What exactly is Thelema? Is it a religion? Is it a philosophy? Is it a cult? Was Aleister Crowley truly the ‘Wickedest Man in the World?
Colin D Campbell is well placed to comment upon Thelema. He has been studying and teaching elements of magickal practice for over twenty-five years and is the author of the universally credited commentary on Aleister Crowley’s 1904 – 1911 texts titled A Concordance to the Holy Books of Thelema (2003). In his latest Thelema he investigates the legacy of Aleister Crowley and assess the Victorian magician’s spiritual philosophy of Thelema.
The Master Therion
As is the case with all theological constructs, Thelema has its own central figurehead, or master/teacher, who is credited with establishing its precepts and constructs. In the case of Thelema it is the English mountaineer, mystic, occultists and poet Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947) who plays this key central role.
Whilst Crowley, even to this day, remains a contentious character, those who appreciate his occult teachings understand that there is a great deal more to the man than the scurrilous character his critics seek to promote.
A Life in Magick
In Thelema: An Introduction to the Life, Work & Philosophy of Aleister Crowley, Campbell offers a straight-forward guide to what Thelema is and how it operates as a contemporary spiritual/magickal philosophy of self-attainment.
He splits his work into two main parts; a bio of Aleister Crowley, and then an examination of the operation of Thelemic occultism. In the first he describes the man, his education, spiritual interests, magickal attainment; alongside the more significant events that marked out Crowley’s remarkable life.
Here the author charts Crowley’s path from his early upbringing in Leominster, England, and describes Crowley as a well-educated young man who entered the wide world immensely rich but carrying a a deep resentment towards Christianity and the suffocating Victorian social mores of the period at the same time. The story then follows Crowley on his many travels through Asia, America, and the Middle-East to reveal some of the more significant people he met along the way; most of whom were instrumental in him forging his occult thinking in one way or another.
In part two of the book the author examines the rich, but complex, philosophy that underpins Thelema. This includes concise explanations of the single most sacred Thelemic text of all channeled by Crowley and his wife whilst on their honeymoon in Cairo in 1904 titled Liber Al vel Legis, or The Book of the Law by which it is more commonly known.
Campbell also considers the often misinterpreted Thelemic tenets of ‘Do What Though Wilt’ and ‘Every man and Every Woman is a Star’ followed by a consideration of the importance of the Egyptian God Horus in the establishment of a New Aeon and the value of the magick of Abramelin as forming a part of the magickians alignment to personal destiny.
Part three buries deeper into the form and structure of Thelemic practice. This includes a look at the most important ritual practices a Thelemite needs to follow. They include yoga, meditation, pranayama, invocation, and gestures.
Part four closes the book with an guide to modern Thelemic organisations; such as Crowley’s own secret order the A.A. and the O.T.O.
It is quite possible to wade through Crowleys own extensive autobiography (see Confessions), or any of the equally-detailed biographies of him, and still not get a firm grasp on what it was that Crowley ultimately gave birth to in the way of an occult doctrine.
In Thelema Campbell has taken on the massive task of contracting down the core elements of Crowley’s work and has successfully presented them in a way that becomes more accessible than even Crowley’s own writings on the subject.
Thelemic magick is a mishmash of disparate influences drawn from Crowley’s regular, and sometimes epic, travels around the world. Through his exploration of many different techniques and practices that Crowley developed his own brand of magickal working; which as Campbell points out in his book, forms a rich body of writings that draw upon such occult disciplines and esoteric practices as found in Eastern practices, the Kabbalah, Greek and Egyptian magick.
Whilst Thelema is a book of delights it is also a publication full of dangers, and for that reason, despite it being an introductory guide to the work of Crowley, it should not be approached with an attitude of idle inquisitiveness. Certainly the author’s biography of Crowley is highly readable and entertaining but the subsequent parts of the book detailing a guide to its practice. are not for the meek, or mild. This system is, after all, governed largely by the Aeon of Horus and overseen by the Egyptian god of war and destruction proving that Thelema is not, under any circumstances, a philosophy that bows to the weak and undisciplined.
If Thelema, as a spiritual concept, intrigues you and you are looking for a good, clear introduction to what is, after all, a path to self-initiation then Thelema by Colin D Campbell is most definitely an excellent point to embark upon a journey into one of the most richly-inspiring elements of modern occult practice.5/5