation that marks the beginning of a new era – the Aeon of Horus. The custom of starting the global countdown from events related to spiritual authority, is a tradition of Christianity and Islam. In ancient Egyptian culture, this countdown could be tied to the period of the reign of a particular Pharaoh, but it was not at all an epoch-making scale in the universal context.
Moreover, the Book of the Law prohibits altering the text and instructs the “prophet” to compose “correct” comments on it, and this is a characteristic tradition of Christian dogmas that was formed at the Ecumenical councils.
The ancient Egyptian accidence, with the exception of the translated and adapted passage from the Stele of Revelation (III:37-38), is absent from the Book of the Law. But it contains Negro (“obeah”, “wanga”), Hindu (“om”, “mantra”), Greek (“thelema”), Jewish (“amen”, “tzaddi”) words, the Tarot Arcana are mentioned (“hermit”, “star”, “lovers”, “empress”, “king”, “hierophant”). The source of these ideas is the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, of which Aleister Crowley was a member.
Some elements of the Book of the Law are borrowed from The Bible: the abomination of desolation, the dove and the serpent, the Beast and the Scarlet woman. All the miracles of Moses fade when the gods of Egypt speak in book metaphors of slaves who escaped from Pharaon.
The principle of “do what thou wilt” was also not original – it was guided by the inhabitants of the Abbey “Thelema” in the novel by F. Rabelais “Gargantua and Pantagruel”, written in the XVI century. In the Book of the Law, the Rabelaisian interpretation of this principle expands in accordance with the spirit of the times.
So, in the XIX century, translations of Indian philosophical and religious texts (Upanishads) appeared in the West and yoga was opened (Vivekananda), from which A. Crowley borrows the idea of the will delivered from the lust of result. This Eastern attitude is traditionally used to promote abstraction and delusion.
Moreover, the problem of the individual’s will, self-knowledge, and the world as will is the key for A. Schopenhauer’s metaphysics. It closely echoes the mysticism of A. Crowley, in which the individual will is called to know itself (5°=6⸋), to dissolve into the universal will (8°=3⸋), to manifest the universal will (9°=2⸋) and to control its own processes (10° =1⸋).
The main doctrinal principle, in which the tonalities of Renaissance literature, the philosophy of voluntarism and yoga are intertwined, in somehow unthinkable way in the Book of the Law is put into the mouth of the goddess Nuit, whose cult was formed in the despotic civilization that built the pyramids. The cow-patroness of the slave-owning system allowed everyone to act according to their will!
The very idea of True Will, built on the mythologemes of attaining genius and crossing the Abyss, structurally corresponds to the ancient Greek heroic myth, which is alien to ancient Egyptian culture, as noted in the fifth century BC by the father of history, Herodotus.
If Nut, Nu or Nuit really existed in Ancient Egypt, then there was no deity named Had or Hadit, to whom the second Chapter of the Book of the Law is dedicated. To make up for this flaw, the Thelemic doctrine imagines Hadit as an “aspect” of Horus. This Horus in the Book of the Law recommends that the “prophet” deal not with hieroglyphs at all, but “obtain the order & value of the English Alphabet”, reports some ciphers of Latin letters and Arabic numbers (“4638ABK24ALGMOR3YX2489RPSTOVAL”).
One gets the impression that the ancient Egyptian gods, after the collapse of their civilization, studied other cultures for thousands of years in order to transmit their own messages through uncharacteristic codes. Of course, it is even more likely that Aleister Crowley’s individual genius was responsible for this quality of transmission – Aiwass.
With another important doctrinal principle, which suggests that “love is the law,” the situation is no less interesting. In the second half of the 19th century, the concept of promiscuity, or promiscuous sexual relations, was popular, which was very appealing to polygamous male fantasies and was developed by some anthropologists (J.J. Bachofen). At that time, it was considered scientific and reflected the early period of development of society. Subsequently, scientists did not find any evidence for it and rejected it, but the call to promiscuity in the Book of the Law remained: “take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will”, etc.
Along with the love-erotic motives in the Book of the Law there is also an aggressively ambitious rhetoric: “stamp down the wretched & the weak: this is the law of the strong”, “mercy let be off; damn them who pity!”, “but exceed! exceed”.
For the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these ideas were not innovative – they closely echo the theory of natural selection Ch. Darwin and with the ideas of F. Nietzsche: “that which is ready to fall, shall ye also push”; “man is something that shall be overcome”.
In addition, the ethnological and anthropological boom began at the end of the 19th century (E. B. Tylor, J. G. Frazer), which focused on the culture of “primitive” societies. It was probably this influence that gave rise to the very extravagant idea of using beetles and creeping things to awaken the power of lust, as well as slaying them to make enemies fall.
In the rest, the narrative of the Books of the Law fits into a typical instinctive behavior of a primate, hungry (“gather goods and store of women”), multiply (“love is the law”), dominate (“rule the many & the know”, “exceed the nations of the earth in spendour & pride”), destroy competitors (“kill and torture; spare not; be upon them!”) and think less (“may Because be accursed for ever”).
In the light of the above, it becomes clear why the “prophet” doubted for many years and kept this text in his desk, and then in a comment to it wrote that the study of this book is forbidden and it is wise to destroy it after the first reading; and urged to avoid those who discuss it as centres of pestilence.
Upon careful study, it becomes obvious that the Book of the Law contains many ideas of various origins, which bring down its own myth. The Book of the Law as an Egyptian mystification came out mediocre and does not stand up to criticism. From a skeptical point of view, the exceptional naivety of its religious interpretation is revealed.
However, this does not mean that the Book of the Law is devoid of valuable ideas. The fact that they were not given by the gods of Ancient Egypt to a priest Ankh-af-na-Khonsu, does not negate the usefulness of some of them for attainment.
Here it is important to remember that Scientific Illuminism allows us to exclude from the conditions for acquiring spiritual experience its dogmatic, theological, accidental, climatic and other non-essential elements, including morality and ethics.
In the “Postcards to Probationers” A. Crowley adds: “Hence all mystics have written nonsense, and what sense they have written is so far untrue.” A skeptical view allows us to extrapolate this thesis to the Book of the Law. It must be cleared of its nonsense so that only the essential and meaningful remains – the OPERATIVE PHILOSOPHY.
Part 7. Thelema below and above the Abyss
Debunking the myth of the Book of the Law creates a contradictory situation: Thelema in form allows the religious canon, and Thelema in essence denies it in everything that is at odds with Scientific Illuminism. Because of this, the Abyss opens up between the form and essence of the doctrine, which it is false to deny or ignore, and not everyone is given to cross it so that the contradictions subside.
Referring to the original source, instead of defining it, introduces only discrepancies. The first volume of The Equinox (1909-1913) is sustained within the framework of Scientific Illuminism, which allows us to discard the religious component if it does not correspond to it. But in the first issue of the third volume of The Equinox (1919), the opposite is true – Aleister Crowley calls Thelema a “religion” and tries to combine Scientific Illuminism with it as if there exist no contradictions between them.
“THE WORLD NEEDS RELIGION. Religion must represent Truth, and celebrate it. […] The Law of Thelema offers a religion which fulfills all necessary conditions. The philosophy and metaphysics of Thelema are sound, and offer a solution of the deepest problems of humanity. The science of Thelema is orthodox; is has no false theories of Nature, no false fables of the origin of things. The psychology and ethics of Thelema are perfect. It has destroyed the damnable delusion of Original Sin, making every one unique, independent, supreme and sufficient.” (А. Crowley, The Equinox III: 1)
It seems that there is a base for a religious interpretation, but no!
In “Confessions” (1929), Aleister Crowley, like a Scientific Illuminist, rejects Thelema as a cult and characterizes it as a particular example and method of work:
“All I ask is that my results should convince seekers after truth that there is beyond doubt something worth while seeking, attainable by methods more or less like mine. I do not want to father a flock, to be the fetish of fools and fanatics, or the founder of a faith whose followers are content to echo my opinions. I want each man to cut his own way through the jungle.”
The difference between Thelema as a religion and Thelema as an example was tragicomically revealed immediately after the death of A. Crowley. His disciple and “magickal son” Fr. Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones), apparently, realized that he could not wait for the end of the Aeon of Horus, so in April 1948 he announced the Aeon of Maat, which gave rise to a separate branch of Western occultism, which included Kenneth Grant, Sr. Nema, etc.
Perhaps this is a vivid example of the fact that without a delicate attitude, even Aleister Crowley as an example is a very ambiguous perspective. His example allows everyone to proclaim their own Aeon and establish their own law in it. Without considering the specifics of each case, it is hardly possible to judge how vulgar or, on the contrary, worthy an act is.
Aleister Crowley’s most recent commentary on religious subjects is probably given in “Magick without tears”, compiled from his personal correspondence of the mid-1940s. In it, he argues that religion is an ambiguous phenomenon that can be understood in both ways, so Thelema is a religion and not a religion, but in different senses. Based on this, he concludes:
“To sum up, our system is a religion just so far as a religion means an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick.
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.”
What conclusion can be drawn from all this? At least at one stage in Aleister Crowley’s life he did try to construct a new religion, but his subsequent statements disavow this idea and allow us to move away from the religious interpretation. Even where it is allowed, it declares the need for scientific adequacy! To do this, Thelema must be stripped of its absurd mythological ballast, which brings us back to the contradiction between its essence and form.
Judging by the fact that A. Crowley considered “a great deal of misunderstanding” and “stupid kind of mischief” in the case of the representation of Thelema as a religion, this contradiction was fully recognized by him. Why he did not deal with it – we can only guess, but we can assume that it was not relevant for him personally.
In his texts, he repeatedly postulated the self-contradiction of reason as a given and, against the background of which any other contradiction is nothing more than an excessive experience of details. In his philosophy, a contradiction is not a problem that needs to be resolved at any cost, as in logic, but an indicator to the need to reach superconsciousness, in which it must be resolved.
Initiatic mode of such a situation, in particular, he describes in the Liber CCXLI, where the feeling of confusion and self-contradiction of the mind refers to Atmadarshana and the vision of the universal peacock of the veil Paroketh. Trances allow you to overcome such difficulties, which makes it possible to move to the next veil – the veil of the Abyss, behind which any contradictions are annihilated, becoming misunderstandings of the lower planes.
Two fundamentally different views of Thelema stem from this specificity. Beneath the Abyss is a doctrine built on a ridiculous mythological foundation that does not stand up to any criticism. Above the Abyss is a doctrine in which the mythological foundation has no meaning and only its essence plays a role.
If we move away from the mysticism, we can say that Thelema, at various levels of interpretation, ranges from utter nonsense to a completely adequate philosophy, and everything depends on who is able to perceive it and how.
Of course, Aleister Crowley’s ability to see consistently does not mean that contradictions are, in principle, eliminated on all planes and for all cases. Such a vision requires an appropriate level, beyond which contradictions are not only not removed, but there is Confusion of the Planes – “the most common and fatal pitfall which menaces the man who has begun to extend his Universe beyond the world of sense-perception.” (A. Crowley, Little Essays Toward Truth)
As a consequence, even if for Aleister Crowley the contradiction between form and essence of Thelema didn’t really matter, it doesn’t mean that this approach is adequate for others and won’t become a pitfall for them.
As the practice of implementing this doctrine shows, many people find themselves in such a pitfall and not everyone is able to get out of it. This could be considered an initiatic test, but the problem is that both those who pass it and those who do not pass have essentially nothing in common with each other, but in form they relate to the same area, which makes the confusion of the planes more aggravated.
Part 8. The essence of Thelema
We examined the philosopher in Aleister Crowley, substantiated his relevance, outlined the proper approach to understanding his texts, and brought everything to a common denominator. We have outlined his methodology and, based on it, debunked the mythological side of his doctrine. We have cut off the possibility of its religious interpretation and approached to the proper manifestation of Thelema.
When we do, there will certainly be those who feel that everything goes without saying and has always been like this, but this is just a trance of evidence that comes from understanding highly adequate and successful solutions.
In fact, there is a long and thorny path of insight that leads to them through the Abyss. When we came to the edge of it, one day we found Thelema lifeless, discredited by nonsense and eaten away by contradictions. We betrayed this doctrine to the Abyss and what happened afterwards turned out to very unexpected – its myth fell down, and its essence soared, appearing in pure, devoid of naivety and dazzling light.
Thelema was revealed as an OPERATIVE PHILOSOPHY, the method of which is Scientific Illuminism, and the concept is a complex of representations adequate to Opus Magnum.
This complex is based on attitudes that guide the formation of a certain worldview, which is reflected in the art and in the practice of life.
Let’s look at these concepts in such a way as to reveal the essence.
“Every man and every woman is a star.” This “metaphor” has many reflections, but, in general, indicates an inner light, which is designed to shine high above, making every one unique, independent, supreme and sufficient.
The star implies the ultimate disclosure of its own essence. This work is expressed by the law “do what thou wilt”. As you attain it, the will transforms and contains gradations:
– the Will of the Man of Earth that lives life;
– the Will of the Lover driven by passion;
– the Will of the Hermit that comes from wisdom.
These gradations correspond to trials: the gross are destined to pass through fire; the fine are destined to be tried in intellect; the lofty chosen ones are destined to ascend to the highest.
The will becomes perfect when it is unassuaged of purpose and delivered from the lust of result. This view seems ambiguous – yet the opposite is true – until the essence in which it is true is clarified.
Tactically, the will should not be kept naked and exposed, otherwise it will lead to failure. Strategically, being conditioned by results and purposes sets a limited horizon of implementation, beyond which free will needs an exit.
“Love is the law, love under will.” This law is not easy, because “there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent”, between which you must choose well. These symbols can be understood in different ways – the dove is attributed to the sky, and the snake – to the earth, but the opposite is also true – the dove represents the descent to the earth, and the serpent – the breakthrough to heaven.
Even if we adhere to the latter scheme, these symbols retain their ambiguity, since the descent to earth can reflect agreement with a given order of existence, or, on the contrary, the expansion of the will into the world. A breakthrough to the top may reflect the awakening of an instinctive nature, or it may be the opposite – its transformation into a fundamentally new quality. Given the inversions of planes, love as the law requires a very delicate interpretation.
The initial understanding of love is based on the sexual formula: “Come forth, o children, under the stars, & take your fill of love!”; “take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will!” (Liber AL I:12, 51)
On the next plane there is a continuation, substitution, or perversion of the sexual formula. The universe is personified as an object of sexual attraction that requires cognition and the attainment of the highest identity. This specificity is fully consistent with the myth of Kundalini.
The conscious-volitional projection of the sex instinct to mediated objects can be directed along the path of the serpent upwards – to attain subtle planes and reveal the interior, or it can be directed along the path of the dove downwards – to gross planes, changing one’s situation in the world and changing the world.
This specificity is fully consistent with the myth of the dove, which Noah released from the ark to find the earth. This unfolding is extremely far from the blind attraction of passion – it requires consious domination over instinct, therefore love must obey the will.
“Love under will – no casual pagan love; nor love under fear, as the Christians do. But love magically directed, and used as a spiritual formula.” (A. Crowley, The Old Comment to AL)
Regardless of what “there are love and love”, it characterizes the fundamental principle that binds the divided – this and that.
“The essence of love is this: any two things unite, with a double effect; firstly, the destruction of both, accompanied by the ecstasy due to the relief of the strain of separateness; secondly, the creation of a third thing, accompanied by the ecstasy of the realisation of existence, which is Joy until with development it becomes aware of its imperfection, and loves.” (A. Crowley, Little Essays Towards Truth)
From this comes an understanding of love that goes far beyond the all-too-human dimension. For example, active compounds of chemical elements are clarified as acts of love, and light and electricity as expressions of passion. Of course, such a vision outside of speculative abstractions refers to initiatic knowledge.
And finally, we will indicate what is not quite obvious to many due to binary thinking: love as the law does not form an opposition to hatred. On the contrary, it can be identical with it and include it, which has little to do with the idea of love-virtue in which there is supposedly no destructive content.
“Love may best be defined as the passion of Hatred inflamed to the point of madness, when it takes refuge in Self-destruction. Love is clear-sighted with the lust of deadly rage, anatomizing its victim with keen energy, seeking where best to strike home mortally to the heart; it becomes blind only when its fury has completely overpowered it, and thrust it into the red maw of the furnace of self-immolation. (A. Crowley, Little Essays Towards Truth)
So, the essences of the Thelema is based on the following provisions:
– Every man and every woman is a star;
– Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law;
– Love is the law, love under will.
From these representations, the understanding of Thelema as an OPERATIVE philosophy unfolds, which is mistakenly confused with delirium, resulting from attempts to interpret it mythologically. There are Thelema and Thelema. Choose ye well!
© Fra Aumgn, Basileus O.T.O., 2018-20.
© Illustrations – Fra Arcturus, 2001-2004.