Pelagius and Aleister CrowleyThelemic philosophy acknowledges a debt to the works of Francois Rabelais and hisearly sixteenth century novels
Gargantua and his son Pantagruel.
Scholarly opinion is that Rabelais was a satirist writing from the perspective of Christian Humanism. Crowley lists the works of Rabelais as literature recommendedfor aspirants to his order with the rather terse comment “Recommended for wisdom”.
This is all tied up with what John Moore calls Crowley’s essential Protestantism, for he was “. . . the heir and fulfilment of English Protestantism. In his upbringing heexperienced some of the worst aspects of that form of religion. NeverthelessProtestantism was the driving force of English history for some centuries andCrowley’s anti-Christianity has its roots in some of its impulses. Steeped in Englishliterature and tradition he was happy to recommend such a sternly Protestant work asBunyan’s
“Nietzsche’s anti Christianity is part of thatmovement. It is noteworthy that [even] Luther was in some ways a Rabelaisian sort of character, much taken with farting.”
Chapters 52 –58 of Rabelais’s novels are especially well known to Thelemites and arereproduced in the appendix. After various adventures Gargantua rewards his Monkishcompanion “Friar John from the devil!” building for him an Abbey of his owndevising, the self same Abbey of Thelema.This Abbey is described in some detail and is without doubt a vision of a utopiancommunity, if somewhat tongue in cheek. After a description of the way the membersof this community lived, appears a long inscription that is set upon the gate of theAbbey that is in effect a declaration of innocence or indeed a list of qualificationsrequired of the “seminarians” to make the institution work.I don’t intend to analyse every aspect of this list merely point out its existence. Therules fall into two kinds, restraints and disciplines. For example“Here enter not vile bigots, hypocrites” or “Here enter not attorneys, barristers”. Thislater restriction is in my opinion not a rejection of the law but rather of the failings of the legal profession. Rabelais’s father was a lawyer.The personality of those permitted into this model community is clear enough: “Hereenter you, pure, honest, faithful, true/Expounders of the Scriptures old andnew/Whose glosses do not blind our reason, but/Make it to see the clearer, and whoshut/Its passages from hatred, avarice, /Pride, factions, covenants, and all sort of vice. /Come, settle here a charitable faith.”Beneath the satirical veneer, Rabelais reveals some genuine views about the nature of the ideal community. There is no doubt in my mind that Aleister Crowley was awareof this when he incorporated the same into his own Thelemic cult. He may also have been aware that Rabelais represents the re-emergence of an ancient Pelagian heresy.Pelagius being an 4
century Christian “ascetic”, contemporary of Augustine, whodenied the doctrine of predestination. Pelagius also denied the idea of original sin and
Five books of the lives, heroic deeds and sayings of Gargantua and his son Pantagruel by FrancoisRabelais Translated into English by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty and Peter Antony MotteuxIllustrated by Gustave Doré eBooks\@Adelaide 2007http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/r/rabelais/francois/r11g/index.html
Crowley, Aleister (1994)
Magick: Book Four – Liber ABA
Weiser Edition. p 454
Moore, John (2009)
Aleister Crowley A Modern Master
, Mandrake p.41
Moore (2009) p.49