Crowley 101: Where to begin…

How does one begin to study Aleister Crowley?

The best place to start is with the work of Richard Kaczynski, Ph.D.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter Mysticism and Magick in The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley, written by Kaczynski, edited by James Wasserman.

Will is the soul of Aleister Crowley’s magical philosophy; his famous definition of magick is “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” He named his system Thelema after the Greek word for Will. Everyone has a Will – a purpose, unique talent, calling, or function in the smooth running of that magnificent cosmic machine which is the Universe. Magick provides the tools to accomplish two things: First is to “know thyself” – to use techniques like journaling, meditation, ritual, and invocation to identify your personal strengths and successes – and thereby discover your true Will. The second is to use these same  tools to accomplish your Will.

Find your Will and do it. Sounds easy. But all the books written on magick; the varieties of magical and mystical systems through the millenia; the universities filled with college students wondering “What should I major in?”; the plethora of “self-help” books filling modern bookstores; and the workplaces occupied by people simply “getting by” in unfulfilling jobs, are all testimony to the fact that this is anything but easy. Crowley’s innovation was to repurpose the traditions of magick to make this task more efficient.

Another of Crowley’s innovations was to bring magick into the modern age, He coined the term “scientific illuminism” for his approach,which applies the scientific method to magick. This includes an emphasis on reproducibility. Rituals and exercises are performed precisely so that they can be replicated by others. Likewise, you should get clear and reproducible results with practice. If not, the particular ritual or exercise you’re doing is (for you) merely superstition. To build a record of success, students must first master these techniques in simple, mundane, and measurable goals before applying them to the higher purpose of magick.

Crowley also united the various systems of the East and West into a cohesive package. Magick recognizes certain universal truths contained within all religious and spiritual systems. Crowley attempted to extract that essence from the teachings of the world’s varied schools of spiritual attainment. Building on an idea common in esoteric groups like the Theosophical Society and the Golden Dawn; he forged a particularly effective integration of Western magic, Eastern yoga, Qabalah, Hermeticism, Freemasonry, Rosicrucianism, and other mystery traditions throughout history.

The Weiser Concise Guide to Aleister Crowley is a deceptively slim volume. It manages to distill the life, work, and philosophy of one of history’s most controversial and complex occultists into 126 pages. It provides the neophyte with solid grounding in all things Crowley and a direction for further study. It gives the Crowley scholar a clear-eyed overview of the man they thought they knew – dispelling long-held myths and misinformation – proving an indispensable go-to guide.

One of the most helpful sections of this book is a “top 11” guide to Crowley’s work, incorporating the classification system that Crowley used himself to designate the relative importance of his writing, and thumbnail reviews by Kaczynski that help to clear up much that is confusing in this library:

777 and Other Qabalistic Writings: Crowley’s important writings on the Qabala collected in one place. (777 itself is in Class B)

The Book of Lies: Endlessly entertaining and enlightening (Class C)

The Book of Thoth: Crowley’s last word on magick, an indispensable guide to his tarot deck.(Class C)

*Eight Lectures on Yoga: Perhaps the clearest explanation of yoga ever written. (Class B.)

The Equinox: This is really ten books (eleven with the “Blue” Equinox). You can also get Gems from the Equinox, which includes most of the key libri (books) from The Equinox.

*The Equinox III(9): The Holy Books of Thelema. The indispensable and accurate modern collection of the major Class A writings that define the spiritual system of Thelema. (Parenthetically, The Book of the Law appears twice. The typeset version is called Liber 220, while the handwritten manuscript is Liber 31)

*The Equinox III(10): Sold separately from The Equinox set, this modern volume collects the foundational documents of the O.T.O.

The Law is for All: Edited by Louis Wilkinson, this is Crowley’s “authorized” verse-by-verse commentary on The Book of the Law.

*Liber Aleph:  This collection of letters to Crowley’s Magical Son, Frater Achad, delves into some of the deepest mysteries of magick, sex, Thelema, and the Gnostic Mass. (Class B.)

Magick: Liber ABA, Book Four: If you buy only one book on this list, this is it. Crowley’s masterwork on magic, with enough libri in the appendices to keep you busy for a lifetime. This modern collection,edited by O.T.O. Frater Superior Hymenaeus Beta, includes Book IV, Part 1: Mysticism; Book IV, Part 2: Magick; Book IV, Part 3: Magick in Theory and Practice; and Book IV, Part 4: The Equinox of the Gods. A great many supplemental writings are included as well. It is extensively illustrated, annotated, and indexed for exceptional ease of use.

The Revival of Magick and Other Essays: A delightful introduction to Crowley’s philosophy, this is a collection of essays in which Crowley clearly explains magick and Thelema in non-technical language for a lay audience.

There are also tips for Thelema Etiquette, contact information for OTO and associated organizations, Crowley’s “Open Letter to Those Who May Wish to Join the Order,” and a massive bibliography.

There – now that should get you started!

*These titles are out of print.

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