One reason that the question of same-sex marriage is so controversial is that different groups of people define marriage very differently. Marriage has a very particular meaning in Thelema which can inform our ideas and opinions about public policy concerning marriage.
The Mystic Marriage and the Marriage Feast
Crowley refers to both the mystic marriage and the marriage feast as symbols of the Great Work; that is, the union of microcosm and macrocosm; or, to put it another way, “to obtain a scientific knowledge of the nature and powers of [one's] own being.”
“The Tau and the circle together make one form of the Rosy Cross, the uniting of subject and object which is the Great Work, and which is symbolized sometimes as this cross and circle, sometimes as the Lingam-Yoni, sometimes as the Ankh or Crux Ansata, sometimes by the Spire and Nave of a church or temple, and sometimes as a marriage feast, mystic marriage, spiritual marriage, ‘chymical nuptials,’ and in a hundred other ways. Whatever the form chosen, it is the symbol of the Great Work.”
He also alludes to same-sex mystical formulae in his “Four Major Operations of the Microcosmic Star.” (See also his further notes concerning these Operations in Agapé 7, no. 3.) We will entrust our readers to discover first-hand the wonders of “the spirituality of Sodomy.” Aleister Crowley was bisexual and had no hesitation including all facets of his being in his magical experiments; nor were his numerous religious experiences limited to a heterosexual point of view on mystical realization and symbolism.
The symbolic marriage feast is, however, very different from the typical usage we find in American culture today, which refers to the formation of contracts of convenience, forming bonds of kinship and establishing all the legal rights that implies. Crowley is instead referring to any act of uniting with love under will. He offers us a very poetic definition in the prayer entitled “Marriage” in his Gnostic Mass:
For Aleister Crowley, marriage is not only the union of any two people; it is also the union of a person with an idea or object, and ultimately with each element in one’s environment in the “eucharist of life”:
[In the Second Degree of O.T.O.] I … show how [the pure soul] may best carry out its object in the eucharist of life. It partakes, so to speak, of its own godhead in every action, but especially through the typical sacrament of marriage, understood as the voluntary union of itself with each element of its environment.
In the question of marriage, it’s important to consider what Crowley means when he uses the word. In some cases, he discusses mystical marriage, the marriage feast as a symbol of the Great Work, or the eucharist of life, as above, which can be expressed in countless ways not limited to heterosexual symbolism. This sense of marriage as union with each element of our environment also reflects Crowley’s comments on the nature of Love, which is not romantic love, but the larger concept of “… the enkindling in ecstacy of Two that will to become One.” In other words, mystical marriage, symbolic of the Great Work. With respect to all expressions of love, we find the following human right declared in words of one syllable:
Accordingly, in the case of romantic love, Thelemic churches do not create marriages, but merely celebrate and bless the marriages which naturally occur, on request. For more on the subject of Thelemic marriage in the romantic sense, see T Polyphilus’ essay, “The Sovereignty of Marriage,” where he concludes, “… it is not, and never will be, for the church or the state to determine who is really married.”
Crowley also writes extensively about marriage as a civil contract between people according to convenience. Watch for the final post in this series, where we will look at Crowley’s attitudes toward the social institution of marriage, his disparaging remarks about family in general, and how his perspective is informed by the Law of Liberty, particularly the principle of sexual freedom.