The Thelemic Order is a non-profit organization and Church, incorporated in the State of Delaware. US EIN 84-3433327. Below you can find more information on the Church, and on the philosophy and religion of Thelema.
For starters and most importantly, becoming a Thelemite isn't about giving up your practice of Wicca, Paganism, Shamanism, or any other deep and meaningful part of your life. Thelema is a way of tying things together, not a replacement.
Thelema is a movement originated largely by Aleister Crowley in the early 20th century. Its inspiration is a set of revelations he received while travelling in Cairo, Egypt. Despite what some people may tell you, Thelema is not all about Crowley.
No philosophical or religious movement is an entirely new idea, though they are often framed as new. Thelema occupies a central place at the pinnacle of the era of 19th century new thought movements which included a vast wave of spiritualist groups and produced the Theosophical Society, the Golden Dawn, and numerous other magical orders. That said, Crowley himself acknowledged a heavy debt to Rabelais, the medieval humanist in developing his doctrine.
You're probably more familiar with Thelema than you might realize. A lot of its core tenets found their way into Wicca through the work of Gerald Gardner, who corresponded with, and held a charter from Crowley. That doesn't mean Gardner was a copycat or invalid. He built on the same foundations as Crowley and others. "Do what thou will" is neither Gardner nor Crowley, but Rabelais, from about 1532. What is important is that Thelema is a living part of a long tradition of magical and esoteric thought.
What is unique about Thelema is that it and the body of writing and work around it embodied the ideals of nearly all the extant movements, and opened a pathway for the integration of any set of magical practices, spirituality, or worship of deities in a fashion more complete than the organizations which came before.
We see Thelema as a natural keystone tying together the study and practice of many traditions of magic and spirituality. We see Thelemites as a natural leadership community who should be at the forefront of magical discovery and awakening. Far from "competing" with other organizations we want to see members of TTO as leaders and trend-setters throughout the wider worlds of magic and spirituality.
That hasn't always been the case...to understand why, we discuss "The Battle for Thelema" below.
We have reprinted and added updates to "What Do Thelemites Believe" originally presented by IAO131
Thelema is syncretic, which means it melds many practices together, keeping their beauty and distinction while helping them make sense together. Thelemites practice whatever is personally meaningful to them.
Even the "Thelemic Holy Books" reference dozens of systems of magical practice and spirituality, and sees value in all of them, except perhaps for the most monolithic, intolerant, and repressive, versions of Christianity prevalent at the time they were written.
We want to encourage our members to be active in many different activities. We intend to be a networking nexus and a clearinghouse for information, not a place where ideas go to suffocate.
It is hard to make categorical statements about Thelema, because there are always Thelemites who would disagree. That said, the core Thelemic writings explicitly mention numerous pagan deities, and include prayers and dedications to them. There is also some suggestion that they are to be taken symbolically.
In practical fact, the various writings around Thelema, were highly influential in several dimensions to the rise of modern pagan traditions, both after the Second World War and in the 1960s. Of the major movements coming out of the late 19th and early 20th century which had a pagan flavor, Thelema resembles the practices of modern paganism more than most.
Ultimately how to identify in relation to paganism, Wicca, etc., is up to the individual, but for most practical purposes Thelema can be considered, at least in the "big tent" sense, a pagan practice. More to the point, many practicing Thelemites are pagan and maintain pagan, or Wiccan practice.
Aleister Crowley was an English esotericist, poet, writer, and philosopher who lived from 1875-1947. In 1904 he received The Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis, which along with a great deal of other writing which he produced formed the basis for a religion and philosophy which is termed "Thelema." Crowley was not the first or last Thelemite. He admits openly to having taken the core idea from the French Humanist author Rabelais' "Abbey of Thelema", and other 19th century writers such as Walter Besant played with the idea of a Thelemic society. Crowley is notable for both providing a core prophecy and structure to Thelema.
Crowley was not a sole voice, even at the time of his writing. His work was influenced heavily by his partners and students including Edith Rose Kelly, Charles Stansfeld Jones, Leila Waddell and Leah Hirsig among many others. Some of his contemporaries share author credits on his work, including Mary Desti and Mary Butts.
Other notable figures including JPL founder John Whiteside Parsons, Marjorie Cameron, and Phyllis Seckler expanded through writing, art, or teaching on his original work.
There is a feeling among many modern and progressive Thelemites that many 20th and early 21st century Thelemic authors have been overly reluctant to depart from, or enlarge on, Crowley's original corpus.
Whatever one's feeling Crowley is a central personality in Thelema, and understanding him in context is helpful in being able to read his work and have a good understanding of the "principal thrust" of Thelema.
Dozens of books, and several television shows and movies, have been made about Aleister Crowley. Some are well researched and factual and others are pretty much trash.
In several years of traveling to proclaim the Law of Thelema at Pagan and other events, we have generally run into two types of people. Those who already know a good bit about Crowley, and those who have very unpleasant and confused ideas about him. If you're the first type of person, congratulations, this isn't for you. Just skip ahead to "Where can I find more information about Crowley."
The information below is a very basic, a "beginner" level introduction to Crowley, mostly aimed at clearing up some drastic misunderstandings about his life, and getting everyone on the same page with Crowley as a major, queer, generally socially progressive, historical figure.
Most Thelemites consider Crowley to be, at least, "a prophet," and the organizer of the Thelemic system of belief or understanding. Even when they can't agree if Thelema is a "religion" or not, they agree Crowley founded it.
We can't provide a comprehensive biography of Crowley, though we will include some of the better resources below. Here we'll try to address on a very high level some of the most common misunderstandings about Crowley that we've run into in the pagan and magical community.
Crowley was actually pretty brilliant
Historically Crowley's poetry, when it was not being attacked for obscenity, was often well reviewed and taken quite seriously by other literary figures in his day. He was invited to speak at literary gatherings despite his notoreity. His novels were considered respectable for their day. His painting was exhibited to some scandal but some critical acclaim in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. He was at times contrasted quite favorably with luminaries such as D.H. Lawrence, and authors such as Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh wrote of him, sometimes more, sometimes less, flatteringly.
In the end his reputation, only somewhat earned, dogged him and left him falling short of the film deals and other recognition that assured the immortality of some others in his age. In 2002, BBC broadcast a television series of "100 Greatest Britons." Aleister Crowley, still controversial, was ranked at 73, just below Shakespeare-storied King Henry V, just above Robert the Bruce and Bob Geldof, and 21 places ahead of J.R.R. Tolkien.
The Lens of History
One linking thought is that Crowley must be understood in context. Because our schools fail to teach history in a meaningful or engaging fashion, our history often comes through media which "updates" the sentiments to make them more palatable. This can make it difficult to understand historical figures.
It is easier for Hollywood to portray an Abraham Lincoln whose defense of African-American rights marches alongside Martin Luther King rather than the actual man in transition, moving towards positions we hold today but who as late as 1858 publicly opposed the intermarriage of blacks and whites, the right of blacks to serve on juries, or to vote. This shorthand makes it easier to understand the outcome of Lincoln's life in two hours, but at the price of creating a sort of "permanent present" in which all right thinking historical people held exactly the same views as enlightened people today.
Crowley must be read and understood, both in tone, and in his thoughts, in light of what other people at his time believed and said. Literarily he was a product of the decadent movement to the extent that Aubrey Beardsley was hired to illustrate one of his works, but died before he could finish. In terms of advocacy and tone he is Oscar Wilde not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but his approach to the society of his day was radical by even the broadest standards of his peers and era.
Crowley was an outspokenly queer man at a time when that was dangerous.
There is no question that Aleister Crowley had numerous male sexual partners, and over his life he experimented with his own gender identification. Unlike many other men at the time, who may have had queer relationships, but concealed them, he was as "out" as it was possible to be. His life before the first World War is a set of brazen attempts to declare and legitimize his sexual orientation, with official action focused against him.
At Cambridge he was a close friend of Herbert Pollitt, a female impersonator who perfomed modern dance in the style of Loie Fuller. He eventually broke with Pollitt over his life direction and interests, but would memorialize the friendship in poetry and prose, sometimes bitterly sometimes longingly, for years.
Crowley's straight biographers have gone to lengths to minimize his bisexuality even though critical elements of his magical work involved homosexual relationships of considerable length and scope.
They have suggested that Crowley's bisexuality was "incidental," a product of English Schoolboy culture, but "not political," that is that neither he nor the culture around him advocated for the acceptance of queer culture, that their private sexuality was an "indiscretion" meant to be kept in the closet.
Most of all they have denied that Crowley was "politically" queer, or a queer advocate, and have, by featuring his queer life as individual events rather than a clear narrative tried to strip him of his power as a queer icon.
Crowley as a queer advocate
In fact, Crowley emerges as a strong political advocate for queer culture.
It's important to understand that after the trial and exile of Oscar Wilde, he was a focus for the queer world. His name in the words of Magnus Hirschfeld who launched the world's first gay rights organization, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee (SHC) in 1897, inspired by Wilde's imprisonment, his very name having become“an indecent word, which caused homosexuals to blush with shame, women to avert their eyes and normal men to be outraged.”
Queer movement at Cambridge
There was a strong queer rights community at Cambridge, and Crowley was aware of it writing obliquely of a "movement" "associated with the name of Oscar WIlde." We know a little about this movement from Hirschfeld, who between 1905 and 1907 observed there "a secret ceremony in the English countryside where a 'group of beautiful, young, male students' from Cambridge gathered together wearing Wilde's prison number, C33," to read his protest work The Ballad of Reading Gaol. His The Scented Garden of Abdullah the Satirist of Shiraz: Bagh-i-Muattar has thinly veiled homosexual themes and was seized by customs.
Where Hirschfeld was earnest, Crowley was a satiricist, preferring sarcasm along the lines of Stephen Colbert to outright attack, especially at a time when open advocacy was grounds for arrest. His Snowdrops from a Curate’s Garden is an unapologetically indecent attack on "straight" society, not published until he managed to get a private publication in limited numbers for his friends in 1904. For a time Crowley's publisher was Leonard Smithers, the only publisher in London who would handle Wilde's work after his imprisonment.
It seems very likely that Crowley was at least sporadically engaged with organized Cambridge activists. His younger friends invited him to speak at Cambridge several times, each of which was vehemently opposed. Kenneth Martin Ward along with Crowley's future partner Victor Neuburg eventually organized the Cambridge Freethought Association to invite him to speak. Sparked by a letter after the publication of Bagh-i-Muattar which claimed falsely that Crowley was a pederast, a slur often thrown at gay men, and possibly correctly that he was being followed by the police, Trinity College Dean Reginald St. John Parry strong armed the society to force them to ban Crowley, eventually threatening the financial support of key members.
The idea that Crowley weathered rejection by his alma-mater, periodic police persecution from 1901 to 1910, and the destruction of his published works by customs over a "lark" or some minor schoolboy interest is ridiculous. Crowley was, by the requirement of law, closeted, but he was clearly part of a broad intellectual movement that we identify today as the dawn of queer rights.
The Looking Glass Trial
The hammer fell in 1911. When Crowley staged his "Rites of Eleusis" in London, the conservative press were outraged. John Bull, the Fox News of the era excorciated him, and the second string publication, Looking Glass extended its attacks to his friends.
Crowley didn't sue for libel. The reason was obvious. Libel and lawsuit was a manner by which queer men could be made to indict themselves. Wilde's downfall came when the Marquis of Queensbury left a card at his club calling him a "sodomite." This was no simple matter of a proud response. If Wilde did not "defend his reputation" he could expect to be blackballed by his club, and that notoriety would likely lead to the closing of his plays and the destruction of his income. By suing he could defend his reputation, but opened himself to testimony in court which the law could not ignore, thus leading to his eventual criminal trial. Wilde's death at 45 had made it clear that even a brief stint in the English Workhouses might well be a death sentence.
Crowley still had money and didn't depend on income from his books to support his family, however his friend George Cecil Jones eked out an income as a chemist, and stood to lose his job and livelihood. He sued to defend his reputation in a widely publicized trial Jones v. The Looking Glass Publishing Company Ltd. et al., which became a trial of Crowley's morality. Crowley's failure to file suit was taken as an "admission of guilt," and he was forced into virtual exile, losing two close friends. In retrospect times had changed somewhat since 1895, and nothing came out at the trial solid enough to cause criminal charges to be filed against Crowley however his reputation in England was destroyed and never full recovered. Much of what we know about Crowley as an "evil" magician comes from the field day the conservative press had with him forever after, as well as the readiness of the English public in the teens and twenties to equate "homosexuality" with "diabolism."
Forced, like Byron, not legally but socially into exile on the continent and then New York, Crowley continued advocacy for queer rights which went well beyond the trivial. In 1912 Crowley was involved in the public controversy over Jacob Epstein's sculpture for the tomb of Oscar Wilde, a nude which stirred controversy even in France. When the prefect of the Père Lachaise cemetary ordered it covered Crowley staged an official protest in which he removed the tarp.
Straight biographers of Crowley have tended to play these activities off as playfulness, or generally contrarian behavior, but Crowley's sustained campaign in terms of queer subjects can only be understood as part of an overall lifetime commitment, consolidated through his eventual homosexual workings with Neuburg and advocacy for integration of the homosexual XI degree into his system of sex magick.
Crowley was not only queer, but an advocate of multi-personal relationships. If he did not become a martyr like Wilde, he suffered meaningful losses and lived to be an advocate. His attitudes underwrite much of the permissiveness of the Aquarian era, the cradle of the "Sexual Revolution," the cultural ferment which gave us Stonewall and our modern Pride Movement.
As we learned above, the idea of Crowley as "evil" is usually based on tropes concerning Satanism, which we'll discuss below.
Crowley was an ethical person, though like most historical figures he did not always behave perfectly ethically in his own life, and often made obtuse arguments to justify his own behavior.
He also had a lot of enemies, and as we learned above, a conservative press free to excoriate him. The root of much of the teaching that Crowley is "evil" comes from his portrayal in the conservative British press.
As Crowley's reputation become more defined by his anti-establishment and homosexual poetry and themes in the early 1900s, he took on a defiant attitude, embracing the idea that he was "wicked," a social evaluation almost entirely based on sexual conduct, which would seem unremarkable today.
Somerset Maugham and Oliver Haddo
Another significant factor is Crowley's use by the rising British author W. Somerset Maugham, as the monstrous villain in his work "The Magician." In the literary circles and social circles of London and Paris there was no secret that the character was based on Crowley and Maugham and Crowley even exchanged public letters about it. Nick Freeman has argued that Crowley was used as a stand in for a discussion of Oscar Wilde and homosexual culture, and emerges as a sort of anti-hero from the piece.
With post-war conservatism, this characterization of Crowley served as the basis for a sort of generic evil wizard, an urbane Sauron in a smoking jacket, and built on his reputation for being "wicked." Maugham’s character Oliver Haddo became a sort of archetype, picked up by dozens of other authors including Dennis Wheatley. His Haddo knockoff, Mr. Mocata, is equal parts Maugham and stories of Crowley from the conservative press. As late as 1968, Hammer Films made Wheatley’s The Devil Rides Out in which Charles Grey plays the sinister, but mannered, occultist.
Cefalu and the Conservative Nationalist Press
During the first World War, Crowley, already too old at forty to see enlisted service as a new recruit, seems to have engaged in his own version of freelance intelligence work in New York. Various researchers have established that Crowley acted with at least the blessing and support, if not the actual funding or under orders from, British Intelligence. In this guise he pretended sympathy for the German cause and Irish Independence. The principal evidence for the validity of Crowley’s claims to have been working as a spy is public enough. Returning to England the conservative nationalist press named for Lord Beaverbrook, the original mentor of Rupert Murdoch the modern media magnate, ran articles calling for Crowley’s arrest, but Commodore Guy Gaunt, who had been the British Naval Intelligence attaché in Washington at the time, interceded with the authorities.
Penniless and forced for the most part to live abroad, Crowley became a popular punching bag for the “Beaverbrook Press.” When a young student died at Crowley’s “Abbey of Thelema” in Cefalu Italy, probably from illness related to bad local sanitation and water, the Beaverbrook Press rushed to offer his widow money for horror stories concerning Crowley, though her letters show they’d parted on amicable terms. Broke and abroad Crowley could not sue. When these stories and others were trumped into full length novels later on Crowley did sue, but lost the “black magic case,” in 1934 partially because he had not taken legal action to defend his reputation in the earlier occurrence.
Beaverbrook’s papers and others dragged Crowley’s name through the mud for two decades, trotting stories of his supposed atrocities out at every opportunity. The majority of the charges levelled against him were, essentially, sexual. He had multiple partners, some of whom were male, at a time when that was unacceptable in “decent” society. This, combined with a general inability and disinterest on the part of the sensationalist press to grasp a philosophically complex creed in the 1930s, ensured that through the year of his death, Crowley was roundly vilified.
The Legacy of Crowley’s Ethics
Modern scholars with access to thousands of letters concerning Crowley’s life and work have been able to develop detailed pictures of his life and the reality of the events which were reported in the Beaverbrook Press.
In practice, Crowley left behind a complex and systematic ethical system. Certainly it would be "evil" to many Christians, being based not on the Decalogue, but it is not "evil" by any standard meaningful to modern pagans of any stripe.
In the most simplistic of circles it is occasionally suggested that Crowley's "do what thou wilt" is an evil or at least anarchistic counterpart to Valiente and Gardner's Wiccan "An it harm none, do what ye will.”
Even if we ignore that "do what thou wilt" is from Rabelais, not Crowley, Gardner understood both statements perfectly well and never advanced that argument in writing or elsewhere. Obviously a brief examination of the concept of the Law of Thelema, and love under will makes it clear the two statements are complementary but different in context, not polar opposites. Even in Rabelais "Abbey of Thelema," "do what thou wilt" is a counter to hypocrisy and amorality, not a statement of moral anarchy.
The Dark Side of Thelema
On the other side of the coin, Crowley has been embraced as a sort of libertarian prophet, heralding a dog-eat-dog era in which the strong shall rule and the meek be ground under their heel, a sort Nietzschean philosophy in which nothing but the individual will matters. This is a sort of superficial understanding based on reading Crowley without any understanding of his tone or context, not helped by the fact that some spokespeople for well known Thelemic organizations have aired positions generally supportive of classism, racism, and white supremacy.
Thelema has a certain vulnerability to , the idea that if you reduce it to its essential parts it becomes impractical or absurd, but this is true of any creed which values individualism. Crowley saw Thelema contextually, within Society, and expressed, albeit in a somewhat antiquated and Victorian way the need of the individual to cooperate with the group to make society function.
Crowley considered himself to be a highly ethical, and left behind a powerful ethical system. Like any system it can be misread and co-opted for evil.
The issue of whether or not Crowley was “a Satanist,” is more a commentary on Christianity and how paganism was viewed in the early 20th century than a real debate.
First of all it is important to understand the now nearly extinct “God of the Witches” theory which was, from the turn of the century through the 1930s, a core trend in literature and esoteric thought.
Starting with Theosophy’s idea of the commonality of religion and building on the cultural and historical analysis of Frazier’s The Golden Bough in 1890 and Charles Leland’s Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches in 1899, and building to Margaret Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1931) writers and thinkers believed the idea that Western Europe shared a fairly uniform pagan religion.
A significant element of this was the belief that the goddess Janus or Dianus, a horned God, was the principal pagan God of Europe. Hold out worshippers of this deity had been demonized as witches, and the god they worshipped identified as Satan.
A parallel set of beliefs, exemplified by British poet and novelist Robert Graves in his novel The White Goddess was the idea, also having roots in Frazer’s Golden Bough, of a primordial goddess cult, which in some interpretations was overthrown by male deities, thus ancient fertility deities (Persephone, Hera, Astarte) were subordinated to male storm deities around the time of the fall of Mycenae civilization.
Both of these ideas have been subsumed into a much broader and more complex understanding of the vast tapestry of ancient religion, however the idea of a seamless whole was very appealing to period occultists.
The idea of the succession of Mother Goddess by Father Goddess is found in Crowley’s idea of succession of the Aeons. And Crowley, like many mid-century pagans, identifies various primitive deities with Satan. To be fair he equally identifies the same deities with Jesus, seeing the germ of the resurrection story in Dionysian myth.
The medieval Gnostic idea that the spirit is “imprisoned in flesh” after the earth was created by Satan in defiance of God does not seem to have played a major role in Crowley’s brand of Gnosticism, however to the extent that it did, he did not see the world as inherently “evil” in the fashion of the medieval Gnostics.
Almost all occultists in the 1920s and 1930s of a pagan vein, those who did not emphatically espouse mystical Christianity, could be considered “Satanists.” In his poetry, Crowley draws a clear link between the horned god Pan and the “Devil.”
Like most esotericists of his day, Crowley saw “Satan” as an attempt by Christians to vilify an earlier and legitimate religion, saying for example. “This ‘Devil’ is called Satan or Shaitan, and regarded with horror by people who are ignorant of his formula, and, imagining themselves to be evil, accuse Nature herself of their own phantasmal crime. Satan is Saturn, Set, Abrasax, Adad, Adonis, Attis, Adam, Adonai, etc. The most serious charge against him is that he is the Sun in the South.”
To say Crowley was a Satanist is certainly objectively true. However it is important to understand what that means.
There are a few archaic or fringe interpretations of Satanism we can exclude. Crowley was not a "Satanist" in the sense of either a Christian intentionally perverting Roman Catholic ritual as was popular in France around the turn of the century, nor the sense of an advocate of Satan as a symbol for nihilistic, self-centered, white supremacy as we see with a few outlying Neo-Nazi Satanist groups today.
Like most progressive pagan-leaning writers of his day and our day Crowley saw Satan or the Devil, or Lucifer as forces of change, and the resurgent power of paganism and old belief against the restrictions of Christianity. Like many modern progressive Satanists, he saw Satan as an abstract of human transformation and transcendence of bondage, the "Sun in the South," more properly associated with Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind, than with some mythical Medieval "enemy."
Crowley was a Product of his Day.
While Crowley is exceptional for rising above many of the prejudices of his day and circumstances of birth, few writers could do that seamlessly, young, and all at once. Therefore, especially in his earlier writing it is possible to find instances where Crowley reflects prejudices common among his peers. Even through the end of his life he reflected modes of speech or concepts that modern people would consider biased or invalid.
For perspective, when Crowley was born the Reconstruction of the Civil War South was still a hot political topic. While he is associated with the 1920s and 30s, he is actually a full generation older than many of the writers we typically associate with that period, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald.
As we noted above it is common for writers and film-makers to put twenty first century sentiments and ideas in the mouths of characters from other eras. In comparison with the miraculously enlightened knight of some Hollywood romance who happens to, in the midst of the feudal era, have decided to embrace representative democracy, Crowley may seem rather antiquated, but we must remember that democracy-loving knight never existed, while Crowley did.
Crowley wrote "I have a Socialist or Anarchistic brain, but an Aristocrat's heart; hence constant muddle not in myself, but others who observe me." In many ways Crowley's life was a slow shift from the privilege of his English Mercantile background with emphasis on aping the customs of the gentry, toward a philosophy that advocated absolute equality and freedom, and emphatically revoked the idea of class as a social determiner. It is not surprising that he did not make that leap on one day, early in his life. We must also remember he lived, and wrote, over more than a half-century. His writings are seldom put in order and his sentiments from 1904 are certainly more Imperialist and privileged than those of 1944.
He lived and learned. In many ways the question of Crowley's racism, misogyny, etc., is a matter of a glass half empty, versus a glass half full. Judged by the standards of 2020, we can, of course, find him primitive and lacking. Judge by the standards of the year of any given writing we examine, we will usually find him towards the upper edge in terms of being liberal and progressive. If a handful of others were, at the time, more progressive this does not make him any less remarkable in comparison with the average.
Crowley held views that were on the bleeding edge of culture for his time, and they remained that way for most of his life. He was notably anti-fascist, writing poems attacking Mussolini, and blaming the Fascists for forcing him into exile from Italy.
Like most people of the time, he often vocalized an unexamined and passive sort of racism, the sort that despises hatred, while still feeling some degree of inherent superiority. Unlike many other people of his class, he rose above this in numerous ways during his life and even while examining the world through the lens of inherent assumptions about "racial qualities," a concept almost universal during his life, he often contrasted the English unfavorably to the Chinese and Islamics.
In terms of the assumption that there were "tendencies" inherent in various racial backgrounds he unsurprisingly accepted the general prejudices of his day. His willingness to question the accepted norm can be seen as unusual, his embrace of norms unremarkable. His racist views are no different from hundreds of thousands of other stockbrokers, gas station attendants, and sports writers of his day. The only difference is that some of his work has stood the test of time, and his typical views are thus exposed to scrutiny, while those individuals are forgotten.
Throughout his life, Crowley questioned nationalism and imperialism, sometimes in very vitriolic terms.
His misogyny was, again, typical of his time. His principles led him to uphold the rights of women in a fashion at least commensurate with most of his progressive contemporaries, if behind the bleeding edge of feminism. In practice he tended to relegate women to subsidiary or secondary roles.
His treatment of his partners, which often seems callous or disrespectful, relegating them to the role of bit players on a stage where he was the star, has been cited as evidence of his misogyny, even a “hatred of women,” however the point can be made that his treatment of his male partners, e.g. Neuburg and Pollitt, was no better.
This may support the argument that Crowley was generally selfish and narcissistic though we typically only have one side of the story, or two very different sides. It is notoriously hard to understand the dynamics of couples from a historical remove. His actions, at a remove, sometimes seem very cruel, however his interests, reputation, and later in his life income, relegated him to partners on the outcast fringes of society, where mental illness was common. It is unclear if he was particularly injurious to his partners, or simply, as an older man with a some small income, tended to prove attractive primarily to less stable partners at at time when mental medicine was in its infancy. At best, it could be said that Crowley could be a difficult person to get along with and exile and poverty did not help.
Where Crowley is misogynistic it is with the typical disregard of his day, or with the same personal disregard he evinced towards most of the people in his life, including nearly every person with whom he had financial connections.
Crowley advocated Polyamory
But at a time before it was socially acceptable, and decades before the term, or even the more dated “open relationship,” would gain currency. While “free love” had been a product of enlightenment thought, and artists and thinkers such as William Blake and Mary Wollenstonecraft had advocated against the strictures of marriage, there was no real road-map to success. Free love was often a matter of luck and the right partner. No websites, or forums to discuss the issues of poly couples.
Crowley is hardly an exemplar in how he handled his polyamorous relationships. Holding together an alternative relationship when there is enormous pressure against the lifestyle from family and friends is difficult today. Historical notes show that even “successful” couples such as Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir often dealt with deep and trouble issues.
It is noteworthy that Crowley did not show himself particularly hypocritical. There are many occasions where he encouraged his partners to seek other partners, and the situations where he evinced jealousy seem to have been more about personal influence than sexual access.
Crowley’s personal life was often narrated by people who didn’t like him
There is no doubt that Crowley was difficult. The people who had the impetus to talk about him were often those who were on the outs, and in some cases they sold their stories to the press. Crowley published his own “autohaigiography” which of course whitewashes all his relationships. The truth is probably somewhere in between, but reading largely negative accounts can make him seem more difficult and intolerant than he actually was.
In his writing about Thelema he is uniformly socially progressive
It is important to note that Crowley’s comments about “slavery” are in reference to mental and emotional bondage to the "system," a point we make elsewhere. His rebukes to Norman Mudd’s suggestions that Thelema was only meant for the crowned heads and leaders of the world, his comments in his unpublished essay on Thelema, and numerous comments elsewhere make it clear he does not advocate any existing system of slavery, nor does he believe Thelema belongs to any one “class” of people.
Beyond that, while imperialism, racism, and misogyny can be eked from Crowley’s personal writing or informal literature, it is absent in the corpus of Thelema. To the extent that his writing about Thelema must be considered his deepest and most thoughtful undertaking, it seems that in final estimation, his ethics are far more modern than those of most of his contemporaries.
Some sources for information on Aleister Crowley
,Aleister Crowley: The Biography: Spiritual Revolutionary, Romantic Explorer, Occult Master and Spy, Tobias Churton, Watkins Publishing, 2014
Perdurabo, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Life of Aleister Crowley, Richard Kaczynski, North Atlantic Books 2010
Magic and The Esoteric
In the early 20th century Aleister Crowley wanted to differentiate his practice of magic from what stage magicians did. He began to use an older spelling which is used in English through the 17th century. He also felt that the "k" made the word more numerologically significant.
Some modern practitioners reject the "k" as pretentious, or as some Thelemite leaders have gone out of their way to give Thelema a white supremacist rep, reject it because they associate it with Thelema. Others have taken to using magik, which is also an older variant spelling...English only standardized spellings fairly recently...for reasons of their own.
As an organization we don't have an opinion...it's just not that important.
These days the occult section at Barnes and Noble is a lot bigger than the stage magic section, so we aren't all that worried about confusion.
Traditional Thelemites like to use the "k" because of Crowley, but we're more about building a bridge to modern traditions than worrying about doing things precisely the way Crowley did them. Typically we use "magic" when speaking generically and "magick" when quoting other sources that use it. But really, whatever works...
That isn't really for The Thelemic Order to say. We can say that it is important to Thelema because it is a key to being able to act with the full resources of the universe available to you and to discover and enact your Will. Magic is both the ability to understand your own relationship with the universe and the ability to apply it.
Crowley wrote that every person "should make Magick the keystone of his life...should learn its laws and live by them."
We don't have anything against people who choose a primarily "spiritual path," limiting their interaction and study of magic to ceremonies led by others, or focused spiritual devotions concerned with deity.
That said, we feel that few people really achieve their full potential that way....maybe you're the exception...and that many people use sprituality to build a fence around magical practice, forbidding those things which fall outside of the allowed celebration or ritual.
We strongly oppose that. The core of TTO, the Order General, exists to further social interaction and individual magical practice.
The first Universities, universitas magistrorum et scholarium, were in translation, “an association of teachers and scholars.” Elements such as hierarchical leadership, and examinations evolved later. We seek to create a University in the truest since...a community of teachers and scholars.
There are no appointed masters or designated students.
In keeping with our flat structure and general respect and regard for the intelligence of our members, the Order General does not designate teachers or scholars, but rather assumes its members are, by turns, both. “Success is your proof.”
No but members of TTO will, and we will provide a place to meet them, learn from them, and make it easier for you to find them.
“Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven”
There is no magic or art which is forbidden.
We do not avoid subjects such as goetia, necromancy, or spirit possession because they are too “scary” to normal people. We do not avoid subjects such as yoga or herblore because they are too “commonplace.”
Really, nothing forbidden?
Not forbidding the study or practice of magic doesn't mean condoning every act that might accompany it. Remember, we hold consent to be paramount, and our policies generally prohibit violating the law at Local Body events.
The Thelemic Order
The Thelemic Order, Inc., is a Church. Incorporated in the US State of Delaware, it serves a worldwide mission to promulgate the Law of Thelema. If you need to know more about Thelema, there is information in the left hand column. As a Thelemic Church TTO is Progressive and Heterodox.
TTO is explicitly progressive in that we reject any interpretation of Thelema which fuels intolerance, including racism, white nationalism, misogyny and classism, while practicing tolerance by enthusiastically embracing modern models of gender, sexual identity, and consent.
Heterodox is the opposite of orthodox. Where orthodox means doing things one way, heterodox means doing things many ways. Thelema is syncretic by nature, and what is interesting, healthy, and respectful for one person's practice may not fit another. Nor is doing things "like Crowley did them," practical or meaningful to everyone. We empower our Clergy and Members to experiment and do those things which have personal meaning to them, rather than adhering to a strict formula.
Parts of TTO
TTO is divided into three Elements
The Order General is the secular or lay-leadership of TTO. The Order General is headed by a Secretary-General who will be elected from among the dues-paying membership, and focuses on creating a safe space and good resources for personal exploration of the relgion and philosophy of Thelema, particularly in providing a positive space for the exploration of magic and ritual alone and in cooperation with others.
The Heterodox Gnostic Church or Ecclesia Gnostica Heterodoxa (EGH) is the branch of TTO which conducts training of Clergy, Ordination, holds Mass, offers the Sacrements and organizes the Canon of TTO.
The Initiatory Arm is the branch of TTO which conducts the Thelemic Initiations, which are designed to be a modern system of powerful initiatory experiences for Thelemites.
Many denominations have "Articles of Faith," which state shared beliefs. TTO has its "Understandings," which are, to quote a famous pirate "more like guidelines." The understandings allow us to share general beliefs without forcing adherence to a strict or rigid set of absolutes. Members are expected to be "principally in sympathy with" the understandings, which is to say they mostly agree with them. No one will ever agree on every detail, and as long as we have a common direction, we don't need to.
The Understandings present a socially progressive model of Thelema which sees:
- Gender as personal, with a strong acceptance of queer individuals and acknowledgement of the Queer roots of Thelema.
- Fascism and other forms of rule by the ignorant, or rule through bullying, as intolerable.
- Poverty and other social problems as things Thelemites must tackle. We are not political and do not present political solutions, but we do not need to have a solution to all the world's ills to categorically reject the vision of Thelema as empowering a Libertarian dystopia in which the privileged and classist dispossess subjugate, or maintain oppression of others for their own benefit in the name of "freedom."
We will never all agree on everything.
What does it mean to be:
“In Principal Sympathy with the Understandings?”
It is a paradox of intellect that the more completely and coherently a set of beliefs or understandings is expressed the less likely it is to gain adherence, as there will always be some small thing which rankles and keeps each individual from completely accepting it.
At no point do we ask for that anyone embrace the understandings as a matter of blind faith, or be completely in agreement with every word of them.
After all, the Understandings themselves may be changed by Members through a variety of mechanisms.
- By “principal” we mean “first” or “of the highest order.”
- By “sympathy” we mean “understanding between people” or “commonality of feeling.”
So by “Principal Sympathy” we mean “Primarily having a feeling of support for and comprehension of the ideas behind the understandings and for the greatest or most part.”
Are the Understandings definitions of Thelema?
No, they are understandings of our shared Thelemic Community, a basis for establishing a shared space for us to learn together.
TTO recognizes that Thelema has come to face the issue which confronts most millenarian movements. Sometime before 1948 Aleister Crowley wrote about his vision of where the body of Thelema, epitomized by him by the O.T.O. organization which he had created, was going:
And in what time seemeth Him good shall the O.H.O. (Outer Head of the Order, -ed.), gathering his forces, declare this Truth privily unto the Kings and Princes of the Earth, that they may take counsel together and rule all men in peace and love by virtue of this Secret under the Shadow of the Wings of the One ineffable Lord.
Much like early Christians who believed that Christ would come within their lifetime, there was, for a long time, a feeling within Thelema that a new Aeon was nearly upon us, in which all things would be changed. With the consciousness revolution of the 1960s, Grady McMurtry and other former supporters of Crowley believed that the cusp of a massive change was just around the corner.
In reality as all other Aquarians would learn as the hope and promise of the 1960s became the disappointment and greed of the 1970s the Aeon of Horus looks very much like the Aeon of Osiris. The events above, if they are not entirely metaphorical, are not going to happen anytime soon, and certainly not to any of the current representatives of now organized Thelemic bodies.
The reaction to this has been a sort of quiescence. Current Thelemic organizations rigidly maintain rituals that were never meant to be unchanged. A fixated study of Crowley and only Crowley led to an echelon of Thelemites who resent and fear anything outside their narrow field of focus.
For all practical purposes Gerald Gardner’s legacy, Wicca, has become the dominant paradigm, with Thelema only known to the curious few. Many who respected Crowley's work, but did not intend to immerse their lives in that and nothing else, were well warned away from Thelema.
That's changed somewhat in recent years. Crowley's queerness, which those who came after him desperately tried to erase in the late 20th century, colors him as a cultural icon as significant as Alan Turing or Oscar Wilde. Jack Parsons has risen to rival Nikola Tesla as a favorite figure of cult science.
It is our understanding that Aleister Crowley never intended Thelema to become an introverted study of his work but rather conceived of his work as a perfected descendant of the flawed Golden Dawn, a gateway to all esoteric tradition, laying a groundwork and foundation for further comprehension and individual achievement.
Crowley never recommended anyone study only his work, instead providing many different reading lists to encourage broad study.
The Modern Thelemic community is faced with a choice. The unfortunate direction would be to remain a hidebound remnant of the Old Aeon, choking the last dying breaths out of Thelema.
While there are good and dynamic leaders within most Thelemic groups, not all leaders have been either.
We have seen focus on Crowley's initiations as a form of "leveling up," to form an layered aristocracy that is jealous of its prerogatives, and as prone to driving out, as welcoming, dynamic new leadership, particularly authors and people who have achieved any prominence in the wider magical community.
The real "dark side"
There are darker edges. A few well known Thelemic leaders, emboldened by the election of Donald Trump as US President, have lent their name and voice to recidivist politics of the most unsavory sort, expressing approval of white supremacists in the wake of the protests in Charlottesville and the murder of Heather Heyer, and continuing to support populist ignorance, racial hatred, and trans and homophobic policies. This is not the stuff of a Thelemic awakening, but of 1930s reactionary Catholicism. What is worse, more tolerant and reasonable leaders are bound by legal structure and tradition, not to speak against them. Crowley spoke well when he said "We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance."
The fortunate choice we embrace for the Thelemic community would be to move ahead by the same means through which other communities do. By networking socially, by being open to the wider world rather than closed. By leveraging its strengths rather than hiding in mediocrity.
We can embrace and explore magic. Crowley did not intend Thelemites to merely study magic, but to practice it.
We can explore the way in which numerous powerful modern esoteric currents: Hekate worship, the PGM, Ordeal rituals, a renewed interest in Luciferianism, and ADR interact with and inform Thelema, exchanging opinions and ideas in an environment where there are no “arbiters” to determine right and wrong, where success is our proof.
We can accept that Crowley was unambiguously queer, and fully embrace that element of his identity, recognizing how it is hardwired into Thelema and Thelemic ideas, regardless of our own sexuality.
In short, we can be out, and proud, and in touch.
Some Organizing Principles
TTO aims to build a grass roots network of Thelemites. It embodies principles of empowerment at the individual and local level, with sharp limitations on the authority of the International Organization. TTO does embody socially progressive principles and is a freewill association of progressive Thelemites.
TTO will not discriminate and will take affirmative measures to ensure against discrimination and allow equal and complete participation in all aspects of the Order on the bases of ethnicity, ancestry, appearance, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, sexual identity, sexual expression, International origin, age or disability.
Discrimination on the basis of Faith:
TTO will not discriminate on the basis of previous faith, familial faith, or religious beliefs which are not directly relevant to or do not contradict the Understandings of the Thelemic Order.
As TTO is a religious organization, and as such is entitled to limit its membership to those which share in its beliefs, the organization reserves the right to deny membership to individuals who are not in principal harmony with the Understandings of the Thelemic Order.
We presume that members of the TTO are, in their own right, powerful and formidable magicians or aspiring magicians. To seek, understand, and affiliate with, the TTO shows a considerable quality of comprehension.
TTO is a network of individuals, sharing a similar if not identical vision, who wish to work together to share resources and identity.
TTO members are not children and should not be treated as if they are. TTO willl not call members “siblings” while supervising them as five year olds. Likewise, as adults we are all expected to be responsible for their own actions, and prepared to answer for our acts.
TTO members will not chafe at restrictions while other magicians around them do things that they would like to, if only it were not against the rules. Ephemeral threats of lawsuit are not sufficient to hobble innovation. Many groups, across the US and around the world, do exciting and innovative work without being sued. The corporate entity is a shield against suit. Whenever possible our group response to “can I do that?” should be “let’s figure out how,” rather than “no you can’t.”
Our leadership will be chosen based on merit and experience, or by the will of the people.
If it seems remarkable that we allow our General Assembly the highest voice within the Order, consider this. Our Lord and Master may be the Sun, but the sun is, itself, only one Star in the Company of Stars. Those stars, when they come together, are more powerful than any single sun. There is no part of us which is not of the Gods, and our Assembly, together, is the convocation of the Gods, more powerful than any Heirarch.
In terms pragmatic, rather than poetic, those denominations which have prospered in the last five hundred years are organized along modern, generally democratic, lines. Certainly the Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions remain large, but worldwide growth is stalemated and in developed nations it is shrinking. For denominations which do not enjoy the advantage of two thousand years of history, top-down organization schemes have worked poorly if at all.
The Order places a value on writing, arts, presentation, and scholarship. Internally it aims to provide opportunities for writers and presenters to share their information with others. Externally TTO will devote reasonable and equitable resources, when available, to promoting its member presenters, artists, and authors as an object of pride.
TTO will not, as has happened so often in the history of esoteric learning and orders, hide its new authors and talent, or exile them for fear they may detract from the fading glory of long time leadership. New talent is by intent the glory and strength of TTO.
The General Secretary will provide a public resource for presenters and authors who present to post listings of their classes, workshops, intensives, etc. in order to facilitate bodies in finding presentations that fit their budget and interests.
Speaking and Leadership
TTO will work to provide classes, and network opportunities for outside classes, to facilitate leadership training as well as training in speaking and presentation. We will also encourage professional skill shares to enable those individuals who already have a professional ability to share their skills with others.
The number of redundant groups providing management and oversight is minimal.
We will move between the present and 2023 to a system of representation by the membership. While democracy has its weaknesses, the lack of it has produced fairly dismal results.
That said, newly formed groups can be vulnerable to manipulation in the form of “swarming,” where individuals may join under a false flag in order to wreck or derail the object of the group. TTO has rules to protect against this sort of manipulation, while still ensuring that over the long haul the group is answerable to its membership.
TTO has roots in the leadership and cultural ferment of William Blake Lodge, O.T.O., Baltimore. WBL became, in the late teens, a “lodge of leaders.” Several attendees ran other groups, including Regla de Ocha households, Wiccan Covens, Druid Groves, Dionysian Initiatory groups and so on.
If Thelema is to be an intellectual center of the Magical world, then its adherents must be active in many communities. TTO promotes such activism, and aims to provide a solid basis on which leaders can build skills. Other organizations are not “rivals” of TTO, rather they are part of a complex ecology of freewill associations that represent the New Aeon concept of religion: powerful, personal, and decentralized.
Public Decision Making - There are only a few matters in the Order in which secrecy is appropriate. In particular the mechanisms for decision making must be public. The records of meetings, including their final votes and decisions are final. All rules within the organization are public.
Public Finances - The finances of TTO are public and open to inspection, published annually. There are no hidden beneficiaries or questions about "where the money goes." TTO is also not a moneymaking organization and sets out only to make what it needs to cover its work.
Public Mechanisms and Accountability in Disciplinary Proceedings - In terms of discipline, particularly involving consent violations, we weigh openness in terms of how decisions are made...when and by whom...with respect for the privacy of individuals, especially and primarily victims. Accountability is paramount, and the process for decisions and appeal of those decisions should be crystal clear.
Consent in Initiations - In terms of initiations we value suspense and secrecy, however those cannot come at the cost of asking individuals to enter into an initiation without informed consent. Initiators are trained on how to obtain meaningful consent, while still preserving elements of surprise.
A few simple, easy to understand, straightforward rules are easy to follow. When rules mount up and become complex, it is easy to lose track of them, and important rules are lost in the noise. We focus on consent and safety, as concepts. We don't care what position people hold their hands in during a ritual.
Obviously some areas of the organization are more complicated. Group leaders and Clergy must deal, to some extent, with local state/provincial, and federal laws. We try to streamline where possible, but these things will be a little more complex.
Old Aeon organizations tend to prevent counterproductive behavior and actions largely through prescription, that is to say making rules against undesirable behaviors. So, for example, concern about drunken behavior might lead to banning alcohol, while concern about the quality of services is addressed through increasingly strict rules on precisely how they can be performed.
This problem is compounded in old aeon esoteric and occult organizations. Many have systems of rules carried forward from the early 20th century, when rapid communication at a distance was not an expectation of every day life.
An additional layer of obfuscation exists when volunteers, usually non-professionals with no formal legal or investigatory training, are used to "inform" or "spy" on other members within a group. TTO is not about policing its members. While it responds to member complaints, it does not employ its members to observe, report on, or supervise each other’s behaviors.
TTO believes that less regulation is better regulation.
Increasingly dense rules seldom solve behavioral issues, becoming instead a nuisance for those who are not doing any harm. As they become more ponderous and labyrinthine they are only sporadically enforced, leading to the appearance of favoritism, while they cease to do their job of protecting.
The same is doubly true when rules are passed off as "safety rules" or "to protect you," but exist primarily to protect an organization against lawsuits, or to protect the positions and prerogatives of leaders, but are couched as safety rules. They breed resentment, fall into disregard, and fail to do any minimal protecting they were set in place to. There are things TTO must do in order to protect the group from lawsuits and we don't like all of them. We try not to lie about them.
While it is impossible to operate an organization without any rules, whenever possible we focus away from rulesmaking (prescription) and more on these Intent and Consent.
Those who choose to associate themselves with TTO are expected to be at principal harmony with the understandings and with the general disposition and direction of the order, and to conduct themselves as responsible, decent, individuals, regarding their siblings within TTO as family.
While it is impossible to prove anyone’s real intentions, it is not necessary to be blind to their manifest intent, especially behavior or declarations harmonious or inharmonious with the basic Constitutions of the Order. In any issue of judgment or discipline, manifest intent should be a principal guide as to disposition.
We hope disciplinary cases don't arise. But we know from experience they do in any organization which grows to a certain size. When they do, we have a system in place that is human, compassionate, but does not blind itself to intent.
Informed Consent should be a guide for all of our actions. Consent is not a prescription against doing things, rather it makes possible things which would have been unethical in a prior era.
When there was no way to negotiate consent, ethics dictated that magical, spiritual, and initiatory practices should cater to a lowest common denominator, as there was no practical means to communicate levels of comfort, or adjust activities on an individual basis. Provided consent is present nearly any course of action becomes acceptable. Consent enables us to incorporate reasonable risk.
Informed Consent means not only that activities and actions are agreed, but that the person agreeing understands as fully as is possible what they are consenting to. Appropriate ways to obtain consent without spoiling in advance the secrets of initiations are discussed in Initiator Training.
In ritual and activities of the Order General, a high level of consensuality is expected, however this also does not preclude surprise in ritual space. We take as a model communities which deal with profound issues of consent daily, including those which focus on sacred sexuality or ordeal initiation which may involve pain or emotional duress, all while still maintaining practical and robust consent.
Consent is not a matter of political correctness. We do not seek to embrace extremes of behavior which have been suggested in some rare but much advertised circumstances such as a few bad exemplars among colleges and universities in which consent practices may become a bizarre ritual divorced from normal human social behavior.
TTO is not about policing its members. It does not employ its members to observe, report on, or supervise each other’s behaviors.
“We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance.”—Aleister Crowley, New Comment on II 57, Liber AL
In the Understandings of the Thelemic Order we put forward our core values.
We do not claim that those who do not generally agree with them are not Thelemites, however they are not Thelemites that it is gainful or healthy for us to maintain a close and unlimited association with, or to admit into our midst. We do not need to, and will not, accord endless tolerance to intolerance
Details about TTO
We've felt for a long time that Thelema was badly represented in the larger magical, alternative-religion and spiritual world. These days Wicca and Satanism both seem to have a better, cooler, reputation than Thelema. A few extreme adherents of Thelema have spoken in defense of white supremacist rallies and ideals, and have adopted social stands we feel are inconsistent with Thelema, giving us all a bad name.
We've also watched as people of immense talent, including some very notable magical writers whose names you'd probably recognized, collided with the "top down" structure of other Thelemic Organizations and fell out of Thelema altogether.
Additionally, in a group which was organized by a queer person, we've seen difficulty in moving ahead for all queer people. Organized Thelema has at times seemed riddled with "gotchas" aimed at making sure that talented persons expend their energy "fighting the system," instead of "changing the world."
We're out to change the world. The original adherents of Thelema had to guard themselves carefully because their group involved "sex magick," which was considered indecent in most of the Western world. Those days are over and it's the 21st century. Most adults, even legal authorities are perfectly capable of understanding that a group which promotes healthy human sexuality is not inherently perverse, nor do esoteric beliefs about the nature of human sexuality make it in any way likely that anyone will expose minors to inappropriate sexual content. To the extent there are places that people do not understand those things, its up to us to set a healthy example and teach them.
Thelema does not profit from hiding in the shadows, but should be out and proud.
We are serious. That does not mean we spend most of our time wearing black robes, chanting and trying to act as sober and dark as possible, engaging in solemn candlelit rituals while avoiding laughter.
We're fun, carnal, and passionate about what we do. We try to keep a sense of proportion and humor. We take safety and consent seriously without being buzzkills or downers.
In tone, most of our groups are more Dionysian than Apollonian.
TTO is designed to be a membership driven organization. The Bylaws contain provisions to move the organization from its original founding Board of Directors to an elected administration from 2021-2022.
You'll want to check out The Government of the Order for a quick and easy explanation of exactly how TTO is run.
The General Assembly is made up of all Supporting Members who have been members in good standing for at least two years.
The Order General is run by the Secretary General, elected directly by the membership biennially, assisted by their appointed Deputies, and by the Executive Committee elected in part by the membership.
The College of Prelates elects a Pontifex biennially, who serves as its chair and executive. Decisions to Ordain individuals who petition for Ordination, and to designate new Prelates, lays with the College.
The Consul of the Initiatory Arm is chosen from among the body of initiates. The Cancellarius is appointed by the Secretary General.
That's easy. Go to Join TTO
A lot of our founding members are queer. Some of them are not. While we're not an explicitly queer group, if the idea of hanging out with queer people, or socializing in an atmosphere where people may not presume heterosexuality as a precondition of interaction, makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the group for you. If you think anyone is going to try to make you be queer, that's really not how any of this works.
In general we believe in most of our presentation of gender as a social construct and reject interpretations of Crowley's writing, including the IX degree secrets, which are preconditioned on gender. That means respecting everyone's gender and sexual identification.
We feel the historical record shows that Aleister Crowley was unambiguously queer, an outspoken advocate for the rights of queer people, and was persecuted heavily for his advocacy.
In order to have an organization which is run by the members, rather than the fiat of the leaders, everything needs to be spelled out. And if you write all the procedures out, they tend to be long. "Go Fish" is a simple game, but if you write out the rules, they take up a page.
The organization is simple and linear without a lot of dark, mysterious, "upper echelons." But doing business in the open means putting all the rules in plain sight., not just the ones that concern members.
We've also chosen to try to place almost all our rules in one place, rather than in three or four different, confusing booklets or rules sets. This is to ensure they are easily available and everyone can know what they are.
You can keep track of our commitments under the timeline.
The easiest answer is that the founding Secretary General and other Officers (announcement Dec. 21) are people with public reputations, and wide circles of friends. Given the choice of adhering, as closely as possible to the plans, or becoming hated tyrants in front of everyone we know, we'll choose to be honorable and respected rather than humiliating ourselves in front of the broadest possible audience.
Our goal is to balance creating a queer-friendly, progressive, branch of Thelema, which many people have told us they want, without the chaos and free for all of "start from zero." We're also aware this means a commitment to place our personal funds, reputations, energy and time behind the success of the organization, making sure it gets off the ground and doesn't flounder. The provisional officers aren't elected, but they are constitutional, and take very seriously their commitments to transparency, following the blueprint laid down, and fair dealing.
To this end we've already paid for incorporation, various related legal fees, and hotel deposits for our first national event in June 2020, and other events later in 2020 and 2021, TBA.
If there are reasons to change schedules, they will be discussed with the entire membership, but we consider the timetables firm commitments. If the organization grows quickly it is certainly possible to move timetables up, and none of us would mind being off the hook earlier
We're not a fetish or kink group, and we don't require or expect participation in ordeal rituals. We do however support all lifestyles and as might be expected in a group organized around principles of sex magick, many of our members are involved in aspects of kink, fetish. Many also aren't.
TTO and Thelema are not "kink" activities. They are however sacred sexuality activities, and sacred sexuality falls under the "big tent" of alternative sexuality.
People active in Thelema in the 1970s and into the 90s will talk about the "bad old days," a wild west time when all the things people worry about in sex cults actually occured. Sex could be a precondition of initiation. Drugs could be a precondition of initiation.
The same issues of coercion and irresponsibility were confronted by kink communities in the 1990s and later. "Straight" groups handle issues of coercion by repressing sexual expression. In an environment where no-one is allowed to be sexually expressive, inappropriate behavior is theoretically impossible.
Unfortunately in some Thelemic groups this became the default. In order not to "return to the bad old days," the default was to forbid any sort of sexual expression. In practice that strategy fails and may actually empower bad actors, creating an atmosphere of taboo and secrecy which can be exploited by abusers and promotes malicious rumor mongering.
It is clearly not a viable strategy for any sex-magick group, particularly one based in Thelema. Thelema requires a transparent environment that allows for sexual expression, without shame, while preventing coercion or other violations of consent.
The alternative-sexuality and sacred sexuality world, which includes kink, gives us models for consent that have been developed through trial and error, in hundreds of thousands of real-world situations over three decades. In particular the National Coaliation for Sexual Freedom, NCSF, has done work in bringing together consent resources to enable people in complex social situations to navigate the realities of consent.
We feel that by "baking in," modern principles of consent from the alternative sexuality and sacred sexuality communities, we can create a cultural ethos where the influence and presence of bad actors is heavily circumscribed.
There are two attitudes towards consent and safety. The most common one in many organizations is to depend on "common sense," and never mention subjects which may be scary. That avoids mentioning any topics which might scare off prospective new members.
It also creates an environment which is ripe for exploitation by "missing stairs" or other malefactors who take advantage of the uncertainty to frame their non-consensual behavior as acceptable and expected.
If your group deals with adult situations it is easy to become seized with a mortal terror of litigation or persecution that keeps you from mentioning minors except somewhere in a footnote, in hopes nobody will notice.
It is easy to not want to get into the morass of consent issues, and so just tiptoe around the situation and hope if violations happen they will go away on their own. No matter the personal cost to our members.
That's not our approach. We put firm strong rules right up front. Yes they're scary. We take issues like consent, zero tolerance for the abuse of minors and drag them out into the light. We're not afraid to discuss them, in order to train our Masters in how to combat consent violations and ensure a safe environment for minors.
In terms of safety we want you to know how to deal with first aid, to create a safe location, to avoid fires and create safer party spaces. We're about the nuts and bolts of real life.
If you are going to run a Group of TTO, we presume you already study and understand a fair amount about Magic. We don't need to train you in that to lead a group We need you to pick up those skills that make it possible for you to ensure that no accidents ever happen.
Consent violations and most other abuses happen when everyone relies on "common sense," and no one trains pro-actively to have a dialog about, and create, safe spaces.
We hope that most of the situations we provide resources to face never come up. But if they do, we want Masters in TTO to face them fearlessly, and be able to take strong, ethical, action, without confusion or hesitation.
Real life is scary. But we intend to insure our Leaders are prepared.
We cannot specifically advise you on your status in a different organization.
In general TTO expects its members to emerge as leaders and strong supporters in many other communities. TTO is a center for networking and resources, not a jealous partner worrying about losing attention or membership. We feel an organization should receive attention, time, and support because it is useful and serves needs, not because it discourages contact with those outside the organization.
We can state categorically that membership, ordination, leadership, or promotion of any other organization (excepting hate groups) is not a barrier to full participation in TTO from our perspective. It is our objective to be a resource for leaders throughout the alternative religious, magical, and related communities.
One does not have to participate in Rituals of the EGH, or undertake ordination as Clergy to be active in the Order General, or the Initiatory Arm.
Because the history of Thelema is entwined with that of the Ordo Templi Orientis, and because it is a well known Thelemic organization, specific notes regarding O.T.O. have been requested often enough to be a “frequently asked question.” There is no barrier on the part of TTO to members of O.T.O. joining or taking part in TTO.
- The Ordo Templi Orientis is a Thelemic organization headed internationally by Hymenaeus Beta, PO Box 7666, New York, NY 10116-7666, USA, and in the United States by U.S. Grand Lodge National Grand Master Sabazius X, P.O. Box 32, Riverside, CA 92502.
- The Thelemic Order is not associated with, nor does it claim in any way to be, assert the authority of, represent, or be descended from the O.T.O. The names Ordo Templi Orientis, O.T.O., and the O.T.O. Lamen design are registered trademarks of Ordo Templi Orientis as determined by a UK court case in 2008. The O.T.O. is the sole owner of the copyrights of Aleister Crowley, for his works still under copyright, as determined by court cases in 1985 in the US and 2002 in the UK. The Thelemic Order recognizes that under U.S. Law, the above corporation was found to be the legitimate successor to the O.T.O. under Aleister Crowley in US 9th Federal District Court in 1985.
- The Thelemic Order is neither a concordant or appendant order to the O.T.O. The Thelemic Order does not exclude current and active members of the O.T.O. from its membership.
The Thelemic Order is a 501(c)(3) Religious organization. While the EGH is specifically called a "church" all of the TTO is a church in the broader sense of that word, meaning an organized spiritual group, dedicated to Thelema, which, whatever one's hair splitting regarding religion v. philosophy, meets and exceeds the legal qualifications to be considered a "faith."
While all 501(c)(3) organizations are tax-exempt charities, only those with IRS Letters confirming their exemption are safe to consider tax-deductible donations.
The Thelemic Order has submitted an application to the IRS and will update this section as soon as we have obtained appropriate IRS documentation.
Deduction of Contributions
Direct contributions to a 501(c)(3) organization are theoretically tax deductible, though until the organization has appropriate IRS documentation it may be impossible to claim that deduction. Bear in mind however that if actual services or goods are received, only the portion which are a donation are deductible. For example if you purchase a shirt for $16 from TTO, and the shirt cost $10, only $6 is deductible.
"Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." TTO does not, as an organization, participate in, promote, or act on behalf of any candidate for elective public office. Note that no part of the IRS guidelines requires that TTO refrain from advocacy on social issues.
For More information:
Revenue Ruling 2007-41 (PDF) an IRS publication outlining "how churches, and all 501(c)(3) organizations, can stay within the law regarding the ban on political activity. Also, the ban by Congress is on political campaign activity regarding a candidate; churches and other 501(c)(3) organizations can engage in a limited amount of lobbying (including ballot measures) and advocate for or against issues that are in the political arena." The IRS also has provided guidance regarding the difference between advocating for a candidate and advocating for legislation.
Easier to read:
Affiliate Groups acting under the TTO affiliation, explicitly at events advertised using the TTO affiliation. must adhere to the IRS guidelines. The members of TTO Affiliate Groups, when acting individually or under other sponsorship, are private individuals.
TTO is legally a church. There are philosophical debates as to whether or not Thelema is a religion, however there is no question that it meets the bar to be a "Church" as legally defined in the United States by the Internal Revenue Service:
Distinct legal existence - Delaware incorporation
Recognized creed and form of worship - Thelema, Mass, Magical Ritual
Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government - EGH
Formal code of doctrine and discipline - The Law of Thelema
Distinct religious history - Thelema has a rich history, and we also share a history with other nonconformist religious movements.
Organization of ordained ministers - EGH
Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed courses of study - EGH
Literature of its own - The Canon
Established places of worship - EGH has an extensive system for establishing local groups.
Regular congregations - EGH has an extensive system for establishing local groups.
Regular religious services - EGH Temples perform regular public services
Sunday schools for the religious instruction of the young - TTO promotes youth activities and growth, and encourages the organization of children's educational activities and camps.
Membership not associated with any other church or denomination - as a matter of our beliefs we do not prohibit our members from associating with any other denomination.
Schools for the preparation of its members - like many other, smaller, denominations, TTO does not yet run its own schools, it does however provide its own educational materials.
- Rituals or Ceremonies of the EGH
- Rituals or Ceremonies of the Order General. Like many Religious groups, these are spiritual services led by lay-persons, and constitute the development of an important area of spiritual development.
- Initiations. Like many Religious groups, these are spiritual services led by lay-persons, and constitute the development of an important area of spiritual development.
We hold emphatically that as our doctrine is Thelema, and our study of magic is an element of Thelema considered necessary for spiritual perfection, the performance of magical ritual, and education about magic are religious activities in regards to the law.
The Handbook of TTO lays out a structure which is complete, carefully thought out, and has great long term viability, being modeled on the best examples of functional organizations. It is notably democratic, but has enough focused and appointed leadership that it should not fall prey to the worst weaknesses of democratic groups. Staggered systems of election moderate shifts in the organization's direction. Elected positions on the Executive Committee give a voice to those with a strong desire to create change, but who lack the time or administrative skill to act as a Chief Executive
Prior to the creation of the Executive Committee in late 2020 or 2021, in June 2020 an Advisory Committee will be appointed from among the membership in order to act as an advisory and steering body to guide the organization. While actions of the Advisory Committee are non-binding on the Officers of the Organization, the actions of the Committee are important, and represent a transitional step towards full Membership participation.
Some individuals would advise to simply start a group and create new rules as it grows. This approach may seem organic, but in fact constitutes a state of government by permanent emergency, in which momentary expedience and sudden demand are the principal architects of process. The result is, nearly always, a constitutional crisis (similar to that of the American Republic in 1789) from which the organization often fails to recover, or a permanent muddle and patchwork, which is largely underwritten by autocracy, and tends to collapse when the autocrat retires.
Supporting Members who Join Before
Will become Observing Members at
Will become Members of the Assembly on
Jan 1, 2021
Annual Meeting 2021*
Annual Meeting 2022
Jan 1, 2022
Annual meeting 2022
Annual Meeting 2023
After Jan 1 2023
First day of 13th month of membership (end of first year)
First day of 25th month of membership (end of second year)
* Depending on the growth of the organization, and the stability of the membership, at the discretion of the Secretary General, elections for Members of the Executive Committee may be held in 2021, in which case members who joined before Jan 1, 2021 would vote.
2022 will be the first Annual Meeting with regular elections. As there will be no Members of the Assembly before that time, there would ordinarily be no Proposals, however Special Rules of Order will be published clarifying the procedures for 2022.
2023 will be the first “regular” Annual Meeting.
Jan 1, 2024 marks the end of the “grace period” during which individuals may become Members of the Assembly in less than 24 months.
The Secretary General will directly delegate the principal roles in the organization between Dec 21, 2019 and the Annual Meeting Date 2023. Priority will be given to major roles, most especially the role of Treasurer. An election for Secretary General will be held no later than the Annual Meeting of 2023.
The organization is Operated under the provisions of the TTO Handbook, which supplements the Bylaws as a day to day guide for organizational procedures.
From December 2019, the Secretary General will act in all positions which are currently vacant, until they are filled.
Given his experience with certain trial-like proceedings and systems, the Secretary General has indicated an intention to develop the Disciplinary Committee and the Office of Inspector General before appointing a permanent Inspector General. The size of the organization in the next two years should not make it unworkably difficult to consolidate both offices in the short term, however there is a commitment to a full time Inspector General by the Annual Meeting of 2023.
TTO is committed to a member-led disciplinary process which works to combine and balance transparency with protection for the identity and personal lives of victims of consent violations.
The Disciplinary committee will come to full strength between 2020 and 2022, and function under provisional arrangements through Fall 2022.
- Prior to fall 2020 - disciplinary hearings held directly by the Secretary General and Advisory Committee Members.
- Fall 2020 - three member committee, Secretary General and appointees from Executive and College
- Fall 2021 five member committee, five member committee adds appointments by the College and by the Consul
- Fall 2022 - Full committee. Secretary General no longer serves, addition of appointments by Executive, Consul, Inspector General.
From Dec 21, 2019 - April 2021 , Stephanie Olmstead-Dean served as Pontifex Maximus and Chief Prelate of the Clerical Arm. On the Third Day of the Writing of the Book of the Law, April 20, 2021, an initial group of Prelates were appointed to form the College of Prelates. Moving forward this body will Ordain Clergy, elect new individuals to the role of Pontifex Maximus, and elevate Clergy to the Prelacy.
It has never been the case that performing the Gnostic Mass required Ordination. In organizations which require an Ordained Clergy member to be present, there is no doctrine that this causes the Mass to be more or less efficacious, rather it is a temporal provision designed to insure safety and adherence to the rubric.
The formal Consecration of the Pontifex Maximus was scheduled for June 2020, in Columbia Maryland, which was also be the first major TTO event. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, this has been postponed to May 2022.
By an executive order of the Chief Prelate, all Certified Clergy were moved to Ordained status in August 2020, due to exigencies of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Elevation of additional Prelates, and Ordination of additional Clergy will occur at the discretion of the College of Prelates.
Elections of the Pontifex Maximus will begin prior to Fall 2023. The current Pontifex has stated a preference for holding elections as soon as a reasonably robust College of Prelates can be built.
- Supporting Members become Observers, who may observe and place proposals before, the General Assembly at the end of their first year.
- Supporting Members become Members of the Assembly, with full voting rights at the end of their second year of membership.
Why doesn't everyone get to vote right away?
Small organizations, especially those offering month-to-month payment plans, are vulnerable to "dilution," where a small group of outsiders who have no interest in or sympathy with the core mission or values of the organization join in order to derail it.
Bearing in mind that some other Thelemic Organizations require years of membership before allowing even marginal participation in government, we think that a two year introductory period is enough to assure a sincere and mature interest in the Order and Understandings, while allowing for a fairly rapid path to full involvement.
Some initial members may vote before their second full year of membership, based on the provisional arrangements.
What if I lapse?
The Handbook has detailed information about exact terms for membership. In general lapses of up to six months are acceptable if you pay back dues.
What if I don't care about Government?
Corresponding Members of TTO are not required to pay the annual rates, and are not accorded voting privileges, but are otherwise full members.
Who can run for Office?
To accept nomination for Secretary General
- After Jan 1, 2023, must be at least an Observing Member of the Assembly
- After Jan 1, 2024, must be a Member of the Assembly
- Prior to 2023, must be a Supporting Member at time of nomination
- After Jan 1, 2023, must be at least an Observing Member of the Assembly
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