Thelema is the English spelling of the Greek word 'Θελημα' which means 'will' or 'intention.'
Aleister Crowley's Thelema
Thelema is the name of a philosophical/religious system established in 1904 by Aleister Crowley with the writing of Liber AL vel Legis, or The Book of the Law. This small book Crowley claimed to have taken as dictation from a spiritual being in Cairo on April 8th, 9th, and 10th.
The word Thelemite appears in The Book of the Law, and is used self-referentially by the adherents of Thelema.
Crowley was a fan of 16th century French satirist Francois Rabelais. Rabelais included a place called The Abbey of "Thélème" in his epic lampoon of religion, mysticism and politics, Gargantua and Pantagruel . In the story, Gargantua built the abbey in "Theleme" (a "provenance" located along the Loire River). Rabelais included the Greek word in his work and his inspired Crowley to borrow the concept of a temple of "Thelema", a postmodern homage to the Rabelaisian fantasy.
Doctrines of Thelema
The central doctrine of this system is that knowing and doing one's True Will is the ultimate purpose and duty of every being. This is summed up with the following phrases from Liber Legis,
- "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" (AL I:40)
- "Love is the law, love under will" (AL I:57)
- "The word of the law is Thelema" (AL I:39)
- "There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt" (AL III:60)
The True Will is a mystical concept that could be described as the one path of possible actions and encounters one finds no resistance in going. It is presumed that to do one's True Will is to be assisted by the whole universe, and that two True Wills can never contradict. Hence, to follow one's True Will means to respect every other True Will, which is described in "Love is the law". Opinions vary on whether one can know one's True Will, or merely judge by one's success in life.
Thelema stresses personal Freedom (balanced by disciplined responsibility), the inherent divinity of every human ("Every man and every woman is a star" –AL I:3), and the battle against superstition, tyranny, and oppression.
Living Thelema usually, but not necessarily, is intertwined with the practice of magic, particularly of the concepts and techniques explored and invented by Crowley.
Thelema and other systems of thought
Thelema is a magickal philosophy of life based on Will. The individual Will in Thelema is called Had or Hadit . The Way, or the Pleroma of infinite potentiality is called Nu or Nuit.
Many adherents of Thelema are syncretic and recognize correlations between Thelemic and other systems of spiritual thought; some borrow freely from other traditions. For example, Nu and Had are thought to correspond with the Tao and Teh of Taoism, Shakti and Shiva of the Hindu Tantras, Shunyata and Bodhicitta of Buddhism, Ain Soph and Kether in the Qabalah. Followers of the philosophy of Thelema may make use of the methods and practices derived from other traditions, including Alchemy, Astrology, Qabalah, Tantra, Tarot, and Yoga.
A number of organizations follow the tenets of Thelema. Primarily, these include Ordo Templi Orientis and the Argentinum Astrum, or A.'.A.'.. Other groups exist which have drawn inspiration or methods from Thelema but which never fully accepted Crowley's complete teachings, such as the Illuminates of Thanateros and the Temple of Set. The Fraternitas Saturni and related groups are special in that they accept Thelema, but extend it by the phrase "Mitleidlose Liebe!" ("Merciless love!")
Links of interest