Do what thou will shall the 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.
This has been discussed again and again, and in my mind, one of the definitive essays on the matter has been written by my friend Rodney Orpheus here. Mind you, he wrote this while still a member of Ordo Templi Orientis Inc., hence the particular slant towards that crumbling organisation. If he weren’t a very private person, I would go nag him to try and extract what he really feels about certain things nowadays.
But I digress.
Reading Rodney’s essays, one might seem hard-pressed not to consider Thelema 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-kraat, et cetera).
Quoting another Thelemic author, IAO131:
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 millennia, 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.
Crowley himself left us a serious hint in Magick Without Tears, which, being one of the last things he published before his death, could be considered his final and most mature legacy.
He writes, in Chapter XXXI:
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.
It seems to me he realised that the vast majority of people have no impetus to explore magick, no desire for initiation, and devote very little of their time alive to asking big questions, let alone seeking answers for them. And so while the initiatory experience holds little value for them, that doesn’t mean they don’t still want the religious instinct satisfied.
In his commentary on Liber AL, III:22, Crowley writes:
Our religion therefore, for the People, is the Cult of the Sun, who is our particular star of the Body of Nuit, from whom, in the strictest scientific sense, come this earth, a chilled spark of Him, and all our Light and Life.
In this line, he very clearly calls Thelema a religion, although there is a caveat that it is “for the People,” by which we may assume he means “the masses” and not necessarily for the “initiates”.
If we accept the idea that Thelema is currently set to manifest change according to the Law of Liberty and bring freedom to All, not just to those on the initiatory path, then it needs to first and foremost start talking the language of the masses. And that is religion.
Meanwhile, those who aspire to Initiation should maybe observe the following:
- Stop having a knee-jerk reaction to this term. We are not talking of the oppressive Abrahamic monotheism… but of a fundamental expression of the human condition.
- Stop obsessing over it. Accepting the logic behind calling it so, but at the same time, stop trying to force the term, and the logic, on those fellow seekers of Truth who are still not ready for it.
- Accept the possibility that there might be more beyond the mere semantically-correct definition. This is the New Aeon: I personally don’t think it’s so far-fetched to foresee a moment in the future where the concept of “religion” will be completely absorbed by that of “Thelema”.
It might be a while before we get there, however.
Love is the law, love under will.