Friday, March 27, 2009

Do What Thou Wilt

Grace, honour, praise, delight,
Here sojourn day and night.
Sound bodies lined
With a good mind,
Do here pursue with might
Grace, honour, praise, delight.
--Francois Rabelais
I discover today that Do What Thou Wilt originated not with Aleister Crowley, but with the French mystic poet philosopher Rabelais, he of the famous lines from The Music Man's PickaLittle song:

Alma: Chaucer

Ethel: Rabelais

Eulalie: Balzac!

Writes Rabelais concerning the Abbey at Theleme, built by the Giant Gargantua:

All their life was spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure. They rose out of their beds when they thought good; they did eat, drink, labour, sleep, when they had a mind to it and were disposed for it. None did awake them, none did offer to constrain them to eat, drink, nor to do any other thing; for so had Gargantua established it. In all their rule and strictest tie of their order there was but this one clause to be observed,

Do What Thou Wilt;
because men that are free, well-born, well-bred, and conversant in honest companies, have naturally an instinct and spur that prompteth them unto virtuous actions, and withdraws them from vice, which is called honour. Those same men, when by base subjection and constraint they are brought under and kept down, turn aside from that noble disposition by which they formerly were inclined to virtue, to shake off and break that bond of servitude wherein they are so tyrannously enslaved; for it is agreeable with the nature of man to long after things forbidden and to desire what is denied us.

Sir Francis Dashwood of the infamous Hellfire Club adopted the central law of Do What Thou Wilt and it became synonymous with licentiousness and immorality. Crowley has tried to rehabilitate the notion.

  • Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law"
  • "Love is the law, love under will"
  • "There is no Law beyond Do what thou wilt"
For Crowley, the Will was the innermost highest purpose. This is not a call to gratify base lusts and sinful desires, but to follow your bliss as Joseph Campbell famously said. In essence, it is a call to find existential meaning in one's life. And this in 1904!!!

Furthermore, He taught that the True Will of each individual was identified with the Holy Guardian Angel, a daimon unique to each individual

Those who have seen or read The Golden Compass, what think you of that?


iao131 said...


To go even a bit further back, St. Augustine wrote "Love, and do what thou wilt" about 14 centuries earlier... See the essay "The Antecedents of Thelema" (google it)

Michael Hacker said...

Apparently, this is indeed true!. I've also read the St. Augustine quote as "Love *God*, and do what thou wilt..."