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.”
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.