Aleister Crowley

On Thelema

“On Thelema” by Aleister Crowley, written circa 1926–1927, was unpublished until it appeared

[ in The Revival of Magick, edited by Hymenaeus Beta & R. Kaczynski (1998 ev.) ]


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

The Universe is the fulfillment and the sum total of all possibilities. Indeed one may almost say that this is so by definition.

A conscious being — i.e., an individual center of consciousness, a Monad — can possess in itself no qualities. Its idea of the existence of not only the Universe but itself is evidently dependent upon and conterminous with those sets of possibilities which it has itself experienced. That part of the Universe which has as yet not entered within the sphere of its experience has no existence for it. It is as a new world — a universe awaiting discovery. Each conscious being, therefore, must differ from every other by virtue of its position in the universe; one not of latitude and longitude, nor of time and space, but rather a position of degree or state of consciousness, of point of view. Its identity, likewise, must of necessity be one of pure negation. 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. In the case of two beings possessing little or no experience in common, mutual understanding is clearly impossible. Sympathy is thus seen to be more a question of experience being approximately conterminous, or at least coincident with respect to a large proportion of the experiences to which special value is attached by both. The real value of any new experience is determined by its aptitude for increasing the sum total of knowledge, or the degree of understanding and illumination it sheds on previous experiences.

As a general rule, then, the greater the sum of coincident experiences of any two beings, the greater the likelihood of their general agreement. Thus, at a certain point in development a being is very likely to consider any disagreement with him as definite error, and it is an extremely important stage in progress to reach an habitual attitude of mind which realizes that any divergent view of a given question is due not to moral obliquity, but to a greater variety of assimilable experiences. Such individuals grow in a very special manner when they learn to welcome divergent points of view and contrary experiences, and seek to assimilate them, as understanding that this is the best possible way to acquire at a single stroke an immensity of new experiences instead of having to go through them in detail.

It should be clear from the foregoing that the Law of Thelema “Do what thou wilt” must be a logical rule of conduct to anyone who accepts the above premises, for the ultimate Will of every conscious being must be to so increase his general experience as to understand and know himself, which he can only do by studying and understanding the whole universe. That the task is endless is no detriment to this process, but makes it all the more interesting. It is the way of the tao. Finality would cloy.

Now then, with regard to the explanation of the Law given elsewhere in The Book of the Law, “Love is the law, love under will”,[1] while will as above shown is of absolute logical and ethical validity, it can only be executed by the process of assimilation of all foreign elements; that is, by love. To refuse to unite oneself with any phenomenon soever is to deprive oneself of its value — even of life itself, as in the case of the Black Brothers, shut up in the Abyss, and doomed to conscious disintegration in the realm of disconnected ideas and experiences, to “perish with the dogs of Reason.”[2] This refusal is only enacted when one is convinced that the new phenomenon is hostile to the set of experiences already acquired and made part of oneself. But it is a serious mark of imperfection, of grave failure to realize the facts in the matter, to take this attitude. Even supposing, for one brief moment and for argument’s sake alone, that the new idea under consideration is so incompatible with the experiences already acquired and assimilated that their destruction is necessitated if it is to be accepted, then one fact stands out vividly, showing clearly that the old set of experiences is so imperfect as to be actually unfitted to continue its erstwhile existence; its destruction would be an advantage to that being, enabling a reconstruction along totally different lines — a reconstruction which would lend itself more readily to the acquisition of new experiences and apparently contradictory ideas.

Needless to say, of course, it is necessary in actual practice to use one’s judgment in choosing the phenomenon which one next proposes to assimilate. One should not necessarily shoot oneself or another out of mere curiosity. The right of choice is with the individual. At the same time it should be remembered that “The word of Sin is Restriction.”[3] No other individual has any right to determine or restrict the choice of another except in such cases as the experience of one includes for all practical purposes the experience of the other; as in the case of parents and young children. There are also various other cases where the free choice of the individual must be restricted insofar as that unhampered choice might interfere with the equal rights of others. But this is in no way a question of abstract right and wrong, but a matter of practical politics.

The phrase “pitiless love,” thrown scornfully at times in the faces of Thelemites, although not itself occurring in The Book of the Law, has nevertheless a certain justification. 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, and that moreover one is so insidiously obsessed by the Trance of Sorrow as to have completely failed in the task of solving the riddle of Sorrow, and gone through life with the groan of a hurt animal — “All is Sorrow.”[4] 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”[5] 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.

“… for there are love and love. There is the dove, and there is the serpent.”[6] Sympathy, obviously, is the more correct frame of mind, for it is a pitiless love involving in reality an identification of oneself with the other; it is therefore an act of true love. “There is no bond that can unite the divided but love”[7]

If we translate the Greek word into Latin and say “compassion” instead of “sympathy,” the process of degeneration of language gives it a false connotation. It must be remembered that the Greek word pathein[8] does not necessarily mean to suffer in the same etymological sense of sub fero,[9] which implies inferiority and therefore pity. Of compassion, is it not written “Compassion is the vice of kings”?[10]

Love is the law, love under will.



[1] Liber AL I:57

[2] Liber AL II:27. The A∴A∴ teaches that those Adepts who cannot or will not surrender their egos in the Ordeal of the Abyss remain there to become Black Brothers, misguided seekers who mistake their own egos for the Godhead. See Liber 418 and “One Star in Sight” …

[3] Liber AL I:41.

[4] Dukkhā is the realization that everything connected to the physical world leads to pain and suffering. It is the “First Noble Truth” of the Buddha.

[5] Liber AL I:3.

[6] Liber AL I:57.

[7] Liber AL I:41.

[8] A word signifying “to suffer, to be affected.”

[9] Latin, sub (“under”) and fero (“to bear”), i.e., to endure or undergo, and the etymology of the English word “suffer.”

[10] Liber AL II:21.