Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX was a treatise that Aleister Crowley wrote (or “received”) in Egypt in 1904. This book is the foundation of the philosophical-religious system of Thelema, and this essay is intended to establish Liber AL as a valid exposition of psychology as well. Liber AL makes what appear to be many metaphysical and spiritual claims, but we will examine these in a strictly psychological light. Carl Jung wrote these carefully formulated words that characterize the attitude of this essay,
“The religious point of view always expresses and formulates the essential psychological attitude and its specific prejudices.”1
…and so, “Psychology accordingly treats all metaphysical claims and assertions as mental phenomena, and regards them as statements about the mind and its structure that derive ultimately from certain unconscious dispositions. It does not consider them to be absolutely valid or even capable of establishing a metaphysical truth.”2
Therefore, Liber AL vel Legis’s many assertions are now understood as describing mental phenomena, or more accurately, things that are part of the psyche, from the conscious to the deepest recesses of the unconscious. Since Liber AL will be treated as a series of psychological assertions about mental phenomenon, it might be said to be entirely subjective. This is simply not true. Just as natural scientists rely upon the uniformity of nature, the psychologist depends on the relative uniformity of the human psyche. Jung writes:
“It must be pointed out that just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so, too, the human psyche possesses a common substratum transcending all differences in culture and consciousness. I have called this substratum the collective unconscious. This unconscious psyche, common to all mankind does not consist merely of contents capable of becoming conscious, but of latent predispositions towards identical reactions. The collective unconscious is simply the psychic expression of the identity of brain structure irrespective of all racial differences.”3
Thus, potentially, we may more accurately describe Liber AL vel Legis as both a product and an expression of the collective unconscious, filtered through the peculiar and unique psyche of Aleister Crowley. We may therefore find statements of universal import explained under the figure of certain symbols that were familiar to Crowley’s consciousness and therefore reproduced by the unconscious in this text. If we can understand the meaning of various terms and symbols in Liber AL vel Legis as they are used – hopefully as Crowley understood them – the meaning or purpose in their appearance from the unconscious in the text can be understood. Then we can see that Thelema essentially puts forward a new psychological point-of-view of life.
These principles must first be established to form a functional framework of Thelema to work adequately within. The principles of existence in Liber AL vel Legis are proclaimed as a dichotomy (much like the Taoist concepts of yin & yang and the Western concepts of the elements water & fire) in the first line of both chapter 1 and 2.4 They are Nu/Nuit and Had/Hadit, which are understood as Infinite Space/Potential and Infinite Motion respectively. Interestingly, they are represented under the ancient symbolic figure, “In the sphere I [Hadit] am everywhere the centre, as she [Nuit], the circumference, is nowhere found,” which echoes an almost identical statement made by Empedocles5 in the 5th century B.C..
Nuit is “The infinite in whom all we live and move and have our being,”6 “Nuit is all that may be, and is shewn by means of any one that is,”7 “the total of possibilities of every kind,”8 and she proclaims of herself, “I am Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof.”9 Hadit is very abstract: he “hath no Nature of His own, for He is that to which all Events occur,”10 and he is “any point which has experience of these possibilities.”11 The universe is then understood to be made up of the complements similar to Matter and Motion, Space and Time, but understood under the symbolic figures of Nuit and Hadit, etc. In this way, we can see that Thelema posits a universe much like our own understandings (e.g. the space-time continuum) yet adds a symbolic and almost personal dimension to these ideas. Further, Liber AL has presented a symbol set for the subconscious to work with. Crowley deepened this symbolism when he wrote:
“The manifested Universe comes from the marriage of Nuit and Hadit; without this could no thing be. This eternal, this perpetual marriage-feast is then the nature of things themselves; and therefore everything that is, is a crystallization of divine ecstasy.”12
The first fact of life for the Thelemite is then that all things are understood under the symbol figure of a coition or ‘perpetual marriage-feast’ of these two ideas of “Infinite Space” (Nuit) and that which experiences these possibilities (Hadit); therefore life itself is understood as “a crystallization of divine ecstasy.” These are the first evidences that Thelema, as expressed in Liber AL vel Legis, puts forward a new psychological point-of-view of joy, a subject that will be touched upon in greater depth in a later section.
Essentially, a sort of dichotomy has been established: the Perceiver-of-events, having no qualities in itself, is called Hadit and All-events-that-can-be-perceived, the Field of perception, is Nuit – a perfectly acceptable model for understanding the world psychologically. This echoes a similar statement made in the Hindu Bhagavad Gita:
“Whatever exists… animate or inanimate, is born through the union of the field and its Knower.”13
It also is remarkably similar to the ideas of the psychologist Carl Rogers14 who described his “client-centered therapy” in 1951, four years after Aleister Crowley’s death. Rogers delineated nineteen propositions that describe his system of therapy, and the very first proposition is:
“All individiuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the centre.”15
The individual point-of-view, Hadit, exists in a continually changing phenomenal field, Nuit, of which he/she is the centre, just as was seen above. Rogers claims in the seventh proposition, “The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.”16 These are the first instances of Liber AL vel Legis anticipating various psychological models.
Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” extracted from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 11, Psychology and Religion: West and East, par. 771.
2 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” par. 760.
3 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’” extracted from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 13, Alchemical Studies, par. 11.
4 “Had! The manifestation of Nuit” (Liber AL, I:1) & “Nu! The hiding of Hadit” (Liber AL, II:1).
5 Empedocles is the same person who also believed that the world was made up specifically of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.
6 Crowley, Aleister. “Liber DCCCXXXVII: The Law of Liberty.”
7 Crowley, Aleister. “Djeridensis Working,” I:1.
8 Crowley, Aleister. Introduction to Liber AL vel Legis, part II.
9 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:22.
10 Crowley, Aleister. “Djeridensis Working,” II:2.
11 Crowley, Aleister. Introduction to Liber AL vel Legis, part II.
12 Crowley, Aleister. “Liber DCCCXXXVII: The Law of Liberty” from Equinox III(1).
13 Bhagavad Gita (trans. by E. Easwaran), ch.13, verse 26.
14 Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was one of the founders of the “humanistic” approach to psychology, he was one of the founders of psychotherapy research, he was the founder of the person-centered approach to therapy, and he was awarded by the American Psychological Association (of which he was the 55th president in 1947) with the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions in 1952 and the Award for Distinguished Professional Contributions to Psychology in 1972.
15 Rogers, Carl. Client-Centred Therapy, ch.11