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  Thelemic Magick III

1 The Hermetic
Inheritance of
Thelema
By Jon Ashan

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law!


Like most of the people here, I wasn’t brought up as a thelemite. I became
interested in Crowley, partly because of an interest in magick, but largely
because he seemed like an interesting role model. After reading the two
standard Crowley biographies, The Great Beast and The Confessions of
Aleister Crowley, it took me a couple of years of dithering at the edge of the
magickal scene before I decided I was ready to join a magickal Order. I was
primarily interested in Thelema, but neither of the main ‘Thelemic’ Orders on
the scene at that time offered any kind of formal training. Rather than giving
up, I decided to look elsewhere. Like most people, I was aware that Crowley
had adapted most of the core techniques of Thelema from the Hermetic
Order of the Golden Dawn. In any event, I thought there was enough common
ground between the two traditions to justify my joining a magickal order
stemming from the Hermetic/Rosicrucian tradition, a decision which by the
way that I’ve never regretted. Those of you who share my acquaintance with
our right hand path brothers and sisters may also have picked up a certain
condescending, patronising attitude towards Thelema. Perhaps you, like me
have wondered why this might be. The most obvious explanation, of course,
is that we’re much better than them, and they’re jealous. This was certainly
good enough an excuse for Crowley, who once used it to explain why WB
Yeats didn’t like his poetry! Strange man. Then there’s our dodgy image.
We’re typically a bit younger, dress in an eccentric and erotic way, take a few
drugs now and again maybe, piss it up a bit, argue a lot and have a healthy
appetite for sex, none of which fits in with the traditional image of how a
magician should behave. But the real reason they look down on us, in my
opinion, is that we DARED TO CHANGE the tradition they love. Yes, as far
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema !
as they’re concerned, we’re not doing it just exactly the same as Christian
Rosenkreutz did 600 years ago, so there’s obviously something pretty
seriously wrong.
Initially I went along with this. Not the part about there being something
seriously wrong of course, but the part about Crowley departing from the
Hermetic/Rosicrucian tradition on a tangent of his own. Personally, I didn’t
see anything wrong with a little change. Why not, I argued? After all, things
do change a little every few hundred years. It wasn’t until I began to read
about the Renaissance as part of my research into the evolution of organiza-
tions that I realized that Thelema is in fact much more in line with many
Hermetic and Rosicrucian principles than the Golden Dawn ever was.
The first and most obvious difference between Thelemites and the Golden
Dawn traditionalists is their perspectives on authority. To a Thelemite,
authority stems from the True Will, whereas to the traditionalist it’s a
consequence of rank in the Order. MacGregor Mathers, joint founder and
later sole chief of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, was what we
would doubtless now describe as a bit of a control freak. When the Golden
Dawn was founded in 1888, it was he who constructed the initiation rituals
from the mysterious ‘cypher manuscripts’. Four years later, it was again he
who introduced a curriculum of magickal study and an ‘Inner Order’, the
Ruby Rose and Gold Cross, for those seriously interested in practising
ceremonial magick. There is no doubt that he was the driving force behind the
establishment of the Golden Dawn, but in later years he seems to have
become progressively more paranoid about other people wresting control of
the Order away from him. William Wynn Westcott, the only other surviving
chief of the Golden Dawn besides Mathers, was forced to resign formally
from the Order after one of the Order’s documents bearing his name fell into
the hands of the police. There have always been speculations that this was
down to Mathers, who may have ‘accidentally’ left the documents in the back
of a cab. Westcott was a coroner, and the authorities presumably had the
same perverted fantasies about what occultists get up to with corpses as they
do today. Mathers began to suspend people’s membership and expel them at
the drop of a hat. His physical location in Paris probably made him paranoid
about the politics of the Isis Urania temple in London, which was now
effectively beyond his control. When he suspended Annie Horniman, a very
senior member of the London Temple, there was a protracted correspond-
ence between various members of the Order, and a large chunk of it is
" Thelemic Magick III
reproduced in Ellic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn. Of all the
opinions that were voiced not one questioned Mathers’ right to act as he
pleased. When there was an attempt by F.L. Gardner to get up a petition to
‘respectfully petition for the reconsideration of the decision’, many members,
including Crowley’s friend and magical teacher Allan Bennett, thought that
the idea was scurrilous and treasonable. The petition was never sent.
Eventually, though, the penny dropped. In fact it’s probably fair to say it
was Mathers who dropped it, when he accused Westcott of forging the
original correspondence from the ‘Secret Chiefs’ authorizing the formation
of the Golden Dawn. The London Temple obviously weren’t as stupid as
Mathers had hoped. They quickly worked out that Mathers had cut himself
off at the legs. His authority depended on that of the ‘Secret Chiefs’, and if
they hadn’t authorized him, he had no authority. Soon afterwards, the Golden
Dawn fragmented around the issue. Bearing this in mind - that the concept
of the absolute authority of the chiefs caused the fragmentation of the original
Golden Dawn - it is perhaps surprising that the same concept is still current
in many Rosicrucian groups. The following extract is from The Sword of
Wisdom, a biography of Mathers by Ithel Colquohoun, surprisingly a Thelemite
herself and a sometime member of Kenneth Grant’s Nu Isis Lodge of the
Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). It refers to the various branches of the Golden
Dawn which formed after the split.
‘I compare Regular Temples to legitimate offspring and Dissident Tem-
ples [i.e. those without Mathers’ permission] to bastards. However gifted
the illegitimate may be, he is at a disadvantage when matched against his
legitimate siblings. . . In esoteric matters, it is not that a candidate must not
receive the Mana of his initiator but that he cannot do so unless it is
regularly bestowed.’
In other words, real initiation and magical inspiration can only be bestowed
by a ‘legitimate’ initiator. The attitude is obviously still current on the occult
scene, as testified to by the protracted arguments about charters and lineages
that would be irrelevant if people didn’t still think that Orders with an ancient
history are somehow implicitly better than those without one.
To sum up, then, the Golden Dawn view was that the adepts existed in a
perfect hierarchy of ever more enlightened beings, each being entirely
dependant on his superior for any advancement. Total obedience was
expected of all subordinates. According to the Golden Dawn’s Historic
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema #
Lecture for Neophytes an unbroken line of initiation supposedly existed from
the mythical founder of the Rosicrucian Order, Christian Rosenkreutz, right
up to Mathers and Westcott. Cosmologically, their capacity to work magic
and to evolve as human beings depended entirely on the coincidence between
the hierarchy of the Order and the natural hierarchy of the cosmos.
When talking about Mathers attitude to authority, Ellic Howe traces the
concept to an 18th century German Masonic outfit known as Der Strikte
Observantz. I would argue that to understand the concept properly, you have
to go back much further, to the collapse of the Western half of the Roman
Empire in the middle of the first millennium of the Christian Era. By then, the
Empire was in big trouble. Not only was it being attacked on every front, but
it was having trouble keeping itself going financially. Now running an Empire
is an expensive hobby. On top of all those orgies and circuses, palaces and
baths, you’ve somehow got to find money to pay the troops who stop Johnny
Foreigner from dashing in and taking it all off you. The Roman administration
was centralized, with the Emperor personally in charge of both the army and
taxation. This system worked like Imperial glue. Each province depended on
the Imperial Army for protection, and therefore wouldn’t dare withhold taxes.
The army got paid by the Emperor, and he who pays the piper calls the tune.
Every part of the structure was dependent on every other part, which made
it particularly durable against internal factions and external attack.
Unfortunately for the Emperor, a lot of the regional governors had their
hands in the till, taking large chunks out of the tax before it saw the insides
of the Emperor’s pockets. Even executing the odd governor here and there
didn’t seem to help. Simultaneously the army was overstretched, and couldn’t
protect the more remote, less profitable provinces. Eventually, the Emperor
was forced to allow some local governors to collect taxes for themselves. Of
course, this only served to weaken the Emperor’s hold on the regions
With the Empire offering no protection and few financial benefits, there
was little to stop them going it alone. When the Ostrogoths, Franks and
Visigoths swept down into the Western Empire, many of the Roman officials
simply swapped sides in return for the right to retain their lands and position.
This was the origin of many European ‘noble’ families.
The story didn’t end there, of course. The new Barbarian kingdoms,
founded on military might alone, were no more capable of sustaining a central
military and taxation system than their Roman forebears, with the result that
they were perpetually falling to pieces. The regional princes were still
$ Thelemic Magick III
effectively autonomous, and were likely to ally themselves with whoever
offered them the best deal. National boundaries rarely lasted a generation.
The Barbarians, of course, had a different culture to that of Rome, one which
put a much stronger emphasis on family or tribal groups which formed
alliances with one another by means of oaths of loyalty. The only way to

Roman Imperial Structure

develop any kind of political stability was to make use of these features. All
the different social ranks, from slave up to king, became hereditary, with
families marrying within their own class. A complex hierarchy evolved, with
each level swearing binding oaths of loyalty to their superiors with terrible
penalties for transgressors. This was much the same as the way Neophytes
of the Golden Dawn were obliged to swear an oath cursing themselves to
death if they ever betrayed the Order. The Christianization of Western
Europe brought a slightly different variation of the game. It was now God who
made Kings and Emperors, in a Divine hierarchy. As the Pope was God’s
representative on Earth, it gave him a lot of weight, which he didn’t hesitate
to chuck around. As well as having a hand in the government of almost every
European Kingdom, the Roman Church directly held a number of principali-
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema %
ties all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages. The Kings and Princes also
had plenty to gain from allying themselves to the Church. The Parish priests
assured the peasants that their station in life was a holy office ordained by
God. The most any man could hope for was to play his role well. The Church
convinced the serfs that the political hierarchy was God’s natural order, and
that anyone trying to change it would reap a terrible reward, both in this life
and the next. It is interesting to note that Mathers used many of the same
threats regarding the moral and spiritual dangers of ignoring his authority
when his leadership of the Order was challenged by the Isis-Urania Temple.
This Medieval political hierarchy, which became known as the Feudal
system, more or less held Europe together until the 16th century. Of course,
it didn’t do much to stop the high-ups from ignoring their oaths of loyalty to
one another and their pledges to protect those over whom they ruled. They
were perpetually fighting wars to increase their own power and wealth, often
funded through extortionate taxes. At the bottom of the pyramid, though, it
was a very effective instrument for keeping the peasants in their place.
Of central importance in maintaining the feudal system was the
cosmological doctrine of the Divine Hierarchy. The kings and noblemen were
far too well educated to believe the crap the Church spouted out, and stuck

The split of Roman Empire


& Thelemic Magick III
to it just as long as it suited them. The peasants, on the other hand, knew no
better, and the nobility did their best to make sure it stayed that way. A case
in point is the English Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. As a result of a particularly
unpleasant tax, the infamous ‘Poll Tax’, a peasant army rose up and took
London. Their complacent masters never took the prospect of a large-scale
revolt seriously, with the result that the army was away fighting elsewhere.
When the peasants achieved their military end, they put their demands to the
King, who was then a boy of fourteen. The fault, they reasoned, must be with
a greedy nobility, and once the King realized their plight, he would undoubtedly
use his ‘Divine Might’ to restore justice. So thoroughly convinced were they
of the Christian notion of Divine Kingship that the thought of a corrupt King
never entered their minds. Of course the King was just a boy who was
completely at the mercy of the more powerful Barons. In any case, he
undoubtedly knew which side his bread was buttered on. The King went back
on his promises to the peasants as soon as the army could be recalled, the
peasant rebels were ruthlessly hunted down and killed, and the supposed
moral transgression of the peasants was used as an excuse by the nobility to
impose an even more terrible suffering on the serfs.
The Feudal System, then, saw the origin of the cosmological model
adopted by the Golden Dawn. There was a perfect hierarchy with God at the
top, and ordinary mortals at the bottom. In the feudal system the intermediate
ranks were composed of the nobility, and in the Golden Dawn by the various
grades of adepts. In both cases, you derived your position from your superior
in the organization, to whom you owed absolute loyalty. Doubtless Mathers
was aware of the parallel. At the inception of the Golden Dawn he was
already using ‘Royal is my Race’ as his magical motto. From then on he
developed increasing pretensions towards royalty, dressing in a kilt, calling
himself the Count of Glenstrae, and claiming to be a descendant of Rob Roy
MacGregor! He spend his twilight years on the lunatic fringe of the
monarchist movement in Paris, where he hobnobbed with exiled aristocrats
from the rest of Europe.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, the wealth of the nobility began to depend
progressively less on agriculture and military conquest, and more on trade.
The shift towards trade needed a more educated work force. People needed
to be able to write letters and keep accounts. Simultaneously, there was a
move from rural towards urban society. If you’re trading, it makes sense to
have everything in one place. The more complex society needed more
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema '
complex laws, and better educated people to administer them. The higher
population density and concentration of wealth meant that medical treatment
stopped being the sole preserve of the aristocracy, with a greater demand for
physicians, and a consequent need for more education. Because wealth
depended on trade, having a more competent workforce equated to more
money. In the feudal system, agricultural workers had been expendable, but
the new emphasis on trade turned people into a valuable commodity. The new
city-states began to realize that more liberal laws would allow them to attract
the best tradesmen, architects, academics etc. from the countryside and from
other cities with stricter regimes. The liberal laws, coupled with the need for
a better educated work force, began to undermine the old-fashioned Feudal
cosmology. People became increasingly aware that there were alternatives
to the dogmas put forward by the Church. Earlier I showed how cosmology
was crucial in perpetuating the feudal system, and with better education, the
old model of the Divine Hierarchy was increasingly challenged. ‘When Adam
delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?’ From simple slogans for
the peasants to complex theological doctrines for the better educated, dissent
spread. New revolutionary movements were not hampered by lack of a
coherent ideology, as had been the case in the 1381. All over Europe, small
principalities and kingdoms began to break away from the church and move
towards more egalitarian systems of government. The whole fabric of society
was changing very quickly, and people desperately looked for a concept of
where these changes were going to lead, for some sort of precedent. Not for
the first time, they began to look back to the Roman Empire, and to think of
recent changes as a revival of ancient ideas. The French term for revival,
Renaissance, has lent its name to this period in history.
In Eastern Europe, the Roman Empire had not fallen to the barbarians as
it had in the west. It had struggled along as the Byzantine Empire, successfully
defending itself against successive waves of invaders, until the Ottoman
Turks finally overran it in the fifteenth century. Unlike their colleagues in the
west, the Byzantine scholars had existed in continuity from Hellenistic times.
Many of the works of the classical world, which had been lost to the Latin-
speaking west, had been preserved in the Greek-speaking east.. When the
Turks swept into Byzantium, many academics moved west, where the new
‘universities’ were hungry for their knowledge. The Italian universities,
previously restricted to the study of theology, medicine and law, rapidly took
up the ancient scholarly traditions brought by the Byzantine exiles. Perhaps
 Thelemic Magick III
the most important contribution of the Greek scholars was the ‘studia
humanitatis’ an academic package of five subjects, traditionally grammar,
rhetoric, poetry, ethics and history. The ‘humanities’, as they are now known,
contained not only whole branches of learning that had been lost to the west,
but also a whole new concept about the purpose of learning.

Diagram from Bovillus.


The diagram above shows a humanist view of the scholarly process. On
the bottom rung we have the lazy man, who is supposed to be of the nature
of stone and is said to merely exist; then the glutton, of the nature of a tree,
who lives; the poseur, who is equated with the horse, and possesses
sentience; and finally the scholar, ‘homo studius’, the only truly intelligent
creature. The idea, which was very radical in the Medieval world, was that
one could advance oneself through study. According to the humanist
movement, people were no longer merely allotted a place in society which
they duly occupied, but could raise themselves through study.
The Hermetic movement, which was originally a movement within the
humanist camp, took the whole process a stage further. As the new wave of
scholars dug ever deeper into the pile of newly available Greek sources, they
began to discover the mystical and magical side of the ancient world. The
most influential of the ancient mystics were Plato (who gave his name to the
‘Neoplatonist’ movement) and a certain ‘Hermes Trismegistus’, a sage in
the Graeco-Egyptian tradition. One of the central concepts of Hermetic
philosophy was that there was a relationship between the man and the
cosmos: they were identical reflections of each other, the microcosm and the
macrocosm. A natural harmony existed between the two, a harmony which
could be deliberately enhanced to produce miraculous results. Magic had
been reborn. Of course magic had never really disappeared, but I’m not
talking here about the fetish dolls and potions of the village witch, or the
survivals of the ancient Germanic and Celtic shamans, but a revival of the
‘high magic’ that had built the pyramids, inspired the Greek oracles and
sustained the Roman Empire. It spread mainly amongst the cream of
European thinkers, and was consequently seen as much more respectable.
It is important to note that the Hermetic and Neo-Platonist movements were
not solely concerned with the practice of magic - their philosophy claimed a
fundamental synthesis between the arts, sciences, politics and religion, a
whole world-view applicable to every part of human existence. In the
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema 
predominantly Christian society of Medieval Europe, moral authority stemmed
from God, and it was the divine sanctification of the office of king which gave
it the moral authority to rule. The new Hermetic sects, particularly the
Rosicrucians, claimed a direct link with God through mystical revelation. This
gave them the right to ignore not only the bogus theology of a corrupt church,
but also the temporal authority of the rulers they sponsored. To the Feudal
Overlords, who were kept in power as much by the cosmological model of
the Divine Hierarchy as by military might, the Rosicrucians represented a
very real threat.
Any absolute differentiation between the Golden Dawn and Thelema
would be oversimplistic, and yet it is fair to say that the Golden Dawn had
more in common with the medieval view than Thelema, which is closer to the
position of the Renaissance Hermeticists and Rosicrucians.
I’ve already talked briefly about the attitudes of Thelemites and Golden
Dawn traditionalists to spiritual authority. The Golden Dawn and its succes-
sors think that spiritual authority is synonymous with rank in the Order. This
is basically the same idea as the medieval church espoused, that spiritual
authority was dependent on your position in a hierarchy. Like the Pope, the
Chief of the Order was answerable directly to God, and mediated between
the deity and humanity. Although the Golden Dawn acknowledged the
possibility of advancement through magical endeavour, they also thought it
needed the sanctification of a superior in the Order, a curious combination of
the Medieval and Rosicrucian perspectives. The original Rosicrucians held
that they had direct contact with God through magical and mystical revelation.
If the True Will is seen as the ‘divine seed’, the God within, then ‘Do what
thou wilt’ becomes a rather accurate depiction of the Rosicrucian view.
Indeed, ‘do what thou wilt’ was itself a Hermetic axiom contemporary with
the Renaissance.
Thelemic and Golden Dawn philosophy were divided just as strongly on
the subject of political authority. ‘There is no law beyond do what thou wilt’
seems to sum up the Thelemic version fairly nicely. I doubt that any of you
in this room feel any moral obligation to follow a law which you feel is out of
sympathy with your True Will. This is essentially the same as the attitude of
the Rosicrucians, who refused to recognise the legitimacy of any authority
less harmonious with the Divine Will than themselves. Although the Golden
Dawn played host to some radical thinkers, it could never be thought of as a
radical movement. It never took up a position which could be described as a
 Thelemic Magick III
challenge to authority, perhaps because of its masonic links and it’s leaders
pretensions towards the aristocracy.
Thelema is a more wholistic magickal philosophy than the Golden Dawn
version. In Thelema every act is considered magickal, whether posting a
letter or evoking a demon, as all actions require some sympathy with the True
Will. In this sense, Thelema is much closer to the original Rosicrucian ideal
than the Golden Dawn. Like Thelemites, the Rosicrucians sought a perfect
harmony between mankind and godhead, a harmony which needed to extend
to every branch of science, art, politics and music. Most Golden Dawn
members saw magic as something which went on in a circle, and tended to
draw a firm divide between their magickal activities and the rest of their lives.
I would go so far as to say this is a natural laziness - none of us want to accept
the demands of the insights that magick produces, so we build up artificial
barriers to guard the parts we don’t want to change. If you're not careful -
and I’m sure the practising magicians in this room will know what I’m talking
about here - the actual ceremonial work becomes a colourful sideshow which
helps to distract from the main problems rather than draw them to your
attention. It is therefore important that a magickal philosophy contains some
pointers towards integration, so that the various parts of ourselves don’t pull
in different directions. The concept of the True Will provides this unifying
doctrine, demanding that we constantly pay attention to every aspect of our
lives. The Hermetic ideal of a magician came from the humanist ideal of the
perfected man, and recognised that ritual alone cannot produce that perfec-
tion, but merely point in the right direction. Magic for the Rosicrucians
provided the key to the other disciplines that made up homo sapiens - the
aware man. The ideal of the Renaissance magus was the polymath, who saw
the true harmony of all things. Though his knowledge was limited, Crowley
constantly strained to develop parallels between magick and science, art and
mathematics. I like to think that this kind of syncretism is once more becoming
a distinctive feature of Thelema.
A constant criticism of Crowley from the Golden Dawn traditionalists is
that he broke his oath of secrecy to the Order by publishing their rituals,
adapted to Thelema, in The Equinox. Paradoxically, one of the original
Rosicrucian criticisms of western magicians was their secrecy. The follow-
ing is from a translation of the Fama Fraternitatis, one of the original
Rosicrucian manifestos published at the beginning of the 17th century. It
describes Christian Rosenkreutz’s experiences in the Islamic world.
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema !
‘Every year the Arabians and Africans do send one to another, enquiring
one of another out of their arts, if happily they had found out some better
things, or if experience had weakened their reasons. Yearly there came
something to light, whereby the mathematics, physics and magic (for in
those are they of Fez most skilful) were amended. As there is nowadays
in Germany no want of learned men, magicians, cabalists, physicians and
philosophers, were there but more love and kindness among them, or that
the most part of them would not keep their secrets close unto themselves.’
You can see from this that the Rosicrucians sought cooperation between
the magickal groups, directly urging their contemporaries to be less tightfisted
with their secrets. The passage also speaks of progress being made. This is
another important difference between Thelemic and Golden Dawn philoso-
phy. The Golden Dawn rituals were thought to work because of their
antiquity, because they were supposedly preserved or adapted from the
‘original’ Rosicrucian rituals. Mathers and Westcott both made a big deal out
of the cypher manuscripts when they founded the Order, and judging by the
surviving correspondence it seems likely it was the ‘genuine’ historical nature
of the rituals which attracted many of their members. Crowley, on the other
hand, openly admitted the originality of his own constructions. The Golden
Dawn, in their Historic Lecture for Neophytes, gave a great long spiel about
the ‘cypher manuscripts’ and a long and fictitious history of the Order.
Crowley, in his History Lection of the A\ A\ , dismissed the genuineness of
the manuscripts as being of ‘no whit, such literature being judged by itself, not
by its reputed sources.’ He reintroduced the spirit of progress in the his
publication, The Equinox, with its motto ‘The method of science, The aim of
religion.’ Because in Thelema the effect of a ritual derives from its harmony
with the True Will, we are free to experiment with any techniques which we
think of as effective. This attitude is now common to most thinking occultists
of all traditions, but it re-emerged with Crowley and Thelema.
Another important difference between Thelema and G.D. Hermetica is
their perceived relevance to society. Although Crowley’s apocalyptic visions
of the inception of the Aeon of Horus were somewhat pompous and
overblown, he did at least have a vision of the relationship between magick
and the shape of society. The Golden Dawn, for the most part, were content
to carry on as a little secret society practising magic, as Yeats put it ‘a club
like any other’. As I have already demonstrated, the original Rosicrucian
" Thelemic Magick III
movement was very political. As Frances Yates has pointed out in The
Rosicrucian Enlightenment, the original Rosicrucian pamphlets made
specific allusions to the contemporary political situation, and made specific
statements about the kind of society they wanted to create. As far as political
authority is concerned, then, Thelema is much closer to the Rosicrucian
movement than the Golden Dawn.

Equinox frontispiece
[At this point the author presented an overhead summing up all the above
which was followed by a question and answer session]

So, how did the Hermetic movement change so much between its zenith
in the early 17th century and its revival by the Golden Dawn nearly 300 years
later? The original Rosicrucian and Hermetic movements were poised at one
of the great cusp points in European history. Politics, science, religion and the
arts were all changing beyond recognition. The Hermetic philosophy offered
a unifying theory for these developments. It saw them all in the context of a
re-emerging relationship between humanity and deity. For the preceding
three hundred years, there had been a growing obsession with millinarianism,
the idea of some great cosmic change, an apocalypse, to be followed by a new
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema #
Golden Age. This was doubtless a product of the grinding poverty, servitude,
plague and unending war which typified the medieval period. The recent
changes in society were looked at in a religious as well as a historical
perspective. The rediscovery of the ancient world brought with it the
possibility of the long-heralded Golden Age, which in Christian and Jewish
terms meant the establishment of God’s reign on earth. There was a
tremendous hunger for change, and the new religious and political movements
of the day established themselves in the hope of bringing about this New Age.
In Medieval Europe, secret societies were a very popular and powerful
way of spreading alternative political doctrines. In a time when dissent was
punishable by torture and death, caution was advisable. Many of the major
political and religious movements of the day began in secret, with only a few
very committed individuals prepared to come out into the open. The important
thing to remember is that they all thought their time would come, and that it
would come soon. For many it did, but history was not that kind to the
Rosicrucians. No sooner had the Rosicrucians announced their existence
before the 30 years war the Catholic counter-reformation drove them back
into obscurity. Many of the Protestant monarchs and Princes of Europe, while
happy to embrace Hermetic ideas during their conflict with Catholicism, soon
changed their tune when they rose to power. The new breed were, of course,
just as keen to keep the peasants in their place, and the religious persecutions
of the 17th and 18th centuries were common to Catholic and Protestant
countries alike. No surprise, then, that the secret societies chose to remain
secret. Continuing to exist only as an underground, the Hermetic movement
became increasingly divorced from contemporary political and religious
trends. It was a similar story for the arts and sciences. After the time of Da
Vinci, Dee, Paracelsus and Agrippa, science and art began to become
progressively more divided. The theories of Descartes and Newton had no
room for the Hermetic principles of microcosm and macrocosm, or for the
subjectivity of individual mystical experience.
The Hermetic movement, then, was robbed of its relevance to the arts and
sciences and to the politico-religious situation. Along with the Chivalric
Orders of Knighthood and the Freemasons, the Hermetic and Rosicrucian
sects disappeared into the twilight world of secret societies. The association
of these movements, which overlapped continuously from the 17th century,
continued until the Golden Dawn, who borrowed their name from the
Rosicrucians, their grade-structure from the Freemasons and their flashy
$ Thelemic Magick III
gear from the orders of chivalry.
With the advent of ‘science’ came miraculous new inventions. The new
mechanical marvels helped to convince scholars that they had finally
surpassed the ancients, that the Renaissance was over, and the new ‘Age of
Reason’ had arrived. The Rosicrucian movement, on the other hand, stayed
firmly stuck in the Renaissance. Through the 18th and 19th century, it was
their fate to be revived, revived and revived again. No generation of Hermetic
magicians dared to reach the conclusion the early scientists had, namely that
their understanding had surpassed the ancients. That is, until Crowley. It is
in Thelema that the Hermetic movement has finally moved from Renaissance
to Enlightenment, from past to present.
Earlier I used the model of the Renaissance to show how Thelema
represents several crucial developments from the Golden Dawn tradition. I
think that it is of vital importance for us today to realize that these
developments are still in progress. We must realize that Crowley, however
great his achievements, only represents the origin of the Thelemic system, not
its perfection.
Although Crowley challenged many of the authoritarian attitudes of his
forebears, in others he imitated them. The main example of this is the
hierarchical magickal order. Since Crowley’s death the old hierarchical
orders, with their tendencies to produce secretive, competitive behaviour,
have thankfully started to give way to more communal groups and societies.
The future, I believe, has little to do with orders and charters, or even with the
writings of Aleister Crowley. The future lies in our capacity to carry out the
Great Work, to manifest the True Will which lies dormant within each and
every one of us, and to show others how to do the same. We’ve got to sort
out the wheat from the chaff, to realize which parts of Crowley’s Thelema
are redundant and regressive, and replace them. I’m happy to say that I think
there’s a sea change happening within the Thelemic community at the
moment, that even those organizations which have in the past been tradition-
ally conservative have realized there’s still plenty of progress to be made.
The Rosicrucian and Sufi ideas of cooperation are also continuing to
develop. The existence of meetings such as this Symposium are testament to
the fact that we now exist in a pluralistic community, sharing ideas and
swapping techniques, motivated by the idea of progress instead of merely a
better imitation of our predecessors. In so doing we are at last starting to move
beyond Crowley in our conception of Thelema. In answer to the challenge of
The Hermetic Inheritance of Thelema %
the Sufi of Rum, we are beginning to stop worshipping the jug, and starting
to look for the water.
Crowley’s attitude to political authority was rather more exemplary than
his attitude to his disciples. He never seemed to give a toss about the law, but
never seemed to get into any serious trouble. As the twentieth century draws
to a close, it is becoming obvious that the great political movements which had
hoped to deliver ordinary people from oppressive authority have comprehen-
sively failed to come up with the goods. Indeed, it could be said they have
produced some of the nastiest, most oppressive regimes of the last hundred
years. The lesson, for me, is that removing the external means of oppression
only does half the job. The slave mentality, taught in schools and in the
workplace, is deeply encoded in our individual and social psyches, and takes
a lot of shifting. As far as I’m concerned, magic in general and Thelema in
particular has many important lessons for us in this regard. Unfortunately,
these lessons will go unlearned if we are unable to improve our accessibility
to interested parties.
Another area in which Thelema surpassed the Golden Dawn was in its
wholistic attitude. Over the last century, it has historically been a trend that
experts in magick have been experts in little else. At last this is changing. It
is more and more common to hear magicians talking about ideas from other
disciplines, such as anthropology, psychology, the ‘new physics’ and math-
ematics, and the arts. I think this is particularly positive, because the great
truths and fundamental principles of other disciplines often have more of real
value to teach us than the minutiae of obscure magickal systems.
On a final note, it is very interesting to me that Hermetics and Thelema
finally seem to be reaching maturity in an age with remarkable parallels to the
Renaissance. One again we’re in an age where society is changing very
rapidly. Again, economic factors are demanding a more educated workforce,
and telephones, radio, television and computers are fulfilling the place
occupied the printing press in the Renaissance. Cars and aeroplanes have
made the world a smaller place, as the first ocean-going ships did 500 years
ago.

I argued earlier that Hermetic magic began to lose its way when it lost its
relevance to religion and politics, and the arts and sciences. This century
seems to be marking a new convergence. With the New Agers, religion
seems to be moving back towards the esoteric. Even the Christians, it seems,
& Thelemic Magick III
are desperately stealing our clothes, offering meditation classes and green
politics in a last-ditch attempt to outlast the Aeon of Osiris. Artists and
musicians are again looking to magickal and mythical ideas for inspiration.
Science has finally found objectivity to be a dead end, and is once more
beginning to consider the perspective of the observer as of vital importance.
Like our forebears in the 17th century, I believe we are standing at one of the
great cusp points in world history, a time when magickal ideas are once more
coming to the fore. We have been presented with an opportunity that has not
existed since the counter-reformation crushed the hopes of the Rosicrucians
and their kin over 300 years ago. Are we to be the Ushers of a new Golden
Age, or are we merely surfacing briefly before disappearing back into
obscurity. The choice, I think, is ours. Thank you for listening.

Divergence and convergence of politics, religion etc.