For those who believe the spiritual realm intersects with the mundane, there are a multitude of references across time and place that warn of a spiritual ‘combat’. Saint Paul and John of Patmos spoke of such things, as did Hopi elders, Jeremiah, the Hindu holy texts, the Voluspa of the Norse, the Muslim historical philosopher Ibn Khaldun, and our Western counterparts Oswald Spengler and Julius Evola, as well as René Guénon who wrote of the present era as the ‘reign of quantity’. Many thinkers such as Evola, Guénon and Rudolf Steiner, speaking from first-hand experiences, identified a conspiracy by ‘Black Adepts’ to enslave humanity to matter (the physical realm), detached from the cosmos and separated from the Divine.
Among those who warned of this increasing dehumanisation was the ‘infamous’ British occultist Aleister Crowley, scourge of respectable English society during the 1920s, portrayed by the tabloid press as a ‘Satanist’ and ‘the wickedest man in the world’, but also an operative for the British secret service in both the major 20th century world wars.1 Far from being a ‘Black Magician’, Crowley sought to oppose the ‘Black Adepts’ in what he, along with Steiner, Evola and Guénon, et al, saw as an occult war. Crowley’s doctrine, when applied to the political, social and economic spheres, is contrary to that of the Anti-Traditionalist and Counter-Traditionalist currents addressed by Evola and Guénon. Thelema is aristocratic rather than communistic, despite incongruous allusions by Crowley to Adam Weishaupt and the Illuminati.2 Thelema is the antithesis of Illuminism, Jacobinism, secular humanism and other such currents that emerged from Freemasonry.
Crowley explained that while the Yellow School “stands aloof,” “the Black School and the White are always more or less in active conflict.”3 He wrote of the nexus between the Black School and Freemasonry, and how Masonry had been taken over and redirected by the Black Masters and their adepts. According to Crowley:
The meaning of masonry has either been completely forgotten or has never existed, except insofar as any particular rite might be a cloak for political or even worse intrigue.4
Crowley also referred to English Masons “in official relationship with certain masonic bodies whole sole raison d’etre is anti-clericalism, political intrigue and trade benefit,” despite English Masonry supposedly eschewing such motives.5
Thelema & Nietzsche
To the mass movements and doctrines that were sprouting in the name of ‘the people’ but can only result in tyranny, Crowley offered what he intended to be the religion of a new Aeon, Thelema, the Greek word for Will.
“There is no law but do what thou wilt”6 is the dictum of Thelema, misunderstood precisely for what it is not: anarchism and ego-driven individualism of the type promoted by the ‘Black Adepts’ in the name of democracy, liberalism, human rights and other popular clichés designed to fracture and deconstruct society as a dialectical process for reconstructing a ‘new world order’. Crowley unequivocally stated that “do what thou wilt” “must not be regarded as individualism run wild.”7
The essence of Thelema is the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Crowley lists Nietzsche as one of the ‘saints’ of Thelema in the Gnostic Catholic Mass.8 It is Nietzsche dressed up with mysticism and religious garb. But Nietzsche also presented his doctrines in quasi-religious and mystical ways, calling his most well-known book after the name of the founder of Zoroastrianism, Zarathustra, and writing Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the style of an Old Testament prophet. The dictum of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is Will. The means of achieving one’s will is through “self-overcoming”9 that requires the sternest discipline upon oneself. Nietzsche wrote in opposition to Darwinian evolution,10 stating that human evolution would be willed, not the result of random genetic mutations. This next step of human evolution would result – if able to ‘cross the abyss’ of self-destruction – in the Over-Man. In this – misconceptions to the contrary – one is most brutal towards oneself, not others.
Schooled in the occult by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, where Egyptian mythology was in vogue, Crowley coated Thelema with a largely Egyptian façade. His ‘bible’, ‘The Book of the Law’, Liber Legis, an automatic writing scripted in Cairo by Crowley in 1904, is said to be a transmission from “the Gods” through an entity named Aiwass, or Aiwaz, depending on the numerological significance, which Crowley on other occasions referred to as his own ‘Holy Guardian Angel’, or ‘Higher Self’.
In Thelema this is the ‘True Self’. The only purpose in life is to discover one’s True Self and follow that path regardless of the hardships; equivalent to Nietzsche’s self-overcoming, the individual’s battle against his or her own weaknesses and all obstacles that stand in the way of following one’s path. This requires, states Crowley, the harshest self-discipline, and is far removed from hedonism and self-indulgence. It is what the Muslims call the ‘greater Jihad’, the fight within oneself. It does not justify any sociopathic disregard for others.
Thelema’s other primary dictum is “Every man and every woman is a star.”11 Since every star has its own orbit, the course of one’s star should not, if the law of Thelema is correctly applied, conflict with another’s orbit or the path of a True Self. Again Crowley was clear: “The highest are those who have mastered and transcended accidental environment… There is a good deal of the Nietzschean standpoint in this verse.”12
Thelema, in recognising that everyone has a True Self, does not recognise that the brightness of all stars is equal. Hence, Thelema eschews socialist and other neo-Jacobin – and New Age – ideologies that demand universal equality. Again, Crowley is clear when describing Thelema as a stellar religion, “reflecting the highly organised structure of the universe,” which includes “stars that are of greater magnitude and brilliance than the rest.”13 Equality is rejected: “The is no creature on earth the same. All the members, let them be different in their qualities, and let there be no creature equal with another.”14
Thelema was intended for the creation of a new aristocracy, one neither blood nor money based, but the merit of one’s own struggle. Crowley advocated the Nietzschean revival of a “master morality and a slave morality,”15 meaning that the great mass of people would always have servile characteristics, hence, “the slaves shall serve”:16 their characteristics are to follow those who are innately aristocratic and capable of fulfilling their True Will to the fullest extent. The masses are “that canting, whining, servile breed of whipped dogs which refuses to admit its deity”; “the natural enemy of good government.”17 The new aristocracy would be able to pursue long-range goals without the encumbrances of pandering to democratic whims.18 This aversion to mass politics shuns the democratic vote, “the principle of popular election [being] a fatal folly,” resulting in the election of “mediocrity”: “the safe man, the sound man, and therefore never the genius, the man of progress and illumination.”19
That is not to say any Thelemic state would be a crushing tyranny as per socialism. To the contrary, Crowley eschewed all levelling doctrines. He shared the views of other creative types of the time, including his arch rival in the Golden Dawn, W.B. Yeats, and the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, that all arising mass movements including Bolshevism, Fascism, and the emerging consumer society with its cultural levelling, were very much negative developments.
Thelema was also intended as a fighting creed or more aptly, a knightly creed, to wage a Thelemic holy war against creeds that aim to suppress freedom. The ‘new Aeon’ is, after all, one of ‘force and fire’, presided over by the hawk-headed god Horus. Crowley saw an era of conflict preceding the new Aeon, in which the new “aristocrats” would be in conflict with the masses: “and when the trouble begins, we aristocrats of freedom, from castle to the cottage, the tower or the tenement, shall have the slave mob against us.”20 Again one sees the focus for the new aristocracy on character rather than either wealth or birth; a new aristocracy that, like Nietzsche’s Over-Man, emerges through struggle.
Crowley described a government following a Thelemic course as one in which, far from a hedonistic free-for-all, “set[s] limits to individual freedom. For each man in this state which I propose is fulfilling his own True Will by his eager Acquiescence in the Order necessary to the Welfare of all, and therefore of himself also.”21
Crowley advocated the organic state, or what was in his time known as corporatism, of which Fascism was an effort. The doctrine of the organic or corporate state (as in corpus, or body) was a broad movement across the world, often influenced by Catholic social doctrine as a vestige of Tradition, contending with both capitalism and Bolshevism. In the organic state, as the term implies, society is regarded as analogous to a living organism: the government is the brain co-ordinating each organ (classes, professions), while the body is composed of cells (individuals). This organic conception of society parallels Traditional societies, as explained by Evola,22 in which the socio-economic structure was a pyramidal hierarchy with the guilds at its foundation. Again, Crowley was specific, describing the organic state very cogently:
In the body every cell is subordinated to the general physiological Control, and we who will that Control do not ask whether each individual Unit of that Structure be consciously happy. But we do care that each shall fulfil its Function, with Contentment, respecting his own task as necessary and holy, not envious of another’s. For only mayst thou build up a Free State, whose directing will shall be to the Welfare of all.23
In fulfilling one’s True Will the individual (cell) contributes to the social organism. This is a Traditional view of society where every individual’s calling is a reflection of his character as part of the cosmos. Anything subverting this order, such as class struggle – “not envious of another’s” task as Crowley put it – could be described as a cancer in the social organism, disrupting the correct function of the cells and organs of society.
The socio-economic structure of a Thelemic state would return to the guilds as in Medieval society, in which work is not economic drudgery but one’s divine calling. There was no class struggle in the Medieval world, whether of a capitalist or Marxist nature. Economic competition was alien to the Medieval mind. In the European Medieval period, guilds were the fundamental organs of society. Crowley alluded to the guilds when describing the structure of his magickal order, Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO):
Before the face of the Areopagus24 stands an independent Parliament of Guilds. Within the Order, irrespective of Grade, the members of each craft, trade, science, or profession form themselves into a Guild, making their own laws, and prosecute their own good, in all matters pertaining to their labour and means of livelihood. Each Guild chooses the man most eminent in it to represent it before the Areopagus of the eighth Degree, and all disputes between the various guilds are argued before that Body, which will decide according to the grand principles of the Order.25
Crowley’s OTO is here seen as a society in microcosm. Crowley’s ideas on the organic state, and the role of the arts, are most closely reflected in the very brief time of the Free State of Fiume, created by Italian war hero and eminent man of letters, Gabrielle D’Annunzio. The Free State of Fiume attracted idealists from all over Italy – Anarchists, Fascists, Futurists and Traditionalists – into a remarkable experiment,26 albeit one that seems to have been oddly unmentioned by Crowley, despite existing when he was present in Italy (1920).
Economics of Leisure & Art
Crowley said that once obligations to the social order are met, there should be “a surplus of leisure and energy” that can be spent “in pursuit of individual satisfaction.”27 Again, we hark back to the pre-industrial epoch of Europe, when the artisan and peasant in a village-based economy, worked according to his social obligations, but had an abundance of leisure that today seems utopian.
Such a renewed social order would include a realistic approach to money as a means of exchange rather than as the commodity it became over the course of centuries. As mentioned in New Dawn,28 Crowley addressed the issue:
What is money? A means of exchange devised to facilitate the transactions of business. Oil in the engine. Very good then: if instead of letting to flow as smoothly and freely as possible, you baulk its very nature, you prevent it from doing its True Will. So every “restriction” on the exchange of wealth is a direct violation of the Law of Thelema.29
It seems likely that Crowley was introduced to new economic theories through A. R. Orage, editor of The New Age, from whence T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and the New Zealand poet Rex Fairburn also learned about economics.30
In a Thelemic state, one might envisage usurers being dragged through the streets and pilloried in stocks, if not worse, and then declared a literal outlaw.
Once the material needs of the people are met there would be leisure to pursue higher callings in life. It suggests the ‘self-realisation’ and ‘hierarchy of human needs’ model of the humanistic psychology of Maslow et al, if one seeks a current theory.
Again, this returns to a bygone era where the peasantry and townsfolk had an abundance of holy-days. The work week was five and a half days.
People also rested on the day of the patron saint of their guild and of their parish, and there was, of course, a complete holiday on Sundays and on holy days of obligation. These were very numerous in the Middle Ages – 30 to 33 a year, according to the province.31
The work day was based on sun-rise and sun-set, which meant fewer working hours during winter, and a few hours longer in summer. Popular theatre was lively, and actors were widely drawn from the village folk. Not only religious themes but burlesque, satire, romance and history were themes.
Crowley proposes a state in which people are free to pursue higher cultural attainments.
These things being first secured, thou mayst afterward lead them to the Heavens of Poesy and Tale, of Music, Painting and Sculpture, and into the love of the mind itself, with its insatiable Joy of all Knowledge.32
Realising that ‘stars’ are of unequal brilliance, Crowley condemned “the cant of democracy,” stating it was “useless to pretend that men are equal,” and that most are content to “stay dull.”33 Given every opportunity, most would be content satisfying their material needs, with no horizons beyond “ease and animal happiness.” Those whose True Wills are to ascend the social hierarchy would form “a class of morally and intellectually superior men and women.”34
Crowley addressed the problems of the machine age, relevant to the present technocratic era, where man is becoming an economic cog. What Crowley said about industrialisation is prescient in light of the modern technological age, with its ongoing dehumanisation and life increasingly virtual and detached from interpersonal bonds, whether individual, family, or community. Paradoxically, the oligarchic interests promoting all this do so behind catchcries of ‘brotherhood’ and a ‘new world order’. Hence Crowley, like Oscar Wilde,35 W.B. Yeats, et al, lamented the destruction of craftsmanship that proceeded apace after the Industrial Revolution. One might say prior to that since the mercantile spirit of the Reformation made economics the master, again in the name of ‘freedom’. Crowley wrote:
Machines have already nearly completed the destruction of craftsmanship. A man is no longer a worker but a machine-feeder. The product is standardised; the result mediocrity… Instead of every man and every woman being a star, we have an amorphous population of vermin.36
Today, in place of the machine-feeder there is the data-feeder, while products remain standardised, including the arts, aggravated by mass techno-entertainment.
Crowley’s vision was that of the Thelemite as Knight fighting every tyranny that suppressed the human will:
We have to fight for freedom against oppressors, religious, social or industrial, and we are utterly opposed to compromise, every fight is to be a fight to the finish; each one of us for himself, to do his own will, and all of us for all, to establish the law of Liberty… Let every man bear arms, swift to resent oppression… generous and ardent to draw sword in any cause, if justice or freedom summon him.37
It seems we still await the emergence of such Knights of Thelema, although one suspects that like Yukio Mishima, the modern age Samurai, these Knights would be quickly liquidated by the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of religious lunatics, whether in the name of Jesus, Allah or YHWH, leaving little scope for chivalric combat.
- Richard Spence, ‘The Magus was a Spy: Aleister Crowley and the Curious Connections Between Intelligence and the Occult’, New Dawn 105, November-December 2007, 25-30
- Weishaupt is listed as a ‘saint’ in Crowley’s Gnostic Catholic mass. Magick in Theory and Practice, Samuel Weiser, 1984, 430
- Aleister Crowley, Magick Without Tears, Falcon Press, 1983, 66
- Crowley, 1986, 68-69. Crowley also writes here of Masonic ‘Christian’ degrees being changed in the USA to enable the initiation of ‘Jewish bankers’.
- Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986, 697. Rudolf Steiner was also similarly critical of English Masonry.
- Crowley, Liber Legis, Samuel Weiser, 1976, 3:60
- Crowley, The Law is for All, Falcon Press, 1985, 321
- Crowley, Magick, 430
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Penguin Books, 1969, 136-138
- KR Bolton, ‘Nietzsche Contra Darwin’, in Southgate, ed., Nietzsche: Thoughts & Perspectives, Vol. 3, Black Front Press, 2011, 5-19
- Liber Legis, 1: 3
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 175
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 143-145
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 228
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good & Evil, Penguin, 1984, 175
- Liber Legis, 2: 58
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 192
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 193
- Crowley, Liber CXCIV, ‘OTO. An intimation with references to the Constitution of the Order’, para. 10, The Equinox, Vol. III, No. 1, 1919
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 192
- Crowley, The Book of Wisdom or Folly, Samuel Weiser, 1991, Liber Aleph Vel CXI, De Ordine Rerum, clause 39
- Julius Evola, Men Above the Ruins, Inner Traditions, 2002, 224-234
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 251-252
- Supreme court.
- Crowley, ‘OTO. An intimation with references to the Constitution of the Order’, para. 21
- Bolton, Artists of the Right, Counter-Currents Publishing, 2012, 27-30
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 230
- Bolton, ‘A Secret History of Money Power’, New Dawn Special Issue Vol. 10, No. 2, 55, 58
- Crowley, Magick Without Tears, Falcon Press, 1983, 346
- Bolton, New Dawn, 58
- Hugh O’Reilly, ‘Medieval Work and Leisure’,
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 251
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 192
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 227
- Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Black House Publishing, 2012
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 281
- Crowley, The Law is for All, 317
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