For many people, religion is an important thing, moreso than spirituality. Although variations exist, the human animal has evolved socially in such a way that religion fulfills various important functions that are not adequately fulfilled elsewhere, and for the past several hundred years, in the west, these duties have been fulfilled mainly by Christianity. A church is a place for people to meet, to socialize, to find others of similar beliefs, to court, to find solace and guidance, and to celebrate, among other things. Many people would do just as well as Atheists, so long as they were allowed to keep their church. Meanwhile many Atheists form Atheist groups which are meant to fulfill the functions of the church, even going so far as to proselytize their spiritual beliefs, or in their case a lack thereof.
Crowley recognized this basic social need for religion in most people, even those seeking spiritual enlightenment. Meanwhile Christianity, the current forerunner, generally frowns upon spiritual enlightenment, to say the least. Even considering the resent emergence of neo-pagan religions, these religions, at their best, barely manage to adequately meet the duties that even the smaller Christian churches can do quite well, while at the same time being just as detrimental, restrictive, and even malicious towards any individuals seeking enlightenment. The obvious solution would be for the enlightened to have their own religion, but in practice this idea fails as they tend to lack the necessary numbers to successfully perform the community functions of a church while their perspectives and beliefs are so dramatically varied and at times conflicting they lack the unity and cohesion of a religion.
Crowley’s solution to this problem was Thelema. Basically he was trying to create a religion to socially and spiritually satisfy the masses, attracting a large enough parish to fulfill all of the functions of the church, while at the same time leaving the group open to, and open ended enough to attract, those seeking enlightenment. The spiritual aspect of Thelema was really only meant for the unenlightened among the masses, not the enlightened who were there to receive the social benefits of the religion, not the spiritual.
But in practice Thelema has failed miserably. The OTO, the biggest proponent of the religion, has already died and been resurrected. Although the group may be able to point to rising numbers, the group still hasn’t shown large enough numbers in any single region for it to fulfill the community functions of the church, nor is it making significant gains to where we can assume this will happen within our lifetimes. Thelema has not done well in attracting general parishioners, who seem content to remain with Christianity, and without these parishioners there is no point in keeping Thelema around, because it fails to serve anybody in any capacity.
Absent Thelema, we are still left with Crowley’s works. These are largely quoted as gospel truth, by people who often times can’t understand the denotation of the sentences being quoted, and Crowley himself is transformed from being a practitioner’s peer to a Christ figure that is assumed to have been at an unattainable level, in other words we cannot be as Crowley was, we can only trust in the truth of what he has imparted to us. Most of his followers assume that by learning and following Crowley’s works they will eventually reach some spiritual attainment, a very Christian perspective, and in doing so they have become, like the neo-pagan religions, little more than Christians with different books.
One problem is there is very little attainment to be gained from what Crowley has left us. Even the great secrets of the OTO, which haven’t been well guarded and are easy enough to find and read, offer very little. Crowley was a remarkable teacher and at his worst still a competent magician. I credit Crowley with being solely responsible for me being able to learn the tarot as well as I have, and also with introducing me to quite a few of the subjects that can be categorized under magick. But Crowley’s works weren’t comprehensive guides, they were beginner manuals. The great secrets of Crowley’s works are the basics that lay the foundations for higher attainment.
This isn’t to say Crowley only knew the basics. His tarot deck implies a far deeper understanding of magick and the universe then is ever betrayed in his written works. The Book of Thoth essay though is only an introduction to tarot, despite being typically described as an advanced text.
Crowley never meant for his works to be the alpha and omega of a person’s spiritual attainment. They are just a foundation, enough information and ideas to get a neophyte to the next stage, and not necessarily filled with truth either, just being what the neophyte needs to know in the beginning. It is thought that any true practitioner will, upon completion of that stage, cast off Crowley’s teachings and forge a path of their own, eventually reaching a point of enlightenment and attainment to where they can consider themselves an adept in magick and an equal to Crowley.
Those that are Thelemites, and followers of Crowley, who fail to cast off the shackles of their religion, who expect to find secrets to the universe in introductory texts, who see Crowley not as a man or a peer or something to be surpassed but as infallible and unattainable, will never know spiritual enlightenment, because they cannot spiritually evolve, and they cannot follow their spiritual path and find truth for themselves as all practitioners must.