By Grady Louis McMurtry
Holy Books of Thelema 10 2 Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
THE HOLY BOOKS OF THELEMA are the chief legacy of their scribe, Aleister Crowley (1875(ss)-1947 E.V.). Their principal value to us, his heirs, lies not in their considerable literary merit, but rather in the insight and illumination these books yield on each reading. Written, as they were, on the most exalted planes of spiritual experience, they have a way of unfolding within the reader, of not only retaining, but increasing their relevance. Since these works were written through Crowley, they cannot be classed with those books of magical and mystical instruction consciously written by Crowley. They afford far more than information or instruction they give access to the source of the scribe's genius, and can awaken, as if by sympathetic resonance, promptings toward similar experiences in the receptive reader.
The most important liber (or book) is the founding document of Thelema: Liber AL Vel Legis Sub Figurae CCXX. Originally titled Liber L, it was later retitled Liber AL(el)f36 (also pronounced el), and is often called Liber Legis, or The Book of the Law. The reception of this book in Cairo, Egypt, signalled the expiration of the on of Osiris, and inaugurated the new on of Horus; thus 1904 E.V. (Era Vulgaris, or common era) is year 0 of the Thelemic calendar.
The three chapters of Liber Legis were literally dictated to Crowley, during three one-hour sessions, from noon to 1 P.M. on April 8, 9 and 10, 1904 E.V. The entity giving dictation was a praeter-human intelligence called Aiwaz, or Aiwass, a being demonstrating knowledge and prescience beyond anything hitherto associated with human faculties. Crowley describes this messenger, and the circumstances surrounding the dictation of the book, in the following excerpt from his writings:
(el)i2li2rThe Voice of Aiwass came apparently from over my left shoulder, from the furthest corner of the room. The voice was passionately poured, as if Aiwass were alert about the time-limit. I was pushed hard to keep the pace; the MS. shows it clearly enough. I had a strong impression that the speaker was actually in the corner where he seemed to be, in a body of fine matter, transparent as a veil of gauze, or a cloud of incense-smoke. He seemed to be a tall, dark man in his thirties, well-knit, active and strong, with the face of a savage king, and eyes veiled lest their gaze should destroy what they saw. The dress was not Arab; it suggested Assyria or Persia, but very vaguely. I took little note of it, for to me at that time Aiwass was an angel such as I had often seen in visions, a being purely astral.
Crowley later recognized Aiwass as his Holy Guardian Angel, and came to accept the mantle of Thelemic prophet of the on of Horus thrust upon him by his reception of Liber Legis. Although the book abounds in specific references to the scribe and prophet in his now-historical role of The Beast 666, it is nevertheless the most influential of the Holy Books, with the greatest general relevance to humanity.
The Book of the Law was also the origin of the technical class (Class A) to which these Holy Books belong. Chapter I, verse 36, states that the scribe shall not in one letter change this book; but lest there be folly, he shall comment thereupon by the wisdom of Ra-Hoor-Khu-it. Crowley accordingly produced several important commentaries to Liber Legis, but only one that he regarded as definitely inspired the Comment he received in 1925 E.V., as predicted by Liber Legis:
But the work of the comment? That is easy; and Hadit burning in thy heart shall make swift and secure thy pen.
Crowley considered the Comment (page 196 of the present volume) the really inspired message, cutting as it does all the difficulties with a single keen stroke. This refers to the commentators that would otherwise revise and distort the message of 7Liber Legis to their own ends, forming their schools of interpretation with the conformist pressures and tendencies to schism that inevitably follow. The Comment warns against the dissemination of personal interpretations of the book, thus establishing a scriptural tradition resistant to the revisionism that plagued previous religions and mystery schools. Yet it places supreme emphasis upon individual freedom of interpretation: All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself. As applied, this creates a climate of freedom without parallel in religious history.
In many ways Liber Legis edits itself, giving explicit and detailed instructions to the scribe. These instructions, reviewed below, shed light on the dynamic interaction between scribe and book.
Liber Legis places great emphasis upon the importance of preserving the book intact for future generations: Change not as much as the style of a letter; for behold! thou, o prophet, shalt not behold all these mysteries hidden therein. Crowley writes of this:
This injunction was most necessary, for had I been left to myself, I should have wanted to edit the book ruthlessly. I find in it what I consider faults of style, and even of grammar; much of the matter was at the time of writing most antipathetic. But the Book proved itself greater than the scribe: again and again have the mistakes proved themselves to be devices for transmitting a Wisdom beyond the scope of ordinary language.
Another such instruction insists upon a reproduction of this ink and paper for ever, for in it is the word secret & not only in the English. Liber Legis even stipulates that the manuscript be included in foreign-language translations, for in the chance shape of the letters and their position to one another: in these are mysteries that no Beast shall divine. The manuscript is therefore reproduced (at 56/ original size) immediately following the typeset text of Liber CCXX in the present compilation,
The manuscript is technically titled Liber XXXI, and should not be confused with another well-known book with the same title. By printing Liber XXXI side-by-side with Liber CCXX, the numerical order otherwise observed in this edition is disregarded. However, this placement has long been traditional, and greatly simplifies cross-reference.
An important change made by Crowley when editing Liber CCXX was his numbering of the verses in Chapter I, which are unnumbered in manuscript. Since Liber CCXX derives its title from its total of 220 verses, this title clearly cannot apply to the manuscript. A few recent editions of Liber Legis have appeared which follow the MS., Liber XXXI, more literally in some respects than does Liber CCXX. Technically, such editions are not Liber CCXX, but rather attempts to produce a typeset version of Liber XXXI.
Finally, a close comparison of the text and manuscript will show variant punctuation. This was anticipated and approved by Liber Legis: The stops as thou wilt: the letters, change them not in style or value. Thus, the changes in the stops introduced by Crowley in preparing Liber CCXX from Liber XXXI are in accordance with the book's instructions.
Accordingly, each of the above-described prescriptions for publication have been observed in preparing Liber CCXX for this edition. The most recent authorized publication of Liber Legis has been used: that published by the O.T.O. in 1938 E.V. In recent reprintings (Weiser, 1979, 1981) four typographical errors were corrected by the O.T.O., after verification in earlier authorized editions and the MS. This reprint and the present edition are therefore the most accurate of the several editions of Liber Legis.
In The Equinox of the Gods Crowley gives an explanatory list of the departures in the manuscript itself from what was dictated during the reception of Liber Legis:
On page 6 of the MS. Aiwaz instructs me to write this (what he had just said) in whiter words, for my mind rebelled at His phrase. He added at once But go forth on, i.e., with His utterance, leaving the emendation until later.
On page 19 I failed to hear a sentence, and (later on) the Scarlet Woman, invoking Aiwass, wrote in the missing words. (How? She was not in the room at the time, and heard nothing.)
Page 20 of Cap. III, I got a phrase indistinctly, and she put it in, as for B.
The versified paraphrase of the hieroglyphs on the Steqleq being ready Aiwaz allowed me to insert these later, so as to save time.
These four apart, the MS. is exactly as it was written on those three days.
The steqleq (or stela) referred to in D above is a funerary monument of Ankh-f-n-khonsu, a Theban priest of Month (or Mentu) who flourished (according to modern scholarship) circa 670 B.C.E., in Egypt's 25th Dynasty. It figured largely in the events leading up to the reception of Liber Legis, as did the Scarlet Woman, Crowley's wife Rose. It was her discovery of the Steqleq in Cairo's Boulaq Museum that (in Crowley's words) led to the creation of the ritual by which Aiwass, the author of Liber L Liber AL(el)f36, was invoked.
It is referred to as the Steqleq of Revealing in Liber Legis, and according to Crowley, indicates a certain continuity or identity of myself with Ankh-f-n-khonsu, whose Steqlep is the Link with Antiquity of this Revelation. Crowley's comment is of interest when considering the observations of the Egyptologist Abd el Hamid Zayed, who gave the Steqleq its first publication in the archaeological literature, in 1968 E.V.:
The back of the stela is occupied by eleven horizontal lines of inscription, the first part of which is a version of The Book of the Dead, chap. 30. This chapter was usually engraved upon a large scarab. It is very unusual to find it inscribed upon a stela. The second half of the inscription is part of The Book of the Dead, chap. 2 and, in the Theban Recension, it was entitled: The chapter of coming forth by day and living after death. Its object was to allow the astral form of the deceased to revisit the earth at will. emphasis added
Certain other observations by Zayed are of interest. He notes that painted wooden stelae are uncommon, since stelae were usually carved in stone. The Steqleq of Revealing is doubly unusual in that the reverse side, usually undecorated, is also painted, with the texts cited in the above-quoted excerpt. Concerning painted wooden stela in general, he remarks that it is noteworthy that they all seem to originate from Thebes and its neighbourhood, and that their owners are mostly persons attached to the cults of Month and Amon. He also notes that a very interesting point about these stelae is the evidence they afford for the religious views of the period. Most noteworthy is the identification of the forms of Rao-Horakhty Ra-Hoor-Khuit with Soker-Osiris.
The curator of the Boulaq Museum, M. Brugsch Bey, arranged for a French translation of the Egyptian text of the Steqleq in the weeks preceding the writing of Liber Legis in 1904 E.V. Crowley translated the French into English, in verse form, and had this English version of the hieroglyphic text at hand during the dictation of Liber Legis. In two instances (Liber Legis I:14, III:37-38) he had occasion to use it, but these verses do not appear in the MS. itself, having been inserted in to the typescript prepared after the book's reception. Since the original Egyptian-French translation of the Steqleq (from which Crowley made his versified paraphrase) has a direct bearing upon the text of Liber Legis, it is given its first publication in Appendix A, with a new English translation by a qualified Egyptologist (Ph.D., Columbia) who chooses to remain anonymous. An actual photograph of the Steqleq is also included; all previous appearances of the Steqleq in Thelemic publications have been modern painted reproductions. References for Egyptological studies of the Steqleq will be found in Appendix C.
The above-cited injunctions concerning the editing of the book serve to underscore the salient feature of Liber Legis, when considering it in context with the other books in this volumeit is not the work of Aleister Crowley, as Crowley himself emphasizes:
I claim authorship even of all the other A...A... Books in Class A, though I wrote them inspired beyond all I know to be I. Yet in these Books did Aleister Crowley, the master of English both in prose and in verse, partake insofar as he was That. Compare those Books with The Book of the Law! The style of the former is simple and sublime; the imagery is gorgeous and faultless; the rhythm is subtle and intoxicating; the theme is interpreted in faultless symphony. There are no errors of grammar, no infelicities of phrase. Each Book is perfect in its kind.
I, daring to snatch credit for these dared nowise to lay claim to have touched The Book of the Law, not with my littlest finger-tip.
In his Commentaries on Liber Legis Crowley enlarges on this important point:
The use of such un-English expressions makes a clear-cut distinction between AIWAZ and the scribe. In the inspired Books such as LXV, VII, DCCCXIII and others, written by The Beast 666 directly, not from dictation, no such awkward expressions are to be found. The style shows a well-marked difference.
There are many subtleties among these Holy Books, both of degree of inspiration and mode of reception. All were penned during high trance, but some, especially Liber LXV and Liber VII6, were produced during major spiritual transformations. Crowley's Diary for 1907 E.V. records the writing of Liber LXV during the period 30 October-3 November, and the following excerpt sheds further light on the process by which such books are written:
Wrote Chapters I & II Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente Liber LXV again no shadow of Samadhi; only a feeling that V.V.V.V.V. was in His Samadhi, and writing by my pen, i.e. the pen of the scribe, and that scribe not who reasons etc. nor Aleister Crowley who is a poet & selects; but of some perfectly passive person.
A technical digression is necessary here, in order to resolve a long-standing problem of attribution.
The official publications of the A... A... are grouped in five classes, from A to E. The classification system was devised to obviate potential confusion regarding the relative sanctity or authority of the books and papers evaluated. The system has generally succeeded in this, although (as will be seen) confusion still arises. Crowley placed the Holy Books in Class A, which (by his definition) consists of books of which may be changed not so much as the style of a letter: that is, they represent the utterance of an Adept entirely beyond the criticism of even the Visible Head of the Organization. As has been shown, the Class A category of literature ultimately derives from the first and foremost of the Holy Books, Liber Legis.
The term holy book itself possibly derives from Liber LXV V:58: in the number five and sixty seal thou the holy book. Crowley never explicitly defined it, or listed the books to which it applied. Some students only allow the term Holy Books to the Class A writings collected in Thelema, a compilation published in 1909 E.V., and deny the term to Class A documents published later in The Equinox. included Libri VII, XXVII, LXI, LXV, CCXX and DCCCXIII, and was meant to serve a specific and limited purpose, being the core curriculum of aspirants in the Outer College of A... A.... It was not intended to be the definitive edition of the Thelemic sacred writings, as some students hold.
Much tangible mischief has resulted from this mistaken assumption. For example, a 1952 E.V. Canadian limited edition based on was given the title The Holy Books, with no qualification of the title to account for the many Holy Books excluded. Compounding this error, and illustrating the problem of loosely-applied titles, three books excerpted from were recently published as The Holy Books, leading many students to believe that only three books deserve the term. Thus, the corruption Crowley took such pains to forestall arose after his death due to the confusion of a bibliographic reference (the book ) with an ill-defined oral tradition concerning the Holy Books as a literary subgroup.
In the years following the publication of in 1909 E.V., additional Class A books were written and incorporated into the A... A... curriculum. The Curriculum of A... A..., published in 1919 E.V., includes all Class A writings except Liber CCCLXX, a curious exception that goes to prove the rule. The note immediately following Liber CCCLXX in The Equinox clearly places it in the graded curriculum. Attributed to the grade of Dominus Liminus, Liber CCCLXX picks up the series where the five books in left off at the preceding grade of Practicus. Supporting this is the fact that all five books published in had similar notes appended to them; for comparative purposes, these notes have been transferred to the Synopsis in the present edition.
According to the best available evidence, Crowley never cited as the Holy Books; he refers to the book in his writings, but always by the proper title. Crowley did use the term Holy Books in a general sense, usually when citing Libri VII or LXV. But in a telling instance (his commentary to Liber LXV V:51) he applies the term to Liber I, still unwritten at the time of 's publication. This is irrefutable evidence for a broader definition of the Holy Books.
Finally, it is difficult to believe that Crowley would have left any ambiguity as to the sanctity of the books in Class A, of all classes of literature; their very definition argues against it.
There is thus firm evidence for expanding the term holy book beyond the few books published in . For the present compilation (in many ways a more complete edition of the original collection) all Class A writings are treated as Holy Books. The original title of is retained, and popular usage is acknowledged in the subtitle The Holy Books of Thelema.
Curiously, considering the reverence with which Crowley treated it, Liber I was first published in Class B. It was later placed in Class A in the authoritative Synopsis of Official Publications of the A... A.... In view of its reclassification, and Crowley's explicit reference to it as a Holy Book, it is included in this compilation in Class A.
Liber LXI was first published in , where it appeared under imprimatur in Class A. Crowley evidently had second thoughts, for it is placed in Class D in later publications and listings. Liber LXI differs from the Holy Books on almost all points. Questions of style apart, it is not a received text at all, but rather a revision of the History Lection of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Crowley drafted a revision of this historical paper in 1906 E.V., and rewrote it, as it stands today, in 1907 E.V. It is a literary cornerstone of the A... A..., which rose from the ashes of the Golden Dawn during this period. Liber LXI should not, however, be considered a Holy Book, but rather an Introduction to the series of Holy Books, as Crowley suggests. Supporting this view is the fact that verses 29-30 refer to Sacred Writings such as Libri CCXX, LXV and VII; this would seem to place Liber LXI outside the category. Since Liber LXI was included in (the model for the present compilation) it is included in the present compilation, but under its most recent imprimatur in Class D. It serves as the Introduction, and immediately follows the Synopsis.
As explained above, the Holy Books have been considered synonymous with the books in Class A in collecting material for this compilation. However, three books containing Class A material have been excluded.
The first two may be treated together. They are Liber CDXV Opus Lutetianum (commonly called The Paris Working) and Liber CDXVIIILiber XXX RUM Vel Saculi (commonly called The Vision and the Voice). Both are diary records of magical workings conducted by Crowley in collaboration with Victor B. Neuburg. Crowley placed these two books in Class B, which he reserved for Class A material contained in a work of ordinary scholarship, enlightened and earnest (Class B). It is extremely unlikely that Crowley intended these documents in mixed class to be considered Holy Books. The Class A material, typically the utterance of a deific or angelic entity, is inextricably imbedded in the Class B text, often without benefit of quotation marks. Concrete evidence for this view may be found in Crowley's commentary to Liber LXV X:44, where he clearly distinguishes Liber CDXVIII from the Holy Books as a group. Additionally, Liber CDXVIII has two sections pertaining to Class D, since they comprise official rituals or instructions.
The third book excluded is in Class A-B: Liber DCCCCLXIII Thesarau Eidolon, commonly called The Treasure-House of Images(el)f36. In this case, only a short prefatory note is in Class A; the book itself, in Class B, is the work of Maj.-Gen. J.F.C. Fuller.
For the present edition, the Holy Books have been collected and republished verbatim from their respective sources, which are cited in Appendix C. Extraneous commentaries in the original publications have generally been transferred to the Synopsis. Material in editorial brackets appearing within a text (as occurs in Libri XXVII, CCXXI and CD) is retained; the reader is advised that these are not insertions by the present editor. Also, the use of typographical conventions such as ligatures (, oe, fi, etc.) has been made consistent.
Two Tables of Contents have been prepared for this edition, placed on facing pages for ease of reference. The Technical Table of Contents gives the actual, formal titles, using the traditional roman numerals for the book numbers. Since these titles can be confusing when first encountered, an English Table of Contents is provided, using Crowley's translations of the book titles where possible. Two translations are supplied (within brackets) by the present editor. Also, the roman numerals are replaced with their arabic equivalents.
An explanation of the classification system appears in the Technical Bibliography (Appendix B), which also lists the technical books and papers of Thelema by number, class and title. This is intended to help readers place the Class A writings in context with writings in other classes.
Many commentaries to individual Holy Books are extant, some of which have been published. The reader may consult the Selected References in Appendix C for bibliographic data concerning these.
Finally, Crowley's diaries show that he frequently used for bibliomancy by opening the book at random and dropping his magical ring, taking the word or passage touched upon as an oracle. This expanded edition could well serve the same purpose.
It is to be hoped that the publication of these books, here collected in one volume for the first time, will assist all aspirants in the accomplishment of their True Wills, the Great Work, the Summum Bonum, True Wisdom and Perfect Happiness.
Love is the law, love under will.
(H.A. in Greek)
Hymenaeus Alpha, Caliph
Maj. Grady Louis McMurtry (U.S. Army Reserve)
August 12, 1982 E.V.
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