Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
The concept of “True Will”, or simply “Will”, is fundamental to the Law of Thelema since our central tenet is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (AL I:40), along with “Thou hast no right but to do thy will” (AL I:42) and “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” (AL III:60). Thelema, after all, means “Will.”
For Will being such a central concept in Thelema there are many misconceptions about it that limit our understanding as well as limit our potential for accomplishing or manifesting our Wills. Many of these myths or misconceptions are highly interrelated, but they are also different in their emphasis or approach; the list is not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive but to hopefully lead to further thought and clarity about the notion of Will. Most fundamentally, this is a short list intended to challenge some common misconceptions about the Will in order that we may know and do our Wills more freely and joyously.
1) True Will is found at a certain point in time.
The first myth is that True Will is discovered during a discrete event, a certain point in history. This means that you don’t know your Will but in the future you might, upon having some kind of insight or experience, suddenly know it. In contrast, Crowley informs us that “The will is but the dynamic aspect of the self…” (Liber II). In this sense, the Will is simply the expression of our Nature. However poorly or incompletely, our Nature can’t help but be expressed in some way, which is to say: We are always doing our Wills to some extent, but we could also always do a little “better” in the sense of doing it more fully and with more awareness. Even if we do have sudden or life-altering insight into the nature of our Wills, this doesn’t mean that this understanding might not need to change or be revised in the future.
2) True Will is something to be found in the distant future.
Related to the first myth is the notion that True Will is not found in the present but at some point in the future. That is, one thinks “I don’t know my Will now but I will hopefully know it in the future.” Now, it is perfectly reasonable to believe that one’s knowledge or understanding of one’s Will may increase in the future, but – again – we are always doing our Wills to some extent. That is, the Will is not “found,” but our awareness and understanding of it may increase. Viewing Will as something found in the future forecloses on the potential for us working our best to do our Wills in the present moment. We may bemoan our circumstances, wishing that “if we only knew our Wills…” that everything would be alright, rather than working with ourselves in the present to be more fully aware and joyful with what is already occurring. That is, our very concepts of the Will as being something distant prevent us from seeing what is already here: we are all stars (AL I:3) and Hadit, the flame of our Wills, is always at the core of our Being (AL II:6). It is our job or duty to figure out how to work with ourselves and our environment in order to most fully manifest that inherent Truth within us.
3) You’re either doing your Will or you’re not doing it.
The language used around Will is often “digital” in the sense that we speak of it in “on or off” terms. I believe it is both more effective and more accurate to think of Will in “analog” terms, i.e. that we are always doing Will to some extent. The language of “True Will” implies this kind of digital dichotomy of true/false. In contrast, the idea of “pure will” is one of a matter of degrees. A totally “pure” Will is 100% Will with no admixture or contaminants, just like pure juice is 100% juice – there is no moral connotation whatsoever. We may (for the sake of explanation) say that we may not be currently doing 100% of our Will but we may be at 30% or 80% of our potential at any given moment. This puts the responsibility on ourselves to try to enact our Will in the fullest, most “pure” way possible. It also means that we don’t need to think of others in terms of them doing or not doing their Wills; rather, everyone is doing their Will to some extent or another, and we can all engage in more intentional effort to get closer to the ideal of “100% Will.”
4) True Will is a single, unchanging thing.
The language used around Will also often implies that Will is a single thing, i.e. “It is my Will to be a doctor.” In fact, the idea of Will being a certain career in particular is one of the most common examples of this misconception. One example Crowley speaking in this way is when he writes, “to each will come the knowledge of his finite will, whereby one is a poet, one prophet, one worker in steel, another in jade” (De Lege Libellum). The error comes in taking the idea of “Will = the right career” literally rather than metaphorically. That is, a career is a metaphor for what you do with your life, hopefully suited to your proclivities, talents, and aspirations. Obviously the Will is not confined to a single career – especially nowadays when most people on average have multiple careers throughout their lives – as is apparent with Crowley’s own life. It would not be correct to say it was Crowley’s Will to be a poet because it would neglect that he was a magician; it would not be correct to say it was Crowley’s Will to be a mountain climber because it would neglect that he was a chess player, etc. In fact, the Will is – as already mentioned – “the dynamic aspect of the self…” (Liber II). It is dynamic, meaning constantly in motion. Crowley reinforces this when he writes that the “True Self[‘s]… Nature is to move continually, it must be understood not as static, but as dynamic, not as a Noun but as a Verb” (Duty). This dynamic nature of Will is further implied in the language that describes it as “Motion” as when Crowley writes that the Will is “the true Motion of thine inmost Being” (Liber Aleph, chapter 9).
5) True Will can be completely encapsulated in a phrase.
Connected to the previous misconception is the notion that Will can be completely encapsulated in a phrase. Since the Will is dynamic, its Nature being “to Go”, no phrase can ever completely encapsulate it. There are certainly benefits to being able to encapsulate one’s Will in a phrase such as having a consciously articulated standard by which one can judge if a certain course of action is expressive or inhibitive of the Will. For example, one might formulate the Will as “It is my Will for my body to be healthy,” which can act as a standard by which you determine that eating junk food is not part of your Will (for all practical purposes). That being said, there must be an understanding that the Will is ultimately beyond verbal articulation. As it is said, “Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown; & all their words are skew-wise” (AL II:32). The Will is supra-rational insofar as it cannot be accurately described or completely described by the faculty of Reason and thought. As Crowley says, “[The mind] should be a perfect machine, an apparatus for representing the universe accurately and impartially to its master. The Self, its Will, and its Apprehension, should be utterly beyond it” (New Comment to AL II:28). The mind with its thoughts and Reason is simply a part of one’s Being; the Will is the Verb of our whole Being so naturally a small part can not entirely comprehend or encompass the Whole.
6) True Will requires a mystical experience.
In connection with Myth #2, there is a tendency to believe that knowledge of the Will only comes with some kind of mystical experience, whether one believes (or conceives of) it as Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, enlightenment, crossing the Abyss, or whatever else. While we might say that Knowledge and Conversation (or other mystic experiences) might help clarify the Will or get rid of some of its obstacles such as excessive egotism, the Will is both always present to some extent and can always be worked with to some extent. The notion of Will as only knowable through mystical experiences neglects the fact that there are very simple, straightforward, and even “mundane” ways in which we can work with ourselves to do our Wills better or more fully. For example, one could realize that a certain relationship is not working anymore: it causes constant turmoil, suffering, bitterness, and resentment. One could then realize that, in order to do one’s Will more fully, one needs to end the relationship. “O lover, if thou wilt, depart!” (AL I:41). There are many things in our lives that we know, on some level, can be changed to more fully enact our Wills such as getting rid of certain habits that are already known to be troublesome. Whether this is as simple as “watching less television” or as concrete as “quitting opiates” or more subtle like “being less attached to expectations” or more general like “becoming more mindful and less emotionally reactive”, there are many ways to work on ourselves that are available to everyone without the slightest experience of or inclination toward mystical experiences. Even more troubling, believing that only some mystical experience in the future can be used as an excuse or a “spiritual bypass” to avoid dealing with these more “mundane” issues such as unprocessed emotions or unwanted habits.
7) It is everyone’s Will to attain.
A generally pervasive belief among Thelemites is that there is a certain kind of “true Thelemite” or “ideal Thelemite.” Another essay more fully explains why this is a misconception but, in short, it relies on having preconceptions as to what is “right” and “wrong” for others’ Wills when the entire foundation of Thelema rests on the notion that each individual is unique. One manifestation of this preconception about what is “right” is the notion that everyone should be striving to “attain,” meaning achieve some kind of mystic gnosis or enlightenment. In fact, The Book of the Law says in the same line as its central maxim: “Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (AL I:40).This is further explained in The Vision and the Voice when it is said, “The man of earth is the adherent. The lover giveth his life unto the work among men. The hermit goeth solitary, and giveth only of his light unto men.” It is not inherently everyone’s Will to become a hermit and attain the heights of spiritual illumination – it may very well be someone’s Will to live their lives without concern for these things. More clearly, it says in The Book of the Law that “the Law is for all” (AL I:34). This insistence that everyone must “attain” can easily devolve into a form of spiritual self-superiority that is contrary to the spirit of Liberty that permeates the Law.
8) Your Will has nothing to do with other people.
It is typical to conceive of the Will as something inherent in the individual that has nothing do with other people or their circumstances. I believe this is simply a fault of the language used to describe Will rather than a reality. We are all embedded in a complex interconnection of forces – we are all stars in the web of Infinite Space – and we both affect and are affected by everything around us: “his actions affect not only what he called himself, but also the whole universe” (Liber Librae). Seeing as how the Will is the dynamic aspect of our Nature, it must inherently adapt to the situation or circumstance in which it finds itself. Crowley speaks to this when he writes that the Will is “our true orbit, as marked out by the nature of our position, the law of our growth, the impulse of our past experiences.” (Introduction to Liber AL). Our “position” constantly changes and the Will is “marked out” in part by the nature of our position. Our “position” involves our environment and the people around us. Virtually any kind of articulation of the Will – however provisional or tentative – must include the environment or other people in some way. To say “It is my Will to eat less” involves the food in your environment; to say “It is my Will to be kind” involves your kindness toward other people; to say “It is my Will to promulgate the Law of Thelema” involves those to whom you are promulgating, etc. Even to say “It is my Will to attain Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” necessarily requires that you create the properly conducive environment to attain that goal. In fact, some of the best lessons come from being attuned to one’s environment and those around you as opposed to ignoring its import or impact. If you are getting constant messages in the form of unnecessary difficulties of whatever type, it is perhaps a lesson to alter the way you are adapting to your environment rather than insisting more strongly on going about your way and just bulldozing over others.
9) True Will means you’ll be free from suffering.
The idea of True Will often leads to unrealistic utopian notions as to what Will looks like. The idea that doing one’s Will frees one from suffering is unrealistic on multiple levels. Firstly, suffering is inherent in existence in some form or another insofar as we all get sick, suffer loss, get old, sustain injury, and die. We will always encounter some form of resistance or difficulty in our lives. This should not be seen as some kind of mark of failure on your attempt to do your Will; rather, these inevitable occurrences of suffering, resistance, and difficulty are the means by which we learn and grow. As it is said, “Thou then who hast trials and troubles, rejoice because of them, for in them is Strength, and by their means is a pathway opened unto that Light… the greater thy trial the greater thy Triumph” (Liber Librae). This idea that “doing your Will = no suffering” also depends on the notion that Will is either “on” or “off” as mentioned in Myth #3: even if we are in the mode of “100% Will” for a while, we all inevitably make missteps, encounter unforeseen difficulties, or simply “slip” and don’t do the best we can. Further, the very desire to be free from suffering is, in a sense, an Old Aeon idea: Thelemites do not seek to transcend the material world, exempt ourselves from Samsara, or even avoid suffering. We acknowledge reality as it is without insisting it conform to our a priori ideals as to “how the world should be.” We accept suffering and difficulty in life as “sharp Sauce to the Dish of Pleasure” (Liber Aleph, chapter 59). I believe it is more accurate to say that doing one’s Will means you’ll be free from a great deal of unnecessary suffering. A great deal of our suffering is indeed not inherent or necessary but we, through our various poor habits and misconceptions, subject ourselves to difficulty that can be avoided largely or entirely if we become more aware of and tuned into our Wills.
10) True Will means you’ll be free from conflict.
Connected to the previous myth is the notion that doing one’s True Will means we will be free from all conflict. This is usually based on the fact that The Book of the Law says “thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay” (AL I:42-43) and Crowley wrote that “[the Law] seems to imply a theory that if every man and every woman did his and her will— the true will— there would be no clashing” (Liber II). Realistically, there will always be people who “say nay,” regardless of the extent to which you are doing your Will, and there will always be “clashing.” The real issue comes from an understanding of “clashing”: If clashing means interpersonal conflict in the form of disagreement and argument, there will never be an end to this unless we all become unthinking, desire-less automatons which is certainly not the goal of the Law of Liberty. Similar to the previous myth, I believe it is more accurate to say that doing one’s Will means you will be free from a great deal of unnecessary conflict. Much of our conflict with others depends on our insistence on knowing what is “right” for others, our own expectations and standards placed upon others, insisting on maintaining a position based on our ego’s self-esteem and identity being tied up with our position, and many other missteps that often naturally fall away to the extent that one focuses on Will rather than arguing. Perhaps that is one reason we are taught to “argue not; convert not; talk not overmuch!” (AL III:42). Again, it is a somewhat Old Aeon fantasy for the world or one’s life to be conflict-free. I believe the acceptance of and involvement with conflict is a distinguishing mark of one who has a New Aeon mentality rather than an Old Aeon one. As Crowley wrote, “Combat stimulates the virile or creative energy” (Duty). Even the most trivial and mundane forms of conflict such as opposing teams in sports or opposing viewpoints in a debate allow for the fun of the game to occur in the first place. Rather than seeking to be free of conflict, we might do better to examine the conflicts in our lives and determine to what extent they are a result of our inability to fully actualize our Wills in order to live more fully and joyfully.
What all 10 of these myths imply is a view of Will as something always present to some extent, always dynamic and changing, always able to be worked with and worked on regardless of having mystical experiences or not, embedded within the context of our surroundings and other individuals, and accepting of suffering and conflict as things inherent in existence and things to be worked with rather than avoided. This list is not comprehensive in any way, and there are obviously many nuances to the idea of Will and many ways to approach understanding it. Nonetheless, my hope is that challenging some of these ideas as myths or misconceptions can help free our thinking up in order to become aware of the great potential in every moment to enact and rejoice in our Wills.
Love is the law, love under will.