History of the Will

History of the Theories, Beliefs, and Doctrines on the Will

For groups or individual’s theories on the will, please see the category Theories on the Will.

The following is based on work carried out by the co-creative group on the Will Project during the International Congress of Psychosynthesis in Canada from 11 to 15 September 1998. Initially this is provided to give some form of structure to pages.

  1. Develop an annotated bibliography of references to the will in historical writings.
  2. Collect the material in 1. (above) in one place
  3. Develop a bibliography of references to the will in current psychosynthesis literature
  4. Create a college course on the will
  5. Carry out research studies on various theories of the will.
    1. How the will is best developed
    2. How the will is used by various types
      1. Psychosynthesis types and will
      2. Enneagram types and will
      3. MBTI types and will
      4. TDF types and will
    3. How the will is present/absent/referred to in each religion
  6. Fund grants to support research on the will (for example, dissertation grants)
  7. Research available funding resources which might support 5. (above) and write grant requests to these sources of funding.


According to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, the word Will derives from the Middle English willen, meaning to intend to. It can be traced back to wel-1 in Indo-European Roots. From the Latin velle the word volition is derived.

For more information see the Etymology entry and the entry on Wyrd.

Laws of Imagination and the Will

The following laws relating to Imagination and the Will were outlined by Émile Coué in his book Self Mastery Through Conscious Autosuggestion:

  1. When the will and the imagination are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception.
  2. In the conflict between the will and the imagination, the force of the imagination is in direct ratio to the square of the will.
  3. When the will and the imagination are in agreement, one does not add to the other, but one is multiplied by the other.
  4. The imagination can be directed.

(The expressions “In direct ratio to the square of the will” and “Is multiplied by” are not rigorously exact. They are simply illustrations destined to make my meaning clearer.)

The Magician’s Dictionary entry for ‘Will’

From 0922915016 by E.E. Rehmus.

Another word for persistence and maintained attention. Will is one of the two natural human powers for altering reality (the other is imagination). When faced with an insoluble problem or great odds against us, it is the Will alone that leads us through to solution and victory. As the imagination is the power of the mind through understanding and enlightenment, the Will is the way of material action. There is no will without physical effort of some kind exerted over physical phenomena.

Colin Wilson says of the will:

“Modern civilization induces an attitude of “passivity.” When a Stone Age hunter set out to trap wild animals, he was aware of his will as a living force. When the prehistoric farmer scored the surface of the earth with a crude plough, he knew that his family’s survival through the winter depended on his effort, and his will responded to the challenge. When a modern city dweller walks down a crowded thoroughfare, he feels no sense of challenge or involvement. This city was built by other people; all these shops and offices are owned by other people. He can get through an ordinary day’s work in a state approximating to sleep. Most of his routine tasks are carried out by the ‘robot.’ There is neither the need or the opportunity to use the will.”

Extract from online edition of The Magician’s Dictionary.

Will in Thelema

(entry adapted from SourceryForge website entry for Will)

In Thelema Will refers, roughly and approximately, to What You Must Be Doing With Your Energy. This is intensely paradoxical: Folk Thelema often borrows heavily from hedonistic ideas about self definition – to step outside of social norms and indulge yourself. The idea that Will is Duty is largely absent from that culture, although clearly the intention behind this phrase was not “Do As You Like” and Crowley himself says as much on many occasions.

Up until Knowledge And Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel your Will – your Dharma or Duty – is to reach that grade/state of being/experience. All activities which contribute to reaching that degree are known as Doing One’s Will. At this Grade, the Angel becomes manifest and makes its will known to the magician, and its will becomes the True Will of the Magician.

Usually the Angel is said to have a purpose on earth: “Invent Solid Rocket Fuel” for example. Before the True Will is consciously known, a human being may be unconsciously moving towards their Will – acting unconsciously towards a goal which existed before they were born.

Note that this schema leaves very little room for Free Will. This is clearly not widely practiced among Thelemites of the modern age who seem to often confuse reckless self indulgence and antinomian behavior with Doing Their Will. In a limited sense, that kind of rule breaking may be part of the deconditioning process of the lower grades which enables the True Will to be discovered. Other than that, however, it has no place in this schema, Aleister Crowley’s personal practices not withstanding.

Quotes About the Will

There are many quotes that express ideas and beliefs about the will. There are a range of authors, from philosophy to motivational writers. There are also a number of proverbs (sayings), such as the well known English saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You can found more quotes on this page: Quotes About the Will

Last modified: 31 December 2011


  1. Wonderful & dedicated work, Graeme. NB: The Theories of Will is down, Page not found, in History of the Will section.
    Aug 12, 2011


    1. Thanks Khier. I’ve fixed that link now.


  2. Hi Graeme;

    I appreciate your efforts but am a little puzzeled as to where they might lead. I say this because from the few entries I’ve read on your site, it seems that all this is simply talk about what is basically pretty obvious. But then again I find like you I see the need to investigate the “Will” and see where it can take us, if only to better understand the Truth of the matter.

    I loved the bit about the Will and Imagination, and can see how one impacts on the other, and I can vouch that often that what stops me from doing a lot of things, once I have formed the Volition, is the scenarios that play them selves out in my mind’s eye and stop me dead in my tracks.

    Like a lot of people I would love if I could “Will” an outcome, but perhaps that is only possible with the co-operation of the”Cosmic” so to speak, and by that I mean every other variable that is required to participate to make it real.

    I want to relate a story that I’m sure many can identify with. When I was growing up, I had a passion for my Football Club, and even thought at one stage or another that I could Will them to victory, despite the fact that my only real involment was limited to cheering them on from the grandstands. And yet my Team did perform well when I went to see them play. Now I know that this is something that a lot of people experience and can be thought of as Wishful Thinking, but imagine the type of damage that this type of belief can cause if extended into other areas of life.

    I think the big lesson for me was to be able to put things into perspective, and to accept my limitations. In fact there is a really useful book called “The Reality Slap”, by Dr Russ Harris, which address the problem when the “Will” doesn’t live up to expectations, and you have to pick up the pieces that come with Disappointment, dilusion and even dispair.

    I hope that you and other people interested in the subject of the “Will” do nail it, but I also hope that you respect the limitations which we all operate under, and don’t fall for the trap of Ask, Believe,Recieve.

    Good luck and all the best, I’ll continue to view your site and maybe gain some insights as a result.

    Cheers Pasquale


  3. Thanks for the comment Pasquale. You raise some interesting points, about what is possible. The purpose of the Will Project (at this stage) is not to define or limit what is possible and what isn’t, but to explore all aspects and beliefs about the Will. Recently, I’ve been reading ‘The Mystic Will’ by Charles Godfrey Leland, and it is probably one of the most insightful books on the Will (along with ‘The Act of Will’ by Roberto Assagioli and ‘Strength of Will’ by E. Boyd Barrett).

    One of the difficulties with research into the Will is the varying definitions and ideas, some of which are conflicting. Leland, Barrett, and Assagioli seem to have some very similar ideas and concepts, and what they seem to be talking about is quite subtle, and perhaps quite different than what many writers are talking about.


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