One of the basic tenets of Thelemic philosophy today.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law."

Most Thelemites believe that every person possesses a True Will, a single overall motivation for their existence. The Law of Thelema mandates that each person follow their True Will to attain fulfillment in life and freedom from restriction of their nature. Because no two True Wills can be in real conflict (according to "Every man and every woman is a star"), this Law also prohibits one from interfering with the True Will of any other person.

The notion of absolute freedom for an individual to follow his or her True Will is a cherished one among Thelemites. This philosophy also recognizes that the main task of an individual setting out on the path of Thelema is to first discover his or her True Will, giving methods of self-exploration such as magick great importance. Furthermore, every True Will is different, and because each person has a unique point-of-view of the universe, no one can determine the True Will for another person. Each person must arrive at the discovery for themselves.

"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." This statement is taken from the first chapter verse 40 of the The Book of the Law, also know as Liber al vel Legis, which is claimed to have been communicated to Aleister Crowley by a discarnate entity known as Aiwass on April 8, 9 and 10 in 1904, in Cairo, Egypt.

Later in Crowley's life he claimed that Aiwass was his Higher Divine Genius or Guardian Angel and that therefore he held complete authority to interpret the work.

During his life Crowley wrote two commentaries on the The Book of the Law. The interpretation of this particular passage consumed a considerable portion of his life, as it had become one of the signature statements that defined his new religion, Thelema.

At first view it looks to give license to do anything one would want, but after closer more critical examination this is doubtful. "'Do what thou wilt' need not only be interpreted as license or even as liberty. It may, for example, be taken to mean ... the sign of the cross. The passage may then be read as a charge to self-sacrifice or equilibrium." (Crowley, p. 97) This statement is taken from Crowley's first commentary.

In Crowley's second commentary he viewed this passage through the lens of sexual liberation and the emancipation of women from patriarchal domination. This was illustrative of Thelema's positive outlook on human sexuality.

NB: This is a nodeshell rescue.


Crowley, Aleister (1993) The law is for all. Phoenix, Arizona: New Falcon Publications

A frequently held alternate interpretation of the statement is that it means do what you have willed, i.e. do not give in to your weaknesses.

This statement has a counterpart statement, and that statement is "Love is the Law, love under Will". "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" usually starts texts written by Thelemites, and "Love is the Law, love under Will" finishes them. It is incorrect to state one without the other, as the Book of the Law is a book that contains the creeds of two different Gods and preaches balance between the two, and the two statements sum up their creeds.

Crowley got the idea for this phrase from Francis Rabelais, who stated in Chapter 1 of Gargantua and Pantagruel "Do what thou wilt". (thanks keops)

The phrase 'do what thou wilt', or as Eddie and the Hot Rods put it, Do anything you wanna do, has a long and venerable history. It first appears in the work of Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in the form dilige, et quod vis fac or 'Love, and do what thou wilt', by which Augustine meant that if you love God you are free to act according to your will, since a man who loves God will naturally select the path of virtue. This later inspired Fran├žois Rabelais (c.1494-1553) to adopt Fay ce que voudras, which of course is simply the French for 'Do what thou wilt', as the motto of his fictional Abbey of Theleme, those "pure, honest, faithful, true Expounders of the Scriptures old and new", that appear in his magnum opus Gargantua and Pantagruel.

As Rabelais explains it,

All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed,

Do What Thou Wilt;

because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour.

Which is more or less exactly what Augustine of Hippo had said over a thousand years before.

Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), the 2nd Baronet Dashwood and later 15th Baron le Despenser who is known to have acquired a copy of Gargantua and Pantagruel whilst on one of his many visits to the continent, later adopted 'Do What Thou Wilt' as the motto of The Order of the Friars of St. Francis of Wycombe otherwise known as the Monks of Medmenham or more popularly these days as the Hell-Fire Club. According to Dashwood what he meant was that "Man has a natural right to be free" and explained that "by Freedom is not nor can be meant that every individual should act as he lists, and according to his own Passions, Vices or Infirmities: but freedom is a right every man has to do what he will with his own".

It was undoubtedly the influence of Francis Dashwood and his 'Hell-Fire Club' which led Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) to expound his Law of Thelema, although he claimed that it had been dictated to him by a disembodied entity named Aiwass, namely;

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
Love is the law, love under will.

According to Crowley this meant that individuals ought to act in accordance with their 'True Will', as opposed to simply following a casual whim. As it happens deducing an individuals 'True Will' was a slightly more complicated process than might be imagined, and not something that any individual could be necessarily trusted to work out for themselves. According to Crowley it involved the appointment of "experts to work out, when need arises, the details of the True Will of every individual, and even that of every corporate body whether social or commercial, while a judiciary will arise to determine the equity in the case of apparently conflicting claims." Which is of course a slightly more regimented view of life than is normally associated with the so-called "wickedest man on Earth".

Thus although 'Do what thou wilt' has been the rallying call for libertarians and libertines the world over it is simply a rewording of a maxim first expounded by one of the founding fathers of the Christian church.


NOTES

(1) Eddie and the Hot Rods were inspired by Aleister Crowley's version as evidenced by the quoting of 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law' on the picture sleeve version of the single release of Do anything you wanna do.
(2) Note that Theleme is simply the Greek word for 'will' and thus Rabelais's Abbey of Theleme and Crowley's Law of Thelema.


SOURCES

  • Gerald Suster, The Hell-Fire Friars (Robson Books, 2000)
  • Brian Doherty, The individualist authoritarianism of Aleister Crowley Reason magazine, February 2001
    www.reason.com/0102/cr.bd.do.html
  • Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
    Chapter 1. Part LVII - How the Thelemites were governed, and of their manner of living.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1200/1200-h/p1.htm

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