The Heretic’s Guide to Thelema
By Gerald Del Campo
PB, 440pages, Megalithica Books
By Nina Lazarus for the Esoteric Book Review
When this book landed on my desk a few weeks ago I put it aside as a book I wanted to review, see I have always been interested in the work of Aleister Crowley, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) and the system of magickal thought called “Thelema”. This book is billed as a personal account and journey of the author through the world of Thelema and is also billed as being a fresh and alternative perspective. Alternative perspectives on any religious or philosophic system is always interesting, always a good way of trying to find the middle ground that is “The Truth” – after all there are three Truths: Your Truth, My Truth and The Truth. So I thought I would go in search of it.
Having said that this is a heretical guide I expected to find something different and something out of the ordinary, something which goes against – rather than with – the grain. I found a book, well written in places, full of deep experience and spiritual thought – and full of seemingly unwarrented singlemindedness here and there too. All the same, lets see what this book is about then.
“The Heretic’s Guide to Thelema includes the classic New Aeon magick and the controversial New Aeon English Qabalah. In this edition, we have also included the never before published The Ethics of Thelema..”
(From the back blurb)
Right, so how does this measure up?
New Aeon Magick was and is a great book which makes an ideal introduction to the philosophy and magickal thought of Thelema. Like most introductions to Magick it contains little bits of wisdom of this and that system, including the Qabalah. The Chapter “Why Thelema” looks into the various ideas surrounding the different Aeons – The Aeon of Isis, The Aeon of Osiris, The Aeon of Horus and the Aeon of Maat. Various practical exercises in basic ritual later, all well presented and with some very useful illustrations we come to the end of that book.
Then we get to New Aeon Qabalah. I am not sure that I feel the same importance as Del Campo towards this system of gematria. There are some interesting ideas in there, though I think the use of the English Qabalah is not necessarily as amazing as it might seem on the surface. There are more interesting and plausable (and less known) systems of gematria which might better be applied to Liber Al, with better results in terms of Thelema and its philosophies and key texts. Using only the range of 1-26 gives a low range of numbers to apply to words, therefore a higher ratio of “coincidence” which then becomes less significant than the Greek, Hebrew or Prime Qabalah systems. New English Qabalah is only fractionally more useful in this sense than standard numerology, a very basic system which would suit beginners who are working with gematria for the first time, but who are not that keen on mathematics. Some interesting results which are worthy of investigation though.
The Ethics of Thelema is the last of the three books in this book. I entered this final phase of the book with my toes curling and my ears twitching. I thought the idea of Thelema was “Do What Thou Wilt” and that within that each individual would and should find his or her own ethics as a result. After all:
There is no law but do what thou wilt!
Well, not according to this author. Del Campo raises a number of interesting ideas and philosophies around standard concepts such as honour. His religious ideas are like poetry, unless the poet is a master of his art the poetry though steeped in meaning for the poet and those who know him, looses its magick when it is read by others. I feel like my eyes must have been that of the profane, as I did not understand the importance he attached to certain ideals, though it might be that with time and more study I will. Its just for me, Thelema is “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law, Love is the Law, Love under Will” and I feel that each should be left to its own devices for the interpretation thereof, rather than turning it into what could become a slavish religious system otherwise.
All and all this is a book I did get quite a lot from, I rarely review books unless it stirs something within me. I am going to spend this weekend with some hot chocolate and a glass or two of good red wine and reread it. I feel like I am missing something. Maybe the author just didn’t say everything he wanted to say, maybe he was holding back on something essential. Maybe I missed it.
An interesting work of modern magick without a doubt, The Heretic’s Guide to Thelema is available from Immanion Press, Amazon and many good bookshops.