Is Thelema Pagan?

Is Thelema Pagan? May 27, 2014

This blog is one among many on the Patheos Pagan channel. I know many of the bloggers here. I have been active in various Pagan communities, Northwest and national, throughout my adult life. Because I am personally at home on the channel though doesn’t mean that Thelema should be filed under “Pagan”.

I know many Thelemites who, like me, move fluidly between Pagan and Thelemic rituals and events. I know other Thelemites who vehemently object to being lumped together with Pagans. Still others object to calling Thelema a religion at all.

Ordo Templi Orientis describes Thelema as a “philosophical and religious system”. O.T.O. is of course far from the only Thelemic group, and there are many definitions of Thelema. These include: a spiritual philosophy, a system of magic, a law of nature, a realization, a way of life.

What Thelemites share is commitment to the Law of Thelema, also called the Law of Liberty: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” Discussing this phrase, Crowley said:

I am often asked why I begin my letters in this way. No matter whether I am writing to my lady or to my butcher, always I begin with these eleven words. Why, how else should I begin? What other greeting could be so glad? Look, brother, we are free! Rejoice with me, sister, there is no law beyond Do what thou wilt!

Our freedom extends to the freedom to describe Thelema in any way that makes sense to each of us. So the inclusion of a Thelemic blog on the Pagan channel is less about definition and more about community. In some places Pagan community looks askance at Thelema and Thelemites don’t reach out to local Pagans, while in other places, like the Northwest, Thelemites and Pagans interact regularly. At Pantheacon, the huge Pagan festival held in the Bay area on Presidents Day, there is usually a Thelemic hospitality suite and sometimes a Gnostic Mass, and Lon Milo DuQuette often attends and performs his music.

Some Thelemites reach out to Christian communities and feel comfortable interacting with monotheistic faiths, and many Thelemites begin life as practicing Christians. I would not be surprised to see a Thelemic blog on a Christian channel.

That doesn’t mean that Thelema is Christian. The Gnostic Catholic Church, later renamed Ecclecia Gnostica Catholica, was folded into O.T.O. in 1908. O.T.O. traces the history of the church:

While E.G.C. traces its historic origins to the French Gnostic revival of the turn of the century, which was a movement within Christianity, it has since accepted the Law of Thelema. It has declared itself independent from the Christian Universal Gnostic Church and its successors, and is no longer considered to be a Christian Church.

Thelema is neither Pagan nor Christian. Those communities may be more or less comfortable when interacting with Thelema. A quick glance at the the Creed of the Gnostic Catholic Church, recited by the congregation at the beginning of each Gnostic Mass, explains why:

“I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD”…many Pagans have already checked out at the first line, equating that one Lord with the idea of God.

“I believe in the serpent and the lion, mystery of mystery, in his name, Baphomet…” This is where some Christians decline to participate, equating Baphomet with Satan.

A baptized and confirmed member of E.G.C. will have her or his own interpretation of “Lord” and “Baphomet” that may not resemble the Pagan or Christian understanding. When we consider Thelema as a religion, it is its own religion. To understand it, you need to see the Gnostic Mass for yourself.

Quick references

The Law of Liberty
History of E.G.C.

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