I was recently asked (via email) about Druidry and Thelema. Below is some of my reply (with a little editing) which I hope others may find interesting…
“Thelema is a difficult thing to encapsulate easily. Thelema comes from, and involves, the philosophical, spiritual and occult teachings and ideas of that most divisive of figures Aleister Crowley.
I don’t know if you are aware of Crowley? But he is certainly one of the most (if not the most) important and influential occultist of all time. However, to some he’s a genius, to others a dangerous and vile character (the daily express dubbed him “the wickedest man in the world”). The truth, as always lies somewhere between the two. There is plenty of biographical information about him and his works on the Internet, so I’ll just give a quick summary here: (skip this bit if you want) he was born in the late 1800’s and raised in a very strict religious group called “The Plymouth Brethren” ( they still exist today). After a very odd childhood he went to university (Cambridge I think) throwing off the restrictive shackles of his childhood.
At Uni he experimented with drink, poetry, debauchery and all the other good things students still expect. However, despite disavowing Christianity he still felt a religious or spiritual impulse, this lead him on a varied and colourful spiritual/occult path. The first major step was joining the original “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” where he quickly learnt all they could teach him about Kabbalah, ritual and Magic. His meteoric rise through the ranks of the GD and his genius aptitude for magic and ritual was a contributory factor to the schism that eventually lead to the end of the order in its original form. He later argued with the leader of the order (SL Mathers) and left to study Buddhism and travel the world. The next major step (and most important to Thelema) happened in Cairo in the early 1900’s (1904?) whilst performing an impromptu magic ceremony in one of the pyramids he was (allegedly) contacted by a spirit entity (his HGA) and told that he was the prophet of the new Aeon and that as such he would receive a new “Holy book”. This book was called “liber al vel legis” – or the book of the law. And it laid out a new religious/occult philosophy. To cut a long story short, he spent the rest of his life exploring, expressing and promoting this new religious philosophy. First he started an order known as the A.:A.: (Argentum Astrum – order of the silver star) which involved strict secret one-on-one teaching, when this didn’t become very popular he took over an ailing semi Masonic “sex magic” organisation called OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis – order of the eastern temple). In his life he courted much controversy and flirted with his image of an “aggressive transgressor” of societies Norms and Values. He pushed his debauched, or liberated (depending on how you choose to look at it) life to ever further extremes. He eventually died relatively penniless in Hastings in the late 1940’s or 50’s. His legacy was a huge collection of books, art, and poetry and magickal philosophy. His influence over the “modern” occult scene is incalculable. He is featured on the sleeve of the Beatles Sgt Peppers album and is still regularly voted in the top 50 of the most influential Britons of all time.
So, the philosophy of Thelema, as I understand it, is one of ultimate personal responsibility, freedom and individuality. In Thelema everyone is seen as unique. It is the task of a Thelemite to discover their own “true will” and live the life that they feel that they need to live to express their own divinity. Or to put it another way, to discover who they are at the core of their being, to accept and take responsibility for who they are, and live their life accordingly; whilst at the same time recognising that everyone else is a unique individual who should be allowed to discover and express their own unique Being. Not as easy as it sounds. The way that you discover your true self (true will) is through a journey of self-discovery and reconciliation that leads you to combine your “lower or base self” with your “higher conscious or divine self”. This is achieved through various acts of ritual, magick, meditation, yoga and devotion. If you remember my tutor intro notes, I opened them with a passage that I wrote a few years ago whilst trying to express this theme within the context of OBOD Druidry.
“Druidry is the path of the individual – that may sound at odds to what you expected…. Druidry is about your own personal, unique and individual path. It is about how you relate to the worlds around you; your relationship with yourself, others and the divine; about the way you see and experience the world…. It’s only through the lessons and experiences gained about yourself that you can be truly effective in the world and so help those around you.”
Crowley, over his life time, synthesised, altered and created two distinct magical systems to achieve these goals: the A.:A.: and the OTO. Each has a slightly different approach to the “great work”, and they have different appeals to each person. Personally I think the A.:A.: is the purer of the two, I’m not personally convinced about the OTO, but each to their own.
Thelema and Druidry is an interesting subject. Many Druids/pagans seem to never have heard if Crowley or his ideas; or if they have they’ve only heard the tabloid version. Both PCG and Ross Nichols dislike and dismiss him (Nichols met him once and apparently wasn’t impressed). Druidry has (consciously or subconsciously) distanced itself from Crowley. However, both Crowley and the Golden Dawn have had an undeniable and powerful influence on Druidry and paganism in general, and Wicca in particular. Nichols states in a letter to Israel Regardie (published in “journeys of the spirit”) that OBOD ritual is mainly based on the Golden Dawn ritual framework. (Golden dawn ritual, in turn, is based on a masonic ritual framework). Israel Regardie was responsible for preserving and publishing the works and teachings of the Golden Dawn, he was also Crowley’s apprentice and secretary. Nichols also had an interest in Kabbalah, and peppered his Druid teachings with it. Gerald Gardener on the other hand was a fan of Crowley and a member of the OTO (hence a lot of the sexual overtones in Wicca), may have taken over leadership of UK grand lodge on Crowley’s death. Many of the ideas, themes and ritual structure of Golden Dawn, Thelema and Crowley are part of the fabric of most modern paganism, even if they are not acknowledged or understood.
Do I practice a Thelemic path? I’d like to think that I do, in that the basic philosophy of Thelema is part of how I approach life. I don’t however, particularly practice Thelemic Magick as laid out by Crowley, although it does inform and influence my practice.
Can you blend Druidry and Thelema? Yes, I think that Druidry is a great way to approach the philosophy of Thelema.
Is Thelema an officially recognised part of OBOD? No, definitely not.
Would you find out more about Thelema or Kabbalah if you went to more Druid meetings? No, probably not.
Your OBOD Druid friend is right, completion of the Druid grade doesn’t have to be the end if your studies, but it is the end of the OBOD material. After that there are all sorts of subjects and interests you could pursue; Kabbalah is just one of them. Talking of which there are many good books on Kabbalah out there, but I’d advise starting with a real basic introductory one to begin with – it’s a complicated area of study that can take a life time of work, so start basic and work forwards :)…”