Psychology of Liber AL – pt.3: The Notion of Sin Abolished

Psychology of Liber AL

The Notion of Sin Abolished

“The formula of this law is: Do what thou wilt. Its moral aspect is simple enough in theory. Do what thou wilt does not mean Do as you please, although it implies this degree of emancipation, that it is no longer possible to say a priori that a given action is “wrong.” Each man has the right – and an absolute right – to accomplish his True Will.
—Aleister Crowley, “The Method of Thelema”

In Thelema, one is enjoined to “Do what thou wilt,” and we have seen that this Will, if it is to be considered as “pure” and “perfect,” must be performed with tireless energy, without regard to purpose, and without lusting after results. One other diversion or veil from the “pure will” is conventional morality and especially notion of “sin.”

In Judeo-Christian-Islamic terms, the world is generally viewed in terms of good and evil, with “good” actions being those that adhere to the specific laws set forth in whatever book is held holy and “evil” being the turning away from such laws. Thelema is a philosophy or a point-of-view that Nietzsche would have termed to be “beyond good and evil.” The only restriction in Thelema is to restrict or be diverted from one’s Will. In fact, the line right after the aphorism “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” is this:

The word of Sin is Restriction.”1

Crowley explains this succinctly, saying that this “is a general statement or definition of Sin or Error. Anything soever that binds the will, hinders it, or diverts it, is Sin.”2 Here is a completely new view of ethics wherein the only “evil” is to divert from oneself, or more accurately, from one’s Will.

Psychologically, when one deviates from one’s true inner promptings, a conflict arises which is generally known as “neurosis.” Carl Jung defines nervous disorders a “consist[ing] primarily in an alienation from one’s instincts, a splitting off of consciousness from certain basic facts of the psyche.”3 Generally, when a action, thought, or tendency arises within someone that is contrary to their society’s (or religion’s) current view of what is “right” (Freud’s “superego”), the psyche tends to suppress and prevent those unlikable aspects from appearing to the conscious mind. Although these thoughts (e.g. to a Christian, the thought of performing a homosexual act) may not appear consciously to the person as much, the same exact tendency still lies within the subconscious and still exerts its influence. This suppression of a natural tendency to bring it into line with societal expectations of conduct is the basis of psychological “repression.”

In Thelema, these repressions are understood for what they are: repressions of the natural inclinations of an individual. Therefore, if the sole law is to do one’s will, artificially repressing aspects of oneself leads to a disastrous split in one’s psyche, and hence, one’s Will. One is deviating from one’s Will when one is creating a fundamental split in oneself – creating ‘multiple wills’ that diverge and conflict – which is fundamentally a split of the conscious (with its many arbitrary notions of “right and wrong”) from the unconscious and instinctual. Thelema recognizes that all deviations from this unique Will, including all repressions of the natural instinct to conform to artificial notions of moral conduct, will lead to repression, which leads inevitably to neurosis. Crowley wrote, “Thelemites are ‘thrice-born;’4 we accept everything for what it is, without ‘lust of result,’ without insisting upon things conforming with a priori ideals, or regretting their failure to do so. We can therefore ‘enjoy’ all things of sense and rapture’ according to their true nature.5

One of the most evident applications of this dictum that “the word of Sin is Restriction” is in relation to sex morality. Every religion has undoubtedly had innumerable restrictions upon sexual life, especially for women. Liber AL vel Legis proclaims that, not only is “every man and every woman… a star,”6 showing their essential equality, but further, it is written to “take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will!”7 This line is strangely prophetic of the Sexual Revolution that took place in the late 1960s, over half a century after the writing of Liber AL vel Legis, and also the groundbreaking research on sex by Alfred Kinsey in the 1940s. There are no restrictions even as to relationships of love that may be considered to be expressions of homosexuality, masochism, or sodomy, for, from the point-of-view of the Thelemite, a thing is “wrong” only insofar as it has brought one to deviate from one’s own Will. As Crowley says, “We have no right to interfere with any type of manifestation of the sexual impulse on a priori grounds.”8

Crowley writes, “‘Love under will’ is the Law. We refuse to regard love as shameful and degrading, as a peril to body and soul. We refuse to accept it as the surrender of the divine to the animal; to us it is the means by which the animal may be made the Winged Sphinx which shall bear man aloft to the House of the Gods.”9 The sexual instinct was repressed without mercy in the religions of the past and was often decried as animalistic or sinful. Thelema turns this idea on its head by saying not only is sex not shameful or degrading, it is the natural function of a human and if it is in accordance with their own will they should express it (not in accordance with some a priori rule-set).

Crowley summarizes all these sentiments when he proclaims, “It should be abundantly clear from the foregoing remarks that each individual has an absolute and indefeasible right to use his sexual vehicle in accordance with its own proper character, and that he is responsible only to himself.”10 Psychologically, this is a healthy route to take, for “Sex-repression leads to neurosis, and is the cause of social unrest.”11 Alfred Kinsey found in his research on sexuality that “Sexual desire is a basic, biological urge, drive, or instinct which demands satisfaction… if the (male) sexual drive is denied legitimate outlets, it will find satisfaction in illegitimate ones” (i.e. rape, sexual abuse of children, etc.), “repression of sexual desire may lead to physical or mental illness, especially ‘neurosis’ in women …[and] the need for sex is as basic as the need for food.”12 In this light, it seems Thelema has given us an adequate framework to act without fear of “physical or mental illness” because of our sexual inclinations.

Essentially, by proclaiming “the word of Sin is Restriction,” Liber AL vel Legis says that all restriction or repression of the Will is the only “evil” or “sin.”13 We know that “Repression of the natural satisfaction may result in addition to secret and dangerous vices which destroy their victim because they are artificial and unnatural aberrations.”14 The idea of restriction extends obviously beyond that of sex morality, but it has clear and obvious repercussions upon it and therefore it was necessary to go into this specific aspect in detail.

Truly, the dictums of “Do what thou wilt” and “the word of Sin is Restriction” apply to all morality in general. The quotation that begins this chapter succinctly explains this in simple terms that “it is no longer possible to say a priori that a given action is ‘wrong.’ Each man has the right-and an absolute right-to accomplish his True Will.” Crowley further writes that, “There are no ‘standards of Right’. Ethics is balderdash. Each Star must go on its own orbit. To hell with ‘moral principle’; there is no such thing.”15 In this sense, Thelema has shown there is no such thing as an absolute standard of right and wrong; there is only a relative standard of right and wrong in relation with each person’s unique nature and circumstance – their unique Will.

In reality, good and evil are not different from each other. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are merely conventional terms. Depending on how it is used, the same thing can be ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Take, for example, this lamplight. Because of its burning we are able to see and do various works of utility; this is one mode of using the light. Now, if you put your fingers in it, they will be burnt; that is another mode of using the same light. So it is clear that a thing becomes good or bad according to the way we use it. The same is the case with virtue and vice. Broadly speaking, the proper use of any of the faculties of our mind and body is virtue, and their improper use is vice.”
—Swami Vivekananda

>>PART 4>>

1 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:41.

2 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, I:41.

3 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 808.

4 A reference to the Thelemite’s transcending of the categories of ‘once-born’ and ‘twice-born’ as elucidated by William James in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience.

5 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:22.

6 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:3.

7 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:51.

8 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, I:51.

9 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, I:51.

10 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, I:51.

11 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, I:52.

12 Cablan, Pat & Caplan, Patricia. The Cultural Construction of Sexuality, p.72.

13 Though, it should be noted that in Thelema, the notion of “sin” can never nearly approach that of the Christian or Muslim’s for there is no notion of Original Sin nor of an eternal Judge of our actions.

14 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, I:51.

15 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:28.

16 Vivekananda, Swami. Conversation: Saturday, January 23, 1898. Recorded in Bengali by Surendra Nath Sen in his private diary. Complete Works, vol.5: 337.

>>PART 4>>


The Philosophy of Thelema, pt.3: Ethics

Philosophy of Thelema

The proclamation “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” from Liber AL vel Legis (I:40) has especially profound implications in the sphere of morality. There is an immense amount of material on this topic throughout all of Crowley’s works.

Since “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” (Liber AL vel Legis III:60), the only “right” action is that which fulfills that Will and the only “wrong” action is that which thwarts that Will. As Liber AL vel Legis says (I:41), “The Word of Sin is Restriction.” Crowley explains that, “[This] is a general statement or definition of Sin or Error. Anything soever that binds the will, hinders it, or diverts it, is Sin” (The Law is For All). Essentially, any form of morality that works in absolutes, saying any quality is a priori “right” or “wrong” (or “evil”) is anathema to Thelema. “To us, then, ‘evil’ is a relative term; it is ‘that which hinders one from fulfilling his true Will'” (The Law is For All).

The attitudes toward oneself and others are necessary outgrowths of “Do what thou wilt.” Since “Thou hast no right but to do thy will” (Liber AL vel Legis I:42), the value of self-discipline helps one do one’s Will with one-pointedness. As Crowley explains, “What is true for every School is equally true for every individual. Success in life, on the basis of the Law of Thelema, implies severe self-discipline” (Magick Without Tears, ch.8). Further, since “Every man and every woman is a star” (Liber AL vel Legis I:3) and each star has its own unique path, each “star” is must pursue their own Will and avoid interference in the affairs of others. In short, mind your own business. “It is necessary that we stop, once for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business. Each individual must be left free to follow his own path” (The Law is For All). This consequently means there is total moral freedom, including sexual freedom. “Also, take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will!” (Liber AL vel Legis I:51). This is not “individualism run wild” – that is, it does not mean there is no possibility of government. The understanding in Thelema is that each star has its own particular function in the scheme of things and must perform that function with one-pointedness, and this can include one’s function in state affairs. “For every Individual in the State must be perfect in his own Function, with Contentment, respecting his own Task as necessary and holy, not envious of another’s. For so only mayst thou build up a free state, whose directing Will shall be singly directed to the Welfare of all” (Liber Aleph).

Aside from moving the locus of morality to the individual, making the Will the measure of what is “right” and “wrong,” Thelema does emphasize certain moral traits over others and views certain experiences as “good.”

One course of action that Thelema encourages is towards the attainment of Knowledge & Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, Union with God, the dissolution of the ego or any other metaphor used in mysticism. Crowley explains, “A man must think of himself as a LOGOS, as going, not as a fixed idea. ‘Do what thou wilt’ is thus necessarily his formula. He only becomes Himself when he attains the loss of Egoity, of the sense of separateness. He becomes All, PAN, when he becomes Zero [see the “Ontology” section of this essay]” (“The Antecedents of Thelema”). Crowley puts it plainly when he writes, “There are many ethical injunctions of a revolutionary character in the Book, but they are all particular cases of the general precept to realize one’s own absolute God-head and to act with the nobility which springs from that knowledge” (Confessions, ch.49). These attainments are understood to be available to anyone and to help one understand the world, oneself, and one’s will more completely.

A common moral theme in Thelema is strength over weakness. “Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us” (Liber AL vel Legis II:20). “My disciples are proud and beautiful; they are strong and swift; they rule their way like mighty conquerors. The weak, the timid, the imperfect, the cowardly, the poor, the tearful — these are mine enemies, and I am come to destroy them” (“Liber Tzaddi,” lines 24-25).

Consequently, Thelema has a different view on “compassion:” “This also is compassion: an end to the sickness of earth. A rooting-out of the weeds: a watering of the flowers” (“Liber Tzaddi,” line 26). “We have nothing with the outcast and the unfit: let them die in their misery. For they feel not. Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched & the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world” (Liber AL vel Legis II:21). That is, “compassion” is not understood to be the support of the weak but rather the opposite: the “rooting-out of the weeds” or the destruction of the weak and the “watering of the flowers” or the promotion of the strong. This is compassion because it is “an end to the sickness of earth.”

A different view of pity is also held in light of Thelema’s view that “Every man and every woman is a star” (Liber AL vel Legis I:3). Crowley writes, “Pity implies two very grave errors—errors which are utterly incompatible with the views of the universe above briefly indicated. The first error therein is an implicit assumption that something is wrong with the Universe… The second error is still greater since it involves the complex of the Ego. To pity another person implies that you are superior to him, and you fail to recognize his absolute right to exist as he is. You assert yourself superior to him, a concept utterly opposed to the ethics of Thelema—’Every man and every woman is a star’ and each being is a Sovereign Soul. A moment’s thought therefore will suffice to show how completely absurd any such attitude is, in reference to the underlying metaphysical facts” (“The Method of Thelema”). Also, “The Book of the Law regards pity as despicable… to pity another man is to insult him. He also is a star, ‘one, individual and eternal.’ The Book does not condemn fighting — ‘If he be a King, thou canst not hurt him'” (Confessions, ch.49).

This leads to another view which is that Thelema embraces conflict. “Despise also all cowards; professional soldiers who dare not fight, but play; all fools despise! But the keen and the proud, the royal and the lofty; ye are brothers! As brothers fight ye!” (Liber AL vel Legis III:57-59). “Lo, while in The Book of the Law is much of Love, there is no word of Sentimentality. Hate itself is almost like Love! ‘As brothers fight ye!” All the manly races of the world understand this. The Love of Liber Legis is always bold, virile, even orgiastic. There is delicacy, but it is the delicacy of strength” (“Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion”).

Thelema also enjoins the individual to rejoice because of life. A general theme of embracing and seeing the joy in all facets of life permeates Thelema. “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains… They shall rejoice, our chosen: who sorroweth is not of us… But ye, o my people, rise up & awake! Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy & beauty! …a feast for life and a greater feast for death! A feast every day in your hearts in the joy of my rapture! A feast every night unto Nu, and the pleasure of uttermost delight! Aye! feast! rejoice! there is no dread hereafter… Write, & find ecstasy in writing! Work, & be our bed in working! Thrill with the joy of life & death!” (Liber AL vel Legis II:9, 19, 34-35, 41-44, 66); “There is joy in the setting-out; there is joy in the journey; there is joy in the goal” (“Liber Tzaddi,” line 22). This view of the world arises out of the metaphysical ideas [see the “Cosmology” section of this essay] that Thelema entertains. In short, “[Nuit] is the infinite in whom all we live and move and have our being. [Hadit] is eternal energy, the Infinite Motion of Things, the central core of all being. 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” (“The Law of Liberty”).

Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131In the end one must remember “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” (Liber AL vel Legis III:60). All of these ideas are subservient to the central law of “Do what thou wilt.” This is the beauty of the word Thelema, that it implies such a succinct and sublime answer to the problems of morality while also having complex and intricate implications.

The Will in Thelema: Positive and Negative Aspects

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Positive and Negative Will in Thelema

NOTE: written originally on October 5, 2008

The basis of Thelema is the Will (which is “Thelema” itself in Greek). The command “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (Liber AL I:40) and “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” (Liber AL I:60) is often distinguished from the often misunderstood and mistranslated statement of “Do what you want.” Why is “Do what thou wilt” different from “Do what you want?” and is it similar in some respects? On this point, we may examine the positive and negative aspects of Thelema/Will insofar as positive means affirming and negative means denying.

The negative aspect of “Do what thou wilt”

The negative aspect of “Do what thou wilt” and Thelema/Will in general refers to those tenets and suggestions which we may answer with a “No” or negatively. The foremost idea that Thelema says “No” to is the idea of an absolute, binding morality and any kind of moral pronouncement. In this sense, “Do what thou wilt” is nearly identical to “Do what you want” because both deny that pronouncements of “You should/ought to do this or that” are irrelevant to our concerns. This is explained succinctly by Crowley when he says,

“The formula of this law is: Do what thou wilt. Its moral aspect is simple enough in theory. Do what thou wilt does not mean Do as you please, although it implies this degree of emancipation, that it is no longer possible to say a priori that a given action is “wrong.” Each man has the right – and an absolute right – to accomplish his True Will.”
-Aleister Crowley, “The Method of Thelema”

Here Crowley asserts that “Do what thou wilt” “implies [the same] degree of emancipation” as “Do as you please” insofar as “it is no longer possible to say a priori that a given action is ‘wrong.'” This is the crux of the “negative aspect” of Thelema/Will – that one cannot argue against a certain action as bad, evil, not useful, unholy, etc. Crowley says also,

“There are no “standards of Right.” Ethics is balderdash. Each Star must go on its orbit. To hell with ‘moral Principle;’ there is no such thing; that is a herd-delusion, and makes men cattle.”
-Aleister Crowley,
The Law is For All, II:28

Again, “there are no ‘standards of Right’ or wrong and “each Star must go on its orbit.” The fact that there are no objective, external standards firmly allows us to do whatever we Will. But this brings us to the “positive aspect” of Thelema/Will: What is it that we Will? What exactly is our particular “orbit” as a star in the Body of Infinite Space?

The positive aspect of “Do what thou wilt”

Insofar as morality and dogma are burdens upon the free exercise of one’s unique and individual Will, they are restrictions, and “the word of Sin is Restriction” (Liber AL I:41). To this we may add the “dogs of Reason” with its questions of “Why” and “Because” for the Will is supra-rational and not to be limited by it. Again, the pressing question once one has discarded the fetters of restriction in their many forms is “What is my Will?” This comes to the aspect of Will to which we may say “Yes”…

The most succinct command in this “positive aspect” is that ancient aphorism and command to “Know Thyself.” This is where “Do what thou wilt” splits apart from and is superior to the simple notion of “Do what you want” or “Do as you please.” Most people do not even know what they really want – what they really Will – and this requires an intense, continuing process of exploration and introspection. Traditionally, this is done by the methods of Magick and Yoga in Thelema. This allows us to not only control our body and mind but also explore the hidden regions and expand the understanding of ourselves to the uttermost. As Crowley says in the essay “On Thelema,” “The value of any being is determined by the quantity and quality of those parts of the universe which it has discovered, and which therefore compose its sphere of experience. It grows by extending this experience, by enlarging, as it were, this sphere.” Therefore we must use Magick, Yoga, and whatever methods we Will to explore ourselves and therefore manifest our Wills more fully, freely, purely, and perfectly.

Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131With these considerations of both the negative & positive aspects of Thelema/Will, we may understand the proclamation of the Master Therion when he says,

“From [this], it should be clear that “Do what thou wilt” does not mean “Do what you like.” It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond. Do what thou wilt–then do nothing else. Let nothing deflect thee from that austere and holy task. Liberty is absolute to do thy will; but seek to do any other thing whatever, and instantly obstacles must arise. Every act that is not in definite course of that one orbit is erratic, an hindrance. Will must not be two, but one.”
-Aleister Crowley, Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion

Love is the law, love under will.

See also in the series on Will in Thelema: