What is Thelema?

Thelema is a Greek word meaning Will. The philosophy of Thelema was originally created by François Rabelais in the 16th century. Some have constructed a religion around Thelema, complete with Canon and Creed; however, the English poet and mystic Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947), who regarded himself as its Prophet, states that to call [[Thelema] a religion “might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief. The word does not occur in The Book of the Law.” [ Magick without Tears Chapter 31 ]

For Aleister Crowley, Thelema was a Word for the process of achieving Samadhi, as well as a process for manifesting one’s Will in the World. The Book of the Law refers to Will used in this manner as the Double Wand of Power. Before Crowley received the Book of the Law in 1904, he made it a precondition of his reception that he successfully attain to the spiritual state known as Samadhi. Thus, he received the Book of the Law as a form of instruction, which he took as a guide through the process of the attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, and of Crossing the Abyss, which led him to the realization of his goal, Samadhi.

That is Thelema.

Tat tvam Asi.

Definition of Thelema

In order to clarify the above, here is a working definition of Thelema which accords with the view of Ecclesia Gnostica Universalis:

Thelema n 1 : a spiritual philosophy teaching the discovery and following of one’s own unique will as a path to supreme realization 2 : the unique, individual will 3 : the faculty of will.

Encouraging the Growth of Gnosis

We believe that everybody has gnosis, just as Buddhists believe that everyone is enlightened from the beginning. It’s just that we’ve forgotten, and may need a little assistance to remember. Nobody can give or transmit to us what we already have, but a little help from our friends can help us remember what we already know.

As we believe that Gnosis comes from action, and not just from study, we will encourage the People to perform ritual. And since Gnosis is creative and evolutionary, we will encourage the People to create their own rituals. This is intended to progressively increase the individual’s confidence in their own Gnosis.

Progress in Ecclesia Gnostica Universalis depends on self-assessment. Each member is expected to assess his or her own level. To move to the next level, one should communicate one’s self-assessment to a Templar, Priest, Priestess, or Bishop as appropriate. They will encourage you to write your own rite of baptism, confirmation, or dedication, based on examples which will appear on our Rites page. Your selected mentor will help you with the finer details, and schedule a public performance of that rite for your advancement. This rite is as much for the benefit of the People as for your own benefit.

In order to avoid the tendency of the ego to exaggerate spiritual progress, a required component of a confirmation ritual will be the Vow of True Assessment. That is, to become a member of the People, one is expected to vow to be scrupulously honest in the assessment of one’s own spiritual attainment.

Gnosis and Creative Evolution

Gnosis is not about the celebration of history. Our Church is derived from, and is in many way similar to, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. However, there are significant differences in our philosophies. These philosophical differences manifest primarily in two areas, our rites and our saints list.

It is first neccesary to understand that the E.G.C. is devoted to implementing, preserving and transmitting Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass (Liber XV) exactly as written. This is not a new attitude for a church to take, nor is it an attitude without merit. This method has also been used in Tibetan Buddhism, where in the so-called New Schools, the monastic tradition has been quite successful at preserving and transmitting the Vajrayana tradition with very little change for over a thousand years.

On the other hand, the Nyingma or Old School of Tibetan Buddhism takes a different approach. In the Nyingma sect, a lama or teacher need not be a monk. Also, the Nyingma tradition recognizes the validity of terma, or found teachings. According to tradition, Padmasambhava, the lineage founder, and his consort, Yeshe Tsogyal, hid many secret teachings, images and implements in caves and temples throughout Tibet. When these are found, they are recognized as valid teachings of the school. The Nyingma school also recognizes what are called mind terma: this is when a new teaching is discovered by an advanced practitioner within his own mental continuum, and frequently manifests as a vision in which a deity appears and gives practical instruction.

Aleister Crowley himself received a number of mind terma: In the A.’.A.’. these are called Class A documents. The process itself is even referred to in a Class A document, Liber LXV (Ch. I, vs. 2-5), where is is written: Adonai spake unto V.V.V.V.V., saying: There must ever be division in the word. For the colours are many, but the light is one. Therefore thou writest that which is of mother of emerald, and of lapis-lazuli, and of turquoise, and of alexandrite. Another writeth the words of topaz, and of deep amethyst, and of gray sapphire, and of deep sapphire with a tinge as of blood.

Ecclesia Gnostica Universalis is dedicated to the continuing evolution of the Gnosis. We believe that as our culture changes, our rituals should change as well, to draw upon current cultural symbols and attitudes. For this reason we encourage the creation of new Gnostic Masses, dedicated to the deities of diverse traditions, and using those symbols which are harmonious with those traditions and with our current evolutionary goals.

For the same reason, we continue to recognize new Saints, as we need not be afraid that the addition of new and evolving viewpoints might invalidate our rites. In particular, we recognize that our awareness of gender issues has evolved since Crowley’s time. Thus we recognize the Sainthood of Women as well as of Men, rather than engage in the creative retrofitting of reasons for their omission by Crowley.

The Political Structure of the Church

Some have asked, including the founders of EGnU, why a church should have a hierarchical structure. We were, in fact, ready to throw it out. It was kept for two reasons. The first has to do with the topics covered under the heading Encouraging the Growth of Gnosis — to have someone to confirm and agree with your self-assessment and encourage you to celebrate it.

The second has to do with the inevitable result of being a growing organization: administration. We believe that the Priestesses and Priests should be free to perform their spiritual work without having to deal with administrative matters unless they so choose. The Bishop/Templar synergy is intended to fulfill the administrative needs of the Church: the Templars administer and maintain the Temples, the Bishops synthesize information for Church administration and for any requirements of the State.

However, we do not believe in the usual top-down authority structure. First of all, it is not in keeping with our philosophy of encouraging the growth of the Gnosis in the People. Second, we have seen it go wrong, where those at the top or in charge fail to listen to the needs of the People. Therefore, a feedback system is needed between the People and the College of Bishops. This is not yet completely worked out, but it is intended to be something like the Initiative and Referendum process used by some State governments.

Thus, if a matter is of concern to the People, they should be able to let the College of Bishops know so that some action can be taken. If there is no mechanism for this to occur, people will just get more and more unhappy, and eventually leave the Church (perhaps to found a new one).

Similarly, if the College of Bishops has to make some decision regarding the administration of the Church, in which there is no strong feeling or indication of the best direction, or which is so important that they hesitate to make an arbitrary decision on behalf of all, they should have a mechanism for referring the issue to the People. In this way the Church can continually evolve to fulfill the changing needs of its evolving membership, rather than propagate a dated one-size-fits-all approach to spiritual evolution.


4 thoughts on “Philosophy

    1. egnu93 Post author

      A bishop is a facilitator. They work together to consecrate other bishops and singularly to open new bodies as well as appoint priests. Their level of activity is solely up to them. Some meet people in person and others do not. If you’re at least 18, then your best bet is to contact the bishop in question and inquire of them personally since activities vary so widely.

    2. egnu93 Post author

      In contrast with other top-down heavy hierarchies, EGnU actually follows Thelemic philosophy and recognizes the individual’s ability to govern himself as his conscience dictates. You will not have people telling you what to believe, telling you how you should interpret Thelema, etc. Bishops are autonomous and so are priests, templars, etc. Everyone gathers together in free communion – of their own volition.

      You will find temples and bishops of a variety of religious persuasions and paths. Do some inquiring and you might find a place you fit. Of course, you have to be at least 18 to participate, but you will not be discriminated against whether you be a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, atheist or whatever else.

      It’s a big tent and hopefully you can find where you belong….even if that means starting your own temple. The website changed administrators a few months back, so contact information may not be totally up to date, but it’s being worked on.

  1. COLT

    A note from ‘North’ by Louis-Ferdinand Celine, trans. Ralph Manheim (Dalkey Archive, 1998), p.256: reveals that L’Abbaye de Theleme was a famous night club on the Place Pigalle at the beginning of the 20th century – it took its name from the abbey that features in Rabelais’ ‘Pantagruel’, whose motto was ‘Do as you please’. It’s conceivable that Crowley was a patron of this nightclub, although I’m not aware of any concrete evidence that supports this idea.


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