Demon, photo by Orin Zebest

Let’s get something straight. Thelema is most certainly satanic, but it is not in any way, whatsoever, Satanism. Now, I am sure many reading this statement will ask, what’s the difference? The answer lies in the role Satan plays.

With my Hawk’s head I peck at the eyes of Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.

Aleister Crowley, Liber AL vel Legis, III:51

Satanism, as represented by Christianity and by self-proclaimed Satanists, revolves around the figure of Satan, regardless of whether Satan is considered objectively real or solely mythological. Satan is real and the focus of worship, according to the Christians, and in institutional Satanism, Satan is either a central model, but is unreal, such as in the Church of Satan; or is real and has an active role in the initiation of the individual as in the Temple of Set. Then there are the many, many other Satan-focused groups where Satan plays an important role in some fashion. All these forms of Satanism are satanic. They reject, or even oppose the doctrine and practices of Christianity and are associated with Satan in some form. But not all religions or groups that are satanic are forms of Satanism.

Our religion therefore, for the People, is the Cult of the Sun, who is our particular star of the Body of Nuit, from whom, in the strictest scientific sense, come this earth, a chilled spark of Him, and all our Light and Life. His vice-regent and representative in the animal kingdom is His cognate symbol the Phallus, representing Love and Liberty. Ra-Hoor-Khuit, like all true Gods, is therefore a Solar-Phallic deity.

Aleister Crowley, New Comment to Liber AL, verse III:22

Thelema is a solar-phallic gnostic religio-philosophy, or religion as some prefer to call it. It opposes the beliefs and practices of Christianity — among other religions — and offers in its place the central role of the individual and the procreative aspects of life, symbolized by both the sun and the phallus. It is satanic because it opposes the assertions of Judaism and Christianity regarding the role God, Jesus, original sin, and so forth, and values the myth of Satan as one who rebelled again Jehovah. Thelema rejects all these notions that enslave humanity to a deity that would demand certain beliefs and actions and punish those who disobey. Satan represents the rejection of this belief system and the exultation of the individual. Is Satan central to Thelema? No. Is Satan mentioned in Thelema? Yes, frequently.

It is also to be considered that Nu is connected with North, while Had is Sad, Set, Satan, Sat (equals “Being” in Sanskrit), South. He is then the Sun, one point concentring Space, as also is any other star. The word ABRAHADABRA is from Abrasax, Father Sun, which adds to 365.

ibid., verse I:1

Satan, as illustrated above, is often lumped together with other deities from various mythologies (including Christianity) and is organized according to classical characteristics. Satan is associated with the south, with the element fire or air.1 These are also the elements associated with the Egyptian god, Ra, the sun. So is Satan important in the Thelemic system? Yes. Is he the central figure or model worshipped? No. Satan is just one deity of many associated with some aspect of the solar-phallus which is the central idea or thing worshipped in Thelema. This becomes even more apparent when one examines the suggested rituals of Thelema devised by Aleister Crowley. They mention numerous deities and names of God, but rarely does Satan comes up, and usually only in commentaries.2 So why does Satan come up in the first place? Thelema uses the divine names, images, stories and characteristics of a variety of religions and mythologies in its literature and practice. The central deities in Liber AL, are represented as Egyptian. Crowley frequently makes reference to classical mythologies of the Greeks and Romans—such as in his Hymn to Pan, or his use of the Greek name, To Mega Therion. But probably the most influential mythology informing and underlying Thelema is that of the Abrahamic myths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is apparent in a variety of places including Crowley’s moniker, The Great Beast, a reference to the Book of Revelation. Other influences on Thelema directly related to Christianity are its millennialism, its emphasis on texts, and the use of certain names and actions in ritual, including the Gnostic Mass, which was modelled on a Christian Eucharistic ceremony. Crowley’s own background and the immersion in fundamentalist Protestantism resulted in a significant Christian influence on Thelema. Sometimes this manifested in symbolism, action, or belief. Other times it emerged as a distinct anti-Christian rhetoric, action, or belief. This is why the symbol of Satan, as the adversary or rebel to the Christian god, was a frequent theme in Crowley’s work. Those who try to downplay Satan’s presence in Thelemic material are trying to white wash Thelema’s distinct anti-Christian nature and the valuing of the myth of Satan. But being anti-Christian, however, does not mean Thelema is a form of Satanism. It does, however, mean that Thelema is certainly satanic. Ultimately the difference comes down to semantics. Do Thelemites worship Satan — as deity or otherwise? No. Is Satan a common and potent symbol in Thelemic literature? Yes. For some, the simple mention of Satan in a positive light is enough to claim Thelema is a form of Satanism. This type of thinking, however, would also mean that Thelema is an Egyptian religion, as it frequently mentions Egyptian deities; is a Hellenistic religion, as it frequently references classical Greek deities; as well as a Roman religion and a form of Islam, because all these mythologies are referenced positively in Thelemic literature. Thelemic literature values the myth of Satan, its symbolism and narrative without immediately jumping to the worship of Satan. Thus, Thelema is satanic but is not a form of Satanism. Image credit: Orin Zebest

  1. In a footnote in 777, Aleister Crowley writes, “In The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage (tom. II cap. XIX) are tabulated the names of various Evil Spirits: chief among these are the “Four Princes and Superior Spirits”, to wit Lucifer, Leviathan, Satan and Belial who may perhaps be referred to the Elements (I would suggest fire, water, air, earth respectively).” []
  2. One example is the following footnote in Liber V vel Reguli, “In LA note that Saturn or Satan is exalted in the House of Venus or Astarté and it is an airy sign. Thus L is Father-Mother, Two and Naught, and the Spirit (Holy Ghost) of their Love is also Naught.” Notice how Satan is just one deity of many mentioned in this one sentence. To Mega Therion is Greek for “The Great Beast.” []


  1. This is very well said, and important to understand. It also helped me clarify why I am led to keep a respectful distance from Thelema: To the extent that I may be said to have a “religion,” it would be of a Lunar-yonic character.

    • I too have mixed feelings about Thelema. I can get behind the satanic elements, rebellion, and the solar-ego aspects, but where it falls down for me is its limitations for anyone without a penis. As you’ve noted, Thelema is explicitly phallus-centred. This leaves women, trans*, genderqueer and other gender categories sidelined. At best women are portrayed as whores or passive partners, both in the literature and in the rites as practiced by the OTO. But that’s for another essay!

      This aside, the constant appeals to satanic imagery in Thelema is something that often raises questions. This is a great response that challenges many of the assumptions people make, and places Crowley’s interest satanic mythology in context.

      • I think you are confusing Thelema with the OTO. The OTO does not represent the totality of Thelema and is but one interpretation of it. Another common confusion is conflating Crowley’s ideas with Thelema. Many modern Thelemites are comfortable tossing Crowley’s sexism, racism and overall victorian baggage out while at the same time delving deeply into our Holy Books (the class A documents) to get at the heart of Thelema by forging personal relationships and interpretations of the current. For us, calling Thelema satanic makes about as much sense as calling Islam Judiasm. Sure, they share some common or very similar source documents, but each tradition has developed, and continue to develop being living traditions, in their own unique way. Personally, Satanism is an outcrop of Christianity and has absolutely nothing to do with my Thelemic path. Thelema is a syncretic religion using highly symbolic language, which might have deeper meanings than the obvious definitions on the surface. Of course, we are each free to form our own interpretations.

        • I’m not confusing them, but the OTO is the most public face of Thelema, much like the various churches present a more codified and public than the practices of private Christians. But I’d love to hear more about a Thelema that’s divorce itself from Crowley’s Edwardian gender biases. Would you be interested in writing about that for Spiral Nature? Hit me up at editor at spiralnature dot com and I can send you more details. We pay! (A bit.)

      • Actually, in a lot of Thelemic ritual, such as the star ruby the “phallus” is more refering to the creative impulse, the generative principle, and the so called “masculine” force, which are both not actually gendered despite the gendered names given to them. In commentary on the star ruby this is explicitly mentioned. You don’t have to have a dick to get the most out of thelema, even though it sounds like it on the surface.

        Within the OTO you can also become a priest or priestess regardless of assigned gender. So it is very trans inclusive, and if anyone tells you you can’t be whichever role that you most identify as, you can talk to your bishop, or someone even higher up if you still run into trouble, and get it sorted out. Like, my girlfriend is planning on taking the priest’s path, and no one has any problem with it.

        Although Babalon is depicted as a whore, and sometimes referred to as symbolising the liberated woman, it doesn’t mean that we see women as whores. Any group acting in that manner needs to get their shit together and realize that that’s a very un-thelemic view. I know there are some bodies within the OTO that are “men’s clubs”, but there’s been a lot of work recently to try and change that.

      • It certainly includes women. Nuit is woman therefore woman is primary. There could be no solar-phallic anything with woman.

    • I guess you didn’t read the article very well, and that if you have read any Crowley, you didn’t understand that, either.

      Not that Crowley was a big fan of being “understood.” ;-)

  2. Isn’t this less important than the material in Crowley’s work that really disturbs people? His opposition to equality and egalitarianism, his racism, sexism, and antisemitism, his contempt for kindness, charity, and compassion, and his belief in hierarchies and violence all seem like a bigger deal than the symbolic discussion here, don’t they?

      • Maybe, but which special snowflakes and how? I see a general trend in the Thelemic community -no matter which group or how it’s defined – moving away from Crowley for precisely these reasons: he’s too transgressive for this society and he violates its values and morals. We don’t care that he was gay, we are more unhappy with his elitism. We don’t care that he took drugs, but we are horrified at the way he supported the Blood libel. The people calling themselves Thelemites cannot enter into a discussion about this, because they find it so upsetting.

        • If you are not an elitist, you are not a Thelemite:

          220:II 19. Is a God to live in a dog? No! but the highest are of us. They shall rejoice, our chosen: who sorroweth is not of us.

          Do you realize this is talking about you, Keith? You are the one expressing sorrow at the inequality of the world. Sorrow that people say mean. racist things. Perhaps you should become a Buddhist, or some other snugly religion that cares about the weak and their feelings.

          220:II 21. We have nothing with the outcast and the unfit: let them die in their misery. For they feel not. Compassion is the vice of kings: stamp down the wretched & the weak: this is the law of the strong: this is our law and the joy of the world. Think not, o king, upon that lie: That Thou Must Die: verily thou shalt not die, but live. Now let it be understood: If the body of the King dissolve, he shall remain in pure ecstasy for ever. Nuit! Hadit! Ra-Hoor-Khuit! The Sun, Strength & Sight, Light; these are for the servants of the Star & the Snake.

          “Which special snowflakes?” The ones you have defined. Those false Thelemites who try to appease the world with a soft stance. Pseudo-Thelemites like you, Keith, who think that elitism is a bad thing, who think that Jews, women and negros are so weak and special that they must be protected, who think that morals are important and not just some arbitrary measure, the traitors inside the gates who can’t discuss that which upsets them.

          • I am not a Thelemite myself, though I am slightly curious about it, and would like to ask who might “the strong” and “the weak” be, exactly? What ultimately defines strength in this instance? The power one inherits, or is simply granted without effort, or what one develops through one’s own struggles, in one’s own character? Because those who fall into the former category would often hinder or destroy the latter. Therefore, it would merely be a shallow allegiance to wherever the source of power is at any given time, regardless of the character that expresses it and whether any struggle has been made for it. So by your way of thinking, it seems anything with power, regardless of how it is developed and what it’s used for, is justified merely for having power, so it can be theocrats, capitalists, fascists, or whoever, no need to care, just masturbate to them being elite, correct?

          • Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
            Any man or woman who is doing their Will is a king regardless of outward appearance. The weak are those who sorrow, those with fear in their hearts, those who do not have a connection to their higher self and consequently do not have a connection to their Will. Those who are born as slaves have nothing but weak desires – want, not Will. Their consciousness cannot survive physical death, so it is all for nothing.
            You betray yourself when you say, “So by your way of thinking…” You don’t actually know ‘my way of thinking’ so this is an indicator that you are talking about yourself. You resent those with temporal power, while you lust for it yourself (a.k.a. Daddy Issues). That is why you project your masturbatory power fantasies onto me. It is easier to imagine me masturbating to Trump/Hitler/etc. speeches than it is to realize that it is you who worships and fears the supposedly elite class.

          • “If you are not an elitist, you are not a Thelemite” — Caligula
            Thank you Caligula, well said, it affirms other observations on the Net! Although an “elitist” in destroying ones own integrity — nothing achieved. A certain narcissism is a prerequisit, which is a handicap insofar that an effective collective achieving its best for its members cannot contain narcissists. The infightings and intrigues of O.T.O. are known to the outside, which is the main reason that the organization is usually left alone.

            Thank you, I tried to interpret what you tried to say. I’m glad you have taken up English as a second language and I wish you great success.
            It astounds me how sour, people like you get at the idea that there are elites. That is the real narcissism here. You demand that no one be acknowledged above you, no matter how much greater they might be. The natural Thelemite would think something completely different when confronted with the fact of inequality, “Yes, and how do I become better; is it possible that I might join a more elect rank?” Observation of the object of admiration, then imitation and union is a good formula. To act upon your Will! To genuinely love another being! The lesser person is incapable because he has no Will and he cannot love — only fear and jealousy are available to him.
            About the OTO: no one cares. They are just as flaky as you are.

    • Actaully you need to understand the ideas and concepts of the book of the law from a metaphoric perspective. It is the process of inward advance and development which is spoken of not an actual world. even crowley had trouble trying to see temporal correlation with the tome he wrote. it is a symbolical book meant to be read and translated into interior understandings. do not foster the begger in your heart stamp down the weak and the fearful in your gut. destroy the image of your mother and father so that your will can be free of such things.

      • None of these ideas were endorsed by Crowley and he specifically talked about implementing Thelemic morality in the real world. His entire commentaries on the Holy Books, Liber Al included, feature these changes in reality.

  3. I find that much of the online commentary on Thelema is based on lack of knowledge about Crowley himself. Has everyone forgotten that Crowley was a Mason & a member of the Golden Dawn, a close friend of Mathers its founder?? To understand Crowley & Thelema you have to study the Golden Dawn & know something about both freemasonry & eastern religions. Therein lie all the answers to what people find “confusing” about Crowley. There’s nothing mysterious about his approach at all, if you know all this background material. His teachings are an open book: a combination of Golden Dawn Qabbalah, hermeticism, & from Hinduism the desire to transcend dualism by embracing the dark side as well as the light.

  4. However it is not really worthy of note, that thelema has satanic traits. Really it is more notable that thelema does not carry taboos on the usage of symbols be it that they are sensible. Thelema has a number of traits woven into it but it cannot be characterized as satanic. It is, and ought be characterized first, as a path of mystic and magick method and understanding. The satan that is invoked in the minds of christains is not the same satan mentioned in the literature. Hence to use the word to characterize thelema is even more incorrect. Really you gain little understanding of thelema from such a perspective.

  5. There seems to be a huge misunderstanding to Thelema. As a matter of fact this is a play of words and a matter of perception. If simply possessing the name Satan in any way in your doctrine makes the religion satanic but not worshippers of Satan then couldn’t one say Christianity is “satanic”? After all their doctrine uses Satan numerous times in sermon and scripture. If you take your finger and put it above your head and rotate it in a circular motion clockwise you will notice it’s direction being clockwise. However, if you continue to rotate your finger in the same clockwise fashion but lower it so that you see it from a vantage point from above you will notice it is now rotating counter clockwise. What I am saying is everyone is entitled to their opinions for example Thelema and Christianity. I would like to speak on behalf of thelema. Thelema is in no way inherently bad or evil. Just as Christianity is in no way inherently bad or evil but is also responsible for times so rough on humanity that it came to be called the dark ages. Very little responsibility is taken on part of religious murder as it seems the more devout the sect is the more murder becomes negotiable . It’s all a matter of perception. What people cannot seem to get past is Aliester Crowley. The so called righteous religious beliefs say it is satanic or satanism and they use Aliester Crowley as their prime example. If you actually look at the core of what it is you would have to separate the lifestyle of Crowley from the message he proclaimed known primarily as thelema. He was a medium who transmitted a message from Aiwass.


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