Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Gems from the Forums: Is Thelema a Religion?

Here’s a short forum post from last year that discusses the ever-popular question of whether Thelema should be considered a religion.


Is Thelema a religion? Depends on what we mean by “religion.” If we mean any collection of beliefs and practices, then sure, we can call it a religion. Hey, it’s got a prophet and a holy book and rituals and everything. Sure sounds like a religion, right? But the term “religion” is very misleading, especially since there are no standard beliefs and practices that all Thelemites share (aside from accepting Do what thou wilt), no official doctrines regarding creation or life after death, no literal higher power (except as each Thelemite might choose to regard this idea), no moral injunctions (again, aside from Do what thou wilt), and no “teachings” about social issues that the faithful are expected to follow.

The only thing that unites all Thelemites is the concept of Will, the idea that an individual’s authentic inclinations (and not anything else) should direct his or her actions.

So it might be more accurate to say that Thelema is a philosophy of individual action, a philosophy that can be incorporated into various “belief systems,” many of which can be described as religions.

As an obvious example, the OTO practices what I would call a religion based on Thelema. It has specific rituals (including a “mass”) and a specific theology, including afterlife beliefs (there is a page on the Grand Lodge website that actually groups a number of their beliefs under the heading of “theology”!). It also has teachings that are gradually revealed through initiation ceremonies. It even has a code of conduct (as outlined in “Duty” and the various codes to which individuals swear during initiations).

So we can consider the OTO's collection of beliefs to be a religion, but a religion that incorporates Thelema. [This is consistent with the observation that the OTO existed before Thelema and that Crowley rewrote their rituals to incorporate Thelema into its already existing system]

A lot of groups practice different Thelema-based religions (I’m thinking particularly of all the groups that call themselves A.’.A.’.), and plenty of individuals create personal Thelema-based religions.

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