Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
TITLE: Living Thelema: A Practical Guide to Attainment in Aleister Crowley’s System of Magick
AUTHOR: Dr. David Shoemaker
BASIC INFO: Published by Anima Solis Books (2013); Trade paperback version, 6×9, perfect-bound, 274 pp.
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WHAT’S IN IT?
Living Thelema is sub-titled “A Practical Guide to Attainment in Aleister Crowley’s System of Magick.” There have been many books detailing the actual practices and how to do them “correctly,” but very few have talked on a deeper level about the practices and the Thelemic Path of Attainment in general in a down-to-earth fashion. In this way, Shoemaker picks up where most books leave off: He assumes a general familiarity on the part of the reader of the different practices mentioned in the book, so it gives him space to be able to talk about things like the difficulties encountered and the deeper layers of the Path and its practices.
The book is divided into three major sections: (1) Tools for the Journey, (2) Perspectives on the Path of Attainment, and (3) Life Outside the Temple. The “Tools for the Journey” section gives very basic introductions to the fundamental subjects encountered in Crowley’s system of Magick including an introduction to Qabalah, the concepts of the Holy Guardian Angel and the True Will in the context of Attainment, basic rituals, basic meditations, devotional practices, and sexual practices. The “Perspectives on the Path of Attainment” section focuses in on specific subjects and gives Shoemaker’s perspectives on them. It begins with an overview of the system of A.’.A.’. and then focuses on the topics of Tarot, the Tetragrammaton, the Chakras, the Ego, LVX and NOX, magical power, and alchemy. The final section, “Life Outside the Temple,” discusses various topics that deal with “normal life” when not doing ritual or meditation practices including perspectives on patterns in magical work, dreams, relationships, psychotherapy, and more.
WHAT I ENJOY ABOUT THE BOOK
I have enjoyed David Shoemaker’s “Living Thelema” segments on the Speech in the Silence podcast for many years, and I was glad when I heard he was forming a book based off them. I think Shoemaker’s primary quality that makes this book shine is his ability to be clear and concise. For example, one could theoretically write an entire tome on True Will, but Shoemaker is able to condense his thoughts to only a few pages, which – rather than leaving the reader feeling like more needs to be said – offers a very clear perspective on the True Will and gives it context within the scope of the Path of Attainment.
Many people, after having walked the Path or even just studied Thelema for a long time, have the issue of forgetting what it is like to be a beginner (or intermediate) student on the Path. There is a tendency to use jargon without explanation, to assume knowledge and experience, and generally speak in a way that is inaccessible or “removed.” Many give the impression that a newer student is therefore “not welcome” or “not initiated” into the specialized knowledge and so is condemned to confusion. By contrast, Shoemaker has a rare gift of being able to speak with the knowledge that comes from experience while retaining a down-to-earth, understandable quality to his message. His words are often simple while also not feeling watered-down. Especially when dealing with the deeper levels of practices and the Path in general rather than the technical minutia of how to do a ritual, this is an absolutely invaluable quality that is most desperately needed at this time in the Thelema-universe.
Another important overall quality of Living Thelema that I enjoy is that it speaks to real, human issues. Most books on Magick involve telling people how to do rituals and theoretically attain great spiritual heights, or they limit themselves largely to discussing symbolism. This approach tends to leave out the human element, the part where people exist outside of their Temple space, where they get frustrated and confused, or caught up in intellectualizations. Shoemaker addresses many of these issues in chapters such as “Patterns & Cycles in Magical Practice”, “The Role of the Ego in the Great Work”, “Relationships” and others. It gives a picture of an aspiring Magician as a human being, and not a fanciful, over-glamorized wizard at work in a majestic, secluded, fully-decked-out Temple.
By virtue of having drawn from podcast segments for the chapters, Living Thelema reads like an anthology on many different topics. In this way, a very broad spectrum of ideas are able to be addressed which gives the book the feel of being a great overall companion on the Path rather than a specialized work. Many perspectives and tools are offered, giving the reader the ability to think about what is important and relevant to them in order to integrate it into their lives.
WHAT MIGHT IMPROVE?
The other side of the coin of being anthology is that the book often feels like it is jumping around. This is somewhat by necessity from the format, so it does not necessarily need to “improve” but the sections could potentially lead or tie into one another more coherently.
Secondly: Just as I appreciate the clarity and simplicity of Shoemaker’s language, I also personally feel that Shoemaker relies too heavily on Qabalistic language and ideas at times. It is clear that Shoemaker is very well-versed and steeped in the Hermetic Qabalah and it’s certainly an invaluable tool on the Thelemic Path, but I feel that many concepts could actually be much clearer if said in plain language rather than with, for example, the 4 Qabalistic Worlds. In general, I think using Qabalistic language often gives the illusion of having communicated something rather than actually communicating something, since it leaves so much up to the reader/listener’s current comprehension of Qabalistic concepts.
Finally, I would like to know more about Shoemaker’s own Path and how his experiences have led him to believe the ideas that are explained in the book. Having more of the man to give another layer of “realness” to the perspectives given would, I think, make the book even more powerful than it already is.
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT?
9 out of 10 Stars: Living Thelema is a great book that fills the void in contemporary Thelemic literature of talking about the aspects of the Path beyond explaining symbolism or the technical details of how to do certain practices. I absolutely recommend Living Thelema to anyone that is on the Path of Attainment in the Thelemic system, if only to hear the perspectives of a very experienced practitioner who has a way with words.
Check it out & order it here: CreateSpace
Love is the law, love under will.