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Aleister Crowley Cancelled? The Farce of “Post-Thelema”

Aleister Crowley Cancelled? The Farce of "Post-Thelema"

by Brother Sol-Om-On


A “Post-Thelema Manifesto” has been making the rounds lately in Thelemic social media circles. Some seem to be treating this as some kind of significant document, saying something new and exciting. I should state, first of all, that I welcome any new texts, articles, or “Manifestos” out of Thelemites as it seems the current has, at times, run fairly dry. I appreciate and respect the authors of the Manifesto putting their thoughts out into the Thelema-verse, even though I may disagree.

In this article, however, I will flesh out a couple observations, which are basically: This Manifesto is actually not Post-Thelema at all, and it is nothing new.

Post-Thelema is Actually Post-Crowley Thelema

It seems it is all the rage in this modern, superficial world of social media posts vying for Likes and Shares that vague, pithy, overly-romantic pronouncements are generally preferred over reasoned analysis. The grand unveiling of a new manifesto and a new era of Thelema feels good but what substance does this “Post-Thelema Manifesto” actually bring?

I would argue there is a single simple idea at the heart of this supposedly Post-Thelema Manifesto. It says basically: “We like Thelema and every concept created by Crowley, but we don’t like Crowley himself, because he was a sexist, xenophobe, racist, misogynist, etc. Crowley is cancelled because he does not live up to progressive values from 2021… But we still like the entire magical and philosophical system of Thelema he left behind.”

Really, what is offered in the Manifesto is not “Post-Thelema” whatsoever. It is simply “Post-Crowley Thelema”, which is still Thelema. “Post” means “beyond”, and this manifesto is just absolutely dripping in what might be called Traditional Thelema.

You can tell it is not “Post-Thelema” from the insistence on using the formal greeting/salutations of Thelema from The Book of the Law, and the use of concepts that were either created or molded by Crowley such as “Nuit, Hadit, Ra-Hoor-Kuit, Hoor-Paar-Kraat, Therion, Chaos, Pan, Baphomet… and Babalon”. None of this is “beyond Thelema.” It is about as Thelema as you can get. All of these ideas are straight out of either The Book of the Law which was received by Crowley or Vision and the Voice which is a compilation of Crowley’s Enochian visions. Crowley and more Crowley, and definitely nothing “beyond Thelema”.

What is Post-Thelema about this? Surely the forthcoming answer is a vague hand-waving “the best is yet to come” with a wink and a nudge as occultists are wont to do, but if you write a Post-Thelema manifesto surely you can begin by explaining where we are going beyond Thelema? Again, I must insist: what is offered in the Manifesto is not “Post-Thelema” whatsoever. It is simply “Post-Crowley Thelema”.

If we are to judge Post-Thelema based on its Manifesto, it is pretty much Thelema par excellence, but the authors do not like Crowley’s legacy of saying some sexist and racist things (which surely he did, but that is not the point here). It also offers nothing “beyond Thelema” — the only thing it suggests going beyond is Crowley the man himself. In other words: This is not Post-Thelema at all, but Post-Crowley Thelema.

This also sets us down a slippery slope: If we are cancelling Crowley because he said racist and sexist things, then we are basically setting up a test of moral purity. Surely the authors of this Manifesto are 100% morally pure? They have never said anything regrettable or been called out on it? If the entire idea is to jettison Crowley because he said some objectionable things (even though he died over 70 years ago), then inevitably we will jettison everyone because they cant adhere perfectly to liberal moral standards.

And since when did Thelema become about adhering to 21st century liberal-progressive morality? Surely people are familiar with the idea that ethics are relative in Thelema? One could argue this trend is in fact the inverse of “Do what thou wilt” on the moral plane. It is a narrow constriction of what is “allowable” to Thelemites when one basic foundation of Thelema is an expansion of freedom to include taboo and transgressive things. (“Oh, no, but not those things!” Yes! Exactly those things!)

Post-Crowley Thelema is Not New

If “Post-Thelema” is really “Post-Crowley Thelema”, then it is not a new idea. This idea has been around a very long time — the author(s) of this Manifesto certainly did not create it.

There are many contemporary Thelemites who have been talking about “Post-Crowley Thelema” for many years. In fact, there was literally an entire conference called “Thelema Beyond Crowley” in 2004. Back around 2007, Ash93 wrote about identifying and moving beyond what he called “Aleisterian Thelema“. There’s references to “Post-Crowleyan” Thelema in Wiki edits going back to 2008. Brandy Williams did a presentation at Babalon Rising in 2016 where one topic was “Post-Crowley Thelema”. Other Thelemic Orders have already positioned themselves as “Post-Crowley Thelema” (and even “Post-Kenneth Grant”).

One could argue that magicians have been doing “Post-Crowley Thelema” since even before Crowley died. Frater Achad’s expansion of the idea of the Aeon of Maat, Nema’s Maat Magick, or even the many instances of artists, writers, and magicians taking Crowley’s ideas and synthesizing them in new and interesting ways. Is the Thelema expounded in Jack Parsons writing really orthodox Crowley-thumping? Is the Thelema in, say, Alan Moore’s Promethea really a Crowley worshipping form of Thelema? I’d say these examples are more “Post-Crowley Thelemic” than the Manifesto bearing the title, even.

Going even further, most “Traditional Thelemites” are not Crowley worshippers. They respect Crowley as the source and founder of their tradition, and they respect his opinion on matters that he was expert on — namely, magick and Thelema. Reading Crowley’s commentaries to lines of The Book of the Law is not Crowley worship, it is just a reasonable thing to do. For a minute, imagine that Christ had left a personal commentary to the Gospels — would that not be of special interest? Suppose Mohammed wrote notes in the margins of the Quran — would you not at least consider what is written there? The amount of people that “worship Crowley” are so few and far between that it is essentially a straw man argument. Just because you disagree with Crowley when someone cites his thoughts on the matter doesn’t mean that they are being a stodgy orthodox Crowley-thumper, it just means that you disagree. It is entirely reasonable to reference, you know, the founder and author of the thing you are currently debating.

The reality is that most contemporary Thelemites are already somewhat “Post-Crowley”. Most of them are interested in what he had to contribute but do not worship him as an infallible god. Most people realize that Crowley had his foibles, that he said some stupid stuff, and that not everything he wrote is a totally coherent and perfect divine revelation. Virtually every Thelemite you will find has already done the work of picking and choosing which aspects of Thelema are relevant to them. In fact, one could argue it is baked into the system of Thelema itself already: “Do what thou wilt” from The Book of the Law, and “Man has the right to think what he will” from OZ and all that. In this regard, “Post-Crowley Thelema” is really baked into the cake to begin with — we are not meant to be limited to things Crowley discussed and virtually no one actually limits themselves in such a way. And if they did, that may be their Will.

Throwing the Babe (in the Egg) out with the Bathwater

That all being said: It is extremely difficult to extricate Crowley from Thelema. I think the Manifesto is a perfect example of it: It is literally completely full of Thelemic ideas, phrases, and deities. Crowley is undoubtedly the founder of the system of Thelema. Taking him out of it entirely is not really reasonably possible. Putting him in his rightful place, respecting him but knowing this limits, seems much more reasonable (and actionable) to me.

No one is arguing that the concepts of Thelema are 100% new, came out of nowhere, and were never seen ebfore in any form ebfore Crowley came around. In fact, Thelema’s genius to many is the unique synthesis that Crowley created of many diverse systems and ideas into the unique form of the philosophical and magical system of Thelema.

And Crowley will forever remain someone who essentially defined everything about Thelema, including all the stuff we take for granted. For example: Explaining that “Will is not want”? You will almost certainly have to reference Crowley explaining this, or at least acknowledge that he was the one to give form to this idea. “Love is union”? Same thing – it comes from Crowley.

Truly, almost every single idea you consider “Thelemic” is one that Aleister Crowley gave shape to. And that makes sense. He was the founder of Thelema. He will always be the founder. And unless you seek to move beyond The Book of the Law and the various Visions and writings that gave shape to Thelema to begin with, you will never be “post-Thelema”. You’ll just be one Thelemite with a different opinion among many others, just like it always was.


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13 thoughts on “Aleister Crowley Cancelled? The Farce of “Post-Thelema”

  1. And who’s calling this “a farce”? Right, the one one who penned the “eulogy for Liberal Thelema”.
    At least try not to be a fascist? Trump is out, Wasserman is dead. Time to move on pal.

  2. For a more thorough reply, you will have to wait for the right time. Feel free to fret as much as you want in the meantime, it’s fun to watch and observe.

  3. Its fascinating to see Thelma’s ‘development’ following the same path as virtually every other religion. It’s Life of Brian (read Aleister) all over again.

  4. Why not just write their own religion? Make their own way and call it something else of their own making? Nobody wants to do that! It’s all about smear campaigns these days… but hey they get more likes on social media. Nice try, kiddos.

  5. I was scratching my head about this a few days ago – what texts will the post-thelemite use after he has burned his Crowley in the bonfire of purity? Serious question – what’s left?
    I think the more adult response is to recognize the human failings of Crowley the man while recognizing the enormous value of his writings, explorations and yes, even his errors.
    Only children, or the psychologically/emotionally immature expect people to be perfect and rage when they’re not.

  6. My biggest issue with this manifest is A. the author spends most of his time shit posting, trolling and generally acting like a jerk online so him calling for reformation to distance themselves from Crowley for poor behavior is dripping with irony. B. and more importantly, many important figures from the past do not blend with modern sensibility. When we try to cut out everything we deem unsavory, we lose the ability to critique with nuance. As stated above, it is an important and mature skill to look at the world and determine, with reason and complexity, what works for you and what doesn’t. It’s like children covering their eyes and expecting the dangers of the world to magic(k)lly disappear.

  7. Interesting. Even with all non-PC the things he probably said, Crowley was radically progressive for his time. I do not think you can “cancel” a historical figure that helped pave the way for modern progressive thought. If he was alive today and had the same sexist, xenophobe, racist, misogynist, whatever views, then yeah… cancel him. The man was dead 20 years before the civil rights act was even passed.

  8. I mean, Marco is basically the Gladys Kravitz of Thelema, peering through his curtains to keep tabs on the GUNTHERITE_LAP_DOGS behind every tree, car, dumpster, etc.

    1. Someone gotta do it. You really wouldn’t think we’d let the Black Brotherhood unchecked, right?

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