I was 17 when I bought my first Crowley book—Book 4. I had been browsing the occult and New Age sections of bookstores for more than a year looking for some book on Magick or witchcraft that seemed to be the “real deal.” Once I opened Book 4, I knew I had found it. I started buying every Crowley book I came across—The Book of Lies, The Book of the Law, 777. I read a lot but understood little.
This is the guide I wish I had back then, because Crowley’s collected works are so vast it’s difficult to know where to start. Some advice I wished I’d received back then would be to not worry about figuring out everything Crowley means at the beginning. Students study Crowley’s works for decades without understanding every last thing he meant. If you’re new to Crowley, try to read everything the first time through in a state of relaxation, like a poem whose meaning you don’t yet know but will be revealed in time through further study.
And please stay tuned to Aristocrats of the Soul. I’ll soon publish a post about the best beginner books about Thelema by authors other than Crowley.
Aleister Crowley Books to Read for Free Online
Crowley titles most of his books as liber, followed by a number. Liber is simply the Latin word for book, and there are a number of short books available for free online that are great starting places if you’re new to Crowley and Thelema.
Liber OZ is only one page, and every word is just one syllable. It’s Crowley showing his genius in the creation of a text to explain Thelema in words everyone can understand. This declaration of the rights of man is a Class E document, a category of Crowley’s writings that were specifically intended to give to the general public, who are typically unfamiliar with his more esoteric thought.
This essay is described by Crowley as “a note on the chief rules of practical conduct to be observed by those who accept the Law of Thelema.” It’s Thelemic ethics in a nutshell. “Duty” lays out your duty to yourself, to others, and even to the natural world, backed up by verses from The Book of the Law.
Another Class E document, this one is barely over one page. It describes two well-known phrases from The Book of the Law: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and “Love is the law, love under will.”
This is a revised Golden Dawn text described by Crowley as “a further explanation of The Book of the Law, with special reference to the Powers and Privileges conferred by its acceptance.” Another Class E document, it details how if your life is centered in the Law of Thelema, four rays or emanations spring forth—Light, Life, Love, and Liberty.
Aleister Crowley Books
These are books you should have a hard copy of. Mostly because they’re classics, but also because reading paper books facilitates intuitive comprehension while keeping you free from the distractions of the Internet. All of these are great additions to any Thelemic library.
The Book of the Law
1987: Weiser Books
In March 1904, Crowley and his first wife, Rose Edith Kelley, spent the night in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza where Crowley performed the Golden Dawn’s Bornless Ritual. Rose started going into trances, and told Crowley details about the Egyptian god Horus that she couldn’t have known on her own. A few weeks later, Rose gave Crowley instructions to go in his temple on April 8, 9 and 10, and write down what he heard between noon and 1 p.m. During that time, a being later identified by Crowley as his Holy Guardian Angel, Aiwass, appeared in the temple and audibly dictated The Book of the Law (Liber AL vel Legis).
There are three chapters to the book, spoken by the Thelemic deities Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Facsimile copies of the original, written in Crowley’s hand, are always published at the end of authorized copies of The Book of the Law. In the A∴A∴ syllabus Crowley said, “This book is the foundation of the New AEon, and thus of the whole of our Work.” It’s a cryptic book, so don’t think you’ll get everything after one, five, or even 100 readings. Thelemites will often put a copy of Liber Legis on their altars, so it’s important to have a hard copy of this most sacred book of Thelema.
If you’re just buying one book to get started, however, I’d recommend The Law is for All (below) since it includes The Book of the Law in its entirety at the end.
The Law is for All
1996: New Falcon
The Law is for All is Crowley’s commentary on The Book of the Law. The entire Book of the Law is included, as Crowley takes it verse by verse, explaining some of the more obscure meanings. The original editor, Louis Wilkinson, wrote that the aim of the commentary “is to guide the reader along the path of the discovery of his own true will, in accordance with which, and only in accordance with which, he can rightly think and act.” This is one of my favorite Thelemic books, and one I highly recommend as a primer on Thelemic ontology and ethics.
Magick Without Tears
1991: New Falcon
In the 1940s, Crowley exchanged letters with some of his female students (thus the salutation “Cara Soror” which means “dear sister” in Latin). Since the letters were written to students, Crowley is about as lucid and simple as he ever gets. And since the letters were written shortly before his death in 1947, they represent the summation of his thought. It’s another must-read for beginners to Magick and Thelema. Topics covered include:
- Dealing with family members who don’t understand your dedication to Magick
- Thelemic morality
- Astral travel
- The Black Brothers
- And many more subjects.
Eight Lectures on Yoga
1992: New Falcon
This book isn’t about “bendy yoga” that’s done for exercise. It’s about Raja Yoga, including the eight limbs of yoga as described in the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. Originally eight lectures given in London in 1937, Crowley articulates the purpose of yoga, how yoga relates to Thelema, mantra yoga, and other practices that are part of the A∴A∴ curriculum. Since the lectures were given to a general audience, this is also one of Crowley’s easiest books to understand. Eight Lectures on Yoga is also filled with a lot of British humor.
Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary
2006: Weiser Books
Keeping a magical diary is one of the most fundamental magical practices, and one you can start right now. Although a magical diary is the foundation of all magical work it’s rarely talked about, which is why this book is so important. Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary contains John St. John, Crowley’s magical diary while he was staying in Paris. In addition to recounting Crowley’s practices with pranayama and meditation, he talks about going shopping and dealing with women. Crowley said it was “a perfect model of what a magical record should be.” Also in this volume is A Master of the Temple, excerpts from the magical diary of Frater Achad (Charles Stansfeld Jones) when he was a Probationer in the A∴A∴, along with Crowley’s comments.
The Book of Thoth
1974: Samuel Weiser
The Thoth Tarot is one of Crowley’s most magnificent achievements. Painted by Lady Frieda Harris over five years (1938 to 1943) per Crowley’s instructions, the cards are the most beautiful and Qabalistically precise Tarot deck. In The Book of Thoth, Crowley gives a detailed description of the symbolism of each of the Atu (Trump cards), and explains each of the Court cards and small cards. He also talks at length about the history of the Tarot and how it relates to the Tree of Life. Appendix A gives a method of divination and divinatory meanings of the Atu. Appendix B provides numerous correspondences.
Magick: Liber ABA, Book 4
1998: Weiser Books
Part I, “Mysticism,” covers the eight limbs of yoga and is fairly accessible for beginners. Part II, “Magick (Elementary Theory),” details the temple, circle, altar, and magical implements. Part III, “Magick in Theory and Practice” covers magical formulae, the magical theory of the Universe, banishings, purifications, invocations, consecrations, the meaning of gestures used in Ceremonial Magick, the Body of Light, and the Eucharist. If you’re new to Magick and Thelema, the sections on Magick will be difficult to understand since they contain a lot of abstract theory rather than just pragmatic instructions. Expect to read Parts II and III numerous times over your journey as a magician. The Book of the Law and a short biography of Crowley are in Part IV, and it’s a good read for those new to Thelema.
The appendices make up close to half of Book 4. They include the A∴A∴ curriculum, the O.T.O. curriculum, tables of Qabalistic correspondences, Thelemic rituals like the Star Ruby and Reguli, an account of Crowley’s reception of The Book of the Law, as well as important Thelemic texts, including:
- Liber Samekh
- The Gnostic Mass
- Liber HHH
- Liber E
- Liber O
- Liber Astarte
- Liber Thisharb
The General Principles of Astrology
2002: Weiser Books
Crowley’s book on astrology is a superior choice to Parker’s Astrology or The Only Astrology Book You’ll Ever Need. Like most popular books on the subject, Crowley’s General Principles of Astrology details attributes of the planets through all 12 signs of the zodiac, giving particular attention to the rising signs. At the end of the book, 193 natal charts of famous artists, philosophers, and world leaders are provided for further study. While General Principles of Astrology isn’t usually on lists of recommended Crowley books, I’m including it here since it’s easy to understand and makes a good choice for an introduction to some Thelemic principles for those with an interest in astrology.
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Gems from the Equinox is another title that’s often recommended for beginners. Comprised of selections from The Equinox (“The Review of Scientific Illuminism”), you can find everything in it for free online, and many of the texts are included in the books mentioned above. Most of the selections in it are fairly short, meaning you can read them for free online or print them out without sacrificing readability. Whenever I’ve done used any of the material in Gems, I’ve printed it off anyway to make it easier to carry around and read on the go. If you’re on a limited budget, I recommend getting some of the other titles above first.
If you’re just getting started with Crowley’s work, don’t expect to understand everything from the beginning. Just read, practice the rituals, and come back to the texts again and again. Each time you return, you’ll understand more and discover new wisdom.