Aleister Crowley

Introduction to Crowley

"Do What Thou Wilt"

The Book of the Law

The Tree of Life

Spiritual Practice

Truth and Falsehood

Sex and Gender


His Personality

His Writing

Essays on Crowley

Facts and Phallacies

The Freedom of Doubt

The Included Middle

A Letter to Close

Pentagram Ritual

Tetragrammaton Mass

Why Crowley Doesn't Suck

The Book of Dzyan

Laylah, a Scarlet Woman.Sex and Gender

Since Rabelais Theleme has been associated with libertinism and Crowley's version is no exception. Crowley was a libidinous individual and he delighted in flouting Christian sexual taboos. He was a bisexual sex magician with some interest in sadism and masochism, as well as sexual adventurism of other types. According to published diaries, much of his sex magic was done with sex workers, or as he preferred to say, whores. He felt this term was a compliment.

Like many late-19th-century occultists, Crowley thought that scholarship had discovered that the one true religious tradition behind all the appearances of world religion was a phallic cult. His own system he described as "solar-phallic", and while the particular sexual formulae he employed are secret, it is no secret that the formulae of all three groups, A.·. A.·., O.T.O. and EGC all are charged with sexual significance. Other occult groups of the time, such as the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, P. B. Randolph's various endeavors, and Thomas Lake Harris's sexual Spiritualism also contained sex magic teachings, and Theosophy contains a refutation of the phallic theory by presenting it as the decadent and harmful magic of the race before ours.

Crowley had a personal problem with sexism, even misogyny. This is reflected both in the subjection of the female sexual force to the male in his phallocentric system, and in the comments he was prone to make about women in his writing. This is bound to put off many readers of both genders and it is a legitimate concern about Crowley's character as well as about his ritual formulae, which use women as consecrated instruments and put the male creative force at the center. Whether this is a reason to abandon Crowley, or simply a problem in his work to be dealt with, is a matter for personal judgment. The idea that his sexism did not exist, or is not a problem, or did not find its way into his sexual formulae, is not compatible with the evidence.

There is an increasing awareness of the problem by Thelemic practitioners and groups, and it is likely that reforms will be forthcoming in the next few decades. In the meantime there is still a great deal of repetition of Crowley's sexism by his disproportionately male followers and this has had to be reflected in some of the voices below. They reflect positions that one might expect to hear today.

The Literalist might say this: Male and female are eternal dualities symbolized by the pillars of Mercy and Severity of the Tree of Life. The male is the lively, enlightening, creative, jovial force of the Pillar of Mercy, while the female is the brooding, dark, harsh, silent, but nourishing matrix of the Pillar of Severity in which the divine Seed takes shape. Creation is a higher function than destruction and Light is a higher power than darkness and so ours is a Solar-Phallic Religion. The female holds an honored place with us as the sacred shrine in which the Holy Spirit dwells, but never forget that she is only a temporary repository for the true God, the Quintessence, the ultimate Creative Will as expressed by the Representative of the Sun on Earth, the Phallus.

The Chaotic might say this: Sex is a serious road to magical power and a gateway to the unconscious mind. Crowley deserves credit for working it and trying to explain it as well as he could, but sex has moved on from the 19th century and taking Crowley's views seriously today would be like reading old marriage manuals to interpret Madonna or Marilyn Monroe. Sex is too wild to be tied down to one set of formulas and Crowley is sometimes just a Puritan in reverse. There are an infinite number of sexual forms and Crowley's don't seem as special or unique today as they did a hundred years ago.

The Skeptic might say this: The theory of the universal phallic religion flourished as a reaction against sex-negativity when it was hard to talk rationally about sex in Western culture. The theory has not held up now that cultural barriers to sexual discussion have been lowered. Some of the phallicists' discussion of deities like Priapus and Shiva remains respectable and valid but not their universalism. Sex and religion are linked but Crowley's system is not the last word on their relationship, and his theory of a single sexual secret preserved through the ages is definitely false. Crowley's sexism was a product of his time but seems even worse than that because of his satirical attempts to flout taboos with offensive speech, including violations of the polite (but covertly sexist) verbal code of ostensible respect for women. Many religions in the 20th century and beyond are faced with the challenges of feminist reform and there is as much (or little) hope for Thelema as for other traditionally sexist systems like Christianity and Hinduism.

The Mystic might say this: Every person is both man and woman, and every man and every woman is a star. The mystical formula of Union of Opposites or Thelemic Love, related to the Hegelian dialectical formula, can be enacted with thoughts or with bodies and is constantly enacting itself in the world around us. It is the Key to the Stone of the Philosophers and to the Universal Medicine. To downplay or disparage the male-female polarity would be to cripple the magic -- it is their very difference from each other that makes their Union powerful. In a ritual involving sex the actual equipment of the partners are consecrated ritual tools which must be used according to their natural formula like any other tool of High Magick; hence the man is the creative and active partner while the woman is passive, receptive and silent. This is not sexism but biology.

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Related Links:

Scarlet Woman Lodge - this Lodge of the O.T.O. in Austin has sponsored a gender conference and read a national paper on Crowley's misogyny

Temple of Thelema - revised its traditional materials to remove sexism and elevate female images.