PART 4: MYSTICISM IN PRACTICE – The Lover
2) The Lover: Communion with the Holy Guardian Angel
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.”
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.“
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.