The Triple Inequality

Originally published in Agapé vol. VII no. 2, August 1 2005 EV.

A key aspect of my magical work is the establishment of what I call the triple inequality, which is:

Crowley ≠ Thelema ≠ O.T.O.

That is, none of these three things are the same.[1] This may seem self-evident; after all, the first is a particular person, the second a philosophy or religion and its body of works and practice, and the third an initiatory fraternal organization. On its face, the proposition that any pair of these could be “equal” is absurd. It is just as clear, however, that the three are tightly linked.

Aleister Crowley founded Thelema and reoriented the O.T.O. toward Thelema. What’s more, the O.T.O. has, as members, some large fraction of the world’s Thelemites. It’s impossible to say how large a fraction that might be, since the definition of “Thelemite” is imprecise, and there is no way to know how many Thelemites are unaffiliated with any organization. However, I would guess that at least 10% of the world’s self-identified Thelemites are members of O.T.O., and would be willing to believe a fi gure as high as 50%.

Further, Crowley is identified as the Logos of the Aeon of Thelema; a sacred document of Thelema sets his writings as the sole permitted source of authoritative commentary on that Law.[2] Much of The Book of the Law appears to be intended as instruction to Crowley personally (though this is of course a ma er of opinion).

Matters become still more complex when one recognizes that, while the O.T.O. existed before Crowley became its leader, he very firmly put his stamp on it. Nearly all of our founding documents were written by him, as was the Gnostic Mass and much of the material in our initiations. The most important change he made was transforming the O.T.O. into an engine for the promulgation of the Law of Thelema. While its earlier purposes remained intact, they became intertwined with this new one to the extent that the distinctions are easy to miss.

In the above knot of influences arises the damaging confusion which the triple inequality attempts to resolve. People routinely and without apparent reservation make statements like the following:

  1. “The Law is for all, so it’s not right to put barriers on degree advancement.”

  2. “The O.T.O. should have a more stringent teaching curriculum; after all, Crowley insisted that his students study a great deal.”

  3. “Crowley slept with all his female followers, so Thelemic women should give themselves freely.”[3]

Put so baldly (and in the context of this essay), these probably seem laughable. They are, however, taken from personal experience—dismayingly frequent personal experience. The triple inequality serves as a means to look more critically at such statements, as follows:

“The Law is for all, so it’s not right to put barriers on degree advancement.”

Obviously, this conflates Thelema with the O.T.O.; the implicit position is that one cannot be a Thelemite without being a member of (and advancing in) O.T.O. Needless to say, this is entirely wrong. O.T.O. is a particular fraternal order which embraces Thelema, but it is not itself Thelema. One can be a perfect Thelemite without joining or advancing in the Order; two of the best Thelemites I’ve known chose to remain in the Minerval degree indefinitely, just for example.

Perhaps more importantly, identifying Thelema with O.T.O. limits the scope of both. Thelema happens inside each individual, though its results then refl ect outward. Expecting Thelema to manifest as the O.T.O. is like expecting love to manifest as a potion. It makes a nice fairy tale, but it is not how things work. O.T.O. is a vehicle or context which might work to further you along your own path (while your work contributes to the Order’s own ends), but it is not Thelema.

Still more importantly, O.T.O. includes many elements which have nothing whatsoever to do with Thelema per se; the entire pre-Crowley collection of initiatory secrets and instructions is still there, the heart and pillar of the O.T.O. Focusing only on the Thelemic aspects of O.T.O., one can easily miss a great deal of its power and beauty.

“The O.T.O. should have a more stringent teaching curriculum; a er all, Crowley insisted that his students study a great deal.”

This confuses Crowley’s own methods with those of O.T.O. Crowley utilized a number of educational strategies with his students at different phases of his career, some more successful, some less. But he and Reuss did not choose to enshrine these in the blueprint for O.T.O. Instead, our founding documents are largely silent on the topic of teaching and vague even when they do broach it. Thus, we are left to work out this problem on our own, as modern stewards of the O.T.O. Our decisions about how best to proceed need not be unduly influenced by how Crowley treated his students—or governed other orders, for that matter.

“Crowley slept with all his female followers, so Thelemic women should give themselves freely.”

This is perhaps the most pernicious, though it is usually encountered in less obviously manipulative forms. I think of this sort of error as the “Tommy syndrome,” after The Who’s rock opera. The basic idea can be expressed as the following false syllogism:

  1. Crowley did X.

  2. Crowley became a Magus.

  3. Therefore, if I do X, I will become a Magus.

Just as Tommy has the sadly comic image of blindfolded acolytes playing pinball and waiting for enlightenment to arrive, Thelema has those who get hooked on heroin, sleep with anything that moves, abandon their families, sponge off their friends, and wait to become Magi. This is the most dangerous misunderstanding of the three, as it involves failures of discrimination and balance. As a Thelemite, it is essential to pay attention to what Crowley has to tell us, but it is equally essential to view his advice in the context of one’s own life and situation. Most especially, it is critical to take a scientific and ruthlessly detached attitude toward evaluating the results of one’s work. If you are playing pinball or shooting up heroin and your world is falling apart around your ears, it might be time to try another path; what worked for Tommy or Crowley might be poisonous to you. “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion” isn’t just a catchy slogan—it is the secret to avoiding the most terrible of magical disasters. Science is not the key to infinite wisdom; it is the guard against infinite folly.

I hope this essay has provided some insight into what I mean by the “triple inequality,” and why I consider it to be so crucial. Perhaps I will live long enough to see all three sides of this triangle of error weakened; though I doubt very much they will be destroyed, so long as Crowley is remembered, Thelema practiced, and the O.T.O. extant.


1. Notational pedants will object that my formulation of this expression would allow Crowley and the O.T.O. to be equal; I chose visual simplicity over adding “≠ Crowley” at the end.

2. The Comment in Liber AL vel Legis: The Book of the Law.

3. Crowley didn’t actually do this, but that is a separate topic for another essay.