The Philosophy of Thelema, pt.2: Epistemology

Philosophy of Thelema

There are two stances on reason that are expounded in Liber AL vel Legis. The first stance is that reason must be subservient to Will and the second stance is the importance of direct experience over reason. These ideas about reason intertwine and support one another.

First, the Will is ‘supra-rational’ or beyond reason. The section in Liber AL vel Legis that deals with this comes from chapter 2,

“There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason. Now a curse upon Because and his kin! May Because be accursed for ever! If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought. If Power asks why, then is Power weakness. Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown; & all their words are skew-wise. Enough of Because! Be he damned for a dog! But ye, o my people, rise up & awake!” (lines 27-34)

Here we have a curse upon “Because,” “Reason,” and “Why.” There is no “Why” or “Because” to Will: it simply GOES, it simply IS. Because we inhabit a world of Infinite Space and since reason can only work with finite ideas and quantities, then reason cannot express the Infinite purely and accurately. It is a “lie” because of this “factor infinite & unknown.” Crowley writes, “There is no ‘reason’ why a Star should continue in its orbit. Let her rip! …It is ridiculous to ask a dog why it barks. One must fulfil one’s true Nature, one must do one’s Will. To question this is to destroy confidence, and so to create an inhibition.” (The Law is For All, II:30-31) Therefore, reason should attend to its own business (solving problems of rationality) and allow the Will to flow uninhibited; otherwise, “One risks falling form the world of Will (‘freed from the lust of result’) to that of Reason” (Djeridensis Working, Liber AL II:30). Crowley continues, “We must not suppose for an instant that the Book of the Law is opposed to reason. On the contrary, its own claim to authority rests upon reason, and nothing else. It disdains the arts of the orator. It makes reason the autocrat of the mind. But that very fact emphasizes that the mind should attend to its own business. It should not transgress its limits. It should be a perfect machine, an apparatus for representing the universe accurately and impartially to its master. The Self, its Will, and its Apprehension, should be utterly beyond it.” (The Law is For All, II:27). Also, “When reason usurps the higher functions of the mind, when it presumes to dictate to the Will what its desires ought to be, it wrecks the entire structure of the star. The Self should set the Will in motion, that is, the Will should only take its orders from within and above” (“Djeridensis Working,” II:31).

Another claim is made in Liber AL vel Legis I:58, “I give unimaginable joys on earth: certainty, not faith, while in life, upon death; peace unutterable, rest, ecstasy; nor do I demand aught in sacrifice.” The Will does not require articles of faith to be accepted but rather asks that the individual rely on their experiences. It is the faith conferred by the direct experience of the”consciousness of the continuity of existence” (Liber AL vel Legis I:26) that is offered. Rational precepts are not proposed, debated over, accepted, and rejected but rather one attains various Trances and learn from one’s experiences. When one attains the “consciousness of the continuity of existence” (Liber AL vel Legis I:26) and becomes “chief of all” (Liber AL vel Legis I:23), the unity of this perception is not explainable by the duality of reason. In relation to this experience we find “there could be no reality in any intellectual concept of any kind, that the only reality must lie in direct experience of such a kind that it is beyond the scope of the critical apparatus of our minds. It cannot be subject to the laws of Reason; it cannot be found in the fetters of elementary mathematics; only transfinite and irrational conceptions in that subject can possibly shadow forth the truth in some such paradox as the identity of contradictories.” (Eight Lectures on Yoga) Crowley also says, “To have any sensible meaning at all, faith must mean experience… Nothing is any use to us unless it be a certainty unshakeable by criticism of any kind, and there is only one thing in the universe which complies with these conditions: the direct experience of spiritual truth. Here, and here only, do we find a position in which the great religious minds of all times and all climes coincide. It is necessarily above dogma, because dogma consists of a collection of intellectual statements, each of which, and also its contradictory, can easily be disputed and overthrown.” (Eight Lectures on Yoga) This perception of the world as continuous and unitary is not offered on faith but can be achieved and recognized as a certainty by those who attain thereto.

One other doctrine relating to reason that appears in Crowley’s writings but not explicitly in Liber AL vel Legis is the idea of the circularity of reason. Reason can only manipulate and work with articles of reason; this relates to what was said above because the problems in the sphere of reason should not usurp the power of or dictate actions to the sphere of Will. We have an example of this doctrine of the circularity of reason in “The Antecedents of Thelema” where Crowley writes, “All proofs turn out on examination to be definitions. All definitions are circular. (For a = bc, b = de … w = xy, and y = za.)” In this sense, reason deals with relations between illusion. This is certainly useful – science is a good example of this – but it doesn’t give us any powerful facts of the way things are. In a deeper sense, reason works within the realms of duality while the Will must remain one-pointed and therefore not mired in the relations of reason. Crowley writes further on this idea in the essay “Knowledge” in Little Essays Toward Truth, “All knowledge may be expressed in the form S=P. But if so, the idea P is really implicit in S; thus we have learnt nothing… S=P (unless identical, and therefore senseless) is an affirmation of duality; or, we may say, intellectual perception is a denial of Samadhic truth. It is therefore essentially false in the depths of its nature.” Reason is understood as simply the relation of words which point to other words, ad infinitum. Further, as mentioned above, because reason works with relations between ideas (the relation between ‘S’ and ‘P’ above), it affirms duality in the world. Two things can only be related in reason if they are distinct and therefore separate.

Again, all of these ideas about reason intertwine to give us a general picture of Thelema’s approach to the place of knowledge and reason. Essentially, the Will of the individual is beyond reason, or supra-rational, so one cannot ask “Why” of it or justify it with “Because.” Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131The individual must then constantly go forward and experience new and various things, not depending on articles of faith. Reason is a human faculty that allows us to manipulate & find the relations between finite facts and ideas. Because of this it must work within its own sphere (i.e. deal with problems of rationality like mathematics, science, etc.) while leaving the Will to act uninhibited. With this understanding, one can be guarded against reason when it asks “whence camest thou? Whither wilt thou go?” with the response “No whence! No whither! …Is there not joy ineffable in this aimless winging? Is there not weariness and impatience for who would attain to some goal?” (Liber LXV, II:21-22, 24)

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7 comments

  1. I enjoyed this very much. From a theoretical perspective, I agree. The mind should remain within its own sphere and not try to scratch the surfaces where the Will is operating. However, the whole curriculum of Thelema advocates the study of numbers, mind-control (yoga), magick etc. But aren’t all these methods a means to perceive & understand Will? I imagine once I am able to perceive Will, I am no longer doing so with a ‘dualistic’ mindset, right? In this essay, are you using “Mind” only to describe its dualistic capacity? Once my duality is ‘dissolved’, and I can perceive my Will, isnt it still the Mind at work?

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    1. 93 – The mind still continues to work, but it does not usurp the position of General or King. I like to think of the Self as a big circle. The mind and the ego are a smaller circle within this. When the ego/mind try to dictate what is right and wrong, you inherently do not accommodate the whole Self. The dynamic aspect of the Self is the Will. The mind can be used as an aid and messenger and interpreter of Will but not commander thereof.

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    2. I very much doubt that the ascertaining of the Will is exclusive to Thelema, considering that Thelema itself advocates a kind of perennial philosophy. In other words, you don’t absolutely need to practice Thelemic magick and mysticism and follow the Kabbalah and such to realize the Will.

      Was the Buddha, through his own means, any less enlightened than a modern “magus”?

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