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Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.
True Will is one of the core doctrines of Thelema. Thelema of course means 'will', and "Do what thou wilt" is the law of Thelema as laid out in the Book of the Law and elsewhere.
Interestingly, the phrase “true will” does not actually appear anywhere in the Book of the Law, but Crowley wrote extensively about it. In Book 4, Crowley says:
"The theory is that every man and every woman has each definite attributes whose tendency, considered in due relation to environment, indicates a proper course of action in each case. To pursue this course of action is to do one's True Will."
People get involved in Thelema for a variety of reasons: interest in the occult, magical practice, pursuit of personal freedom, rebelling against tradition, seeking the society of like-minded individuals, etc. But behind it all, and implicit in the acceptance of the law of Thelema, there is the overarching concept that we are all here to find and do our wills. All of the practices, all the acquired knowledge, every ritual and ordeal, all the magical and mundane work we do, all of it can be directed toward that aim.
True will is sometimes described as a person’s “destiny” or the “reason why we are here” which gives a misleading impression of it being one special star-struck thing about ourselves. More accurately, true will is said to be the essence of who we are. I think of true will being the distinct and unique core aspect of self which is the basis for our most authentic thoughts and actions. By understanding that basis, and then aligning the parts of our lives we have control over in accord with it, we can function most efficiently and accomplish the Great Work.
For as well-known and often discussed as true will is, it can be somewhat hard to make sense of in our everyday lives. How do we distinguish between our conscious will (lower case) and our (upper case) Will? It can be tricky to know when a desire to do or have something is an expression of Will. It could be my will to sit on the couch all weekend, eat potato chips, and watch Netflix, right?
There is the idea that, just like magick (which we are doing all the time whether we know it or not), we are doing our wills all the time as well at some level whether we know it or not. For the most part I tend to agree with this view. The Holy Guardian Angel is patient and will wait for us for as long as it takes. Some might argue then, why make the effort if it doesn't matter whether or not we deliberately try to know and do our true will, since we are doing it anyway?
Theoretically, this may be so, and if “all roads lead to Rome” then it’s true that we will get to Knowledge and Conversation eventually. However, this line of thought can be used to excuse all kinds of bad behavior, because “Hey, it’s my will to be an asshole.” That is just letting the ego driving the bus. And even more the point of what Crowley was all about in Book 4, unfocused thought and action is a major waste of time.
"A man whose conscious will is at odds with his True Will, is wasting his strength. He cannot hope to influence his environment efficiently." — Crowley, Theory of Magick
If someone is not doing their will, the universe will correct their course at some point. When that happens, it might be more painful than it would be if we had taken steps otherwise. There is benefit then to figuring this stuff out.
To find your will, honest self-observation and self-analysis is required. The famous Greek phrase “Know Thyself” and the spirit of self-discovery is integrated into our magical work. Membership in magical orders is one way to find answers within a structured program. For the solo practitioner, much of this is done on our own, in a fuck around and find out manner, but it doesn’t hurt to take a more organized approach with tools that are available. Exercises found in Dr. David Shoemaker’s book Living Thelema can help identify important guideposts. For example, ask yourself:
Is there a consistent, repeated effect that you have on your environment, or the people around you?
Fire burns, water wets, air moves...if you are a natural force like this, what do you do?
Look for recurring themes in your life, interests that consistently drive you or inspire you.
Ask your friends what they think your strengths and weaknesses are. Ask your enemies.
It is useful to understand what true will is not. True will is not our job. It is not our house, or where we live, or who we sleep with, our income bracket, or the car we drive, or the things we do as hobbies. Keep in mind that Will is more about who we are and the center core state of being that we come from, and less about what we do or what we have. It can be tricky because these outer things like jobs and hobbies can legitimately be extensions or reflection of Will. There is some nuance there, and it is a matter of degree. By turning the focus away from the outward things in our lives, and concentrating on the inner core of self, we can perhaps more easily do the difficult part of the work which involves removing those things that are not in line with our true will.
I had an exchange with a student who had questions about true will. They were uncertain because in trying to analyze their tendencies, they felt that they had nothing leading in one direction or another. They were stuck without a clear idea of what to do. Should they move to a new city or stay put? Should they find a new job or not? None of the choices before them seemed to excite the flash of interest or passion that they expected would indicate true will.
My advice to them was to understand that figuring out our Will is an unfolding process. Rather than getting a big lightning bolt: THAT'S IT, one’s Will often will be a gradual revelation over time. It's OK that particular tendencies don't stand out right away when we look inside. Not knowing is much more common than knowing, especially at first. Don't over-think it. If in doubt, pick a direction that makes sense in your best judgement and go. Your Holy Guardian Angel will give you feedback if you are on the right road or not.
The HGA is helping us along the way if we listen. This help can come in the form of dreams, intuition, personal symbols, and feelings. It can also come to us as outward events, chance meetings, changes of circumstances, and also disasters and disruptions in our lives. Following our wills isn’t a guarantee of happiness or outward success. True will can take us in unexpected and uncomfortable, even painful, directions. The ego wants comfort and pleasure, but sometimes our Will is to experience something else.
Everyone’s mileage will be different, but I have found that, as I do the work and continue to grow as a magician, the direction to take at any time becomes more clear. Questions that I once may have had tend to fall away as irrelevant. The correct choice between several possibilities becomes more obvious. To me, this is one indication that the system is working and I am tracking toward my true will and a conscious connection with the HGA.
When one is committed to the law of Thelema, it only makes sense that we should be actively doing the work of self examination and self exploration, of finding and doing the true will. As it says in the Book of the Law:
“Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay. For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result is every way perfect.”
We pledge to explore the nature and powers of our being. True will is our nature, and there is power to be found in that exploration.
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