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The Will-to-Love in Thelemic Yoga

The Will-to-Love in Thelemic Yoga

by Frater Aletheia

Will (Thelema) and Love (Agape) are two central concepts around which the whole of Thelemic doctrine constellates, two concepts which are enshrined in the following verses of The Book of the Law:  “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law,”[1] and “Love is the law, love under will”.[2]

Crowley’s conception of both Magick and Yoga came to reflect these central principles, Crowley reformulating both along Thelemic lines.[3]  At the bottom of this distinction between Magick and Yoga, of Will and Love, is a spiritualized existential philosophy and praxis that can be encapsulated in the master concept of the will-to-love.[4]

The will-to-love articulates an account of nature which sees all things as striving to transcend themselves by uniting with that which they are not; as striving to complete themselves by integrating all possible combinations of experience into the totality of their being and to thereby achieve wholeness which in its most complete phase can be characterized as union with God.  

Union with God, we might say, is the end towards which all things tend—“for She is the Ultimate to which we tend, the asymptote of our curve”[5]—and the will-to-love the primal engine which propels them toward that end, “…the first matter of that Great Work wherein our race shares the divine prerogative of creating man in its own image, male and female”.[6]  The magician and yogi; in short, the Thelemic magician, can harness this naturally occurring instinct and direct it under will toward union God.

Yoga means Union

The refrain “Yoga means union,” echoes throughout Crowley’s Eight Lecture on Yoga, and it is to this seemingly simple slogan that we now turn our attention.  The direct experience of the processes and results of yoga confers on the yogi personal acquaintance with the non-dual and primordial ground of existence, a direct experience of the infinite body of Nuit through the achievement of samadhic union.

The word ‘Yoga,’ as Crowley notes, derives etymologically from the Proto-Indo-European ‘yeug,’ meaning ‘to join,’ which in turn gave rise to the Sanskrit yogah; from the Greek ‘zeugma,’ meaning, ‘a yoking together;’ and, from the Latin ‘jugum,’ meaning ‘yoke’.

Crowley writes, “Yoga means union…Yoga is first of all the union of the subject and object of consciousness: of the seer with the thing seen”.  He also notes that “…the world Religion is really identifiable with Yoga.  It means a binding together”.[7]  The word ‘yoga’ then connotes a ‘joining, yoking, or binding together,’ a joining, yoking, or binding of the subject and object of consciousness, of the self and not-self.

Incidentally we might also say that the word ‘religious’ implies togetherness with God.  Yoga yokes, joins, or binds together the self and not-self, conferring on the yogi a direct experience of non-duality, of the illusory distinction between the self and not-self.

The Dualistic Articulation of Self-Consciousness

In Yoga the sense that the empirical ego is a separate self existing over and apart from other selves and objects in space and time is transcended.  Each “self,” insofar as we can say there is a substantial “self,” is spatially and temporally located in some material aggregate or composite (body), distinct from other material aggregates or composites, some of which also contain other “selves”.  It is this position within the boundaries of space, time and causality which, in a very general sense, gives rise to the distinction between the self and not-self, of the subject and object of consciousness.

This sense of separateness is a feature of self-consciousness insofar as that consciousness is articulated within the boundaries of space, time and causality; a feature of self-consciousness that the experience of yogi and its results proves to be illusory   In this union the apparent distinction between the subject and object of consciousness is dissolved.  Crowley writes,

“Finally something happens…this consciousness of the Ego and the non-Ego, the seer and the thing seen, the knower and thing known, is blotted out…It is an absolute knockout blow to the mind…But its light all other events of life are as darkness” (Liber ABA–Part I, Mysticism).[8]

It is in this act of union that the yogi is wedded to the fundamental nature of the universe, the “I,” beyond “all I am”.[9]  It is this experience of non-duality, of the One, All, or Naught that is referred to as “Union with God,” as yogic samadhi.

Unite by Thine Art

This union of the self and not-self, of the subject and object of consciousness, is consummated and propelled by what Crowley terms the will-to-love.[10]   As primitive and higher forms of animal and biological life are driven by a “will-to-life,” to seek food, shelter and reproductive success to ensure their survival, so too is the subject or “self” driven by a will-to-love, to loose itself in union with that which is Other.

Of course, much like the will-to-life, the will-to-love remains largely unconscious, and can be thwarted in all sorts of ways, such as in cases of extreme self-repression, the fear of others different from oneself and of experiences that fall outside the bounds of what the empirical ego finds acceptable.

Crowley writes, “Love is the instinct to unite, and the act of uniting…[b]ut this cannot be done indiscriminately, it must be done ‘under-will,’ that is, in accordance with the nature of the particular units concerned”.[11]

The will-to-love, directed “under will,” compels the subject to break forth from the confines of its own particular identity and loose itself in what it is not.  In doing so, the subject achieves a higher level of organization and complexity by transcending the limitations of its previously defined sense of self and integrating features of reality into itself that previously appeared as “separate”.

If in the process of crossing over form the identification with the narrow confines that give rise to the sense of a separate and distinct self to further identification with the cosmos as a whole, the will-to-love can also be considered a will-to-union; that is, a will to passionately and ecstatically unite with the divine.

Eros and Thanatos as the Black Dragon of the Alchemical Opus

It would however be naive to think all human action and behavior is motivated by love, at least conceived in its mundane sense.  Sigmund Freud identified in human beings what he termed the ‘death instinct’ (Thanatos), an instinct whose motive was toward the aggressive and destructive.  Thanatos was however inseparably linked with the competing instinct of Eros whose function was toward cohesion, cooperation and cultural achievement. The two were so closely alloyed, according to Freud, that they often appeared as one instinct. [12]

If the will-to-love is indeed as fundamental as Crowley seemed to have thought, then an account of the contrary impulse of hate, destruction and separation must too be forthcoming.  In The Book of the Law Nuit declares: “For I am divided for love’s sake, for the chance of union.  This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all”.[13]

The pain of division and the sense of separateness that instigates the gap between the self and not-self, between the individual and God, directs the instinct of Thanatos towards the destruction of all that keeps the individual from realizing its divine nature.  The dissolution of the complex is the “rapture of the earth” (AL, II:23) and the regeneration of the world (AL, I:53).

“Even as evil kisses corrupt the blood, so do my words devour the spirit of man.  I breathe, and there is infinite disease in the spirit.  As an acid eats into steel, as a cancer that utterly corrupts the body; so am I unto the spirit of man.  I shall not rest until I have dissolved it all”.[14]

Thanatos, we might say, is the impulse that destroys the gap between the individual and God and incidentally why the transmogrification of the human being into God has traditionally appeared as catastrophic.  The stripping away and dissolution of all that keeps one separate from God may appear traumatic from the perspective of the empirical ego; but from the perspective of the All it is “the joy of dissolution,” the appearance of the Black Dragon of the alchemical opus.

“The passion of Hatred is thus really directed against oneself.  It is the expression of the pain and shame of separateness…Love may best be defined as the passion of Hatred inflamed to the point of madness, when it takes refuge in Self-destruction”.[15]

Love and Hate, Eros and Thanatos, are thus twin instincts both of which are subsumed under the will-to-love.

“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit” – Emerson, Nature.

The will-to-love is for Crowley inherent in all of nature and human experience, an existential fact of the world.  Nature is seen as nothing other than a pulsing and striving will-to-love: the instinct and desire of one thing to unite with another, thereby dissolving the difference between the two, resulting in a new third thing which can then begin this process anew at a higher level of organization and complexity.  Crowley writes,

“This formula of Love is universal; all the laws of Nature are its servitors.  Thus, gravitation, chemical affinity, electrical potential, and the rest…are so many differently observed states of the unique tendency”.[16]

Crowley saw this process occurring in all of nature.  In the process of sexual reproduction, for instance, two distinct gametes, a female ovum (egg) and male sperm, fuse together in fertilization resulting in a single celled zygote which includes the genetic material of both original gametes.

Two separate and individual things unite, producing a new third thing which partakes of the elements of its progenitors, but which has its own unique and distinct character, itself moving on to further reproductive endeavors and thus extending the process indefinitely.

“The process of Love under Will is evidently progressive.  The Father who has slain himself in the womb of the Mother finds himself again with her, and transfigured, in the Son.  This Son acts as a new Father; and it is thus that the Self is constantly aggrandized, and able to counterpoise an ever greater Not-Self, until the final act of Love under Will which comprehends the Universe in Sammasamadhi”.[17]

He also saw the will-to-love occurring at the level of chemical interaction and transformation.  The combination of Hydrogen gas with Oxygen, for instance, generates a new chemical compound (H20); and, if Potassium is added to H20 a solution of Potassium Hydroxide (KOH) and Hydrogen gas (H2) is produced, along with an explosion of light, heat and sound.

This formula is also present in the acquisition of knowledge. If it is said, “Mahatma Guru Sri Paranahansa Shivaji is Aleister Crowley,” two distinct concepts have been synthesized through a statement of identity thereby conferring knowledge on the one by whom the proposition is grasped; thus, even in the acquisition of knowledge the will-to-love is present.

Towards a Phenomenology of the Will-to-Love

The will-to-love appears then to be active, according to Crowley, in all phenomena whatsoever; the very notion of a phenomenon, a lived experience, is impossible without the presence of this will-to-love.  It is the engine of creation, the creative and generative power that forms worlds.  The will-to-love is operative in the most mundane of experiences as well as the most exalted.

Every experience we undergo is a product of its operation; and, by employing it consciously we can, in our own ways, extend our contact with the known universe, opening up vistas of experience in more authentic and spiritually transformative ways.

If the will-to-love is a naturally occurring instinct that for the most remains unconscious for creatures like us, then by bringing this will into conscious awareness we can expand exponentially the spheres of our experience and influence.  We too partake in the creative and generative powers that compel the creation of worlds, and when employed consciously; that is, under will, we can direct this force so as to be in line with the truth of our being and in pursuit of the purpose of our incarnation.

This is Part Three of a series on Thelemic Yoga:


[1] Crowley, Aleister.  The Book of the Law, I:40.

[2] Crowley, Aleister.  The Book of the Law, I:57.

[3]It might be argued that Magick essentially reflects the Thelemic notion of Will; and Yoga, the Thelemic conception of Love. Thus, again we see the essential relationship and interdependence of Magick and Yoga.

[4] Crowley variously refers to the will-to-love as the “will-to-union” and “will-to-create,” constellating an array of connotations around this central concept.  See New Comment, I:52.

[5] Crowley, Aleister.  Magical and Philosophical Commentaries, I:52.

[6] Crowley, Aleister.  Magical and Philosophical Commentaries, I:52.

[7] Crowley, Aleister. Eight Lecture on Yoga.  New Falcon, 1991, p. 14.

[8] Crowley, Aleister.  Book Four—Part I, “Mysticism”.  Weiser Books, 1997, pp. 13.

[9] Crowley, Aleister.  Liber XV – The Gnostic Mass, Part VII: Of The Office of the Anthem.

[10] Crowley variously refers to the will-to-love as the “will-to-union” and “will-to-create,” constellating an array of connotations around this central concept.  See New Comment, I:52.

[11] Crowley, Aleister. Eight Lecture on Yoga.  New Falcon, 1991, p. 19.

[12] Freud, Sigmund.  Civilization and It’s Discontents.

[13] Crowley, Aleister.  The Book of the Law, I:29-30.

[14] Liber LXV – Cordis Cinti Serpente, I:14-16.

[15] Crowley, Aleister.  Little Essays Toward Truth.  New Falcon, 1991, p. 80.

[16] Ibid, p. 78.

[17] Ibid, p. 80.

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