Crowley and love

Another gonzo, unedited. Straight out of my head, post. Enjoy 🙂

I had an out-of-the-blue message the other day from someone who basically said, ‘I loved your book, but what have you got against Crowley?’

Well, I my initial response was obviously ‘let me count the ways’. 🙂 I have blogged about Crowley before but I am not sure I said much in the book. In any case, actually what springs to mind today is his reversal of the traditional understanding of the centrality of love.

Crowley’s famous dictum ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ is answered by the slightly less well known, ‘Love is the law, love under will’.


Various commentators have traced some influence from St Augustine, given here a little more fully than most magicians care to:

Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: LOVE, AND DO WHAT THOU WILT: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.

The centrality of love here is clear. Augustine is not innovating: this is a core Christian message – our will is to be immersed within, obedient to and in relationship with love, of whom the prime exemplar and teacher is Christ. Of course the same verity is found in all authentic traditions. It is even found in modern a-religious philosophies and practices like Deep Ecology.

In an interview with Deep Ecologist and activist John Seed, Ram Dass asks John, given the multitude of urgent pressures and possible ecological actions, how does he decide what to do next? John explains:

Well, I feel that I wouldn’t know how to evaluate or how to make a rational decision.  What I do is I lie down in the forest and cover myself in leaves, and I say, “Mother, I surrender to you,” and I deliberately allow all of my energies to sink into the the Earth and to be aligned by the Earth.  Then when I get up, whatever I want to do, that’s what I do.

John sinks into love and does what he wills.

Crowley on the other hand installs the human will as sovereign, placing it supreme over love. Now of course I know and have read about how this is the ‘higher will’ and all that. However, it is clear where the emphasis is and the simple fact of the matter is that most Thelemites and most Crowleyans have no clue what the ‘higher will’ is. They think they do and therefore the individual, small ego will is enshrined and becomes more important than love – which is actually the force that counters, clarifies and dissolves the will. No coincidence there.

And if the ‘higher will’ as a metaphysical principle is of any value it will be love anyway. The idea of all these developed Thelemites wandering around being ‘true individuals’ with unique, individual ‘higher wills’ makes no sense. Any depth spirituality has at root the base awareness of interdependence; we are not self-created beings. We are – in traditional Christian theology – created by the One, or are emanations of the One (Neoplatonism) or come into being through dependant origination (Buddhism) etc etc.

None of these theologies posit a self without relationship and at the root of that relationship is love. It is not the individual will.

It is quite clear why Crowley has reversed the traditional emphasis of love and will – this is what he was all about, setting himself and his philosophy up to counter traditional morality, religions, and aesthetic tastes. I explore this in a lecture I gave to the Perth SRIA.

The exaltation and refinement of the will can easily be a mask for the fear of the loss of will, the loss of self, of death. And again, this is where the traditional positioning of love and will makes sense and relieves these fears. This again is a core Christian message; through love death was conquered, which is often viewed esoterically as meaning the fear of the small self is overcome and transformed by the love of the greater self within the One: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it.”

Love, as de Chardin points out is ‘Love is the only force which can make things one without destroying them’. The will cannot do that. Thanks 🙂



  1. Nick Farrell · December 27, 2014

    Crowley was more influenced by the humanist François Rabelais whose Abbey of Thelema (in his book Gargantua and Pantagruel) was a utopia based around the concept of one law “do what you wilt.” However there were weaknesses in Crowley’s over Rabelais. Rabelais assumed that people were at their core good and noble and did not need laws. In fact Utopian models which have been partly tried (I am thinking of socialist and “communist” nations) fall apart because enough humans are selfish enough to wreck them.
    Funny how you were motivated to write about Crowley. I had was inspired to write about him and his much overstated Golden Dawn connections yesterday. Apparently questioning any myths about Crowley is going to get you flamed so good luck.

  2. Michael Howard · December 27, 2014

    I have never understood why Crowley could be a suitable role model for any aspiring magician.

  3. Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge · December 28, 2014

    Well written, with a nice mix of quotes from people most people consider opposites. Reblogging so TY, and the Blessing of Love under Will be upon you.

  4. Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge · December 28, 2014

    Reblogged this on Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge.

  5. jakekarlins · December 28, 2014

    What do you think about his system of correspondences in liber 777?

  6. jordanstratford · December 28, 2014

    One of your best, well done

  7. Peregrin · December 28, 2014

    Hi Nick,

    yeah, i saw your post on the same log on session as i got the PM on Facebook asking me what i had against Crowley. But the page would not load and I forgot about it – thanks for reminding me now. Good post! Something in the air? ta 🙂

  8. Peregrin · December 28, 2014

    THANKS Blau 🙂 And yes, i agree with your fully, Michael :/

  9. Peregrin · December 28, 2014

    Hi Jake – I actually think 777 is not bad, as the basis of course is not his work, but the GD’s 🙂

  10. Peregrin · December 28, 2014

    Thanks, Jordan – your critiques and comments always mean a lot to me 🙂

  11. dirkt · December 28, 2014

    Ok, to be fair to Crowley, lets take another look at the “Do what though wilt/Love under will” thingy, as far as I was able to work it out over the years.

    In addition to the already mentioned St. Augustine and Rabelais we have to understand, that the Victorian world was fascinated by the concept of will anyway. A great many self-help-manuals from that era, which glorify the power of will as a remedy for all sorts of problems can testify to that. Crowley as a child of his time was clearly influenced by that and especially Nietzsche’s elaboration on the theme (“Nietzsche may be regarded as one of our prophets…” MwT), who was in turn heavily influenced by Schopenhauer (The World as Will and Representation):
    >>Schopenhauer used the word “will” as a human’s most familiar designation for the concept that can also be signified by other words such as “desire,” “striving,” “wanting,” “effort,” and “urging.” Schopenhauer’s philosophy holds that all nature, including man, is the expression of an insatiable will to life. It is through the will that mankind finds all their suffering. Desire for more is what causes this suffering… Man can indeed do what he wilt, but he cannot will what he wilt<<.
    (Schopenhauer's philosophy seems actually kind of a mixture between Buddhist thought and gloomy German pessimism). So while for Schopenhauer the “will” was essentially a metaphysical malignant power, that could only be defeated through denial, i.e. asceticism and chastity, Crowley (like Nietzsche before him) took the idea into another direction.

    Besides being the primordial expression of life, or life itself, as Schopenhauer saw it, ”True will" according to Crowley seems to have at least two aspects. A general one and an individual one.

    The general true will, which all human beings share, is the immanent urge for spiritual evolution to finally transcendent the ego and realize/return-to the transpersonal core, i.e. the supernal triad/divinity (i.e. the Angel & Abyss thingy/great work/path of return). Not much different from the “soteriology” of other esoteric believe systems.

    The individual true will (having its origins in the interactions of the supernal triad with the rest of creation, and which is not identical with the will of the ego) is seen more as an individual, dynamic karmic pattern (as opposed to a fixed destiny or vocation), that is the result of the behavioral patterns of a series of past incarnations and present conditions/circumstances, which, if the individual is able to identify it successfully, forms kind of an ideal template for personal development, that when followed will eventually create the circumstances and opportunity to realize the general true will, while at the same time also enabling the individual to live a happy and satisfactory life.*
    The whole idea here is to go with the flow of this karmic pattern, as it will finally point the way to “redemption” and going against it is seen as the main cause of all suffering. 
    *the whole idea reminds me a bit of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in that you’ve to fulfill all of the basic human needs and at least some of the more individual needs first, to create an ideal environment in which to attempt self realization (or in this case, the great work).

    Now, “love” has a very peculiar meaning for Crowley. For him, love ist just the urge that draws one thing to another, so that both can eventually be annihilated in the consummation of their "love", out of which in an ecstatic eruption of light/energy a new, third element with different qualities will be born (basically, his version of the JHVH formula), which then again seeks to unite with other elements it encounters. For this union to be satisfactory however, it must be within both the elements’ true will, their inherent nature or capability, to unite. In other words, their love must be "under" will, following the before mentioned karmic pattern. AC actually uses chemistry to illustrate this idea: it's in the nature of Hydrogen and Oxygen to bond satisfactory and create H2O, which is a stable compound with a set of new qualities. This is for Crowley: love under will. But when you try bonding Nitrogen to Chlorine, the resulting NCl3 will just cause a violent explosion at the slightest shock. Here the love was not under will, as it was not in the inherent nature of those elements to bond satisfactory, and you end up with big puff and nothing else. So the idea here is again going with the flow, following your true nature, as doing otherwise will lead to suffering.
    In extent, “love under will” is essentially AC's formula of personal growth and how to confront life. Trying to embrace every situation in love under will (however pleasant or unpleasant to the ego it may seem at first glance), so that every act of union will enhance the individual's nature by adding experience and new capabilities, which in turn broaden its abilities to cope with a variety of new challenges and ever so on, until it will finally lead to the fulfillment of the general true will.
    Friggin’ complicated way to say: “take every situation as an opportunity to learn and grow”, if you ask me 😉

    So far for the ideals and theory. How this works out in real life is another matter altogether, which is beyond the scope of this already overlong reply to discuss. Suffice it to say, that from where I sit, it doesn’t seem to go very well so far and you’ve pointed out some reasons for that in your excellent post here already.

  12. dirkt · December 28, 2014

    In addition to my above post I should probably add, that in Crowley’s philosophy, there is no “fall”. Creation is not a damaged good here that must be repaired, instead creation/incarnation serves as a means for the “will/all” to experience its own unlimited potential in all it’s possible interactions and combinations, which is necessarily done through self-limitation. The one must become many first, or the unlimited potential must become the limited actual for this to be possible. That is why we can have the individual will in the first place and why this cosmic game (Lila, or in Crowley’s words: the comedy of Pan) will go on, until finally all possible combinations are exhausted. So the fulfillment of the general true will also serves the purpose of realizing that this is indeed a game and thereby becoming able to enjoy it: “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”

    So. Enough with the obscure metaphysics for today 😉

  13. Into the Soul · December 31, 2014

    What if the prophet’s task was to discover this? Which is how I (based on nothing) tend to see it. That Crowley himself ended up being set this task of discovery, but was unable or more likely unwilling to arrive at that final point of recognition or acceptance.

    If you look at a lot his journeys it seems that if he’d fully surrendered to love he would have been saved immeasurable hardship. He refused this and the lessons of universe and creator continued and brought about his demise… just my ponderings.

    Thank you for writing this, it’s really interesting and thought provoking, Amber 😊

  14. Peregrin · December 31, 2014

    gee, Dirk … way to explode my head! GREAT STUFF – thanks 🙂

  15. Peregrin · December 31, 2014

    Thanks, Amber … yes, we can easily come to this conclusion … Crowley unable to accept love :/

  16. Edward Mason · January 10, 2015

    “Now of course I know and have read about how this is the ‘higher will’ and all that. However, it is clear where the emphasis is and the simple fact of the matter is that most Thelemites and most Crowleyans have no clue what the ‘higher will’ is.”
    Okay, I agree with the “most Crowleyans.” In fact, especially the ‘Crowleyans’ as opposed to the committed Thelemites. But what about the people for whom this is a serious quest, and not a means of remaining at the emotional age of 14 years? We’ve all encountered the preposterous pretender with a unicursal hexagram tattoo (or five) and assorted piercings and death’s head jewellery to announce his or her affiliation. S/he’s easy to mock, because s/he’s a sad case. But I’ve associated with serious Thelemic practitioners for twenty years who take a very different view of it all. Without exception they would, I’m sure, endorse your latest post slamming the narcissistic absurdity of self-development and the need for transcendent perspectives and aims to be our overarching concern. Crowley himself took this stance (shock! horror! denial!), first of all in his quest for the HGA, but more explicitly with his crossing of the Abyss. This process, he says more than once, eventuates with the practitioner becoming a pile of ash in the City of the Pyramids (i.e., Binah). The personal self is simply a functional remnant after that. Which doesn’t mean the individual is now catatonic or quiescent.
    What has always fascinated me in the Thelemic field is that Crowley is one of the least-read philosophers of the 20th Century. Yet paradoxically everyone who doesn’t get what he was saying (Dirkt half does, I think) is an expert about the man. I have been told so many times where he was wrong, how he was wrong, what his flaws (real and fantasised) were, that it fills me with confusion how after two decades of studying him how I know so much less than everyone else. I wonder if anyone who hasn’t spent years in Thelema has ever considered that it’s not only possible but essential to forge our own path through the thickets of selfhood and its entrapping delusions. Crowley does explain this, but .. well, everyone seems to know Crowley, and it’s silly to waste time on patient study of his deeper writings, and his extensive advice on how to navigate a unique path.
    The Book of the Law has three chapters – on infinite connectivity (Nuit), on the primacy of the monad dwelling within that unending Universe (Hadit), and on the mystical outcome of the joyous union of realising the two within the soul of the aspirant (Horus, or HeruRaHa). But the connectedness comes first, and it is said by Crowley a hundred and fifty times (give or take) that one’s own Will is meaningless and destructive if there is no cognisance of the absolute necessity of the Will of others. We exist through interaction, and only through interaction. You know … that Love stuff.
    If – yes, big if, but that’s what the training we do is all about – you have honestly identified your True Will, then you are not going to be head-butting with everyone else. You follow your natural trajectory through existence, through romantic and familial love, through a career and worldly activity, through mystical toiling and magical venturing, and whatever else is accord with your nature. To be conscious in this is to love, because what else is consciousness of all that we encounter? We stumble, fumble, do stupid things, generous things, mean things and wise things, and we learn to accept it all as part of the One. Love, then, but love experienced as a conforming to the living essence of ourselves, which is the vital, sacred spark we call Will. And only living in ever-improving alignment with that Will can we learn to love without fear. It’s a process, absolutely unique to each serious aspirant, and only someone who sees him or herself as a lifelong student of it comes to understand it.
    Edward Mason

  17. Pingback: Some interesting things elsewere (Jan 2015) | Brambonius' blog in english
  18. Wouter Van Der Schueren · April 15

    Crowley had a different definition for Love, which, in my opinion, is quite accurate: Love is the principle of attraction, the push/pull effect between destruction and creation. We think of love as “kindness, acceptance, friendliness, etc..) which is a very different way of looking.

    We think of love as something positive.. while Crowley viewed it as something that is neither positive or negative and yet both at the same time. I think this is a more accurate way of using the word Love, as it forces you to examine your own “Love” to find out what drives it. Which is the principle of Solve et Coagula.. the most essential tool of all.. and the basis of creation or whatever you call it.

    Will = Chokmah, the word, the energy that sets things in motion.
    Love = Binah, the world, the body that is created and destroyed, over and over again.

    So when Crowley says: Love under Will, I think it means: let yourself be pushed/pulled, but only in accordance to the Will. And the Will – as we all know – is the Divine Will..

    Which is always at work through us.. whether conscious of it or not.. Love under Will is basically a statement of how we function.. not some goal to reach.. it’s a realization, not some quest or whatever.

    Crowley had a very sober, uncolored, objective style.. add to that all the bad press and his tendency toward a slightly arrogant behavior and you’ve got a bad view about him.. but look beyond all the crap and try to really understand the meaning behind his words.. Crowley is almost a language on its own.. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea I know.. but that doesn’t mean his writing aren’t enlightening to some of us! 🙂

    Just my cents!

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