Psychology of Liber AL – pt.7: Life and Death Instincts

Psychology of Liber AL

Life and Death Instincts

I am the secret Serpent coiled about to spring: in my coiling there is joy. If I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one. If I droop down mine head, and shoot forth venom, then is rapture of the earth, and I and the earth are one.” –Liber AL vel Legis II:26

In this verse from Liber AL, we find Hadit comparing “himself” to “the secret Serpent coiled about to spring.” This symbol is obviously showing the vast potential stored within the Self, like that contained within a coiled serpent, analogous to the unknowable power hidden in the recesses of each person’s unconscious.1 From this position of coiling, Hadit either lifts up his head or droops down. These two actions are related to becoming one with Nuit and becoming one with the earth, respectively. Crowley writes in his commentary to this line, “The mystic Union is to be practised both with Spirit and with Matter,” which are “two main types of the Orgia of Magick [causing Change in conformity with Will].” This shows that there are two fundamental actions to be taken or courses of the Will: (1) return to the spirit, and (2) immersion in matter.

Crowley says elsewhere that “Magick = the Will to Live” and “Mysticism = the Will to Die.”2 This brings to mind the theories of the life drive (termed eros) and death drive (termed thanatos) expounded by Sigmund Freud, the famous psychologist. Freud’s definition of the death drive being “an urge inherent in all organic life to restore an earlier state of things”3 may be likened to the “union with Nuit” in which one’s consciousness “becomes one,” and his life instinct of eros may be seen to be analogous to the “rapture of the earth.”

Jung also posits two similar ideas in his pseudo-mystical treatise “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos.” He writes:

The world of the gods is made manifest in spirituality and in sexuality. The celestial ones appear in spirituality, the earthly in sexuality. Spirituality conceiveth and embraceth. It is womanlike and therefore we call it MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother. Sexuality engendereth and createth. It is manlike, and therefore we call it PHALLOS, the earthly father. The sexuality of man is more of the earth, the sexuality of woman is more of the spirit.”4

Here are two seemingly autonomous psychic functions in relation to the individual identified as “the celestial mother” – very much like lifting up of Hadit’s head to union with Nuit (who is often pictured as a star goddess) – and “the earthly father” which is analogous to Hadit drooping his head to the earth. In Jungian psychology, it is understood that the individual’s psyche is bi-gendered in that it contains both masculine and feminine aspects, and in this case it should be understood that these two things – “celestial mother” and “earthly father” – relate to “every man and every woman.” Jung continues:

Man shall distinguish himself both from spirituality and sexuality. He shall call spirituality Mother, and set her between heaven and earth. He shall call sexuality Phallos, and set him between himself and earth. For the Mother and the Phallos are super-human daemons which reveal the world of the gods.”5

Here we have almost the same language being used as in Liber AL vel Legis. Once again we must remember that “Psychology accordingly treats all metaphysical claims and assertions as mental phenomena, and regards them as statements about the mind and its structure that derive ultimately from certain unconscious dispositions.”6 We can now understand that this line in Liber AL vel Legis that started this chapter refers to the two fundamental drives or two aspects of the Will.

Two potential courses of the Will

Liber AL II:26

Aleister Crowley

Sigmund Freud

Carl Jung

Hadit is “coiled,” prepared to Will a certain course of actions, either (1) return to spirit or (2) immersion in matter

1: “return to spirit”

I lift up my head, I and my Nuit are one.”

Mysticism = the Will to Death;” “Union… with Spirit”

Thanatos: the death drive

MATER COELESTIS, the celestial mother;” “spirituality”

2: “immersion in matter”

If I droop down mine head… I and the earth are one.”

Magick = the Will to Life;” “Union… with Matter”

Eros: the life drive

PHALLOS, the earthly father;” “sexuality”

[Figure 1. The two courses of Will once Hadit is “coiled about to spring”]

I referred to these two “drives” or “psychological contents” as seemingly autonomous psychic functions above, and Jung writes that “man shall distinguish himself” from both of them, for they are most practically understood as autonomous functions. He then proclaims these words:

Spirituality and sexuality are not your qualities, not things ye possess and contain. But they possess and contain you; for they are powerful daemons, manifestations of the gods, and are, therefore, things which reach beyond you, existing in themselves. No man hath a spirituality unto himself, or a sexuality unto himself. But he standeth under the law of spirituality and of sexuality. No man, therefore, escapeth these daemons.”7

This is a fundamentally important point. These actions or drives are not our qualities in the normal sense that we would normally think of something as part of ourselves, part of our personalities or mental structure. Rather, they are understood as forces influencing our psyches. Our normal, conscious sense of self is the ego, which is informed by these two influencing drives, these two aspects of the Will, and – as we explored earlier – the Will of the individual is the guiding Law of life (“There is no law beyond” doing it)8

It should be remarked that no matter what Hadit “does” – if there is coiling, lifting of the head, drooping of the head – there is joy and rapture. Once again it is shown that, in all aspects, “Existence is pure joy.”9

>>PART 8>>

1 The connections between this symbol and the Hindu kundalini are also plainly apparent, but elaboration on this point not appropriate for this essay.

2 Crowley, Aleister. “The Antecedents of Thelema.” Printed in The Revival of Magick.

3 Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle.

4 Jung, Carl. “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos,” Sermo V.

5 Jung, Carl. “Septem Sermones ad Mortuos,” Sermo V.

6 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” par. 760.

7 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation,” par. 760.

8 A reference to Liber AL, III:60, “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.”

9 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:9.

>>PART 8>>

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