sexuality

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>>

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Why Thelema Kicks Ass

Why Thelema Kicks Ass

Why Thelema Kicks Ass

One question that I have heard from friends and that I have often asked myself is, “Why Thelema?” Why not identify with any of the other religions or philosophies? I want to explain why I believe in the power of Thelema as a rule of life, and consequently why I believe that Thelema will continue to grow.

I. Do what thou wilt

The most fundamental point is that we have a certain Law under which everything else is subsumed: Do what thou wilt. It is the simple sublimity of this spiritual infrastructure that differentiates Thelema both from the various New Age religions (or “spiritualities”) that are characterized by the amorphous and cherrypicking nature of their beliefs as well as from the Old Aeon religions that are characterized by their rigid dogmatism and sectarianism. The Law of Liberty is so far-reaching that it has implications in all facets of life including metaphysics (as a philosophy), ethics (as a way of life), and theology (as a religion) yet it is so elegant that can be summed up in a single word, Thelema.

II. Tolerance

The fundamental Law of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt” which is a radical exhortation for each individual to explore and express their true nature, whatever that may be. Fundamentally, we as Thelemites uphold everyone’s right to be who they are. This involves a revolutionary form of tolerance or acceptance of diversity. Thelema itself is partially the result of a syncretism of many religions and philosophies. It says in The Book of the Law, “Aum! All words are sacred and all prophets true; save only that they understand a little.” We can also find reference to Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Egyptian, Greek, Hermetic, Buddhist, and Hindu ideas within The Book of the Law itself, let alone the other Holy Books and writings by Aleister Crowley. This speaks to Thelema’s ability to appreciate the truths that are held by the various ideologies across the globe and throughout history.

Our eclectic syncretism is not arbitrary though insofar as everything revolves around the core of “Do what thou wilt”: threads are gathered from all corners of human existence to be woven together through the harmony expressed in the word of the Law that is Thelema. The tolerant acceptance of different points-of-view is what distinguishes Thelema from virtually every other religion that has come about in human history. This can be seen very explicitly in the declaration of the rights of man in “Liber OZ,” wherein it is written, “Man has the right to live by his own law—to live in the way that he wills to do.”

We are radical in our acceptance of others as they are, however they may think, speak, or act, yet we also take up arms against dogmatism, prejudice, and superstition that impede the full expression of humanity’s liberty. This is encapsulated in a quotation where Crowley writes, “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.”

III. Scientific Religion

Thelema is wholly against superstition and dogmatism that are so obviously a part of the various religions and philosophies of the past. We do not argue about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, which color clothing generates bad karma on a certain day, how many times a mantra should be said to please a god, or what actions will be favorably judged by the Almighty Gaseous God-in-the-clouds.

This has implications in terms of action (morally) and thought (philosophically). Morally, we say, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”; this places the responsibility on the individual to find what is right for them without reference to any theological threats of the shame and guilt of sin, the eternal hellfire of damnation, an unfavorable response from a god, or even having a reincarnation in an insect. Philosophically, we do not assert anything that is blatantly contradictory to the knowledge-base of humanity, especially in terms of modern science. There are plenty of cases of people willfully denying the evidence of things as fundamental as evolution or germ theory. For example, it is not difficult to find instances in America of thinly-veiled theology being pushed in schools in the pseudo-scientific guise of “intelligent design.” Stories of people – even children – dying because their parents do not believe in medical care are not unheard of. In contrast, Thelema is a “scientific religion” that speaks to the vicissitudes of human experience that we often call “religion” or “spirituality” while remaining true to the progress of human knowledge that we often call “science.” A great article was recently written on how Aleister Crowley envisioned Thelema as a scientific religion that I recommend if you would like to know more about this particular aspect of the Law of Liberty.

Further, Thelema is a humanized religion: we place the goal of our aspiration within ourselves and we accept others for who they are. As I have written elsewhere: In the Aeon of Isis the focus was Nature, in the Aeon of Osiris the focus was God, and now in the Aeon of Horus the focus is Man, the individual. Our Goal is the fullest expression of ourselves in the True Will, our Path is towards the deepest totality of our selves, and our Community are neither in a “here-after” of Heaven nor gods or demi-gods in some plane “beyond” the world but rather the men and women here on Earth. This ideal is encapsulated in that powerful phrase, “There is no god but man.”

IV. Embracing the world while transcending materialism

Thelema embraces the world insofar as we do not believe sensual pleasures are evil or bad, and we do not believe that existence or incarnation or awareness is something to be annihilated or transcended or left behind. This attitude is encapsulated in The Book of the Law where it is written, “Be strong, o man! lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture: fear not that any God shall deny thee for this.” As I have said elsewhere: The Earth is not a prison, but a Temple where the sacrament of Life may be enacted; the body is not corrupt, but a pulsing and thriving vessel for the expression of Energy; sex is not sinful, but a mysterious conduit of pleasure and power as well as an image of the ecstatic nature of all Experience.

While we embrace the world, we do not fall into the trap of petty materialism. This is seen in our distinguishing between want – our conscious desires, wishes, and whims that constantly come and go – and True Will. We embrace the world not to have more and bigger and shinier things but as an expression of our nature and a celebration of the joy of existence. This idea was treated in more depth in another recent essay, which can be read if you would like to know more about this particular subject.

V. Sexuality

In line with what was said before about tolerance and acceptance, Thelema specifically embraces all forms of sexual identity, orientation, exploration, and expression that is in line with the Will of the individual. Thelema is a way of life that very explicitly encourages people to be what they are sexually, not to live up to some standard whether dictated by religion or society. We do not view any particular gender identity or sexual orientation as more natural or as superior in any way. The best identity is the one that most clearly and fully is an expression of your nature. We see this encapsulated in The Book of the Law where it is written, “take your fill and will of love as ye will, when, where and with whom ye will!”

Crowley was very far ahead of his time in this way; for example, he wrote in the beginning of the 20th century, “The Beast 666 ordains by His authority that every man, and every woman, and every intermediately-sexed individual, shall be absolutely free to interpret and communicate Self by means of any sexual practices soever, whether direct or indirect, rational or symbolic, physiologically, legally, ethically, or religiously approved or no, provided only that all parties to any act are fully aware of all implications and responsibilities thereof, and heartily agree thereto.” We must remember that – as one very small example – it was more than half a century later before the American Psychological Association stopped labeling homosexuality as a form of mental illness. We as Thelemites take up the banner of acceptance of people as they are, no matter how they may choose to define and express themselves sexually.

VI. Drugs

Thelemites do not shy away from the use of alcohol and drugs based on philosophical, moral, or theological grounds. Thelema has no prohibitions against drugs (or anything, really) so long as what you are doing is in line with your Will. This requires people to take responsibility for their choices. I often think that it helps to say, “Do what thou wilt… and suffer the consequences” because saying “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” does not somehow absolve you of the consequences of your action; the Law of Thelema did not somehow abrogate the law of cause and effect. Abusing a substance will still lead to addiction, misusing a substance can still lead to mental imbalance, and rightly using a substance can lead to immense leaps in self-exploration and self-understanding. It is up to every individual to be informed about the use of drugs and to do them responsibly with an intent of finding, exploring, and expressing their true natures.

In a time where the use of psychedelics has only really been explored for their therapeutic potential in the past 5-10 years, this is also a radical approach to drugs. We have Crowley’s own addictions, the history of excess and abuse of drugs as can stereotypically be seen in the late 1960s, and possibly experiences of our own and those around us to warn us about the abuse of drugs. Conversely, we have Crowley’s own successes, a long history of the successful experimentation with drugs, as well as the experiences of our own and those around us to remind us of the distinct potential of using drugs in harmony with our Wills. Click here to read more about Thelema’s approach to drugs.

VII. Aleister Crowley

I believe that Aleister Crowley is exactly the prophet we need in this day and age for one fundamental reason: he was a human being. He was a genius, but he was a human being (despite his attempts to be remembered as a solar myth!). Crowley pushed the boundaries in virtually every category of life and so we may admire him in this way, but we also see things that challenge us. Crowley played with virtually every taboo he could find and in this way he challenges us to confront our own demons and find our own beliefs about how we should live. Our reaction to Crowley can be seen as a microcosm of our own reaction to taboos in general. This is a valuable task in which each individual can engage: what did Crowley do that particularly offends our sentiments? What things are “too far” or “too much,” and – more importantly – examine why it is that you believe he went too far. In this way, in studying our reaction to the prophet of Thelema we can learn more about our own blind spots, limits, and boundaries.

Crowley’s sometimes outrageous behavior also reminds us that we are not supposed to imitate Crowley in any way; we are supposed to find our own Way. That is what Thelema is about. Thelemites are united in a mutual respect and reverence for Crowley, and we are united in a mutual quest to find our Selves. We are not all trying to be Crowley like Christians try to be like Christ or Buddhists like Buddha; we are all trying to be who we really are and that is what sets us apart.

VIII. Rejoice!

Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131In a document that I believe every Thelemite should read for its clarity and incisiveness, Crowley wrote that one of our duties is to “Rejoice!” Thelema is a religion of joy and beauty. Humor is our armor and laughter our weapon. No longer do we look upon solemnity and self-effacement as synonymous with spirituality. Thelema is a law of Liberty that holds the keys to unlock the innate potential of every individual, to release ourselves from the burden of sorrow and fear, and to allow ourselves to be ourselves and rejoice therein. As it says in The Book of the Law, “Remember all ye that existence is pure joy.” With this knowledge, we can consciously and willfully engage in that ultimate Sacrament we know as existence. I therefore say with Crowley, “Look, brother, we are free! Rejoice with me, sister, there is no law beyond Do what thou wilt!”

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