The Parable of the White Swan of Ecstasy and the Little Crazy Boy of Reason
“Also the Holy One came upon me, and I beheld a white swan floating in the blue. Between its wings I sate, and the æons fled away. Then the swan flew and dived and soared, yet no whither we went. A little crazy boy that rode with me spake unto the swan, and said: Who art thou that dost float and fly and dive and soar in the inane? Behold, these many æons have passed; whence camest thou? Whither wilt thou go? And laughing I chid him, saying: No whence! No whither! The swan being silent, he answered: Then, if with no goal, why this eternal journey? And I laid my head against the Head of the Swan, and laughed, saying: Is there not joy ineffable in this aimless winging? Is there not weariness and impatience for who would attain to some goal? And the swan was ever silent. Ah! but we floated in the infinite Abyss. Joy! Joy! White swan, bear thou ever me up between thy wings!”
–Liber LXV, II:17-25
This Parable of the White Swan of Ecstasy and the Little Crazy Boy of Reason is one of my personal favorite passages from the Holy Books of Thelema. Crowley refers to this passage in several places including his commentary on Blavatsky’s “The Voice of the Silence” and his commentary on The Book of the Law. There is also a chapter in The Book of Lies entitled “The Swan” (chapter 17) that is expands the symbolism of this passage, which I encourage you to read if this Parable particularly interests you.
“Also the Holy One came upon me, and I beheld a white swan floating in the blue. Between its wings I sate, and the æons fled away.” The phrase “the Holy One came upon me” is a way to say that the Adept has entered into an ecstatic state of consciousness, similar to saying that the Holy Spirit has entered one’s heart or descended upon oneself. The Adept sees a “white swan,” which represents Ecstasy. This symbolism is developed in The Book of Lies where Crowley writes, “There is a Swan whose name is Ecstasy: it wingeth from the Deserts of the North; it wingeth through the blue; it wingeth over the fields of rice; at its coming they push forth the green.”1 Crowley comments further that “This Swan is Aum,”2 which is both the name of the swan and its nature, i.e. it is the Holy Mantra of the Hindus and whose symbolism is too deep and complex for this basic essay. Crowley comments, “The swan is the ecstatic Consciousness of the Adept.”3
This white swan “floats,” meaning it moves effortlessly. The swan floats “in the blue,” which represents infinite space (i.e. Nuit). This parallels the line from The Book of Lies where the swan “wingeth through the blue.” Crowley comments, “It is poised in infinite space.”4 The Adept sits between the wings of the swan, carried by its effortless floating of ecstasy. “The æons fled away” means that the Adept, through Ecstasy, has transcended Time. Entire aeons go past without any care or worry. Crowley comments, “In Ecstasy time does not count.”5
“Then the swan flew and dived and soared, yet no whither we went.” Despite the swan’s movements of flying, diving, and soaring, it remains essentially motionless. The aeons having fled away means Ecstasy transcends Time and now we see that this Ecstasy also transcends Space. Each movement of the Swan of Ecstasy is Joy even though there is no real movement or progress. From the perspective of the infinite, there is no goal to be attained, yet each movement through time and space is joy. From this point-of-view, one can truly say, “Existence is pure joy.”6 Crowley comments, “The Ecstasy moves from one sublimity of Joy to another; but there is no progress possible in perfection, therefore no aim to be attained by such movements.”7
“A little crazy boy that rode with me spake unto the swan, and said: Who art thou that dost float and fly and dive and soar in the inane? Behold, these many æons have passed; whence camest thou? Whither wilt thou go?” We are now introduced to a new character, the “little crazy boy” who represents the mind or Ruach, especially insofar as it is the realm of Reason. This boy of Reason questions the Swan and essentially asks, “Who are you? All this time has passed but where did you come from and where are you going?” Reason cannot understand the initiated point-of-view, just as – esoterically – the Ruach of Knowledge can never reach above the Abyss to the Supernal Triad of Understanding. The mind is embedded in space and time: it cannot comprehend That which transcends both. Crowley comments, “The boy is the human reason, which demands measurement as the first condition of intelligible consciousness. Aware of time, he cannot understand why all this motion has not brought the swan nearer to some fixed point, or how the relation of the point of origin to its present position is not an ever-present anxiety. He cannot conceive of motion without reference to fixed axes.”8
“And laughing I chid him, saying: No whence! No whither!” The Adept replies for the swan and “chids him,” which means that he rebukes or scoffs at Reason. The Adept says that He and the swan did not come from anywhere in particular nor are they going anywhere in particular, for they are beyond past and future insofar as they transcend Time itself. In being carried by spiritual Ecstasy, one does not strive to attain certain goals but partakes in each action and moment with Joy. Crowley comments, “I reply that, apprehending the continuum (Nuit) as such, no ‘space-marks’ exist.”9 Crowley is referencing The Book of the Law where it is written, “If this be not aright; if ye confound the space-marks, saying: They are one; or saying, They are many; if the ritual be not ever unto me: then expect the direful judgments of Ra Hoor Khuit!”10 The Adept and the swan are beyond the multiciplity of space, time, and causality so there are no “space-marks” to separate any one thing from any other thing. As it says in The Book of the Law, “Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.”11
“The swan being silent, he answered: Then, if with no goal, why this eternal journey?” The swan is always silent for it is caught up in Ecstasy that transcends the duality of thought and speech. Silence represents None or non-duality as Speech represents Two or duality/multiplicity. The little crazy boy of Reason then asks why go through these motions if there is no goal or end intended? Crowley comments, “The swan is of course silent: Ecstasy transcends expression. Reason asks the motive of motion, in the absence of all destination.”12
“And I laid my head against the Head of the Swan, and laughed, saying: Is there not joy ineffable in this aimless winging? Is there not weariness and impatience for who would attain to some goal?” The Adept puts his head against that of the swan, implying that he is one with the transcendent Ecstasy represented thereby. The Adept laughs because the nature of Ecstasy is Joy, and laughing a natural response of the illuminated or enlightened consciousness in response to the questioning of the ego/mind/Ruach. The Adept asks a rhetorical question, implying that there is no aim to the “winging” or motion of existence, yet there is Joy in each motion. This is the pure will where one is “unassuaged of purpose.”13 Crowley comments, “The Adept bringing this thought closes to Ecstasy, laughs, both for pure joy, and as amused by the incongruous absurdities of ‘rational’ arguments from which he is now for ever free, expresses his idea thus: Thus free exercise of some object thereby, it would imply the pain of desire, the strain of effort, and the fear of failure.”14 One might say that if there is no target, there is no possibility of missing the mark. The mind is always caught up in worrying about goals and aims and purposes, thereby leading to anxiety over the possibility of not attaining these aims, strain over attempting to attain them, and sorrow over having not achieved them. This ecstatic consciousness to which the Adept has attained does not worry itself with these things, but – instead – takes Joy in all instances of motion and existence no matter whether they are considered “success” or “failure” by the rational mind. This line is the true core or “moral” of this Parable: one should strive to attain that ecstatic consciousness whereby the fretting over finding and finishing goals falls away.
“And the swan was ever silent. Ah! but we floated in the infinite Abyss. Joy! Joy! White swan, bear thou ever me up between thy wings!” The swan, as mentioned before, is always silent, for it abides in its Ecstasy that transcends all illusion, all multiplicity, and therefore all worry. The Adept then gets absorbed into the Ecstasy of the swan, calling to the swan to always bear the mind of the Adept in its Ecstasy. Crowley comments, “Ecstasy remains undisturbed. But the dialogue has caused the Adept to reflect more deeply on his state of bliss, so that the Ecstasy becomes motionless, realising its perfect relation to the Infinity of the continuum. The Adept demands that ecstasy shall be constant.”15
SUMMARY: The Adept, being carried on the Ecstasy that transcends space and time, is not focused on the past or future, especially attaining specific goals, but instead takes Joy in every experience. While Reason is always worrying about specific aims or goals, the ecstatic consciousness of the Adept rejoices in the “aimless winging” of existence. This Parable counsels us to attain that intoxicated spiritual Ecstasy whereby we transcend our rational anxieties, strains, and sorrows so that we might take Joy in every moment. While this is a certainly lofty attainment, the Parable also has a more mundane and practical import: We must strive to see the Joy of experience in itself no matter what its character may be, which comes from not being overly absorbed in and worrying over attaining specific goals. We all have many notions about what we “should be” doing or achieving, and it is not inherently wrong to have certain aims or purposes to guide behavior. Despite this, it is easy to become entirely engrossed in these notions of what should or should not be happening, and we then get caught up in the “lust of result” whereby we become attached to a certain outcome. The Parable therefore counsels us to be on guard against the constant questioning and criticism of the mind, which always seeks as “why” or “wherefore” or “because” to justify action, yet to become caught up in this is to lead into stagnation and sorrow where the inherent Joy of all instances of experience – both comedic and tragic – is forgotten.
Crowley – in an unusual bout of clarity – explains this idea which I will quote to end this particular section:
“There is no ‘reason’ why a Star should continue in its orbit. Let her rip! Every time the conscious acts, it interferes with the Subconscious, which is Hadit. It is the voice of Man, and not of a God. Any man who ‘listens to reason’ ceases to be a revolutionary… 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… We are not to calculate, to argue, to criticise; these things lead to division of will and to stagnation. They are shackles of our Going. They hamstring our Pegasus. We are to rise up — to Go — to Love — we are to be awake, alert… This is the ready test of a Star, that it whirls flaming through the sky. You cannot mistake it for an Old Maid objecting to Everything. This Universe is a wild revel of atoms, men, and stars, each one a Soul of Light and Mirth, horsed on Eternity.” 16
1The Book of Lies, chapter 17.
2The Book of Lies, commentary to chapter 17.
3Commentary to Liber LXV, II:17.
4Commentary to Liber LXV, II:17.
5Commentary to Liber LXV, II:18.
6Liber AL vel Legis, II:9.
7Commentary to Liber LXV, II:19.
8Commentary to Liber LXV, II:20.
9Commentary to Liber LXV, II:22.
10Liber AL vel Legis, I:52.
11Liber AL vel Legis, I:22.
12Commentary to Liber LXV, II:23.
13The reference is to Liber AL, I:44, “For pure will, unassuaged of purpose, delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect.”
14Commentary to Liber LXV, II:24.
15Commentary to Liber LXV, II:25.
16New Comment to Liber AL, II:30-34.