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Introduction to Thelema

[from ]

   [Ordo Tempi Orientis] 
Subject: Introduction to Thelema
   The religion known as Thelema was founded in 1904 by the English poet and
   mystic Aleister Crowley (1875 - 1947), who is regarded as its prophet.
   Those who follow the path of Thelema are called Thelemites.
Thelemic Religious Texts

   The book The Holy Books of Thelema (reference 8, below), includes most of
   the books which Thelemites consider to be Crowley's "inspired" texts, and
   which form the canon of Thelemic Holy Scripture. The chief of these is
   Liber AL vel Legis, sub figura CCXX, commonly called The Book of the Law.
   The contents of this book are rather cryptic, and Crowley has prepared a
   number of commentaries thereto for clarification (most of these are
   included in reference 3, below). Thelemites are expected to interpret the
   book for themselves, based on Crowley's commentaries and other writings;
   but are enjoined from promoting their personal interpretations to others.
   Another book which forms an important part of the Thelemic canon, but which
   is not included in The Holy Books of Thelema for technical reasons, is
   Liber XXX Aerum vel Saeculi, sub figura CDXVIII, commonly called The
   Vision and the Voice (included in reference 11 below). The I Ching and the
   Tarot (considered as a book of mystic illustrations rather than as a
   fortune-telling device), though of Pre-Thelemic origin, are also considered
   to be part of the informal Thelemic canon.
Theology and Essential Tenets of Thelema

     The following notes on Thelemic theology are based primarily on the
     writings of Aleister Crowley. These notes are not intended as
     interpretation or commentary on The Book of the Law outside the bounds
     of the Prophet's writings, nor do they represent a definitive statement
     of Thelemic belief.
   The theology of Thelema postulates all manifested existence arising from
   the interaction of two cosmic principles: the infinitely extended,
   all-pervading Space-Time Continuum; and the atomic, individually expressed
   Principle of Life and Wisdom. The interplay of these Principles gives rise
   to the Principle of Consciousness which governs existence. In the Book of
   the Law, the divine Principles are personified by a trinity of ancient
   Egyptian Divinities: Nuit, the Goddess of Infinite Space; Hadit, the Winged
   Serpent of Light; and Ra-Hoor-Khuit (Horus), the Solar, Hawk-Headed Lord of
   the Cosmos.
   The Thelemic theological system utilizes the divinities of various cultures
   and religions as personifications of specific divine, archetypal and cosmic
   forces. Thelemic doctrine holds that all the diverse religions of Humanity
   are grounded in universal truths; and the study of comparative religion is
   an important discipline for many Thelemites.
   With respect to concepts of the individual soul, Thelema follows
   traditional Hermeticism in the doctrine that each person possesses a soul
   or "Body of Light" which is arranged in "layers" or "sheaths" surrounding
   the physical body. Each individual is also considered to have his or her
   own personal "Augoeides" or "Holy Guardian Angel"; which can be considered
   both as the "higher self" and as a separate, sentient, divine being. With
   respect to concepts of the afterlife, life itself is considered as a
   continuum, with death an integral part of the whole. Mortal life dies in
   order that mortal life may continue. The Augoeides, however, is immortal
   and not subject to life or death.
   Parallel to Buddhist doctrine, the Body of Light is considered to be
   subject to metempsychosis, or reincarnation, after the death of the body.
   The Body of Light is generally considered to evolve in wisdom,
   consciousness and spiritual power through cycles of metempsychosis for
   those individuals who dedicate their lives to spiritual advancement; to the
   point that its fate after death may ultimately be determined by the Will of
   the individual.
   Thelema incorporates the idea of the cyclic evolution of Cultural
   Consciousness as well as of Personal Consciousness. History is considered
   to be divided into a series of "Aeons", each with its own dominant concept
   of divinity and its own "formula" of redemption and advancement. The
   current Aeon is termed the Aeon of Horus. The previous Aeon was that of
   Osiris, and previous to that was the Aeon of Isis. The neolithic Aeon of
   Isis is considered to have been dominated by the Maternal idea of divinity,
   and its formula involved devotion to Mother Earth in return for the
   nourishment and shelter She provided. The Classical/Medieval Aeon of Osiris
   is considered to have been dominated by the Paternal Principle, and its
   formula was that of self-sacrifice and submission to the Father God. The
   modern Aeon of Horus is considered to be dominated by the Principle of the
   Child, the sovereign individual; and its formula is that of growth, in
   consciousness and love, toward self-realization.
   According to Thelemic doctrine, the expression of Divine Law in the Aeon of
   Horus is "Do what thou wilt". This "Law of Thelema", as it is called, is
   not to be interpreted as a license to indulge every passing whim, but
   rather as the divine mandate to discover one's True Will or true purpose in
   life, and to accomplish it; leaving others to do the same in their own
   unique ways. The "acceptance" of the Law of Thelema is what defines a
   Thelemite; and the discovery and accomplishment of the True Will is the
   fundamental concern of all Thelemites. Achieving the "Knowledge and
   Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel" is considered an integral part of
   this process. The methods and practices to be employed in this process are
   numerous and varied; and are grouped together under the generalized term
   Not every Thelemite utilizes all the practices available, there is
   considerable room for each individual practitioner to choose practices
   which are suitable to his or her individual needs. Some of these practices
   are the same as, or similar to, the practices advocated by many of the
   great religions of the past and present; such as prayer, meditation, study
   of religious texts (those of Thelema and of other religions as well),
   chanting, symbolic and initiatory ritual, devotional exercises,
   self-discipline, etc. However, some of our practices have been
   traditionally associated with what has generally been known as "occultism";
   i.e., astrology, divination, numerology, yoga, tantric alchemy, and
   discourse with "angels" or "spirits" are all taken by Thelemites as
   potentially effective means for obtaining spiritual insights into the
   nature of one's being and one's place in the universe; and for the
   fulfillment of such insights through harmonious, evolutionary works.
   Thelema considers any action which is not directed toward the discovery and
   accomplishment of the True Will to be "black magic". This includes acts of
   interference with any other individual's lawful exercise of their right to
   discover and accomplish their own True Will. Thelemic doctrine holds that
   the disharmony and imbalance created by such actions results in a
   compensatory, equilibrating response from the universe; a doctrine similar
   to that of the Eastern conception of "Karma". Thelema has no direct
   parallel to the Judaeo-Christian concept of the devil or Satan; however, a
   pseudo-personification of confusion, distraction, illusion and egotistical
   ignorance is referred to by the name "Choronzon".
The Thelemic Calendar

   The Thelemic calendar counts years from 1904 EV (the year Liber AL was
   received). Each Thelemic year starts on March 20th of the civil calendar,
   at (approximately) the northern-hemisphere Vernal Equinox.
   Rather than simply giving the year count from 1904, the Thelemic calendar
   uses a two-tiered system. The "upper" level gives a count of twenty-two
   year periods since 1904; the "lower" level gives the years since the start
   of the current twenty-two year period. Both are zero-based, with nonzero
   numbers being represented as upper and lower case Roman numerals,
   respectively. So, for example, the civil year 1996 is (after March 20)
   Thelemic year IViv, because 1904 + (4 * 22) + 4 equals 1996.
   Some Thelemites assign the twenty-two years of each cycle to the twenty-two
   Trumps of the Tarot. The 22-year period numbers themselves are also
   assigned in this way. Hence, 1996 is doubly linked to Trump IV of the
   Tarot, the Emperor.
   Within each year, dates and times are often expressed by the positions of
   the Sun and Moon in the Tropical zodiac. For example, May 12, 1996 EV at
   6pm PST would be expressed as "IViv, Sol 22 Taurus, Luna 29 Pisces." This
   specifies the precise date and time to within about two hours.
   When giving dates in the civil calendar, Thelemites will often append
   "e.v." This is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase "era vulgaris," or
   "common era."
  Thelemic Observed Holy Days
   The official holy days of Thelema are set forth in The Book of the Law, Ch.
   II, v. 36-41. The specific dates attributed to them are given in Crowley's
   commentaries, and are summarized below:
     * The Rituals of the Elements and Feasts of the Times are observed at the
       Equinoxes and Solstices.
     * The Feast for the First Night of the Prophet and His Bride is observed
       on August 12.
     * The Feast for the Three Days of the Writing of the Book of the Law is
       observed on April 8, 9 and 10, beginning at noon on each day.
     * The Feast for the Supreme Ritual (the Invocation of Horus) is observed
       on March 20, and represents the opening of the Thelemic new year.
     * The Feast for the Equinox of the Gods is held on the Vernal Equinox of
       each year to commemorate the founding of Thelema in 1904.
   Three points of passage in the life of each Thelemite are observed. Birth
   is celebrated in a Feast for Life; puberty is celebrated in a Feast for
   Fire (for a boy), or a Feast for Water (for a girl); and the death of the
   individual is commemorated in a Greater Feast for Death.
   Various anniversaries commemorating major events and figures in the history
   of Thelema and O.T.O. are also celebrated informally by some Thelemic
Characteristic Customs

   Nearly all Thelemites keep a record of their personal practices, and their
   progress therein, in a "Magical Diary". Most Thelemites also practice a
   particular form of prayer four times per day, which is specified in a book
   called Liber Resh vel Helios (included in reference 11, below). Thelemites
   often take mystic names or "magical mottoes" for themselves as a sign of
   commitment; and customarily greet each other with the phrase, "Do what thou
   wilt shall be the whole of the Law"; to which the customary response is,
   "Love is the law, love under will". Sometimes these phrases are abbreviated
   by the simple statement of the number "ninety-three", which number
   signifies both "Will" and "Love" through a particular form of numerology of
   significance within Thelema.
Thelemic Organizations

   Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) is incorporated in the State of California as
   a not-for-profit religious organization with tax exemption in California
   and the United States under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.
   O.T.O. currently operates in 17 countries around the world and has
   approximately 3000 active members. Within the broad context of Thelema,
   O.T.O. functions as a fraternal, initiatory, social, and educational
   organization of a religious nature.
   O.T.O. includes a specifically liturgical arm which is called Ecclesia
   Gnostica Catholica (E.G.C.), the Gnostic Catholic Church, which was
   originally brought into relations with O.T.O. by Dr. Gerard Encausse
   (Papus) in 1908. The principal ritual of E.G.C. is called the Gnostic Mass
   (included in references 6, 9 and 11 below). Membership in E.G.C. is
   available through baptism and confirmation. Members of O.T.O. in good
   standing are eligible for clerical ordination in E.G.C. Members of II and
   higher (or even I, in some situations) are eligible for ordination as
   Deacon, and those who have reached K.E.W. are eligible for ordination as
   Priest or Priestess. E.G.C. also celebrates seasonal festivals,
   commemorations of life passage events and other religious functions. Many
   O.T.O. local bodies celebrate the Gnostic Mass on a regular basis, and in
   most locations, no formal affiliation is required to attend the Mass.
   O.T.O. has long worked in close alliance with the A :. A :. , which first
   proclaimed the Law of Thelema to the world. The A :. A :. is a teaching and
   initiatory structure dedicated to the personal spiritual advancement of its
   individual members. Within A :. A :. all services are rendered free of
   charge, and no social activities are held. O.T.O. and A :. A :. have
   jointly issued the journal The Equinox since 1912 e.v., now entering its
   fourth volume. Although they are distinctly separate organizations, O.T.O.
   has historically assisted A :. A :. with practical matters that lie outside
   its primary mission, which is purely spiritual in nature. Aspirants to the
   A :. A :. may write to:
     The Cancellarius of A :. A :.
     c/o The Equinox
     JAF Box 7666
     New York, NY 10116

   1. Crowley, Aleister; Eight Lectures on Yoga [1939], New Falcon
   Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1991
	[ ]
   2. Crowley, Aleister; The Heart of the Master [1938], New Falcon
   Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1992
	[ ]
   3. Crowley, Aleister, edited by Israel Regardie; The Law is for All,
   Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul, Minnesota 1975
   4. Crowley, Aleister; Liber Aleph vel CXI: The Book of Wisdom or Folly
   [1962], Samuel Weiser, York Beach, Maine, 1991
   5. Crowley, Aleister; Little Essays Toward Truth [1938], New Falcon
   Publications, Scottsdale, Arizona 1991

	[ ]
   6. Crowley, Aleister; Magick in Theory and Practice [1929], in Magick: Book
   IV, Parts I-IV, edited, annotated and introduced by Hymenaeus Beta, Samuel
   Weiser, York Beach, Maine 1994
	[ ]
   7. Crowley, Aleister; Magick Without Tears [1954], Falcon Press, Phoenix,
   Arizona 1982

	[ ]
   8. Hymenaeus Alpha (ed.); The Holy Books of Thelema, Samuel Weiser, York
   Beach, Maine, 1983
   9. Hymenaeus Beta (ed.); The Equinox, Vol. III, No. 10, Thelema
   Publications, NY 1986

   10. Melton, J. Gordon; Encyclopedia of American Religions, 4th Edition,
   Gale Research Publishing, Detroit, Michigan 1993. O.T.O. is discussed
   specifically under entry no. 1310.
   11. Regardie, Israel (ed.); Gems from the Equinox, Falcon Press, Phoenix,
   Arizona 1982
   Last modified: Friday, 25-Feb-00 21:17:24
   All material copyright  1996-2000 by Ordo Templi Orientis.
    Craig Berry (

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