The central belief system of O.T.O. is called Thelema, which is a philosophical, spiritual, and cultural system based upon a seemingly simple premise: DO WHAT THOU WILT. This phrase, called the Law of Thelema, is not to be interpreted as a license to indulge in whim, but rather as a mandate to discover and fulfill one’s essential nature or path in life, which is called True Will (those who are dedicated to this path are called Thelemites). This Will may be thought of as the expression of one’s deepest, most genuine self which exists in perfect accord with the Universe.
As a system, Thelema is largely a blending of Western occultism, Eastern mysticism, and a mix of philosophies that have a strong focus on individual freedom. Thelema was established in 1904 with the reception of a short text, titled The Book of the Law (which is often abbreviated as Liber Legis, Liber AL, or simply AL), by the British mystic, occultist, and poet, Aleister Crowley.
A common belief says that the central aim of the Thelemite is to bring one’s actions and awareness into ever greater accord with his or her unique True Will, and therefore with Nature. This spiritual process—referred to as the Great Work—is often quite arduous, since the True Will is often distorted or obstructed by the individual ego and one’s “normal” conscious thought processes. Therefore, a Thelemite tries to seek beyond the top layers of awareness and rediscover the Secret Self, thereby enabling one to more fully express one’s genuine nature.
The techniques used to accomplish this difficult task fall under the general term Magick, and traditionally include practices such as yoga, ceremonial ritual, and astral body work, along with practices and concepts drawn from various traditions, such as alchemy, divination, and most especially the Qabalah and its Tree of Life. Thelemites have recently been starting to include other, more modern methods to accomplish the Great Work as well, such as transpersonal psychotherapy, hypnosis, and isolation tanks. There are a wide range of ideas about the best ways to become aware of True Will, but they often share in common some methodology of reaching new or altered states of consciousness with the dual goals of self-discovery and a mystical Union of the microcosmic Self with the macrocosmic All.
Thelema also includes many ethical and cultural concepts, including the following:
Thoughtfulness and the rejection of blind faith
Thelema inspires free thinking, skepticism, and the scientific-method over blind faith, which Crowley defined as “acceptance of any statement as true without criticism, examination, verification, or any other method of test.” Thelemites very rarely believe something “just because.” This is why Thelema is often thought of as a Gnostic religion. Gnosis is Greek for “knowledge,” and as as such, Thelemites are expected to adopt beliefs either through the process of direct experience and substantiation or based on their usefulness in the individual’s spiritual labors.
Thelema utterly rejects the notion of original sin, and states, rather, that we are all divine creatures—“Every man and every woman is a star” (AL I:5). Therefore, Thelema renounces such states as guilt, shame, and pity, and instead promotes positive virtues, such as honor, pride, and courage. Thelema also does not recognize any personified source of evil, such as the Judeo-Christian Satan, nor any need for “personal salvation.” Rather, Thelemites are encouraged to discover their own divinity—a Thelemite does not want to have faith in God, she wants to know God, and eventually come to realize that she IS God.
Love & Sacred Sexuality
Thelema—which is Greek for Will—is paired with Agape, the Greek word for Love. Love, from a mystical point of view, is the drive to achieve Union, thereby losing the sense of ego-individuality and isolation. This theme is repeated often within Thelema, and is considered to be the key to accomplishing the Great Work. This is reflected in the core expression of Thelema from The Book of the Law:
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. (AL I:40)
Love is the law, love under will. (AL I:57)
This notion of divine Love is personified in the Thelemic deities Nuit and Hadit, who represent (respectively) the infinitely-expanded Goddess of the Night Sky and the infinitely-condensed masculine Point, the hidden Flame in the being of all that lives. Their Union results in the birth of Ra-Hoor-Khuit (or Horus), the Hawk-Headed sun god, called the Crowned and Conquering Child.
As such, Thelema recognizes that the fundamental nature of the Universe is creative, which is reflected and embodied in the act of sex. As such, consensual lovemaking is considered to be a sacrament, and can even be used for personal devotional or transformational rites. By extension, the absolute freedom for all consenting adults to engage in sex as they Will is an important cultural value within Thelema.
Independence and Liberty
While many Thelemites recognize that humans are socially and biologically interdependent, Thelema requires that one also aspire to self-reliance and a sense of personal responsibility for one’s own actions and well-being. Also, Thelemites tend to be suspicious of authority, often choosing their own unique paths. As such, deeply embedded within Thelema is the value of Liberty—to make one’s own choices about major life issues, such as career, sexual partners, and creative expression. Very importantly, Thelemites strive to avoid interfering in anyone else’s process of discovering and expressing their own Will, recognizing that this only leads to confusion and disharmony.
Thelemites promulgate the Law, but do not convert
Practices such as proselytizing and conversion are strongly discouraged within Thelema, since Thelemites hold that interpretation of The Book of the Law is a task strictly for the individual. At the same time, many undertake the duty of promulgating the general principles of Liber Legis (as outlined above), thereby spreading the Law of Liberty. The object is to inspire others to acknowledge their own unique Will and then to attempt to discover and express it.