by Frater Αγάπη και Φως
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
Part 1 – History and Background of Oz
Liber Oz has been one of the most successful and perhaps misunderstood documents within the Thelemic corpus. It has a rich history which comes with an entire myriad of interpretations and applications. Frater Orpheus, for the first time, gives us a complete look into the history and metaphysics implicit within this short tract. After spending some time reading over his book, On The rights of Man, I am pleased to share a short review of my own thoughts and impressions of this work.
The book begins with a foreword by Richard Kaczynski which does an especially wonderful job of setting the tone for why such a small tract on Thelemic rights has been and continues to be at the center of Thelemic discussions today. The publishing of this book marks 77 years since Crowley penned Liber Oz and it has remained a hotly debated topic within Thelemic circles.
The first section of the book details the history behind the inspiration, writing, and dissemination of this tract. The reader is informed of Crowley’s first visit to America in 1914, the land of rugged individuality, which had fascinated him. We get a recount of his attempt to stir up a media ruckus by sailing out to The Statue of Liberty to declare the independence of Ireland. An act which indeed helped to land him a job at with the paper, The Fatherland, where he worked publishing propaganda throughout the first world war. Here are outlined a series of lessons which he would recall at the outbreak of the second world war when he would officially pen Liber Oz.
Next, we are brought up to 1939 just two days after the Nazi’s invaded Poland, when Great Britain declared war on Germany. Crowley, driven by a sense of patriotism, immediately applied for service with the Naval Intelligence Division, but had his application denied. So instead he re-released the poem, England, Stand Fast!, in hopes to inspire the British population. We are given the basic history behind Crowley’s claim to have created the V sign or what some call the peace symbol which he first mentions in his journal in February of 1941. His V-for-Victory campaign officially began on the 6th of June 1941. His first publications of Liber Oz even include a picture of him making this symbol.
Crowley’s next war effort project begins on June 22nd, the day the Nazi’s invaded Russia. This was the poem, Thumbs Up!. He would begin publishing this together with his England, Stand Fast! And An Hymn for the American People, as a few war effort poems in July of 1941. This would be followed up by the first publication of Liber Oz in December of 1941 which he referred to as the War Aims of Thelema.
AC’s final propaganda piece from this period would be La Gauloise (Song of the Fighting French). This was published in July of 1942. Crowley would send copies to the French resistance hoping to inspire them. The American Thelemite Roy Leffingwell of Agape Lodge would rename this to L’Etincelle (The Spark) and set it to music. This was recorded and aired on the BBC. In 1944 Crowley sent a pack of these to Grady L. McMurtry while he was serving as Captain in the U.S. Army in France to distribute.
In January of 1941, Roosevelt delivered his famous speech declaring the 4 freedoms which were commonly referred to as, War Aims of America. This inspired Crowley who wanted to do more with his magical act. He wrote to Yorke that his motivations were in part, “to combat all mass governments, including democracy”. Clearly, Crowley had much more in mind than simply stating just another liberalism. It is very easy to read and interpret things like this in an attempt to justify our own position and bias.
Crowley would draw on two primary sources for Liber Oz; Liber AL vel Legis and the rituals of the O.T.O.. In essence, he was hoping to unpack certain implications of the moral code found within Thelema. Years earlier AC had penned a summary of Thelemic rights for use within a certain ritual for the O.T.O. and would now draw heavily on this but now as a magical act for public consumption. Interestingly he had found a way to group the sections within his rights of man so that they may be reflected onto the Tree of Life and understood within the mysteries of the grades of the A∴A∴ as an example of the correct modes of thought needed to escape the shadows of the ruach.
Even after Crowley had a final draft he was happy with, he struggled for a time with finding the proper title for the work. On November 5th, 1941 he recorded a series of ideas for the title in his journal. Ultimately, he was searching for something monosyllabic which was packed with enough symbolism to seed the notions into our unconscious minds. The following day he settled on OZ = 77 = The Devil and The Lovers = Goat. Later in the day he consulted the Yi King and got 49, Ko, the very consumption of rightness. Feeling satisfied with this he moved towards production using Lady Harris’ painting of the Devil atu.
When Harris found out about Crowley’s plan to release these as his annual anti-Christmas card, a tradition he began a few years prior, she was not entirely pleased. She was concerned about the general populace being offended by the phallic imagery of The Devil card. On November 12th she sent him a letter pleading with him to reconsider his use of that atu. On the 14th he received a letter from another student, Ethel Archer who was also concerned about his publication of OZ and his use of The Devil card. All of this led to his decision to publish two variations of the card. One would feature The Aeon card for public use and a version using The Devil card which would be strictly limited to private use.
On Tuesday the 18th, the 43rd anniversary of AC’s initiation into the Golden Dawn and the day British forces attacked the Nazi’s in Libya the first proof of Liber Oz arrived. He quickly approved this and ordered 50 Devil and 250 Aeon cards. Although a month before the winter solstice, the time he had planned to release OZ, he was happy to share copies with 14 close friends. He would later be concerned that this early release may have diffused some of OZ’s power.
On December 21, 1941, two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor and during the Winter Solstice, Crowley enacted his magical gesture by formally issuing Liber OZ to the public. The first eleven recipients of this publication where people whom he considered to be leaders in their industry. His magical gesture was now put forth, in an attempt to stir revolution in the minds of people and how they approached Life.
The historical section of this book ends with details about the publishing legacy of Liber OZ. This is probably the first time anyone has brought all of this information together in one place. One can see that the excitement and passion behind people’s beliefs around this publication have persisted to the modern day.
Part 2 – Metaphysics of Oz
The second halve of this book is dedicated to exploring possible metaphysical interpretations that might be implicit within the structural format and lines of Liber Oz itself. Personally, this section overall was a pure joy. It was the first time I have ever seen someone give the document this sort of slant and the implications where quiet fun to ponder and think over. Also, I always enjoy an open and thorough discussion of the ethics implicit within Thelema.
I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and have taken several courses on ethics and moral theory. I am certainly not an expert and am not trying to oversell this point. I only mean to say that I have some experience in approaching morality from a philosophical point of view and at the very least have a solid foundation there. Today it is still very common to see Thelemites online associate the entire idea of morality with Christianity and the old aeon. I understand this position as I myself saved all my ethics courses for the last year of undergrad because the whole idea seemed contrived and boring to me. It turned out however to be some of the most interesting and engaging courses I ever took. The basic thing to keep in mind is that moral theory just refers to any sort of systematic approach towards determining right action in the world. This unfolds to reveal also the ways in which we determine value for ourselves and our pursuits in life.
One thing I was surprised to learn, was that Socrates had refuted the idea that morality stems from a divine source over two thousand years ago. The lesson is preserved in Plato’s Dialogue of Euthyphro. In modern philosophy this is used as a general argument against any form of what can be called the Divine Commandment Theory of Morality, which can basically be summarized as, God said so, therefore do this.
Even some of my interactions with the spirits have shown me this directly. I am reminded of the many times we spoke with Enochian spirits from the Watchtowers and the weird and confusing ways they responded to moral questions like when asking should I do this or should I do that. I began asking them about this directly until one time a spirit explained to me that they live outside of our experience of the illusion of time. This occurred to me as another way of interpreting the result of Socrates’ argument against the DCTM. The very idea of making good use of our time here really provides the landscape for all of our moral questions to emerge. This is a rant for another essay, however.
In Thelema we have but one universal moral maxim; Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. This is a universal moral prescription. It implies that the moral of your life is to seek your Will and to do your Will. As a universal moral maxim we escape the pitfalls of moral relativism, however, in this age of radical individuality there is still room for the unique application to each persons thus also avoiding it being an empty abstraction. This is a moral statement because it implicitly is prescribing action in the world, i.e. seeking to know and do our Will.
It would be outside of the scope of this essay to even try to get into any doctrine of True Will or what it means to seek to know and do your Will in a Thelemic context. Will is a very specialized word in Thelema. One basic way to think of it is we are trying to get in touch with deep inner core truth of ourselves and to manifest this out into the world in some way.
For us it will be enough to understand the general basis for moral criticism in Thelema. Here the basic assumptions at play are basically just reciprocity and consistency. The idea is that as we require a certain amount of space to be able to seek to know and do our own wills, we thus also have a sacred duty to provide others with a similar space to do the same. Crowley often uses examples which demonstrate this principle of moral consistency. It is to say that if I were to break into your home and steal your television set it would at the same time be a declaration to the world that I sanction the stealing of TV’s and also an open invitation to come and take mine. Thus, by violating the Will’s of others I am violating my own. In this way we can understand our principle of moral criticism as a direct corollary or result of our moral maxim. The latter informs us of what is right for us to do, to seek to know and do our Wills, while the former informs us of what is wrong to do, to violate or coerce the Will of others. This, in essence, gives us a fully functioning moral theory as it provides us with a means to determine both right and wrong action.
As an old retired anarchist punk rocker, I’ve always carried a healthy contempt for authority. Authority in the new aeon seems to be little more than a marketing scam. So, when it comes to any kind of declaration of rights, I’ve always felt a bit fishy about them. In most historical instances of social contract theories, they become little more than statist propaganda. It has become the justification of centuries of people being fooled into living in a cage in exchange for their safety. The argument is to say that we have such and such rights and therefore we need the police and so forth to protect them. Thus, we find ourselves suckered into a social contract that we never signed or reviewed beforehand.
From a philosophical perspective I am always very interested in the ontology of rights. I am always curious to ask people how they think about statements such as Liber Oz. Where do these rights come from? How is it that we have them in the first place? What does it mean to have these rights? Do we need a community to share these principles in order to live out our rights? These are all fun questions to explore and anyone who has frequented any online Thelema forums will know that there will be a large variety of directions that people take with these. A common trend in many Thelemic circles is to interpret Liber Oz as just another liberalism. While I don’t think it lives entirely outside of that perspective it makes it easy to overlook the true radical nature of this document. Thelema, for me, has always been focused around my own inner discipline. So, it always made sense to interpret Oz as a basic unpacking of our Thelemic moral theory into a set of disciplines for myself and my own being. I saw it is a sort of guideline for inner Jihad, if you will. With respect to the principle of consistency built into our moral theory if my code of conduct is a basic corollary of our maxim then my rights are the rights of others. By observing these rights within myself I declare them also to the world.
I was most delighted by the second section of Orpheus’ book because it opened an entirely new way for me to approach this very understanding as well as giving us a framework to analyze and incorporate Oz into our own personal lives.
My first big surprise was to learn that Crowley had indeed worked out a way for Liber Oz to sit on the Tree of Life. That he created it with this in mind was kind of mind blowing for me. Although we do have the letters with AC talking about this, we do not have an example of exactly how he worked that out himself. Instead we get a very educated guess by Frater Orpheus of what this might have looked like. I found this to be very interesting. I’ll do my best to give a brief summary of it here, but the many diagrams included in the book are very helpful for seeing this laid out nicely. This fact alone makes it worthy of the purchase.
The first step is to see how Liber Oz is organized into sections. The document begins with 5 proclamations at the top and then 5 numbered sections below these. The 5 proclamations are taken from verses of our holy book Liber AL. These can be understood as providing the axioms for our moral theory which are unpacked in specific instances in the numbered sections below them. The proclamations are as such;
- “the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world.” AL. II. 2
- “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” AL. I. 40
- “thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.” AL. I. 42-3
- “Every man and every woman is a star.” AL. I. 3
- There is no god but man.
If we take these to demonstrate the basis of our moral theory, then we see right away that by proclamation number 5 we avoid the horns of Euthyphro’s dilemma. The first one is a basic statement of us having a law. The second gives us our universal moral maxim a summary of our law itself. The third is a consequence of the second and implies that our law implies that we have a right to it. The fourth relates to the autonomy and equality of every person which can be seen as giving us another basis for the principle of consistency needed for moral criticism in Thelema. As I demonstrated earlier these principles together give us a complete moral theory in Thelema.
Orpheus in the book does a great job of being a center of pestilence by providing some good commentary on each of these proclamations. I very much enjoyed his analysis and perspective on what each of these proclamations might imply about our lives as Thelemites. I cannot recommend enough looking at this for yourself.
The next 5 numbered sections are more obviously delineated. The first section has the header, man has the right to live by his own law. This is a statement of moral freedom. Below this header are a few particular instances of this stating that, man has the right to live, work, play, rest, and die as they will. The second section is headed by the statement, man has the right to eat what he will. It continues to say, drink, dwell, and move as he wills. This is a statement of bodily freedoms. The third says, man has the right to think what he will, followed by, speak, write, draw, or dress as they will. These are statements about mental freedoms. The fourth, man has the right to love as he wills, is a statement about sexual freedom. Lastly the fifth says, man has the right to kill those who would thwart these rights, this is a safeguard again tyranny, a statement about self-defense. Thus we have,
- Moral Freedom
- Bodily Freedom
- Mental Freedom
- Sexual Freedom
- Safeguard, Tyrannicide
So, we see that when we break down the sections of Liber Oz we conveniently end up with ten of them. Next lets see how he places things on the Tree.
The 5 proclamations are placed in the upper part of the Tree. The fifth, “There is no god but man” sits in Kether which is a nice fit if taken as the message of Crowley the Ipsissimus. It is as if to remind us that, all separation is illusion. The second, “Do what thou wilt …”, is naturally placed in Chokmah where the word of Crowley the Magus emanates and is the essence of the law of the aeon. The fourth, “Every man and woman is a star”, is placed in Binah. This works because No Man enters equally into the city of the pyramids. As Orpheus notes in chapter nine, “ … Babalon, the great Mother Binah who is said to clothe our naked spirit with flesh and devour her children”. We are but stars above the abyss, in the land of the supernals. The third, “Thou hast no right but to do thy will”, is placed in Chesed which makes sense as the sphere of Jupiter. Jupiter is all about right rulership, right authority, and applied grace. Here our moral maxim is explicitly reworded as a statement of rights and the intent to pursue that right, very Jovial. The first proclamation, “This is the law of the strong …”, is then placed in Geburah. Geburah is the sphere of Mars and so we find a nice fit as this proclamation is indeed a martial statement of our ownership of the law of Thelema.
The next 5 sections then each correspond to the lower spheres comprising primarily what would be the outer order grades of most grade systems like the Golden Dawn or A∴A∴. Orpheus places the section of Moral Freedoms in Malkuth. As the Neophyte grade this makes sense as it relates to the practice of mastering right action on the physical plane. This is the grade of Karma Yoga, i.e. of right action and service. The section on Bodily Freedoms then sits in Yesod the Zelator grade in A∴A∴ which is the grade of Hatha Yoga a tool for mastering the body. Mental Freedoms then nicely sits in Hod. Hod is the Philosophus grade, the grade of Jnana Yoga or mental mastery, academic mastery. Hod is also Mercury who rules over intellect. Next, he places the Sexual Freedoms in the sphere of Netzach. Netzach is the grade of Practicus which is typified by the work of Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti is the path of love, union with the divine through love. Netzach is also the sphere of Venus.
The last section which he calls, Tyrannicide is placed in Tiphereth, the sphere of the Sun and the grade of Adeptus Minor. This is the only section that sits within the inner Order. All the prior sections related to the moral work of the outer grades. This last section however is a warrant for self-defense and a literally license to “kill those who would thwart these rights”. There is however a rather large distinction between the outer grades and this grade of the Adept. The difference is the attainment of what in Thelema is called the knowledge and conversation of the holy guardian angel, or K&C for short. Without getting into too many details or ponderings one basic idea with this attainment is that the Adept’s ruach or mind has been balanced and the ego functions in its place and in harmony with the other parts. In this sense the Adept has mastered the skill of thwarting all the things which could truly thwart these rights. Their shadow, projections, and other types of false narrative’s which hold us back have been taken hold of in a particular way, giving them the tools to no longer be bound by them.
As the Adept continues to climb the Tree and into the upper spheres containing the 5 proclamations they move further away from the outer aspects of these moral principles which implied discipline within our minds and bodies and closer to the core underlying principles which make up the foundation of our Thelemic moral theories. As the Adept becomes closer to the core truth of themselves, they become closer to the core principles of Thelema.
So, at once, with Orpheus’ presentation, we have a new lens of perspective to look at and understand the tasks of the grades within A∴A∴, but also to be able to see Liber Oz itself as a map to internal spiritual progression. This provided a new tool to look at these things and I have thoroughly enjoyed pondering all the many implications and rabbit holes it has opened up.
The last thing I’ll talk about the with this book is the 9th chapter titled, Five Formulas. It is truly a gem in disguise. In an age where our shelves are overrun with books for beginners it is really nice to see someone putting out something deep and insightful about our mysteries. In this chapter he ties all of the above together by explaining various formulas and how they work on the Tree. He shows us how 666 works. I especially enjoyed his explanation of the way in which Oz represented Kether through Ayin and the Goat using the formula of AVIO which also relates to the formula of the lance and the masculine aspects of the mysteries within Liber XV the Gnostic Mass. His explanation of the formula of ON, which is the Sun God from Liber XV, as the three stages of how ideas manifest in form and how the Adept attains K&C will be especially fun for those who have the eyes to see. There are years’ worth of studies that can be taken from this one short chapter, it is really a special treat. I could not recommend this book more, if not for this one nugget alone.
A very sincere and hearty thank you to Frater Orpheus for this treat. I had a great time combing through your work and will continue to do so for some time. Also, thanks for giving me the space here to through some of my own ideas around, it was a lot of fun.
Love is the law, love under will.
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One thought on “ON The Rights of Man, A Review”
It seem disingenuous to not comment that Liber Oz is an adaptation of something originally written for an Ordo Templi Orientis degree ritual. Why conceal its true origins?