Philosophy

The Officers of the Gnostic Mass – pt.1: Introduction & the Priest

Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica - The Gnostic Mass

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions related herein are strictly my own. They do not represent any kind of official stance of Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, Ordo Templi Orientis, or anyone else. 

INTRODUCTION

The Gnostic Mass is an incredibly deep, complex, multi-layered ceremony. It seems to be an inexhaustible source of meaning and illumination. This is because the Mass itself represents the Mysteries. These are not the secrets that are known by some and guarded from others, but the “Mystery of Mystery” Itself. It represents in dramatic form that which is “secret and ineffable,” “beyond speech and beyond sight,” and “beyond all term.” It celebrates “that most holy mystery.”

As The Master Therion says, “Since truth is supra-rational, it is incommunicable in the language of reason” (Postcards to Probationers), and “all real secrets are incommunicable” (Magick in Theory & Practice). The Gnostic Mass therefore “refers to a knowledge incommunicable—save by experience” (Temple of Solomon the King). This knowledge attained through experience is what is meant by gnosis, the direct experiential “knowledge” that is not (and can’t be) communicated with words – it can only be hinted at through symbol and allegory, like fingers pointing to the moon. And this is one reason our Church is the Gnostic Catholic Church. As the Master Therion says, “ye shall comprehend, when, rising above Reason, which is but a manipulation of the Mind, ye come to pure Knowledge by direct perception of the Truth” (De Lege Libellum).

One issue I see in some individuals’ writings and understanding of the Gnostic Mass is that they often get quickly “locked in” to a certain symbolic interpretation being “right.” For example, the most common I see is the understanding that the Creed or the Officers represent the formula of Tetragrammaton (YHVH) and nothing else. Since the nature of the Mysteries is that they are, by definition, not exhaustible or completely explainable through language, there is therefore a theoretically infinite amount about them that one can say or write. Because of this, what is expressed below is most certainly not exhaustive in its explanation of anything in the Gnostic Mass. What follows is neither official nor “Absolutely True,” but it is intended to offer different perspectives in the hopes of widening and deepening one’s understanding and appreciation of the Gnostic Mass.

THE OFFICERS

There are technically 4 “roles” filled by 5 individuals in the Gnostic Mass: (1) The PRIEST, (2) The PRIESTESS, (3) The DEACON, and (4) The two CHILDREN. I am going to go through each one and briefly discuss different ways of understanding the Officers symbolically. This will not be an incredibly in-depth analysis because the intent is to make these different perspectives known in order to broaden and deepen one’s understanding, not to make an academic-intellectual case for one or the other. It is also intended to leave room open for one’s own scholarship, fantasy, and experience.

Before beginning, it is important to remember what is said in the 5th Aethyr, “there could be nothing true except by virtue of the contradiction that is contained in itself.” That is to say: Each symbol is not “X to the exclusion of not-X.” Something may very well symbolize something and its exact opposite. One example is the symbolism of “darkness” and “night”: It can symbolize the darkness of the uninitiate’s ignorance or it can symbolize the highest attainment of NOX, the dissolution of All into None. Remembering this, no explanation of symbolism can ever be “logically consistent” because logic insists on something being either X or not-X; symbolism works with something beyond logic – something “supra-rational” – where meanings combine, oppose, intertwine, and interrelate in many different ways.

THE PRIEST

1) John Everyman: A Man Among Men

The Priest, in many senses, represents every individual. In particular, the Priest is a representation or archetypal expression of each of the Congregants. This is reflected in the Priest’s words when he exits the Tomb: “I am a man among men.” It even says in the rubric of the Gnostic Mass that “The PRIESTESS and other officers never partake of the Sacrament, they being as it were part of the PRIEST himself” (emphasis added). He is the natural protagonist of the Gnostic Mass, although I very much agree with several people who mention that the Priest, Priestess, and Deacon are each the protagonist from their own point-of-view. Nonetheless, the Priest is the one who undergoes “the Hero’s Journey” in the mythopoetic drama of the Gnostic Mass, and individuals often naturally will identify with him. This relates to the next symbol:

2) The Conscious Self: The Subject

The Priest is the natural “protagonist” and symbol with which people identify most readily because he symbolizes the conscious self. One could say the Priest represents the “ego,” but he is deeper than that: He is the Self that expresses itself through the ego on a “lower level”. The Priest is the individuality of each individual. For comparison, one could say the Priest is the Self and the Deacon represents the ego with all of its mental-rational capabilities (memory, volition, imagination, desire, reason) that assists the Self. Qabalistically, one can think of the Priest as Tiphareth, the Sun, and the Deacon as representing the Sephiroth surrounding and aiding it. Again, since the Priest represents the conscious self, he naturally represents the Subject of awareness and represents each individual’s Subject-hood. In relation to this, the Priestess represents the Object. In terms of the language of Yoga, the Subject of awareness unites with the Object of awareness in samadhi, or non-dual awareness.

3) The Yod of Tetragrammaton: The Father of Life

In the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, the Priest can represent the “Yod” (YHVH). This Yod relates to the Father, the King, the Element of Fire, and the magical weapon of the Wand. The Priest is called “Lord” and calls himself “Priest and King,” identifying himself with the “Kingly” element of Yod. The Priest bears the Sacred Lance, which is a form of the Wand, a phallic instrument of force and power (but it is not the exact same thing as the Wand, as will be mentioned later). The Lance (Yod) combines with the Chalice (Heh), further emphasizing this connection. Further, he is clothed in scarlet, a shade of red which is attributable to Fire and therefore to Yod. Further: On his second step toward the Veil, the Priest identifies with Hadit, the heart of every man and the core of every star, which is the ultimate Paternal idea beyond even notions of gender. In the Creed, the “Father of Life” is called CHAOS, who is identifiable with “Therion” (The Great Beast 666), which are all Father-Force symbols attributable in the Qabalah to the 2nd Sephirah, Chokmah. All these things go to reinforce the fact that the Priest can be identified as the Yod of Tetragrammaton, the Father-King of Life.

4) The Vav of Tetragrammaton: The Sun/Son

To further complicate things (as is natural with symbolism), the Priest can be identified with the Vav of Tetragrammaton (YHVH). On the Tree of Life, Yod can be attributed to Chokmah, Heh to Binah, Vav to Tiphareth (and the surrounding Sephiroth), and Final Heh to Malkuth. In this scheme, Vav is attributed to the Sun, and the Priest is called the “Priest of the Sun” by the Priestess. Further, in the incestuous Qabalistic drama of Tetragrammaton, the Son/Prince is said to marry the Daughter/Princess and set her upon the Throne of the Mother. This is explicitly seen when the Priest says, “I, PRIEST and KING, take thee, Virgin pure without spot; I upraise thee; I lead thee to the East; I set thee upon the summit of the Earth.” The Priest then literally sets the Priestess upon the Throne in the East. As it says in the 4th Aethyr, “And this is that which is written: Malkuth shall be uplifted and set upon the throne of Binah.” In this sense, the Priest begins as the Prince/Son and, by virtue of his interaction with the Princess/Daughter, uplifts her to become Queen/Mother and he assumes the place of King/Father.

Again: the symbolism intertwines and overlaps in many ways. At the end of the Gnostic Mass, the Priest consumes the two-fold Eucharist and, in the attitude of Resurrection, proclaims that “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” This is the traditional symbol of Osiris who died and was reborn, and the attitude of Resurrection was called “the Sign of Osiris Risen” in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which was attributed to the Sephirah of Tiphareth (that was, in turn, attributed to the grade of 5=6, that of the formula of LVX, IAO, and INRI, i.e. Life-Death-Rebirth). In a certain way, the Gnostic Mass represents the “perpetuation of the Tetragrammaton,” which is to say that it represents evolution (One becoming Many, Creation) and involution (Many becoming One, Attainment) and evolution again, et cetera ad infinitum. In this light, Crowley comments on the quotation from the 4th Aethyr mentioned above, “This mystery of the Daughter awakening the eld of the all-Father and thus perpetuating Tetragrammaton is of great importance.”

5) The Masculine Operator in Sexual Magick

As if it is not already obvious from the previously mentioned symbolism (and the Mass itself), the Priest represents the masculine operator in sexual magick. I say “masculine” because he represents one half of the equation, and each individual “soul” is androgynous, containing both male and female (and all other opposites) in itself. In this way, in Hindu symbolism, the Priest represents Shiva and the Priestess is Shakti. This is reflected in Atu XI: Lust where Babalon (Shakti) is astride the Beast (Shiva). From this symbolism, one comes to wonder why the Priest is constantly identified as the “active” element in this duo when the symbolism repeatedly points to Babalon-Shakti as the more “active” participant – the masculine seems to often be “along for the ride,” so to speak. She’s the one who came down and pulled the Priest out of the Tomb, after all. In fact, Babalon is literally on top of the Beast in Atu XI, and – during the Collects – the Priestess can be seen above the Priest as they exchange their loving glances and breath.

Alchemically, the Priest is the Red Lion who interacts with the White Eagle, combining their essences in the hermetic vessel (or Grail) in order to produce the Elixir of Life, the Stone of the Philosophers, the Arcane Substance, the Two-in-One (et cetera). This alchemical symbolism is shown most explicitly in Atu VI: The Lovers where the Chymical Marriage takes place, and the result of their Consummation is shown in Atu XIV: Art.

6) Parsival: The Fool’s Journey

The Priest represents Parsival, specifically the character from Wagner’s opera. The Master Therion was obviously most fond of this allegory and he references it in many different works. In fact, he notes that “The dramatic setting of Wagner’s Parsifal was arranged by the then head of the O.T.O.” (i.e. Theodor Reuss). He explains that “Parsifal in his first phase is Der reine Thor, the Pure Fool” (The Book of Thoth), so the Gnostic Mass can be seen as the archetypal narrative of “the Fool’s Journey.”

Consider this: The Priest issues from the Tomb in white, symbolizing purity and innocence, just like that of Parsifal in the first Act of Wagner’s opera. Next, “Parsifal seizes [the sacred lance]; in other words, attains to puberty.” This is shown by the 11 strokes of the Lance by which the Lord is made present among us; further, going back to the symbolism of Tetragrammaton, this shows the Priest attaining “spiritual puberty” represented by the Lance (Vav) by which he may unite with the Daughter (Final Heh) and set her upon the Throne of the Mother (Heh). As the Master Therion explains, “the Fool: the innocent and impotent Harpocrates Babe becomes the Horus Adult by obtaining the Wand. ‘Der reine Thor’ [the pure fool] seizes the Sacred Lance. Bacchus becomes Pan. The Holy Guardian Angel is the Unconscious Creature Self – the Spiritual Phallus. His knowledge and conversation contributes occult puberty” (Liber Samekh).

Next, Parsifal must seek Monsalvat, the Mountain of Salvation, that is the same as “Abiegnus” the sacred mountain of Rosicrucians (as well as Mount Sinai, Mount Meru, the world-ash wonder-tree, and all other symbols of the axis mundi) that is symbolically shown as the High Altar in the East. The Master Therion continues, “Where is Monsalvat, the mountain of salvation, which he has sought so long in vain? He worships the lance: immediately the way, so long closed to him, is open.” This is seen in the Priest’s three circumambulations of the Temple in darkness, led only by the Light of the Sacred Lance, which eventually brings him to the Veil of the Sanctuary. Then, “Accordingly, to redeem the whole situation, to destroy death, to reconsecrate the temple, he has only to plunge the lance into the Holy Grail; he redeems not only Kundry, but himself.” This is seen in the moment of the Lance plunging the particle into the Grail with the simultaneous orgasmic “HRILIU” from Priest and Priestess. It is from this “mixture,” the Eucharist infused with Godhead Itself, that the Priest (and the People) can partake and arise as that which may truthfully proclaim, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.” This is one reason that the Sacred Lance is not just another name for the magical implement of the Wand. Without the Lance, the entire symbolism of Parsifal’s “Fool’s Journey” (the connections of which goes much deeper than the above) is almost completely lost.

Again: This list is not exhaustive, nor is the symbolism of any of those meanings listed above completely fleshed out. The idea is to show there are many interconnected, intertwining, overlapping sets of symbolism by which one can more fully appreciate the mysterious depths of the central ceremony of Ordo Templi Orientis.

[→ Part 2: The Priestess →]

On Contributing to the Greater Community in Thelema

IAO131 - On Serving the Greater Community in Thelema

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Prologue

Before even beginning to discuss the extent that contributing to the greater community is part of Thelema, it should be acknowledged that the “alpha and omega” of Thelema is Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. There is no law beyond doing your Will and you have no right but to do It. The answer to any question that takes the form “Is X or Y part of Thelema” is always “if it is your Will, then yes; if it is not your Will, then no.” I am not saying anyone “should” or “should not” do anything, but I am presenting an argument why contributing to the greater community is justified within the philosophy of Thelema. With that in mind, we can take a look at what Thelema implies and Crowley said about contributing to the greater community.

A maturing view of True Will

I would argue that, at a less mature level, Thelema is understood to be an entirely selfish doctrine. (By “less mature,” I simply mean “not fully developed,” and no pejorative implication is meant by it). When first learning about Thelema, individuals often understand “Do what thou wilt” to essentially mean “I have the right to find my Will and do it, so my personal needs trump everyone else’s.” From a certain standpoint, this is true. Your needs certainly deserve to be fulfilled. The problem is that many people simply do not know yet what their true “personal needs” and desires are in the first place – hence the necessity to engage in the process to know one’s Will. Further, one in this mindset maintains a very dichotomous (i.e. dualistic, black-and-white) view of the “self” as distinct from “others.” 

Many people move to the next level of maturity when they join an organization or start applying Thelema at a broader scale. That is, one matures to realize that everyone else has the right to do their own Will just as much as oneself. It is the realization that, just as you are the center of your own universe, everyone around you is the center of their own universes. Not only this, but many come to realize that becoming aware of others’ needs and even helping to fulfill them actually makes one’s own Will much easier to accomplish. The dichotomous view of “my Will versus the world” begins to break down and we see that we are a Star in the company of Stars. We see that disagreement does not preclude a greater harmony or cooperation, and often we find that we can accomplish greater things if we work together with others. We may even begin see that the distinction between “self” and “other” is much more tenuous, fluid, and dynamic than previously supposed, perhaps gaining a glimmer of the meaning of “the union of opposites” being the Great Work. 

This all may sound very obvious to some, but this is where things generally start to “break down.” Thelemites may see the rationale to serve their own needs and the needs of their Brothers and Sisters, but many do not see a rationale for contributing to the greater community. By “the greater community” I simply mean “people who are not part of OTO” or even “people who are not self-identified Thelemites.” Why might this be?

Why should we contribute to the greater community?

I am defining contributing as “giving resources, including but not limited to time, energy, and money.” We should certainly make sure to dedicate our resources to ourselves, making sure that our needs are met so that we may accomplish our Wills. Many Thelemites naturally and intuitively understand that contributing to an organization like OTO – i.e. by giving their time, energy, and money – is a great way to not only aid others in accomplishing their Wills but to learn more about one’s own Will in the process. The struggle for freedom – and the freedom that one has won for oneself – is naturally desired to be shared with others, so we band together into communities in order to preserve and promulgate the Law of Life, Light, Love, and Liberty. Why should we stop at our local community of Thelemites? Is not the Law for all? Do we not acknowledge that every man and every woman is a star? Do we not want all individuals to have the freedom to do their Wills? 

The image that precedes this essay is a well surrounded by four palm trees. This comes from Crowley’s essay “Liber CXXIV: Of Eden and the Sacred Oak” with the subtitle “And of the Greater and Lesser Hospitality of the O.T.O.” The subject of the essay is about “Profess Houses” in OTO, but I believe many of the principles apply on a greater, more general scale. As it is said, “For, in True Things, all are but images one of another; man is but a map of the universe, and Society is but the same on a larger scale.” The import of the image is that the Thelemic community – represented by the Profess House, but it could be any group of Thelemites of any or no formal organization – is a source of nourishment and hospitality to everything around it. Crowley writes:

“The symbol of the Profess-House is therefore a great Oak from which flow streams of water to every quarter fertilising indeed the ground about the hill and fortifying with moisture the roots of the oak itself, but not eddying about it and sapping its foundations. And in the spread of this Eden shall many men rejoice, taking shelter beneath overspreading branches, and refreshing their weary limbs in the fresh waters of the fount celestial pure. Alternatively, the symbol may be that of a well in the desert, sheltered by four great palms.”

Although the idea of the paradise of Eden with 4 rivers is a bit utopian and hyperbolic, it is nonetheless an important symbol.IAO131 - On Serving the Greater Community in Thelema The idea is that the community (represented by the oak or the well) nourishes things around it (the four streams of water or the four palms); further, in the community’s nourishing of others, it also fortifies itself without losing its own foundations. I think this is a beautiful image: every Thelemic community is a beacon of Light to those who stumble in darkness, a well of Life for those who struggle to subsist. 

Crowley himself says clearly, “thou must by Law assure to every Man a Means of satisfying his bodily and his mental Needs, leaving him free to develop any Super-Structure in Accordance with his Will, and protecting him from any that may seek to deprive him of these vertebral Rights.” This is essentially the idea of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” about 4 decades before the idea was described by Maslow: every individual needs the foundation of their basic needs – their “bodily and mental needs” – before the capstone of any kind of “Super-Structure” can be developed. Crowley reinforces this idea when he wrote to Lady Frieda Harris, “The whole world as I see it is at present lost in constipations of this kind; the real needs of humanity are what they have always been: food, shelter, love and freedom. That, roughly speaking, is the general true will of the species, and all devices, which are not subservient to this will, are errors.” If we have the means to, for example, satisfy the bodily needs of those who spend most of their energy concerned about food and shelter, does it not make sense to contribute to them if we are capable? That is, if we have the resources – the time, money, and/or energy – to aid others in by helping to satisfy their basic needs, are we not simply – in some some small way – allowing more and more individuals to do their Wills more fully? 

Crowley writes in Duty, “Pity, sympathy and like emotions are fundamentally insults to the Godhead of the person exciting them, and therefore also to your own. The distress of another may be relieved; but always with the positive and noble idea of making manifest the perfection of the Universe. Pity is the source of every mean, ignoble, cowardly vice; and the essential blasphemy against Truth.” Here we have a very good lesson from Crowley: if we are to help people, it is to manifest the perfection of every man and every woman being able to do their True Wills. It is to work towards the order and harmony of all the stars on Earth being as perfect as the order and harmony of all the stars in the Heavens. It is not done out of pity for distress or suffering, nor is it really done out of any emotion at all. This relief – this service of others – is done out of the desire to fulfill the Law of Liberty, to bring about a world where everyone has the capability and freedom to accomplish their True Wills. Perhaps this is one way that we can fulfill what is hoped for in OTO US Grand Lodge’s Vision Statement, “We will foster harmonious and constructive relationships with the academic, business, civil, and greater social communities within which we operate.”

We therefore have a very powerful but very simple view of contribution to the greater community: Contributing is done to help satisfy basic needs such as food and shelter which are common across all humanity that they may be able to more fully accomplish their True Wills. We do not impose any “Super-Structure” upon others but allow them to develop as they Will and make their own choices, and we do not contribute aid out of pity. This is done to “make manifest the perfection of the Universe.”

So why aren’t we doing this already?

Contributing to others is too Christian! The most obvious answer to why many Thelemites do not see contributing to the greater community as justified is that helping other people sounds like “charity,” a word that is inevitably tied up in many people’s minds with Christianity. Aside from the various arguments around charity itself, I think  we can acknowledge that rejecting an idea or behavior simply because it resembles some other belief system is not a good reason for rejecting it. Most Thelemites would think twice before rejecting Liber Resh as “too Muslim,” rejecting the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram as “too Jewish,” rejecting the Gnostic Mass as “too Christian,” or rejecting the use of a mantra as “too Hindu.” The reason to reject all these things should be determined by whether or not it is fulfilling or thwarting your individual Will, and that is always the only determining factor for everything. Perhaps some do not realize that “charity” comes from “caritas,” the Latin word used in the New Testament to translate the Greek word “agape which some Thelemites may be familiar with. With this, I would also add things like the argument that contributing to others is too “liberal,” “socialist,” “communist,” or whatever label associate with the general idea.

Contributing to others is too Humanitarian! Yes, Crowley said “An end to the humanitarian mawkishness which is destroying the human race by the deliberate artificial protection of the unfit.” He also lived off of a family inheritance and the generous donations of his friends and disciples. There is no need to even argue what “unfit” means in this context. I personally believe that we should concern ourselves with what is “fit” and “unfit” within ourselves to accomplish our own True Wills, and we acknowledge that every man and every woman is a star with an indefeasible right to accomplish their Wills as we do ours. Further, we have all benefited from others’ resources, from amniotic fluids to stimulating conversations to job promotions. While it is obvious that our own choices determine our destiny to a large extent, it would be a vain and short-sighted thing to believe we are entirely “self-made” in any way. As Liber Librae says, “A man is what he maketh himself within the limits fixed by his inherited destiny; he is a part of mankind; his actions affect not only what he calleth himself, but also the whole universe.” Aside from the fact that this means your acts (such as contributing to others) affect all of those around you, it  also means every single other individual’s actions affect your universe as well. A humble acknowledgment of this fact makes the idea of contributing to others seem quite natural.

We need to focus on our own! Yes, we do need to focus on “our own.” Our concern should begin with ourselves and emanate outward farther and farther. If, for example, an OTO body is struggling to even pay the rent, it would not make sense to devote money toward contributing to the general community. As Liber Librae says, “If thou thyself hast not a sure foundation, whereon wilt thou stand to direct the forces of Nature?” Of course you need a sure foundation, both individually and organizationally. That still doesn’t preclude the possibility of extending influence and resources beyond oneself once that sure foundation is secured.

Summary

Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. If it is your Will to contribute to the greater community, then that is fine; if it is not your Will, then that is fine as well. Nonetheless, there is a good rationale for engaging in contributing to the greater community. If we appreciate the freedom to know and do our Wills, we will naturally appreciate aiding others to achieve this freedom, even if it is in a small way. Crowley insisted that we are to assure the satisfaction of basic needs such as food and shelter so that individuals may have the capacity and freedom to develop their own unique proclivities. He also reminded us that this should be done out of making manifest the perfection of the Universe on Earth, of wanting every man and every woman to be able to accomplish their Wills, not out of pity or distress. If we have the resources to help others satisfy their basic needs so they may more fully know and do their Wills, why wouldn’t we contribute to the greater community?

Love is the law, love under will.

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Yama & Niyama of Thelema: What is the “ideal Thelemite”?

The Yama and Niyama of Thelema

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

What is the “ideal Thelemite”? In short: There is no such thing as an “ideal Thelemite.” The Law of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt,” which means that every individual is sovereign. Every man and every woman has their own individual Law, their own unique Will. As William Blake said, “One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression.”

The fact that “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” (Liber AL, III:60) is precisely why there are no standard or universal ideals. Each individual has their own Will, and each Law must have its own, unique “ideal.” Regarding the fact that there are no standards or universal ideals, Crowley writes: 

“What is necessary is not to seek after some fantastic ideal, utterly unsuited to our real needs, but to discover the true nature of those needs, to fulfill them, and rejoice therein.” —Magick Without Tears, chapter 8

“Know then, o my Son, that all Laws, all Systems, all Customs, all Ideals and Standards which tend to produce Uniformity, being in direct Opposition to Nature’s Will to change and to develop through Variety, are accursèd.”  —Liber Aleph, chapter 31: ‘De Lege Motus’

“Each child must develop its own Individuality, and Will, disregarding alien Ideals. … Let children educate themselves to be themselves. Those who train them to standards cripple and deform them. Alien ideals impose parasitic perversions. … Standards of education, ideals of Right-and-Wrong, conventions, creeds, codes, stagnate Mankind.” —On the Education of Children

One might argue that Thelema is itself a “universal ideal.” Thelema is a universal Law insofar as “Do what thou wilt” states that each individual must find their own unique Will, their own particular Law. The universal ideal is therefore that there are no universal ideals: each must “discover the true nature of [one’s real] needs, to fulfill them, and rejoice therein.” The only absolute is that there are no absolutes; the only constant is change. 

In a way, then, we can say that the “ideal Thelemite” is one who does their own Will and lets others do their Wills. This “ideal Thelemite” follows their own Law and others follow their own, different Laws; there are no universal ideals of “what is best” or “what is absolutely Right and Wrong” beyond this. This is what is sometimes called the “Yama and Niyama of Thelema.”

We borrow the terms “Yama” and “Niyama” from the Hindu system of raja yoga as explained, among other places, in Patanjali’s classic treatise called the Yogasutras. Yama and Niyama are words that mean opposite things, similar to “Thou shalt not” (Yama) and “Thou shalt” (Niyama). Unfortunately, translating them  into English is not easy, but their real meaning in the context of Thelema becomes clear with just a little explication.

The Yama of Thelema is to have the self-discipline to find one’s own Will and to do that Will. As it is said, “Thou hast no right but to do thy will” (Liber AL, I:42). The Niyama of Thelema is to mind your own business or, in other words, to allow others to find and do their Wills. The Niyama is to extend the same absolute liberty to do your own Will that you rightfully claim to all other individuals. In short:

  • The Yama of Thelema: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Thou hast no right but to do thy will.
  • The Niyama of Thelema: Mind your own business.

Yama: Crowley mentions that Yama means something similar to “control” or “the  word ‘inhibition’ as used by biologists.” Basically, Yama means the self-discipline to remain on the “track” or “path” of one’s True Will and not swerving from it. “Thou hast no right but to do thy will,” (Liber AL, I:42) which shows that you are by definition outside of your sole right when you deviate from your Path. This requires the self-discipline to remain true to one’s own Law. As Crowley writes, “What is true for every School is equally true for every individual. Success in life, on the basis of the Law of Thelema, implies severe self-discipline.” Crowley gives a succinct summary of the Yama of Thelema when he writes:

“I wish to thunder forth once more that no questions of right or wrong enter into our problems. But in the stratosphere it is ‘right’ for a man to be shut up in a pressure-resisting suit electrically heated, with an oxygen supply, whereas it would be ‘wrong’ for him to wear it if he were running the three miles in the summer sports in the Tanezrouft. This is the pit into which all the great religious teachers have hitherto fallen, and I am sure you are all looking hungrily at me in the hope of seeing me do likewise. But no! There is one principle which carries us through all conflicts concerning conduct, because it is perfectly rigid and perfectly elastic: — ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.’ That is Yama.” —Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Yama”

Niyama: There is no “opposite term” of Yama, or self-discipline, to adequately translate “Niyama.” We might say that the complementary term of “self-discipline” is, in this case, something like “other-discipline.” If Yama is the discipline we have toward ourselves in remaining true to our own Law, Niyama is the discipline we have toward others in allowing them to remain true to their own Laws. This “other-discipline” can be summarized as “Mind your own business.” Crowley says as much in several places:

“Mind your own business! is the sole sufficient rule.” —Magick Without Tears, chapter 15

“I will have thee to know, moreover, my dear Son, the right Art of Conduct with them whom I shall give thee for Initiation. And the Rule thereof is one Rule: Do that thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. See thou constantly to it that this be not broken; especially in the Section thereof (if I dare say so) which readeth Mind thine own Business. This is of Application equally to all, and the most dangerous Man (or Woman, as has occurred, or I err) is the Busy-body. Oh how ashamed are we, and moved to Indignation, seeing the Sins and Follies of our Neighbours!” —Liber Aleph, chapter 96: ‘De Discipulis Regendis’

“Every Star has its own Nature, which is ‘Right’ for it. We are not to be missionaries, with ideal standards of dress and morals, and such hard-ideas. We are to do what we will, and leave others to do what they will. We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance”. —New Comment to Liber AL, II:57

“It is necessary that we stop, once for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business. Each individual must be left free to follow his own path.” —New Comment to Liber AL, I:31

The name Crowley gives for someone who fails to uphold the Niyama of Thelema is a “busy-body.” A busy-body is someone who is concerned about what other people are doing, how other people are doing things, and why other people are doing things. A busy-body is concerned about someone else’s True Will rather than being concerned with their own. They are indignant about the “sins and follies” of their neighbors rather than focusing on themselves, and generally meddle in others’ affairs. A busy-body, in short, does not mind their own business.

We are all busy-bodies to some degree or another whenever we impose our standards, expectations, or ideals on others, whenever we think that “we know best” for anyone other than ourselves. This can be anything from the most mundane and concrete such as criticizing another’s choice in clothing to the more subtle such as expecting others to perform the same spiritual practices as oneself or insisting that people who believe something different from oneself must be “corrected.” 

When put into practice, we quickly see that the Niyama of Thelema – that of minding one’s own business and allowing others to do their Wills – is not simply a limp passivity. It is not “grinning and bearing it,” which implies that – deep down – you actually don’t want them to do their Wills (let alone that you obviously aren’t rejoicing in it!). The Niyama of Thelema is an active, positive thing: we actively affirm the right of each individual to know and do their True Will. When we greet one another, we look fearlessly into each others’ eyes and say, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This is to say to everyone you meet, as Crowley writes, “Look, brother, we are free! Rejoice with me, sister, there is no law beyond Do what thou wilt!” 

Some might say that it takes strength to control everything, but it is a much greater strength to not need to control everything and everyone. It is a symptom of being unsure and anxious to feel the need to control people by insisting that it’s your way or the highway. That is: Being a busy-body is a symptom of weakness and fear, although it will inevitably mask itself in the “virtue” that essentially comes down to “knowing what is best” for someone else (let alone “all other Thelemites”!). That is where “compassion” and “altruism” and even “teaching” teeters into the realm of folly.

We will all inevitably hear (or probably have already heard) some self-avowed Thelemite question why others are not doing this or that, insisting they are complaining about others because they “really care” about Thelema. Many of us have fallen prey to this ourselves (“Oh no! Definitely not me!” … Yes, you especially!). This “care” – this “noble cause” of ours – is nothing but the demands of a busy-body cloaking itself in guise of “virtue.” We all should remember to “veil not your vices in virtuous words” (Liber AL, II:52). This “care” basically comes down to insisting that everyone else must have the same values as yourself, which is exactly opposite to affirming “Do what thou wilt.” If you ever find yourself asking, or hear someone else asking, something that amounts to “Why doesn’t this other person/these other people think that this is important?” The answer is most likely “Because it isn’t important to them, nor does it need to be”… or, more pointedly, “Mind your own business.” This is why there is no “ideal Thelemite.” This is why “One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression.” Any insistence otherwise will quickly fall into the same trap that characterized the Old Aeon, the tyranny of a single standard or ideal for all people, rather than a multiplicity of Laws, each uniquely suited to the individual. 

Again: The Niyama of Thelema is not a limp, passive, “grin and bear it” quality. On the contrary: It takes an active, almost virile quality to say to every individual, “I don’t know what your Will is, I don’t know what your ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are, I don’t even know how your Will may interact with and effect mine, but I grant you the absolute right to do your Will and I claim the equally absolute right to do my Will.”  This is far from a passive “letting things happen”; the Niyama of Thelema is an active affirmation, an enthusiastic encouragement, a joyous battle-cry for each and every man and woman to discover their real needs, to fulfill them, and to rejoice therein. To believe otherwise is the essence of tyranny; to act otherwise is the essence of oppression. This requires the strength to stand in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity, of accepting variety and difference of style and opinion, of not knowing “how everything should be” for everyone or anyone else. Any concern arising about others “not doing it the right way” should be a reminder to us all to re-focus on our own Will: this should be a reminder of the Yama of staying true to our own Path and the Niyama of affirming the right of others to be true to their Paths.

 This is the simplicity and the beauty of the Law of Thelema: There are no absolute standards or universal ideals. Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131Every man and every woman has the indefeasible right and duty to know and do his or her True Will. Each has their own standard, their own Law. Any occurrence of someone imposing their Law on another, or anyone accepting a Law imposed on them by another, is a distortion and deforming of a star’s true nature. It is our Yama to adhere to this Law of our own True Will, and it is our Niyama to affirm the right of every other individual to adhere to the Law of his or her own True Will. This is real Freedom, the perfect order on Earth as the stars move seamlessly in the perfect order in the Heavens; this why our Law of “Do what thou wilt” is the Law of Liberty itself.

Love is the law, love under will.

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Is Thelema a Religion or not?

Is Thelema Religion or Not?

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

One of the ever-present questions in the discourse about Thelema is whether or not it is a religion. I think this question is most poetically answered by someone – I believe the credit goes to Jake Stratton-Kent – who said:

“There is religion in Thelema for those that require it. There is also freedom from religion in Thelema, for those that require it.”

In short: Yes… and no. All I can attempt to do is elaborate on this position to make it a bit more clear.

Before going too far in depth, it should be said that – according to anthropologists, sociologists, theologists, and the like – Thelema would most definitely be classified as a “religion.” It has a “Bible” (Liber AL vel Legis), a moral code (Do what thou wilt), a Prophet (To Mega Therion), a set of practices (Magick), and even a “pantheon” (Nuit, Hadit, Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Hoor-paar-kraat, et cetera). Whether or not this is entirely an accurate designation is another question.

We might first look at why people wouldn’t want to call Thelema a “religion.” The answer is fairly obvious: “religion” in the 21st Century has become synonymous with superstition, tyranny, and oppression. There is no doubt about this: organized religion has, for millenia, been a force for all of these horrible things that stand against the spirit of Liberty. Many people who are most vocal about Thelema not being a religion are those who experienced this superstition, tyranny, and oppression first-hand in their childhood, and I personally do not find their reaction to be hard to understand. 

In this light, we can see that Crowley himself was wary of the use of the term “religion” to describe Thelema. In a letter found in Magick Without Tears, he writes:

“To sum up, our system is a religion just so far as a religion means an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines, no one of which must in any way clash with Science or Magick. Call it a new religion, then, if it so please your Gracious Majesty; but I confess that I fail to see what you will have gained by so doing, and I feel bound to add that you might easily cause a great deal of misunderstanding, and work a rather stupid kind of mischief.

We should note, firstly, that Crowley begins this quotation by saying that – according to a certain definition of religion as “an enthusiastic putting-together of a series of doctrines” – Thelema is, in fact, a religion. He then says that calling Thelema a “religion” may cause misunderstanding and mischief. He does not explain exactly why it would cause misunderstanding and mischief but we can guess that it is most likely for the aforementioned reasons: it associates it with the Old Aeon religions that are gleaming beacons of superstition, tyranny, and oppression, i.e. those exact things we are set to destroy with our Law of Liberty. People may also assume that we believe things that other religions do, especially the Judeo-Christian-Islamic type, such as the belief in a gaseous vertebrate breed of God, which is most certainly false. 

In short, we may refrain from calling Thelema a religion because it associates it with superstition, tyranny, and oppression which Thelema is firmly against in every way, being the Law of Liberty. Our Law is simultaneously more simple and more nuanced than a belief in a Judeo-Christian-Islamic Daddy-in-the-sky God. Keep in mind, though, that this implies that calling Thelema a religion may cause misunderstanding and mischief, but it does not imply that the designation is inaccurate in some fundamental way. 

Now we may turn to the reasons why Thelema is a religion. First of all, Crowley calls Thelema a religion repeatedly.

In his commentary on Liber AL, III:22, Crowley writes:

Our religion therefore, for the People, is the Cult of the Sun, who is our particular star of the Body of Nuit, from whom, in the strictest scientific sense, come this earth, a chilled spark of Him, and all our Light and Life.”

In this line, he very clearly calls Thelema a religion, although there is a caveat that it is “for the People,” by which we may assume he means “the masses” and not necessarily for the “Hermits” or “initiates” or “Adepts”  (although this is, admittedly, an assumption).

In The Constitution of the Order of Thelemites, Crowley writes this Order is against “All superstitious religion, as obstacles to the establishment of scientific religion.” Here he clearly calls Thelema a religion, but he opposes “superstitious religion” (those of the Old Aeon and many of those that have cropped up in the New Aeon as well) to “scientific religion.” We get a further clarification that Thelema, insofar as it is a religion, is not opposed to science. 

In the “Editorial” prefacing The Equinox III:1 (also known as The Blue Equinox), Crowley writes an important passage:

The world needs religion. Religion must represent Truth, and celebrate it. This truth is of two orders: one, concerning Nature external to Man; two, concerning Nature internal to Man.

Existing religions, especially Christianity, are based on primitive ignorance of the facts, particularly of external Nature. Celebrations must conform to the custom and nature of the people. Christianity has destroyed the joyful celebrations, characterized by music, dancing, feasting, and making love; and has kept only the melancholy.

The Law of Thelema offers a religion which fulfils all necessary conditions. The philosophy and metaphysics of Thelema are sound, and offer a solution of the deepest problems of humanity. The science of Thelema is orthodox; it has no false theories of Nature, no false fables of the origin of things. The psychology and ethics of Thelema are perfect. It has destroyed the damnable delusion of Original Sin, making every one unique, independent, supreme, and sufficient. The Law of Thelema is given in the Book of the Law.”

Here we have another instance of Crowley explicitly calling Thelema a religion. He insists again that it must “represent Truth, and celebrate it,” concurring with the aforementioned quotation that insists Thelema is a “scientific religion.”

From these quotations, it seems fairly clear that Crowley did – with the caveat that it represents and celebrates Truth and is “scientific” – consider Thelema a religion. There is a further point that, in my opinion, clarifies the entire matter: Thelema is a religion but it is more than just a religion. I have said several times that Thelema is an all-encompassing paradigm, and this is meant to imply that Thelema is a religion… and much more.

We have already seen inklings of this idea in the previous quotation where Crowley calls Thelema a religion while also mentioning the philosophy, metaphysics, science, psychology, and ethics of Thelema. In his Confessions, Crowley conveys this idea that Thelema is more than just a religion with great clarity when he writes:

Thelema implies not merely a new religion, but a new cosmology, a new philosophy, a new ethics. It co-ordinates the disconnected discoveries of science, from physics to psychology, into a coherent and consistent system. Its scope is so vast that it is impossible even to hint at the universality of its application.”

He says “Thelema implies not merely a new religion.” It also implies a new cosmology, philosophy, and ethics. Thelema is not limited to the small sphere of theology. This perspective is reflected in the fact that we, following Crowley, call Thelema a “Law.” This Law is given in The Book of the Law. Crowley also calls Thelema a “formula.” For example, in the essay “The Beginning of the New World” (which can be found in the recently-published The Revival of Magick), Crowley writes:

“The many religions of the world have all lost their power to guide chiefly because the development of means of transport and of international commerce have convinced the educated that any one religion is about as good or bad as another for the purposes of social discipline, and that none has any validity from the standpoint of actual fact, or historical or philosophical truth.

The remedy is evidently to be found only in one way. There must be found a formula based upon absolute common sense, without one trammel of theological theory or dogma, a formula to which no man of intelligence can refuse assent, and which at the same time affords an absolute sanction for all laws of conduct, social and political no less than individual, so that the right or wrong of any isolated or concerted action can be determined with mathematical accuracy by any trained observer, entirely irrespective of his personal idiosyncrasies. This formula is: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”

When we consider Thelema as a “Law” or a “formula,” we are – first of all – using language that is in common with science (e.g. “the law of gravity” or “the formula for calculating velocity”). More importantly, we are using language that is universal insofar as this Law or formula applies to all aspects of life. 

Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131I believe the idea that Thelema is not just a religion but a new paradigm of cosmology, metaphysics, ethics, and psychology is the most accurate perspective on whether or not Thelema is a religion. Insofar as Thelema is a religion, it is a religion that is explicitly opposed to superstition, to “theological theory or dogma” (ideally!), and oppression. In the end, what’s in a name? Thelema’s Law is “Do what thou wilt” and people are free to call it a religion or not. Whether you choose to call it a religion or not is your own choice, and whether or not someone else chooses to call Thelema a religion is none of our business. The real question, the one that really matters, is: Are you living the Law of Thelema? Have you written “Do what thou wilt” in your heart and in your brain? Have you used the simplicity of the Key of the Law to unlock the complexities of philosophy, psychology, theology, and daily life? In short: are you doing your True Will or not? In light of this central consideration all other things, including what names and titles we give to things, are – at best – totally irrelevant and are – at worst – leading us to mischief and futility. As always: There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.

Love is the law, love under will.

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Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover

Thelemic Mysticism

[ ← Part 3: Mysticism in Practice – Intro & The Man of Earth ← |
Part 5: Mysticism in Practice – Crossing the Abyss & The Hermit → ]

PART 4: MYSTICISM IN PRACTICE – The Lover

2) The Lover: Communion with the Holy Guardian Angel

• “O my Lord, my beloved! How shall I indite songs, when even the memory of the shadow of thy glory is a thing beyond all music of speech or of silence?”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, II:48
• “And the Beloved shall abide with Thee.”
Liber Stellae Rubeae sub figura LXVI, line 32
• “He shall await the sword of the Beloved and bare his throat for the stroke.”
Liber Liberi vel Lapidus Lazuli sub figura VII, III:47

If one persists in the work of the first Stage, continuing one’s meditation/devotion with increasing fervor and dedication, one will inevitably come to this second Stage. The second Stage can be likened to the Grade of “Lover.” This is the middle of the Path where one communes with the Divine, the Absolute, the One, et cetera, as a Lover with the Beloved.

In Thelemic Mysticism, this Love or Communion is understood under the figure of “the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel,” and it is often symbolized by a heart encircled by a serpent or the Rose-Cross. This is appropriate to the Grade of “Lover” because this stage is often described as the meeting or union between Lover (the Mystic) and Beloved (the Object of aspiration); this is the “Spiritual Marriage” spoken of by many Mystics.

“Union”: It should be clearly understood that “union” has two related but distinct meanings that are often conflated.

1) Two united but distinct: At this second Stage of the Mystic Path, “union” refers to two things uniting but remaining distinct. In the language of Thelemic Mysticism, the Adept and the Holy Guardian Angel are united like lovers, they meet and interact and enjoy one another but they remain separate as Adept and Angel. “Love” requires the interaction and union of “Lover” and “Beloved,” though they are united. “Communion” may be a more accurate term. The persistence in this Love so that it becomes complete and perfect, so to speak, leads to the next stage.

2) Two united into One (or None) without distinction: In the third Stage of the Mystic Path (which we will explore later), “union” refers to these two things uniting so completely that there is a dissolution of separateness, leaving only One Thing (or “No-Thing”). “Absorption” or “annihilation” may be more accurate terms.

The distinction between these two notions of “union” is important because, as mentioned previously, they are often conflated by both readers and writers of Mysticism. For now, it should be understood that “union” in the second Stage of the Lover refers to the first definition, where two things are united that still remain distinct (soul & God, subject & object, ego & non-ego, et cetera).

The Nature of the Second Stage:

This second stage of the Mystic Path is often called Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in Thelemic Mysticism. In Christian Mysticism, it is often called “Illumination.”

“And again I was caught up into the presence of my Lord Adonai, and the knowledge and Conversation of the Holy One, the Angel that Guardeth me.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:41

The primary characteristic of this Illumination is the distinct and immediate perception of the “presence” of the Divine (or God/Absolute/Lord/Truth, et cetera).

This “presence” is not a mere metaphor or artistic flourish: it is a distinct, direct, experiential certainty of the presence of the Absolute, though this is expressed in various ways by various Mystics. This distinct, direct, experiential certainty is one aspect of the “Sense of Objectivity/Reality” mentioned in the previous section on “Mysticism in Theory.

• “Even as evil kisses corrupt the blood, so do my words devour the spirit of man.
Liber LXV, I:14
• “I was stricken as a bird by the bolt of the thunderer; I was pierced as the thief by the Lord of the Garden.”
Liber LXV, IV:40
“All this while did Adonai pierce my being with his sword…”
Liber LXV, V:14

This “presence” is often felt as the Divine “intruding” into the consciousness, so metaphors often involve “piercing” and “penetrating.” The use of the metaphor of the Divine as the Bridegroom and the Mystic as the Bride consummating their Spiritual Marriage should therefore come as no surprise.

This “Spiritual Marriage” corresponds to the second step of concentration in the Hindu system of Yoga: dhyana. In the first step of Yoga, dharana, one concentrates all of one’s thought upon a single Object, and there is much difficulty; this corresponds with the first Stage of the Mystic Path, the Man of Earth. This second step of concentration is called dhyana. In this second Stage of the Mystic Path, the Lover, there come times where the “subject” appears to disappear and only the Object remains, often co-occurring with a sense of ananda  (bliss). Dhyana also can be felt as a union of subject and object but not a complete union where both are annihilated. Dhyana represents a powerful and distinct stage of meditation, that is often said to be a lesser form of Samadhi, the total union of subject and object that is the Goal of Mysticism, characteristic of the third Stage of the Mystic Path, the Hermit.

The are various secondary characteristics of this Illumination:

“Then the adept was rapt away in bliss, and the beyond of bliss, and exceeded the excess of excess. Also his body shook and staggered with the burden of that bliss and that excess and that ultimate nameless.”
Liber LXV, II:45-46

1) “Joy,” “bliss,” or “ecstasy”: Joy, bliss, and ecstasy are not the primary factors of Illumination, they are Illumination’s natural by-products. That is, they do not constitute Illumination itself, but they often accompany Illumination. Crowley often likens  Illumination to the union of chemical elements, which naturally gives off light and heat. The “union of chemical elements” is analogous to Illumination itself, while the “light and heat” refer to the joy, bliss, and ecstasy that are by-products of the union. This feeling is felt as a joy that transcends one’s normal likes and dislikes, one’s typical pleasures and pains. Conversely, many of the anxieties, worries, and fears that plague the Mystic will fall away or seem petty in contrast to this Mystic communion.

“Having attained the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel (by a male effort so to speak) the Adept becomes receptive, feminine, patient, surrendering his will wholly to that of his Angel… The aspiration towards Him is masculine. At the moment of achievement it is replaced by passivity…”
Commentaries to Liber LXV, II:45-46

2) Passivity: The Mystic will often feel a sense of “surrender” or “passivity.” The achievement of this Stage requires great will and endurance, but it culminates in a surrender of that will. This is the surrender of the “personal will,” the volition or will-power of the individual, which allows for the Divine Will to take its place; it is the difference between one’s personal wishes/whims and the True Will. This release of “personal will” is virtually universal across all Mystics, especially Christian Mystics. It is because of this “surrender” or “passivity” that the image of a virgin is often used to describe the Mystic at this point: the virgin is “pure” insofar as her desire is only for One Thing, the Object of the Mystic Goal. In Western terms, the “virgin” is chaste except for God, and she passively awaits the coming of the Lord, so to speak. In the New Aeon, we understand this Divine Will to be nothing other than our own True Will, a more perfect expression of ourselves, rather than being something from “outside” of the self. We might say, “Let Thy Will, which is mine, be done.”

• “Neschamah: This is the faculty of under-standing the Word of Chiah [True Will]. It is the intelligence or intuition of what Jechidah [True Self] wishes to discover about itself.”
Little Essays Towards Truth, “Man”
• “The intuitions of the Neschamah are guaranteed by interior certainty.”
Confessions, chapter 64

3) Increased intuition: The term “intuition” means many things, but it seems to be the best word to describe this sense. Upon achieving the Stage of Illumination, the Mystic may receive many intuitive glimpses, whether through dreams, fantasy, certain thoughts, visions, et cetera. These are distinct from the normal “conscience” that Freud describes as the “super-ego,” which is essentially that little voice in your head that tells you what is right or wrong based on what you have been taught by your family, peers, and society. These intuitions – sometimes heard as voices but not necessarily – are a “voice” that represents the promptings of one’s “deeper Self,” a truer, more holistic sense of Self represented by the Holy Guardian Angel in Thelema. One may also start to see the deeper, more symbolic meanings of things, perceiving “divine truths” in the most mundane affairs; psychologically, this relates to the fact that the Mystic has opened channels to her Unconscious mind, which innately perceives the various interconnections and relations between things just as the conscious mind sees their differences. In Qabalistic terms, this is the “Neschamah” (the “spiritual intuition” or “divine intelligence”) that is attributed to Binah on the Tree of Life.

“A Man who is doing his True Will has the inertia of the Universe to assist him.”
Magick in Theory and Practice, “Introduction and Theorems”, III:9

4) Flow: Related to passivity and increased intuition, there is often a sense that life “flows” much more freely and naturally. Things seems to fall into place without much or any effort. This is the result of “unifying the Will,” specifically the harmony between conscious mind and the Unconscious. The immense inertia that is felt in the first Stage, where one is fighting against the world and one’s lower nature, seems to temporarily give way to a sense that one is flowing with the momentum of the world.

“In this Light naught exists, for It is homogeneous: and therefore have men called it Silence, and Darkness, and Nothing. But in this, as in all other effort to name it, is the root of every falsity and misapprehension, since all words imply some duality. Therefore, though I call it Light, it is not Light, nor absence of Light. Many also have sought to describe it by contradictions, since through transcendent negation of all speech it may by some natures be attained. Also by images and symbols have men striven to express it: but always in vain.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

5) Light: The metaphor of this stage is almost invariably one of Light, hence the name “Illumination.” This is sometimes literally perceived by the Mystic at the moment of Illumination. It sometimes involves blinding light or an increasing light like a “Golden Dawn.” The Light may also be used by some Mystics as a metaphor for their sudden sense of clarity, of seeing beyond the normal ego-self and perceiving a much greater “presence.” Sometimes the Light is used as metaphor for the joy/bliss/rapture itself. Sometimes the Light is a metaphor for the “Creative energy” with which one feels one is infused in this Illumination or Communion (or “Knowledge and Conversation”). Nonetheless, this Light – sometimes called LVX – is virtually always present in some form or another in this second Stage of “Illumination,” whether literal or metaphorical. This “Light” is one reason among many that this stage is typically related to Solar imagery; Qabalistically, this is Tiphareth on the Tree of Life.

“I was also granted what mystics describe as ‘the Beatific Vision’ which is the most characteristic of those attributed to Tiphereth, the archetypal idea of beauty and harmony. In this vision one retains one’s normal consciousness, but every impression of daily life is as enchanting and exquisite as an ode of Keats. The incidents of life become a harmonious unity; one is lost in a rosy dream of romantic happiness. One may compare it to the effect produced by wine on some people. There is, however, no unreality in the vision. One is not blinded to the facts of existence. It is simply that the normal incoherence and discrepancy between them has been harmonized.”
Confessions, chapter 78

6) Beauty: Typically, the Mystic will perceive a certain sense of beauty in all things. This is sometimes called the Beatific Vision by Crowley. The term “Beatific Vision” originally comes from Christianity, used by people like Thomas Aquinas, and it was used to refer to the immediate knowledge of God that souls enjoy in Heaven. The Mystic naturally and effortlessly sees the Divine permeating all things in the world. This is sometimes expressed as Unity-in-Diversity, where there are distinct things seen in the world but one intuitively grasps their underlying unity in the One/Absolute/God. This is often described by Christian Mystics as Earth being “transfigured” into a new Heaven, or Heaven (or “New Jerusalem”) descending to Earth, or realizing the Kingdom of Heaven is all around. As one example, Blake describes this Beatific Vision when he writes, “To see a world in a grain of sand, / And a heaven in a wild flower, / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, / And eternity in an hour.” Similarly, Henry Vaughan wrote, “Each bush and oak doth know I AM.” One can see that Infinity is perceived, yet “Finity” or duality remains; there is still multiplicity but there is Unity perceived therein. Mystics who remain at this stage are typically pantheists, meaning they see all things as identical with God/Absolute and themselves as part thereof. If one persists to the third Stage, one comes to identity with the Absolute itself rather than being simply a part thereof.

Because many of these by-products of Illumination are overwhelming and enrapturing, the Mystic is liable think that this is the end of the Path. It is helpful to remember that this is only the middle pylon along the Path, and that the true Unitive Life has still not been achieved. This is why Crowley calls this stage “The Next Step” and not “The Last Step.”

“It is impossible to lay down precise rules by which a man may attain to the knowledge and conversation of His Holy Guardian Angel; for that is the particular secret of each one of us; a secret not to be told or even divined by any other, whatever his grade. It is the Holy of Holies, whereof each man is his own High Priest, and none knoweth the Name of his brother’s God, or the Rite that invokes Him.”
One Star in Sight

Uniqueness of this Experience: It should be noted that this particular Stage is often very personal and unique, regardless of the underlying unity of various Mystics’ descriptions.

The way in which one understands or perceives the Presence of this Mystic Object depends entirely on one’s own history, make-up, development, intelligence, and understanding. One may see this as becoming the Bride of Christ, and another may see this as being pierced by a Divine sword; one may see this as a blinding Light, and another as a joyful Darkness. One may see this as an obliteration of one’s reality, and another may see this as awakening to Reality.

To set up expectations as to what Illumination (or Knowledge and Conversation) may entail is, in a sense, an impediment to being open and surrendering to what truly is. The descriptions of these Mystic states are, therefore, simply to be used as guideposts along the Path, not as absolutes to construct an intellectual system around. The sole rule in all cases is “Invoke often.”

Perfection isn’t immediate: Even if one has experienced the most blindingly exalted and ultimate version of this Illumination, one is not suddenly purged of all “bad” qualities (meaning, in the New Aeon, all aspects of oneself that are detrimental to or inhibiting of the True Will).

Although some habits may be “blasted” out of one’s system by the Illumination, some habits remain or return shortly after the experience of Illumination. There is further work to align the various aspects of oneself – body, emotions, thoughts, desires, et cetera  – under the “guidance” of this Divine Presence, of the Holy Guardian Angel.

It is typical of a Mystic at this Stage to think that she will never again see herself as separate from the Divine, that she will always be one with her True Will, that she is perfected, but the time always comes where this Illumination slowly fades away. This is a “non-abiding” union, and one inevitably “comes down” from it. The “abiding union” comes if one persists to the third Stage of the Mystic Path.

One must therefore be always vigilant to bring oneself to live more and more in this Light of Illumination, continuing the work of Purification and Consecration until All is One.

The Work: To a Mystic that has achieved this second Stage of the Path and entered through the Middle Pylon of Illumination or the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, there is still the final “crisis” of the Path. This final Crisis is known as the Crossing of the Abyss, the dissolution of a sense of a separate self, and a successful “Crossing” means that one has attained the third Stage of the Path.

“The Self surrendered must not be less than the All-Self; one must not come before the altar of the Most High with an impure or an imperfect offering. As it is written in Liber LXV, ‘To await Thee is the end, not the beginning.'”
Liber ABA: Book 4, Part II, chapter 6: The Wand

To Cross the Abyss, one must surrender all that one has and all that one is.  In order to surrender all that one has and is, though, one must first build oneself into a Whole.

If one has not performed the Purification of all “adverse” elements from oneself and Consecrated all other elements of oneself to one’s Single Goal, the surrender will not be complete or total. The Work of the Lover, after having achieved Knowledge and Conversation, is therefore one of Equilibrium: one must build up all opposites (or “complements”) within oneself to become Whole, not being attached or obsessed by anything incomplete or partial.

• “The Adept is not a perfection of what he feels to be the noblest part of him, but a Microcosm. He [must] complete the formation of himself as an image of the All.”
Commentaries to Liber LXV, II:45-46
• “For Perfection abideth not in the Pinnacles, or in the Foundations, but in the ordered Harmony of one with all.”
Liber LXI vel Causae, line 32
• “The microcosm is an exact image of the Macrocosm; the Great Work is the raising of the whole man in perfect balance to the power of Infinity.”
Magick in Theory & Practice, chapter 0: The Magical Theory of the Universe
• “[There is] the Necessity of extending constantly thy Nature to new Mates upon every Plane of Being, so that thou mayst become the perfect Microcosm, an Image without Flaw of all that is.”
Liber Aleph, ch. 44, “De Sapientia in Re Sexuali”
• “Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F a bad one; yet this is exactly the stand point from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.”
Confessions, chapter 86

This Work of achieving Equilibrium or Wholeness of the self is the idea in Magick that is understood as becoming a perfect Microcosm of the Universe (or “Macrocosm”). This means that all aspects of the self must be balanced, especially the moral and intellectual aspects of the self. If one clings to the light and ignores the darkness, one is not equilibrated; if one clings to virtues and ignores vices, one is not equilibrated; if one clings to one belief and ignores its opposite, one is not equilibrated.

This is the reason that the “Higher Self” is a misleading term: this is often taken to mean that one’s “Higher Self” includes all of one’s best and noblest qualities elevated to the highest degree. In fact, one is seeking the Whole, both upright and averse, and not simply the Highest. 

This is what is generally said by Mystics to be the necessity of having a Love of All. This “Love” is not a sentimental or romantic kind of attitude which most people mean by the term. In the broadest sense, this Love is acceptance. In the emotions, a lack of Love or acceptance shows itself in the feeling of disgust.  This is why Liber LXV instructs us to “Go thou unto the outermost places and subdue all things. Subdue thy fear and thy disgust. Then—yield!” One must fully embrace all aspects of Nature, both the Nature of the Universe and one’s own Nature. The way to destroy demons is through Love.

This is the basic work of Equilibrium so that one may become a perfect Microcosm, the “All-Self,” in order that one may fully surrender all that one has and is. This why St. Francis of Assisi visited lepers, the sight of which disgusted him. This is why Buddhists meditate in the presence of decaying corpses. This is why Aleister Crowley deliberately ate Leah Hirsig’s feces to show he was indifferent to all material differences (Yes, that really happened). In short, we must confront everything that makes us squeamish, all that brings us a sense of disgust, all that we consider Evil… and unite with it in “love under will” so that no element of the Universe is not also part of ourselves. As perfect and complete microcosms of the Cosmos, we can then truly proclaim what is said in the Gnostic Mass, “There is no part of me that is not of the gods.”

Crowley lays out the essence this practice in Liber V vel Reguli when he writes, “The Magician should devise for himself a definite technique for destroying ‘evil.’ The essence of such a practice will consist in training the mind and the body to confront things which case fear, pain, disgust, shame and the like. He must learn to endure them, then to become indifferent to them, then to analyze them until they give pleasure and instruction, and finally to appreciate them for their own sake, as aspects of Truth. When this has been done, he should abandon them, if they are really harmful in relation to health and comfort.”

The Ordeal: The Ordeal of this Grade is a crucial one, known as the Crossing of the Abyss, and it will be discussed in the next section as the prelude to the third and final Grade or Stage of the Mystic Path.

← Part 3: Mysticism in Practice – Intro & The Man of Earth ← |
Part 5: Mysticism in Practice – Crossing the Abyss & The Hermit → ]

Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 3: Mysticism in Practice – Introduction & The Man of Earth

Thelemic Mysticism

[ ← Part 2: Mysticism in Theory ← | → Part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover → ]

PART 3: MYSTICISM IN PRACTICE

Conceived as a Path, Mysticism is the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal. There are many ways of conceptualizing this Path and of treading this Path. These will be explored in turn.

The Conceptualizations of the Mystic Path

The Mystic Path refers to the process of achieving the direct experience of the Mystic Goal. There are two fundamental ways of conceiving  or conceptualizing this Path:

1) The Journey: The Goal is something we do not have but must attain, obtain, or achieve. We must therefore go on a “journey” (or “pilgrimage,” “quest,” “sojourn,” et cetera) to get what we do not yet have. 

2) The Transmutation: This Goal is something we already have but are not aware of it. We must therefore undergo a process of transmuting ourselves into one who is capable of perceiving this Goal, of  “uncovering” or “discovering” it.

The labels of “The Journey” and “The Transmutation” are for convenience, though the reasons for choosing these names will become apparent. Both of these conceptions of the Path are essentially identical, although using different metaphors. Sometimes both labels are intermingled with each other in a single metaphor. In a way, they are just reflections of one another: Transmutation may be considered as a Journey inwards until the Goal is perceived, and the Journey may be considered as a series of Transmutations until the Goal is reached. The use of one metaphor over another often implies or is the result of the particular metaphysical and/or theological views of whomever is speaking, but some Mystics – including Aleister Crowley – can operate within both the “Journey” and “Transmutation” metaphors.

“Little by little, as your eyes grow stronger, will we unveil to you the ineffable glory of the Path of the Adepts, and its nameless goal… The many change and pass; the one remains. Even as wood and coal and iron burn up together in one great flame, if only that furnace be of transcendent heat; so in the alembic of this spiritual alchemy, if only the zelator blow sufficiently upon his furnace all the systems of earth are consumed in the One Knowledge. Nevertheless, as a fire cannot be started with iron alone, in the beginning one system may be suited for one seeker, another for another. We therefore who are without the chains of ignorance, look closely into the heart of the seeker and lead him by the path which is best suited to his nature unto the ultimate end of all things, the supreme realization, the Life which abideth in Light, yea, the Life which abideth in Light.”
Liber Porta Lucis, lines 14, 20-22

We should always remember “the map is not the territory.” A certain type of map may be more useful to a certain type of person over another type – for example, a map using Buddhist terminology would probably be less useful to a Christian and a map using Jewish symbolism may obscure the Path more than reveal it for a Hindu. One of the natural outgrowths of Thelema’s syncretism of various traditions is its ability to fluidly move between different “maps” without getting caught in any one particular way of thinking about the “territory” of the Mystic Path. We must remember that the Mystic Goal always was and always will be, by its very nature, ultimately ineffable; it is truly incommunicable in the language of Reason and therefore the “secret of secrets.”

The Mystic Path, because it deals largely with the practicalities of the Work, is more amenable to language but still liable to confusion because it deals with the “inner life” of the individual of which we can only speak using symbols and metaphors. The Mystic Path also is highly variable depending on the constitution of the individual and their culture, yet there is a unity in the Mystic methods of attainment that certain individuals like Crowley were able to perceive beyond the variety of language used to describe the methods. Before looking into these methods, we will look further into the different conceptualizations of the Path: the Journey and the Transmutation.

The Journey

• “I shoot up vertically like an arrow, and become that Above. But it is death, and the flame of the pyre. Ascend in the flame of the pyre, O my soul!”
Liber Liberi vel Lapidis Lazuli sub figura VII, I:37-39
• “Verily and Amen! I passed through the deep sea, and by the rivers of running water that abound therein, and I came unto the Land of No Desire.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, III:1
• “…They abode in the Land that the far-off travellers call Naught.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:59
• “…the thread wherewith I guide you to the heart of the groves of Eleusis.”
Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus sub figura XC, line 23
• “At the end, be the end far distant as the stars that lie in the navel of Nuit…”
Liber A’ash vel Capricorni Pneumatici sub figura CCCLXX, line 38

Included in this category are all “Journeys” from a state that is “low” or “bad” to a state that is “high” or “good,” including:

  • The Journey from the Darkness of ignorance toward the Light of Truth.
  • The Journey from the lowest sphere of Malkuth toward the highest sphere of Kether, often called “climbing the Tree of Life.” Likewise, all “emanationist” theories that involve the emanation of the One into the Many, involve the “Journey” back to the Original One, sometimes called “The Path of Return.”
  • The Journey or Climbing of “Jacob’s Ladder” from Earth to Heaven, or upward through the various “hierarchies” of the Divine (e.g. through the hierarchies of Dionysius or the “Ten Heavens” of Dante).
  • The Journey from the realm of Samsara “across the stream” toward the realm of Nirvana. 
  • The Journey from home to some sacred place – for example, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” where one travels from one’s home in the “City of Destruction” to the “Celestial City,” or – alternatively – the search for the Lost Paradise such as The Garden of Eden, El Dorado, Shangri-la, or Shambhala.
  • The Journey of the Lover to find and unite with the Beloved.

All “Quests” for holy, sacred, or rare objects fall under this category of the Journey including:

  • The Quest for the Holy Grail.
  • The Quest for the Elixir of Immortality / Potion of Eternal Life / Fountain of Youth.
  • The Search for the “buried treasure,” as in Matthew 13:44, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field.”
  • The Search for the “Lost Word.”

There are several characteristics of the Path that are implied by using the metaphor of “The Journey”:

  • One begins in an un-enlightened or “un-initiated” state. In the language of Magical Orders, one’s Path begins as one of the “profane.” This often involves understanding oneself as full of ignorance, dominated by the senses and instincts, and without any knowledge of one’s true Path. The “Journey” is from this state to the “perfected” state of achieving the Mystic Goal.
  • One is now on a difficult Journey, which will be full of hardships or obstacles (the “ordeals”), and there will be great uncertainty, even regardless of the fact that many “maps” have been made of the “Path” to guide one on one’s Journey.
  • There will be several “landmarks” along the Way (the “stages” or “grades”), both marking one’s progress as well as directing one further along the Path.

The Transmutation

• “There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up: all is ever as it was.”
-Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX, II:58
• “We are not to regard ourselves as base beings, without whose sphere is Light or ‘God.’ Our minds and bodies are veils of the Light within. The uninitiate is a ‘Dark Star,’ and the Great Work for him is to make his veils transparent by ‘purifying’ them.”
New Comment to Liber AL, I:8
• “The prophet cried against the mountain; come thou hither, that I may speak with thee! The mountain stirred not. Therefore went the prophet unto the mountain, and spake unto it. But the feet of the prophet were weary, and the mountain heard not his voice. But I have called unto Thee, and I have journeyed unto Thee, and it availed me not. I waited patiently, and Thou wast with me from the beginning.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, II:57-60
• “Initiation means the Journey Inwards: nothing is changed or can be changed; but all is trulier understood with every step.”
Little Essays Towards Truth, “Mastery”

The “Transmutation” is a metaphor that essentially implies that we already are in possession of the “Goal” – we are already enlightened, already divine – but, because of our “imperfection” or “ignorance,” we are unaware of it. “Transmutation” therefore involves changing, perfecting, or “transmuting” the self in various ways in order that one may come to a clearer awareness thereof. All metaphors that involve altering, changing, or “perfecting” oneself are included in this category, including:

  • The Great Work of Alchemy, transmuting the “dross” of the self into “gold”
  • Progressively “seeing” one’s inherently “pure” or “perfect” nature, as when it is said in Mahayana Buddhism, “People should realize that the buddha-nature is something they have always had”
  • The process of “building the Temple of Solomon,” or – similarly – the process of working upon the crude “rough ashlar” in order to form it into the “perfect ashlar.”
  • The transmutation of the Kundalini serpent, bringing it from the lowest chakra at the base of the spine (Muladhara), all the way up the spine, to rest at the “third eye” (Ajna).
  • The “Journey to the Center” as seen in images of labyrinths and mandalas, which combines the ideas of the Journey and the Transmutation.

The metaphor of Transmutation implies several things. Primarily, Transmutation implies that we already “have” the Goal but our consciousness has not been “perfected” in order to become consciously aware of it. The “Path” is therefore a process of Transmutation that involves subjecting oneself to various processes – disciplines, purifications, et cetera – that enable this inherent Truth to become available to our conscious awareness.

Again, it should be remembered that both “The Journey” and “The Transmutation” are two sides of the same coin. As can be seen by the quotations above, both metaphors are used within Thelema even within the same text. The purpose of this section is to show the various manifestations of these two ways by which the Mystic Path is understood and to show that they are, in fact, two ways of understanding the same Path. 

The Stages or “Grades” of the Path

“Who calls us Thelemites will do no wrong, if he look but close into the word. For there are therein Three Grades, the Hermit, and the Lover, and the man of Earth. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.”
Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX, I:40

There are as many ways to conceptualize the various stages of the Mystic Path as there are Mystics. Some Mystics even use several “maps.” In the end, the Path is infinitely varied but maintains a near-identical essence in all cases. There are three fundamental stages of the Mystic Path that correspond with the Three Grades mentioned in The Book of the Law. Each stage or “Grade” is characterized by a certain “ordeal” that leads one to enter the Grade, and a certain “work” characteristic of the Grade. This loosely correspond to the beginning (ordeal) and middle (work) of the particular “Grade.” 

1) The Man of Earth: The Beginning of the Path

The first stage can be likened to the Grade of “Man of Earth.” This is the beginning of the Path where one is a “neophyte,” which literally means “newly planted.” 

“The Aspiration to become a Master is rooted in the Trance of Sorrow.”
Little Essays Toward Truth, “Sorrow”

The OrdealEveryone is drawn to the Path for the same, basic reason: Discontent.

Without some form of discontent (or “dissatisfaction” or “dis-ease”), there would never be any reason to seek or to strive for anything. Everyone begins with a discontent in some degree. Some begin with the impetus that amounts to realizing “There must be something more than this.” At the extreme, this same discontent approaches what is called “The Trance of Sorrow,” which amounts to realizing that all material things are finite, temporal, and subject to death. In Buddhist language, the First Noble Truth that “Existence is suffering” becomes overwhelmingly evident. The Path is then understood as “transcending suffering,” “transcending the temporal/finite,” or even “mastering myself and my environment.”

“It is the Trance of sorrow that has determined one to undertake the task of emancipation. This is the energising force of Law; it is the rigidity of the fact that everything is sorrow which moves one to the task, and keeps one on the Path”
Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Niyama”

Conversely, one may be drawn to the Path by the opposite or complement of discontent, which amounts to being drawn to the Path by having some kind of perception of the possibility of one’s “higher development.” One may realize that there is “something more to this” in the sense that one comes to believe that there is a possibility of life that involves greater wisdom, understanding, power, truth, beauty, and/or peace. At the extreme, this same “hope” approaches what is called “The Vision of Adonai,” becoming aware of the Mystic Goal in some way, even – in some cases – catching an experiential “glance” of what the Goal is like (sometimes called “higher states of consciousness”).

The Trance of Sorrow and the Vision of Adonai are really two sides of the same coin. If one perceives the unsatisfactoriness of all temporal things in the Trance of Sorrow, one will therefore conversely seek the possibility of a type of life that transcends these sorrows. If one perceives the joy and beauty of catching a glimpse of “Truth” (or “the Divine,” or “Reality,” et cetera), one will therefore conversely look at one’s life and see – by contrast – its finiteness, sorrow, and imperfection. These things can happen suddenly (as in a “flash”) or they can dawn gradually – each individual’s Path is unique, but each one begins with this perception of discontent or the perception of the possibility of transcendence.

The Work: The Work at this stage or “Grade” is called many names but essentially involves severe self-discipline in order to transform one’s character from the old habits – both old “vices” and old “virtues” – to a new way that is conducive to the achieving the Goal. There are generally “negative” and “positive” aspects of this that amount to clearing away the old habits (“vices,” which used to be called “sins”) that are in the way of one’s Path and building up new habits that are conducive to the Path (“virtues”). It is a stripping-away or rooting-out of the bad and a cleansing of the good (“good” and “bad” being relative terms to each individual as well as to the particular Purpose of achieving the Mystic Goal). They correspond exactly to the process of Purification and Consecration in Magick, and they may also be understood as the process of “balancing the Elements.” This Work is based on severe and persistent discipline: it is an incredibly difficult part of the Path, but we may be assured that – as with all habits – the process begins in a difficult way, becomes easier, and then becomes almost natural and effortless.

“Now then let us suppose that you have come to the Master, and that He has declared to you the Way of this attainment. What hindereth you? Alas! there is yet much Freedom afar off. Understand clearly this: that if you are sure of your Will, and sure of your means, then any thoughts or actions which are contrary to those means are contrary also to that Will. If therefore the Master should enjoin upon you a Vow of Holy Obedience, compliance is not a surrender of the Will, but a fulfilment thereof. For see, what hindereth you? It is either from without or from within, or both. It may be easy for the strong-minded seeker to put his heel upon public opinion, or to tear from his heart the objects which he loves, in a sense: but there will always remain in himself many discordant affections, as also the bond of habit, and these also must he conquer. In our holiest Book it is written: ‘Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.’ Write it also in your heart and in your brain: for this is the key of the whole matter… Search yourselves cunningly, I pray you, analysing your inmost thoughts. And first you shall discard all those gross obvious hindrances to your Will: idleness, foolish friendships, waste employments or enjoyments, I will not enumerate the conspirators against the welfare of your State.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

PurificationThe self must be purged of all those parts of the self – body, senses, thoughts, emotions, and desires – that stand in opposition to the attainment of the one object of the Mystic Goal. This process has been called many things by different Mystics including “asceticism,” “detachment,” “poverty,” and “purgation.” These practices can often be harsh, but they are always used as a means to an end. All the “purifications” are a means to strip away all forms of egoism – of the sense of separateness that is the root of our discontent – to allow for the Truth (or “God” or “Reality” or “the Absolute”) to dawn in our awareness.

Why do we need Purification? We are slaves to our desires, our cravings, and our habits. We run after things including wealth, fame, and pleasure, but we are always left dissatisfied. This is because the only true satisfaction comes from the achievement of the Mystic Goal: we are assured of this by the ordeal of the Trance of Sorrow, although it can even be appreciated intellectually. Purification, then, is the process whereby we break down the habits of striving after and resting in things that are less than the Mystic Goal: Purification is renunciation. This is why the basis of Buddhist training is to release attachments from all the aspects of oneself, right down to the attachment to the sense of “self.” This is why Christ said, “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” This is why, in Thelema, it is repeatedly said that True Will is not one’s wishes, whims, likes, or desires – it is the strictest possible bond. This is why the process of “the stripping of self-will” of Christian mystics is virtually identical to the process of attainment in the New Aeon: we must strip away the false layers of ego-driven desires in order to perceive the True Will. 

“Thou then, who hast trials and troubles, rejoice because of them, for in them is Strength, and by their means is a pathway opened unto that Light. How should it be otherwise, O man, whose life is but a day in Eternity, a drop in the Ocean of time; how, were thy trials not many, couldst thou purge thy soul from the dross of earth? …Rejoice therefore, O Initiate, for the greater thy trial the greater thy Triumph.”
Liber Librae sub figura XXX

What are the things we are purifying? The subjects of our purifying amounts essentially to anything within oneself that says “I want” or “I have.” We must give up all those things which we claim as our own, and we must give up all those desires which are not the One Desire of achieving the Mystic Goal. Though there are many intense phrases and images used when describing this Purification, the essential fact is a change of attitude, not certain acts. That is, when we say one must renounce all one’s possessions, that means that one must release all attachment thereto, not literally give away everything that one possesses (although there may be many things that one might literally give away that are unnecessary, and the attitude in giving things away is exactly the one required for the release of attachment). Giving away things does not mean one has released attachment from them, just as putting on the robe of a Buddhist monk does not mean one is a Buddhist monk: again, it is the attitude or “way of being” that is altered. 

“Now therefore that thou mayest achieve this ritual of the Holy Graal, do thou divest thyself of all thy goods.”
Liber Cheth vel Vallum Abiegni sub figura CLVI, line 7

Therefore, the process of Purification is a process of detachment from all things. One must analyze every aspect of one’s being, searching for all attachments we have, and progressively and completely renounce them for the Quest of achieving the Mystic Goal and nothing else. Purification is, in a way, ruthless in its abandonment and it must reach all aspects of one’s being. All sensory pleasures must be renounced. All relationships must be renounced. All one’s cherished beliefs and preferences must be renounced. All one’s aspirations and desires must be renounced. The only pleasure for the Mystic is the achievement of the Mystic Goal, the only relationship is that with God, the only belief is the necessity to achieve Truth, the only aspiration is the ultimate Union with the Absolute. Each individual’s path must be different by necessity, but all bear this hallmark of Purification or “renunciation.” The study of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride), the yama of Yoga (non-violence, non-falsehood, non-stealing, non-lusting, non-possessiveness), the five precepts of Buddhism (abstaining from violence, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and intoxicants), and other similar systems will give any earnest aspirant a good idea of what is necessarily involved in this process of Purification. The end result is a profound humility and detachment, yet the process is obviously one of the most difficult tasks that can be conceived insofar as one is changing one’s character by fighting against and releasing attachment to virtually everything that pushed and guided oneself until now. Suffering is the steam released by the fire of Purification, but the result is a humble, purified self that is ready to strive toward the next step on the Path. 

“To obtain Magical Power, learn to control thought; admit only those ideas that are in harmony with the end desired, and not every stray and contradictory Idea that presents itself. Fixed thought is a means to an end. Therefore pay attention to the power of silent thought and meditation. The material act is but the outward expression of thy thought, and therefore hath it been said that ‘the thought of foolishness is sin.’ Thought is the commencement of action, and if a chance thought can produce much effect, what cannot fixed thought do?”
Liber Librae sub figura XXX

Consecration – If Purification involves removing the “bad,” then Consecration involves strengthening the “good.” Again, this “good” is relative to each individual and relative to the particular End of achieving the Mystic Goal; Consecration is, like Purification, a means to an end. Failing to see this and, instead, perceiving the disciplines of Purification and consecration as Absolutes, is the foundation for endless superstition and dogmatism.

Purification involves disentangling ourselves from all the things which impede the achievement of our sole Object and Goal on the Path, and Consecration involves gathering together the various threads of our life in order to devote them to the achievement of this Goal. This involves the strengthening of “virtues” that are conducive to achieving the Goal. A study of the seven virtuous complements to the seven deadly sins (chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, humility), the niyama of Yoga (purity, contentment, spiritual effort, study of holy texts, surrender to God), the paramitas of Buddhism (geneorsity, proper conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, honesty, determination, kindness, calmness), or the Eightfold Path (right views, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration) will give the earnest aspirant an understanding of what this Consecration may entail for them. In Eight Lectures on Yoga, Crowley enumerates the qualities of niyama that he believes are useful including endurance, patience, selfless love, willfullness/strength, courage, energy, acceptance of all experience, equilibrium, indifference, and pure aspiration. We may also include the mysterious and terrible Four Powers of the Sphinx: to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silence.

“Find the minimum of daily time which is in good sooth necessary to your natural life. The rest you shall devote to the True Means of your Attainment. And even these necessary hours you shall consecrate to the Great Work, saying consciously always while at these Tasks that you perform them only in order to preserve your body and mind in health for the right application to that sublime and single Object. It shall not be very long before you come to understand that such a life is the true Liberty. You will feel distractions from your Will as being what they are. They will no longer appear pleasant and attractive, but as bonds, as shames. And when you have attained this point, know that you have passed the Middle Gate of this Path. For you will have unified your Will.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

In general, every aspect of one’s life must be closely and consistently knit together to have everything be devoted toward the accomplishment of the Great Work, the achievement of the Mystic Goal. All actions, words, and thoughts must be devoted to the end of this Mystic Goal.

This work of “transmuting” the various things in one’s life into the single Purpose of achieving the Mystic Goal is seen in the practice of “saying Will.” At meals we say, “What is thy Will? It is my Will to eat and drink. To what end? That I may fortify my body thereby. To what end? That I may accomplish the Great Work.” This same process of asking “To what end?” must be done for every single aspect of one’s life, and the answer must always terminate in “To accomplish the Great Work.” If you cannot see how it relates to the accomplishment of the Great Work, the achievement of the Mystic Goal, then it is probably something that must be “purified” from your life. The process of devoting all things, all actions, all speech, and all thoughts to this single End is the essence of Consecration.

Therefore, the primary virtue beyond all others and to which all others attend and aid is that of one-pointedness. The primary skill of one-pointedness is concentration. Concentration is developed through meditation.

“Thou must (1) Find out what is thy Will. (2) Do that Will with (a) one-pointedness, (b) detachment, (c) peace. Then, and then only, art thou in harmony with the Movement of Things, thy will part of, and therefore equal to, the Will of God. And since the will is but the dynamic aspect of the self, and since two different selves could not possess identical wills; then, if thy will be God’s will, Thou art That.”
Liber II: The Message of the Master Therion

Meditation involves holding a single object of concentration in mind, throwing all one’s force into being aware solely of that object, and discarding all distractions from this one object. This is the essence of the method of all Mystics, and the process of becoming more and more engrossed in the object of meditation is also the process of progressing through the stages, steps, or “Grades” of the Mystic Path. The difficulties of meditation reflect the work of one’s “Grade” and the successes reflect one’s progress on the Path. It can be seen that this particular practice of meditation is in the microcosm, so to speak, what one must do with one’s entire life in the macrocosm. At this “Grade,” one must simply strive to maintain the object of one’s meditation in mind, whether this is a mantra, an image, one’s breath, or whatever else. This corresponds to the first “stage” of meditation in Yoga known as dharana. The process is difficult: the mind will find every possible excuse to stray from the one purpose of the meditation, which is a reflection of one’s current stage of the Path as a whole. Remember why you are on this Path, the ordeal of the Trance of Sorrow. Be persistent. Be one-pointed. One will then inevitably come to the next stage of the Mystic Path.

← Part 2: Mysticism in Theory ← | → Part 4: Mysticism in Practice – The Lover → ]

Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 2: Mysticism in Theory

Thelemic Mysticism

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PART 2: MYSTICISM IN THEORY

Conceived as a Goal, Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth.

The Essential Nature of the Mystic Goal

What is the basic, essential nature of this spiritual “Truth” or spiritual “Goal”? The Mystic Goal involves transcending our normal consciousness of multiplicity and duality to attain the Mystic Consciousness of Unity. 

Our normal consciousness is called “Many” or “Two.”

“This Abyss is also called ‘Hell,’ and ‘The Many.’ Its name is ‘Consciousness,’ and ‘The Universe,’ among men.”
The Book of Lies, chapter 10

  • Many: We are usually aware of many “things” in the world, including the multiplicity of objects of our awareness. Trees are different from tables which are different from birds which are different from clouds, et cetera. 
  • Two: Our normal awareness or consciousness is sometimes called “Two” or “duality” because there is a fundamental split in our awareness between (a) our self and (b) the world. This is sometimes expressed as the opposition between subject and object or the opposition between ego and non-ego.

“Understand now that in yourselves is a certain discontent. Analyse well its nature: at the end is in every case one conclusion. The ill springs from the belief in two things, the Self and the Not-Self, and the conflict between them. This also is a restriction of the Will… Ultimately, therefore, the problem is how to destroy this perception of duality, to attain to the apprehension of unity.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

The Mystic Goal involves transcending our normal consciousness of Many/Two and achieving the consciousness of Unity/One.

  • The Goal is called Unity because it refers to unification of consciousness: this is the unification of the multiplicity of objects of awareness as well as the more fundamental unification between the subject and object(s) of awareness.
  • Since the awareness of a “self” or “ego” requires some kind of distinction between it and something else, the self/ego is said to “die” or “dissolve” or “merge” in this Unity.
  • Since there is no distinction between anything, including self and other, this Unity is sometimes called “Non-duality.” In defining the Mystic Goal by what it is not (i.e. not duality), the name “non-duality” avoids defining the Mystic Goal by what it is. Defining things “negatively” in this way is a common method for Mystics. This is often useful because asserting something “positive” about the Mystic Experience (e.g. “it is One”) allows for the introduction of various metaphysical propositions (e.g. “The One is Kether” or “The One is God” or “The One is separate from the Many”), theories, and beliefs, yet these theories and beliefs are forms of rational-intellectual mind that the Mystic attempts to transcend in directly penetrating to the Mystic Goal that is beyond rational-intellectual thinking. Also, asserting something “positive” about the Mystic Goal allows for distinctions to begin to be made – (e.g. “If the One is infinite, it does not include the finite”; “If the One is Good, it does not include the bad”; “If the Goal is powerful, it does not include weakness,” et cetera) – yet the Mystic Goal is beyond distinctions. Nonetheless, defining the Mystic Experience negatively or positively is still defining it, and – as will be seen repeatedly – the Mystic Experience is ultimately ineffable. 

“The Quintessence [of Life] is pure Light, an ecstacy formless, and without bound or mark. In this Light naught exists, for It is homogeneous: and therefore have men called it Silence, and Darkness, and Nothing. But in this, as in all other effort to name it, is the root of every falsity and misapprehension, since all words imply some duality.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

In Thelema, this Unity is often said to be “None” instead of “One.” This “None” is also called “Naught,” “Zero,” or “0.” This has its basis in The Book of the Law (I:27) where it is written, “O Nuit, continuous one of Heaven, let it be ever thus; that men speak not of Thee as One but as None; and let them speak not of thee at all, since thou art continuous!”

  • It is understood that even this term “None” is not ideal. Ideally, we should “speak not of thee at all” because of the ineffability of the Mystic Goal as mentioned previously.
  • One reason the idea of “None” is used instead of “One” is because the number 1 implies a “deviation” insofar as it is a positive number (in opposition to and balanced by negative numbers). Therefore, the “union of opposites” (one term for the Mystic Goal) can be seen to be between the “X” of ego and the “-X” of non-ego; when they combine, X+(-X), we get Zero or None.
  • This “None” is not a lack of something, it is That which contains all things and That which all things – if they united – would cancel out into. Further symbolism of this None/Naught/0 can be studied in The Book of Thoth regarding Atu 0: The Fool.
  • In the end, we must remember that “None” – just like every other name, title, or description – is ultimately inadequate to describe the ineffable nature of the Mystic Goal.

Characteristics of the Mystic Goal

The primary characteristic of the Mystic Goal is its undifferentiated Unity. There are also a few other characteristics of the Mystic Experience that are universal among all Mystics from across different times and different cultures. The characteristics of the Mystic Goal are:

1. Undifferentiated UnityThis is the fact that the Mystic Experience confers this direct experience of the Unity of all things, and one’s ultimate identity therewith. Whether this Unity is called “Non-duality,” “One,” “None,” “All,” “Infinity,” “God,” “The Absolute,” “Krishna,” “Brahman,” “Emptiness,” “Buddha-nature,” “Silence,” “Darkness,” or “Light,” it is the same fundamental idea of an undifferentiated, undivided It. There are two types of Unity that are actually two sides of the same coin, so to speak: Introvertive Unity and Extrovertive Unity. 

Introvertive Unity:
• “All is dissolved in formless Light of Unity.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum
• “They beheld not God; they beheld not the Image of God; therefore were they arisen to the Palace of the Splendour Ineffable.” Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, V:35

Extrovertive Unity:
• “All is One.”Liber Aleph, chapter 187
• “No two faces are identical, still less are two individuals. Unspeakable is the variety of form and immeasurable the diversity of beauty, but in all is the seal of unity.”New Comment to Liber AL, I:52

a) Introvertive Unity – The undifferentiated unity beyond all sense, thinking, forms, and images. There are no “things” or differentiation; there is simply undifferentiated unity. It is called “introvertive” because the mystic “looks within,” beyond all sensuous and intellectual contents of consciousness to penetrate to the undifferentiated Unity at the ground of all things. It is often spoken of as being “beyond senses,” “beyond images,” “beyond space,” “beyond time,” and “beyond causality.”

b) Extrovertive Unity – The undifferentiated unity as seen within the world, typically phrased as “All things are One.” The Extrovertive Unity “looks outward” into the world of senses and sees Unity permeating the apparent diversity and multiplicity. The sensuous world (the world as experienced through the senses) is transformed or transfigured, not in that anything has changed in the sensory world, but one’s very way of perceiving the sensuous world is altered so that Unity is perceived rather than multiplicity.

“Samadhi [has] an authenticity, and confer[s] an interior certainty, which is to the experience of waking life as that is to a dream.”
Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Yoga for Yellowbellies,” Fourth Lecture

2. Sense of Objectivity/Reality – The Mystic Goal, the undifferentiated unity, is sensed or intuited to be objective and real. It is often said to be “more real” than our normal “dualistic” awareness which is therefore labeled as “illusion.” It is the intuitive insight that is normally said to be “gnosis,” the direct experiential “knowledge” that the undifferentiated unity is true; this is the non-rational “certainty” that is given by the Mystic Experience.

“Then the adept was rapt away in bliss, and the beyond of bliss, and exceeded the excess of excess. Also his body shook and staggered with the burden of that bliss and that excess and that ultimate nameless.”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente, II:45-46

3. Deeply felt Positive Mood – This is the “peace” and “bliss” spoken of by virtually every Mystic throughout history (called “ananda” in Sanskrit). It is sometimes referred to as “love” or “joy” or virtually any other positive emotion raised to an exponential degree, e.g. “Perfect Happiness” as is stated in “Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass.”

4. Sense of Sacredness – This is an intuitive, direct sense of the sacredness or divine nature of this Mystic Experience. Its characteristic reactions involve awe, humility, and reverence. It is called “numinous” by Rudolf Otto, which he describes as referring to a sense of a tremendous mystery that is simultaneously both (a) awful/terrible (causes trembling and reverence; the “fear of God” of Judaism) and (b) fascinating/entrancing. This is sense of sacredness is generally related to various Mystics interpreting their experience as relating to God or the Divine. Also, this is somewhat related to the ‘deeply felt positive mood’ but not necessarily identical with it; one can feel blissful without the sense of sacredness and vice versa.

“Little by little, as your eyes grow stronger, will we unveil to you the ineffable glory of the Path of the Adepts, and its nameless goal.”
Liber Porta Lucis, line 14

“I believe in one secret and ineffable LORD.”
Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass

5. Ineffability – This refers to the fact that the Mystic Experience is universally said to be “ineffable.” This means the Mystic Experience is ultimately beyond words; it is impossible to describe. One of the most classic formulations of this idea comes from the Tao Teh Ching, “The Tao that is spoken of is not the Tao.” Although the Mystic Goal is ineffable, Mystics tend to write endlessly about it. For example, the previously mentioned line from the Tao Teh Ching is followed by 80 more chapters about the nature of the Tao. Although silence would most accurately portray the ineffable nature of the Mystic Goal, Mystics often feel the need to communicate about the Truth they experience and so they must resort to words, metaphors, and symbols regardless of their inadequacy. The ineffability of the Mystic Experience is why Mystics universally assert that the Mystic Goal is “beyond words,” “beyond reason” or “supra-rational,” or “beyond definition.”

“And this is the great Mystery of the Supernals that are beyond the Abyss. For below the Abyss, contradiction is division; but above the Abyss, contradiction is Unity. And there could be nothing true except by virtue of the contradiction that is contained in itself.”
The Vision and the Voice, 5th Aethyr

6. Paradoxicality – This refers to the logical contradictions that appear if the various definitions and descriptions of the Mystic Experience are analyzed rationally. Paradoxicality is the natural result of the identity of opposites that occurs in the Mystic Experience by virtue of the fact that it transcends the normal duality of perception and speech. Mystics use many terms to refer to the Mystic Experience that appear to be blatant contradictions. There are innumerable examples of this throughout Mystical literature:

  • “It stirs and It stirs not” (Isa Upanishad)
  • “dazzling darkness” (Henry Suso)
  • “dark brightness” (Tao Teh Ching)
  • “The One is everything and not everything” (Plotinus)
  • “I am the first and the last; I am the honored one and the scorned one; I am the whore and the holy one” (“Thunder: Perfect Mind”)
  • “I am light, and I am night, and I am that which is beyond them; I am speech, and I am silence, and I am that which is beyond them; I am life, and I am death, and I am that which is beyond them” (The Vision and the Voice, 1st Aethyr)
  • there is no subject, and there is no predicate; nor is there the contradictory of either of these things” (The Book of Lies)
  • “a light undesired, most desirable” (Liber AL, II:61), et cetera. 

Therefore, there are several characteristics that can be seen to be true of the Mystic Experience regardless of time period or culture. The primary characteristic is the experience of an undifferentiated unity – this is the defining characteristic of the Mystic Goal and it is always present in some form. The other characteristics include an intuitive sense of objectivity or reality (the Mystic Experience is understood as true and with supra-rational certainty), deeply felt positive mood (joy, bliss, peace), a sense of sacredness (holy, sublime, numinous, divine), ineffability (beyond words and description), and paradoxicality (descriptions are logically contradictory).

It should be noted that expressions of the Mystic Experience do not necessarily – or even usually – include all 6 of these characteristics at once. Sometimes the ineffability is emphasized, sometimes the bliss of positive emotion is emphasized, sometimes paradoxicality is emphasized, et cetera. Certain cultures emphasize different qualities – for example, Sufism tends to stress the positive emotion of bliss and love while Buddhism tends to stress ineffability. Some Mystics write with much more clarity while others write with much more romantic poeticism; some try to speak rationally while some speak in parable or metaphor. Nonetheless, they all refer to the same Mystic Experience. When the various utterances of a Mystic are brought together, they usually encompass most or all of these characteristics. Thelema in particular is a system that has instances of all of these characteristics of the Mystic Experience.

The Various Symbols of the Mystic Goal

“If we are in any way to shadow forth the Ineffable, it must be by a degradation. Every symbol is a blasphemy against the Truth that it indicates.”
“The Big Stick” in Equinox I:4

For as many Mystics have existed, there are at least as many different symbols, names, titles, and metaphors to describe the Mystic Goal. Each of these symbols implies a view about the world or various metaphysical propositions, which is one of their shortcomings. Every symbol is an image and, since the Mystic Goal is ultimately beyond all images, names, forms, and all other partial phenomena, there is no symbol that can be “true” as opposed to all others; they are all ultimately “degradations” of the Truth. They can only be signposts – fingers pointing to the moon, so to speak – and they must be taken as such. Nonetheless, symbols are also helpful in that they can aid us in understanding the nature of the Mystic Goal, or at least the language and ideas surrounding this within a particular system.

It will be seen very quickly that these symbols overlap. Sometimes an individual will use many of these metaphors/symbols at once. In the end, these all refer to the same Mystic Goal. In general, the West tends to explain the Mystic Goal as some kind of ultimate Being whereas the East tends to explain the Mystic Goal as some kind of ultimate State of being (although there are examples where the opposites are true). 

“THE AUGOEIDES.
Lytton calls him Adonai in ‘Zanoni,’ and I often use this name in the note-books. Abramelin calls him Holy Guardian Angel. I adopt this:
   1. Because Abramelin’s system is so simple and effective.
   2. Because since all theories of the universe are absurd it is better to talk in the language of one which is patently absurd, so as to mortify the metaphysical man.
   3. Because a child can understand it.

* Theosophists call him the Higher Self, Silent Watcher, or Great Master.
* The Golden Dawn calls him the Genius.
* Gnostics say the Logos.
* Zoroaster talks about uniting all these symbols into the form of a Lion — see Chaldean Oracles.
* Anna Kingsford calls him Adonai (Clothed with the Sun).
* Buddhists call him Adi-Buddha — (says H. P. [Blavatsky])
* The Bhagavad-Gita calls him Vishnu (chapter xi).
* The Yi King calls him “The Great Person.”
* The Qabalah calls him Jechidah.

We also get metaphysical analysis of His nature, deeper and deeper according to the subtlety of the writer; for this vision — it is all one same phenomenon, variously coloured by our varying Ruachs [minds] — is, I believe, the first and the last of all Spiritual Experience. For though He is attributed to Malkuth [the tenth Sephirah], and the Door of the Path of His overshadowing, He is also in Kether [the first Sephirah] (Kether is in Malkuth and Malkuth in Kether — “as above, so beneath”), and the End of the “Path of the Wise” is identity with Him. So that while he is the Holy Guardian Angel, He is also Hua [the secret title of Kether, literally ‘He’] and the Tao [The great extreme of the Yi King].


For since Intra Nobis Regnum deI [I.N.R.I., ‘The Kingdom of God is within/inside’] all things are in Ourself, and all Spiritual Experience is a more of less complete Revelation of Him. Yet it is only in the Middle Pillar that His manifestation is in any way perfect.

The Augoeides invocation is the whole thing. Only it is so difficult; one goes along through all the fifty gates of Binah [i.e. ‘crossing the Abyss’] at once, more or less illuminated, more or less deluded. But the First and the Last is this Augoeides Invocation.”
“The Temple of Solomon the King” in Equinox I:1

The One – The Goal is sometimes explained numerically as “the One.” “One” implies something that is single, undivided, and complete.

  • In the Qabalah, this “One” is Kether, the 1st Sephirah on the Tree of Life, which literally means “Crown.” In Qabalistic terms, “All numbers [are] Veils of the One, emanations of and therefore corruptions of the One” (Crowley in 777)
  • The same term is often used by Neoplatonists such as Plotinus who says, “It is the simple unbroken Unity” (EnneadsI:1:9).
  • This “One” is – in the West – identified with God as in one of the central prayers of Judaism, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), in Christ’s statement that, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30), and in the Quran, “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him” (Surah 112). 

None – The Goal is sometimes, as mentioned previously, explained as “None” (or “Naught,” “Zero,” or “0”). “None” implies no division, no distinction, no opposition, no separation, and other similar negatives. 

  • In the Qabalah, this “None” is the Negative Veils of Existence that “pre-exist” Kether. The three Negative Veils are “Ain,” “Ain Soph,” and “Ain Soph Aur,” which can be translated as “Nothing,” “No Limit,” and “Limitless Light,” respectively.
  • Numerically, “None” can be expressed as 0 = X + (-X), which implies that it contains opposites as well as that it is the “result” of uniting opposites.
  • The same idea also appears in Zen, as when Shunryu Suzuki writes, “True being comes out of nothingness, moment after moment. Nothingness is always there, and from it everything appears.” Similarly, Joshu Sasaki Roshi says, “The whole universe is one: equality holds difference and discrimination within it. The activity of equality includes plus and minus. Therefore, it is zero… Inevitably, the state in which you no longer claim yourself will be manifested. Buddhism concludes that this is the true self, true love, and the ultimate truth. Zen’s view is that words cannot point out the ultimate truth. It is utterly, completely zero.”

God – In the West, God is the ultimate goal of union. God is conceived as the ultimate Being who is omnipotent (contains all forces), omnipresent (contains all forms), and omniscient (contains all knowledge or all relations); God is therefore said to be “infinite.” The examples from every single Western Mystic are too innumerable to even begin to list.

  • Because of the Western notion that each individual has or “is” a soul that is separate from God, the Mystic Goal is seen as “union with God” (called “henosis” in Neoplatonism which literally means “oneness”).
  • God is the ultimate Good, the ultimate Truth, and philosophers equate their notion of the Absolute with that of God.
  • Alternate ways to refer to this same idea include “the Divine,” “the Lord,” and “Godhead” as well as the innumerable names of God from various systems (“YHVH,” “Adonai,” “Christ,” “Allah,” “Tetragrammaton,” “Elohim,” “El,” et cetera).

“The main idea is that the Infinite, the Absolute, God, the Over-soul, or whatever you may prefer to call it, is always present; but veiled or masked by the thoughts of the mind, just as one cannot hear a heart-beat in a noisy city.”
Liber ABA: Book Four, Part I

The Absolute – In Western philosophy, the concept of the Absolute is the unconditional, infinite, ultimate Reality.

  • While it is a way that Westerners have pointed to the same Mystic Goal, religious people inevitably equate this philosophical concept of the Absolute with God.
  • The Absolute is equivalent to the “Ain Soph” of Qabalah, the “Pleroma” of Gnosticism, the “Tao” or the “Wu Ji” of Chinese philosophy, the “Brahman” of Hinduism, et cetera.

“Thou that art One, our Lord in the Universe, the Sun, our Lord in ourselves whose name is Mystery of Mystery, uttermost being whose radiance, enlightening the worlds, is also the breath that maketh every God even and Death to tremble before Thee.”
Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass

The Sun – The Sun is one of the most ancient symbols of the Mystic Goal. In the West, it is endlessly associated with God in various ways.

  • The Sun is the source of light in the world, and therefore makes us able to “see” reality. Light is constantly associated with knowledge or awareness (as in “enlightenment”) whereas darkness is constantly associated with ignorance or delusion.
  • The Sun is the source of life in the world, so it is understood as a symbol of being the source of creative power/force of this Absolute/God, i.e. omnipotence.
  • The Sun is the “eye of the world,” so it is understood as seeing or being aware of all things, i.e. omniscience.
  • The Sun rules the ordering of days, seasons, and years, so it is understood as a symbol of order, harmony, law, and the “Architect” (source of all rules/laws and all forms) of the Cosmos.
  • In the New Aeon, we know (a) the Sun is the center of our system, and (b) the Sun never ‘dies.’ Therefore, it is a symbol of being (a) the central, ordering principle of the universe and therefore the center or “soul” of ourselves, and (b) eternal, immortal, infinite, deathless, et cetera.
  • Horus in His various forms – Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Ra-Hoor, Hoor-Apep, Hoori, Heru-Ra-Ha, et cetera – is a symbol of this “Sun.” 

The common symbol of the Sun, the point in the circle, is itself a symbol of the union of opposites: in this context, the Sun represents the Whole, the One, the All, et cetera. Sometimes the Sun (Sol) is seen as a complement to the Moon (Luna): in this context, the Sun is represented as one half of the whole, the Bridegroom as opposed to the Bride, the Male as opposed to the Female, the God as opposed to the Soul, et cetera.

“The true Magick of Horus requires the passionate Union of opposites.”
Little Essays Toward Truth, “Glossary”

Union of Opposites  – Since the Mystic Goal involves transcending duality, all symbols that involve the union of opposites in some way are symbolic of the Mystic Goal. These are innumerable as well but some examples include the Union of:

  • Soul and God (virtually all Western Mystics)
  • Bride and Bridegroom (many Christian and Sufi Mystics)
  • Male and Female
  • The Child as the union of Father and Mother (Horus as Crowned and Conquering Child)
  • Sun and Moon (Planetary)
  • Microcosm and Macrocosm; Pentagram and Hexagram; 5 and 6 (Hermetic)
  • Lingam and Yoni (and virtually all sexual symbolism; Hindu)
  • Lance and Cup/Chalice/Grail (Parsival; the Gnostic Mass)
  • Cross and Rose (Rosicrucian)
  • Lion and Eagle (Alchemical)
  • Cross and Circle; Point and Circle; Square and Circle (Geometric)
  • Square and Compass (Masonic)
  • Heart and Serpent (Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV)
  • Egg and Serpent (Orphic Mysteries)

“The Ultimate Reality… the Unthinkable Reality.”
The Book of Lies

Reality – The Mystic Goal is sometimes equated with “Reality.” This implies that normal understanding or awareness is “illusion,” i.e. the “Fall” of Western religion or the “illusion” (“Maya”) of Eastern philosophies. Virtually all Mystics equate the Mystic Goal to the ultimate Reality in some way or another. It is also called “Truth.” This emphasizes the “Sense of Objectivity/Reality” aspect of the Mystic Goal mentioned previously.

“…The knowledge of his infinite Will, his destiny to perform the Great Work, the realization of his True Self.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

True Self – The “True Self” is sometimes used to distinguish from the “false self” of the dualistic and limited ego-self. This emphasizes that the Mystic Goal is not something separate from oneself.

  • The True Self is sometimes called “True Nature,” the “pure soul,” or the “Oversoul.”
  • In Hinduism, it is the “Atman” in Hinduism that is understood to be identical with “Brahman,” the infinite, boundless Reality, i.e. the “Absolute” of Hindu philosophy.
  • In Buddhism, the “True Self” is sometimes called the “Adi-Buddha” (“primordial Buddha”) in Mahayana/Vajrayana Buddhism, and the “True Nature” is sometimes called the “Buddha-dhatu” (“Buddha-nature”).
  • In the Qabalistic system, this is the “Yechidah” (or “Jechidah”), the primal individuality attributed to Kether on the Tree of Life.
  • The Golden Dawn and others call this the “Genius” or “Daimon” or “Augoeides.” It can, in certain ways, be identified with the Holy Guardian Angel of Thelemic mysticism.

Enlightenment – In Eastern systems there are various terms that are essentially equivalent to our English term “enlightenment.” The term implies insight into one’s True Self or True Nature or into the true nature of Reality. Various scholars and philosophers have introduced distinctions between these terms and various other sub-sets of these terms, but they all ultimately refer to the same Mystic Goal. There are various terms for this in different systems:

  • Samadhi – In the Hindu system, the term “Samadhi” is used to refer to the union of subject and object of perception in meditation. This brings “liberation” (“moksha”) from the Wheel of Samsara, i.e. of birth, death, and rebirth.
  • Nirvana – In the Buddhist system, the term “Nirvana” is used to refer to the cessation of the sense of self or of “desire” that frees one from the First Noble Truth of suffering (“dukkha”). It is equivalent to the Muslim “fana” (“to pass away/cease”).
  • Kensho/satori  – “Kensho” and “satori” are words used in Zen Buddhism that essentially mean “seeing into one’s true nature.” 

The Various Symbols of the Mystic Goal

“We shall bring you to Absolute Truth, Absolute Light, Absolute Bliss.
Many adepts throughout the ages have sought to do this; but their words have been perverted by their successors, and again and again the Veil has fallen upon the Holy of Holies.
To you who yet wander in the Court of the Profane we cannot yet reveal all; but you will easily understand that the religions of the world are but symbols and veils of the Absolute Truth. So also are the philosophies. To the adept, seeing all these things from above, there seems nothing to choose between Buddha and Mohammed, between Atheism and Theism.”
“Liber Porta Lucis”, lines 17-19

As we can see, there are more ways to symbolically express the Mystic Goal than can possibly be listed in this short essay. There are two main points to remember:

1. All of these symbols refer to the same Mystic Goal of transcending our normal consciousness of Many/Two and achieving the consciousness of Unity/One. The diversity of the symbolism veils its ultimate Unity.

2. The difference of these symbols enables us to not get dogmatically “stuck” in any one of them to the exclusion of others. One of the virtues of Thelemic Mysticism is the explicit awareness of these many different names and forms of expressing the same Mystic Goal, so we are particularly on guard against asserting one to be “more true” than another.

The question still remains: “How do I achieve the Mystic Goal?” or “What is the Mystic Path?” This will be explained in the next section, Mysticism in Practice.

← Part 1: Introduction ← | → Part 3: Mysticism in Practice → ] 

Thelemic Mysticism

Thelemic Mysticism – part 1: Introduction

Thelemic Mysticism

PART 1: INTRODUCTION

The intent of this essay is to set forth the basic theoretical principles and practical methods of Mysticism in the clearest possible language. This will therefore be neither academic nor exhaustive in its extent.

The intended audiences are those who want to learn about Thelemic Mysticism or those who are aware of Thelemic Mysticism but may seek further guidance on their Paths. It is hoped that this essay will help clarify the definition and basic tenets of Mysticism, encourage those who are already aspirants to this Truth, and potentially aid aspirants in avoiding various detours and pitfalls along the Mystic Path.

Since the Mystic Goal is universal, much of the language in this introduction will be generally applicable to all forms of Mysticism, regardless of religion or culture. Nonetheless, since the focus of this essay is upon Thelemic Mysticism which is a particular breed or “flavor” of Mysticism, there will be various quotations interspersed throughout the essay from the Holy Books of Thelema and other important writings of The Master Therion. This is to both help show that Thelema reinforces the same essential principles of Mysticism as well as to show the particular language and style used throughout Thelemic writings.

What is Mysticism?

Mysticism is a name for both the Goal and the Path to the Goal of the Mystic.

As a Goal: Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth. 

Since the Mystic Goal involves a direct experience, it can also be called the Mystic Experience or the Mystical Experience.

“Now the Great Work is one, and the Initiation is one, and the Reward is one, however diverse are the symbols wherein the Unutterable is clothed.”
Liber LXI vel Causae, line 5

The Mystic Goal cannot be accurately named because it is beyond the normal distinctions that are inherently made by names and definitions. No name, description, or definition could ever be complete, so the Mystic Goal  is ultimately nameless. Though the many names and metaphors for this Goal are necessarily partial, the Goal itself is always the same regardless of whether it is called “crossing the Abyss,” “enlightenment,” “cosmic consciousness,” “samadhi,” “union with the Absolute,” “union with God,” “union of subject and object,” “union of microcosm and macrocosm,” “union of opposites,” “attaining Nirvana,” “accomplishing Great Work” or whatever else.

“In the true religion there is no sect.”
Liber Librae sub figura XXX, line 21

Since the Mystic Goal is the same regardless of time, place, or culture (despite the outward multiplicity of forms), Thelemic Mysticism is nothing new; it is merely a particular set of symbols and methods that achieve the same Truth as every other seeker of enlightenment in human history.

“Aum! All words are sacred and all prophets true; save only that they understand a little…”
Liber AL vel Legis sub figura CCXX, I:56

Thelemic Mysticism is aware of the many strands of Mysticism throughout human history, and it is therefore able to see beyond the partial truths, symbols, and language in which the Mystic Truth is explained by people of various temperaments and cultures.

In terms of Thelemic language, Crowley sometimes equates “Mysticism” with “Yoga,” the latter of which he defines simply as “Union.” Insofar as Mysticism may be understood as Union with God (or the Absolute, or Truth, or Reality, or whatever else), “Mysticism” and “Yoga” are essentially the same and the terms are interchangeable in virtually all cases of Crowley mentioning them. 

As a Path: Mysticism is the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal.

“In all systems of religion is to be found a system of Initiation, which may be defined as the process by which a man comes to learn that unknown Crown.”
Liber LXI vel Causae, line 2

There are many metaphors for the Path, “the Path” being one of them. The metaphors can only be maps, and they plot and guide the progress of the individual on her way to Goal.

The Path itself is the various means of discipline and training for attaining the Mystic Goal, and the methods are often of the character of meditation and/or devotion.

“There must ever be division in the word. For the colours are many, but the light is one… Therefore do ye fret yourselves because of this. Be not contented with the image… Debate not of the image, saying Beyond! Beyond!”
Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV

All cultures have some kind of system of spiritual training – often called “initiation” in Thelema – yet different systems have different methods and different languages for talking about the Path and the Goal. Nevertheless, the Mystic Goal itself is always essentially the same. 

A “Mystic” is any individual who has achieved this Goal or is on the Path to the Goal. Mystics are not content with merely having intellectual knowledge or emotional feelings about Truth, Reality, God, the One, or the Absolute (or whatever name suits you best).

“Ye shall comprehend, when, rising above Reason, which is but a manipulation of the Mind, ye come to pure Knowledge by direct perception of the Truth.”
Liber CL: De Lege Libellum

Whether by choice or being called in some way, Mystics are those who strive toward the direct experience of Truth itself and, with the right attitude and effort, attain this experience. If we make the analogy that the Mystic Goal or Truth is like fire, the philosopher is content thinking about and conceptualizing fire, the scientist is content observing and manipulating fire, the romantic is content feeling love toward and writing poetry about fire, but the Mystic is only content in knowing the fire by being directly burnt and consumed by it.

“There is a physiological (or pathological; never mind now!) state which I call Samadhi; and that state is as real – in relation to man – as sleep, or intoxication, or death.”
The Soldier and the Hunchback

This Mystic Experience or Mystic Goal is not some transcendent world, object, or state that is somehow removed or distinct from everything else. It is only “beyond this world” by metaphor, not in reality. It is an experience that can (and has) been attained consciously while individuals are still alive and awake. Mystics who attain the Mystic Goal are not physically annihilated and most can and do still function within the world. The Mystic Experience is potentially available to everyone if they apply the right methods, just like cells are invisible but available to be perceived if one properly uses a microscope.

“I love you; I would sprinkle you with the divine dew of immortality. This immortality is no vain hope beyond the grave: I offer you the certain consciousness of bliss. I offer it at once, on earth; before an hour hath struck upon the bell, ye shall be with Me in the Abodes that are beyond Decay.”
Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus sub figura XC, lines 28-30

Direct experience means not hearing about the Mystic Goal from other people, thinking about it intellectually, or feeling good (or bad) feelings about the idea; it means actually bringing this Goal into our conscious awareness. Direct experience means that we experience the Mystic Goal through a shift in our way of perceiving, a change in our perception itself. We directly experience what the Mystic “Unity” is like in the Mystic Goal in the same way we directly experience what sleep is like in sleeping. It is intimate, immediate, and unmistakable in the same way a headache or intoxication are directly perceived in an intimate, immediate, and unmistakable way. The Mystic Goal is sometimes called “Samadhi” and used in an analogy such Dreaming:Waking::Waking:Samadhi; because it refers to a “state” of consciousness in this way, this is why the Mystic Goal is sometimes called the “Mystic Consciousness” or Unified/Un-differentiated/Cosmic Consciousness.

What Mysticism isn’t

Mysticism is only the pursuit of the Mystic Goal, the direct experience of union with God (as it is most commonly called in our Judeo-Christian, Western world). It is nothing else.

Therefore, Mysticism is NOT these things:

  • Senses: Mysticism is not the sensory experience of anything, including any tactile feeling, any taste, any smell, any sight, or any sound.

    “Thou art delicious beyond all taste and touch, Thou art not-to-be-beheld for glory, Thy voice is beyond the Speech and the Silence and the Speech therein, and Thy perfume is of pure ambergris, that is not weighed against the finest gold of the fine gold.”
    Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente sub figura LXV, III:19

    • This is why virtually every single Mystic mentions the necessity of restraining and/or transcending the senses in some way.
    • Sensory phenomena may accompany the Path and Goal of Mysticism, and they may even prove useful in various ways, but they are not the Goal itself. 
    • Sensory phenomena are incredibly “intimate” in that they are felt directly, so there are many sensory metaphors and symbols used in Mysticism (e.g. “seeing God,” “tasting the Divine kisses,” “hearing the voice of God,” “smelling the perfume of God,” “touching” or even sexually uniting with God, et cetera)

“Since truth is supra-rational, it is incommunicable in the language of reason.”
Postcards to Probationers

  • Intellect: Mysticism is not the intellectual knowledge of anything, including math, science, logic, pop culture, and Mysticism itself (knowing about the Goal is not the same as achieving the Goal; the map is not the territory).
    • Mysticism is neither Reason nor Faith. The Mystic Goal is often explained to be “beyond” Reason in this way, i.e. intellect, knowledge, logic, or “ratiocination,” and Mysticism has nothing to do with “faith” in the ordinary sense of accepting propositions without evidence. The Mystic demands the supreme evidence of direct experience; they demand certainty, not faith.
    • Mysticism has nothing to do with knowledge derived through science (empiricism) or through logic (rationalism); Mysticism is concerned with one special class of knowledge, the direct experience of Truth. To distinguish this from normal knowledge, it is often called Wisdom or Understanding or Knowledge with a capital ‘K’ (or “true” or “perfect” is prefixed to the term to make it, for example, “True Wisdom” or “Perfection of Wisdom”).
    • Knowledge may accompany the Path and Goal of Mysticism, and it may even prove useful in various ways, but it is not the Goal itself.

“Every emotion is an obsession; the most horrible of blasphemies is to attribute any emotion to God in the macrocosm, or to the pure soul in the microcosm. How can that which is self-existent, complete, be ‘moved?'”
Book Four, Part 2, chapter 8

  • Emotion: Mysticism is not heightened emotions or any other form of emotional experience (heightened, dulled, strange, unique, potent, expansive, contractive, et cetera).  
    • This is why virtually every Mystic mentions the necessity of “taming the lower nature” in order to see the Truth; otherwise one’s vision is clouded.
    • Emotion may accompany the Path and Goal of Mysticism, and it may even prove useful in various ways, but it is not the Goal itself. 
  • Visions: Mysticism is not visions of any kind, including the most spectacular spiritual visions of 1,000-armed bodhisattvas, the most dazzling display of 1,000-eyed winged beasts, or even the most lofty visions seen in Crowley’s The Vision and the Voice. 
    • Visions necessarily deal with combinations of the above – sense, intellect, and emotion – although they are in the “interior world”; visions are the “inner” parallel of our various sensory experiences, and – to the Mystic – they are equally blinds to the Light of Truth.
    • Virtually all Mystics of every culture affirm that the ultimate Mystic Goal is beyond names, beyond forms, and beyond all images. In short, a vision of a bodhisattva does not make you a bodhisattva; a vision of Krishna does not make you united with Him; a vision of Horus does not make you the Crowned and Conquering Child. Only through the Mystic’s direct experience of the Mystic Truth does one become a bodhisattva, become united with Krishna, become the Crowned and Conquering Child, or whatever metaphor resonates with you.

“Morality is immaterial; for both Socrates and Mohammed were Christs… Since the ultimate truth of teleology is unknown, all codes of morality are arbitrary. Therefore the student has no concern with ethics as such.”
Postcards to Probationers

  • Being a Moral Paragon: Mysticism is not about being a moral paragon, a shining example of virtuousness that is associated with being a “saint”; it is not about “being a good person” or even “being a spiritual person.” The various virtues and vices of common religion have nothing inherently to do with Mysticism. Those vices that prevent the full attainment of the Mystic Goal are vices, and those virtues that aid the full attainment of the Mystic Goal are virtues, but these are seen as means toward the end of the Mystic Goal. The Mystic does not embark and travel on the Mystic Path in order to be praised by his colleagues or to be seen as a shining example of morality. Especially within Thelemic Mysticism, morality is simply the means toward the end of attaining the Mystic Goal, and since everyone is unique, the morality may be unique for each individual. This does not mean that Mystics do not care about vice and virtue, but they see them specifically in the context of hindering or helping their attainment of the direct experience of God/Truth/the Absolute. Contrary to being moral paragons, many mystics are actually criticized, persecuted, and reviled by the masses for their “unnatural,” “uncivilized,” or “blasphemous” behavior. Famous mystics like Meister Eckhart, Mansur Al-Hallaj, and even Christ himself were persecuted for their blasphemy, and the “outrageous” behavior of mystics is so pervasive there is even a term for it: “crazy wisdom.” 
  • Causing Change in the World: Mysticism is NOT the change of anything within the world. The bestowal of gifts or alms, the incitement of political change, acts of kindness and malice, the use of divination to ascertain and affect the future, and it is even the progress through any kind of organization (whether “mundane” like a corporation or “sacred” such as an esoteric organization) have nothing to do with the Mystic Path or the Mystic Goal. It is for this reason that Mysticism is often distinguished from Magick, although they inevitably intertwine, interconnect, and – in certain ways of thinking about and enacting Magick – have the same Goal. 

Mysticism is ONLY the Goal or the Path toward the Goal of direct experience of the Absolute, the ultimate spiritual Truth, the quintessential Mystic Goal. 

Magick vs. Mysticism

Magick is often defined in a way that complements or contrasts Mysticism. Liber ABA: Book Four, the Magnum Opus of Aleister Crowley, has four parts: the first part is titled “Mysticism” and the second part is titled “Magick.” 

“The aspiring Magician only analyses himself for the purpose of finding new worlds to conquer… the whole of Magick [is] the science and art of extending, first in oneself, one’s own faculties, secondly in external nature their hidden characteristics.”
Magick Without Tears, chapter 83

Magick is famously defined by Crowley as “the Science and Art of causing Change in conformity with Will.” Magick therefore involves many methods whereby the Magician may progressively expand, conquer, and enrich her Will. The Magician is concerned with more Power to execute her Will through, essentially, more control (of body and mind), more knowledge (of both self and the world), and more skill.

Mysticism is defined above as “the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal.” Therefore, there is no Goal other than attaining this direct experience. Anything that hinders the attainment of this Goal through distraction from the Goal is not part the Path. Anything that helps attain the Goal by focusing further upon the Goal is part of the Path. It is for this reason that most Mystical systems of training involve the divestment of most things that will distract the aspirant through their senses (food, luxury), emotions (sex, intoxication), and minds (mundane knowledge, concern about worldly affairs); it is also for this reason that most Mystical systems do not even bother with “magical powers” (known as siddhis in India) even though they are naturally acquired by many along the Path. 

Some may (rightfully) argue that Magick and Mysticism are not as opposed as stated here. It is true that Magick and Mysticism both terminate at the same Truth. It is a certain perspective of Magick that is opposed to Mysticism. Magick is sometimes divided into “thaumaturgy” and “theurgy.”

  • Thaumaturgy – literally “miracle work” – involves causing changes in the world based on magical knowledge and skill including but not limited to divining the future, obtaining money, obtaining love, seeing remote places, virtually any psychic phenomena, or even various ways of improving or perfecting the body, mind, emotions, and will of the individual. This is the type of Magick that is distinguished from and opposed to Mysticism.
  • Theurgy is the magical practice of achieving union with the Source, the Divine, the Godhead, the One (et cetera). Insofar as Magick is “theurgic,” its aims are identical with those of Mysticism. This is the Magick that is only different in Path but not Goal from Mysticism. The “theurgic” perspective on Magick is the one Crowley takes when he writes at the beginning of Magick in Theory & Practice, “There is a single main definition of the object of all magical Ritual. It is the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm. The Supreme and Complete Ritual is therefore the Invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel; or, in the language of Mysticism, Union with God.” 

To the Magician, works of thaumaturgy are useful to help expand the power and dominion of the individual’s sphere of influence. To the Mystic, works of thaumaturgy are distractions at best and delusions that perpetuate falsehood at worst. Thaumaturgy involves most or all of those things that Mysticism is NOT as explained previously. Mystics are concerned with the Mystic Goal and nothing else, and all other things – magical or otherwise – are distractions from that Goal. 

Summary

  • As a Goal, Mysticism is the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual goal/truth.
  • The Mystic Goal is ultimately ineffable or unnameable. All cultures have various languages of describing this Mystic Goal, but all Mystics of all times and places attain to the same Truth despite the variety of ways of speaking about it. 
  • As a Path, Mysticism is the Science and Art of achieving the direct experience of the ultimate spiritual truth or goal.
  • Anyone who walks this Mystic Path and/or achieves this Mystic Goal is a “Mystic.”
  • Mysticism is a direct experience, or a state of being, that is available to anyone through the right attitude and efforts. This direct experience is not something outside of the world in another realm or beyond death: it is an experience available to each individual while they are consciously aware and alive. 
  • Direct experience means that we experience the Mystic Goal in our own awareness, through an intimiate and unmistakable change/shift in our perception itself, rather than merely hearing about the Mystic Goal, thinking about it, or conceptualizing it. 
  • Mysticism is only the attainment of the Mystic Goal. It is NOT the senses, the intellect, the emotions, having visions, being a moral paragon, or even causing change in the world in any way. 
  • Insofar as Magick is “thaumaturgic,” dealing with changes and powers within the world, it is distinct from Mysticism. Insofar as Magick is “theurgic,” seeking union with the Divine, it is identical with Mysticism.

Despite these definitions and clarifications, it is still yet to be seen exactly what the Mystic Goal really is and what the Mystic Path really involves. The next two parts of this essay will delve further into (a) the Mystic Goal and (b) the Mystic Path – that is, they will deal with (a) Mysticism in Theory and (b) Mysticism in Practice.

[→ Part 2: Mysticism in Theory → ]

11 Principles of Thelemites

11 Principles of Thelemites

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

In an ideal state, without jargon, without theology, what defines a Thelemite’s perspective? Is it possible to describe the essential characteristics of living as a Thelemite without the use of any technical terms or implying any kind of metaphysical system? Can it be described in a way that a 10-year-old could easily understand?

Here is one attempt, written from the perspective of someone asserting principles or truths about themselves as Thelemites. 

11 PRINCIPLES of THELEMITES
with no technical jargon

1. I know that exploring and expressing myself is my right and my purpose.

2. I know that every single other being also has the same right & purpose to explore and express their natures.

3. I accept all people no matter what they look like or believe, and I accept all moments no matter if they are good or bad.

4. I am always growing, always searching & striving ever to more in all things.

5. I look at the difficult things in life as my teachers that help me grow, and I embrace them.

6. I never forget that being alive and being aware is a mysterious blessing that always deserves gratitude and joy.

7. I enjoy the beauty in everyone and everything else, and I help to bring more beauty to the world.

8. I seek truth: I think for myself, I am honest with myself and others, and I question myself and others.

9. I explore and develop my creativity in all aspects of life, and I help others to do the same.

10. I am connected with everything in the universe, so I live in harmony with other people, animals, plants, and all other things on the earth and in the whole cosmos.

11. I laugh: I enjoy all parts of the world, and I do not take myself too seriously.

11 Principles of Thelemites

Supporting Quotations

All quotations are from Aleister Crowley.

1. I know that exploring and expressing myself is my right and my purpose.
2. I know that every single other being also has the same right & purpose to explore and express their natures.

  • “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” (AL, I:40)
  • “So with thy all; thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.” (AL, I:42-43)
  • “Explore the Nature and Powers of your own Being… Contemplate your own Nature… Do not repress or restrict any true instinct of your Nature; but devote all in perfection to the sole service of your one True Will. (“Duty”)
  • “We are to do what we will, and leave others to do what they will.” (Commentary to AL, II:57)

3. I accept all people no matter what they look like or believe, and I accept all moments no matter if they are good or bad.

  • “Every man and every woman is a star.” (AL, I:3)
  • “Each human being is an Element of the Cosmos, self-determined and supreme, co-equal with all other Gods.” (Commentary to AL, I:3)
  • “Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt.” (AL, I:22)
  • “[Nuit] is also All Points of the View no less than All Vistas seen therefrom. Bind nothing, for all things alike pertain to her, and her Nature is to compose All in One and Naught. One thing is in the end like all the rest; the seeming not alike comes as a dream from choosing images after one’s own heart to worship them; thus each, though true as one of the All, is false if thought of as one apart from the rest.” (“Djeridensis Comment” on AL, I:22)
  • “All is a never ending Play of Love wherein our Lady Nuit and her Lord Hadit rejoice; and every Part of the Play is Play. All pain is but sharp Sauce to the Dish of Pleasure; for it is the Nature of the Universe that hath devised this everlasting Banquet of Joy.” (Liber Aleph, ch.59 “De Comedia Universa, Quae Dictur Man”)
  • “All events [become] equally indifferent, exquisite phrases in an eternal symphony. (Imagine listening to Beethoven with the prepossession that C is a good note and F a bad one; yet this is exactly the stand point from which all uninitiates contemplate the universe. Obviously, they miss the music.)” (Confessions, ch.86)
  • “You must accept everything exactly as it is in itself, as one of the factors which go to make up your True Self.” (“Duty”)

4. I am always growing, always searching & striving ever to more in all things.

  • “But exceed! exceed! Strive ever to more!” (AL, I:71-72)
  • “Her [Nuit’s] worship involves neither life nor death; it is a Growth in all ways, the primal mode of Being.” (“Djeridensis Comment” on AL, I:59)
  • “The joy of life consists in the exercise of one’s energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal.” (Confessions, ch.65)
  • “The Universe is Change; every Change is the effect of an Act of Love; all Acts of Love contain Pure Joy.” (The Heart of the Master)

5. I look at the difficult things in life as my teachers that help me grow, and I embrace them.

  • “Thou then, who hast trials and troubles, rejoice because of them, for in them is Strength, and by their means is a pathway opened unto that Light. How should it be otherwise, O man, whose life is but a day in Eternity, a drop in the Ocean of time; how, were thy trials not many, couldst thou purge thy soul from the dross of earth? Is it but now that the Higher Life is beset with dangers and difficulties; hath it not ever been so with the Sages and Hierophants of the past? They have been persecuted and reviled, they have been tormented of men; yet through this also has their Glory increased. Rejoice therefore, O Initiate, for the greater thy trial the greater thy Triumph.” (Liber Librae)
  • “Sorrow, pain, regret, are symptoms of diseased thought; those only who have ceased to be able to adjust themselves rightly and gladly to all Change, and to grow thereby, or those who still react, but only feebly and vainly, take Sorrow, pain, and regret to be Real. Those (also) who do not yet know Hadit (that is, know their True Selves to be Hadit) are likewise deceived.” (“Djeridensis Comment” to AL, II:17)
  • “To bring out saliently the differences between two points-of-view is useful to both in measuring the position of each in the whole. Combat stimulates the virile or creative energy; and, like love, of which it is one form, excites the mind to an orgasm which enables it to transcend its rational dullness.” (“Duty”)

6. I never forget that being alive and being aware is a mysterious blessing that always deserves gratitude and joy.

7. I enjoy the beauty in everyone and everything else, and I help to bring more beauty to the world.

  • “The greatest, like Rembrandt, paint a gallant, a hag, and a carcass with equal passion and rapture; they love the truth as it is. They do not admit that anything can be ugly or evil; its existence justifies itself. This is because they know themselves to be part of an harmonious unity; to disdain any item of it would be to blaspheme the whole. The Thelemite is able to revel in any experience soever; in each he recognizes the tokens of ultimate Truth..” (New Comment to AL, II:22)

8. I seek truth: I think for myself, I am honest with myself and others, and I question myself and others.

9. I explore and develop my creativity in all aspects of life, and I help others to do the same.

10. I am connected with everything in the universe, so I live in harmony with other people, animals, plants, and all other things on the earth and in the whole cosmos.

  • “Bind nothing! Let there be no difference made among you between any one thing & any other thing; for thereby there cometh hurt. But whoso availeth in this, let him be the chief of all!” (AL, I:22-23)
  • “We cannot extirpate or even alter in the minutest degree either the matter or manner of any element of the Universe, here each item is equally inherent and important, each aequipollent, independent, and interdependent.” (New Comment to AL, II:21)
  • “The greatest… know themselves to be part of an harmonious unity; to disdain any item of it would be to blaspheme the whole… It is surely obvious, even intellectually, that all phenomena are interdependent, and therefore involve each other.” (New Comment to AL, II:22)
  • “We cannot extirpate or even alter in the minutest degree either the matter or manner of any element of the Universe, here each item is equally inherent and important, each aequipollent, independent, and interdependent.” (New Comment to AL, II:21)

 

11. I laugh: I enjoy all parts of the world, and I do not take myself too seriously.

  • “They shall rejoice, our chosen: who sorroweth is not of us. Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us.” (AL, II:19-20)
  • “The common defect of all mystical systems previous to that of the Aeon whose Law is Thelema is that there has been no place for Laughter. But the sadness of the mournful Mother and the melancholy of the dying Man are swept in the limbo of the past by the confident smile of the immortal Child.” (Little Essays Toward Truth, “Laughter”)
  • “Also I was in the spirit vision and beheld a parricidal pomp of atheists, coupled by two and by two in the supernal ecstasy of the stars. They did laugh and rejoice exceedingly, being clad in purple robes and drunken with purple wine, and their whole soul was one purple flower-flame of holiness.” (LXV, V:35)
  • “Lord Nose-in-the-Air stumbled over his own door-stop.” (Commentary to LXV, V:49)
  • “If it must be that one’s most sacred shrine be profaned, let it be the clean assault of laughter rather than the slimy smear of sanctimoniousness!” (Magick Without Tears, ch.44)

Love is the law, love under will.

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Psychology of Liber AL

Psychology of Liber AL – pt.10: Archetypes of the Star – or Spark – and the Night-Sky

Psychology of Liber AL

Postscript: Archetypes of the Star – or Spark – and the Night-Sky

Two specific archetypes that Carl Jung gives attention to are of especial importance to this discussion. The first of these archetypes – or more accurately, archetypal manifestations – is that of the spark, the astrum, the star, or the scintilla, which is essentially a manifestation of the archetype of the “self.” The second of these archetypes is that of the night-sky, which is essentially a symbolic conception of the entirety of all archetypes, or the entirety of the unconscious.

In Liber AL vel Legis there are prominent occurrences of both of these archetypes. In the third line of the book it is proclaimed,

Every man and every woman is a star.”1

Almost immediately we have an identification of the self of each human individual with the symbolic figure of a star. In his work On the Nature of the Psyche, Jung is explaining how alchemical symbolism is an important source for symbolic expressions of unconscious contents of the psyche. He writes:

“From [alchemy] I take, first and foremost, the idea of the scintillae – sparks – which appear as visual illusions in the ‘arcane substance…’ If we may compare the sparks to the archetypes, it is evident that Khunrath [a 16th century alchemist] lays particular stress on one of them. This One is also described as the Monad and the Sun, and they both indicate the Deity… Psychologically, the One Scintilla or Monad is to be regarded as symbol of the Self.”2

Therefore, this assertion of every man and woman being a star is using a common archetypal symbol of the complete “self” and thereby identifying each person with “the One Scintilla,” “the Monad and the Son, [which] both indicate the Deity.”Jung continues:

This light is the lumen naturae which illuminates consciousness, and the scintillae are germinal luminosities shining forth from the darkness of the unconscious. Dorn, like Khunrath, owes much to Paracelsus with whom he concurs when he supposes an ‘invisibilem solem plurimis incognitum’ in man (an invisible sun unknown to many). [Also], ‘Sol est invisibilis in hominibus, in terra vero visibilis, tamen ex uno et eodem sole sunt ambo’ (The sun is invisible in men, but visible in the world, yet both are of one and the same sun)… Thus the one archetype emphasized by Khunrath is known also to Dorn as the sol invisibilis or imago Dei. In Paracelsus the lumen naturae comes primarily from the ‘astrum’ or ‘sydus,’ the ‘star’ in man… Indeed, man himself is an ‘Astrum:’ ‘not by himself alone, but for ever and ever with all apostles and saints; each and every one is an astrum, the heaven a star… therefore saith also the Scripture: ye are lights of the world [Matthew 5:14].”3

Liber AL reveals plainly this “invisible sun unknown to many,” this sol invisibilis which is also the imago Dei that is in the heart of every man and woman. It is every man and every woman that are “the lights of the world.” Jung also asserts nearly the same doctrine as Liber AL by saying that “man himself is an ‘Astrum’” and then quoting another who essentially says man is not alone as a star but “with all apostles and saint; each and every one is an astrum…” In this sense, one may say that symbolically all stars are united together in the night-sky. Nuit herself proclaims this when she says in Liber AL,

“…I am Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof…”4

On this note, we turn again to Jung who writes further about the archetypes alchemical vision which corresponds to the Thelemic symbology, “It strikes me as significant… that the characteristic alchemical vision of sparks scintillating in the blackness of the arcane substance should, for Paracelsus, change into the spectacle of the ‘interior firmament’ and its stars. He beholds the darksome psyche as a star-stewn night sky, whose planets and fixed constellations represent the archetypes in all their luminosity and numinosity.5 The starry vault of heaven is in truth the open book of cosmic projection, in which are reflected the mythologems, i.e., the archetypes. In this vision astrology and alchemy, the two classical functionaries of the psychology of the collective unconscious, join hands.”6

Nuit is considered as the totality of “the darksome psyche” with each star being an archetype therein. Nuit then becomes a sort of “double symbol” of both macrocosmic and microcosmic implications. On the macrocosmic scale, each individual is a star and are united together in “the body of the night sky,” which represents the totality of all possibilities (see “The First Principles” segment of this essay for further explanation of Nuit in this sense). On the microcosmic scale, Nuit represents the totality of the psyche and the plethora of stars represents reflections of the many archetypes of the unconscious. Within this “star-strewn night sky” of the psyche, there is that “One Scintilla,” “the Monad and the Sun,” which is that archetypal symbol of the “whole” or integrated self.

This postscript is added to show that not only do the symbols of Liber AL vel Legis represent manifestations of common archetypes, but they also have a historical precedent in various alchemical texts. Jung’s work On the Nature of the Psyche appeared many decades after the writing of Liber AL vel Legis in 1904. It is unfortunate that Jung was not aware of (or simply did not investigate) this modern occurrence of the same archetypal patterns he studied. Once again, Liber AL vel Legis may be viewed as both a product and an expression of the collective unconscious, filtered through the peculiar and unique psyche of Aleister Crowley. Earlier it was said that “we may therefore find statements of universal import explained under the figure of certain symbols that were familiar to Crowley’s consciousness,” but now we see that, although this is most likely true for certain cases (i.e. the appearance of the Egyptian deities like Hoor-paar-kraat, Heru-ra-ha, and Nuit, the cases of Islamic terminology like “Isa,” “Kiblah,” and “Kaaba,” the cases of Western Hermetic and occult symbology, etc.), Liber AL vel Legis contains symbols which are also somewhat universal. Not only is there a historical precedent in alchemical texts, but every human being on Earth has the experience of seeing the sun, the night sky, and the seemingly infinite amount of stars therein.

Love is the law, love under will.

1 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:3.

2 Jung, Carl. “The Significance of the Unconscious in Psychology” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung Volume 8: On the Nature of the Psyche, par.388.

3 Jung, Carl. “The Significance of the Unconscious in Psychology” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung Volume 8: On the Nature of the Psyche, par.389-390.

4 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:22.

5 At this point Jung’s text there is a footnote which reads thus, “In the Hieroglyphica of Horapollo the starry sky signifies God as ultimate Fate, symbolized by a ‘5,’ presumably a quincunx.” This is especially significant in that Nuit is identified with Fate – or in other words, the necessary workings & motions of the universe – and also the symbolic figure of ‘5.’ In Liber AL vel Legis, I:60, Nuit proclaims, “My number is 11, as all their numbers who are of us. The Five Pointed Star, with a Circle in the Middle, & the circle is Red.” Here Nuit herself identifies herself with The Five Pointed Star,’ the pentagram. Interestingly, this is the one section of Liber AL vel Legis which was not penned by Crowley but filled in later by Rose Crowley, his wife at the time.

6 Jung, Carl. “The Significance of the Unconscious in Psychology” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung Volume 8: On the Nature of the Psyche, par.392.

Psychology of Liber AL – pt.9: Conclusions

Psychology of Liber AL

Conclusions

It was established in the introduction that this work would look at Thelema and its central text of Liber AL vel Legis strictly from the perspective of psychology, interpreting metaphysical claims as mental phenomena. From this standpoint, a framework must be established within the confines of Liber AL vel Legis that can comply with current psychological understandings of the self and its place in the world. Thelema presents this framework in symbolic format, utilizing pseudo-Egyptian gods to explain how the Thelemite perceives the work: Each person is a star, and at the core of this star is “Hadit;” about this star are the infinite possibilities of Nuit, the starry night-sky. This conception of each person being at the center of a field of phenomena and possible experiences is analogous to one of Carl Rogers’ propositions describing his client-centered therapy that, “All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience (phenomenal field) of which they are the centre.”1 Each person being a star, they are self-luminous, have their own natural motion, and also have an effect (like gravitational pull) on other stars. This self-luminous nature attests to mankind’s inherent divinity and the natural motion is the star’s particular Will.

The Will is central in Thelema, for it is proclaimed, “Thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.”2 Each star has a unique Will to carry out, and the way in which this is carried out is by the method – or modus operandi – of “love under will.” This means that all actions must be Love, which is essentially the “uniting of some one monad with one of the experiences possible to it,”3 or simply, the assimilation of experience. This Love must be “under will,” and therefore each act is done to fulfill and express the true nature of the individual involved rather than thwart it. This method of “love under will” was seen to be analogous to Carl Rogers’ propositions. A successful expression of “love under will,” where experience is harmoniously assimilated in accordance with the nature of the individual, is what Rogers calls “psychological adjustment,” whereas “psychological maladjustment” means that experience is not assimilated harmoniously and from which “psychological tension” (suffering in the mental sphere) will naturally arise. In addition, the Will itself was seen to be analogous to Carl Rogers’ notion of the “self-actualizing tendency” inherent in all people.

Further considerations on this Will showed that for it to be considered “pure” and “every way perfect,”4 it must be done with tireless energy, without regard for purpose, and with no “lust of result” or desire for the fruits of one’s work. Next, morality and sin were considered and found to be nothing but impediments to the free flow of the Will; it was established that in Thelema, “that it is no longer possible to say a priori that a given action is ‘wrong.’ Each man has the right – and an absolute right – to accomplish his True Will.”5 It was seen that these sets of moralities naturally repress and inhibit the Will, especially those notions which dictate our sexual morality. Thelema’s move beyond moral injunctions against sexual behavior is consistent with the findings of Alfred Kinsey’s innovative research in mid-20th century.

Aside from morality inhibiting the free and natural flow of the Will, it was seen that the mind, especially its faculty of reason, also prevents the true Will from manifesting. Reason is not discarded as useless in Thelema, but instead it is put into its most effective sphere of operation: in service to the Self and its Will. If the mind usurps the “throne” of the Self and dictates its actions through Reason, it renders the Will impotent because, “If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought.”6 More importantly, it is understood that “there is a factor infinite & unknown,”7 the subconscious Will, which is, by definition, not able to be fully understood and interpreted by the conscious mind. Therefore, the mind can only inhibit the flow of the subconscious Will when it dictates the Will’s actions. It is this unknown factor of the subconscious Will that makes “reason… a lie” in that it is unable to dictate the Will of the individual in accordance with their true Selves (which must necessarily account for both conscious and subconscious natures). Carl Jung recognized that the mind cannot accurately dictate the whims of the Will. He said that rationalistic opinions come close to neurotic symptoms in that they split the awareness away from the subconscious promptings. For this reason, Jung deems these opinions “distorted thinking,” and those thoughts that proceed from the “tap-root” of the Self and its Will are deemed “psychologically correct thinking:” yet another psychological assumption that Liber AL anticipated in a way.

Next, the process of coming to know and express one’s Will is understood to be analogous not only to Crowley’s notions of “the Great Work” and “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel,” but also Carl Jung’s process of “individuation.” All of these are united by the fact that they all attempt to penetrate to the deepest or true nature of the individual and attempt to assimilate and manifest it. In Jung’s process of “individuation,” one comes to identify with the archetype of the “Self,” which is the totality of the psyche, including both conscious and unconscious natures. Thelema uses the Egyptian god of Horus as its specific archetypal expression of the “Self,” and each person’s “Great Work” is to come to “revere” and identify with this Self and thereby manifest the Will more fully. Crowley specifically mentions that the “tribulations” of this ordeal are exactly the same as the modern processes of psychoanalysis, equating the pseudo-mystical process of “the Great Work” or “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel” with the more modern notions of “individuation.” It was further asserted that the unconscious’s natural function is towards individuation and therefore every single person takes part in the “the Great Work,” whether they are conscious of it or not.

In Liber AL vel Legis, it was seen that a psychological model of “failure” (to assimilate experience) is constructed along familiar physiological lines. In the body, the appearance of pain signifies a malfunction of some sort, and also in the psyche, the appearance of “psychological tension” (as Carl Rogers terms it) signifies a failure of the harmonious functioning of the psyche. In the psyche, sorrow, pain, regret, fear, and pity are all seen to be disharmonious to the functioning of the Will. Next, a specific line in Liber AL is analyzed to show that Hadit, that symbol of the imperishable perceiver-of-events, can either lift his head to Nuit or droop down his head to the earth. These two possible actions were then equated with the life and death instincts of Freud and also the concepts of “MATER COELISTIS” and “PHALLOS” from Jung’s Septem Sermones ad Mortuos – most importantly it is asserted that no matter what “choice” Hadit makes, there is joy and rapture to be found in either option.

Finally, the inevitable topic of death is treated within a Thelemic context. First, death is understood as a joyous occasion, a time for a greater feast than even for birth. Death is also to be considered as the “seal” or symbolic fulfillment of life. In both of these ways Thelema attempts to overcome the morbidity associated with death and the common aversion thereto. The idea of a part or essence of the self surviving death is also entertained but because this is a psychological treatise, we can only make the statement that “the psyche’s attachment to the brain, i.e. its space-time limitation, is no longer as self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led to believe,”8 while no conclusive metaphysical assertions may be made.

Essentially, Thelema cannot only be clearly interpreted through the lens of psychology but our understanding of Liber AL is greatly enriched thereby. This work is merely a brief overview of the way the field of psychology potentially enables us to better understand Thelema. Appended after this conclusion is a short discussion about the archetypal symbols of the star and the night sky, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg of the possible syntheses between Thelema and psychology. The conclusions of such eminent psychologists as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Carl Rogers, and Alfred Kinsey are emphasized in this work but there are many other branches of psychological inquiry that have an important bearing on Thelema. Since psychology is the study of that psyche which is inherent in every man and every woman, it is certainly of interest to all Thelemites who seek to better understand themselves. The injunction of the Greeks to “know thyself” still holds true, and to do this we must delve into our darkest places and face our deepest fears – the “tribulation of ordeal, which is bliss.”9 For Thelema is a tradition of joy where one treats all events, even if they are ordeals, as equally valid experiences for growth. It is a tradition of joy whether we consider it as a psychological framework, a philosophy, a religion, a spiritual map, or whatever suits our particular nature.

Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains… They shall rejoice, our chosen: who sorroweth is not of us… Beauty and strength, leaping laughter and delicious languor, force and fire, are of us… But ye, o my people, rise up & awake! Let the rituals be rightly performed with joy & beauty! …A feast every day in your hearts in the joy of my rapture! A feast every night unto Nu, and the pleasure of uttermost delight! Aye! feast! rejoice! there is no dread hereafter. There is the dissolution, and eternal ecstasy in the kisses of Nu… Write, & find ecstasy in writing! Work, & be our bed in working! Thrill with the joy of life & death! Ah! thy death shall be lovely: whoso seeth it shall be glad. Thy death shall be the seal of the promise of our age long love. Come! lift up thine heart & rejoice!”10

>>PART 10>>

1 Rogers, Carl. Client-Centred Therapy, ch.11.

2 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:42-43.

3 Crowley, Aleister. Introduction to Liber AL vel Legis, part II.

4 A reference to Liber AL vel Legis, I:44.

5 Crowley, Aleister. “The Method of Thelema.” Printed in The Revival of Magick.

6 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:30.

7 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:32.

8 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 813.

9 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, III:62.

10 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:9,19,20,34,35,42-44,66.

>>PART 10>>

Psychology of Liber AL – pt.8: A New Perspective of Death

Psychology of Liber AL

A New Perspective of Death

A full psychological perspective must  take into account the many facets of life, and it must also take into account the universal fact that all things are impermanent and eventually die. Thelema asserts a new perspective on this issue in that death is understood as climax to and fulfillment of life. Also, although currently psychologically and scientifically unverifiable, it is asserted that there is an indestructible element of the Self that survives death and views death merely as another accretion of experience.

It has been explored earlier how fear is a sign of the failure of the harmonious functioning of the psyche. Death is possibly the most universally feared idea, and in this sense, it is necessary to dispel our misperceptions about it. In Thelema, it is understood that “Existence is pure joy,”1 but not only is life joyous, death is as well. It is written in Liber AL vel Legis:

A feast for life and a greater feast for death!”2

Write, & find ecstasy in writing! Work, & be our bed in working! Thrill with the joy of life & death! Ah! thy death shall be lovely: whoso seeth it shall be glad. Thy death shall be the seal of the promise of our age long love. Come! lift up thine heart & rejoice!”3

Here we have a statement that says we should not only have a feast for death, but one greater than the one for life. We are then told to thrill with the joy of both life and death. Death is considered as a “seal of the promise of our age long love” and so one is bidden to “lift up thine heart & rejoice!” Death being a seal implies that death is a sort of fulfillment of life. Jung writes about this, “We are so convinced that death is simply the end of a process that it does not ordinarily occur to us to conceive of death as a goal and a fulfillment as we do without hesitation the aims and purposes of youthful life in its ascendance.”4 Liber AL vel Legis is obviously one exception as it does indeed assert the need to not only view death as a fulfillment, but as a time for rejoicing just as a new life is. Thelema affirms not only life but death also, and Thelemites approach death without fear. We are told “Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything,”5 and in this way, a Thelemite accepts all facts of life, including the inevitability of death, with the same “love under will” and rejoicing.

Liber AL vel Legis itself says “death is the crown of all,”6 and Crowley comments, “Death is the End that crowns the Work.”7 Truly, a Thelemite is ready to accept death, for they are performing their Will with tireless energy, without regard to purpose, and most importantly, unattached from the lust of result. Death will come at its proper moment while one is doing one’s will with one-pointedness, peace, and detachment.8 Death is not something be fearful about, but instead, one must embrace both one’s life and one’s death. Jung writes:

Natural life is the nourishing soil of the soul. Anyone who fails to go along with life remains suspended, stiff and rigid in midair. That is why so many people get wooden in old age; they look back and cling to the past wit ha secret fear of death in their hearts. They withdraw from the life-process, at least psychologically, and consequently remain fixed like nostalgic pillars of salt, with vivid recollections of youth but no living relation to the present. From the middle of life onward, only he remains vitally alive who is ready to die with life. For in the secret hour of life’s midday the parabola is reversed, death is born. The second half of life does not signify ascent, unfolding, increase, exuberance, but death, since the end is its goal. The negation of life’s fulfillment is synonymous with the refusal to accept its ending.”9

Thelema is certainly not a system that refuses to accept life’s ending, it is understood to be a time of great joy in that it signifies life’s fulfillment. As mentioned earlier, Liber AL vel Legis asserts that there is a part of oneself that is immortal. This “immortality” is better understood as an identity that is removed from or beyond the conditions of space and time rather than an entity that lives forever throughout all time. It is not the ego or personality that transcends death, it is the element of Impersonal Life within us all and with which we may identify. With this consideration, Jung noted that, “the psyche’s attachment to the brain, i.e. its space-time limitation, is no longer as self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led to believe.”10 It may be possible that there is an element of the psyche that may “attain to,” or more perhaps “belong to,” a state that transcends this “space-time limitation.” On this Jung writes:

The fact that we are totally unable to imagine a form of existence without space and time by no means proves that such an existence is in itself impossible. And therefore, just as we cannot draw, from an appearance of space-timelessness, any absolute conclusion about a space-timeless form of existence, so we are not entitled to conclude from the apparent space-time quality of our perception that there is no form of existence without space and time. It is not only permissible to doubt the absolute validity of space-time perception; it is, in view of the available facts, even imperative to do so. The hypothetical possibility that the psyche touches on a form of existence outside space and time presents a scientific question-mark that merits serious consideration for a long time to come.” 11

With this in mind, we now turn to what Liber AL says itself in this regard:

Yea! Deem not of change: ye shall be as ye are, & not other… There is none that shall be cast down or lifted up: all is ever as it was.” 12

In this sense, there is an indestructible element of the Self that cannot be “cast down or lifted up.” This is what we call Hadit, that which perceives and endures all events but is ultimately unaffected by them. It is said in Liber AL that “all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”13 That part which remains is this “Crowned and Conquering Child” within us all, which perceives that “every event, including death, is only one more accretion to our experience.”14 Crowley writes on these verses of Liber AL that they “demonstrate the inviolability of Hadit our Quintessence. Every Star has its own Nature, which is ‘Right’ for it… It is impossible to alter the ultimate Nature of any Being, however completely we may succeed in transfiguring its external signs as displayed in any of its combinations.”15 This starry or “Kingly” nature cannot be “cast down or lifted up,” and in fact it is said in Liber AL that “If he be a King, thou canst not hurt him.”16 By virtue of the fact that this “element” is beyond space and time by definition, it does not suffer death nor is it ever truly “born,” so it cannot possibly suffer “hurt.”

Essentially, Thelema asserts an aspect or “essence” of the self that one cannot hurt – an essence that accepts experiences of both life and death as acts of “love under will.” The idea of an immortal essence of man – or of his “soul” – is a common element to many religious traditions. Although scientifically and psychologically unverifiable, as mentioned earlier, the possibility of consciousness or identity not based on our normal ideas of space and time is not as far-fetched as it once seemed. In another sense, if one looks at any process, they are all aspects of a continuum. On this Jung writes,

Beginning and end are unavoidable aspects of all processes. Yet on closer examination it is extremely difficult to see where on process ends and another begins, since events and processes, beginnings and endings, merge into each other and form, strictly speaking, an indivisible continuum. We divide the processes from one another for the sake of discrimination and understanding, knowing full well that at bottom every division is arbitrary and conventional. This procedure in no way infringes the continuum of the world processes, for ‘beginning’ and ‘end’ are primarily necessities of conscious cognition. We may establish with reasonable certainty that an individual consciousness as it relates to ourselves has come to an end. But whether this means that the continuity of the psychic process is also interrupted remains doubtful, since the psyche’s attachment to the brain can be affirmed with far less certitude today than it could fifty years ago.” 17

On this note, we may assert that it is indeed possible that there is an essence or element of the self that survives what we perceive to be our physical death. In fact, it does not even suffer the “hurt” of existence while alive. Even so, the mere belief in such a notion would naturally give one the disposition of, as Jung writes, being ready to “die with life.” That is, truly understanding this will bring a tendency toward living life to its fullest potential, living without fear or attachment, striving towards the full expression of the Self that will end in death, recognized as the seal of life’s fulfillment.

“Great is Life, real and mystical, wherever and whoever;
Great is Death—sure as life holds all parts together, Death holds all parts together.
Has Life much purport?—Ah, Death has the greatest purport.”
—Walt Whitman

>>PART 9>>

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

2 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:41.

3 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:66.

4 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 797.

5 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:17.

6 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:72.

7 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:72.

8 As endorsed by Crowley in his epistle “Liber II Message of the Master Therion.”

9 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 800.

10 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 813.

11 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 797.

12 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:58.

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

14 Crowley, Aleister. Introduction to Liber AL vel Legis, part IV.

15 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:57.

16 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:59.

17 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 812.

>>PART 9>>

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>>

Psychology of Liber AL – pt.6: Psychological Model of Failure

Psychology of Liber AL

Psychological Model of Failure

Thelema constructs a completely practical psychological system, and it is established among familiar physiological lines. In the body, if all is working harmoniously – if the body is healthy, that is – the consciousness continues to operate undisturbed by the functions of the various organs and systems of the body. It is only when there is a malady of some sort – e.g., a malfunction of an organ, the skin is pierced by a knife, stress and anxiety, et cetera – that consciousness is disturbed and made aware of the body’s functioning. In a physiological sense, the body conveniently notifies the consciousness of its trouble by issuing signals of pain. Liber AL vel Legis has applied this to the functioning of the psyche:

Dost thou fail? Art thou sorry? Is fear in thine heart? Where I am these are not.”1

Crowley comments, “This verse brings out what is a fact in psychology, the necessary connection between fear, sorrow, and failure.”2 In the same sense that the appearance of pain signals a certain failure of the harmonious functioning of the body, the appearance of sorrow and fear signal a certain failure in the harmonious functioning of the psyche. Crowley writes, “Sorrow, pain, regret, are symptoms of diseased thought; those only who have ceased to be able to adjust themselves rightly and gladly to all Change, and to grow thereby, or those who still react, but only feebly and vainly, take Sorrow, pain, and regret to be Real”3 It is understood in Thelema that “existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”4 Therefore, any kind of sorrow, pain, or regret necessarily implies some kind of failure to truly understand this perspective.

In another Holy Book of Thelema it is written, “Only if ye are sorrowful, or weary, or angry, or discomforted; then ye may know that ye have lost the golden thread, the thread wherewith I guide you to the heart of the groves of Eleusis.”5 This reaffirms the notion that the appearance of sorrow, pain, regret, weariness, anger, and discomfort are all, just as they are in the physiological sense, signs of some error in the functioning of the psyche of the organism. They are signals being sent to the psyche that “love under will” is not being performed properly, so to speak. Crowley confirms this once again when he writes, “Sorrow thus appears as the result of any unsuccessful – therefore, ill-judged – struggle. Acquiescence in the order of Nature is the ultimate Wisdom.”6

This notion of sorrow appearing as an unsuccessful assimilation of experience parallels the propositions from Carl Rogers’ client-centered therapy. In an earlier segment of this essay, it was seen how the Thelemic maxim of “love under will” is essentially the same concept as that of “psychological adjustment” from Carl Rogers’ nineteen propositions (the assumptions that underlie his client-centered therapy), i.e. assimilation of experience in accordance with one’s self. Whenever this fails, there is what Carl Rogers called “psychological maladjustment.” Rogers writes has as fifteenth and sixteenth propositions,

Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies awareness of significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolized and organized into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic or potential psychological tension.

Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.”7

This “psychological tension” is the same “sorrow” or “pain” that Crowley mentions, but it is applied specifically to the psyche (as opposed to physiological sorrow or pain). If experiences are not assimilated, they generate “psychological tension” and may also be “perceived as a threat” which causes the self-structure to become even more rigid and unadaptable; this will therefore cause further unsuccessful acts of “love under will” or “psychological adjustment.”

Essentially, sorrow, pain, regret, fear, anger, discomfort, and one other psychological phenomenon – pity – are all signals of “failure” to perform an act of “love under will” properly – that is, assimilate an experience in a harmonious way.

In regards to pity, in the second chapter of Liber AL vel Legis it is written, “Pity not the fallen! I never knew them. I am not for them. I console not: I hate the consoled & the consoler”8 and also in the third chapter it is written, “Mercy let be off; damn them who pity!”9 Crowley comments on this saying:

It is several times shewn in this Book that ‘falling’ is in truth impossible. ‘All is ever as it was.’ To sympathize with the illusion is not only absurd, but tends to perpetuate the false idea. It is a mistake to ‘spoil’ a child, or humour a malade imaginaire. One must, on the contrary, chase away the shadows by lighting a fire, which fire is: Do what thou wilt!” Crowley asserts that pitying another is akin to “sympathiz[ing] with the illusion,” for it is said in Liber AL that “Existence is pure joy,” and “all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.”10

One can only pity someone that is in a situation that one perceives to be “unfortunate,” but if one truly understands the dictum of “Existence is pure joy,” they know that even this pity is based on a false perception of things and therefore “sympathyz[ing] with the illusion.” It also implies “looking down” on someone, thinking oneself better rather than recognizing the unique sovereignty of each individual, each being a King or Queen in his or her own Kingdom. This echoes the sentiments that Friedrich Nietzsche expressed when discussing Christianity as a religion of pity. He writes,

Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant. A man loses power when he pities. Through pity that drain upon strength which suffering works is multiplied a thousandfold. Suffering is made contagious by pity; under certain circumstances it may lead to a total sacrifice of life and living energy–a loss out of all proportion to the magnitude of the cause.” 11

Nietzsche also identifies pity as the “contagious source” of even more of “that drain upon strength” than what normally is experienced from suffering or sorrow “multiplied a thousand fold.” Nietzsche continues,

Pity thwarts the whole law of evolution, which is the law of natural selection. It preserves whatever is ripe for destruction; it fights on the side of those disinherited and condemned by life; by maintaining life in so many of the botched of all kinds, it gives life itself a gloomy and dubious aspect. Mankind has ventured to call pity a virtue… Let me repeat: this depressing and contagious instinct stands against all those instincts which work for the preservation and enhancement of life: in the role of protector of the miserable, it is a prime agent in the promotion of decadence–pity persuades to extinction… Aristotle, as every one knows, saw in pity a sickly and dangerous state of mind, the remedy for which was an occasional purgative: he regarded tragedy as that purgative… Nothing is more unhealthy, amid all our unhealthy modernism, than Christian pity.” 12

Pity not only causes more identification with the “shadows” of suffering, but it “preserves whatever is ripe for destruction” because it is a “contagious instinct [that] stands against all those instincts which for the preservation and enhancement of life” – something that one obviously should have to maintain physiological and psychological health. Nietzsche was especially concerned with maintaining these instincts that preserve and enhance life, and he was therefore on guard against all sentiments that would obstruct this natural process.

Aside from these appearances of sorrow, pain, regret, fear, anger, discomfort, and pity being treated as signs of maladjustment – or “love” being performed not “under will” – there are also the considerations of sin and reason that are mentioned in previous segments of this essay. The thought of oneself as sinful is a misperception in Thelema; reason must be kept in its rightful place as interpreter and helper of the Will, which must be performed with tireless energy, without regard to purpose, and unattached to any lust of result. Any diversion from this necessarily restricts the Will, and not only is “the word of Sin… Restriction,”13 but “thou hast no right but to do thy will. Do that, and no other shall say nay.”14 We now have a more complete sense of how the Thelemite ideally views and oeprates within the world: Free of the sense of sin, free of reason’s stranglehold upon our behavior, and aware of sorrow, pain, regret, discomfort, and pity as signals of our failure to perform “love under will.”

Fear not at all; fear neither men nor Fates, nor gods, nor anything. Money fear not, nor laughter of the folk folly, nor any other power in heaven or upon the earth or under the earth.” 15

>>PART 7>>

1 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:46-47.

2 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:46.

3 Crowley, Aleister. “Djeridensis Working,” II:17.

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

5 Crowley, Aleister. Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus, line 23.

6 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:9.

7 Rogers, Carl. Client-Centred Therapy, ch.11.

8 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:48.

9 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:18.

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

11 Nietzsche, Frierich. The Antichrist, ch.7.

12 Nietzsche, Frierich. The Antichrist, ch.7.

13 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:41.

14Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, I:42-43.

15Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, III:17.

>>PART 7>>

Psychology of Liber AL – pt.5: Individuation and the True Will

Psychology of Liber AL

Individuation and the True Will

In the previous section of this essay, it was seen how the mind inhibits the full expression of the Will. The “factor infinite & unknown” is the “Subconscious Will,” and therefore, if we can clear away the thought-complexes that prevent this Will from manifesting, we will come to know our Will. This process by which we come to know and do our Will is called in some places “the Great Work.” Crowley explains this Great Work of coming to know one’s True Will concisely when he writes,

We are not to regard ourselves as base beings, without whose sphere is Light or ‘God.’ Our minds and bodies are veils of the Light within. The uninitiate is a ‘Dark Star,’ and the Great Work for him is to make his veils transparent by ‘purifying’ them. This ‘purification’ is really ‘simplification’; it is not that the veil is dirty, but that the complexity of its folds makes it opaque. The Great Work therefore consists principally in the solution of complexes. Everything in itself is perfect, but when things are muddled, they become ‘evil.’”1

This process of the Great Work that “consists principally in the solution of complexes” is also coterminous with a phrase Crowley often used: Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. He asserts this identity as clearly as possible when he writes, “this Great Work is the Attainment of the Knowledge and Conversation of thine Holy Guardian Angel.”2

The process by which we come to know and do our Will is the solution of complexes inhibiting the free and natural flow of the Will. The Great Work is simply a clearing away of the inhibitions of the conscious self to allow the true Self, which contains both conscious and subconscious elements, free reign to do as it Wills. The theory is that if we are only able to “cleanse the doors of perception” (as William Blake says), we will be allowed to manifest our pure Wills effectively. Crowley writes, “Our own Silent Self, helpless and witless, hidden within us, will spring forth, if we have craft to loose him to the Light, spring lustily forward with his cry of Battle, the Word of our True Wills. This is the Task of the Adept, to have the Knowledge and Conversation of His Holy Guardian Angel, to become aware of his nature and his purpose, fulfilling them.”3 Here Crowley not only makes Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel analogous to becoming aware of and fulfilling one’s nature and purpose, but he admits that all we need is the “craft to loose” this “Silent Self” and then naturally the “Word of our True Wills” will “spring lustily forward.”

The various forms of Horus found in Liber AL vel Legis (Ra-Hoor-Khuit, Hoor-paar-kraat, Heru-pa-kraath, Heru-ra-ha, etc.)4 represent a symbolic expression of the “Silent” or “True Self” and so also a symbol of the Holy Guardian Angel. Horus is therefore an archetypal expression of the Self to which all aspire to unite or identify with in “the Great Work.” This is spoken of in Liber AL when Horus, the speaker of the third chapter, says, “To Me do ye reverence! to me come ye through tribulation of ordeal, which is bliss.”5 Crowley explains:

We have seen that Ra-Hoor-Khuit is in one sense the Silent Self in a man, a Name of his Khabs, not so impersonal as Hadit, but the first and least untrue formulation of the Ego. We are to revere this self in us, then, not to suppress it and subordinate it. Nor are we to evade it, but to come to it. This is done ‘through tribulation of ordeal.’ This tribulation is that experienced in the process called Psychoanalysis, now that official science has adopted — so far as its inferior intelligence permits — the methods of the magus. But the ‘ordeal’ is ‘bliss’; the solution of each complex by ‘tribulation’ …is the spasm of joy which is the physiological and psychological accompaniment of any relief from strain and congestion.”6

Crowley identifies Horus as a symbolic expression of the Self whose Will must not be suppressed, subordinated, or evaded. The more surprising of the statements by Crowley is that he claims the “tribulation of ordeal” of the Great Work is coterminous with Psychoanalysis, a direct connection again between psychology and Thelema. With this we can see that the process of psychoanalysis is analogous to “the Great Work” and “Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”: it is a realization of the true Self.

Carl Jung deemed this same process “individuation.” He defines individuation as:

becoming an ‘in-dividual,’ and in so far as ‘individuality’ embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one’s own self. We could therefore translate individuation as ‘coming to selfhood’ or ‘self-realization…’ Egotists are called ‘selfish,’ but this, naturally, has nothing to do with the concept of ‘self’ as I am using it here… Individuation, therefore, can only mean a process of psychological development that fulfils the individual qualities given; in other words, it is a process by which a man becomes the definite, unique being he in fact is. In so doing he does not become ‘selfish’ in the ordinary sense of the word, but is merely fulfilling the peculiarity of his nature, and this… is vastly different from egotism or individualism.”7

Jung here asserts that individuation is a “self-realization,” but makes sure to qualify this statement by saying this does not mean a strengthening of the ego-self. This Self that is realized is beyond the normal egocentric notion of “self.” Instead, this Self contains both the conscious (where the ego resides) and the unconscious factors. Jung explains that, “conscious and unconscious are not necessarily in opposition to one another, but complement on another to form a totality, which is the self.”8 This is the Self that one comes to “through tribulation of ordeal.” Horus is a symbol of that Self in Liber AL vel Legis, and in other places the Holy Guardian Angel is mentioned as that symbol. Crowley writes, “the Angel [is] the True Self of his subconscious self, the hidden Life of his physical life” and “his Angel is the Unity which expresses the sum of the Elements of that Self,”9 an almost exact parallel of Jung’s definition of the “Self.”10

As asserted before by Crowley, this process of individuation or “The Great Work… consists principally in the solution of complexes,” and is simply the becoming aware of and fulfilling of one’s nature. Through this Great Work of individuation, one comes to identify with this Self. In Thelema, one does such under the figure of Horus.11 One comes to know that “he [or she] is Harpocrates, the Child Horus… that is, he is in Unity with his own Secret Nature.”12

One might even assert that the Great Work is a natural process of the human psyche. Carl Jung says, “the driving force [of the unconscious], so far as it is possible for us to grasp it, seems to be in essence only an urge towards self-realization.”13 In this sense, all humans are participating in the drama of the “Great Work,” each striving, consciously or unconsciously, toward that union of subconscious and conscious natures into the Self so that they may more fully accomplish their Wills.

>>PART 6>>

1 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is for All, I:8.

2 Crowley, Aleister. Liber Aleph, “De Gradibus ad Magnum Opus.”

3 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is for All, I:7.

4 It is interesting to note that Crowley says in his commentary to Liber AL, “The Fool is also the Great Fool, Bacchus Diphues, Harpocrates, the Dwarf-Self, the Holy Guardian Angel, and so forth,” essentially equating all the symbols. Further, he writes in his comment to Liber AL II:8, “Harpocrates is… the Dwarf-Soul, the Secret Self of every man, the Serpent with the Lion’s Head.” If this is true, and if according to Liber AL I:8 “Hoor-paar-kraat” (a name for Harpocrates) is taken to be the source of Liber AL vel Legis as the book itself proclaims, then Liber AL was indeed a manifestation of Crowley’s unconscious. The fact is that the unconscious contains “both knowledge and power” greater than the conscious mind, and therefore it is quite possible that Liber AL vel Legis is a manifestation thereof.

5 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, III:62.

6 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is for All, III:62.

7 Jung, Carl. “The Function of the Unconscious” from The Collected Works of C.G. Jung vol.7, par.266-267.

8 Jung, Carl. “The Function of the Unconscious” from The Collected Works of C.G. Jung vol.7, par.274.

9 Crowley, Aleister. “Liber Samekh,” Point II, Section G.

10 From these considerations it will be seen that the Holy Guardian Angel is most certainly not an external being as some in the Thelemic community maintain. This is due most likely to one statement made by Crowley in Magick Without Tears, a treatise intended for complete beginners. One must understand that the subconscious can and does appear as autonomous to the conscious mind. Therefore, one can speak of the Angel as “outside” of oneself insofar as it seems to function autonomously from the conscious ego, but ultimately one comes to see that the Angel is in fact the summation of both the subconscious and conscious natures that make up the self.

11 In an endnote to chapter 90 of Confessions of Aleister Crowley, Symonds writes about a statement Crowley made to a disciple Frank Bennett, “’I want to explain to you fully, and in a few words, what initiation means, and what is meant when we talk of the Real Self, and what the Real Self is.’ And there and then Crowley told him that it was all a matter of getting the subconscious mind to work; and when this subconscious mind was allowed full sway, without interference from the conscious mind, then illumination could be said to have begin; for the subconscious mind was our Holy Guardian Angel. Crowley illustrated the point thus: everything is experienced in the subconscious mind, and it (the subconscious) is constantly urging its will on consciousness, and when the inner desires are restricted or suppressed, evil of all kinds is the result.” Although this directly supports our conclusions we include it only in a footnote because it is a third-hand account.

12 Crowley, Aleister. Liber Aleph, “De Gramine Sanctissimo Arabico.”

13 Jung, Carl. “The Function of the Unconscious” from The Collected Works of C.G. Jung vol.7, par.291.

>>PART 6>>