One of our readers recently took the time to write in with a rebuttal to our article Thelema a Destructive Path I found the information provided to be quite insightful and with permission of the writer I am posting it here for all of you to read. Any questions or thoughts may be sent to the Author directly to Nanamin
I’ve been reading articles on excommunicate.net off and on for a couple years now and find many of them to be very helpful and enjoyable in various ways. Recently, however, one caught my eye which I think is quite inaccurate and could use some analysis and a commentary from a different perspective. This article, written on 9/6/07 is called “Thelema, a destructive path?”. Here are some of my thoughts on the issues presented by this article, from the perspective of a Thelemite. As a disclaimer, different Thelemites have different views on many issues related to Thelema, and not all would agree with the assertions I make. I have my opinions, but am certainly not an “expert” or authority on the matter. All bold text below is from the original article, and all plain text are my own words.
To the author of the article upon which I’m commenting: please do not interpret any of the following as hostile; no emotional impact or insult is intended in any of my response. It is merely a polite divergence of viewpoint and perhaps correction of fact.
For those who don’t know, Thelema acquired most of its notoriety from Aleister Crowley. The word had existed long before he but it was he who readopted it and gave it new purpose. Aleister sought to bring about a new religion something to replace the antiquated views of old. However his work came quite a bit after the appearance of the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucians, and even the Freemasons. Crowley’s religion was an adaptation of a new dogma.
This new path was revealed to him by a being called Aiwass. Aiwass was channeled through Crowley at first by his wife Rose and then later himself. This alleged being was Crowley’s Holy Guardian Angel. However the writing itself is very indicative of any style of automatic writing. Like many “channeled” works it is written in a very abstract and esoteric manner. Only those worthy to walk the path may understand type approach.
I’d like to begin by stating that I disagree with the last sentence in the above paragraph. The author is correct in asserting that some of Crowley’s channeled work is central to Thelema. This is especially true of the text “Liber AL vel Legis,” or “The Book of the Law.” According to AL I:34, “. . . the Law is for all.” Crowley even wrote an interpretation of Liber AL which was published under the name “The Law is For All.” The idea was to make the often obscure and disorganized Liber AL more accessible and comprehensible to anyone interested in study — not just some elite few who are “worthy.”
I would say there are a number of good reasons for the esoteric writing style. First off, Thelema, Hermeticism, and in fact most systems of ritual magick of which I’m aware, are esoteric traditions. As such, it seems to follow that there is going to be symbolism and esoterica within them, and perhaps a need for initiation into the Mysteries of the given tradition in order to make sense of what is being taught. In any case, when a text is written in a more or less obscure manner, it requires you to think differently than you would when interpreting something mundane. The abstraction allows for principles within the text to apply to many different scenarios, rather than discussing something specific and rather limited. For example,
” If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought. If Power asks why, then is Power weakness.”
(from Liber AL) could be said to be abstract, yet I believe something like this is quite easily interpreted and applicable in many areas in one’s life.
On the other hand, something like “Every man and every woman is a star” (from the same text) could be seen as much less abstract and esoteric, nor do I see this as something requiring you to be “worthy” to understand.
Just as any writing is a product of its culture in some way — be it The Bible, one of Shakespeare’s plays, or anything else – Thelemic texts are no different. In the works of Shakespeare, the characters may use language which makes little sense to the average person today. The Hagekure contains moral values and descriptions of actions which might shock and disgust your average American or European due to cultural upbringing. If the same American or European were educated in Japanese history, etiquette, and morality, this may no longer be the case. Similarly, an understanding of the history of Liber AL, Crowley’s life, the background of Thelemic thought and related ideas (Nietzsche, Rabelais, Egyptian/Greek mythology, ritual magic, etc) is very useful in the interpretation of otherwise obscure passages that one may come across in Thelemic studies. Learning prerequisite background information is hardly “walking the path,” at least no more so than taking a few organic chemistry courses gives one the ability to synthesize LSD.
To comment on the first paragraph: I agree with the statement that Crowley’s new philosophy sought to replace the old and antiquated views which predominate due to Christian dogma. Christianity, being a philosophy of human weakness and failure, seems to demean and insult its followers by focusing on the imperfections many people have (or claiming that many of our natural behaviours are imperfections in the eyes of God). Contrary to claims of destructiveness by the article in question, the Law of Thelema tends to empower and strengthen those who adhere to it. It is about manifestation, self-actualization of the Will, and reaching one’s full potential.
The legions of Crowley and Thelema are truly no better than folk trying to walk the darker side of life with an over active imagination. At least superficially it would appear as such. Much of Crowley’s work took place while under the influence of various illegal substances. Like the tribes that formed their religious experiences based upon the intake of Peyote, so too did Crowley form his religion.
Legions of Thelemites? I wish! There are certainly “legions” of Christians, Muslims, and Jews however. How can this author back up his or her assertions that Thelema has anything to do with “walking the darker side of life” or having an “over active imagination?” In fact, I was under the impression that “Love is the Law,” and that Thelema is a spiritual philosophy (check out Liber XV: The Gnostic Mass) of “Light, Life, Love, and Liberty.” What is dark about those things? Sure, there is some dark and war-like imagery in Thelema, but there is also passion, love, light, beauty, victory, and strength. Just because the text isn’t biased towards white-light fluff-bunny sparkles and sunshine does not make it a “dark” philosophy. Would it be accurate to say Christians are walking the darker side of life too? After all, their religious symbol of the cross is the equivalent of a religion having the electric chair as its symbol, and supposedly some day it will rain blood and fire as all the non-Christians are decapitated and- you get the point.
Regarding drugs: Crowley experimented with mescaline and ether, and was (due to a medical prescription) a heroin addict. He also indulged in cocaine, various liquors, etc. This was his choice, but to my knowledge, he was not intoxicated 24/7. Based on personal experience with having been prescribed painkillers in the long-term, as well as information I’ve received from my friends, your body adjusts to things like opiates over time, and after you build a tolerance to them, you eventually will not get “high” or euphoric off of them regardless of dosage — although you will need to take a dose a few times a day to feel normal and are not sick from withdrawal. Even if Crowley were taking drugs constantly, his body would eventually adapt to their presence, and they would no longer induce altered moods or mental states after their ingestion.
That said, it is entirely possible that the euphoria from some drugs, and the altered states of mind and deep insights from others inspired some of the ideas which Crowley incorporated into his writings. Are these ideas any less valid, however, so long as they stand up to reason and experience? Also, what’s wrong with tribes having spiritual experiences through the use of Peyote? Has the author taken mescaline him/herself to be sure that there is absolutely no validity in the thoughts glimpsed by anyone while in a chemically-altered state? Finally, it should be mentioned that meditation, yoga, and other practices also cause chemical alterations which affect consciousness, sometimes in very similar ways to various entheogenic drugs. Note: Like anything done to excess Drugs can be very dangerous; and there is always opiate withdrawl treatment to help overcome addiction.
Thelema’s approach is unique in that it follows a certain precept. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love under law, love under will. Much of the Thelematic work is focused upon developing one’s will. Using magick as a path to forge who one is as well as their surroundings. However any religious aspirant may see this approach as blasphemous. Follow one’s will to their own desires, to eventually become the god head that they are is the credo. However despite all of this elaborate ritual, Crowley knew he blasphemed against the religious heads.
It is a common mistake to equate “Will” with “desire.” Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law does not mean “do whatever you want.” It means you should do your “True Will,” which, as a Thelemite, one is supposed to discover for his/herself. The True Will is one’s ultimate purpose for being, is said to work in harmony with the Wills of others, and is somewhat of a combination between destiny and free will. “Every man and every woman is a star” with their own orbit, or Will, which shifts in the gravity of other orbits, but never fully strays from its true path — as much as it may wobble. To find the True Will is to go about your orbit with the full inertia of the universe, perfectly balanced and aligned in your orbit, rather than out of sync and against unnecessary friction. This is Crowley’s interpretation, anyway, and one I find beautiful and applicable to my own life.
The “blasphemy” in this, is that you are taking control and responsibility of your own circumstance (after all, magick is defined as “the art and science of causing change in conformity with the will,” a definition accepted even by many non-Thelemites), rather than accepting that “God” makes all things happen the way they do. Although some Thelemites will disagree. I think, depending on your interpretations of things — especially because Thelema is so deeply personal and relativistic, which is in fact central to its philosophy — you could even believe that “God” — or your HGA or whatever — does create all circumstances in your life, but that it’s your response to what happens to you, what you do with the events in your life, the dynamic of your movement, that shapes who you are and the realization of your True Will.
Crowley “blaspheming” religious figures is a whole separate issue, and has little to do with elaborate ritual in Thelemic practice. First, it is well known that Crowley got a kick out of the negative publicity surrounding him. Not to mention he had some issues with dogmatic and authoritarian religious ideals due to his upbringing. I think more importantly, however, is Crowley’s belief that spirituality should be experienced directly and personally, rather than through an intermediary. You are your own priest, and if a bit of dogma or superstition gets in the way of your direct perception of the Divine — get rid of it!
On the base of Thelema one pursues the path on their own with their brothers and sisters of the lodge, assuming they join the O.T.O. or A.:A.:, the goal to expand the will and achieve an enlightenment of sorts. Through complex ritual magick, one programs their subconscious to become in tune with the higher frequencies of divinity. Different mantras to raise spiritual vibrations and practices help get the neophyte to become a true magician. To do this one is under the presumption that there is divinity, and where there is divinity there is also the demonic.
I like the idea of “programming your subconscious,” and “raising vibrations” and whole-heartedly agree. Yes, many techniques — yoga, meditation, mantra, ritual, etc — are used in magick, and once again this is a whole different subject, as Thelema is not by any far cry the only tradition which practices ritual magick. See, for example, Wicca, other neo-pagan traditions, LeVayan Satanism, Chaos Magick, the Golden Dawn, Rosicrucians, Freemasons, and many others who do the same thing but may not necessarily refer to the practice with the same terminology.
I disagree that “the demonic” by necessity always accompanies divinity, unless perhaps the author can support this claim. At the very least, calling it “demonic” is misleading. Also, I’m aware of magicians who don’t believe in “God” per se, or even the Holy Guardian Angel, or whatever else, except purely in terms of psychology. I would disagree that ritual magick inherently presumes divinity, at least as the author of the other article uses the word.
Thelema gives great focus to all of the religious iconography of old, such as horus, hermes and others. This is nothing new in the Occult. Objectively Thelema may be considered as a means to use symbology and ritualism to program the subconscious and to contact the higher self. In contrast I am reminded of a phrase from the Pattern on the Trestleboard. All the Power that ever was or will be is here now. I take this to mean that everything we need is here now. We need not look further than our own eyes may take us. This divine and holy will is within and without. Just like any religion though Thelema too can be used as an elaborate self help program, except instead of giving thanks to God. The Thelemite can give themselves a nice pat on the back.
Indeed. Except for the last couple sentences. I personally don’t give thanks to my ego, although a LeVayan Satanist might.
Once again, to the author of the previous article: thank you for the fuel for thought!