☉︎ in 28° Gemini : ☽︎ in 0° Gemini : Anno Vvi
To my Beloved Companion: Greeting and health.
I am aware everyone has their predilections toward what to read and what to avoid when it comes to advice in the Thelemic community. Such advice is rife with good intentions, I am sure. I find myself always coming back to the basics, however, whenever I am asked what I recommend. It’s two-edged sword, of course. Are there basics to read as a beginner? Should one dive into the Prophet’s corpus altogether?
I realized the other day that in all my writing I had nothing that just started out at the beginning of it all. As Thelemites, we have all kinds of beginner books and I complain ceaselessly about them all being unnecessary and repetitive of each other through their incestuous cannibalization and regurgitated echo chambers.
Yet even so much of Crowley work can be difficult and full of nonsense. Granted, there are those who would see this as a test in itself. They are under the impression that those who can’t handle Crowley are to be seen as weak and unworthy. I get that. I do. It’s silly, at best. Dangerous, at worst. Ultimately, though, it’s self-defeating.
One criticism I hear quite a bit, though always from the same individual, is that any sufficiently college-educated individual would be able to understand Crowley and Crowley’s own sources. I always laugh at this. It’s ridiculous. There isn’t a university around that offers a Victorian education. And even if one were able to cobble together some kind of “Crowleyanity” degree, it still wouldn’t supplant good reading habits, critical thinking skills, and a penchant for overblown verbosity as Crowley was wont to do. This is aside the fact that the individual offering this criticism on a regular basis is one of the lowest forms of bottom-feeders in the Thelemic ecosphere.
At the same time, though, I admit that approaching Thelema without Crowley is as equally dangerous as dismissing him altogether; but I think we can approach Crowley’s work in such a manner that we are not caught up in the personality cult that has infected much of his legacy that we see left over today through the Victorian fraternities and social cults. It still requires some knowledge of specialized language just as any religion, philosophy, or school of thought would require.
I have spent my entire adult life reading everything in Crowley’s corpus on which I could lay my hands. Many will swear by every jot and title. I find so much of it to be rubbish—except where it’s not. He can be quite eloquent and instructive. Yet so much of it is also technical toward ceremonial Magick and favored for that particular pursuit. It is not entirely helpful for anyone who is not inclined or even desiring of anything else. Of course, even that brings up its own challenges: where to lay down one’s biases, how to rise up to those interests that are not one’s own, when to sidestep hurdles in the path and when to see those hurdles as actual ordeals of personal initiation. And then there are those who write these incredible pronouncements and treatises of messianic proportions bound to dazzle those who can’t read past the first chapters of anything Crowley wrote in the first place.
In approaching the question of what to read, I’d like to answer this in two ways: first, with a recommendation as one dipping their toe into the pool and, second, as one diligently approaching Thelema as a field of study or, even, as a way of life. There is no implication here that one method is better than the other or even that my approach provided here is somehow superior despite the explanations and logic I provide. It is merely that not all individuals are suited for academic or religious pursuits and some merely want as much “meat” as they can get in a single serving. I think the first recommendation reaches this latter result the best, actually, for as abbreviated as it appears on the surface.
For this first set of recommendations, I think of this as my own ‘what would you want on a desert island and you only had a small backpack’ thought experiment.
If you have not procured a copy of the Book of the Law, then that is paramount. I fail to see how anyone could get along with understanding the first thing about Thelema without a copy of the cornerstone of the Law in the first place. Along with that, a good copy of the Prophet’s commentaries—though they are littered with ridiculous and dated opinions of his own. They are still by far the most profound of insights that one will find on the Law.
Unlike Crowley, I don’t find The Equinox of the Gods to be all that helpful unless you prefer to indulge in the hubris of his own underlying arrogance. However, it is included as Part IV of Liber ABA/Magick already (which I do highly recommend for other reasons I will mention some other time) so you might as well be informed as best you can on the reception myth of Thelema in any case. It is just not very important right now. You can skip it unless you have a curious sense of imagination that absolutely needs to know that origin story out of the horse’s mouth immediately. On the other hand, to be fair, it does have some technical information that is of importance way down the road of this journey—but if you have the aforementioned Liber ABA/Magick, then you’ll already have what you need when that time arrives.
If there were any additional volumes I would suggest, it would be Eight Lectures on Yoga and Little Essays Toward Truth. Both of these books are filled with incredible vision and meditation on a variety of subjects I think are important to the study of Thelema even if the former is written as a study on Yoga. I also recommend The Heart of the Master if only for several of the pieces of inspiration it includes, as well as its study on the doctrines of evil and sin from a decidedly Thelemic perspective.
So, to recap in a nutshell what I recommend for absolute beginners:
- Book of the Law (or a copy of Thelema with the entirety of the “holy books”)
- The Law is for All (commentaries, I would recommend any of the copies available but there are two different versions of this title; if possible, get both as the newer copy is fairly bowdlerized to an agenda)
- Liber ABA/Magick
- Eight Lectures on Yoga
- Little Essays Toward Truth
- The Heart of the Master
While I am sure there are plenty of additional books that I would certainly add to this list, I wanted to challenge myself to what was the bare minimum necessary to keep me mind occupied but focused on the essential material. I think this would do it.
This next list is rather lengthy and I admit it is my own creation. After years of careful study of both Crowley’s work and the development of the Christian canon, I was determined to create a thought experiment as to what my personal Thelemic canon would appear to be if it held all the basic areas of importance. The result is sublime. Certainly this holds no authoritative position in any organization or for any individual. It is merely a design for study, nothing more. I offer it to you in the spirit of beauty and joy for the purpose of study of Thelema in a manner that unfolds its mysteries in such a way as to be unmistakable in its elegance.
I do call this particular approach The Thelemic Reader. It is divided into three books, The Visions, The Voices, and The Virtues. I will discuss each one in turn and then briefly offer a justification for the inclusions I have made within them.
Book One: The Visions is made up of a selection of the so-called “holy books” of Thelema. In fact, I have selected seven of them, specifically, and labelled them The Heptateuch in an obvious nod to the first five biblical books, The Pentateuch. These seven books are:
- Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus Sub Figurâ XC
- Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente Sub Figurâ XXVII
- Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli, Adumbratio Kabbalæ Ægyptiorum Sub Figurâ VII
- Liber AL vel Legis sub Figura CCXX | sub Figura XXXI
- Liber Trigrammaton Sub Figurâ XXVII
- Vel Ararita Sub Figuræ DLXX
- Liber Porta Lucis Sub Figureâ X
Outside of the Book of the Law, the other “holy books” are personal revelations of the Prophet himself. They are certainly inspirations to us as Thelemites, but they speak directly to the experience of the Prophet. Only the Book of the Law is directly revealed to and for all mankind as the next revolution in all of human endeavors. This is not to minimize the importance or inspirational message of the rest of the “holy books,” only to keep focus on the priority of the Book of the Law within the Thelemic message to humanity.
That said, the other six books were chosen because they follow a specific pattern of scriptural revelation as well. Aside from the fact that they are offered here in the order that Crowley presented them to his A∴A∴ initiates, so that all seven make up the following pattern:
- The Calling to Initiation
- The First Crisis of the Journey
- The Second Crisis of the Journey
- The Law of the World
- The Narrative of Creation
- The Revelation (Apocalypse) of Unity & Beyond
- The Sending Forth of the Master
Also, Book One: The Visions includes the entire text of Liber XXX Ærum vel Saecvli Sub Figurâ CCCCXVIII which is more commonly known as The Vision and The Voice. This is the Prophet’s ecstatic cosmological vision and, while it is authoritatively expository and initiative, it is personal to the Prophet. Crowley himself considered it second only to the Book of the Law itself. Leaving it out, while including his other personal revelations, would be absurd.
Book Two: The Voices picks up the bulk of the text that includes several sections: The Poetics, The Allegories, The Epistles, The Histories, and General Books. As you can see, it is a wide spread of books that offers selections of inspiration, motivation, elucidation, and education within the Thelemic ecosphere.
It starts off with The Poetics and includes Adonis, Aha!, Frater Achad’s Thirty-one Hymns to the Star Goddess, Hymns to the Great Gods of Heaven from “The Paris Working,” Liber DCCCCLXII: ΘΗΣΑΥΡΟΥ ΗΙΔΩΛΩΝ also known as The Treasure-House of Images, and The Ship. The first two are initiatory, the second two are psalmic, and the final two are liturgical.
From there it includes The Allegories and includes three texts: The Chymical Jousting of Brother Peradua with the seven Lances that he brake—an allegory of the magical and mystical path—The High History of Good Sir Palamedes the Saracen Knight and of his following of the Questing Beast—an allegory of the Great Work—and The Wake World—an allegory of the relation of the Soul and the Holy Guardian Angel.
Moving on, we have the major epistles of the Prophet under his various titles, degrees, and organizations. These include The Message of the Master Therion, De Lege Libellum, The Law of Liberty, Concerning Death, Concerning the Working of Wonders, Little Essays Toward Truth, and Khabs Am Pekht.
The Histories include Crowley’s account of the A∴A∴ and his own biographical account: Liber XXXIII [An Account of the A∴A∴], Liber Causae, and The Master Therion—A Biographical Note.
These turn then to the General Books that make up the final section of Book Two: The Voices. These include Liber B vel Magi Sub Figurâ I, Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni Sub Figurâ CLVI, Liber A’ash vel Capricoroni Pneumatici Sub Figuræ CCCLXX, Liber Librae Sub Figurâ XXX, and Duty. It will be noted that the bulk of these are nearly all the remainder of the so-called “holy books” and the last two fall under the category of “General Thelemic Ethics.”
The final section is Book Three: The Virtues and makes up a selection of rituals and rites, both public and private. These break down into the following sections:
Magical Rites: Liber Resh vel Helios Sub Figurâ CC, Liber V vel Reguli, The Star Ruby, The Star Sapphire, Liber Astarte vel Berylli Sub Figurâ CLXXV, and Liber Stellæ Rubeæ Sub Figurâ LXVI. Again, we find the first two are public, the second two are personal, and the final two are revelatory.
Mystic Rites: Liber NU Sub Figurâ XI, Liber HAD Sub Figurâ DLV, and Liber Samekh Sub Figurâ DCCC. The first is called meditational, the second is called adorational, and the last is called evocational.
Celebratory Rites: Liber Israfel Sub Figurâ LXIV, The Mass of the Phoenix, and Ecclesiæ Gnosticæ Catholicæ Canon Missæ. These are expository, personal, and public respectively.
All in all, there are forty-four (44) texts here to make up this canon that completes a well-rounded selection of reading from beginning to end. Supplemented with Liber ABA/Magick, and the additional suggestions from the first list, and I believe you would have a complete course of study worthy of any dedicated Thelemite.
To go with either of these reading suggestions, however, I would add a couple pieces of advice as well.
Above all, avoid the mumblings of those of Crowley’s various cults when found in large groups, whether they are followers or flunkies. They are useless for the most part. Find yourself two good mentors, individually, and stick with them. They don’t need to be experts, but they do need to be sincere seekers such as yourself. In the end, we are all on this same journey even if we’re going about it our own way. Despite what a spiritual narcissist will tell you, hearing a different perspective on any given subject matter can only offer you a broader conception of the solution to any challenge you might be facing so that you might narrow down your own choices to what is right for you and you alone. Two different perspectives can only serve you better, I assure you.
Finally, I can only encourage you to study. Nothing was ever gained through ignoring study and practice. One does not learn to read by avoiding books just as one does not learn to knit by avoiding yarn or does not learn to cook properly by avoiding the stove. Everything takes study and practice. Do not become discouraged, though; if you are just starting out, the language is difficult and obscure. If you are seasoned at all in the occult and witchcraft, then you have much to unlearn already and start again. If you have no knowledge or come from a different background entirely, then all the better. You still have much to learn; the language is rough, but you’ll find it easy enough to grasp as you go along.
I would make further suggestions as you go along through this avenue of exploration, but they are merely my own suggestions and you will have to determine the wisdom of what I offer. With that in mind, to start you off here at the first, I suggest that keeping a journal is important. Of course, personally, I’ve found myself over the years keeping one and not keeping one at various times. I’m terrible at my own advice, I know. Keeping a journal while you read, though, really does help. Jotting down things that come to mind while reading or snatching out phrases that you want to save from what you are reading: all that is quite important for memory and concentration—both of which is vital throughout all of this work, I assure you.
In closing here, Crowley once said that Thelema is mostly about self-discipline. 90%, if I recall, is about where he put it. If there is anything at all that I know about Thelema without a doubt, this much I know to be true with all certainty: he was right.
 And let’s dispense with that up front in understanding the Prophet was still a man of his times, full of wildly varying opinions—some of which were reprehensible and ranged from racism to sexism to any number of inane political positions. Just because he held them does not make them doctrine and just because he felt he could make a case for them in his commentaries does not justify them either. The commentaries are merely his views, and while we should take note of his views are foremost of any kind of authority, they are not the Authority of our own personal views or even the final Authority over Thelema. The Book speaks for itself and commands itself just fine. Only fanatics try to solidify the word of the messenger over the Message of the Word. Be not a fanatic. Be yourself.
 For the purists and fundamentalists, please note that I do not say that it is unimportant at all. Merely that it is not important at the moment. Quite frankly, the reception myth isn’t important for the beginner at this stage any more than the Creation Myth is important for a beginning Christian. It’s a nice story, but of little relevance to the core understanding of Thelema itself.
 Though I admit I am also quite partial toward this little book for its “Secret Instructions of the Master” meditations on the tarot.
 At the time I’m writing this letter, this volume can be obtained from Marlene Cornelius and her Conjoined Creations group. It’s an incredible edition of the “holy books” that I absolutely recommend.
 And above all, avoid anyone that tells you to “cut your own way through the jungle.” That is a clear indication they have not read the source material clearly, don’t know how to parse English sentences in context, nor have anything to offer better than crude soundbites and memes as spiritual advice.