Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

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Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Wed Oct 30, 2013 4:39 pm

In chapter 31 (qabalistic concidence?) of Magick Without Tears, Crowley grapples with the question "Is Thelema a 'New Religion'?" in a very clear and concise manner (so concise that i've quoted it in full below for convenience). Distilled, his answer is that, if we take the word at its etymological base (re- ligens: a binding together), then yes, Thelema is "an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick." However, as far as actually calling it a new religion, he "fail[s] to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief."

How should this be dealt with in the real world? Is it important to call Thelema a religion in order to reclaim the word from its generally accepted (and etymologically incorrect) connotation, regardless of the misunderstandings that will cause? Or is it more beneficial to acknowledge that the current understanding of the word is not going to change and call Thelema something else (spiritual philosophy?) in order to highlight its different nature?

Chapter XXXI: Religion–Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Cara Soror,

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

"Would you describe your system as a new religion?" A pertinent question, you doubtless suppose; whether it may happen to mean anything is—is—is—well, is what we must try to make clear.

True, it's a slogan of A∴ A∴ "The method of science—the aim of religion." Here the word "aim" and the context help the definition; it must mean the attainment of Knowledge and Power in spiritual matters—or words to that effect: as soon as one selects a phrase, one starts to kick holes in it! Yet we both know perfectly well all the time what we do mean.

But this is certainly not the sense of the word in your question. It may clear our minds, as has so often happened, if we examine it through the lens of dear old Skeat.

Religion, he says, Latin: religio, piety. Collection or paying attention to: religens as opposed to negligens, neglecting; the attitude of Gallio. But it also implies a binding together i.e. of ideas; in fact, a "body of doctrine." Not a bad expression. A religion then, is a more or less coherent and consistent set of beliefs, with precepts and prohibitions therefrom deducible. But then there is the sense in which Frazer (and I) often use the word: as in opposition to "Science" or "Magic." Here the point is that religious people attribute phenomena to the will of some postulated Being or Beings, placable and moveable by virtue of sacrifice, devotion, or appeal. Against such, the scientific or magical mind believes in the Laws of Nature, asserts "If A, then B"—if you do so-and-so, the result will be so-and-so, aloof from arbitrary interference. Joshua, it is alleged, made the sun stand still by supplication, and Hezekiah in the same way cause it to "go back upon the dial of Ahaz;" Willett did it by putting the clock back, and getting an Act of Parliament to confirm his lunacy. Petruchio, too "It shall be what o'clock I say it is!" The two last came close to the magical method; at least, to that branch of it which consists of "fooling all the people all the time." But such an operation, if true Magick were employed, would be beyond the power of any magician of my acquaintance; for it would mess up the solar system completely. (You remember how this happened, and what came of it, in a rather clever short story by H.G. Wells.) For true Magick means "to employ one set of natural forces at a mechanical advantage as against another set"—I quote, as closely as memory serves, Thomas Henry Huxley, when he explains that when he lifts his water-jug—or his elbow—he does not "defy the Law of Gravitation." On the contrary, he uses that Law; its equations form part of the system by which he lifts the jug without spilling the water.

To sum up, our system is a religion just so far as a religion means an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick.

Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief.

The word does not occur in The Book of the Law.

Love is the law, love under will.

Fraternally,

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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Takamba » Wed Oct 30, 2013 4:51 pm

To sum up, our system is a religion just so far as a religion means an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines...

Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing...


Then it is a religion, but no gain in calling it a "new" one.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Wed Oct 30, 2013 7:05 pm

So what your saying is that it's the word "new" which "might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief."

Interesting. Since he didn't check his Skeat for the etymology of "new" I hadn't looked at it like that. Worth pondering though, I suppose.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Takamba » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:00 pm

Of course, there is another clue. Of the two words, new religion, "new" does occur in the Book of the Law once and "religion" not once. But "worship," "worshipped," and "worshippers" 16 times. If we define religion as above and add that "worship" is also to be included, I'm still going with "new" is the flaw in asking "So, is Thelema a new religion?"
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Wed Oct 30, 2013 11:47 pm

Takamba wrote:Of course, there is another clue. Of the two words, new religion, "new" does occur in the Book of the Law once and "religion" not once. But "worship," "worshipped," and "worshippers" 16 times. If we define religion as above and add that "worship" is also to be included, I'm still going with "new" is the flaw in asking "So, is Thelema a new religion?"


By that logic, The Book of the Law is suggesting that Thelema is a "New Worship" to be worshipped by worshippers and not a religion. Or I'm missing something in your explanation.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Jim Eshelman » Thu Oct 31, 2013 4:59 am

kasper81 wrote:@the OP. One word; "faith". All religions prior to Thelema have faith at their core. However in Thelema "I bring certainty not faith".

I've always found that verse fascinating... since, by etymology, "faith" means "certainty."

To me it's the final dismantling of religion and an attempt to hold a scientific application to "religious experience". Buddhism nearly got it right but it became blackened by prayer wheels and metaphysical meanderings

These are effective techniques.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Takamba » Thu Oct 31, 2013 5:30 am

Gnosomai Emauton wrote:By that logic, The Book of the Law is suggesting that Thelema is a "New Worship" to be worshipped by worshippers and not a religion. Or I'm missing something in your explanation.

Oh no! I'm quite sure that by my logic, "new" is nothing under the sun! Not new at all! But worship is not to be thrown out with the bapt water.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:04 am

Takamba wrote:
Gnosomai Emauton wrote:By that logic, The Book of the Law is suggesting that Thelema is a "New Worship" to be worshipped by worshippers and not a religion. Or I'm missing something in your explanation.

Oh no! I'm quite sure that by my logic, "new" is nothing under the sun! Not new at all! But worship is not to be thrown out with the bapt water.

As I said, I must be missing something in your explanation. You cite the use of the word "new" and "worship" (and its derivatives) in the Book of the Law and note the absence of "religion".

I guess I could qabalistically analyze your last statement to discover how "new"/Nu is "no-thing"/Tao which is under the sun/son-Tiphereth. I'd question this as I believe that while Nu may be partly under Tiphereth, she is also partly above and to the side and 8 3/4 dimensions slantways of Tiphereth. And the Tao is Not. Then again, if we're talking about "new" (nun-yod) then we're looking specifically at the two paths to the right of Tiphereth. Are you saying that this discussion has tipped the Tree on it's side?
Not(31) new/Nu(60) at all(31)! = 121 = אלילים (Vain idols) = 11^2 (Ahah! squared)
And that worship, while initiated in the bapt(ismal) water (and fire, surely) must continue throughout one's life and not be tossed the minute one has come up for air as is done with most Christmas/Easter religions.

Ah... I see your joke now. Thelema is not a "new" religion but rather a Nu religion. Seems like a bit of a side track from the questions raised in the OP, but amusing nonetheless.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:12 am

Jim Eshelman wrote:I've always found that verse fascinating... since, by etymology, "faith" means "certainty."

Good point. If I were to dig out my high school Latin, I might find a nuanced difference between certus (meaning settled & sure) vs. fidelis (meaning trustworthy) but they do essentially mean the same thing. Imagine how much miscommunication and misunderstanding could be avoided in the world if we all agreed upon the same meaning of words.

("And how much poetry," the devil on his shoulder pipes in, "would be lost.") :twisted:
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Thu Oct 31, 2013 10:32 am

kasper81 wrote:All religions prior to Thelema have faith at their core.

Not exactly true. As far as the literary record shows, faith was not a required tenet of most of the Gnostic sects (and was actually shunned in some) nor was it a factor in the Hellenic and Roman religions. I would guess that there are other examples throughout the world but my research has generally been around the Mediterranean. Faith (as something higher than belief), as a religious tenet, is really something that grew out of the new testament.

By her statement there, I've always seen Nuit as specifically contradicting the "religions of the book" which require faith but leaving the door open to the older initiated religions which do not.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Takamba » Thu Oct 31, 2013 11:35 am

Gnosomai Emauton wrote:
Takamba wrote:
Gnosomai Emauton wrote:By that logic, The Book of the Law is suggesting that Thelema is a "New Worship" to be worshipped by worshippers and not a religion. Or I'm missing something in your explanation.

Oh no! I'm quite sure that by my logic, "new" is nothing under the sun! Not new at all! But worship is not to be thrown out with the bapt water.

As I said, I must be missing something in your explanation. You cite the use of the word "new" and "worship" (and its derivatives) in the Book of the Law and note the absence of "religion".

I guess I could qabalistically analyze your last statement to discover how "new"/Nu is "no-thing"/Tao which is under the sun/son-Tiphereth. I'd question this as I believe that while Nu may be partly under Tiphereth, she is also partly above and to the side and 8 3/4 dimensions slantways of Tiphereth. And the Tao is Not. Then again, if we're talking about "new" (nun-yod) then we're looking specifically at the two paths to the right of Tiphereth. Are you saying that this discussion has tipped the Tree on it's side?
Not(31) new/Nu(60) at all(31)! = 121 = אלילים (Vain idols) = 11^2 (Ahah! squared)
And that worship, while initiated in the bapt(ismal) water (and fire, surely) must continue throughout one's life and not be tossed the minute one has come up for air as is done with most Christmas/Easter religions.

Ah... I see your joke now. Thelema is not a "new" religion but rather a Nu religion. Seems like a bit of a side track from the questions raised in the OP, but amusing nonetheless.


No. I implied none of that. It would be interesting if you discovered anything from all that qabalistic gymnastics, but I never intended it. The logic of my own that I am using begins by ignoring the final statement "that word is not in the Book" and sticks with the logic that the given definition by Crowley of what is a religion qualifies for Thelema provided it doesn't go against "science and magick." So although the last statement that "the word doesn't even appear in the Book" can only apply to the word "religion," I discount that statement as mischievous. Everything above that statement (ie the acceptable definition of what constitutes a religion in the sense Skeat might define it, but not necessarily in the way Frazer (and Crowley) might define it), supports that Thelema can be defined as a religion ("But this is certainly not the sense of the word in your question" - he wrote to his student). The operative idea is here, though, is "can be," not "must" or "shall be." Then the concluding idea of "you can call it a new religion" but there's no need to. My logic (it's not really a logical argument used by Crowley as it turns and rather avoids instead of provides an answer) is that the fallacy is to believe it "new."
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Thu Oct 31, 2013 1:04 pm

Takamba wrote:It would be interesting if you discovered anything from all that qabalistic gymnastics, but I never intended it.

I definitely did. Thanks for providing the prime matter.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby oldfriend56 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 5:33 pm

kasper81 wrote:@the OP. One word; "faith". All religions prior to Thelema have faith at their core. However in Thelema "I bring certainty not faith".

To me it's the final dismantling of religion and an attempt to hold a scientific application to "religious experience". Buddhism nearly got it right but it became blackened by prayer wheels and metaphysical meanderings


Interesting association. Is it complete though to say that Thelema brings certainty, or rather that Nuit brings certainty?

I would not think that 'certainty' is the sole core offering to aspirants of Thelema as Religion as a way to replace the 'faith' of old aeon religions, making thelema the new bird on the branch and hence Crowley's subtle warning.

Thelema as a Religion seems to bring certainty and uncertainty, art and science. Certainty, combined with *faith*, becomes more like 'inspiration' combined with an empirical framework to express the opposites, distinguish them, unite them, and extinguish them. So if Religion is a 'binding' of text, and the text is indeed 'high art' or inspired/received writing from the HGH, it makes sense that the word 'new' could be very deceiving but entirely accurate, perhaps even alchemically.
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Re: Is Thelema a "New Religion"?

Postby Gnosomai Emauton » Tue Nov 05, 2013 7:02 pm

Just to clarify my own initial question, I'm not thoroughly convinced that "new" is actually the word in question here. The qabalistic gymnastics above allowed for some insight into the pun of the title, perhaps, but the line that Takamba used for evidence doesn't, for me, mean what he seems to suggest it means.

To wit:
Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief.

The word does not occur in The Book of the Law.

From his previous post, Takamba discounts that second statement as "mischievous". I would submit that the tone of the entire letter is "mischievous". However, this sentence structure clearly pins it as a clarification of his previous statement. That is: "I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by doing so, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief" by calling it [Thelema] the word that does not occur in The Book of the Law [religion].

The wording is precise. He is not saying here that Thelema is not a religion but that Cara Soror might "cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief" by calling it one. Consequently, he "fail[s] to see what you will have gained by so doing."

Which brings us back to the questions posed in the OP:
Gnosomai Emauton wrote:How should this be dealt with in the real world? Is it important to call Thelema a religion in order to reclaim the word from its generally accepted (and etymologically incorrect) connotation, regardless of the misunderstandings that will cause? Or is it more beneficial to acknowledge that the current understanding of the word is not going to change and call Thelema something else (spiritual philosophy?) in order to highlight its different nature?
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