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Gaming Thelema: Finding Thelema Through Interactive Fiction

Gaming Thelema: Finding Thelema Through Interactive Fiction

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

I’ve been playing video games since I was a toddler. Growing into a typical geek, I found a love for RPGs (Role Playing Games for the uninitiated) and action-adventure titles. Some of these games are what lead me to Thelema, and I doubt I’m the first or last who stumbled upon the Law in this way. While to some it’s debatable as to whether or not games can be considered art, I believe these virtual adventures can be a tool for promulgating Thelema, one that ought not to be underestimated. I’ll only elaborate on two examples, although there are references to Kabbalah, Hermeticism, Magick, and even Aleister Crowley in many other titles.

Persona 3: A Game About Going to School and Making Friends

My first example’s full title is a mouthful: Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. A Japanese RPG for the Playstation 2 that became surprisingly popular in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s, this game was a sequel to two other Persona games that enjoyed less popularity on the original Playstation 1 (although unless I’m mistaken, these earlier titles are now considered cult-classics by a dedicated fanbase).

To summarize, the object of the game is to balance the life of an average Japanese high schooler with exploring a mysterious dungeon and fighting against creatures that both appear during a sinister extra hour that appears every night at midnight.

The gameplay is unique, in that the narrative is woven day by day: each day your character wakes up and goes to school. It’s up to the player to decide when to play, study, socialize, pursue extra-curricular activities, shop, and fight against the forces behind the anomalous “dark hour”.

Already we have an interesting metaphor for the ordeals of the magician/spiritualist/Thelemite/what-have-you. Balancing modern life, with all its distractions and nuances, and one’s pursuit of the occult sciences is a conundrum I imagine most people reading this are familiar with, or may become familiar with. This metaphor becomes more relevant when some of the core gameplay is elaborated.

The player fights against enemies called Shadows, inky black creatures that take various forms and feed on human minds. They fight with a combination of weapons and evoking the forms of various spirits, deities, and mythological creatures (referred to as Personae) to assist them in battle. These Shadows and Personae are classified under the categories of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, as are most of the significant characters.

Among these Personae are spirits from the Goetia of Solomon, deities from Shinto, Greek, Roman, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious movements from around the world; the Angelic Orders, and even a few cryptozoological myths.

These spirits are strengthened by the player-character’s bonds with other characters who are of the same Major Arcana. The player-character (a semi-silent protagonist) is given the Fool Arcana, allowing them to switch, mix, and utilize Personae of all other Arcana. An example: The player befriends somebody on the swimming team whose Arcana is the Chariot. The more days spent interacting with this swimmer and strengthening their bond by giving advice, joining them for practice, and generally being a good friend, the more powerful a Persona corresponding to the Chariot can become. Upon creating an unbreakable bond with this swimmer, the player gains access to the means to obtain strongest Chariot Persona in the game.

The combat is strategic, challenging, and can require some planning and preparation before going into battle. There are a plethora of abilities, spells, and skills that both the player and the enemies use (most of which are in Sanskrit), physical attacks and magic attacks categorized by element (strangely enough, the elements are Fire, Ice, Electricity, and Wind, as opposed to the classical elements more familiar to ceremonial magick). Because of this challenge, the player is forced to try and master as many roles as possible or risk being frustrated by impossible difficulty.

To ice the cake, there are several scenes in the game in which an eccentric substitute teacher will do a brief lecture on religion, mysticism, magick, and similar “occult” themes. In a particularly relevant example, the teacher goes on at length about the Major Arcana of the Tarot. As the lesson starts, he mentions that he prefers to use the Thoth deck used by a great magician by the name of Aleister Crowley.

The fourth installation in the series seemed to tone down these more direct references, but the core gameplay revolving around the Tarot remains. Strategic, story based, and slow paced games like this however, are not the only examples of games that reference concepts related to Thelema. Which brings me to…

Bayonetta: A Campy Power Fantasy With an Interesting Easter Egg

An action title released on the PlayStation 3 called Bayonetta. In terms of tone, pacing, and gameplay, this is probably about as far from the previous example as it gets.

The player plays as Bayonetta, a powerful witch who is bound by a demonic pact to slay a quota of angels every day, or be dragged kicking and screaming into hell. The gameplay revolves mostly around the spectacular combat, in which the titular Bayonetta bashes, slashes, shoots, blasts, pummels, and tortures various monstrous “angels” to death with a variety of weapons, magick, mystical artifacts, and demonic familiars. The titular character is presented as a nigh-invulnerable force of martial prowess, demonstrating superhuman strength, speed, agility, and confidence. She is shamelessly sexual, wearing (what appears at first to be) a leather catsuit; strutting, posing, and even dancing seductively even in the middle of climactic battles with scenery destroying monsters. Later in the game, she gains the ability to transform into a black panther at will. I’d say that the brash and shameless nature of this character is a reference to the role of the Scarlet Woman, although this feels like a colossal stretch.

The story is eccentric and (in my opinion) strange even by the standards set above. Angels and Demons are almost equally dangerous metaphysical threats, invisible to the average human being. I don’t feel I could go into it at length without spoiling it, and the story, while interesting and certainly peppered with intriguing occult references, is not the reason this game bore mentioning here.

All the enemies in the game speak in Enochian. Bayonetta herself, when performing powerful attacks or evoking demonic familiars, also shouts phrases in Enochian. Enochian script decorates much of the significant scenery in the game, and upon introduction, each character’s name is displayed in both English and Enochian. The angels fought against are also classified by Angelic order and are occasionally named with kabbalistic.

How Video Games and the Cultures Surrounding Them May Promulgate Thelema

“Bah! What do these toys for children, teenage geeks, and immature adults have to do with Thelema! These are naught but trivial distractions from the Great Work.”

Well hypothetical naysayer, are you familiar at all with the gaming community? With gaming and internet culture? Every game now has at least one strategy-guide or lengthy text explaining in detail this-or-that gameplay mechanic, going at length to discuss aspects of the stories and characters these games give us. With every mystery or seemingly insurmountable challenge a game presents, there is at least one person who inevitably decides to devote as much time and effort as it takes to parse the mystery, and then write a detailed guide explaining in depth what they found. Hence the translation of every Enochian phrase in Bayonetta being publicly available not long after it’s release.

Every reference, passing or overt, central to the plot or utterly irrelevant, is a baited fishhook cast into a sea of players. It may seem superficial, but I took a look at some interesting data. Persona 3 was released in July of 2006. Within a few months of this, Google shows a sudden spike in the number of people searching terms like “Aleister Crowley” and “Thoth Tarot”.

How many of those who were curious enough to look up some of these references, after seeing them in some of the games they’ve played, eventually went on to read The Book of the Law? How many eventually went on to pursue a deeper understanding, in the hopes of finding and doing their will?

At least one was. Love is the law, love under will.

Love is the law, love under will.


This article is written by guest contributor VoxDiscipulo. A file clerk by trade, he normally writes as a hobby, and he is a student of the A∴A∴. He lives in the New England area, and is currently taking business management courses.

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