Thelema (/θəˈliːmə/) is an esoteric and occult social or spiritual philosophy and religious movement developed in the early 1900s by Aleister Crowley, an English writer, mystic, and ceremonial magician. The word thelema is the English transliteration of the Koine Greek noun θέλημα (pronounced [θéleema]), "will," from the verb θέλω (thélō): "to will, wish, want or purpose."
Crowley asserted or believed himself to be the prophet of a new age, the Æon of Horus, based upon a spiritual experience that he and his wife, Rose Edith, had in Egypt in 1904. By his account, a possibly non-corporeal or "praeterhuman" being that called itself Aiwass contacted him (through Rose) and subsequently dictated a text known as The Book of the Law or Liber AL vel Legis, which outlined the principles of Thelema.
The Thelemic pantheon—a collection of gods and goddesses who either literally exist or serve as symbolic archetypes or metaphors—includes a number of deities, primarily a trio adapted from ancient Egyptian religion, who are the three speakers of The Book of the Law: Nuit, Hadit and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. In at least one instance, Crowley described these deities as a "literary convenience".
Three statements in particular distill the practice and ethics of Thelema:
- Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, meaning that adherents of Thelema should seek out and follow their true path, i.e. find or determine their True Will..
- Love is the law, love under will, i.e. the nature of the Law of Thelema is love, but love itself is subsidiary to finding and manifesting one's authentic purpose or "mission".
- Every man and every woman is a star implies by metaphor that persons doing their Wills are like stars in the universe: occupying a time and position in space, yet distinctly individual and having an independent nature largely without undue conflict with other stars.
Crowley's later writings included related commentary and hermeneutics but also additional "inspired" writings that he collectively termed The Holy Books of Thelema. He also associated Thelemic spiritual practice with concepts rooted in occultism, yoga, and Eastern and Western mysticism, especially the Kabbalah.
Aspects of Thelema and Crowley's thought in general inspired the development of Wicca and, to a certain degree, the rise of Modern Paganism as a whole, as well as chaos magick and some variations of Satanism. Some scholars, such as Hugh Urban, also believe Thelema to have been an influence on the development of Scientology, but others, such as J. Gordon Melton, reject any such connection.