Is Thelema a Religion or not?

Well is it? via IAO131 Aleister Crowley

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

One of the ever-present questions in the discourse about Thelema is whether or not it is a religion. I think this question is most poetically answered by someone – I believe the credit goes to Jake Stratton-Kent – who said:

“There is religion in Thelema for those that require it. There is also freedom from religion in Thelema, for those that require it.”

In short: Yes… and no. All I can attempt to do is elaborate on this position to make it a bit more clear.

Before going too far in depth, it should be said that – according to anthropologists, sociologists, theologists, and the like – Thelema would most definitely be classified as a “religion.” It has a “Bible” (Liber AL vel Legis), a moral code (Do what thou wilt), a Prophet (To Mega Therion), a set of practices (Magick), and even a “pantheon” (Nuit, Hadit, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Hoor-paar-kraatet cetera). Whether or not this is entirely an accurate designation is another question.

We might first look at why people wouldn’t want to call Thelema a “religion.” The answer is fairly obvious: “religion” in the 21st Century has become synonymous with superstition, tyranny, and oppression. There is no doubt about this: organized religion has, for millenia, been a force for all of these horrible things that stand against the spirit of Liberty. Many people who are most vocal about Thelema not being a religion are those who experienced this superstition, tyranny, and oppression first-hand in their childhood, and I personally do not find their reaction to be hard to understand. 

In this light, we can see that Crowley himself was wary of the use of the term “religion” to describe Thelema. In a letter found in Magick Without Tears, he writes:

“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.

We should note, firstly, that Crowley begins this quotation by saying that – according to a certain definition of religion as “an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines” – Thelema is, in fact, a religion. He then says that calling Thelema a “religion” may cause misunderstanding and mischief. He does not explain exactly why it would cause misunderstanding and mischiefbut we can guess that it is most likely for the aforementioned reasons: it associates it with the Old Aeon religions that are gleaming beacons of superstition, tyranny, and oppression, i.e. those exact things we are set to destroy with our Law of Liberty. People may also assume that we believe things that other religions do, especially the Judeo-Christian-Islamic type, such as the belief in a gaseous vertebrate breed of God, which is most certainly false. 

In short, we may refrain from calling Thelema a religion because it associates it with superstition, tyranny, and oppression which Thelema is firmly against in every way, being the Law of Liberty. Our Law is simultaneously more simple and more nuanced than a belief in a Judeo-Christian-Islamic Daddy-in-the-sky God. Keep in mind, though, that this implies that calling Thelema a religion may cause misunderstanding and mischief, but it does not imply that the designation is inaccurate in some fundamental way.

CONTINUE READING

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  • Tchoutoye

    The very first Christians were also against tyranny, oppression and what may have been considered superstition in their day. All it takes for Thelema to grow from a “cult” (in the sense of being unestablished) into a religion is for it to be subjected to a mythic inversion (the old bait ‘n’ switch) after being championed (appropriated if you will) by a bunch of very powerful people. The latter is less unlikely than it seems, for some reason these types of organisations attract a disproportionate amount of followers from people who operate in military and intelligence circles, which tend to be very pragmatic and open-minded when it comes to heterodoxies. Whether such interest is sincere or not is usually unfathomable, and ultimately besides the point.

    • The Well Dressed Man

      I’m interested in your comment that such orgs attract many from the military and intelligence communities. “Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will” is quite a pragmatic statement. It comes to mind often in my engineering studies. This study also has improved my appreciation for the military mind for extreme pragmatism. The only high profile occultist I’m aware of in the intelligence world is Aquino of the Temple of Set. Can you think of some others?

      • echar

        There’s plenty of people in the military who are pagans.

        • The Well Dressed Man

          How “out” can they be? I keep seeing articles on how Xtian fundies have taken over chains of command, forcing soldiers to attend services etc.

          • echar

            That I can’t answer from experience, because I have never been in any service. It’s not in my nature to take orders. However I’ve seen a lot of pagan military activity through lurking on pagan message boards, and surfing the internet.

            Besides the most obvious, Freemasons and cops. Which is more esoteric, than pagan. However from my understanding, one could be a pagan Freemason. There may be more details I am unaware of that may say otherwise.

            I am aware that some degrees require a belief in a higher power, which does not exclude paganism.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            Sometimes it all does seem to go back to the Masons… The 19th Century occult world that produced Crowley was very much one of Masonry. The Golden Dawn and OTO degree systems were apparently very closely tied to the Scottish Rite.

          • echar

            I think the strict Christian sect he was raised in had more to do with things than Masonry, the Golden Dawn, or the OTO. From what I read, he used the last few like he did the people in his life.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            I’d forgotten about the Plymouth Brethren… I guess his core mythos had a lot to do with those early experiences. ,

          • echar

            That’s the name, I didn’t feel like looking it up at the time. He rebelled against them, and continued to do so. The myth goes his Mother gave him the Beast moniker.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            Still, much of the group structure of ceremonial magick at the time was highly masonic. Classical education combined with masonic symbolism gave those anglo upper crusties a common system of correspondences when working together. I really am amazed, though, how much of the early modern era was shaped by Masonry. The French and American revolutions and LDS church come to mind first.

          • echar

            You may be interested in reading

            Born in Blood: The Lost Secrets of Freemasonry

            by

            -John J. Robinson

            I am not privy to the rituals of any esoteric group, so I cannot say. I don’t want to know, in case I should choose to partake at a later date. I understand the import of pagentry and ritual, as well as the imprint that may be the result.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            I’ll have a look. I actually inherited a few massive and especially creepy Masonic texts from the 19th century. The lodge funeral was quite unique! My need to peek at the notes beforehand will perhaps always keep me at arms length… Still, the power of the mind to suspend disbelief may overcome.

          • echar

            Indeed

          • mike_93

            The GD and OTO are distinct and separate from masonry… do you guys actually know the real life history of this stuff, or does all of your info come from conspiracy websites and articles like this?

          • The Well Dressed Man

            Of course they are. And yet the rituals and degree systems are rather similar, are they not?

          • mike_93

            There is nothing special about any degree or ritual. When Crowley openly published things like the equinox and the book of thoth, he was dealing those societies a death blow. That was their whole body of knowledge… The tarot, tree of life, hebrew alphabet, etc… it’s now public knowledge and anyone can do with it what they like… This is aside from any hokey or metaphysical theories about the uses of cabbala.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            My point was exactly that this common body of knowledge came from such societies.

          • Ittabena

            A good understanding can be had by reading one of Jim Marrs’ best works; Rule By Secrecy. In it he does a wonderful job of tracing the lines of power and rule down through the ages.

            One of the most informative books I have ever read.

          • echar

            Posted today on Dangerous Minds:

            Sexytime with The Great Beast: How Aleister Crowley, sex magician, changed the world

            http://dangerousminds.net/comments/sexytime_with_the_great_beast_how_aleister_crowley_sex_magician_changed_the

            Rather obvious to anyone who has read Crowley’s history, no matter how shrouded in myth. He was a sex addict, and clearly it had a lot to do with how things turned out as well.

          • Guest

            Wow, Echar you really don’t know much about masonry or the military do you?

          • echar

            That’s right mike_93

          • Ittabena

            Good catch, and call.

          • Ittabena

            All they require is that you believe in God in one form or another. Freedom of religion is one of the principles of

            Freemasonry. I have been invited to join, and if I had the extra bucks I probably would. A Masonic ring might open a lot of doors in Thailand for me. But alas, I am trying to save up for the move.

            If I joined I would also get to see it from the inside, which is tempting.

            The higher ups may have some sort of agenda but the local guys who are members are all friends now, and they are just plain folks. I go to the local Hall every once in a while for cigar night, which includes liquor as well, but it does get smoky in there.

          • echar

            All decent folks.

          • Ittabena

            Well, if you watch Esoteric Agenda you will see what I saw from my own reading. Much of what we believe to be the Christian Faith is actually derived more from various Pagan principles.

            Hell itself is something that we only see previously in the Pagan religion of Mithra. Indeed many pagan religions featured virgin births, resurrections on the third day, Sun/Son worship, Christmas itself under a different name and set of trappings, and more.

            Did you ever wonder what Amen meant or where it came from? I did when I was in Catholic grade school. I even asked a nun during religion class one day. From the non answer I received it was obvious she had never considered the matter at all. Indeed I have never gotten a satisfactory explanation of it from any member of the clergy.

            Amen-Ra perhaps?

            Remember the slogan on this website? “Everything You Know Is Wrong” is also the title of one of a series of books edited by Russ Kick, (forgive me if you are already aware of this) the contributors were various but some very big names more often than not. Unfortunately when you move across country in a sports car you have to make sacrifices and the books just would not fit.

            Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion edited by Russ Kick would be a good read. In fact on payday I think I’ll re-order it and do some brushing up on my facts, since we seem to have gone more into the religion/magic field lately.

            Nothing is as it seems.

            So is it possible that hidden in the “acceptable” Christian rituals are couched the “unacceptable” Pagan rituals? Could we have been duped that badly? And if that were true, it would have had to have been true for a very long time now.

            Are we indeed unknowingly practicing Pagans, who think that we are Christians? Is Christianity a clever cloak for the surreptitious continuation of Paganism? My jury is still out on that one, but the parallels between Paganistic ideas and Christian ones are real and striking.

            Sometimes when I go this deep into the rabbit hole I look up and see that the opening in the top has been reduced to a pinprick of light.

      • Ittabena

        Crowley worked for MI6 and the CIA.

        John Dee was in the service of Queen Elizabeth I and said to be in charge of her intelligence.

        In fact, after I typed the above, I googled “occultists in intelligence” and they were indeed the top two results.

        • echar

          By what I read the MI6 connection was dubious, but that may be because it was a secret.

        • The Well Dressed Man

          I need to read more about Dee, learned recently that he mentored a distant ancestor. I understand he was quite active in the founding of the British empire.

          I love the speculative narrative suggesting Crowley was locked in some kind of magickal battle with Nazi wizards. Hope to someday learn the extent of his activities during the war.

          • Ittabena

            Although, the intelligence communities behavior towards the NAZIs after the war, which began before the war was even over, makes you wonder honestly about when they went from our enemies to our friends again. Kind of a grey, murky distinction.

            Of course the public was never allowed to see this, but…

          • Ittabena

            Although, the intelligence communities behavior towards the NAZIs after the war, which began before the war was even over, makes you wonder honestly about when they went from our enemies to our friends again. Kind of a grey, murky distinction.

            Of course the public was never allowed to see this, but…

    • mike_93

      What drugs are you smoking? The kind of people who are into this crap are certainly not who you are thinking. I know a lot of folks would like to think some secret occult cabal is running things, but there really isn’t. Just because a few eccentric celebrities pick up on Crowley from time to time, doesn’t mean that there is some secret illuminati conspiracy happening.

      In my experience there is only a very limited demographic of people who give a shit about thelema or magic. It’s typically disempowered nerds who like to dress up and role play that they are wizards.

      Thelema is certainly not an “up and coming” religion. The whole story is ludicrous. In todays world, people are looking for less of this stuff, not more. Whatever spooky mystical myth surrounds the creation of the Book of the Law, it will not hold up to any sort of scrutiny. There is nothing to separate Crowley from Scientology or Mormonism. Just another man, another time, another brand. It’s kind of scary that some people are taking it so seriously.

      Thelemites for now seem like a harmless fringe… there is nothing much to differentiate them from the rest of the geeky magic believing crew. They are about as harmless as the flower of life cult, or Ancient Aliens believers.

      • The Well Dressed Man

        Ok, fine. Why the 93? You implied before that it was Crowley-related.

        • mike_93

          Yes, I am very well read when it comes to Crowley. Once upon a time I thought it would be cool to see what it was all about myself.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            Do you find Crowley’s writings significant? I don’t think I’ve seen one positive comment from you regarding him.

          • mike_93

            I enjoy Crowley, to the extant that I enjoy any of my other influences…. i’ve gained much from him philosophically, artistically, etc.

            I am a realist though, and know that he was not a prophet super spy magician. He was just a man, like myself.

          • The Well Dressed Man

            I’m at the skeptical “materialist” end of this party too. I feel that, even in the absence of the supernatural, his writings hold significant value.

          • Guest

            Same here. Unfortunately for our fellows, they are hanging on hook line and sinker.

          • echar

            Did you log in as the wrong screen name, mike_93?

          • The Well Dressed Man

            I like it here. While I sometimes find myself in disagreement with the community, there’s an unusual camaraderie of free thought. Is that what keeps you coming back?

          • Ittabena

            From your continual use of the words “nerds” and “geeks” it doesn’t seem like you read too much of it, or learned much from it at all.

      • echar

        So at one time you were a “typically disempowered nerd who likes to dress up and role play as a wizard?” What changed?

        • The Well Dressed Man

          internets empower wizards! what happened to the chaos magick satanic ritual abuse guy?

          • echar

            It may be best to let that bees nest alone.

      • terrasodium

        Oh mortal man, is there anything you cannot be made to believe?

        Adam Weishaupt

      • Bruteloop

        I used to think that and certainly had only encountered the type who wore too much black, which rather than give them presence just made it clear their need for a good anti-dandruff shampoo, and too much cheap, hokey jewellry.
        Then I was introduced to a whole different crowd who are the antithesis of that, who are well established in their respective careers, fully rounded adults and very good company. They were not nerds and there was no dress up.
        So, who knows…

        Why ’93’ incidentally?

  • The Well Dressed Man
  • Ittabena

    Why are we so enamored of, and fixated on our labels? it’s as if we have been trained since birth to force everything into a category… Oh… Yeah…

    Labels are bad M’kay?

    • echar

      Label is a label. :(

  • Guest

    A good dollop of humor on Thelema! If you can excuse (or adore) the
    archaic/religious language and realise the pre-holistic genius of its
    sentiment; you may agree that Liber CL is one of the most
    compassionate texts ever written by a western hand.

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