There is an ongoing and perhaps eternal debate about whether Thelema is a religion, philosophy, or way of life (or all of them or none of them). In my view, Thelema certainly has something to offer the areas of both religion and philosophy. This essay will look at how Thelema approaches the classic divisions of philosophy including metaphysics (including ontology, cosmology, eschatology, and teleology), epistemology, and ethics.
Metaphysics is essentially the study of the nature of the world. It is traditionally split into ontology, cosmology, eschatology, and teleology.
Ontology: None & Two
Ontology is the study of being, existence, or reality. Thelema’s ontology is stated simply as “None and Two.” The world is understood as ‘Nothing’ or ‘Naught,’ which is something completely beyond all description and limit. In Liber AL vel Legis I:27, it is written “Then the priest answered & said unto the Queen of Space, kissing her lovely brows, and the dew of her light bathing his whole body in a sweet-smelling perfume of sweat: O Nuit, continuous one of Heaven, let it be ever thus; that men speak not of Thee as One but as None; and let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!” Many mystics have called it “Unity” but even this, some may argue, implies something as “not-One.” Crowley writes in “De Lege Libellum,” “All Things that are in Truth One Thing only, whose name hath been called No Thing.” From this comes the necessity of explaining the appearance of duality. Instead of a “Fall of Man” or an imprisonment of the soul in matter, Thelema explains the appearance of duality in this fashion: “None… and two. For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.” (Liber AL I:28-30). In this way, the many or divided are in such a position so they may become one and unite. This is given further explanation in Book of Lies ch.3 where it is written, “The Many is as adorable to the One as the One is to the Many. This is the Love of These; creation-parturition is the Bliss of the One; coition-dissolution is the Bliss of the Many. / The All, thus interwoven of These, is Bliss.”
…see also “Berashith” by Aleister Crowley, Magick Without Tears ch.5, Book of Lies ch.3, 12, and 46
Cosmology: Nuit, Hadit, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, and Stars
Cosmology deals with what the Universe is essentially. One might argue that there exist several similar but interchangeable cosmologies in Thelema: for example, the Creed of the Gnostic Mass gives a rudimentary cosmology, the “Matter in Motion” idea in the New Comment (to Chapter 1, Verse 1), and the Qabalistic understanding in chapter 0! of Book of Lies. In the end, the most widespread cosmology, and the one rooted in The Book of the Law, is the idea of Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Thelema understands Nuit as Infinite Space which is “Heaven” that is occupied by various Points-of-View, or Hadit. Each star – “every man and every woman” – is in the Body of Infinite Space and has Hadit as its core, who is “the complement of Nu, my bride,” “the flame that burns in every heart of man, and in the core of every star,” as well as “Life, and the giver of Life.” These together create the Universe as we know it. “In the sphere [Hadit is] everywhere the centre, as [Nuit], the circumference, is nowhere found.” There are many interpretations of Nuit and Hadit – for example, with Nuit as matter and Hadit as motion and their interplay being the universe but the basic idea remains the same.
…see also Liber AL vel Legis ch.1 & 2, Book of Lies ch.0 & 11, the “Creed” of “The Gnostic Mass”
Eschatology: The destruction of the self & the dawning of the Aeon of Horus
Eschatology deals with the idea of end-times. There is certainly no Last Judgment in the philosophy of Thelema. In a sense, one can view the attainment of the Crossing of the Abyss, the destruction of the personality or ego, as the end-times of the ‘self’ and the waking to the Self. Another interpretation of eschatology is the “destruction of the world by fire” (which can also be interpreted in the former sense of the destruction of the self), which Crowley gives symbolically in Atu XX: Aeon of the Tarot. In this other interpretation, the world was “destroyed by fire” with the reception of Liber AL vel Legis in 1904. Crowley writes in The Book of Thoth, “The old card was called The Angel: or, The Last Judgment. It represented an Angel or Messenger blowing a trumpet, attached to which was a flag, bearing the symbol of the Aeon of Osiris… The card therefore represented the destruction of the world by Fire. This was accomplished in the year of the vulgar era 1904, when the fiery god Horus took the place of the airy god Osiris in the East as Hierophant.”
…see also The Book of Thoth “XX. The Aeon”
Teleology deals with the purpose or the understanding of the design of the universe. In Thelema, the teleology is clearly one of “Will.” One might contrast the teleology of Thelema with that of Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Life and Nietzsche’s Will-to-Power, where Thelema understands it as a Will-to-Love. All experiences and events are occurrences of two things uniting into a third. The necessary formula of each star is then “love under will” – to find that Will and do it. Just as each star has its particular orbit in the macrocosm of space, every man and every woman has their particular Way on earth. As Crowley writes in the introduction to Liber AL vel Legis, “Each action or motion is an act of love, the uniting with one or another part of “Nuit”; each such act must be ‘under will,’ chosen so as to fulfil and not to thwart the true nature of the being concerned.”
I’m interested in forms of naturalistic spirituality within the big tent of paganism, magic, and occultism. Since I don’t know that much about Thelema, I’m curious: do you find that naturalists form a subset within Thelema, or are the majority actually naturalistic?
P.S. I edit a blog for naturalistic spirituality called Humanistic Paganism, which might have a few things in common with what you’re doing…
I find that most Thelemites are some form of naturalists. There is some ‘metaphysical’ talk, but mostly we do not engage in too much supernatural talk. You may be interested in my book ‘Naturalistic Occultism’ of which the 2nd edition is coming out soon. If I remember, Ill let you know when its out.
That’s interesting. Please do let me know when the 2nd ed comes out. Is there a projected release date?
I discovered this page when I googled one of my names numerological outcomes. I am familiar with Thelema and Crowley’s teaching (I read a bit while in art school in San Francisco back int he late 80’s early 90’s). I recently used a Gematria site to calculate my name(s) and was a little “tripped-out” to discover some of the values- (440, 131, 1260, 786, 210, and 1429) for my first/last- and full- Regular name=Antichrist; full name= Lord Jesus Christ, in Hebraic- ? I don’t really put too much weight in this, but when I looked up my birth date, I REALLY started to wonder- the 13th week the 85th day, (Zoroaster birthday which I also had a dream about last night?)- there was a rare mag. 0 comet which made its closest pass to Earth that day, as well as a still yet-to be explained anomalous lunar brightening that papers were written about. I have a strong spiritual inclination (have lived at traditional Buddhist monasteries, meditate daily…) I also seem to attract extremely “fringe” people to me, so much so, I seldom socialize anymore- I have had many strange intuitive experiences including a dream telling me to leave Phuket, Thailand the day before the tsunami in 2004.-IDK why I am writing this here, I just feel compelled.
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“The contents of the book prove to strict scientific demonstration that He posseses knowledge and power quite beyond anything that has been hitherto associated with human faculties” – Aleistar Crowley speaking of Aiwass the praeternatural intelligence which communicated Liber Al Vel Legis. So much for a “naturalistic religion”
93 – I fail to see how finding something possessed of “knowledge and power quite beyond anything that has been hitherto associated with human faculties” necessarily implies supernaturalism.
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This is a nice essay, but I have a small correction:
“The card therefore represented the destruction of the world by Fire. This was accomplished in the year of the vulgar era 1904, when the fiery god Horus took the place of the airy god Osiris in the East as Hierophant.”
I believe this “destruction of the world by fire” and quote from the Book of Thoth refers to the Equinox of the Gods, and not the reception of the Book of the Law, which occurred a bit later.
93 — Thanks! Good catch.
Teology of Thelema. Nice.
“None… and two. For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union. This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.”
The continual and simultaneously apprehended cycle of birth-life-death follows not only the evolution of our human species on in the physical, but the whole of creation is evolving with us. Our world will one day experience an utter dissolution, and merge with a higher plane, the eschaton. This is the end of the material illusion and the illusion of separateness will still be maintained but only as a transcendental concept, not the literal one which binds us to time and matter.
“In the sphere [Hadit is] everywhere the centre, as [Nuit], the circumference, is nowhere found.”
Indeed, this suggests movement, but a fundamental shift is taking place and the most dramatic one since the ‘fall’ and before that the coagulation which spawned our little blue teardrop of mother sun.
“That which is not neither is or is not that which is”
0 left you a present!
This was great. I really enjoy the way you put things.