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[t93] Reflections on the word Thelemite

From: "Rikb" 
Subject: RE: [t93] Re: Reflections on the word "Thelemite"
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2001 03:01:45 -0400


> This is an important point. If there are other forms of the same
> Greek word going around in pre-Christian times, it would be
> curious to postulate that although the other forms existed before
> the Gospels, this particular declension didn't occur anywhere
> until it appeared in the Lord's Prayer. It would be like saying the
> word "hero" didn't exist until its first recorded use, even though
> we have earlier usages of derivatives like "heroic."
> That is not to say that the use in the Lord's Prayer is insignificant.
> Crowley commented several times on the contrast between the
> Law of Thelema and the Christian formulation of "thy will be
> done," which is an English translation of the relevant line of the
> Lord's Prayer, for instance. It's just that this does not appear to
> be the origin of the word, only the earliest extant occurrence of
> this declension.

     Well, the LXX (the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament, translated circa
250 bce) examples are pre-gospel at any rate, though are used in the sense
of "pleasure" rather than "will" per se. I'm not sure there's really
anything of much value in this line of speculation, though, since there are
actually tens of hundreds of Koine Greek words found in the New Testament
that don't appear in any other extant writings (called 'hapax legomena' --
last I checked there were something like 1500 of them). For example, another
word that is found in the 'Lord's Prayer' and nowhere else in the entire
corpus of Greek literature is 'epiousios,' meaning 'daily.' Of course the
number of hapax legomena decreases as new Koine texts are discovered by
Greek lexicographers. The problem isn't so much that these were unique words
at the time the texts in question were written, but that the number of works
in Koine Greek are relatively small, and the New Testament sources
constitute a relatively large proportion of them (the idea that the NT is
written in some kind of "special holy Greek" is long outdated). Koine was
the 'common language' that one did not actually see in literary works very
often, and later in Byzantine times was actively suppressed by the
intelligentsia. Things most likely to be written in Koine, like shopping
lists, personal letters, and bills of sale just weren't preserved in
libraries and monasteries.

The verb from which 'thelema' is derived, 'ethelo' or later just 'thelo,' is
used in very early Greek sources. Another word meaning 'will,' probably
closely related to thelema, is lema, also attested in ancient sources. The
appearance of a new inflected form in the Hellenistic period is entirely in
keeping with the changes that were happening in the common language
throughout the Greek world at the time, and doesn't necessarily lend any
characteristically christian sense to the term. Of course, the idea of an
individual will was largely developed by christian theologians, and Thelema
is a direct outgrowth of that process, in a parallel sense to which the
existential philosophies of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche can be seen as
outgrowths of christian philosophy.

93 93/93

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> Right, but I'm not sure if Ethêlô and Boulê completely reflect Aiwass'
> meaning of Thelêma.  Both Ethêlô and Boulê are verbs, but Thelêma seems to
> be a noun, a thing-in-itself, something which exists.  This is simply my
> interpretation though, and I don't know enough Greek or enough
> about grammer
> to show it is fact.

     Pretty good. Ethelô (or just thelô, as the epsilon was apparently
dropped in some dialects early on -- thelô appears in Homer only twice,
according to Liddel & Scott, but appears early in other primary sources).
Thelô is considered the uninflected form of the verb "to will." (It isn't
the infinitive -- I won't go into that). Thelema is a noun derived from the
verb thelô. Boulomai is a verb, of which boulêma is a noun form. It's really
rather difficult to say what the distinction is -- as far as I can tell,
they are close synonyms, but authors do use them with distinction. Homer
tended to use boulomai for the wishes of gods and thelô for the wishes of
humans, according to Liddell & Scott. In Latin, there is a similar situation
with libet and volo (I'm pretty sure volo is derived from the same root as
boulo- in Greek, but I don't see any obvious genetic connection between
thelô and libet.) On the whole, I would guess that thelema is related more
to emotional concerns -- "my pleasure," or "my inclination," while boulo- is
more related to intellectual planfulness -- "my project," or even "my
counsel" (Boulê is is uesd as a name of the Senate in Athens). This is just
a relatively half-assed guess, of course, as I am not a Greek scholar of any
merit. For almost every usage of "thelô," there is a parallel instance where
"boulomai" is used to mean the same thing.

  The other thing about Thelêma is that we
> don't know if
> it refers to the individual will as Ethêlô and Boulê seem to do, or if it
> refers to the universal will as the Lord's Prayer indicates.

I will readily admit that nearly every usage of thelema in the NT is in
reference to the will of God, but this is not always the case. In Luke
22:42, the word used for God's will is "boulei," while Jesus says "mê to
thelêma mou," "not my will." In John 7:17, we have "Ean tis thelê to thelêma
autou poein," "If anyone wills to do His will," making clear that both God
and Men have "thelema." In 1 Corinthians 16:12, thelema is used in
discussing the will of one Brother Apollo, in a wholly mundane sense. In 2
Timothy 26, we are even warned against being ensnared by the thelema of the
Devil! Finally, in 1 Peter 4:3, we have "For we have spent enough of our
past lifetime doing the thelema of Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness,
lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries."
Clearly, then, thelema does not exclusively refer to God's will, nor does it
always refer to behavior that is righteous or in accord with the divine

In addition, boulomai is not used as often as thelêma in the NT, and when it
is, it is almost always used in the sense of the intellectual activity of
planning, decisionmaking, or consent rather than desiring, wanting, or
willing something. I think the relative lack of "thelema" as applied to
humans in the NT has more to do with the relative lack of concern for the
will of humans in early christian writings. The emphasis is entirely on what
God wills. What humans will is irrelevant, even though it's clear from the
passages above that humans -- even shameful foreskin-bearing revelers -- can
*have* a will. Incedentally, if I were to choose a Greek word for
"thelemite," it would be thelêtês, "one who wills," which can also mean "a
magician" -- curiously enough through confusion over the translation of a
Hebrew word in the Septuagint.

Although I realize it is a very popular view among thelemites, I have a
problem with the idea that my "true" will is the will of a classically
defined God or an "universal consciousness." My will is unambiguously MY
will, grounded in my unique consciousness, not just a local expression of
some "universal will" in which I happen to be caught up. My will may be an
organ of an immanent yet universal consciousness (a possibility that I find
so abstract that it is unexaminable -- true, perhaps, but leading to few if
any pragmatic consequences), but this does not require that the
particularity of my will be an illusion. The ego is a construct, but it is a
real construct however dynamic and fluid it might be. My will is the force
that maintains that construct, develops it, and gives it meaning (another
sense of the verb thelô is "to mean," so thelêma might also be extended to
mean "meaning" or "intention" as boulêma certainly does -- see in this
connection Victor Frankl's "will to meaning" or Rollo May's chapters in
"Love and Will" on intentionality).

"There is no God but man."

93 93/93

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