Second, the Tree of Life is used as a classification system. It is held that all the symbols of world religion and occultism find a proper place somewhere on this Tree, and perhaps all symbols and ideas whatsoever. Tables set out many of these correspondences from world religion and traditional magical teaching. Familiarity with this symbolic tapestry is a prerequisite to spiritual practices in Crowley’s system as well as the Golden Dawn. Much of the system is to be committed to memory so that it is readily available in ritual and meditation.

Crowley wrestled until his death with the Jewish origins of Qabala, which conflicted with his anti-Semitism. His statements resembling blood libel—the accusation that Jewish rites are celebrated using sacrificed children—should be weighed against his esoteric interpretations of the symbol of sacrifice, and his claims about the Egyptian origins of the Qabala should be taken with a

sand dune’s worth of salt.

ALEISTER CROWLEY: “We can refer everything in the Universe to the system of pure number whose symbols will be intelligible to all rational minds in an identical sense. And the relations between these symbols are fixed by nature. There is no particular point—for most ordinary purposes—in discussing whether 49 is or is not the square of 7.

“Such was the nature of the considerations that led me to adopt the Tree of Life as the basis of the magical alphabet. The 10 numbers and the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with their traditional and rational correspondences (taking into consideration their numerical and geometric interrelations), afford us a coherent systematic groundwork sufficiently rigid for our foundation and sufficiently elastic for our superstructure.

“But we must not suppose that we know anything of the Tree a priori. We must not work towards any other type of central Truth than the nature of these symbols in themselves. The object of our work must be, in fact, to discover the nature and powers of each symbol. We must clothe the mathematical nakedness of each prime idea in a many-coloured garment of correspondences with every department of thought.”-777 Revised, “A Brief Essay Upon The Nature And Significance Of The Magical Alphabet.”

THE TRUE BELIEVER: All the religions of the world are but Veils for the One Secret Tradition known to Initiates throughout the ages. The Prophet has left us with the Key in the form of Liber 777, the great Table of Correspondences. By meditating on and invoking the energies of the Paths and Spheres all magical power and mystical insight may be attained. Unto those who have scaled the heights of the Tree and become Adepts (or even higher Initiates) is reserved True Understanding; from these lofty heights are made possible Perspectives that utterly transcend and negate the views of persons ensnared in the illusions of the lower Spheres.

The practices of Crowley’s system are arranged in an initiatic progression that is called the A∴ A∴ system. The glyphs after the letter A are triangles made up of three dots, a Freemasonic usage indicating a claim to possess the legendary Lost Word.

THE CHAOTIC: Symbols are the keys to magic, but models are only models

and many different models are valid. The Tree of Life is one excellent model but to get locked into believing that it is The One True Way would be to impose harmful limitations on your own mind. The power that comes from these systems comes from the charge the symbols acquire in your unconscious mind and not from their “truth.” There are other useful models like the eight colors of magic, the Enochian æthyrs, the Leary eight-brain model, and so on. Magicians should come up with their own system rather than be trapped by others.

THE SKEPTIC: There are shared themes and formulae in world religion but we now understand that there is much more diversity than was admitted by older scholarship. In the 19th century it was common to think that all religions are only reflections of one underlying tradition. Scholars tried to unify disparate traditions and myths but they imposed preconceptions and waved away differences. Tables of correspondence reduce complex and diverse symbols to single points of debatable contact, and so they conflate the dissimilar. This may be offensive to the cultures whose complex traditions are reduced. Tables of this kind may be useful as generators for ritual and meditation practices but as an apparatus of comparative interpretation they are useless today.

THE MYSTIC: There is only one Path, the Path to Oneself. Along the way one encounters the same Truths clothed in a variety of forms and symbols. To synthesize and reduce this appearance of Many to the One is the Great Work of Alchemy. Mystics of the ages have always recognized this Unity in each other; religious differences have been caused by political usurpers who perverted the pure Teachings. Once integrated into the self by practice, the symbols become repositories for Energies. At the end of the Path the Diagram will become One with the Self and the World in a Mystic Marriage, and reveal concealed Glories undreamed of by the profane.


Many occultists endlessly spin out cosmologies and other symbolic arrangements having little relationship to any apparent pragmatic issue. Crowley speculated quite a lot, but coming from the Golden Dawn, and exposure to Buddhist monasticism, and Hindu yoga, he was more concerned with setting up a program of spiritual exercises.

In Thelema the goal of the path is to be the most oneself that one can be, to know who you really are and to let that eternal self or True Will be the guiding force in life. To do this it is recommended that one practice ritual and meditative disciplines that quiet and focus the mind, travel astrally to various locations in the spiritual world inside or outside oneself, invoke deities and evoke lesser spirits, attain to the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel at the central sphere of the Tree of Life (Tiphareth, or Beauty), and for the very few, to give up all one’s conceptions about the self in favor of the radical perspective of the eternal Self.

Initiation is a major theme in Crowley’s system of Thelema, as in the Golden Dawn and Theosophy. Initiation is a complex subject and has been the subject of extensive study by anthropologists. Freemasonry gave rise to the Golden Dawn, and both fit the van Gennep model of initiation accepted by anthropologists. Initiations mark stages in personal transformation.

The practices of Crowley’s system are arranged in an initiatic progression that is called the A∴ A∴ system. The glyphs after the letter A are triangles made up of three dots, a Freemasonic usage indicating a claim to possess the legendary Lost Word. This curriculum is a combination of Golden Dawn magic, Yogic and Buddhist meditation practices, and original practices developed by Crowley. The work to achieve even the middle ranges of the system is arduous. Few people have accomplished it. Many have claimed personal attainment of A∴ A∴ grades without conquering the basic material. The next time you meet a Master of the Temple, you might ask to test them on Asana and Pranayama as per Liber E.

The motto of Crowley’s literary and magical journal, the Equinox, was “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion”

The motto of Crowley’s literary and magical journal, the Equinox, was “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion.” While his methods fall short of a truly scientific standard, his system shares with anthropology the requirement for a phenomenological record of ritual experience, a tool of ethnographic field observation.

The A∴ A∴ system of initiations follows the spheres of the Tree of Life, as did the Golden Dawn. In addition to a variety of fringe Masonic degrees, Crowley gave the A∴ A∴ grades, the Ordo Templi Orientis degrees, and the ordinations and bishoprics of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica or Gnostic

Catholic Church. These are all different systems but there is some overlap in themes and practices. The O.T.O. rituals are derived from Freemasonry as filtered through Crowley’s occult theories, although like all Crowley’s groups it admits both women and men. The E.G.C. is closely related to the O.T.O. but revolves around the Gnostic Mass, conferring offices such as Priestess, Priest, Deacon and Bishop. New Thelemic groups with their own initiations and courses of study have sprung up since Crowley’s death in 1947. Several are currently in operation, including the Ordo Templi Astarte, Temple of Thelema, and Thelemic Golden Dawn.

ALEISTER CROWLEY: “The experimenter is encouraged to use his own intelligence, and not to rely upon any other person or persons, however distinguished, even among ourselves.

“The written record should be intelligibly prepared so that others may benefit from its study…

“The more scientific the record is, the better. Yet the emotions should be noted, as being some of the conditions.”

-Liber E vel Exercitiorum, I:5-9.

“This book is very easy to misunderstand; readers are asked to use the most minute critical care in the study of it, even as we have done in its preparation.

“In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres, Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist.

“It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.

“The advantages to be gained from them are chiefly these: “a. A widening of the horizon of the mind.

“b. An improvement of the control of the mind.”

-Liber 0 vel Manus et Sagittae, I:2-3.

THE TRUE BELIEVER: The A∴ A∴ is the Great White Brotherhood, that hidden order of Initiates that has existed in Service throughout the ages and has emerged behind such masks as the Rosicrucians and the Zoroastrian

Magi. The Third Order of A∴ A∴* is in service to the deities and sages of the Occult Government of this Solar System. The Book of the Law was sent to humanity by the A∴ A∴ on the revolution in Æons declared by the Secret Chiefs. Crowley held the grade of Magus in the A∴ A∴ and as such uttered the Word of the Æon, ABRAHADABRA, which all members accept as Natural Law.

THE CHAOTIC: The A∴ A∴ is an abstraction which includes all authentic magical paths. There are groups that call themselves the A∴ A∴ but its real nature is in the continuity of spiritual traditions everywhere. Different groups are best for different people. Treating one group as the One True Path and obsessing about lineage wars are remnants of the Æon of Osiris. Today there are spiritual methods that improve on Crowley’s curriculum, like isolation tanks, sigils, entheogens, and mind machines. The Protestant work ethic is a Victorian relic. Progress is possible through play as much as perseverance and perspiration.

“It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophic validity to any of them.

THE SKEPTIC: Religious systems present themselves as revolving around doctrine, practice, and morality but they can often be best understood by the methods of political science, group psychology, sociology and anthropology. The homogenizing and leveling effects of social bonding are always in tension with the freedom of the individual. Thelemic groups have a dogmatic tendency that is in conflict with their commitment to freedom. The power dynamics in initiatory hierarchy encourage people to seek degrees for reasons of status.

THE MYSTIC: The ordinary mind is a roaring babble that drowns out the voices of the Holy Guardian Angel. Establishing Silence through Yogic concentration, then calling upon the Forces behind the sensible world, one may climb the Ladder of Lights and obtain Enlightenment. Most people require instruction by groups to learn the required practices. All such Fraternities derive their authority from A∴ A∴, which has existed since the first humans were born. A great Spiritual Hierarchy beckons downwards to us from Kether, as our Aspiration lifts us Upward through the Emanations of

the one invisible God within ourselves.


Crowley’s doctrine of truth and falsehood is the central theme of his book of Qabalistic poetry, The Book of Lies. Contradiction for him was not a problem but a sign of a higher mystical synthesis transcending the rational. Ordinary understanding is held to be inadequate to engage Truth; in fact it is in the way. One preparation for the Ordeal of the Abyss is to constantly multiply contradictions in one’s mind, each thought contradicting the previous, until the trance known in yoga as samadhi is attained. Every fixed idea is shown to be partial and false, including ideas about the self, until finally the usurper Reason is dethroned and the True Will takes its place.

While all mundane truth is false in a sense, still there is the level of ordinary human reality with its mundane truths, “the old school tie,” whether a shop is open or closed. Deconstructing truth need not lead to the paralysis that Hume attributes to the Pyrrhonist.

The Truth of a higher initiate is incomprehensible to one of lower degree, while the “truth” of lower degrees is seen as false by the higher. Along these lines, Crowley observes that monotheism is only true after the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

Crowley claimed to be a skeptic but he was also full of passionate conviction. He demanded allegiance to certain ideas but also insisted that every idea must be doubted. Was Crowley an authority or a trickster? He has left us with no clear answer.

ALEISTER CROWLEY: “The Abyss of Hallucinations has Law and Reason; but in Truth there is no bond between the Toys of the Gods.

“The Abyss of Hallucinations has Law and Reason; but in Truth there is no bond between the Toys of the Gods.”

“This Reason and Law is the Bond of the Great Lie.

“Truth! Truth! Truth! crieth the Lord of the Abyss of Hallucinations.

“There is no Silence in that Abyss: for all that men call Silence is Its Speech.

“This Abyss is also called ‘Hell’, and ‘The Many.’ Its name is ‘Consciousness,’ and ‘The Universe,’ among men.

“But THAT which neither is silent, nor speaks, rejoices therein…

“Identity is perfect; therefore the Law of Identity is but a lie. For there is no subject, and there is no predicate; nor is there the contradictory of either of these things.

“Holy, Holy, Holy are these Truths that I utter, knowing them to be but falsehoods, broken mirrors, troubled waters; hide me. O our Lady, in Thy Womb! for I may not endure the rapture.”

-The Book of Lies, “Windlestraws” and “The Glow-Worm.”

THE TRUE BELIEVER: The Law of Liberty is the Charter of Universal Freedom and the sole rule and guide of life in this Æon. It is Truth on every level. The Law of Thelema is an inspired mystical Truth emanating from the Third Order of A∴ A∴ but it is also natural Law and a pragmatic human fact. There is a definite Current of Energy flowing from the Third Order against which it would be foolish and self-defeating to struggle. It is the Will of All to align with this Current.