Wanting versus Willing
To Will and to want. These are not simply two ideas. To Will and to want are two fundamental ways of existing in the world. Our Law as Thelemites is “Do what thou wilt”; it is our sole duty and right to find and do this Will. Aleister Crowley often distinguished Will – often called True Will – from want. For example, he wrote that the purpose of each individual is “the discovery of his True Will (as opposed to his conscious ideals or wishes) by each individual”1; “It should be clear that ‘Do what thou wilt’ does not mean ‘Do what you like.’ It is the apotheosis of Freedom; but it is also the strictest possible bond.”2;“Do what thou wilt does not mean Do as you please, although it implies this degree of emancipation, that it is no longer possible to say à priori that a given action is ‘wrong.’ Each man has the right—and an absolute right—to accomplish his True Will.”3; “It will be seen that the formula – ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law’ has nothing to do with ‘Do as you please.’ It is much more difficult to comply with the Law of Thelema than to follow out slavishly a set of dead regulations.”4
To Will and to want are two modes of existence. They are paralleled in the contrast between “to Be” and “to have.”5 In ordinary life, we are dominated by the mode of wanting or having at the expense of losing touch with Will or Being. This ordinary mode of existence, wanting and having, can be likened to a horizontal line: we are always trying to achieve our desires, to have more things. This is everyone’s natural, “un-initiated” state of constant striving after possessing more and more. Society bombards us from all directions with the message that fulfillment is found through possessing more. Our wants are endless – there is always more to amass. We see this most evidently in the frenzy over the accumulation of wealth and material objects; we want the latest gadgets, the fastest cars, and the fanciest clothes. It can also be seen in wanting social status or authority, so we seek to have labels and titles that reflect our authority… “I am a CEO,” “I have a PhD,” “I am a 7th degree,” or “I am a High Priest.” The attitude of wanting extends into relationships: the more friends on Facebook, the better! Our possessiveness shows itself in our intimate relationships – it is even embedded in the language we use such as, “I have a boyfriend” or “I have a wife.” Wanting/having can be seen more subtly in the accumulation of knowledge. We want to have wisdom, so we accumulate facts – the person who can list the most correspondences of the Tree of Life is surely the wisest! Even our spirituality is not protected from this nefarious mode of existence. We amass (and occasionally read) shelves of books that could easily crush us under their combined weights, we strive to get the most ornate and beautiful ritual implements for our temples, we accumulate a giant encyclopedia of knowledge of rituals and spiritual dogmas… we even speak of the goal of religion as a possession! They are the ultimate “wants”: We seek to obtain the Holy Grail or to find the Philosopher’s Stone, and we say that we “have” a True Will. Our absorption in this horizontal dimension of existence knows no bounds in terms of the unfathomable plethora of “wants.”
The modern age of technology has provided us the means to get more and more of what we want – friends through social networking sites, information through search engines, and all the food we could ever want at a supermarket (et cetera ad infinitum). In spite of this, a fundamental characteristic of our modern era is widespread dissatisfaction and disenchantment. We have houses with heating and plumbing that kings could only wish for in past epochs, yet we are not content. We have 500 friends on Facebook, yet we are lonely. We sail through the air in metal contraptions at unfathomable speeds, yet we are impatient. When we get down to it, what do we all hope to gain from this relentless pursuit of wants and accumulation of possessions? It stems from this deep, underlying sense that there is something lacking in our lives despite all the things we have. There is a hole and this hole is filled with stuff, whether material objects or knowledge or whatever else. We are looking for a sense of true fulfillment but the pursuit of our wants has left us no closer to our goal. In fact, all of our striving towards “having” makes us more dissatisfied: for everything we have, we also gain a fear of losing it. We have everything backwards: our very preoccupation with wanting is the source of our lack. It is the source of our anxiety, our loneliness, our emptiness, our meaninglessness, and our sense of inauthenticity that we strove to extinguish by obtaining the objects of our desires. We want to be truly and authentically alive, yet – paradoxically – we have our hands so full with our “wants” and “haves” that we are left completely empty-handed.
In the face of this delirious engrossment in the mode of wanting, it may seem that there is no other possible way of existing in the world. In contrast to this horizontal mode of preoccupation with wants, there is the vertical dimension of True Will, of Being. It is of note that the word “being” in Greek is “to on,” giving us the word “ontology” (the study of being), and an ancient name of the sun was “On,” as is mentioned in the Gnostic Mass.6 The effulgent glory of Solar light is an apt symbol of the way of Being or True Will in contrast to the confused groping-in-the-darkness of the way of wanting. To find a sense of self that is not empty and inauthentic, we do not need more desires and more possessions nor do we need more beliefs or knowledge. We need a radical re-orientation of our way of being in the world, one where we become who we are. This is what we of Thelema call the True Will. It is also of note, at least to occultists and Masons, that the word “reorient” means to get one’s bearings and etymologically means “to face the East,” i.e. to re-orient. We reorient ourselves to the East, the place of the rising Sun, which is a symbolic way of saying we reorient ourselves towards the way of Being or of True Will, remembering our starry nature, so to speak.
This vertical mode of being shows us symbolically that we are not simply striving towards more and more as in the horizontal mode of wanting. Instead, we extend upwards towards a loftier expression of ourselves and downwards towards a deeper understanding of ourselves. In our Holy Books it is written, “My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.”7 Instead of seeking after abundance through wanting and having things, we seek abundance in Being ourselves more fully, our True Selves. When we operate in this vertical dimension of True Will, religion is not something we adopt or “have,” our entire Being is religious. To be present in the vertical dimension of True Will is to be authentically religious.
The fatuousness of our attempts to gain satisfaction through the pursuit of our conscious desires is illustrated by the Freudian model of the psyche as an iceberg. Above the water there is the tip of the iceberg: our sense of self or ego and our conscious desires. Beneath the water lies the immensity of the rest of our psyches, the unconscious. In our engrossment with our conscious wants, we let the mere tip of ourselves dictate our direction. The majority of the self that lies underwater, the unconscious, is left unheeded and unsatisfied. To reorient ourselves to Will instead of want, Being instead of having, is to seek to encompass and express the totality of the self. It is to actualize the vast power and potential that lies dormant and untapped as long as we remain on the horizontal dimension of want and have. In fact, Crowley himself likened the Holy Guardian Angel8 and the True Will9 to the unconscious. He wrote, “Good sense is in reality common to all men: it is the property of the Unconscious whose Omniscience matches its Omnipotence. The trouble is that in practically every particular case the Intellect insists on interfering… Remember that the Ego is not really the centre and crown of the individual; indeed the whole trouble arises from its false claim to be so.”10 It might be said that, psychologically, the mode of wanting or having keeps us in a perpetual state of conflict between the ego/conscious and the unconscious. The mode of Willing or Being involves a harmonious alignment between conscious and unconscious. Crowley writes, “A Man whose conscious will is at odds with his True Will is wasting his strength. He cannot hope to influence his environment efficiently. A Man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him.”11
Aleister Crowley’s own life serves as an archetypal template of this radical reorientation from a mode of wanting and having to that of Willing and Being. This occurred in his “Vision of Sorrow” in 1897 of which he writes in his Confessions,
“The occasion was an attack of illness. It was nothing very serious and I had long been accustomed to expect to die before I came of age. But for some reason or other I found myself forced to meditate upon the fact of mortality. It was impressed upon me that I hadn’t a moment to lose. There was no fear of death or of a possible ‘hereafter'; but I was appalled by the idea of the futility of all human endeavour. Suppose, I said to myself, that I make a great success in diplomacy and become ambassador to Paris. There was no good in that — I could not so much as remember the name of the ambassador a hundred years ago. Again, I wanted to be a great poet. Well, here I was in one of the two places in England that made a specialty of poets, yet only an insignificant fraction of the three thousand men in residence knew anything about so great a man as Aeschylus. I was not sufficiently enlightened to understand that the fame of the man had little or nothing to do with his real success, that the proof of his prowess lay in the invisible influence with he had had upon generations of men. My imagination went a step further. Suppose I did more than Caesar or Napoleon in one line, or than Homer and Shakespeare in the other — my work would be automatically cancelled when the globe became uninhabitable for man. I did not go into a definite trance in this meditations; but a spiritual consciousness was born in me corresponding to that which characterizes the Vision of the Universal Sorrow, as I learnt to call it later on. In Buddhist phraesology, I perceived the First Noble Truth – Sabbé Pi Dukkham – everything is sorrow. But this perception was confined to the planes familiar to the normal human consciousness. The fatuity of any work based upon physical continuity was evident. But I had at this time no reason for supposing that the same criticism applied to any transcendental universe. I formulated my will somewhat as follows: ‘I must find a material in which to work which is immune from the forces of change.’ I suppose that I still accepted Christian metaphysics in some sense or another. I had been satisfied to escape from religion to the world. I now found that there was no satisfaction here. I was not content to be annihilated. Spiritual facts were the only things worth while. Brain and body were valueless except as the instruments of the soul.”
We see that Crowley wanted to become a great poet, a great diplomat, a great chess master… yet all of these things were found wanting, so to speak. He turned his eyes away from the possession of these titles and towards spiritual attainment, and the rest is history. In embarking upon the vertical path, he was led to the discovery of his True Will. A parallel can be found in the life of Siddhartha Gautama who – upon seeing an old man, a sick man, a dead man, and then a yogi – renounced the possibility of being a king and having all the material comforts of the world and turned his attention toward becoming awakened. He found the answer to his gnawing dissatisfaction with the suffering of the world in enlightenment, in the vertical dimension of becoming who he really was, an awakened one, a Buddha. These two particularly good examples because they were men – not transcendent gods or demi-gods or mythical heroes – who represent the possibilities the actualization of potential that is available to all of us as men and women. William Blake described this attitude concisely when he wrote, “All deities reside in the human breast,”12 and, as it says at the top of our declaration of the rights of man, “There is no god but man.”13
To summarize, there is a horizontal dimension of being of “want” that is characterized by preoccupation with “having” or possessing, whether material objects, knowledge, or other people. We strive to assuage our anxiety about our sense of emptiness through pursuing our “wants,” which ironically leaves us feeling more empty and inauthentic. To transcend this condition, we do not need more “wants” or a new and specific “want,” but instead we need a radical reorientation of our very being towards the vertical dimension of “Will” (or True Will) that is characterized by a focus on “Being” rather than having. The process of shifting from want to Will, having to Being, horizontal to vertical, is shown symbolically or archetypally in the life of Aleister Crowley, specifically his experience of the “Vision of Sorrow.”
“It all depends on your own acceptance of this new law, and you are not asked to believe anything, to accept a string of foolish fables beneath the intellectual level of a Bushman and the moral level of a drug-fiend. All you have to do is to be yourself, to do your will, and to rejoice.”
-Aleister Crowley, “The Law of Liberty”
1 “The Constitution of the Order of Thelemites.”
2 “Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion.”
3 “The Method of Thelema.”
4 Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Yama.”
5 See Erich Fromm’s To Have or to Be?
6 “…our Lord and Father the Sun that travelleth over the Heavens in his name ΟΝ.”
7 “Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus,” line 40.
8 “The Holy Guardian Angel is the Unconscious Creature Self – the Spiritual Phallus.” -Liber Samekh.
9 “The Kingdom of Malkuth, the Virgin Bride, and the Child is the Dwarf-Self, the Phallic consciousness, which is the true life of Man, beyond his ‘veils’ of incarnation. We have to thank Freud — and especially Jung — for stating this part of the Magical Doctrine so plainly, as also for their development of the connexion of the Will of this ‘child’ with the True or Unconscious Will, and so for clarifying our doctrine of the ‘Silent Self’ or ‘Holy Guardian Angel’. They are of course totally ignorant of magical phenomena, and could hardly explain even such terms as ‘Augoeides'; and they are seriously to blame for not stating more openly that this True Will is not to be daunted or suppressed; but within their limits they have done excellent work.” -New Comment to Liber AL vel Legis III:22
10 Commentary to “Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV.”
11 Magick in Theory & Practice, “Introduction,” part III, Theorems 8-9.
12 William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
13 “OZ: Liber LXXVII.”