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The name was borrowed from François Rabelais's satire Gargantua and Pantagruel, where an Abbey of Thélème is described as a sort of anti-monastery where the lives of the inhabitants were "spent not in laws, statutes, or rules, but according to their own free will and pleasure." This idealistic utopia was to be the model of Crowley's commune, while also being a type of magical school, giving it the designation "Collegium ad Spiritum Sanctum", The College of the Holy Spirit. The general programme was in line with the A∴A∴ course of training, and included daily adorations to the sun, a study of Crowley's writings, regular yogic and ritual practices (which were to be recorded), as well as general domestic labor. The object was for students to devote themselves to the Great Work of discovering and manifesting their True Will.
Crowley had planned to transform the small house into a global center of magical devotion and perhaps to gain tuition fees paid by acolytes seeking training in the Magical Arts; these fees would further assist him in his efforts to promulgate Thelema and publish his manuscripts.
In 1923, a 23-year-old Oxford undergraduate by the name of Raoul Loveday (or Frederick Charles Loveday) died at the Abbey. His wife, Betty May, variously blamed the death on his participation in one of Crowley's rituals (allegedly incorporating the consumption of the blood of a sacrificed cat) or the more probable diagnosis of acute enteric fever contracted by drinking from a mountain spring. (Crowley had warned the couple against drinking the water least according to biographies by Lawrence Sutin, Richard Kaczynski and others.) When May returned to London, she gave an interview to a tabloid paper, The Sunday Express, which included her story in its ongoing attacks on Crowley. With these and similar rumors about activities at the Abbey in mind, Mussolini's government demanded that Crowley leave the country in 1923. After Crowley's departure, the Abbey of Thelema was eventually abandoned and local residents whitewashed over Crowley's murals.
Current status and popular culture
The villa still stands today, but in very poor condition. Filmmaker Kenneth Anger, himself a devotee of Crowley, later uncovered and filmed some of its murals in his film Thelema Abbey (1955) now considered a lost film. Recently other murals were uncovered, and pictures of them were posted on the Internet. "Abbey of Thelema" remains a popular name for various magical societies, Witchcraft covens, and Satanist grottoes. It is also the name of a fan club for controversial rock star Marilyn Manson, who included the line "We're gonna ride to the Abbey of Thelema, to the Abbey of Thelema..." in his song "Misery Machine". Experimental musicians Coil, known to be fascinated by mysticism, went a step further in "The Sea Priestess" on Astral Disaster, whose lyrics are a bizarre interpretation of the murals in the Abbey.
NotesThe Abbey is currently for sale for $250,000 Euros. Kenneth Anger recently revisited the Abbey in 2007, 52 years after his 1955 visit; a short video can be found as an "extra" on the "Anger Me" DVD
- Thélema Abbey - Official website from Sicily
- Photos of the Abbey from 2005
- Abbey of Thelema movie on IMDB