the book

The Book of the Law

Liber AL vel Legis is the central sacred text of Thelema, written by Aleister Crowley in Cairo, Egypt in the year 1904. Its full title is Liber AL vel Legis, sub figura CCXX, as delivered by XCIII=418 to DCLXVI, and it is commonly referred to as The Book of the Law.

Liber AL vel Legis contains three chapters, each of which was written down in one hour, beginning at noon, on April 8, April 9, and April 10. Crowley claims that the author was an entity named Aiwass, whom he later referred to as his personal Holy Guardian Angel (or "Higher Self"). Biographer Lawrence Sutin quotes private diaries that fit this story, and writes that "if ever Crowley uttered the truth of his relation to the Book," his public account accurately describes what he remembered on this point. The teachings within this small book are expressed as the Law of Thelema, usually encapsulated by these two phrases:

  • "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" (AL I:40) and
  • "Love is the law, love under will" (AL I:57)

The original title of the book was Liber L vel Legis. Crowley retitled it Liber AL vel Legis in 1921, when he also gave the handwritten manuscript the title Liber XXXI. The book is often referred to simply as Liber AL, Liber Legis or just AL, though technically the latter two refer only to the manuscript.

The writing of Liber Legis

The summons

According to Crowley, the story began on March 16, 1904, when he tried to "shew the Sylphs" by means of a ritual to his wife, Rose. Although she could see nothing, she did seem to enter into a light trance and repeatedly said, "They're waiting for you!" Since Rose had no interest in magic or mysticism, he took little interest. However, on the 18th, after invoking Thoth (the god of knowledge), she mentioned Horus by name as the one waiting for him. Crowley, still skeptical, asked her numerous questions about Horus, which she answered accurately — without having any prior study of the subject. Crowley also gives a different chronology, in which an invocation of Horus preceded the questioning. Lawrence Sutin says this ritual described Horus in detail, and could have given Rose the answers to her husband's questions. The final proof was Rose’s identification of Horus in the Stèle of Revealing, then housed in the Cairo Museum with the exhibit number 666.

On March 20, Crowley invoked Horus, “with great success.” Between March 23 and April 8, Crowley had the hieroglyphs on the Stele translated. Also, Rose revealed that her “informant” was not Horus himself, but his messenger, Aiwass. Finally, on April 7, Rose gave Crowley his instructions—for three days he was to enter the “temple” and write down what he heard between noon and 1:00 p.m.

The writing

Crowley wrote The Book of the Law on April 8, 9, and 10 of 1904 between the hours of noon and 1:00 pm. The place was the flat where he and his new wife were staying for their honeymoon, which he described as being near the Boulak Museum in a fashionable European quarter of Cairo, let by the firm Congdon & Co. The apartment was on the ground floor, and the "temple" was the drawing room.

Crowley described the encounter in detail in The Equinox of the Gods, saying that as he sat at his desk in Cairo, the voice of Aiwass came from over his left shoulder in the furthest corner of the room. This voice is described as passionate and hurried, and was "of deep timbre, musical and expressive, its tones solemn, voluptuous, tender, fierce or aught else as suited the moods of the message. Not bass—perhaps a rich tenor or baritone. Further, the voice was devoid of "native or foreign accent," perhaps meaning that it was similar to his own (as in British).

Crowley also got a "strong impression" of the speaker's general appearance. Aiwass had a body composed of "fine matter," which had a gauze-like transparency. Further, he "seemed to be a tall, dark man in his thirties, well-knit, active and strong, with the face of a savage king, and eyes veiled lest their gaze should destroy what they saw. The dress was not Arab; it suggested Assyria or Persia, but very vaguely.

Crowley also makes it very clear that it was not "automatic writing," but that the experience was exactly like an actual voice speaking to him. This is evidenced by several errors about which the scribe actually had to inquire. He does admit to the possibility that Aiwass was a manifestation of his own subconscious, although he thought this was unlikely:

Of course I wrote them, ink on paper, in the material sense; but they are not My words, unless Aiwaz be taken to be no more than my subconscious self, or some part of it: in that case, my conscious self being ignorant of the Truth in the Book and hostile to most of the ethics and philosophy of the Book, Aiwaz is a severely suppressed part of me. Such a theory would further imply that I am, unknown to myself, possessed of all sorts of praeternatural knowledge and power.

Changes to the manuscript

The final version of Liber Legis includes text that did not appear in the original writing, including many small changes to spelling. In several cases, stanzas from the Stele of Revealing were inserted within the text. For example, chapter 1, page 2, line 9 was written as "V.1. of Spell called the Joy" and was replaced with:

Above, the gemmed azure is
The naked splendour of Nuit;
She bends in ecstasy to kiss
The secret ardours of Hadit.
The winged globe, the starry blue,
Are mine, O Ankh-af-na-khonsu!

On page 6 of chapter 1, the following is in the original manuscript:

And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the unfragmentary non-atomic fact of my universality. along with a note: Write this in whiter words But go forth on.

This was later changed to:

And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the omnipresence of my body. (AL I:26)

Again in chapter 1, on page 19, Crowley writes, (Lost 1 phrase) The shape of my star is—. Later, it was Rose who filled in the lost phrase:

The Five Pointed Star, with a Circle in the Middle, & the circle is Red. (AL I:60)

Chapter 2 has very few changes or corrections. Chapter 3 has a few spelling changes, and includes large chunks inserted from Crowley's paraphrase of The Stele of Revealing.

Interpretation of Liber Legis

Thanks in large part to The Comment, interpretation of the often cryptic text is generally considered a matter for the individual reader. Lately in the 21st century, this sentiment has loosened considerably, and many find it beneficial to create their own commentaries on Liber AL including IAO131's Psychological Commentary on Liber AL vel Legis and the Scarlet Sisterhood commentary However, Crowley wrote about Liber AL in great detail throughout the remainder of his life, attempting to decipher its mysteries. He became convinced that Liber Legis introduced a spiritual Law comparable with those spoken by Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed, and that the Book was itself to be the basis of all modern religion: "This Book is the foundation of the New Aeon, and thus of the whole Work.

The general method that Crowley used to interpret the obscurities of Liber AL was the Qabalah, especially its numerological method of gematria. He writes, "Many such cases of double entendre, paronomasia in one language or another, sometimes two at once, numerical-literal puzzles, and even (on one occasion) an illuminating connexion of letters in various lines by a slashing scratch, will be found in the Qabalistic section of the Commentary. In Magick Without Tears, he wrote:

Now there was enough comprehensible at the time to assure me that the Author of the Book knew at least as much Qabalah as I did: I discovered subsequently more than enough to make it certain without error that he knew a very great deal more, and that of an altogether higher order, than I knew; finally, such glimmerings of light as time and desperate study have thrown on many other obscure passages, to leave no doubt whatever in my mind that he is indeed the supreme Qabalist of all time.

The speakers

Although the "messenger" of AL was Aiwass, the Book presents several personalities that are the primary speakers. The key three are the central godforms of the three chapters, Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. The first chapter is spoken by Nuit, the Egyptian goddess of the night sky, called the Queen of Space. Crowley names her the "Lady of the Starry Heaven, who is also Matter in its deepest metaphysical sense, who is the infinite in whom all we live and move and have our being.

This chapter also introduces:

The second chapter is spoken by Hadit, who refers to himself as the "complement of Nu," his bride. As such, he is the infinitely condensed point, the center of her infinite circumference. Crowley says of him, "He is eternal energy, the Infinite Motion of Things, the central core of all being. The manifested Universe comes from the marriage of Nuit and Hadit; without this could no thing be. This eternal, this perpetual marriage-feast is then the nature of things themselves; and therefore everything that is, is a crystallization of divine ecstasy" and "He sees the expansion and the development of the soul through joy.

Ra-Hoor-Khuit is the third speaker, identified as the Crowned and Conquering Child, and the god of War and of Vengeance. Crowley sums up the speakers of the three chapters thus, "we have Nuit, Space, Hadit, the point of view; these experience congress, and so produce Heru-Ra-Ha, who combines the ideas of Ra-Hoor-Khuit and Hoor-paar-Kraat.

The Comment

Based on several passages, including: "My scribe Ankh-af-na-khonsu, the priest of the princes, shall not in one letter change this book; but lest there be folly, he shall comment thereupon by the wisdom of Ra-Hoor-Khuit" (AL I:36), Crowley felt compelled to interpret AL in writing. He wrote two large sets of commentary, where he attempted to decipher each line, usually according to his own understanding of the Qabalah.

However, he was not satisfied with these attempts. In 1912, he prepared AL and his current comments on it for publication in The Equinox, I(7). He recalls in his Confessions (p. 674) that he thought the existing commentary was "shamefully meagre and incomplete." He later explains, "I had stupidly supposed this Comment to be a scholarly exposition of the Book, an elucidation of its obscurities and a demonstration of its praeterhuman origin. I understand at last that this idea is nonsense. The Comment must be an interpretation of the Book intelligible to the simplest minds, and as practical as the Ten Commandments. Moreover, this Comment should be arrived at "inspirationally," as the Book itself had been.

Years later in 1925 while in Tunis, Crowley received his inspiration. He published what was to become called simply The Comment (which is also called the Short Comment or Tunis Comment), and signed it as Ankh F N Khonsu (lit. "He Lives in Khonsu"—a historical priest who lived in Thebes in the 26th dynasty, the creator of the Stele of Revealing). It advises the reader against the "study" of the Book and states that those who "discuss the contents" should be shunned. The result is the common idea that interpretation of this often cryptic book is a responsibility for the reader alone. Some Thelemites ignore the Comment.

Editions

  • Weiser Books (Reissue edition; May 1987; ISBN 0-87728-334-6)
  • Weiser Books (100th Anniversary edition; March 2004; ISBN 1-57863-308-7)
  • Mandrake of Oxford (April 1992; paperback; ISBN 1-869928-93-8)

Liber AL is also published in many books, including:

  • The Equinox (III:10). (2001). York Beach, ME : S. Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-719-8
  • The Holy Books of Thelema (Equinox III:9). (1983). York Beach, ME : S. Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-579-9
  • Magick : Liber ABA, Book Four, Parts I-IV. (1997). York Beach, ME : S. Weiser. ISBN 0-87728-919-0

And at least one out-of-print audio version common on eBay:

  • The Book of the Law Vondel Park Audio Book 2003

See also

Notes

References

External links

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