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The Ethical Implications of Thelema’s ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ Principle

Do What Thou Wilt ethical implications

Frater Seraphina Lux


Thelema, a spiritual philosophy or religion that emerged in the early 20th century through the teachings of Aleister Crowley, has captivated minds and sparked debates for decades. Central to its doctrine is the maxim “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,” a principle that has been both celebrated and criticized. This article aims to delve into the ethical dimensions of this tenet, dissecting its philosophical underpinnings and evaluating its implications within various ethical frameworks.

Historical Context and Interpretation

Before diving into the ethical considerations, it’s crucial to understand the historical context in which Thelema was founded. Aleister Crowley was influenced by a myriad of spiritual traditions, ranging from Eastern philosophies to Western occultism. The principle of “Do what thou wilt” is not a call for unbridled hedonism, as some critics suggest, but rather an invitation to discover and fulfill one’s “True Will,” which is considered the ultimate spiritual and ethical directive in Thelema.

The Concept of True Will

The notion of True Will is central to understanding the ethical implications of the principle. According to Thelemic teachings, each individual has a unique True Will that represents their highest purpose or calling. Discovering this True Will is a complex process that involves introspection, spiritual practices, and often, guidance from experienced practitioners. Once discovered, the True Will serves as the moral compass guiding all actions and decisions.

Comparative Ethical Frameworks

To fully grasp the ethical nuances of this principle, it’s beneficial to compare it with established ethical theories:

  • Utilitarianism: Utilitarian ethics focus on the greatest good for the greatest number. The principle of “Do what thou wilt” could be seen as conflicting with this if the pursuit of one’s True Will negatively impacts others.
  • Deontology: Deontological ethics are concerned with duty, rules, and obligations. The Thelemic principle could be at odds with this framework, especially if one’s True Will contradicts societal or legal obligations.
  • Virtue Ethics: Virtue ethics emphasize character and virtues. In this context, the Thelemic principle aligns well, as the pursuit of one’s True Will is seen as an exercise in virtues like self-awareness, authenticity, and spiritual maturity.

Ethical Dilemmas and Case Studies

The principle can lead to ethical dilemmas in a variety of scenarios:

  1. Interpersonal Relationships: What happens when one’s True Will conflicts with the needs or desires of a partner, family member, or friend? Is compromise possible, or does one’s True Will take precedence?
  2. Social Responsibility: Does following one’s True Will exempt them from societal obligations like paying taxes, participating in community service, or voting?
  3. Legal Boundaries: How should one navigate situations where their True Will conflicts with legal norms? Is civil disobedience justified in such cases?

Criticisms, Counterarguments, and Rebuttals: A Detailed Examination

Criticism 1: Justification for Selfish Behavior

One of the most common criticisms leveled against the “Do what thou wilt” principle is that it can be used to justify selfish or even harmful behavior. Critics argue that the principle, if taken at face value, allows individuals to prioritize their own desires over the well-being of others.

Counterargument and Rebuttal

Proponents of Thelema argue that this criticism stems from a misunderstanding of the concept of True Will. In Thelema, the discovery of one’s True Will is not a superficial endeavor; it requires deep introspection and spiritual maturity. Moreover, the True Will is believed to be in harmony with the universal order, meaning that fulfilling it would not entail causing harm to others. In essence, the pursuit of one’s True Will is seen as an alignment with a higher cosmic order, which naturally leads to ethical conduct.

Criticism 2: Ethical Relativism

Another criticism is that the principle promotes ethical relativism, allowing each individual to create their own moral code based on their interpretation of their True Will.

Counterargument and Rebuttal

Thelemic scholars and practitioners counter this by emphasizing the rigorous process involved in discovering one’s True Will, which often involves years of study, meditation, and ritual. This is not a process that lends itself to whimsical or arbitrary moral decisions. Furthermore, Thelema posits that each individual’s True Will is a part of a greater cosmic order, implying an underlying universal ethic rather than a relativistic one.

Criticism 3: Lack of Social Responsibility

The principle has also been criticized for potentially absolving individuals from social responsibilities, such as community involvement or even basic civic duties like voting.

Counterargument and Rebuttal

Advocates of Thelema argue that social responsibility is not negated but rather redefined through the lens of one’s True Will. An individual who has discovered their True Will would naturally engage in actions that are beneficial not just for themselves but also for the community at large. The idea is that by fulfilling one’s True Will, one is contributing to the overall harmony and well-being of society.

Criticism 4: Potential for Conflict with Legal Systems

The principle could be seen as encouraging behavior that conflicts with established laws, leading to potential legal issues.

Counterargument and Rebuttal

While it’s true that following one’s True Will could, in some instances, lead to conflicts with the law, proponents argue that such conflicts would be the exception rather than the rule. The process of discovering one’s True Will involves a deep understanding of oneself and one’s place in the world, which generally leads to ethical and lawful behavior. In cases where conflict does arise, it would be seen as a call for introspection and possibly even social change, rather than an inherent flaw in the Thelemic principle itself.

Overall, the criticisms against Thelema’s “Do what thou wilt” principle, while valid concerns, often arise from misunderstandings or superficial interpretations of the philosophy. When examined closely and practiced with the depth and rigor it demands, the principle offers a robust ethical framework that not only empowers the individual but also has the potential to benefit society as a whole.


The principle “Do what thou wilt” in Thelema offers a unique and complex ethical framework that challenges conventional moral paradigms. While it provides a liberating approach to personal ethics through the pursuit of one’s True Will, it also raises intricate questions about social responsibility, legal obligations, and interpersonal dynamics. As with any ethical or philosophical principle, its practical application demands a nuanced understanding and thoughtful deliberation.

Love is the law, love under will.

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One thought on “The Ethical Implications of Thelema’s ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ Principle

  1. The ethics of an organization are greatly influenced by the ethics of its leaders. I have not had a positive experience with the leadership in terms of sharing proprietary research and then seeing it published by others without my consent, while giving credit to the leadership. Nevertheless, I am a True Christian and forgiveness is always on the table, even while psychic warfare is being waged.
    So I find the leadership to be unethical in regards to some librarian-esque disputes; but the membership is pretty cool.

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