Thelema & Humanistic Psychology


Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Time: 2:40:47 AM
Topic: Thelema & Humanistic Psychology

Thelema and Humanistic Psychology

The question I pose and seek to answer in this essay is: How does the spiritual philosophy of Thelema relate to the philosophy and principles of Humanistic Psychology (hereafter referred to as HP)? Before I provide the reader with a brief introduction of the topic of my paper, I feel it is necessary to first explain why this question is of such importance to me. It is a meaningful question simply because Thelema can be said to be my religion. Crowley (the founder and prophet of Thelema) claims that "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 [1]" (MWT,p. 30). I take religion to mean one's personal experience of their spiritual life, as it relates to their total being. Thus to me, religion is not merely something one practices on Sunday mornings; it represents the conscious organization of reality in relation to all levels of one's being. I believe religion, contrary to the P.C. assumption held today, is the greatest part of who we are and how we view the world. Furthermore, I believe "that today's world -- which limits religion to personal beliefs that should be boxed inside, and for the sake of convenience should not interfere with professional, academic and scientific interactions -- is hypocrisy" (Ibaoglu, p. 1). This being said, it stands to reason that I should seek a profession that does not clash with my Thelemic spiritual view. I feel I have found just that in HP and, as a result, I feel the need to illustrate their many similarities.

I will now attempt to answer my question: How does the spiritual philosophy of Thelema relate to the philosophy and principles of HP? At first glance this question might seem to be rather easy to answer, since I am claiming both have many similarities. However, I feel the fact they have so many similarities is the very thing that makes answering the question so difficult. I feel that trying to compare HP and Thelema is no less than a monumental task because of the particular nature of these two schools of thought. By "particular nature" I am referring to the fact that HP was a revolutionary effort to creatively integrate the entire field of psychology and Thelema is "a system which reconciles all existing schools of philosophy" (AL p. 8). I mention these facts only to excuse my crude attempt in this paper at comparing what is (in my opinion) the two single most important psychological and spiritual paradigms on the planet at this time.

In my attempt at demonstrating how HP and Thelema are similar, I will first briefly discuss their histories. Second, I will illustrate the similarities of basic HP principles (mainly those expressed by Maslow in his nine assumptions of human health) with the basic Thelemic principles. Next, I will compare two Humanistic Psychologists' critiques of Freud and psychoanalysis with that of Aleister Crowley's. Then, I will attempt to compare the similarities in the ways Crowley and Maslow explain the process of becoming a healthy whole individual. Fifth, I will compare the HP concept of self-actualization with the Thelemic concept of True Will. Lastly, I will attempt to briefly discuss what I think could be accomplished by combining HP and Thelema.

In my opinion the only significant difference between HP and Thelema is found in their origins. The "official" birth of HP can be said to have been in 1964 at Old Saybrook, Connecticut during the first invitational conference on HP. It was here that a group of psychologists "agreed that if Psychology were to become more than a narrow academic discipline," limited by the biases of Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis, then it had to "offer a fuller characterization of what it means to be human" (Dillon).

The origins of Thelema, on the other hand, are a little more esoteric in nature than those of HP. Thelema (Greek for "Will") can be said to have begun in the year 1904 in Cairo, Egypt, with the reception of The Book of the Law (AL for short) by Aleister Crowley. It is said "the communicating intelligence identified Itself as Aiwass, a messenger of the ruling hierarchy of our species." The reception of the book was also said to mark the beginning of a New Aeon or Age upon Earth and "is conceived to be a perfect transmission of the divine, freed from any defects of human interference" (EQ p. 87).

I feel that the obvious similarities between HP and Thelema come into clear view in light of a comparison of the basic principles of both. The central precept of Thelemic philosophy is succinctly expressed in AL in the phrase "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" (AL I:40). The phrase at first glance appears to be a license to simply do whatever one feels like doing, but it is in actuality the exact opposite. Crowley understood the phrase might be misinterpreted and went to great lengths to explain otherwise, saying "it involves finding out Who you are, and why you came into this world, and never swerving a hair's breadth from that Will" (EQ, p. 208). The "law" spoke of is not to be viewed as a law handed down and opposed on prisoners by a warden. The Law of Thelema is simply referring to the law of nature. [2] Crowley said the law of nature operating in man was the same law of nature that bids "stars to shine, vines to bear grapes [and] water to seek its level" (Crowley p. 510). The inherent divine nature of man is expressed in AL in the phrase "Every man and every woman is a star" (AL I:3). Crowley explains this basic principle by saying that "every human being is intrinsically and independent individual with his own proper motion" (Crowley p. 127).

While reading the following explanation of Maslow''s first and second assumptions of human health, consider the above paragraph which explains the two basic Thelemic principles: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" (AL I:40) and "Every man and every woman is a star" (AL I:3). Maslow's first basic assumption is that "we have, each of us, an essential biologically based inner nature, which is to some degree 'natural,' intrinsic, given, and, in a certain sense, unchangeable, or, at least, unchanging" (Maslow p. 3). It can now clearly be seen that "Every man and every woman is a star" (AL I:3) is merely a poetic way of noting this fact of human nature. I think this basic Thelemic principle also helps to give a better understanding of Maslow's second assumption. This assumption claims "each person's inner nature is in part unique to himself and in part species-wide" (Maslow p. 3). All stars can be said to be alike because every star has a natural orbit. However, it can also be said that all stars can be considered to be unique because every star has a unique individual orbit.

Maslow claims in his fourth assumption of human health that this inherent inner nature in humans is not intrinsically evil but rather positively good. And he goes on to say "what we call evil behavior appears most often to be a secondary reaction to frustration of this intrinsic nature" (Maslow p. 3). Notice how Crowley makes an identical case in explaining the nature of 'evil behavior.' He says "men of 'criminal nature' are simply at issue with their True Wills. The murder has the Will-to-Live; and his will to murder is a false will at variance with his True Will, since he risks death at the hands of Society for obeying his criminal impulse" (Crowley p. 132).

It can be said Maslow's sixth assumption of human nature is a continuation and variation of his fourth assumption. In his sixth assumption Maslow claims that "if the essential core of the person is denied or suppressed, he gets sick sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes immediately, sometimes later" (Maslow p. 3). Once again Crowley explains the consequences of going against one's true nature in much the same way as Maslow, saying, "practically all vice springs from failure to" realize one's True Will or true nature (Crowley p. 708). To illustrate this fact Crowley gives his own life as an example. He maintained all the events of his life could be viewed as an illustration of the fact stated above, because every time he violated the Law he got himself "into a mess" and failed benefit himself and/or others (Crowley p. 708).

Maslow's fifth assumption of human health also ties into Crowley's explanation of Thelema. The fifth assumption states that "since this inner nature is good . . . it is best to bring it out and to encourage it rather than suppress it [and] if it is permitted to guide our life, we grow healthy, fruitful, and happy" (Maslow p. 3). Once again compare the striking similarities of Crowley's statement to that of Maslow's fifth assumption. He says, "the order of Nature provides an orbit for each star. A clash proves that one or the other has strayed from his course. But as to each man that keeps his true course, the more firmly he acts, the less likely are others to get in his way" (Crowley p. 133).

Up until this point I have only compared the similarities of Thelemic doctrine with that of Humanistic Psychologist Abraham Maslow. I will now provide a viewpoint from Karen Horney who is one of the founders of Humanistic psychological theory, although she is seldom recognized and credited for her contribution to the field. The reader at this point will not be surprised to find that Horney's views on the nature of man are also similar to Crowley's. Horney claims "inherent in man are evolutionary constructive forces, which urge him to realize his given potentialities" (Horney p. 14). She terms this inherent drive in man that is striving to realize his potentials the "struggle toward self-realization." I now ask the reader to pay close attention to the similarities in use of language in Horney's quote on the inherent nature in man with that of Crowley's because he too equates man's true nature with evolutionary forces as does Horney. Crowley maintains that "the wise application based on observation and experience of the Law of Thelema is to work in conscious harmony with Evolution" (Duty). Crowley explains this evolutionary force inherent in man's inner nature one step further by comparing it to other aspects and forces at work in nature. He says to "remember that the Law never fails to avenge infractions: as when wanton deforestation has ruined a climate or a soil, or as when the importation of rabbits for a cheap supply of food has created a plague[3]" (Duty). I believe these explanations about the negative effects that result from going against the laws of nature in the natural wold greatly illuminate the fact that going against the laws of nature inherent in man can, will and does cause psychological problems.

I think one of the most compelling cases for the similarities of HP and Thelema is found in the comparison of their criticisms of Freud's psychoanalytic school of psychology. When explaining the philosophical implications of Thelema, Crowley claimed Freud and his psychoanalytic school had grasped only part of the truth of the nature of man[4]. He claimed they especially missed the importance of the statement from AL "Every man and every woman is a star" (AL I:3), which, as I stated earlier in this paper, is merely a poetic way to assert that every human is born with an inherently good nature. Crowley even went as far to claim that psychoanalysis was "committed to upholding a fraud," although its foundation as a science was built upon "the observations of the disastrous effects on the individual of being false to his Unconscious Self" (Crowley p. 134). In a very similar manner to that of Crowley, Maslow states that "Freud's picture of man was clearly unsuitable, leaving out as it did his aspirations, his realizable hopes, his godlike qualities." He again makes a similar statement as that of Crowley's, concerning the positive benefit Freud's psychoanalysis had in the science of psychology, saying that it has "supplied us with our most comprehensive systems of psychopathology" (Maslow p. 12).

In Horney's criticism of Freud she says "not only did Freud not have any clear vision of constructive forces in man; he had to deny their authentic character. For his system of thought there were only destructive and libidinal forces . . . creativity and love for him were sublimated forms of libidinal drives" (Horney p. 378). Crowley also claimed Freud had failed to understand the true nature of the forces inherent in man. He asserted that "the libido of the unconscious is really the true will of the inmost self." In keeping with Crowley's explanation, I think the libido could be thought of here as referring to the driving force in man towards realizing his true potentials. Crowley goes on to say that the sexual characteristics of the individual are merely symbolic indications of a person's actual nature be it good or bad, "and when those are 'abnormal' we may suspect that the self is divided against itself in some way" (Confessions p. 72).

Before moving on, I ask the reader to contemplate once more the astonishing similarities between Thelema's and HP's critique of Freud's psychoanalysis while reading the following two quotes: 1) Psychoanalysis has "misinterpreted life, and announced the absurdity that every human being is essentially an anti-social, criminal and insane animal" (Crowley p. 134) and 2) Freud tended "to pathologize everything" and didn't see "clearly enough the health-ward possibilities in the human being" (Maslow p. 47).

Freud maintained that man's unconscious impulses and desires were of a negative nature and in order for man to live peacefully in a society man had to suppress these unconscious forces. Crowley and Maslow had similar views opposing that of Freud in regards to the nature of the unconscious. Crowley asserted that the unconscious mind was the person's true self, which is innately good. The unconscious mind, according to Crowley, "does its best to persuade consciousness to act in accordance with its desires and needs" but consciousness is "inclined to ignore or repress this advice" because it is under the influence of society. Freedom, according to Crowley, "consists in learning to stop suppressing the subconscious mind, and instead, learning to do its will" (Wilson p. 125). Maslow's criticism of Freud only slightly differs from that of Crowley's and perhaps the difference only comes from Crowley's lack of formal psychological background. Maslow claims Freud was right in saying that man had a conscience but was wrong in saying that it was merely a result of early societal influences. Maslow said that all humans have an "intrinsic conscience" which is "based upon the unconscious and preconscious perception of our own nature, of our own destiny, or our own capacities, of our own 'call' in life" (Maslow p. 6). Further more, he claims that this "intrinsic conscience" "insists that we be true to our inner nature and that we do not deny it out of weakness" (Maslow p. 6).

I think it is appropriate at this point to focus on the process by which a person becomes a healthy individual. The way in which both Maslow and Crowley explain and describe this process is, as is probably no surprise to the reader at this point, notably similar. Crowley clarifies that a person is made healthy "when any complex (duality) in the self is resolved (unity) the initiate [i.e. the person] becomes whole" (Confessions p. 72). Maslow acknowledges that a person is made healthy by "resolving a dichotomy into a higher, more inclusive, unity amounts to healing a split in the person and making him more unified" (Maslow p. 100). Both Maslow and Crowley use the analogy of a civil war to symbolize the inner turmoil that takes place in a person who is unhealthy because they are going against there true nature. Crowley illustrates this civil war analogy by saying "the morbid sexual symptoms (which are merely the complaints of a sick animal) disappear, while the moral and mental consciousness is relieved from its civil war of doubt and self obsession" (Confessions p. 72). Maslow explains the civil war analogy in a similar manner saying since the splits . . . are within the person, they amount to a kind of civil war, a setting of one part of a person against another part" (Maslow p. 136). Crowley states that once a person has resolved the complexes (dualities) of his self, thereby ending the civil war in his own nature, has become a "complete man" who is "harmonized" and as a result of such he "flows freely towards his natural goal" (Confessions p. 73). Maslow asserts that once the civil war is in one's nature has ended and all the parts of a person are once again working in agreement with one another, then man is as a result "no longer wasting effort fighting and restraining himself, muscles . . . are no longer fighting muscles -- there is no waste [and] the totality of [his] capacities can be used for action" . . . [thus making him] "like a river without dams" (Maslow pp. 136, 100).

I shall now attempt to present the argument that the HP notion of self-actualization and the Thelemic notion of doing one's True Will are both essentially referring to the same internal process. Indeed, even Maslow claims that terms such as "individuation . . . self-actualization . . . [and] . . . self-realization, are all crudely synonymous, designating a vaguely perceived area rather than sharply defined concept" (Maslow p. 22). However, this being said, I still feel it necessary to provide the reader with both Maslow's and Crowley's definition and description of these processes. Maslow defined self-actualization as "[an] ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of mission (or call, fate, destiny or vocation), as a fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person's own intrinsic nature, as an unceasing trend toward unity, integration or synergy within the person" (Maslow p. 23). Crowley said the processes of seeking to find one's True Will involved "finding out Who you are, and why you came into this world, and never swerving a hair's breadth from that Will" (EQ p. 208). He also claimed a person's True Will could be "understood thoroughly as the dynamic aspect of his Creative Self" (Crowley p. 526).

A common misconception of both these terms is that they represent a psychological state that is static. Maslow clearly stated otherwise, saying that because the fact that self-actualization is not a static state, the process is experienced as intrinsically pleasurable. He claimed "self-actualizing people enjoy life in general and in practically all its aspects" because they have the ability to "transform means activity into end-experience, so that even instrumental activity is enjoyed as if it were an end activity" (Maslow p. 29). Crowley, again making a similar case, claims that doing one's True Will is "of an eternal motion, infinite and unalterable [and] is Nirvana, only dynamic instead of static . . ." (EQ p. 26). In addition, he said that one's aim should be that their True Will, which is "ideally perfect as it is in itself, should enjoy itself through realizing itself in the fulfillment of all possibilities [and that] it is accordingly well worthwhile to fulfill oneself in every conceivable manner" (MWT p. 30).

Now that I feel I have adequately shown the similarities of HP and Thelema, I think it is finally necessary to try and explain what I think could be established by combining these two schools of thought. I think a combining of these two schools would benefit both Thelemites and Humanistic Psychologists. For Thelemites, the combination would introduce them to the psychological paradigm that I think revolutionized the scientific field of psychology. In my opinion, Thelemites would most definitely find the rich knowledge base of HP, which has been accumulating for over 30 years in countless books and journals, invaluable to their study of Thelema.

In considering the benefit HP would experience from a combination with Thelema, I think it is worthwhile to turn to a quote Maslow made in reference to his nine assumptions of human health. He said "that if these assumptions are proven true, they promise a scientific ethics, a natural value system, a court of ultimate appeal for the determination of good and bad, right and wrong" (Maslow p. 4). According to Crowley, AL did prove these assumptions. He said "I, Aleister Crowley, declare upon my honor as a gentleman that I hold this revelation a million times more important than the discovery of the Wheel, or even the Laws of Physics or Mathematics. Fire and tools made Man master of his planet; writing developed his mind; but his Soul was a guess until The Book of the Law proved this" (Crowley p. 427). It is beyond the scope of this short essay to adequately explain all of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the reception of AL and to argue in support of Crowely's claim of its supreme significance to mankind. I will leave it up to the reader to investigate the matter further and will only say that Crowley claimed that "to reject this Book is to make Reason itself ridiculous and the Laws of Probabilities a caprice [and] in Its fall, it shatters the structure of science, and buries the whole hope of man's heart in the rubble, throwing upon its heaps the skeptic, blinded, crippled, and gone melancholy mad" (Crowley p. 443). I believe that if HP were to accept the reality of the paranormal nature of AL then it would provide them with a unifying holistic base upon which they could justify HP's basic theories about human nature and to accomplish its original aims.

I think a combination of Thelema and HP would essentially entail an across the board acceptance from both schools that the differences in both was merely a matter of semantics and they both were expressing the same truths of human nature. This being said it again immediately brings up the question of what benefit this would serve both schools of thought. And I would again say that to answer this question is entirely beyond the scope of this short paper. I will admit that I have not answered the question sufficiently and will admit that it is probably beyond my capacity to do so. This being said, however, I do think that the following statement by Crowley's one time student to be a somewhat sufficient hint in the right direction to answering to this question in a more sufficient manner. Kenneth Grant wrote, "The keen and persistent practice of Thelema by even a few dedicated individuals will effectually overthrow society and thereby facilitate the unhindered development of the New Aeon and the reintegration of human consciousness" (Grant p. 200).


Unpublished paper by N. B Ibaoglu (Ibaoglu)

[The Book of the Law]. Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX. London: O.T.O., 1938; 2nd rev. ed., Pasadena, CA: Church

of Thelema [1942]; corrected rpt. of London ed., with facsimile MS, New York: Weiser, 1976, 1979; rpt. York Beach, ME:

Weiser, 1993.

(c) Ordo Templi Orientis

All Rights Reserved


Foundations of Humanistic Psychology class Unpublished 'handout' on Humanistic Psychology (Dillon)

The Equinox, Volume III, Number 10. (1986). New York; rpt. 1990, 1997, Weiser. Edited by Hymenaeus Beta.

(c) Ordo Templi Orientis

All Rights Reserved


Beta, Hymenaeus [Edited, annotated & introduced by], (1997) Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4, Parts 1-IV, By Aleister Crowley with Mary Desti & Lelia Waddell (2nd Revised Edition) York Beach Maine:

Samuel Weiser, Inc.

(c) Ordo Templi Orientis

All Rights Reserved


Toward a Psychology of Being (Maslow)

Neurosis and Human Development (Horney)

Duty: A note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema.

by Aleister Crowley

(c) 1996-2006 by Ordo Templi Orientis

All Rights Reserved


Crowley, Aleister (1989) The

Confessions of Aleister Crowley: An

Autohagiography. (Paperback ed.) Temple,

AZ: New Falcon Publications

(c) Ordo Templi Orientis

All Rights Reserved


Colin Wilson's biography of Crowley, The Great Beast (Wilson)

Magick without Tears [abridged edition], ed. I. Regardie. [by Aleister Crowley] St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1973; rpt. Scottsdale, AZ: New Falcon, 1991.

(c) Ordo Templi Orientis

All Rights Reserved


Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God by Kenneth Grant (Grant)

        1.        "Magick with a "k" distinguishes the western esoteric spiritual discipline from 'magic' which denotes stage illusion or the subject of fantasy. Magick is a largely ritual-based technology for organizing and using the human mind. It derives from the ancient traditions associated with the Hebrew Kabbalah, Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Egyptian traditions, among others, though it is a living tradition that continues to evolve" (Philip Farber's webpage)

        2.        Crowley says, "It was the voice of Nature, awakening at the dawn of the Aeon, as Aiwaz uttered the Word of the Law of Thelema." (Crowley p. 583).

        3.        "Observe that the violation of the Law of Thelema produces cumulative ills. The drain of the agricultural population to big cities, due chiefly to persuading them to abandon their natural ideals, has not only made the country less tolerable to the peasant, but debauched the town. And the error tends to increase in geometrical progression, until a remedy has become almost inconceivable and the whole structure of society is threatened with ruin." ("Duty")

        4.        "when we set up a conflict in our own Nature: our act is suicidal. Such interior struggle is at the base of nearly all neuroses, as Freud recently 'discovered'-- as if this had not been taught, and taught without his massed errors, by the great teachers of the past!" (MWT, p.30)

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