The Book of the Law

We’ve just come through the Thelemic Holy Season. Specifically we have celebrated the three days of the writing of the Book of the Law. Here’s how I celebrated the first day, April 8: I broke out my copy and read Chapter I out loud to myself. Physically reading is different than reading silently, it focuses me on the cadence of the lines, the meaning of the words. Speech brings thought into the world.

This is the most basic Thelemic act. All you have to do to be a Thelemite is to call yourself one. There is no central authority, no registry of Thelemites, no baptism or initiation. Well, you can take initiation into a magical order which recognizes Thelema, and you can take baptism in churches which accept the Law, but it isn’t strictly required. All you really have to do is read it. The book itself says “the Law is for all” (Chapter I line 34).

What is this book? It’s easiest to just describe how it came to be. On April 8 1904 an English gentleman visiting Cairo sat down and spent an hour writing. Of course he wasn’t just any classically educated Englishman, but a Golden Dawn initiate and esotericist, and his wife had begun to act as a medium during their rituals, quite common in the magical orders during the heyday of Spiritualism. Rose was giving Aleister messages from various deities and the entity Aiwass. Following her instruction, Aleister Crowley sat at the same time for three days in a row and took the dictation of Aiwass which became the three chapters of Liber Al vel Legis.

Thelemites are a people of the book. It’s a little strange to me to have a sacred book in my life again. I was raised Catholic and learned the Bible stories in catechism school, but I started resisting the rituals of penance and confession as a teen, and converted to Witchcraft where I could be my own clergy. Witches do have a book, the Book of Shadows, but it is handwritten and kept secret, and there are many variations depending on who has handed it down. Sure, many have been printed, but I have copies of books that have still not been published. It’s a whole different kind of book than the Bible.

The Book of the Law is not secret but published in many languages. Unlike the Bible it is not interpreted by priests. In fact the book explicitly discourages explanations and interpretations. “The Comment” at the end of the book reads, “All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself.” No one gets to tell me what the book means to me.

I have read it by myself in a hotel room. I have read it at home with my family. I have read it many times in public with groups of Thelemites. Sometimes the group will speak the lines in turn around a circle, one line per person; most often we read the chapter together. One memorable year each individual read the lines out loud that spoke to them, and the resulting rise and fall of volume pointed out the popular lines. Everyone joined in for the words of Nuit at the end: “to me! to me!”

Have you read the book? Here it is.

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