90 years ago today, Aleister Crowley established his Abbey of Thelema at the Villa Santa Barbara, beside the Great Rock of Cefalu, in Sicily. It is the “holy place” referred to in Liber Legis, just as Boleskine in Scotland is the “holy house”. Here is an excerpt from chapter 87 of The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, elucidating his plan for the abbey:
“For the next three years, then, I was to build, as it were, an ark of refuge, in which that which was worth saving from the Aeon of the Dying God might be in safety while the floods covered the face of the earth; and it is really not for me but for history to record and interpret the events of my life following my return to England at the end of 1919. I will only say that my main idea had been to found a community on the principles of The Book of the Law, to form an archetype of a new society. The main ethical principle is that each human being has his own definite object in life. He has every right to fulfil this purpose, and none to do anything else. It is the business of the community to help each of its members to achieve this aim; in consequence all rules should be made, and all questions of policy decided, by the application of this principle to the circumstances. We have thus made a clean sweep of all the rough and ready codes of convention which have characterized past civilizations. Such codes, besides doing injustice to the individual, fail by being based on arbitrary assumptions which are not only false, but insult and damage the moral sense. Their authority rested on definitions of right and wrong which were untenable. As soon as Nietzsche and others demonstrated that fact, they lost their validity. The result has been that the new generation, demanding a reason for acting with ordinary decency, and refusing to be put off with fables and sophistries has drifted into anarchy. Nothing can save the world but the universal acceptance of the Law of Thelema as the sole and sufficient basis of conduct. Its truth is self-evident. It is as susceptible of the strictest mathematical demonstration as any other theorem in biology. It admits that each member of the human race is unique, sovereign and responsible only to himself. In this way it is the logical climax of the idea of democracy. Yet at the same time it is the climax of aristocracy by asserting each individual equally to be the centre of the universe. When, therefore, it comes to the question of the relations between groups, those truths whose utterance has smashed all theories of government lose their destructive qualities. The Law of Thelema does not require the individual to behave himself because God set the squire and the parson to boss him. In obeying the law of his country he is fighting for his own hand. Modern social unrest is largely due to misunderstanding of the Law of Thelema. The workman has learnt to covet motor cars and portfolios, which he was not born to have. When he gets them, he becomes still more unhappy — a fish out of water — and ruins the community into the bargain. Under the Law of Thelema, all false ideals and incongruous ambitions will be driven away as delusions. The first principle of moral education will be the biological truth that the health and happiness of a cell depends upon the fulfilment of those functions which are natural to it. Intellectual education, which is not education at all, is the basis of our present critical position. It has, so to speak, insisted on each cell becoming conscious. The result has been to make society hyper-aesthetic. Those elements which were satisfying themselves and supporting the total organism have been forced to suffer; they have been rendered conscious of their apparent inferiority to other elements. So, what between artificial anguish and false ambition for impossible attainments, they have become intensely painful to themselves and unable to perform their proper function; to their own ruin and that of the state.
“The Book of the Law was given to mankind chiefly in order to provide it with an impeccable principle of practical politics. I regard this as more important for the moment than its function as a guide in its evolution towards conscious godhead. It is only while writing this chapter that I have come to understand the real purport of the book, and it is evident that the Secret Chiefs have prevented me from putting in the clutch, as I may say, from releasing the enormous energy of the New Aeon, until on the one hand, I had become capable of directing that energy wisely, and on the other, until civilization had reached the crisis in which my interference would save the race from crashing into chaos.
“For three years I have laboured to construct an Abbey of Thelema in Sicily on the principles of the Law, so that I might have experience of the problems of government. Those years have taught me how to deal with all classes of people of all ages and races. It had been practically proved to me that the intelligent application of the Law of Thelema solves all social problems, and that its violation is immediately and automatically avenged. I am now getting ready to write the Comment on The Book of the Law as it bade me do. I had stupidly supposed this Comment to be a scholarly exposition of the Book, an elucidation of its obscurities and a demonstration of its praeterhuman origin. I understand at last that this idea is nonsense. The Comment must be an interpretation of the Book intelligible to the simplest minds, and as practical as the Ten Commandments. For the time is at hand when the bankruptcy of all theories of religion, all systems of government, will become obvious to all. Already we see the corruption of tsarism collapsing in the chaos of communism. We see that communism is utterly unable to put its principles into practice, being in fact a desperate despotism which is bound to break down even more completely than the system which it replaced, because of the internal conflict between its principles and its performances. We see the paralysis of parliamentary government. In Italy, for instance, those very classes who naturally respect the law and the constitution have acquiesced in the usurpation of power by the chief of a gang of banditti, simply on his promise to put an end to the insecurity of exercising power because uninspired by any principle of action sufficiently rigid to contend with circumstances.
“It is evident to all serious thinkers that the only hope of saving mankind from a catastrophe so complete that the very name of civilization will perish is in the appearance of a new religion.
“The Law of Thelema fulfils the necessary conditions. It is not limited by ethnological, social, religious or linguistic barriers. Its metaphysical basis is strictly scientific. Its principle is single, simple and self-evident. It does not deny human nature or demand impossible virtues. It offers to every individual the fullest satisfaction of his true aspirations; and it supplies a justification for all types of political systems beyond the criticisms which have undermined all previous theories of government. There is no need for the fraud of divine right or the cant of democracy. The right of the ruler to rule depends solely upon the scientific proof if his fitness to do so, and this proof is capable of confirmation by the evidence of the experience that his measures really result in enabling each individual in his jurisdiction to fulfil his own peculiar function as freely as possible.
“In many respects, no doubt, the Law of Thelema is revolutionary. It insists on the absolute sovereignty of the individual within the limits of his proper function. And this principle will be resented by all those who like to interfere with other people’s business. The battle will rage most fiercely around the question of sex. Hardly any one is willing to allow others their freedom on this point. Sometimes it is a personal matter; false vanity makes men try to enslave those whom they desire. They cannot understand “There is no bond that can unite the divided but love: … “, and they outrage others in every way in order to obtain the outward show of affection. It is the most hideous error conceivable, yet nearly all men make it, and nine tenths of the misery caused by wrong sexual relations is due to this determination to enslave the soul of another. It seems impossible to make men see what to me is obvious: that the only love worth having or indeed worthy of the name is the spontaneous sympathy of a free soul. Social conventions which trammel love are either extensions of this stupid selfishness, or expressions of the almost universal shame which results from false ideas on the subject.
“Mankind must learn that the sexual instinct is in its true nature ennobling. The shocking evils which we all deplore are principally due to the perversion produced by suppressions. The feeling that it is shameful and the sense of sin cause concealment, which is ignoble, and internal conflict which creates distortion, neurosis, and ends in explosion. We deliberately produce an abscess, and wonder why it is full of pus, why it hurts, why it bursts in stench and corruption. When other physical appetites are treated in this way, we find the same phenomenon. Persuade a man that hunger is wicked, prevent him satisfying it by eating whatever food suits him best, and he soon become a crazy and dangerous brute. Murder, robbery, sedition and many meaner crimes come of the suppression of the bodily need for nourishment.
“The Book of the Law solves the sexual problem completely. Each individual has an absolute right to satisfy his sexual instinct as is physiologically proper for him. The one injunction is to treat all such acts as sacraments. One should not eat as the brutes, but in order to enable one to do one’s will. The same applies to sex. We must use every faculty to further the one object of our existence.
“The sexual instinct thus freed from its bonds will no more be liable to assume monstrous shapes. Perversion will become as rare as the freaks in a dime museum.
“I have insisted on this because my experience in the Abbey of Thelema demonstrated the possibility of emancipating humanity from the obsession. At first and in the case of newcomers, the familiar troubles threatened our harmony. But by sticking to the Law, by training ourselves to treat our sexual life as a strictly personal matter, we abolished jealousy, intrigue and all the other evils usually connected with it. We eliminated quarrels, spitefulness, back-biting and the rest.
“So far so good. But the gods had a surprise in store for me. I had rather expected that by releasing and encouraging the instinct it would loom larger in our lives. The exact contrary was the case. In healthy people this instinct is not particularly predominant. The importance of the subject, its omnipresence, is due to the constant irritation set up by its suppression. We are always thinking of it, like an Anglo-Indian of his liver. In the abbey we removed the sources of irritation, with the result that it slipped back into its proper physiological proportion, into serenity and silence. We almost forgot its existence. It began to surprise us when the sexual symbols which we had exhibited in the abbey, so that familiarity might breed forgetfulness, excited strangers. A man who is either stimulated or shocked by an obscene photograph is just as much of an invalid as one whose mouth waters at the sight of a cookery book.
“Economic relations, again, were solved by the Law. Whatever funds we had — and we experienced all conditions from absolute want of the barest necessities of life to overflowing abundance — were regarded as means to enable each of us equally to do his or her will. Whatever anyone needed in his work was provided without a moment’s grudging. None of us hankered after anything unnecessary to our work. We had found out and fixed in our minds that all such possessions, however delightful as new toys, were in the long run a nuisance. Whatever is not ultimately useful is a source of distraction and anxiety. It gets in one’s way. It is like having to live with someone whom one does not love. We thus got rid of that senseless envy which embitters life by filling the mind with perverse cravings for things neither good nor bad in themselves, things fruitful of pleasure and profit to the people to whom they properly belong, but a source of misery to oneself, yet desired and hugged by the foolish who have not sense enough to see that what the mass of men imagine they want on the evidence of newspapers and salesmen may bring to them selves nothing but disappointment.
“We accordingly found in the abbey that happiness and peace which comes from contentment. We each had all we wanted; and nobody made himself wretched by wanting something belonging to somebody else merely because it was in itself beautiful or convenient. It should be clear to the stupidest statesman that the economic problem can be solved on these lines, and that any other principles are wasteful as well as irrational. The world is bankrupt today chiefly because well-meaning philanthropists have tried to make people happy by loading them with what they believe to be benefits because they are so to themselves.
“”The mind is improved by reading.” We therefore insist on everyone learning to read, with the result that their minds have been unsettled, clouded, confused and filled with falsehood by cheap fiction, sensational nonsense and deliberately dishonest propaganda. We praise the dressmakers of Paris and the tailors of London till we persuade the poor to deny themselves comfort in order to imitate the leaders of fashion. The logical error is essentially this unfitness which violates the Law of Thelema.
“In the abbey each of us respected the will of the others as absolutely as they respected his. It was nobody’s business to inquire what the will of another might be. And so the total energy of each of us was perfectly free to achieve its own end, sure that no one would interfere, and that he could count on the moral support of the rest to assist him. He therefore saw that in giving his own support to the abbey he was helping himself. He did not have to be threatened with hell or urged to be altruistic. Society has always been asked to regulate its actions either on grounds which everyone knows in his heart to be absurd, or on motives which nobody really accepts. The Law of Thelema avows and justifies selfishness; it confirms the inmost conviction of each one of us that he is the centre of the cosmos. Previous prophets have invariably tried to dodge this truth as making all social systems impossible. Now, for the first time, we can build practically every variety of social structure on this fact. All laws, customs and co-operative efforts can be constructed by the application of this principle for the conditions of environment. And all such structures will be stable, being free from the flaw which has been the bane of all previous systems. The theocracies of antiquity broke down as soon as their theory was challenged by science. Divine right met with with disaster immediately that its absurdity became apparent, so that humanity will never repeat the experiment; despite the fact that in many cases the absurd axiom led to the greatest prosperity. Social systems founded upon philosophy have failed even more frightfully, for the premises of the syllogism were false. It was always implied that man as such possessed various virtues which are in reality only found in a few individuals.
“In the New Aeon, each man will be a king, and his relation to the state will be determined solely by considerations of what is most to his advantage. The worker will support a strong government as his best protection from foreign aggression and seditious disturbance instead of thinking it tyrannical. Everyone, whatever his ambition, will feel that he can rely on the whole force of the state to assist him; for all ambitions alike will be respected by all, with the single proviso that they shall not tend to restrict the equal right of the rest. No man will be ashamed of himself, and so be forced into concealment and hypocrisy while at the same time having his idea distorted into monstrous shapes of disease by the pressure of public opinion.
“Of course (in practice) many people, perhaps the majority, will not accept the Law of Thelema. We found that life in the abbey with its absolute freedom was too severe a strain on those who were accustomed to depend on others. The responsibility of being truly themselves was too much for them; but sooner or later, without any action on our part, without any quarrel or ostensible reason, they found themselves ejected into their “previous condition of servitude”. The Book of the Law anticipates this: “… the slaves shall serve. …” The bulk of humanity, having no true will, will find themselves powerless. It will be for us to rule them wisely. We must secure their happiness and train them for ultimate freedom by setting them tasks for which their nature fits them. In the past, the mob without will or mind have been treated without sense or scruple; a mistake socially, economically and politically, no less than from the humanitarian point of view. We must remember that each man and woman is a star, it is our duty to maintain the order of nature by seeing to it that his orbit is correctly calculated. The revolutions and catastrophes with which history is crammed are invariably due to the rulers having failed to find fitting functions for the people. The obvious result has been social discontent ending in the refusal of the cells to perform their work in the organism.
“So-called education (on which countless millions are squandered with the sole result of unsettling and unfitting the vast majority of its victims for their work in the world) becomes inexpensive, efficient and profitable when the Law of Thelema dictates its principles. The very work means “leading out” of each child the faculties which he naturally possesses. The present system deliberately discourages the development of individuality and deforms minds by forcing them to perform functions for which they were not designed. In the abbey, our plan was to watch the children to discover in what direction they wanted to develop, having given them the greatest possible variety of facts from which to choose. We helped them in every way to carry out their choice, but refrained from any efforts to persuade them to pursue any line of study, however necessary it might seem to ourselves.
“Extending this principle to the world at large, my plan would be to classify children in infancy according to the subtle indications afforded by their gestures and reactions to various stimuli. Any child who showed a desire to read and write would be given every possible encouragement altogether irrespective of social and other considerations. Similar principles would apply to other activities: draughtsmanship, building, mechanics and the rest. He would be made to understand that the fulfilment of his ambitions would depend on his willing submission to discipline, the conquest of idleness and so on. But unless and until a child showed real discontent with his ignorance on any subject, we should not try to enlighten him. His lessons should be a relief; the satisfaction of a real appetite.
“By this plan the resources of the state available for education would be concentrated on the development of all really promising children instead of being in the first place wasted on stuffing all alike with a smattering of knowledge and then leaving them to shift for themselves, probably in danger of moral ruin by acquiring a taste for bad fiction and shallow sedition, and in the second, of blunting the best minds by penning them with the herd.
“The Abbey of Thelema has thus demonstrated practically how to cope with the three main problems of our time: sex, economics and education. We dealt with a host of minor difficulties. But the most striking phenomenon of all was that the majority of petty worries never appeared at all. It became clear that many such troubles have no real root in the facts of life, but are artificial symptoms suggested by the fundamental diseases….
“I have attained to understanding, I have made my magical model of society, and I await the moment when those who have chosen me to carry out their colossal conception summon me to stand forth before the world and execute their purpose. At this point, then, I leave my memoirs. My individual life is ended forever. It was always a mere means of bringing The Book of the Law to mankind. No man yet lived whose personal adventures were worth wasting a word on. I feel a sort of shame at intruding myself in this way on the public. And yet this book will not be altogether an impudent inanity if it shows how every adventure may serve to bring about some achievement of eternal importance.”