Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.
TITLE: The Magickal Union of East and West: The Spiritual Path to New Aeon Tantra
AUTHOR: Gregory Peters
BASIC INFO: Published by Llewellyn Publications (2014); Trade paperback version, 6×9, perfect-bound, 216 pp.
WHAT’S IN IT?
The Magickal Union of East and West is sub-titled “The Spiritual Path to New Aeon Tantra.” This book appears to be another contribution to the new and growing tradition of combining Eastern approaches with the more traditional Western approaches to spirituality under the aegis of the Law of Thelema. Other very recent examples include my own Thelema Sutras (2013) and Sam Webster’s Tantric Thelema (2010; which is much closer in content and style to this book by Peters).
The book is basically composed of two interwoven parts: Tantric theory and various practices thereof. The first chapter gives several basic “Tantric” practices based in Thelema including a sun salutation, lunar adoration, Thelemic refuge, Thelemic mala/rosary, and it ends with a discussion of basic sitting meditation. Chapters 3 through 7 then take us through Thelema through Tantric eyes including discussions of the nature of Self, the Great Work, The Book of the Law, True Will, Void/emptiness, the joy of samsara, dedication to Nuit, the Holy Books, and samaya/vow. Chapter 10 introduces more tools such as the mantra, yantra, and mandala. The book then takes a sharp turn: Chapter 11 details various rites that basically draw upon the philosophy of the previous chapters, Chapter 12 details the “Diamond Sapphire Gem of Radiant Light” ritual (the main ritual of Peters’ Tantric-Thelemic order, Ordo Sunyata Vajra), and – finally – Chapter 13 goes further in depth into the ritual of the previous chapter, giving more theory and practice within its context. The end of the book contains various Appendices including historical influences, resources for further reading, an afterword, a glossary (particularly helpful for those who are not familiar with Eastern terms), and an index.
WHAT I ENJOY ABOUT THE BOOK
Peters’ writing style is very clear and simple. His use of jargon is not as heavy-handed or obscure as many other authors on similar subjects. Similarly, he is very concise: chapters are often only a couple pages long. This gives the impression that the focus is on the practice rather than the theory, which I believe is a message this book is meant to convey. He also has a certain “poetic” approach to the topics, using imagery and metaphors rather than long-winded philosophical diatribes.
Many of the ideas in the book I found were not particularly novel (not that they’re meant to be). The one idea I found most powerful was the threefold samaya or “vow” of (1) Do what thou wilt, (2) Love is the law, and (3) To Me (along with all that these three things imply within the context of Thelemic Tantra). It is a nice, elegant formulation of the basic injunctions for a Thelemite who wishes to take this path, which stands in contrast to the often overly-complex and convoluted systems that people often put forward to attempt to explain Thelemic praxis.
The use of Eastern “technologies” such as certain breathing exercises, malas, mantras, yantras, and mandalas has a long history in Thelema, although Peters does an admirable job introducing these items in a way that is not overbearing nor particularly watered down. Of course, entire treatises can (and have) been written on one of these practices alone, but they seem to be given adequately within the context of their being used for the various “rites” described in the final portion of the book.
I also appreciate the attempt to create new rituals and rites that utilize the Law of Thelema but expand its ritual “technology” to include things beyond the tired formats given to us from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. I can always get behind a genuine creative output that attempts to breath new life into the Law of Thelema.
WHAT MIGHT IMPROVE?
I read the entire book in less than 3 hours. This is both good and bad: it means it was a fairly easy read (perhaps because I’m already somewhat familiar with Eastern jargon) and also that it didn’t feel particularly substantial. While many of the ‘theory’ essays were great, they were often 2 or 3 pages, which leaves a lot to be desired. For example: How is this kind of thing enacted in daily life beyond the use of rites and rituals? This kind of question is left virtually entirely unanswered, which – although there was no false promise of having them answered – I believe are necessary questions to address when attempting to elucidate a way to approach the Path.
Another point – which is a bit more of a personal aesthetic point – is that it bothers me when individuals attempt to merge Eastern (or simply Tantric) ideas with Thelemic but simply leave a great deal of the Eastern language, practices, and beliefs. It often ends up seeming like Buddhist Tantra with some Thelemic buzzwords thrown in. There are entire paragraphs in the Pali language in one of the rites, for example, which don’t seem necessary, as well as examples of things like dedication of merit that aren’t given a particularly solid theoretical foundation within the Thelemic worldview beyond “other traditions do it.”
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT?
8 out of 10 stars: The Magickal Union of East and West is a great book for those who want an introduction to how one might start to think about and practice Thelema coming from a traditionally Tantric background. The language is clear adn to the point, which alone places it above several other works on similar subjects.
Love is the law, love under will.