by Erica M Cornelius
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. – AL I:40
Thelema (Θέλημα), or Will, is the Law of the present Aeon: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” (Liber AL vel Legis I:40). The problem is, most people completely misunderstand what Will is. Oftentimes, self-identified Thelemites say things such as, “It is my Will to have this parking spot” or “It is my Will to play loud music in my apartment all night tonight.” Once I heard a guy ask, “What if it is my Will to be a serial killer?” Luckily, Will is not just “whatever I want to do,” which is almost always just a fig leaf over “whatever the lesser, unconscious, uncontrolled parts of me compel me to do.” To actually do one’s Will turns out to be an achievement beyond the reaches of 99% of the people. “Let my servants be few & secret… (Liber AL I:10). “Ye are against the people, O my chosen!” (AL II:25). However, nearly every Thelemically inclined person can live life Thelemically on the Earth plane once they understand what that really means. Granted, a Thelemite is not a wimp or a pushover. A Thelemite exercises the innate freedom to express himself or herself. That much of the popular conception of Thelema is correct. Yet, a Thelemite is distinguished and defined as one who does not restrict other people:
The word of Sin is Restriction. O man! refuse not thy wife, if she will! O lover, if thou wilt, depart! There is no bond that can unite the divided but love: all else is a curse. Accursed! Accursed be it to the aeons! Hell. (Liber AL vel Legis I:41)
To restrict is to force, confine, artificially limit, hamper, inhibit, cramp, bind, impede, coerce, compel, or affect through any force that is not the natural, spontaneous bonding of opposites. “Bind nothing!” (Liber AL vel Legis I:22). As a Thelemite, your most defining characteristic is your habit of keeping your nose out of everyone else’s business and allowing them to do whatever they are going to do without your interference. Blaring music in your apartment at night while all of your neighbors are trying to sleep opposes the Law of Thelema in practice. (Put on some headphones. See how easy that was?) So does stalking and murdering random people. Ironically, “doing your Will” as a man of Earth is far, far more about what you don’t do than about what you do, despite that nothing is forbidden to you in principle. As paradoxical as it may seem, to “do your Will” as a man of Earth means allowing everyone else to their Will before you do yours. You “do you,” but always in such a way as they can still “do them.”
To begin to understand how to “do your Will” as a Thelemite on the Earth plane, it is necessary first to grasp what True Will really is and is not. Once you understand that True Will is never found on this plane, it will be easier to understand how ‘doing your Will’ on Earth is really just a placeholder phrase for ‘doing your own thing while not messing with other people.’ As already implied, True Will is not any one trivial thing, though sometimes it can be named as an overall potential for that individual—such as, “to be a musician.” True Will is in its essence Universal, equally shared by all. It corresponds to the Qabalistic sphere of Chokmah-2 (Wisdom), which is Above the Abyss. True Will lies in the eternal realm of pure potential. By definition, It is unmanifested. It is an Impetus behind and beyond manifestation. In the olden days, we used to call True Will “the Will of God.” The difference in the present Aeon is that we acknowledge the real possibility that living, fleshy human beings can embody the Will, usually after decades or lifetimes of uncompromising, spiritually directed magickal work. The point is, humanity is no longer passive toward the Will of God, as if it belonged to some old guy with a beard way up in the sky. Now there is a possibility for the “few and secret” to realize the Universal Will in their own unique microcosms. Though few will realize that potential, it is possible now in principle for all human beings to be gods in the flesh. What’s more, the Law of Thelema is for all! It’s meaningful for every man and every woman to talk about “my Will.” After all, that is just to acknowledge that every human being is, in fact, a sovereign unto himself or herself. Whatever the Universal Will would look like if manifested in this moment through their incarnation, that potential is the only moral law there is for that person, the only “binding factor.” Still, the point is, most Thelemites have no idea what their Will would look like if manifested. Most Thelemites have not discovered their Will—and that’s ok! All they have to do in order to be Thelemites is to treat everyone as having a Will, however unknown.
Another helpful way of grasping how True Will is never found on Earth is by considering the Myth of Er. Occurring at the very end of Plato’s Republic, the Myth of Er concerns a soldier who travels to the Land of the Dead with his slaughtered fellows and witnesses what happens after death. The relevant upshot here is that those souls who will have to return to earth get to choose their next incarnation, at least from a finite set of “lots” that the Fates present. They can choose from foolish motivations or from wise. They can choose to be animals or people. They can choose to be rich, poor, powerful, humble, and so forth. There all kinds of options. This choice of one’s Lot in the next life is analogous to the True Will. The Lot represents the whole incarnation in its potentiality. The Lot is like an acorn, whereas the tree will be the incarnation itself. The thing is, in the Myth of Er, the dead who will return to Earth for their next chosen life will not remember what they have chosen. Luckily, they do get a genius (daimon) who will guide them on Earth and nudge them along in their ignorance, but they will have drunk of the waters of Unmindfulness before reincarnating. Their True Will be unknown to them:
All the souls had now chosen their lives, and they went in the order of their choice to Lachesis [the Fate who Allots], who sent with them the genius whom they had severally chosen, to be the guardian of their lives and the fulfiller of the choice: this genius led the souls first to Clotho [the Fate who Spins], and drew them within the revolution of the spindle impelled by her hand, thus ratifying the destiny of each; and then, when they were fastened to this, carried them to Atropos [the Inflexible Fate who Cuts the Thread], who spun the threads and made them irreversible, whence without turning round they passed beneath the throne of Necessity; and when they had all passed, they marched on in a scorching heat to the plain of Forgetfulness, which was a barren waste destitute of trees and verdure; and then towards evening they encamped by the river of Unmindfulness, whose water no vessel can hold; of this they were all obliged to drink a certain quantity, and those who were not saved by wisdom drank more than was necessary; and each one as he drank forgot all things. Now after they had gone to rest, about the middle of the night there was a thunderstorm and earthquake, and then in an instant they were driven upwards in all manner of ways to their birth, like stars shooting.
The True Will is the sum total of the Lifetime—its basic thrust. It is never a miniscule piece of life such as “to do drugs” or “to eat this burger.” The True Will is the basic potentiality of the incarnation. It is never an actuality, even when known, since Its potential is infinite. Eternally Above the Abyss, at best It is something with which you can act in harmony.
To “do your Will” as a man of Earth means to maintain a certain relationship between your ego and the unknowable-as-such Universal True Will, which we can also call the Will of Humanity. What form of relationship? To answer, we can take a page out of the moral philosophy books of Immanuel Kant, except that now we acknowledge the universal sovereignty of the individual: “Act only in a way that does not infringe on others’ universal sovereignty, which is One and the Same as yours.” If everyone were actually doing their Will, the natural order and harmony of the universe would be manifested. So, if two or more stars are in fact coming into conflict, someone’s star is out of “orbit.” Ensure always that that “someone” who’s star is out of orbit is never you. To “do your Will” on Earth means to act in full acknowledgement of the fact that everyone else is identical to you in essence. Everyone else is you on the Universal level. So for you to restrict them is to restrict yourself. “Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt” (Liber AL vel Legis I:22). Treat the other person as One and the Same with you in Essence, while utterly distinct from you in Form. How? As the old saying goes, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” In other words, there are always multiple ways that you could accomplish your goal. To do your will is to choose a way that doesn’t prevent other people from skinning their cats. (Unfortunately, in the current, stifling and oppressive climate, the obvious needs to be pointed out: to offend other people without interfering with them is perfectly permissible. You are not responsible for other people’s emotions and thoughts; just don’t interfere with their autonomous actions. Speech acts such as bullying, intimidation, and shouting someone down while he or she is trying to speak cross the line into interference. Expressing an unpopular opinion does not.) ‘Doing your Will’ on Earth is just a placeholder for disciplining your ego to act in acknowledgement of your ignorance of others’ Will (and frequently also your own), all within a context of universal sovereignty. You know that everyone has a Will. Simply: don’t do anything that could prevent anyone from doing it.
Since “doing your Will” first requires that you have an ego, a corollary is that you should not “allow others to do their will first” when those others are young children. Obviously, young children do have a Will, since they have a Lot in life. That Will is even reflected in their proclivities. There are stories of babies being presented with various objects—a sword, a sacred rattle, etc.—to uncover their destiny, by seeing which item they reach for. As such, it’s a great idea for parents to pay attention to their young child’s proclivities and to study the child’s astrological sun sign so as to support the child’s basic nature harmoniously. Regardless, you cannot “allow them to do their Will first” in the sense under discussion here, since they have not yet developed an ego. Typically, the development of a proper ego for Thelemic purposes occurs around the onset of puberty, and then it further develops and strengthens over the years to come. It is for you as a parent to decide how to “allow” your preteen or teen child “to do his or her Will first” in proper proportion to the actual maturity of his or her ego. As you tackle this difficult challenge, I hope you recognize the sacredness of your role in stewarding this facet of God.
Reflecting on many common situations in which you want to do something or other, it turns out the Law of Thelema often has little to say about the particulars. For example, you and another person come upon the same parking spot at the same time. For whatever reason, you both think you are the rightful occupant. I hope it is obvious by now that it is not your “Will” to have this parking spot. Nor is it the other person’s. Spice up the example however you want. You have a terribly important job interview, whereas the other person is just window shopping. Also, traffic was horrible. You are far later than you had intended. I really don’t care. Your lack of planning is never someone else’s emergency, and the Law of Thelema never becomes your club to hit someone else over the head with your greater importance. No matter how incredibly important you imagine you are in this moment, the window-shopper’s ego might be even more swollen than yours. It’s possible! Maybe the other person is packing a pistol. Does any of this make one or the other of you more deserving? No. There is no God up there deciding the question. There is no truth. The “truth” is, you are both One and the Same from the Law of Thelema’s perspective. Somehow, we humans are just going to have to struggle along figuring out how to be as decent as possible to one another without God’s help. But one thing is for certain. If you were to get seriously caught up in this stupid fight over a parking spot, you could forfeit your job opportunity. You could even end up in prison or dead. Would it have been worth it? In general, take care not to allow self-importance to derail your lifetime’s plan—whatever it may be. It’s all in your attitude. It is not wise to build an ego so hung up on being right and getting what it wants that the lifetime becomes useless for the Angel. How much time and energy are you going to waste getting bogged down in pointless bickering with other people? Enjoy yourself. Assert yourself, yes. Defend yourself vigorously when interfered with—if you can do so without getting maimed or killed needlessly. But don’t shoot yourself in the proverbial foot through egotistical foolishness. Pick your battles wisely. Play chess, so to speak. To do your Will, allow everyone else to do their Will first.
Love is the law, love under will. –AL I:57