Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
Before even beginning to discuss the extent that contributing to the greater community is part of Thelema, it should be acknowledged that the “alpha and omega” of Thelema is Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. There is no law beyond doing your Will and you have no right but to do It. The answer to any question that takes the form “Is X or Y part of Thelema” is always “if it is your Will, then yes; if it is not your Will, then no.” I am not saying anyone “should” or “should not” do anything, but I am presenting an argument why contributing to the greater community is justified within the philosophy of Thelema. With that in mind, we can take a look at what Thelema implies and Crowley said about contributing to the greater community.
A maturing view of True Will
I would argue that, at a less mature level, Thelema is understood to be an entirely selfish doctrine. (By “less mature,” I simply mean “not fully developed,” and no pejorative implication is meant by it). When first learning about Thelema, individuals often understand “Do what thou wilt” to essentially mean “I have the right to find my Will and do it, so my personal needs trump everyone else’s.” From a certain standpoint, this is true. Your needs certainly deserve to be fulfilled. The problem is that many people simply do not know yet what their true “personal needs” and desires are in the first place – hence the necessity to engage in the process to know one’s Will. Further, one in this mindset maintains a very dichotomous (i.e. dualistic, black-and-white) view of the “self” as distinct from “others.”
Many people move to the next level of maturity when they join an organization or start applying Thelema at a broader scale. That is, one matures to realize that everyone else has the right to do their own Will just as much as oneself. It is the realization that, just as you are the center of your own universe, everyone around you is the center of their own universes. Not only this, but many come to realize that becoming aware of others’ needs and even helping to fulfill them actually makes one’s own Will much easier to accomplish. The dichotomous view of “my Will versus the world” begins to break down and we see that we are a Star in the company of Stars. We see that disagreement does not preclude a greater harmony or cooperation, and often we find that we can accomplish greater things if we work together with others. We may even begin see that the distinction between “self” and “other” is much more tenuous, fluid, and dynamic than previously supposed, perhaps gaining a glimmer of the meaning of “the union of opposites” being the Great Work.
This all may sound very obvious to some, but this is where things generally start to “break down.” Thelemites may see the rationale to serve their own needs and the needs of their Brothers and Sisters, but many do not see a rationale for contributing to the greater community. By “the greater community” I simply mean “people who are not part of OTO” or even “people who are not self-identified Thelemites.” Why might this be?
Why should we contribute to the greater community?
I am defining contributing as “giving resources, including but not limited to time, energy, and money.” We should certainly make sure to dedicate our resources to ourselves, making sure that our needs are met so that we may accomplish our Wills. Many Thelemites naturally and intuitively understand that contributing to an organization like OTO – i.e. by giving their time, energy, and money – is a great way to not only aid others in accomplishing their Wills but to learn more about one’s own Will in the process. The struggle for freedom – and the freedom that one has won for oneself – is naturally desired to be shared with others, so we band together into communities in order to preserve and promulgate the Law of Life, Light, Love, and Liberty. Why should we stop at our local community of Thelemites? Is not the Law for all? Do we not acknowledge that every man and every woman is a star? Do we not want all individuals to have the freedom to do their Wills?
The image that precedes this essay is a well surrounded by four palm trees. This comes from Crowley’s essay “Liber CXXIV: Of Eden and the Sacred Oak” with the subtitle “And of the Greater and Lesser Hospitality of the O.T.O.” The subject of the essay is about “Profess Houses” in OTO, but I believe many of the principles apply on a greater, more general scale. As it is said, “For, in True Things, all are but images one of another; man is but a map of the universe, and Society is but the same on a larger scale.” The import of the image is that the Thelemic community – represented by the Profess House, but it could be any group of Thelemites of any or no formal organization – is a source of nourishment and hospitality to everything around it. Crowley writes:
“The symbol of the Profess-House is therefore a great Oak from which flow streams of water to every quarter fertilising indeed the ground about the hill and fortifying with moisture the roots of the oak itself, but not eddying about it and sapping its foundations. And in the spread of this Eden shall many men rejoice, taking shelter beneath overspreading branches, and refreshing their weary limbs in the fresh waters of the fount celestial pure. Alternatively, the symbol may be that of a well in the desert, sheltered by four great palms.”
Although the idea of the paradise of Eden with 4 rivers is a bit utopian and hyperbolic, it is nonetheless an important symbol. The idea is that the community (represented by the oak or the well) nourishes things around it (the four streams of water or the four palms); further, in the community’s nourishing of others, it also fortifies itself without losing its own foundations. I think this is a beautiful image: every Thelemic community is a beacon of Light to those who stumble in darkness, a well of Life for those who struggle to subsist.
Crowley himself says clearly, “thou must by Law assure to every Man a Means of satisfying his bodily and his mental Needs, leaving him free to develop any Super-Structure in Accordance with his Will, and protecting him from any that may seek to deprive him of these vertebral Rights.” This is essentially the idea of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” about 4 decades before the idea was described by Maslow: every individual needs the foundation of their basic needs – their “bodily and mental needs” – before the capstone of any kind of “Super-Structure” can be developed. Crowley reinforces this idea when he wrote to Lady Frieda Harris, “The whole world as I see it is at present lost in constipations of this kind; the real needs of humanity are what they have always been: food, shelter, love and freedom. That, roughly speaking, is the general true will of the species, and all devices, which are not subservient to this will, are errors.” If we have the means to, for example, satisfy the bodily needs of those who spend most of their energy concerned about food and shelter, does it not make sense to contribute to them if we are capable? That is, if we have the resources – the time, money, and/or energy – to aid others in by helping to satisfy their basic needs, are we not simply – in some some small way – allowing more and more individuals to do their Wills more fully?
Crowley writes in Duty, “Pity, sympathy and like emotions are fundamentally insults to the Godhead of the person exciting them, and therefore also to your own. The distress of another may be relieved; but always with the positive and noble idea of making manifest the perfection of the Universe. Pity is the source of every mean, ignoble, cowardly vice; and the essential blasphemy against Truth.” Here we have a very good lesson from Crowley: if we are to help people, it is to manifest the perfection of every man and every woman being able to do their True Wills. It is to work towards the order and harmony of all the stars on Earth being as perfect as the order and harmony of all the stars in the Heavens. It is not done out of pity for distress or suffering, nor is it really done out of any emotion at all. This relief – this service of others – is done out of the desire to fulfill the Law of Liberty, to bring about a world where everyone has the capability and freedom to accomplish their True Wills. Perhaps this is one way that we can fulfill what is hoped for in OTO US Grand Lodge’s Vision Statement, “We will foster harmonious and constructive relationships with the academic, business, civil, and greater social communities within which we operate.”
We therefore have a very powerful but very simple view of contribution to the greater community: Contributing is done to help satisfy basic needs such as food and shelter which are common across all humanity that they may be able to more fully accomplish their True Wills. We do not impose any “Super-Structure” upon others but allow them to develop as they Will and make their own choices, and we do not contribute aid out of pity. This is done to “make manifest the perfection of the Universe.”
So why aren’t we doing this already?
Contributing to others is too Christian! The most obvious answer to why many Thelemites do not see contributing to the greater community as justified is that helping other people sounds like “charity,” a word that is inevitably tied up in many people’s minds with Christianity. Aside from the various arguments around charity itself, I think we can acknowledge that rejecting an idea or behavior simply because it resembles some other belief system is not a good reason for rejecting it. Most Thelemites would think twice before rejecting Liber Resh as “too Muslim,” rejecting the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram as “too Jewish,” rejecting the Gnostic Mass as “too Christian,” or rejecting the use of a mantra as “too Hindu.” The reason to reject all these things should be determined by whether or not it is fulfilling or thwarting your individual Will, and that is always the only determining factor for everything. Perhaps some do not realize that “charity” comes from “caritas,” the Latin word used in the New Testament to translate the Greek word “agape“ which some Thelemites may be familiar with. With this, I would also add things like the argument that contributing to others is too “liberal,” “socialist,” “communist,” or whatever label associate with the general idea.
Contributing to others is too Humanitarian! Yes, Crowley said “An end to the humanitarian mawkishness which is destroying the human race by the deliberate artificial protection of the unfit.” He also lived off of a family inheritance and the generous donations of his friends and disciples. There is no need to even argue what “unfit” means in this context. I personally believe that we should concern ourselves with what is “fit” and “unfit” within ourselves to accomplish our own True Wills, and we acknowledge that every man and every woman is a star with an indefeasible right to accomplish their Wills as we do ours. Further, we have all benefited from others’ resources, from amniotic fluids to stimulating conversations to job promotions. While it is obvious that our own choices determine our destiny to a large extent, it would be a vain and short-sighted thing to believe we are entirely “self-made” in any way. As Liber Librae says, “A man is what he maketh himself within the limits fixed by his inherited destiny; he is a part of mankind; his actions affect not only what he calleth himself, but also the whole universe.” Aside from the fact that this means your acts (such as contributing to others) affect all of those around you, it also means every single other individual’s actions affect your universe as well. A humble acknowledgment of this fact makes the idea of contributing to others seem quite natural.
We need to focus on our own! Yes, we do need to focus on “our own.” Our concern should begin with ourselves and emanate outward farther and farther. If, for example, an OTO body is struggling to even pay the rent, it would not make sense to devote money toward contributing to the general community. As Liber Librae says, “If thou thyself hast not a sure foundation, whereon wilt thou stand to direct the forces of Nature?” Of course you need a sure foundation, both individually and organizationally. That still doesn’t preclude the possibility of extending influence and resources beyond oneself once that sure foundation is secured.
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. If it is your Will to contribute to the greater community, then that is fine; if it is not your Will, then that is fine as well. Nonetheless, there is a good rationale for engaging in contributing to the greater community. If we appreciate the freedom to know and do our Wills, we will naturally appreciate aiding others to achieve this freedom, even if it is in a small way. Crowley insisted that we are to assure the satisfaction of basic needs such as food and shelter so that individuals may have the capacity and freedom to develop their own unique proclivities. He also reminded us that this should be done out of making manifest the perfection of the Universe on Earth, of wanting every man and every woman to be able to accomplish their Wills, not out of pity or distress. If we have the resources to help others satisfy their basic needs so they may more fully know and do their Wills, why wouldn’t we contribute to the greater community?
Love is the law, love under will.