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"Do What Thou Wilt"
The Book of the Law
The Tree of Life
Truth and Falsehood
Sex and Gender
Essays on Crowley
Facts and Phallacies
The Freedom of Doubt
The Included Middle
A Letter to Close
Why Crowley Doesn't Suck
The Book of Dzyan
Many occultists endlessly spin out cosmologies and other symbolic arrangements having little relationship to any apparent pragmatic issue. Crowley speculated quite a lot, but coming from the rigorous curriculum of ritual and meditation of the Golden Dawn, and exposure to Buddhist monasticism and Hindu yoga, he was more concerned with setting up a program of spiritual exercises and degrees.
In Thelema the goal of the path is always the same, to be the most oneself that one can be, to know who you really are and to let that eternal self or True Will be the guiding force in life. To do this it is recommended that one practice ritual and meditative disciplines that still and focus the mind, travel astrally to various locations in the spiritual world inside or outside oneself, invoke sacred energies and beings, evoke and command spirits, attain to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel at the central sphere of the Tree of Life (called Tiphareth or Beauty), and at the Abyss between the supernal and lower spheres, give up all one's conceptions about one's self in favor of the radical perspective of the eternal self.
Initiation is a major theme in Crowley's system of Thelema, as in its two direct ancestors, the Golden Dawn and Theosophy. Initiation is a complex subject and has been the subject of extensive study by anthropologists. Freemasonry is an initiatic tradition in Western society that follows the model of initiation accepted by anthropologists, and esoteric Freemasonry has been a major contributor to the Golden Dawn, Theosophy, and Thelema as well as other magical groups, including modern Witchcraft. Initiations mark stages in personal development. Occult theories differ on whether initiations induce progress by working magic on the initiate, or whether they mark progress already made in personal work, or both.
The practices of Crowley's system are arranged in an initiatic progression that is called the A.·. A.·. system (those glyphs after the letter "A" are triangles made up of three dots, a Masonic usage indicating a claim to possess the Lost Word). This curriculum is a combination of Golden Dawn magic, Yogic and Buddhist meditation practices, and original practices developed by Crowley. The work required to achieve even the middle ranges of the system is very difficult and few people have accomplished this. Many Thelemites have claimed personal attainment in A.·. A.·. terms without undertaking the basic requirements.
The curriculum requires the daily practice of rituals and meditations, as well as magical retirements, a kind of one-person spiritual retreat in which weeks or months at a time may be spent in meditative solitude. The motto of Crowley's literary and magical journal, the Equinox, was "The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion". While his methods fall short of a truly scientific standard, one feature his system shares with anthropology is the requirement that one keep a detailed journal of practices and observations. Writing a phenomenological record of ritual experience is a crucial part of what is called ethnographic field observation in anthropology and of the A.·. A.·. system as well.
The A.·. A.·. system of initiations follows the spheres of the Tree of Life, as did the Golden Dawn. In addition to the Golden Dawn and a variety of Freemasonic and fringe Masonic degrees, Crowley gave and received the A.·. A.·. grades, the Ordo Templi Orientis degrees, and the ordinations and bishoprics of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica or Gnostic Catholic Church. These are all different systems but there is some overlap in themes and practices. The O.T.O. system follows a traditional model derived from Freemasonry, although like all Crowley's groups it admits both women and men. Rather than any arduous practices being required as in A.·. A.·., patience, devotion, the O.T.O. initiation rituals, some secret teachings, and a fraternal social process are supposed to equip the initiate over time to deal with inner mysteries of a magical nature. The EGC system is closely related to the O.T.O. but revolves around the traditional ecclesiastical offices of Priest and Bishop, as found in the wandering Bishop tradition of esoteric Christianity.
A number of new Thelemic groups with their own initiations and courses of study have sprung up since Crowley's death in 1947 and several are currently in operation. In addition, there are a number of different lineages of A.·. A.·. and several rival claimants to the title of O.T.O. The largest O.T.O. group, under Hymenaeus Beta, has won court cases in which it asserted the right to the O.T.O. name and to its share of the Crowley estate.
The Literalist might say this: The A.·. A.·. is the Great White Brotherhood, that hidden order of Initiates that has existed in Service throughout the ages and has emerged behind such masks as the Rosicrucians and the Zoroastrian Magi. The Third Order of A.·. A.·. has direct access to the deities and sages who operate the Occult Government not only of this world but of other worlds as well, both physical and spiritual. The Book of the Law was sent to humanity by the A.·. A.·. on the occasion of the revolution in Æons declared by its Secret Chiefs. Crowley held the grade of Magus in the A.·. A.·. and as such uttered the Word of the Æon, THELEMA, which all members accept as natural Law. Outer Orders such as O.T.O. are less important than the Inner Order of A.·. A.·. but exist in Service to it and may prepare the worthy to scale its heights.
The Chaotic might say this: The A.·. A.·. is an abstraction which includes all authentic magical paths. There are real groups that call themselves the A.·. A.·. but its real nature is in the continuity of spiritual traditions everywhere. Different groups may be best for different people and thinking of any one group as the One True Path is a remnant of the Æon of Osiris. Today there are spiritual methods that improve on Crowley's curriculum, like isolation tanks, trance music, sigilization, and mind machines. The Protestant work ethic is obsolete and there's no reason a magical path has to cop a Victorian attitude. Progress is possible through play as much as perseverance and perspiration.
The Skeptic might say this: Religious systems present themselves as revolving around doctrine, practice, and morality but they can often be best understood by the methods of political science, group psychology, sociology and anthropology. The homogenizing and leveling effects of social bonding are always in tension with the freedom of the individual. The ruling system offers a narrow range of compromises to preserve an appearance of free thought while keeping the range of acceptable viewpoints and statements narrow through tacit groupthink processes and/or overt dogma. The work of such scholars as Gershom Scholem, who researched the dynamic between traditional dogma and individual spiritual experience in Qabala, and Ellic Howe, who documented the social dynamics of the Golden Dawn, is useful in understanding Thelema as well. Thelemic groups have a dogmatic tendency that is in conflict with their commitment to freedom. There are many power dynamics involved in initiatic hierarchy and many people seek degrees for status and power. Still there is no psychological reason to doubt the basic premise of spiritual exercise -- that by dedicating time and work to the development of mental faculties they may be strengthened just as physical exercise strengthens the body.
The Mystic might say this: The ordinary mind is a roaring babble that drowns out the voices of the Holy Guardian Angel and of the True Will. Establishing Silence through Yogic concentration, then calling upon and strongly imagining the Forces behind the sensible world and emanating downward from Kether, one may climb the Ladder of Lights and obtain Enlightenment. Most people require instruction by groups to learn the practices that make Enlightenment more than a faint hope or dream and all such Fraternities derive their authority from A.·. A.·., which has existed since humans have and perhaps longer. Descending from Kether is a great Spiritual Hierarchy that beckons downwards to us and calls us Upward, as our Aspiration also lifts us Upward through the successive Emanations of the one supreme and invisible God within ourselves.
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