The "problem" with Crowley? You've got to read his works, and then read more:
"One of the principal problems with Crowley is that you must read a lot of him often to even begin to understand what he is trying to convey. He can be exceptionally difficult for the beginner, writing as he did in veiled analogy and with reference to contemporary events that stymie even those well-acquainted with the man and his work. At times it can feel like having half an equation, with the other half scattered across a dozen or so other unreferenced texts, if even there. Include the fact that he quite literally could not put certain ideas in print without trouble from the authorities, especially ideas related to sex, putting the pieces together can be difficult. All I can say is keep reading."
And as if understanding Crowley was not already hard enough:
"It is in fact exceedingly difficult to understand Crowley without understanding the Qabalah, as much of his thought process was built on its manifold connections and analogies."
What does Thelema have to offer:
"Crowley shows us a method for spiritual attainment that focuses on the uniqueness of the individual rather than conformance to a creed, and one that ultimately leads you to the understanding of your own innate divinity. Casting aside aeons of adherence to a social order dominated by the impossible gods of sacrifice and restriction, Thelema represents a new age of spiritual development that empowers us all to discover our True Self through manifestation of our True Will"
On the central tenet of Thelema:
"An inversion of the prior age, where suffering and deprivation were the key to spiritual attainment, this law was markedly individualist. Its central tenet was 'Do what thou wilt,' which was not a call to hedonism, but rather a call to personal accountability in the establishment of-- and adherence to-- one's own moral code."
In Thelema, individual responsibility emphasized:
"As we will see, in Thelema, every individual is responsible for determining-- and reevaluating-- their own set of beliefs through their own experience, and should your beliefs at some point come to disagree with what is presented here, then that's just perfectly fine. In fact, I would encourage it!"
More on personal responsibility and freedom:
"With this freedom (and responsibility) must also come the acceptance of another's capacity to do likewise. It does us no good to walk around asserting our right to do something and ignore that effective right in every other person. That's just being a bully; it's not likely to end well, and it's certainly not going to bring you any closer to an understanding of your will since that sort of negative behavior is solely about what you want. So, consider that the phrase 'Do what thou wilt' might speak not to yourself but to the person you are speaking to, thereby recognizing their autonomy as well as that of your own. I think that idea is important to keep in mind, because as Thelemites the idea of asserting another's right is as important as asserting our own."
Defining the philosophy of Thelema:
"The spiritual and social philosophy that Crowley spent his life defining and manifesting is known as Thelema. Thelema means 'will' in Greek, spelled Qelhma, and adherents to the philosophy are generally known as Thelemites. Based on his acceptance and understanding of The Book of the Law, Crowley holds Thelema apart from many religious movements in that it is highly individualistic and focuses on every individual doing their will. There is no universal moral that every adherent must be held accountable to save for that one injunction, whose exercise and practice is left to every individual."
Defining "Do What Thou Wilt":
"However, doing your will is quite different than doing what you want, and considerably more difficult. After all, the hedonistic acquiescence to every fleeting whim is likely a distraction from what you feel you should be doing with your life. Though momentarily fulfilling, staying true to your will requires a great deal more discipline than most people think. What you will to do is truly your life's calling, discovered over time as the natural course of an introspective life steers you toward an understanding of who you are."
A bit on "Love is the Law":
"Thelema posits that each and every person should develop their own moral code, and through love can come to understand the need and virtue of all things that are part of the universe."
On the idea of "being part of the herd" and your search:
"What we are really saying when we echo this sentiment is that we have found a better herd, one that speaks more directly to our own innate understanding of who we are and what we want to be-- or at least one that opposes what we don't. In Thelema, you are urged to define your own ideals and moral code, which may lead you away from the confines of the social circles that you have identified with to that point-- but isn't that what prompted you to being searching in the first place?"
Crowley in The Book of the Law notes: "Every man and every woman a star." He expounds on that:
"Crowley expounds on this idea by stating that every individual must have their own path through the cosmos. This path is our True Will, in harmony with the Universal Will of the cosmos, and if we simply let that course direct us, then we will be happier for it. The trouble comes when we are distracted from that course: we feel the strain of gravitation on our true path, and worse yet we start bumping into things that may or may not be in the groove of their own respective orbits. This is an allegory for interpersonal conflict, and by its resolution demonstrates the idea that if we are all doing our True Will, then there will not be conflict."
Furthermore, stick to your business and affairs:
"These, again, are allegories that point the way: if you are sticking to your own path, then the wanderings of other stars are less of a concern to you-- even should they bump into you! The strength of your course will overcome and you will move on."
Thelema's definition of the Great Work:
"As previously indicated, and in a marked departure from the structures of older religions, Thelema asserts the capacity to develop and define your own moral code rather than adhering to a set of universal principles that are ultimately arbitrary and overly simplistic. Its ethos hinges on personal freedom, accountability, and no small amount of introspection. The difficulty in attaining this ideal is twofold: firstly to determine through careful consideration and experience what that code is, and secondly to hold yourself accountable to that code. The process of determining the first, and doing the latter, is known as the Great Work."
The Great Work in a nutshell:
"In short, the Great Work is the process of finding out precisely who you are and what you want to do with your life-- then doing it."
Keep on seeking:
"Few things worth finding are to be found at face value!"
A bit on Crowley's Thoth Tarot deck:
"The Thoth Tarot is imbued with peculiarities not just in its imagery, however. Reverting a change made by Mathers and the Golden Dawn, Crowley returned the Strength card to its original position at number eleven and Justice to its position at eight. Not content to stop there, then renamed the Justice card 'Adjustment' to remove the worldly and subjective concept of justice, which he did not believe to be a natural law. He equally renamed Strength as 'Lust' to engender the idea of '. . .the joy of strength exercised.'"
Meanwhile, the 60s in the United States brought us things Crowley advocated during his life:
"Emerging from the repressive social climate of the United States and elsewhere in the 1950s, the 1960s introduced mainstream society to many of the same things Crowley was advocating throughout his life: the use of drugs in the pursuit of spiritual awakening, sexual freedom, and (yes) magick, to name but a few."Some closing advice from Crowley:
"In Magick Without Tears, Crowley notes, 'I don't think it good manners to force my idiosyncrasies down people's throats, and I don't want to appear more eccentric than I need. It might detract from my personal influence, and so actually harm the Work that I am trying to perform."
Some Crowley biographies Campbell mentions favorably:
- Richard Kaczinski, Perdurabo: the Life of Aleister Crowley.
- Tobias Churton, Aleister Crowley: the Biography.
- Lawrence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt: a Life of Aleister Crowley.